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HMS Zealous (R39)
HMS Zealous.jpg
HMS Zealous moored at Gourock, March 1945
Class and type: Z-class destroyer
Name: HMS Zealous
Ordered: 12 February 1942
Builder: Cammell Laird
Laid down: 5 May 1943
Launched: 28 February 1944
Commissioned: 9 October 1944
Out of service: Sold to Israel, 15 July 1955
Name: INS Eilat
Acquired: 15 July 1955
Commissioned: July 1956
Fate: Sunk 21 October 1967
General characteristics
Displacement: 1,710 tons
Length: 362.7 ft (110.6 m)
Beam: 35.7 ft (10.9 m)
Propulsion: Geared turbines
two shafts
40,000 hp
Speed: 37 knots
Complement: 186
Armament: 4 х 4.5 inch guns
5 х 40 mm guns
8 х Torpedo tubes

HMS Zealous was a Z-class destroyer of the Royal Navy built in 1944 by Cammell Laird. She served during the Second World War, participating in operations in the North Sea and off the Norwegian coast, before taking part in some of the Arctic convoys. She spent a further ten years in Royal Navy service after the end of the war, before being sold to the Israeli Navy, which operated her as INS Eilat. She saw action during the Suez Crisis in 1956, attacking Egyptian ships and was still active by the outbreak of the Six-Day War in 1967. She was sunk several months after the conflict by missiles launched from several small Egyptian missile boats; this made her the first vessel to be sunk by a missile boat in wartime. It was an important milestone in naval surface warfare, which aroused considerable interest around the world in the development of small manoeuvrable missile boats.

Second World War

Zealous was one of four British destroyers of the Home Fleet that rescued 525 Norwegians, who had been hiding from German patrols in caves on the snow covered mountains of Sørøya island, Norway for three months. The rescue involved the destroyers on a daring race 60 miles (97 km) behind enemy lines. The Norwegians were safely evacuated to the British port of Gourock.

Zealous made two trips from the UK to Russia as part of the Arctic Convoys taking supplies around Norway to Kola. Under the guidance of Commander R.F. Jessel RN DSO she ran the gauntlet of German U-Boats and aircraft.

On 5 April 1945 she was involved in an attack on a convoy entering the Jøssingfjord on the coast of Norway. One merchant ship was sunk and two were damaged.[1] When the Germans were on the brink of capitulation, the ship was ordered to Copenhagen. There she was mistaken by excited German soldiers as a German destroyer sent to evacuate them.

Service as Eilat and sinking

INS Eilat

Zealous was sold to Israel in 1955 and commissioned into the Israeli Navy as INS Eilat (after the Israeli southern coastal city of Eilat, replacing the earlier INS Eilat) in July 1956. On the morning of 31 October, in the midst of the Suez Crisis, Egyptian destroyer Ibrahim al-Awal, former Hunt-class HMS Mendip, shelled Haifa harbor. A counter-attack by the French destroyer Kersaint and Israeli Yaffo and Eilat forced the Egyptian destroyer to steam back towards Port Said. It was then also attacked by a pair of IDF/AF Ouragans and a Dakota. The crew of the badly damaged vessel finally capitulated, and the ship was towed by the Israelis to Haifa, later becoming the Haifa in the Israeli Navy.[2]

Eilat was on patrol during the night of 11–12 July 1967, when she and two Israeli torpedo boats came across two Egyptian torpedo boats off the Rumani coast. They immediately engaged the vessels and sank both.[3]

Eilat was sunk on 21 October 1967 off Port Said in the Sinai by two Styx missiles launched by Egyptian missile boats. An Egyptian Komar-class missile boat positioned within the harbour at Port Said fired two missiles at the Israeli frigate. The Eilat's radar did not reveal any suspicious activity or movements because the missile boat was still inside the port when the missiles were fired.[4] Despite evasive action being ordered by the captain when the missiles were detected, the first missile hit the ship just above the waterline at 17:32 hours. Two minutes later, the second missile struck causing additional casualties. While the Eilat began to list heavily, the crew tended to the wounded and engaged in rescue and repair operations while waiting for additional ships of the Israeli Navy to come to her rescue. But around an hour later, another Egyptian Komar class missile boat from Port Said harbour fired two more Styx missiles at the Eilat. The third missile hit the Eilat amidships, causing more damage and further fires, while the fourth went astray and crashed in the water nearby. The Eilat sank about two minutes later. Out of a crew of 199, 47 were killed and another 41 were wounded.

Aftermath of the sinking

The sinking just months after its defeat in the Six Day War caused brief jubilation in the Arab World and crowds gathered to cheer the two missile boats upon their return to Port Said.[5] In Israel, angry crowds surrounded Chief of Staff Yitzhak Rabin and newspaper editorials demanded vengeance.[citation needed] Sixty-seven hours after the attack Israel retaliated by shelling Port Suez with heavy mortars. Two of the site's three oil refineries were destroyed with the smallest one left standing. The refineries produced all of Egypt's cooking and heating gas, and 80% of its oil. Other areas of the city were hit. Israel ignored or pleaded "technical difficulties" to UN requests for a ceasefire and ended the attack at a time of its own choosing. The Soviet Union sent seven warships on a "courtesy call" to Egyptian ports to dissuade Israel from further attacks.[5]

The sinking of the Eilat by surface-to-surface missiles inaugurated a new era in the development of naval weapons and the formulation of naval strategy throughout the world. Though not highly publicized at the time, the sinking had a considerable impact on the Israeli Navy. Israel started to develop plans for ships better suited to missile combat, principally small and efficient ships armed with missiles, able to patrol Israeli shores and undertake offshore operations at high speed, while at the same time able to evade enemy tracking and missiles.[6] The resulting Israeli focus on new, more agile, missile-armed boats would reap major benefits for the Israeli navy some six years later during the Yom Kippur War.[7]


  1. Convoy attack
  2. Suez Crisis
  3. Israeli Naval History
  4. Bruce A. and Cogar W. 1998. Encyclopedia of Naval History. Routledge.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Middle East: A Bitter Exchange Time Magazine November 3, 1967
  6. As INS Eilat
  7. R G Grant, Battle at Sea: 3,000 Years of Naval Warfare, Penguin, p.342


  • Raven, Alan; Roberts, John (1978). War Built Destroyers O to Z Classes. London: Bivouac Books. ISBN 0-85680-010-4. 
  • Whitley, M. J. (1988). Destroyers of World War 2. Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press. ISBN 0-87021-326-1. 

External links

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