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Two months ago, PRAVDA.Ru published an interview with John Hrankowski, a survivor and crew member of the USS Liberty, who had been on board the American vessel on the tragic morning of June 8, 1967 when the Liberty was attacked by the Israeli air force.

 Mr.Hrankowski mentioned a really interesting and important fact just in passing: "American ships arrived only in 16 hours after the attack. A Soviet ship offered help to us on that night. They said that they would stay just at the horizon and, if our ship began to sink, they would help us."

 This fact has drawn our special attention. Former officer of the US Navy and film producer Richard Thompson recently helped produce a film about the tragic June 8 event. Mr. Thompson recommended us to talk to Russian submariner Captain Nikolay Charkashin, who has been investigating the circumstances surrounding the Liberty tragedy during the past several years. What is more, a book by Nikolay Cherkashin, "Mysteries of Lost Warships," was recently published. This is the result of his independent investigations of Russian submarines from Empress Maria to the Kursk.

 A PRAVDA.Ru journalist met with Nikolay Cherkashin, and we offer the following interview to our readers. It was rather unexpected to hear Nikolay Cherkashin say that no Russian ship was close to the USS Liberty that night.

 I wanted to find evidence among Russian sailors, but in vain. Headquarters Commander of the 5th operative squadron Admiral Platonov was the first to lead his squadron to the site on June 26; however, nothing is mentioned in his memoirs about Soviet sailors offering help to the Liberty. If that really happened, I think he would have mentioned it for sure.

 Who do you think spread that version?

 Who was the first to spread information about a Soviet ship that offered help to the USS Liberty?

 James Ennes:

 "For one day and night when the ship was slowly moving northward, no other ships or planes could be seen. At midnight, the Liberty came across the 626/4 Soviet missile destroyer that signaled in English. The following information was exchanged by both ships:

626/4: Do you need help?

Liberty: No, thanks.

626/4: I will stay at the horizon and be ready to help if you

need it.

 The Soviet ship followed a parallel course at a distance of several miles for the next six hours. At dawn, the Liberty radar station discovered the American destroyers Massey and Davis. The Soviet destroyer turned eastward and joined the ships of the 6th fleet. Aircraft carriers were not far behind the destroyers, and wounded sailors from the Liberty were delivered by helicopters to the aircraft carrier, to its hospital. The Liberty continued its course to Malta, where, as the crew was told, the assault would be investigated by a Navy court."

 But the hull number was even mentioned!

 Well, let's go back to the attack on the Liberty. Could it have been a tragic accident when the US ship was mistakenly taken for an Egyptian cargo ship? Was it a deliberate attack? Provocation? What do you think about it?

 There is also one more opinionů

 Do you think it is possible now to start a new investigation of the tragedy but on a higher level?

 Do you mean that America was ready for that kind of attack?

 I think America knew. Even sailors anticipated the tragedy and felt depressed. When the ship stopped in Spain, a famous prophetess told the Liberty sailors that the ship wouldn't return home. Richard Thompson has been investigating the Liberty tragedy for several years. As a result, he has arrived at the conclusion that the attack had been a well-planned action of the Israeli and American special services. The USA was up to its neck in a bloody war in Vietnam and wouldn't get involved into a lingering Mideast conflict. That is why it rejected direct military support to Israel. However, there were quite enough hawks in America of that period who wanted to turn a regional war into a large-scale battle. Especially at the cost of an old ship built in 1945.

 Which version do you prefer?

 The Soviet submarine K-172 under the command of Nikolay Shashkov armed with missiles and nuclear warheads was at the very same moment in the Bay of Sidre. The submarine received instructions to surface and deliver a blow against the Israeli coast if the Americans landed troops on Syrian shores. The submarine had eight nuclear missiles on board. However, as we know the Israeli coast means the whole sate of Israel stretched along the sea. Israel would have been completely destroyed if such blows were delivered by the Soviet submarine. I wrote about Nikolay Shashkov; the publication was called "The Man Who Was to Destroy Israel." The publication produced a strong response from society. I received inquiries from the Israeli Embassy, and many journalists wanted just to see the man who was to liquidate the Israeli state. The K-172 crew had to operate under emergency conditions; the submariners nearly died of high concentration of mercury vapor in its compartments. Several people were poisoned with the vapor, suffered from hallucinations and giddiness, and no explanation could be found to it. Can you imagine what submariners suffering from hallucinations could have done with nuclear warheads? They were to have been immediately sent to hospitals. However, as the situation in the region was still tense, the Soviet Navy commander-in-chief asked the submariners if they would be able to stay in the area for several more weeks, and the submariners agreed. Even when doctors were sent to the submarine, they failed to find the cause of hallucinations and giddiness. Nobody even guessed that was mercury, and people spent two months in the compartments poisoned with mercury vapors.

 Submariners from the Soviet B-31 submarine had to face an even harder situation. When the war began, the submarine was transferred from the Atlantic Ocean to the eastern part of Mediterranean Sea. A disastrous fire broke out somewhere in the Tunisian Strait; it took over 24 hours to extinguish the fire. Five master sergeants and sailors perished because of the fire. And, for the first time since WWII, perished sailors were buried at sea. Large-scale repairs were started on the submarine, and, after that, the submarine set off for the Bay of Sidre.

 Therefore, Soviet submariners experienced very difficult situations, and many of them fell indirect victims to that Mideast war. However, none of these submariners also heard about the Liberty. To tell the truth, it wasn't a matter of their concern.

 The USS Liberty is a bloody secret of the Cold War. Was there any Soviet destroyer at all, or it was just a myth? Captain Nikolay Cherkashin thinks that it is impossible to find a 100% answer to the question, as too much time has passed since the tragedy.

Sergey Stefanov PRAVDA.Ru

 Translated by Maria Gousseva