The 48th Soul
The story of the Israeli navy destroyer - Eilat
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Book Summary

 
                             

  We heard Mashiyah and the officers around him contemplating with the commander as how to build one working radio from many broken parts of other instruments.

At normal days we couldn't even hear the ship's speakers. The ship is a body that creates a lot of noise: The engines, the radios, and the wind, the shouting between a man to another…and now I can hear the waves crash into the metal, soft crashes, loving. In the circumstances that I was now I hated the sound.

 
                                 
Moments Of Truth

  Just like someone heard my thoughts, a sailor got up from the center of the circle. He walked in a hesitating manner toward another soldier that held his head between his knees. He touched his shoulders gently. In the darkness and the chocking silence that closed on us we could hear their conversation:

"Yair…" he talked to him gently "I wanted to ask for your forgiveness" 

Yair moved his head up: "what are you asking forgiveness for?"


"It's me…" he said in a broken voice " It's me who stole your mattress two month ago…" he started crying.


Yair got up, hugged him and replied: "I am forgiving, brother, I am forgiving" and after a short pause he added: " I wish we can go back to stilling from each other…"


"Amos?" a voice came from the end of the circle: "yes!" somebody said


"I'm asking for forgiveness too…I stole your shoes…"


In short few minutes the entire bow was full with voices. Everyone confessed to one another and asked for forgiveness. Many crying voices mixed in a strange way with the sound of the winds and the waves around us. The sorrow was honest, real, cleansing and to a point broke the strong anxiety that we all felt. In a short while the bow came back to life! Taps on shoulders, memories of mischief…

                                       Preparation

   "Listen!" the commander shouted from the bridge. His voice was happy: "I am happy to tell you that we succeeded to make a contact!!!" his last words were swallowed by everyone's screaming of joy.  I saw one of the wounded raising his thumb up from the stretch bed. I don't remember who it was but his move sank deep into my memory. Cry and laughter came out of my throat and I don't have a logical explanation to my sudden scream "there is a God" though I always believed in it…


The commander spoke again: "start throwing everything that floats. I am here by giving the command to desert the ship. Make an effort to stay within the light in the water that the moon is creating so it will be easier to find us…" There was silence, what a party pooper! The meanings of his words hit us suddenly. One of the soldiers unwillingly tossed a wood bench to the water. The noise that the bench created hitting the water brought us back to the gloomy reality from the short journey to happiness that we just felt.. A mattress was tossed, then a ball, wood scrap…I heard the commander instructing Mashiyah to continue and update the communicating officer until the last moment.


He also gave some orders regarding the wounded. Someone tied a long rope  to the bow's railing in it's lowest point, and when the first sailor held on to it on his way down, the commander said his last words:


You should know now that the whole nation is on its feet. The whole army is working to save us and you know that our soldiers are not gonna disappoint you. In few hours we will be at home. I heard him sighing: "Good luck everyone and may God help us".

His last word was swallowed by the first jump into the water.

                             Journey to the unknown
 
I took my shoes off. I don't need them anymore. I stretched the life belt. I will blow air in it it in the water. I lowered the sleeves on my shirt and tacked them. I came closer to the rope. I turned my back to the see and put my feet on the rail. This way while I am bent above the see water I looked one last time on what was my home in the last year. Many thought ran in my head. It's strange but the last thought I had was about the guitar that I left on my bed before I started my shift.  I tried to look for Arye but my friends rushed me: "come on Maslawee" ( my nick name for Moshe Levy)…

I pushed the rail with my two feet, released the rope from my hends slowly and continued toward the water. When I touched the water I passed the rope to the next person.

This marked the beginning of my journey into the unknown...!


I felt the water filling every part of my body. It touch was refreshing and repulsive at the same time. If I made it to the water I'll make it home. I started to blow air into my life vest while I am kicking the water not to drown. The army clothes were glued to my skin and made it little difficult but they were needed. They'll keep my body heat at the hours that I will be in the water.

When I finished the blowing I turned my body to back style swimming and started to swim as far as possible from the ship. It sinking will create strong whirlpool waves that will such any person even tens of meters away.


                                 The Last Goodbye

  From a distant of 30 meters I could sea all of her. Still proud, elegant, and beautiful. And what history she had! Before she came to us she serve the British navy in world war two. She and her eight sisters- from a fleet of 39- survived the hell of the vicious Germans attacks and won. She came to us full of adventures and victories and we paid her back badly. We brought her to her death together with some of her children.

I saw the stern sinking. The front stood up in a strange angle, somewhat eerie. Black silhouettes in the moon light background went down the rope or jumped to the water. The commander and his officers continue to orchestrate the desertion from the bridge. Then I heard a sharp scream from the deck: "missile!!!"

 

A huge fire ball came in at a threatening   speed and collided in a powerful noise in the sinking back of the ship. Nothing else could have been worse.  The fire storage and the dept bombs were there.  Giant wave of burning water shoot up with fires in it. I saw bodies and body parts flying all over, loud screenings from every corner cut the air and then a series of explosions send pieces of metal and burning bodies up in the air before they fell back into the water.

 

For about a minute and a half the explosions continued with the hissing sound of the burning metal touching the cold water. Then the sea become quite and everything was silent just like I am left alone. I was paralyzed and shocked from fear but I was surprised to see that the last end of the bow is still up. Still threatening. At those moments I imagined it like a finger. Straight finger.  Pointing toward the sky. Accusing!


                               Just Me And The Sea
  And then the pain came. Sharp. Cutting my intestines like a knife. It came with the knowledge the strap on my life vest tore and my pants ripped. I loosened up the buttons to make then sink. Now it was easier. But from now on one hand had to hold on to the life vest so it doesn't slip away. Without it I don't have much chance.  I thought about Arye again. I trust in him completely. His brother-a professional life guard and he spent most of his life in the sea. He is probably swimming now with a smile on his face…


The water turned thick and oily due the mixture of two ton of ship gasoline with water. This made swimming more difficult and even more difficult holding on to the life vest. The moaning of the wounded started to be heard from all over. From it sound you could guess how many hour of life if any left to the person moaning.


                                Unknown Willpower

   In the midst of the moaning and the sounds there was suddenly a strange and a week voice coming out. I stretched my ears and then I heard another horse voice, similar joining him. They continue to sound, kind of stubborn. And then-another one and another, and they all joined to one perfect sound that became a song! Yes! Someone started to sing. Someone crazy, hell! He started to sing in spite of the cold, the darkness, and the waves and in spite of all the dead around us. What happened to these idiots? Did they loose their mind? But when more and more people joined the melody the anger feelings in me changed into a strong and sudden will to join them, and just like by a signal of a conductor the singing got louder and louder and filled the whole sea with a powerful song:

"You are Sharam Al Sheikh,

We came back to you again,

You are in our hearts,

Our hearts, always!"


The singing unified many survivors that like me were lonely, swimming toward the unknown. Now we were all one big group that in between one wave to another was an improvised singing quire.

 

I felt emotionally moved. Here, all the power of nature and the might of the Egyptian missiles , in spite the suffering, and even though the survival of each one of us was doubtful, here, our they couldn't break our spirit, and the powerful singing at sea took a ride on the blowing winds, above the waves, far far,  shook the hearts and shook the whole sea.

                                      

                                          The Hope
About an hour later we heard a faint sound that got louder and louder. In a few short moments, "Nord" planes flew above us, in a closed circle like an umbrella and threw lightning explosions one after another. The IDF is here, thank God! If we just could we would clap hands. The night turned into day. Now we could recognize each other and you could hear the voices of relief and recognition from every corner. But the lights on the water made it also possible to see the dead that until now were only unrecognized dark floating bodies.

I saw from a distant a lifeboat that one of the planes dropped to the water. It was far. The group that unified before with the singing separated again, each one trying to get a hold on it.

                                          Alone Again
 
After several hours, I am alone again. Struggling non-stop with my broken life vest, swimming in one hand. The exoughtion begin to take its toll on me.  The combination of loneliness and exostion almost broke me. All I had to do was just to let my life vest slip away. The sea and the waves will do the rest and I will drown. Literally to a rest that I long for…but two reasons helped me keep going and giving me the will to live: the first thing was my family. I knew that my death would destroy 4 more people that cared about me, and here I am...just because of a little inconvenient…

The second thing was more real, very real. They were little black dots in the night sky.  Then they became larger and larger until they were helicopters.

"Helicopters, guys" the commander voice was heard from far. He is alive! "Hang on just a little longer"

 

                                        The Rescue
  
They came with a loud sound and began searching and rescuing survivors without delay. My joy, however, was premature: being very dark from all the oil on our body, and due to the fact that many of us had no working lights in the life vest, it was difficult for the pilots to see us on the dark water, especially since they started there rescue mission on the farther side in the sea.

 

I started to swim faster. I had to keep my body warm and keep going. I've been doing that for many hours. I was both hopeful and desperate. I can't be left alone again. Then,at one moment that I almost gave up I heard happy voices coming from far: "The boats had arrived! The boats had arrived" The air force is one thing but our boats is something else.

 

In short few minutes they were there, not too far from us, four beautiful black shadows, with the navy's serial number printed proudly on them.  The experienced navy sailors started to pick any thing and any one around, in spite of the difficulty that was caused by the oily water and the high waves. I knew that they would not leave the area before they will "comb" the water and pick any thing alive…and dead.

                                        Final Outcome
 
After about half an hour that felt like all the time I was in the water a strong hand held me and led me to the ladder. A different hand helped me from the top. God pity my parents and my brothers. Finally something solid under my feet!

On the boat someone hurried and rapped my body with a blanket. He hugged me and took me to one of the rooms, but I suddenly stoped, shaking from fear. Near the entrance to the room there was a dead body I had a strange feeling. I hope I don't know this person.

 

In spite of his gentle demand, I bent and turned the body on it's back. After that I cleaned some of the oil from it face. At this same moment my outlook on life had changed forever. From now on I'll take things differently. Only life is sacred, life, and nothing else. Arye Schwartz died with a smile on his face. He always smiled, the son of a gun.

 


*From the book "The 48th Soul" by Moshe Levy 

                            All rights reserved!

 





 

 







The Book -
Moshe Levy - The story of Navy Ship Eilat
HaNeshama Ha-48 ( The 48th soul )
משה לוי-הנשמה ה48-סיפור המשחתת אילת

"The 48th Soul" - A book by Moshe Levy


At The Holiday of Sukkoth 1967, a battleship "Eilat" of the Israeli navy sailed near the northern part of the Suez Canal in what was described as a routine petrol of the new territory. The time – the days of the false euphoria that came after The Six Days War.

 

The sea was calm, the climate comfortable. Port Saiid, the Egyptian town that the ship passed by, looked calm and sleepy. On the deck of the battleship the sailors (those who weren't on duty) were playing cards, reading a book or just letting the soft sun rays of late October shine through their closed eyes.

There was no sign to disturb this calmness.

 At exactly 5:30 pm, the ship's captain, Brigadier/General  Itzhak Shoshan, called out to Sergeant Frisher and me.

 

His terror-stricken call at that moment not only ended our routine and tranquility, but also the life of 47 of our crewmembers.

Two hours after this alarm, the sea had already claimed the battleship Eilat and many of its sailors.


This marked the beginning of the crew's courageous battle for survival on this infamous night.


Book Summary:

                                     The Routine:
  I climbed the ladder to the CIC room (Combat Info Center), the time was four in the afternoon and I started another shift.  Tomorrow at dawn we would start our journey north, back to our homeport in Haifa, after a week of sailing across from the enemy lines.  Several months before that we were engaged in a battle with two Egyptian battle ships that ended up being fired-at and sank. Two weeks ago, two MIG
21 war planes flew in an attack form above us at night, but left as quickly as they came. They couldn't do it, and I thought they wouldn't try again.

The previous sailor transferred the shift to me. Besides a Soviet ship that made her way to the Suez Canal, there were no targets at sea. Tomorrow at this time we would tie the ship to the dock and a few hours after that I would already be home. The meeting with my family, whom I hadn't seen for the last two weeks, occupied my thoughts.

"The depth meter stopped" I reported to Frisher, the platoon sergeant

"What the hell! Again?" he complained

We asked the bridge unit to call a technician. A few seconds after that we heard on the intercom: "Listen, sergeant Goldman to the CIC"

That depth meter malfunction, it turned out, saved Goldman's life. The moment that he set foot on the entrance to the CIC, the commander roared a sentence that turned our world upside down.

 

                                     The Attack:
  "Report immediately to Haifa that we were attacked by a missile!" and the alarms started to howl. We stormed, Frisher and I, at the radio and exactly at this moment there was a powerful blast and the room shook as if the ship collided with an iron wall. The radio fell right near my feet, all the instruments, the depth meter and the intercom hose were ripped from the wall, a thick smoke was in the air. I saw Goldman lying on his side, bleeding.

Suddenly there was silence.

I got out of the ruins. To my surprise, I found myself on the other side of the room just like a strong hand threw me there. I picked Goldman up and I slapped his face. I didn't know what else to do. Frisher disappeared from my sight. At this moment Captain Mashiah passed by and helped me carry Goldman to the bow.

 

A short look from there to the stern made me realize that our little home was destroyed. Fires, wounded sailors calling for help, broken chimney, destruction, confusion and my leg bleeding…suddenly I saw a horrifying fireball coming toward us from east. Another missile!


500 kilograms of dynamite is making its way to complete the first round. Another powerful blast. The stern received most of the damage. The ship turned on its side just like a handicap with a twitch.  I saw people jumping to the water. Again deafening silence. 

I found out the reason for the silence. The missiles destroyed the engines, paralyzed the electric system, and paralyzed the radio. That means, we were left with no capacity to sail, no ability to make a contact, and almost no lifeboats. We are now dependent on the mercy of the waves, and the Egyptians can come and pick us - 200 sailors that includes dead, wounded and shocked - like a chicken picking worms in an open field.

                                          Reality:
 
The commander appeared with a portable speaker, and his second in command and several officers. He laid the truth to us: "we are being attacked by Egyptian "Sticks" missiles. We are not sure if the attack is finished, all the systems are broken, we have to be ready to desert".

In the unusual silence, the screaming of the wounded and their excruciating moaning were heard in a disturbing way. Any minute another missile could arrive and each one of us might join them or those who couldn't scream any more.. "We have casualties" added the commander "and swimmers have made contact with the stern".

Nighttime came in fast; no electricity so there is no light. At the order of the commander we blindly felt our way to the bow, the high part of the ship. Darkness. The fires were extinguished. Unrecognized dark shadows came up quietly from the bottom of the ship and joined us. I feel the warm and thick liquid in my legs but my heart is busy with a million disturbing questions: who is with the dead? Are we going to be able to notify the base? What is waiting for us in the water? Will it burn with us when the ship explodes? Are the Egyptians on their way to take us prisoners?

Most of all I was concerned about Aryeh Schwartz, my good friend from Netania . With him I was supposed to spend our coming vacation. He was the closest soul to me in my service on the ship.

                            Weighing The Options

  Many people started to gather in the stern. It was not possible to recognize the faces unless they talked, but no one talked. They were all in their thoughts. About an hour passed from the time the first missile hit and all was quiet.  It looked like the Egyptians stopped their attack.  We started to organize the wounded, gathering them together and loading them into the only three lifeboats that were still intact.

I went down with Mashiyah to our little cantina at the bottom of the ship. It wasn't easy because we had to find our way through the devastation, twisted hot metal, wounded paralyzed from pain, and dead. But lifting the spirit of all of those upstairs was more important at the moment.

 

After half an hour we came back with whatever we could find: drinks, cigarettes and candies. After that, Mashiyah was called to the bridge. Being the officer of electronics and communications he had to try and create a new communication tool-from all the destroyed tools- otherwise no one in the IDF will know our destiny.

                                 The Gathering

   More and more people came to the deck. Many of them from my unit.  They brought information about what is happening in the different sections of the ship. "Almost everything is destroyed" reported Zvika "we hardly were able to get here".

"Do you know if we have casualties?" I asked, afraid of the answer

Zvika hesitated and then whispered in a broken voice "almost everyone in the machine room"

I froze!, that means more than 20 people. We all turned our faces toward Port Said. . Now we understood the reason for its calmness.  The commander reported again:

"The signs are showing that the attack on us is over. We are making efforts to contact the base. Meanwhile I see that the ship is still floating not bad. I ask you to comply with the orders. At this point no one should desert. We have many buried under the rubbles and we are trying to find them and save them".

I approached lieutenant Ben-Ezra: "I am requesting to join the rescue team"

"Stay here on the bow" he said "help the doctor"

 

                                      Self Help
  As per Dr Zisman's advise I passed between the wounded, I helped them drink water as much as I could, I inspired them to hang on even though my own spirit was down. I remembered that I didn't see my friend Arye and I was afraid of the possibility. I was chocked up.

 

I heard a sound of a person in the water. I bent through the railing. A dark mysterious shadow was trying to climb up with a rope. He pulled behind him a lifeboat with wounded and was trying to tie it first. I helped him with another sailor. A wind started to blow. I left them when Mashiyah came to the bow and asked for a volunteer. "three men are  trapped in the bridge" he said "let release them"

I jumped over the rubbles. The door to the bridge bent from the heat and its hinges don't work. Mashiyah brought a rope and tied it to one of the hinges: "you will pull the handle and I will pull the rope, just be careful not to fall when the door will open"

It took about 15 minutes and a the end we found 3 shook soldiers that squeezed in the little room. They were quite and didn't move even when the door opened. "Hey guys" said Mashiyah "get up and get out, stop lazing".

 
         
                            My Friend

  On the way back I gathered my courage and asked Mashiyah "do you anything about Aryeh Schwartz?"

In the skylight I saw his hands pointing at a wet man who just climbed to the deck "go ahead and ask him yourself…" he casually said .

 
Aryeh moved wounded swimming from the stern to the bow. On his way back he took with him medicine and drinks to the people there. I wanted to hug him but I just slapped him on the shoulders, loosening myself from all the anxiety that I felt. 

"We're gonna miss the party, Moshe" he said. I couldn't see his face but I knew he was smiling. He always smiles, the son of a gun.

"Are you ok" I asked, just to say something. Instead of an answer he suddenly run  and jumped from the high deck to the water. We found the reason right away: the boat with the wound got loosened and started to move away. Arey swam after it as if the devil was behind him. If he wouldn't succeed that will be a death verdict to all the helpless sailors in it.

I saw another person trying to jump but Ben-Ezra stopped him. In the darkness we saw Aryeh holding the ropes with his teeth and swimming back to the deck…when he came back he answered to the cheering men with a smile:  "guys, it's nothing, that wasn't hard" then he took a vacuumed nylon bag and jumped again to water on his way to the stern.

                                 The last Hours
 
The moon rise and its faint light lit the upper deck. I was able to recognize faces: Polski the communication officer, Gokberg the radar technician, Cohen, Bohbut, Sharabi…the bridge swarm like a bee hive. The most important mission was to make a contact with the base, but the mission was not successful so far.


 I bent my thigh like everyone on the metal floor. Near and around many there were at least hundred men, but there silence screamed louder than a football field full of anxious fan that their group is loosing.










 

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