Cannon Shell Strike Pattern Supports Close-in MTB Attack
K. J. Halliwell  (March 17, 2005 -- Revised August 5, 2014)

A conspicuous cluster of cannon shell strikes on USS Liberty's starboard mid-ship hull, between hull frames 80 to 85 (forward-half of the engine room that spanned from frame 80 to 95), appears in several post-attack photographs, like the one below.

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The shell strikes appear to range from about 2 to 18 feet above the Plimsoll line.  Also, above many strikes is a tell-tale shrapnel mark that indicates firing from various positions higher than the strike points.[1]  Thus, it appears that these shots were fired by attacking aircraft and not by a close-by MTB (motor torpedo boat), firing directly at the hull, as attack survivors claim.[2]  But recall that the survivors' claim involves at least one MTB attacking the ship with cannon and machine gun fire about 15 to 20 minutes after the torpedo hit, when the ship was listing to starboard about 10 degrees, as depicted in the scale drawing below.

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As you can see, cannon shell shots directed at the inclined hull would appear to come from above; and, indeed, an analysis (see below) shows that the highly concentrated shell impacts, and their tell-tail shrapnel arc showing orientation of trajectory,[1] fits the pattern of at least one close-by MTB moving past the listing ship and concentrating its cannon fire on the ship's hull, at a location directly outside the engine room.[3]

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Being close to the ship means the MTB crew would have been able to see clearly the ship's name "LIBERTY" on the stern, the large "GTR5" letters on both her stern and bow, and the American flag flying on her large and high central mast. They would have been close enough to see the faces of sailors on USS Liberty's deck while continuing their attack, after the torpedo hit.