October 19, 1948
During the fourth day of Operation Yoav, the fledgling Israeli Navy engages in its first major battle of the coast of Ashkelon. Beginning on October 15, when the Egyptians violated the truce period by firing on an Israeli supply convoy, Israel went on the offensive against them in the south to open the road to the Negev. In a coordinated effort between the IDF’s air ground and sea forces, the IDF successfully divided the Egyptian army into several isolated forces.
The naval battle began on the morning of the 19th when three Israeli Navy ships, INS Haganah (shown in the photo), INS (Israel Navy Ship) Wedgewood and INS Noga attacked an Egyptian vessel that was unloading reinforcement soldiers near Ashkelon. All three ships were former military vessels which had been purchased and retrofitted to bring immigrants to Israel under Aliyah Bet, which focused on “illegal” immigration of Jews into Palestine against British restrictions. In 1948, the ships were again retrofitted for military use.
Aryeh Kaplan who commanded the Wedgewood recalls,
“Egyptian airplanes joined in the battle. One man on the ‘Haganah’ was killed and five were injured, but the ‘Haganah’ shot down an Egyptian Spitfire. The ‘Wedgwood’ suffered a hit by a shore battery but shot down another Egyptian plane that had attacked it. Some water leaked into the ship but was blocked. The ‘Wedgwood’ got within 1,500 meters range of the corvette and hit it many times with the Oerlikon 20 mm cannon. We then broke contact with it and heard from intelligence that the ship had been towed to Port Said. During this whole period we were also protecting the coast of Israel and ships sailing to and from Israeli ports.” (Testimony of Aryeh Kaplan from Palyam Website)