A former Dakar crew member describes what it was like to search for the sunken submarine after he was ordered to return on a different sub from Portsmouth to Haifa, the journey the Dakar never finished.
By Yoav Zitun
It’s been almost 50 years since the Israeli Dolphin class submarine Dakar sank in the waters off of Crete. Now, new color pictures are being released of the crew and of the submarine – the last pictures of these young men before their submarine sank to the bottom of the sea, never to surface again.
A short video of the sailors and the submarine has been gathering dust in the house of one of the submariners’ widows, Bat Sheva Tal. She was married to First Sergeant Tzvi Tal.
Tal’s grandson, Yaniv Rozen, found the old 8mm film and gave it to his friend’s grandfather who served on the Dolphin class submarines. The family movie shows the Dakar in being passed from British into Israeli handsin Portsmouth, UK, several weeks before the sub met its tragic end.
One of the submariners, Carmel Avraham, who was supposed to be on the Dakar’s fateful journey said “It was really emotional to see this film of my friends.”
At the last minute, he and five other crew members of the Dakar were told picked to go on a different submarine from Portsmouth to Haifa, a journey the Dakar never finished.
One of the reasons that the Dakar’s sinking was such a surprise was due to the fact that it seemed, for all intents and purposes, to be in fine working order.
“We did dry runs and then went to do live drills off the coast of Scotland with the British navy to get us familiar with the sub and with how to operate as a team,” Avraham remembers.
“We had a British admiral with us during the drills and both us as crew and the sub itself received high marks during the drills. We returned to Portsmouth for some minor fixes and adjustments before going back to Israel. The Dakar then set sail to Israel, where it was to arrive at a ceremony with the Prime Minister and President before becoming operational.”
However, as the Dakar was preparing to set sail, Avraham and five other crew members were plucked from the Dakar to be put on a different submarine.
“All six of us were against it, but orders are orders, and we went to the other submarine,” Avraham recalls. “The sea was rough, and on the first Saturday out, we got a message that contact with the Dakar had been lost. But they didn’t tell us it was the Dakar.
We joined the search on the same day as contact was lost without knowing which sub it was, which seemed a bit strange. We had just watched this brand new submarine leave port in England. One of the officers on board the Dakar even joked that ‘if something happens to us, throw bouquets.'”
‘The whole unit, friends, experiences – all of a sudden a whole world is lost’
The entire state of Israel was enveloped in worry as to the fate of the 69 sailors on board the submarine. And then, one of the most dramatic and sorrowful moments of the search happened.
“No one knew about the second Dolphin class submarine I was on, so when we finished our search, we arrived in secret to the Port of Haifa,” remembers Avraham. “Someone saw us going into the old submarine slips in Haifa, and then rumor spread that ‘the Dakar has been found and its crew is in the Port of Haifa.’ The families of the Dakar crew arrived in Haifa, as they were sure that it was their family members’ submarine. They also recognized some of us former Dakar crew members. They were convinced that the mystery had been solved.”
It only took a few minutes for the tears of joy to turn into tears of pain and sorrow.
What was going through your mind when you realized that the last minute change is what changed your life?
“It was the moment that our commander told us that contact with the Dakar had been lost, and we understood that something terrible must have happened. I remember that I felt like I was floating. I understood that the entire crew – 70 people – that the submarine where you lived and worked, your friends, all those experiences, all of a sudden, it’s like an entire world is destroyed. Everyone is gone, and you’ll never see them again.”
“I remember the first 24 hours when I was on shift doing my job, and it was really hard. I never thought ‘wow, I’m lucky.’ I refused to be called a survivor… it felt really strange.”
To mark 17 years since the discovery of the wreck of the Dakar, a special memorial flotilla was launched with former submariners and the families of those who lost their lives on the Dakar. The flotilla left the Hertzeliya Marina accompanied by other Israeli naval vessels and civilian boats. There was a short ceremony with a wreath laying and led by high ranking Israeli Navy officers.
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