Trinity College, 2007

Modern Israeli Culture

For Professor Levana Polate

By Ayal Feinberg

The Israeli Navy's Beginnings

    The unique birth of the Israeli Navy began alongside the establishment of the state of Israel. At the start of the War of Independence on May 14th, 1948, the fledgling state of Israel's navy had only four ships and 2,000 personnel. It's four warships had all been purchased by the Jews after the US and British navy's retired them at the end of World War II. They were used in order to evacuate Jewish refugees from Europe into the State of Israel. These ships were prepared for war time uses before the beginning of the war. Each Israeli Navy warship had a small crew: 65-95 sailors. Besides the four War ships, the Israeli Navy had a few small harbor craft which made up the Small Fleet Crafts and a small but nimble tug boat. The newly refurbished and crewed warships served on coastal patrol duties in the Mediterranean and engaged in naval combat with the Egyptian warships and bombardment of enemy coastal installations in and around the Gaza area, all the way to Port Said in Egypt. The Israeli War of Independence was not one continual battle, neither on land or sea. It was fought with sometime-long intervals of cease-fire. During the cease-fire periods, the five warships were routinely on patrol duty, safeguarding the Israeli shoreline and ranging as far as the Islands of Cyprus and Crete, the Syrian border and Turkey to north and northwest, and to Ashkelon, Gaza and the Egyptian port of Port Said to the south. (1, 4, 5)

The four original warships:  

  • Eilat A-16, former Aliyah Bet Medinat-HaYehudim (Jewish State), originally U.S. Navy Icebreaker Northland

  • Hagana K-20, former Aliyah Bet Hagana, originally Royal Canadian Navy Corvette Narsyd

  • Wedgwood K-18, former Aliyah Bet Wedgwood, originally Royal Canadian Navy Corvette Beauharnois

  • Maoz K-24, former Aliyah Bet Ben Hecht (Abril had been built in Hamburg Germany at the Krupp shipyard facilities as a passenger cruise ship named “Citra” and later on was sold to an American owner who operated her till the outbreak of World War II; at that time, the U.S. Coast Guard took it over to become a coastal patrol gun boat until the end of World War II, when it was sold to a shipping company (1, 4)

Seizure of Argiro

    On Aug. 24, 1948, Hagana K-20 and Wedgwood K-18 seized the Argiro, which had on board 8,000 Rifles and 10 million rounds of ammunition. These arms and ammunition were quickly delivered to the Israeli Armed Forces. This encounter was known as the Pirate's Booty Operation. The Argiro had been sailing under the Italian Flag with an Italian crew. The war materiel purchased from Czechoslovakia by representatives of Arab countries who were buying weapons and arms from all over Europe. This cargo had previously been aboard another Italian ship, Lino, that was sunk in the port of Barrie Italy by Mossad operatives a few months earlier. The cargo aboard the Lino had been well-packed and preserved and therefore was not ruined by its stay in the Mediterranean Ocean. After all the arms had been recovered it was loaded onto the Argiro and that ship directed to Egypt. Two Mossad operatives boarded the vessel in the cover of severe storm at sea near Crete and somehow convinced the Italian crew that they had no chance to get their cargo to port in Egypt. These Mossad agents arranged for two Israeli Navy warships to board and confiscate the arms being shipped to Israel's enemies and went onto sink the Argiro. (4)

Israel's first major naval battle

    On October 19, 1948 the Hagana K-20, Wedgwood K-18, Maoz K-24 and Noga K-26 engaged an Egyptian corvette and three Egyptian spitfires. Israel managed to sink one of the Egyptian spitfires and damaged the corvette, which escaped back to its base at Port Said. On October 22, 1948, the same four warships encountered and took on the Egyptian Navy flagship King Farouq. The King Farouq was sunk and an Egyptian minesweeper was also damaged during the suspenseful confrontation. This battle occured in the Ashkelon-Gaza coast. (4)







SHORT ISRAELI NAVY VIDEO (If link doesn't work, go to and type in Israeli Navy. First result should be 2:43 long. Click this and the video should play shortly)


LINK TO -- Immigrants in Israel