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Libyan Naval Battles

Soviet cogitations: 303
Defected to the U.S.S.R.: 20 Feb 2010, 11:57
Resident Admiral
Post 17 Oct 2018, 11:19
Libya (or in full-term the “Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya”) was a key international player of Cold War in Middle East while under the rule of Muammar Gaddafi. Come to power with a military coup, Gaddafi quickly antagonized the western powers for his socialist-oriented policies and a military alliance with Soviet Union. With the growing tensions and direct confrontations, Libya openly backed a number of international socialist-oriented guerrilla, rebel and terrorist groups worldwide.
Aware of the importance of the Navy, Muammar Gaddafi built what was likely one of the most powerful Navies of the African continent during the Cold War (it peaked with 6 Soviet-made project641 submarines, 3 frigates (two Soviet-made and one British-made) and 9 corvettes (4 Soviet-made, 4 Italian-made and 1 British made). While it was a wise move, Libya completely lacked a naval history and Soviet advisors often noticed how the Navy, while powerful on paper, struggled to become an operative and effective force.

In addition to these problems, the Libyan Navy main naval action was a daring challenge with a powerful US Navy fleet, and while bold, the outcome was decided.
Muammar Gaddafi survived the early 1990s at poorly reported (by western press) Islamist insurgencies that plagued the nearby Algeria and almost brought the country on the verge of civil wars. After 2001, with the world in conflict with the new Islamist threat, Libya made strong moves to reproach the western world.
The so-called “Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya” give up most of its original socialist-oriented ideals, opening for the French and Italian investments. At the same time, the Libyan intelligence collaborated with CIA allowing tortures of Al-Qaeda members on the country.

At the same time, the Libyan Armed Forces stagnated and become a shadow of the original Force. Most of the Navy was in status of reserve and despite plans to import new ships from Russia (including submarines!) nothing was done. Muammar Gaddafi paid with his life and the downfall of his country the trust he gave to the western powers: at the first opportunity in the wave of the so-called “Arab Spring”, France, Italy and the United Kingdom unleashed the downfall of the “Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya”.

What was left of the Libyan Navy and the more modern Coast Guard had little role during the conflict (but many details are still unknown), despite an attempt to block the rebel-controlled Misrata harbor, the NATO naval assets destroyed what was left floating of the Navy. Interestingly, the Western press of the time motivated the military intervention as protection of “civilians”, stating inflated numbers of alleged civilians killed, and completely ignoring the presence of Islamist and Al-Qaeda groups stationed in Derna and Bengasi widely operating alongside the “moderate” rebels. Such groups would be later involved in the terrorist attack against the US consulate in Benghazi and with the assassination of Muammar Gaddafi, the country spiraled down in a Second Libyan Civil War into the international disinterest.


21 September 1973
A couple of Libyan Mirage F.1 fighters strafed the Italian corvette De Cristoforo, inflicting damages and 4 WIA (one later deceased). The Italian warship opened fire with 76m and the planes pulled back while other Italian warships sailed to help the ship.
The incident triggered by presence of the warship and trawlers at the border of national waters and later de-escalated by political talk. Interestingly, the Italian government semi-censored at the time the death of a sailor, to avoid further escalating.
Photo of sister-ship. Italian-built design.

29 October 1980
The Libyan frigate Dat Assawari was in the Genoa harbor (Italy) for works, when French frogmen attacked her placing explosive on the hull. The detonation caused a three-meter hole but it was not enough to sink her. Repairs completed there by October 1983.
Officially, a not-existing “Maltese Nationalist Front” claimed the attack; nowadays the French responsibility (for a military attack occurred in another NATO country) is recognized.
The frigate in Genoa before the attack.

In 1984 a number of international merchants and tankers struck mines in the Red Sea: at least 19 ships suffered damages including a Soviet ship on 9 July 1984 (first one damaged). Western sources still nowadays blame Libya for having laid such mines using the ferry “Ghat”. Libya deny involvement and actually, the Islamic Jihad Organization claimed the operation. Allegedly, the French inspected the ship finding “suspicious elements”, but the Soviet investigation found the elements insignificant and stressed how the authoritarian regime of the Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak was eager to attack Muammar Gaddafi being a political enemy.
At the time, the “Islamic Jihad Organization” was a relatively unknown organization and for this reason the claim took little interest, but the obscure group grew prominent during the Lebanese Civil War committing huge bombing attacks against barracks killing hundreds of US, French and Israeli soldiers and CIA personal. Nowadays it is semi-confirmed how the “Islamic Jihad Organization” was a precursor of Hezbollah (Shia Iranian-backed powerful not-state group), widely backed by the “Quds Force”, the branch for foreign operations of the Iranian IRGC.
Modern day Russian evaluations points reasonably how while Muammar Gaddafi backed a number of rebel and terrorist organizations (Palestinian and left-wing oriented), he had little to share with the Shia-Iranian axis and the mining incident occurred during the Iran-Iraq war.

24 March 1986
Battle of Gulf of Sidra
After growing political tensions, the US Navy dispatched a whole fleet spearheaded by the super-carriers USS America, USS Coral Sea and USS Saratoga, alongside five cruisers, 12 destroyrs, six frigates and logistic units. The action was a deliberated provocation aiming to lure the Libyans in combat, starting their deployment on 23 March 1986
Libyan air-defense fire anti-aircraft missiles and MiG-23 fighters engage F-14 Tomcats in aggressive maneuvers but without launch of air-to-air missiles.
The Libyan Navy attempted to attack the larger and more powerful American fleet: Americans claim that cruiser USS Richmond K. Turner sunk or damaged a first enemy vessel with “Harpoon” missile. However, no real Libyan loss or damage match this first American claim and it was likely a false contact.
American carriers dispatched their planes to hunt Libyan ships that lacked effective anti-air defense: this proved decisive.
Two A-6 “Intruders” bombers hit with a “Harpoon” missile and “Rockeye” bomb the Libyan missile boat Waheeg of French-made Le Combattente-II class.
While Libyan air-defense launched missiles to attempt intercept planes, none shot down and some missiles were launched in reply to bomb the SAM sites.
The Libyan corvette Ain El Gazala (project 1234E) attempted to attack the American cruiser USS Yorktown but suffered damages by two A-6 “Intruders” bombers while USS Yorktown damaged another the missile boat Sharara of Le Combattente-II class with “Harpoon” missile. NOTE: western sources say the ship was named Ain Mara, possibly changed name).
Photo of the American nuclear cruiser USS Yorktown (Ticonderoga class), protagonist of the only real ship-to-ship engagement of the action.

Finally, the corvette Ain Zaquit of project 1234E suffered direct hits by bombs and “Harpoon” missiles from A-6 “Intruders” and sunk.Sometimes American sources believe Ain Zaquit was the survived vessel damaged, but this is incorrect. In addition, some American sources speak about the alleged sinking of the Italian-made corvette Assad al-Tadjier, but she was not involved in the conflict and was scrapped alongside sister-ships in 1993.
Photo of the crippled Ain Zaquit before sinking. The outcome of the battle was decided by the absolute numerical, firepower and air superiority of American warships. However, the Libyan Navy acted with courage, and interestingly the standard American missile “Harpoon” was never enough, alone to cause a sinking on enemy target.

15-20 February 2011
During the First Battle of Benghazi, at the beginning of the Libyan Civil War when the eastern city fell into the hands of rebels and Islamists, some Libyan Navy ships were seized in harbor. These vessels included a single survived submarine Soviet-made project641 (the one survived of the 6 originally imported. The previous fate of two others known: one scuttled in Lithuania and another sunk in harbor, the other three likely scuttled in 90s). Another prominent vessel seized was the frigate Al Hani (Soviet project 1159) and the corvette Tariq-Ibn Ziyad (Soviet project 1234E). It is unclear if the ships were unmanned, undermanned and if sailors made resistance or just fled from action/deserted.
Apparently no attempt made by the rebels to use or repair such ships (their actual combat status before the conflict is uncertain), while the corvette Tariq-Ibn Ziyad was eventually destroyed in harbor by Islamists during the Second Libyan Civil War.

11 March 2011
Four Libyan ships (unidentified, possibly civilian origin) used as transports landing each of them 40-50 soldiers on the beach close Ras Lanuf. It was effectively the first (and last) amphibious operation of the Libyan Navy and the overall battle resulted into a loyalist victory.

15 March 2011
During the first phase of the Battle of Ajdabiya (resulted into a loyalist victory but turned defeat at the second phase with the beginning of International operations to back the rebels), Libyan Navy used oil tankers armed (effectively converted to aux. gunboat) to bombard the rebel forces. Rebel fighters (MiG) attacked the ships and bombing them, successfully damaging one vessel. Unreliable claims of the rebels overestimated 2 armed oil tankers sunk and 1 damaged but this is false.

28 March 2011
While operating against the rebel-controlled coastal city of Misrata, the Libyan Coast Guard patrol boat Vittoria attacked crippled and beached by American P-3C Orion patrol aircraft with Maverick missile.
At the same time, two accompanying smaller fast boats. One American A-10 attack plane strafed those, sinking one fast boat and crippling the second fast boat (abandoned).
American sources reports the Vittoria was strafing rebel ships in Misrata harbor: currently there is no information if some suffered damages.
Photo of two Croatian-made PV30-LS class patrol boats at the time of delivery (notice the two Libyan and Croatian flag). Despite western claim, it appears the Libyan Navy by 2011 was almost entirely not operational and only the Coast Guard could really operate.

12 May 2011
A group of Libyan fast boats attempted entering Misrata harbor but chased away by British destroyer HMS Liverpool and Canadian HMCS Charlottetown. Fast boats retreated (none claimed sunk), under cover of ground artillery, but no damage inflicted to NATO despite the Libyan claims.

Libyan fast boats previously managed to lay few naval mines to further blockade Misrata harbor. However, such mines swept by NATO minesweepers and no ship known to suffer damage.

16 May 2011
Close Misrata harbor, NATO warships chased two inflatable boat: one boat recovered (and later sunk) with explosive and mannequins and believed to be an attempt to (remotely) detonate the vessel against the warships.

20 May 2011
British aircrafts launched a large assault against Libyan naval assets, including the ones stationed in the Tripoli Harbor.
The largest warship left to the Libyan Navy, the frigate Al Ghardabia (project 1159), crippled and sunk while docked (technically the ship was on reserve status since 2001).
Another notable victim (and second largest warship left) was the corvette Ain Zaara (project 1234E)
Overhall, NATO claim to have sunk naval 8 targets, but a more accurate British report other 4 hits (including one sunk and three heavily damaged): apparently these were Combattente-II missile-boats, but without missiles (long time expired) and transferred to the coast guard. It is unclear if some older Soviet-made project205 missile boats suffered damages or sunk (also such boats had no more operative missiles to launch).

19 August 2011
British airplanes sunk a Libyan tug that was carrying soldiers retreating after the Second Battle of Zawiya.

27 August 2011
An unnamed rebel transport (likely a converted coastal tug or trawler) , carrying ammunition blew up in the port of Zuwara. Since 24 August, the Libyan forces shelled Zuwara with ground artillery: this small success is so far (and ironically occurred only at the very end) the only naval target eliminated by Libyan forces.
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