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How did the

U.S.S. Little Rock
and her Crew
Participate in the

Arab-Israeli Yom Kippur War?

Last updated: 07 April 2011

Time Period:

06 October - 26 October 1973

Brief History:

The Yom Kippur War, also known as the 1973 Arab-Israeli War, was between Israel and a coalition of Arab states led by Egypt and Syria. The war began with a surprise joint attack, on the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur, by Egypt and Syria.

The Egyptians and Syrians advanced during the first 24-48 hours, producing near catastrophic conditions for Israel, especially on the Golan Heights.  Afterwards momentum began to swing very slowly in Israel's favor. By the second week of the war the Syrians had been pushed entirely out of the Golan Heights. In the Sinai to the south, the Israelis struck at the "seam" between two invading Egyptian armies, crossed the Suez Canal, and cut off the Egyptian Third Army. In response, the United Nations issued a cease-fire that saved the Egyptian Third Army.

The war had far-reaching implications for many nations. The Arab World felt psychologically vindicated by its string of victories early in the conflict, despite the end result. This paved the way for the Camp David Accords and led to normalized relations between Egypt and Israel‚ the first time any Arab country had recognized the Israeli state.  Egypt, which had already been drifting away from the Soviet Union, then left the Soviet sphere of influence entirely.

During this time period the USS Little Rock was the Sixth Fleet Flagship in the Mediterranean, (Commander VADM Daniel J. Murphy).

The Crew Remembers:

Delbert H. Hall Jr. (OS3 1973-75) recalls:

"I .... was aboard the Little Rock.... when the ship was under the command of Capt. Peter K. Cullins.

I had a wonderful and exciting tour aboard the Little Rock.  I was in the CIC during the Yom Kippur war and remember very well the tension of the times.

There was a time when our Weapons Officer wanted to calibrate the the Talos missile fire control radar using the USS Manley as a target.  The problem was that there was a Sverdlov (Soviet) cruiser just beyond the Manley. ...when we lit off the fire control radar  the EW shack adjoining the CIC informed us that everyone’s fire control radars were lighting off.  Needless to say we turned off the radar and after a few moments everyone in the Soviet and American fleets did as well.

That was close and I think the world was very lucky that day.

As I recall, there were 60+ US ships (with 3 carriers) SE of Crete with roughly 90 Soviet ships just to the north.  That Sverdlov cruiser stayed with the Little Rock and we shouldered each other a couple of time though the ships never touched.  I’m sure the Soviets knew that the Little Rock was Admiral Turner’s 6th Fleet Flag Ship.
I am extremely curious about the route the Little Rock took to get to Buffalo of all places.  I was quite surprised to find out she escaped being scrapped.

(Add your thoughts)

United States and Soviet Navies Face-Off

Extracted from: October 2003 Issue of Navy League

Superpower Showdown in the Mediterranean, October 1973
U.S., Soviets Nearly Clash at Sea as Israeli, Arab Forces Slug it Out Ashore



On Oct. 6, 1973, when Egypt and Syria launched their attacks on Israel, the balance of forces in the Mediterranean was 48 American warships against 57 Soviet vessels. The American fleet consisted of its flagship USS Little Rock (CLG 4), positioned south of Crete, four attack submarines on patrol at sea, Task Force 60 (comprised of the USS Independence and the USS Franklin D. Roosevelt aircraft carrier battle groups), and Task Force 61, an amphibious group. The 5th Eskadra included 11 submarines, several cruise-missile-equipped cruisers and destroyers, and an array of medium landing ships, minesweepers, frigates, corvettes, and auxiliary ships. Moscow could also expand the 5th Eskadra rapidly, thanks to the easing of Montreux Treaty restrictions that previously restricted deployment of warships through the Dardanelles and Bosporus Straits by Turkey. In order to protest American support for Israel, Turkey also granted the Soviets flight rights for a re-supply airlift to Syria and Egypt.

There were at least three scenarios that could have precipitated the escalation of the October War into a full-fledged superpower war-at-sea: (1) Soviet intervention in response to Israeli attacks on Soviet ships; (2) Soviet intervention to enforce a ceasefire; or (3) a preemptive U.S. or Soviet strike against the other's vessels.

The first of these scenarios became highly plausible after Israeli missile boats sank the Soviet merchant vessel Ilya Mechnikov while bombarding the Syrian port of Tartus on Oct. 11. Soviet commanders deployed two destroyers off the Syrian coast, placed airborne divisions on alert, and authorized captains to open fire as needed on Israeli combatants approaching Soviet convoys and transports. Such exchanges of fire did occur. Captain 1st rank (ret) V. Zaborskii recalls that the BSF minesweeper Rulevoi and a medium landing ship fired upon Israeli jets in self-defense at Latakia, Syria.

Although such instances subsided as the fighting waned on the Syrian front, the Kremlin was sending clear signals to the White House that any 6th Fleet interference with 5th Eskadra operations would be met with force. Soviet anti-carrier groups had been tracking the Independence, Franklin D. Roosevelt and  task groups, as well as monitoring amphibious Task Force 61 since the sealift to the Arab states began on Oct. 9. At that time, the American carrier groups were especially vulnerable to a Soviet cruise-missile attack, because they had been denied freedom to maneuver by Washington, which sought to keep the task groups close to the war zone as a political signal of U.S. concern. Moreover, after Oct.13, the carriers' escort ships were maneuvering independently in support of the American airlift to Israel.

The second scenario--a Soviet attempt to impose a ceasefire--proved to be of paramount concern for U.S. leaders. The White House ordered the Pentagon to Defense Condition (DefCon) 3 in response to the Oct. 24 threat by Brezhnev to unilaterally intervene if the U.S. declined to form a joint U.S.-Soviet force to police the ceasefire lines. [Def-Cons 5 through 1 are graduated alert postures to match situations of varying military severity. DefCon 1 calls for maximum force readiness.]

As the Soviets bolstered their forces in the Mediterranean, they halted their air- and sea-lifts to prepare for combat operations. Upon direct order from Naval Commander in Chief Gorshkov, amphibious landing craft were being geared up to carry a force of crew "volunteers" from 5th Eskadra warships to the east bank of the Suez Canal.

Although Washington soon pressured Israel to halt its advances into Egypt, the Soviets launched intensive anti-carrier exercises in the eastern Mediterranean on Oct. 26, using each American task group as a virtual target. Around each carrier were two cruise-missile-equipped Kashin-class destroyers and one "spy trawler" capable of providing mid-course guidance for cruise missiles fired from another location. Four Soviet cruise-missile submarines were on submerged patrol nearby, and the U.S. amphibious force south of Crete was also shadowed by a group of five Soviet warships, some equipped with cruise missiles.

It was during these exercises that the third scenario--a preemptive strike-- became all too conceivable. The exercises continued until Nov. 3, by which time the Soviet force numbered 95 ships and was capable of launching 88 cruise missiles in a first salvo, approximately 13 at each U.S. task group. The American side had 60 U.S. ships, including three aircraft carriers (the USS John F. Kennedy had entered the Mediterranean after Oct. 25), two amphibious assault helicopter carriers, and nine attack submarines. In the words of Adm. Daniel Murphy, then 6th Fleet commander, the two fleets were "sitting in a pond in close proximity and the stage for the hitherto unlikely 'war at sea' scenario was set."

Gravely threatened by Soviet cruise missiles, the U.S. carrier groups would have needed to preemptively destroy the weapons system radar in the masts as well as the missile and gun mounts, or to otherwise sink every Soviet warship within range before Soviet missiles reached their decks. Meanwhile, 5th Eskadra commanders would need to sink or incapacitate as many U.S. carriers as possible before the U.S. planes and ships had sufficient time to retaliate.

The Soviet mission was therefore not necessarily to survive, but to survive just long enough to launch their missiles at the carriers. At a Feb. 1973 Soviet officers' briefing on anti-carrier warfare, Rear Adm. Yevgenii Semenov, then 5th Eskadra Chief of Staff, encapsulated this "battle of the first salvo" doctrine by saying, "[Soviet] ship attack groups need to use all weaponry for assaults on [U.S.] aerial attack groups: missiles, artillery, torpedoes, jet-propelled rockets--the whole lot!--since it is unlikely that anything will remain afloat after an air strike. We are kamikazes."

With the arguable exception of the submarine forces, both the 6th Fleet and the 5th Eskadra were left with no alternative to a first strike if war was considered to be imminent. The tension receded after Washington authorized the carrier groups to leave the area of operations south of Crete and go westward, a movement delayed until October 30th by heavy weather. From a tactical perspective, this decision was made to provide the groups with more room for maneuver, and to complicate targeting for the Soviets. On a strategic level, the White House was certainly sending the Soviets a signal that the U.S. was returning to a more relaxed posture, after it became sufficiently clear that there would be no major commitment of Soviet ground troops to the war zone.

During the October war, as in the Cuban Missile Crisis, the U.S. Navy formed the razor-sharp point on the spear of America's robust deterrent. However, this crisis differed in character substantially from its more famous predecessor because the U.S. was not able to achieve unquestioned conventional superiority in the relevant theater.

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