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Remembering the INS Dakar Submarine – Lost at Sea, Found at Last

The Israeli Remembrance Day is a time for us to commemorate all those who fought for establishing the new state as well as those who have defended its freedom since its establishment. On this day we also remember the story of the INS Dakar – an Israeli submarine purchased from the British in 1964. Upon its first sail back to Israel it sank with its entire crew on board. It was lost at sea for 31 years until it was finally discovered and one of the greatest mysteries of the Israeli national history was solved.

A Previous Life

The submarine was under the service of the British, operating during the WWII and later for espionage against the Soviet Union. It was not an ideal situation for the Israeli government to purchase second hand submarines, ones that had been through service for over 20 years. However other plans to purchase new submarines had failed. It was then decided to buy from the British 3 old submarines of the T series, refurbish them, and use them in the Israeli submarine fleet.

The New Owner

In 1964, once the purchase deal was signed between Israel and Britain, the name was changed from Totem to the INS Dakar and massive renovation began in the docs of Portsmouth, England. Detection, navigation and communication devises were replaced, the strong hull, or pressure hull, which withstands sea pressure and has normal atmospheric pressure inside, was lengthened and the bridge was enlarged. The renovations took over 2 years, after which, sea and harbor training began in Scotland. The final operational test was conducted during one week of sailing and exercises in the Northern Sea, and were completed with great success.

dakar_1.compressorThe command of the Dakar was given to Yaakov Ra’anan, a trained and accomplished captain in the Israeli Navy and submarine fleet. The crew consisted of 69 sailors. On the 9th of January the submarine set sail, planning to dock in Gibraltar for refueling and then depart and take a direct route to Israel, north of Malta and south of Crete and arrive on the 2nd of February just on time for a welcoming ceremony.

Sailing Away and First Signs of Trouble

As planned, on the 15th of January the sub refueled in Gibraltar and set out again at 2 AM of the 16th, with the intentions of traveling submerged all the way to Israel. The first 9 days were uneventful, the submarine reporting every 6 hours a “check-in” telegram and every 24 hours reporting its location. The sub was traveling at good speed and the captain Ra’anan requested to dock in Israel earlier. His request was granted and he was permitted to dock on the 29th of January. Upon his second request to grant an even earlier arrival, his requet was denied.

At 6 AM on the 24th of January, after passing Crete, the Dakar sent its last telegram mentioning its location and then for the next 18 hours sent 3 telegrams without mention of its location. According to protocol, the last message was received on the 25th at 1 minute after midnight. The next telegram reporting the Dakar’s location was due at 8 AM and had failed to arrive. All attempts to reconnect with the Dakar had been in vain and on the morning of the 26th an international search operation commenced. Many countries contributed to the search, amongst them Turkey and even Lebanon. However, all returned empty handed. The international search parties were called to cease on the 30th of January, and the Israeli navy continued for an additional 4 days, also coming up empty handed.

Lost at Sea

On the 6th of March 1968, Moshe Dayan, the Israeli Minister of Defense, announced that the INS Dakar, with all its crew was lost at sea and declared the crew dead according to the Jewish religious law. A national mourning day was announced. The information and speculations of what had happened to the INS Dakar were archived and the affair settled as a mystery and a national trauma.

The last video footage of the INS Dakar leaving Porsmouth on January 9, 1968

Over the years, 25 search parties were sent out to try and discover the INS Dakar’s location. Many theories of its disappearance at sea were circulating in the government and the nation, among them a theory that the Soviets were responsible.

The search parties focused their search in the relatively shallow seas of Aegean Sea and also near Egypt, both areas being quite far from the original sailing route. The assumption was that the Dakar had gone off course to conduct drills while it was awaiting entrance to Israel. This theory was based mainly on discovering an emergency float which had been detached from the Dakar at some point during its sinking and discovered 1 year later near Egypt. The residue on the float was analyzed, as well as the currents in the Eastern Mediterranean waters, all leading to the conclusion that the Dakar went off course and sank either in the Aegean Sea or Egypt. Another reason for not attempting to search the original course was the lack of technological devices capable to reach deeper searching depth, as the original route was known to have been in the deepest section of the sea.

Inspired by the discovery of the Titanic in 1985, after applying new technology for searching deep waters, the Israeli government appointed in 1995 a new search committee to reassess the disappearance and initiate new search attempts. After studying the evidence with fresh eyes and new methodology, with the help of Nauticos, an American company responsible for the Titanic’s discovery, it was decided to focus the search along the original route, at a depth of 3 km.

Found At Last

At the end of April 1999 the 26th search party set out and on the 24th of May the INS Dakar was discovered at the depth of 2,900 meters, along its original course of sail, 485 km away from its destination.

The cause of the sinking of the INS Dakar is a mystery to this day, but it is clear that water had entered its bow, causing it to tilt violently down and rapidly reach a depth beyond its ability to withstand atmospheric pressure. The sub was crushed under the pressure and came to rest at the bottom of the sea, broken into pieces.

A few parts of the sub were recovered from the depth and are now displayed in several memorial monuments.
The bridge of the sub is displayed in the Clandestine Immigration and Naval Museum in Haifa. A special monument is located in the Garden of the Missing Soldiers in the National Military and Police Cemetery in Mount Herzl in Jerusalem.

The story on the INS Dakar is one that exhibits the unrelenting persistence of the Israeli government to search for the remains of the sub for 31 years, in order to return its lost sons home and bring peace and closure to the bereaved families. This is a story unmatched in any navy in the world.

Main photo: forum Military & Security
Photo of  Yaakov Ra’anan: Clandestine Immigration and Navy Museom, Israel

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