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The Multinational Peacekeeping Force, also known as the MNF, was an international military group consisting of forces from the US, France, and Italy, which was created in August 1982 to oversee the evacuation of thousands of Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) fighters from Beirut, Lebanon. In late September 1982, a second MNF force landed to help stabilize the Lebanese government and military and protect civilians following the assassination of the Lebanese President, Bashir Gemayel, and the massacre of hundreds of Palestinians and Lebanese at two refugee camps. The MNF was subsequently joined by Great Britain in February 1983.
In June 1982 Lebanon was invaded by the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) with the purpose of destroying PLO terrorist bases being used to launch attacks from the country’s southern region. From June to August the IDF besieged the capital of Beirut in an effort to destroy the PLO. The fighting resulted in thousands of casualties. Following negotiations, the MNF landed August 21 & 24, 1982 to oversee the evacuation of the PLO, which was completed by August 30, after which the MNF withdrew. The IDF immediately entered parts of the city and after President Gemayel was assassinated; allowed members of his Christian Phalange Party to enter the Shabra and Shitila refugee camps where they massacred hundreds in revenge.
Each member of the MNF was assigned a sector to occupy. 1,400 US Marines of the 3rd Battalion 8th Marines were stationed at the Beirut Airport; 1,500 French paratroopers of the 8th Marine Infantry Parachute Regiment were stationed in West Beirut; and 1,400 Italian soldiers were positioned in between. In February 1983 they were joined by 97 British soldiers and armored cars from the 1st Queen’s Dragoon Guards. In May 1983, the 24th Marine Amphibious Unit (MAU) replaced 3rd Battalion 8th Marines.
Over the next year the MNF was somewhat successful in keeping peace in the troubled city. However, by spring 1983 a number of groups had come to resent their presence, in particular the US contingent. This resulted in the April 1983 car bomb attack which destroyed the US Embassy. The MNF was soon coming under increased weapons fire by militias and as a result, began to take casualties. By September 1983 French and US warplanes had bombed targets firing on their troops. Complicating the situation, the US had moved away from its neutral role and had begun to support the Lebanese military by using its warships to shell targets in support of the Lebanese Defense Force (LDF) during fighting with Muslim militias in the strategic Chouf Mountains.
On September 25, 1983 the MNF stood at 5,350 ground troops: 1,200 US Marines of the 24 MAU; 2,050 Italian soldiers; 2,000 French troops; and a 97 man British armored car squadron. The MNF naval fleet was composed of approximately 22 ships from all four nations:
US: Fifteen ships, among them the nuclear aircraft carrier Dwight Eisenhower (CV-69); the battleship USS New Jersey (BB-62); the missile frigate USS Bowen (FF-1079); USS destroyers Arthur W. Rogers (DD-983) and John Radford (DD-968); and missile cruiser USS Virginia (CGN-38). Additionally there were two amphibious squadrons. The Eighth, which supported the 24 MAU, consisting of the amphibious assault ship USS Iwo Jima (LPH-2); USS Austin (LPD-4), USS Portland (LSD-37), USS Harlan County (LST-1196); and USS El Paso (LKA-117). The second consisted of the 31st Marine Amphibious Unit, which was made up of the amphibious assault ship USS Tarawa carrying 1,900 Marines; the amphibious transport dock USS Duluth (LPD-6); and the tank landing ship USS Frederick (LST 1184).
France: Aircraft carrier Foch and two support ships
Britain: Frigate HMS Brazen and destroyer HMS Glamorgan
Italy: Two ships, a frigate and destroyer
Additionally, two Soviet Naval ships, a Krivak-1 missile frigate, Leningradsky Komsomolets, and an electronic spy ship, were shadowing the MNF task force.
The early morning hours of Monday, September 26, 1983, found the city of Beirut quiet for the most part. At midnight, a ceasefire had been reached between the Lebanese government and armed forces and the Muslim militias backed by Syria, ending nearly 22 days of fighting. It was scheduled to go into effect at 6:00 AM. It was an opportunity for everyone to catch their breath, especially the MNF, particularly the US contingent, who had suffered four dead and 35 wounded during the fighting. It was approximately 3:55 AM, when MNF radio operators received flash communications from their respective commands of the Soviet nuclear launch. Ground commanders and naval captains and commanders were immediately notified of the stunning news and were trying to get additional information when satellite communication ceased, cutting them off from the rest of the world. It was a known fact in the event of a nuclear war; American aircraft carriers were to be targeted by Soviet weapons. With this in mind, Captain E.W. Clexton, commander of the Eisenhower, ordered an immediate red alert and ship wide lock down with the intention of escaping the area and seeking safe shelter. The other MNF ships scattered throughout the vicinity were also undergoing similar steps.
Since Lebanon was on the same time zone as Moscow, a number of nuclear weapons were already airborne by the time the MNF was notified, since the news had to go through their commands before reaching them. As such, just over ten minutes after receiving notice, radar suddenly picked up an incoming Soviet nuclear weapon. It is unknown whether it was a sea or land based launch. Instead of detonating in the air, the warhead malfunctioned and plunged into the Mediterranean Sea near the Eisenhower before exploding. The resulting detonation vaporized the Eisenhower and several supporting ships which were nearby. Since the blast was underwater, the bulk of the energy was absorbed by the Mediterranean, but as a result, produced a violent shock wave which swept out over the sea surface in all directions. This was also immediately followed by a tsunami, created as the sea rushed into to fill the vaporized void left by the explosion.
Several factors were to prove vital in the minutes which followed. At the time, MNF ships were scattered in the waters off Beirut and were not clustered together. Additionally, the Eisenhower was positioned about forty-five miles offshore. In comparison, the Iwo Jima was about ten miles offshore and the New Jersey and Tarawa about three. The shock wave struck like a hammer, throwing sailors about, ripping off fixtures, and blowing out windows. Most ships absorbed the shock wave and held their own while others nearly capsized before restoring stability. At least one ship flipped over and sank. Next, the waves arrived. In the seconds before impact, many commanders ordered their ships brought about so they could try and face the waves head-on much like they would in a storm. Ships were tossed about in the violent sea as if they were battling a typhoon. After passing through the fleet, the waves finally slammed into the Lebanese coast causing additional casualties.
As calm slowly returned, the stunned naval personnel took stock of their situation. The Eisenhower, Rodgers, Radford, and Virginia had been destroyed in the explosion. The El Paso, Harlan County, and Portland had sunk; the Duluth and Austin were heavily damaged and in danger of sinking; and the Iwo Jima, Tarawa, New Jersey, and Bowen were battered and damaged, but still afloat. As for the rest of the fleet, one French support ship and an Italian destroyer had also been lost and the remainder was beaten up but afloat. At least 10.000 sailors were dead and many were wounded.
The two Soviet ships, forgotten in the chaos, had also survived, albeit damaged. As that a state of war now existed, the MNF fleet immediately demanded they stand down and surrender. Refusing to respond, the ships chose to turn north and leave before any action could be taken. Concerned they might get away and perhaps warn others, the decision was quickly made to sink them. The battered Foch was able to scramble several warplanes to seek them out. Catching up with them about 25 minutes later, the pilots were able to take advantage of their damaged condition and successfully sink them. When the pilots returned, they stated seeing no evidence of any survivors.
After a lengthy consultation, the decision was made for the remaining French and Italian ships to head towards Turkey or Greece to see if they could link up with other NATO ships in the region and bring assistance. The British would try and head west toward Cyprus and hopefully Crete to see what they could find. The battered Americans would stay behind to treat the wounded and protect the MNF ground forces.
Over the next days, the remains of the MNF made attempts to contact people and assess the situation. What information they could gather came from regional radio broadcasts still on the air, shortwave, and the few military or civilian groups willing or able to respond. Reception was complicated by the static caused by the various nukes detonating in the atmosphere and the damage caused by the EMP. Reports were sketchy and fragmented, but confirmed their worst fears. Although Lebanon appeared okay for the most part, many countries were not. Cairo, Egypt and Amman, Jordan were destroyed. Israel had apparently taken strikes in a number of locations. Turkey and Syria had been devastated. They could not pick-up anything from Europe.
After over a week of no contact, the remains of the fleet arrived back in Beirut. The news was not good. The French and Italians had been ambushed by a submarine in the Gulf of Analya and the Foch, still limping from the attack on Doomsday, had been torpedoed and gone down. However, the submarine had been destroyed. The remaining ships had managed to rescue over five hundred survivors before deciding to turn back towards Lebanon. They were able to confirm a NATO fleet, including the British carriers Hermes and Illustrious, which had been in the Aegean Sea carrying out naval exercises, had been destroyed by nuclear air bursts. They had discovered a small group of badly injured survivors on a damaged frigate which had been on the edge of the blast zone and had managed to survive and head south. The rest of the crew had perished in the attack or died from radiation exposure. After recovering the men, they had sunk the damaged ship.
The second to arrive was the HMS Glamorgan. They reported making contact with Cyprus and confirmed the island had not been hit very badly, only suffering small hits on the two British military bases. After passing into the waters west of the island, they had been attacked by a Soviet frigate and although they managed to sink it, both ships were damaged in the process. Turning back toward Beirut as well, the HMS Brazen had succumbed to the damage inflicted on it and sank a day after the battle. The HMS Glamorgan was able to offload the surviving crew, who they dropped off in Cyprus before heading back to Lebanon.
For all intents and purposes, the decimated MNF was alone and isolated. With their respective nations most likely destroyed in the attack, they were unsure what their next move would be. Should they stay or try to head home and find out what had happened…
October 1983 - June 1984: The Next Phase
Revaluation of Mission
On October 12, 1983 the commanders of the four MNF contingents, captains of the surviving warships, and senior diplomats from their respective embassies located in the city, gathered at the US Marine Corp compound at Beirut Airport. Led by Colonel Timothy J. Geraghty, Commander of the US contingent, the group discussed what they should do next, stay or try to leave. Colonel Geraghty pointed out that all available evidence seemed to indicate their nations had been devastated by the war. Even if they were to depart, where could they go? Already, the MNF had begun working with the Lebanese government and relief agencies to take care of the thousands of refugees who had arrived by boat and plane from devastated nations. In fact a few surviving NATO forces had linked up with them bringing horror stories of what had occurred on September 26. It was argued they had to think of the welfare of the personnel under their command as well as their fellow citizens already in the city and who had since arrived. For now, the most logical approach seemed to stay where they were for the time being, do what they could to help, and if and when new information should become available, reevaluate what to do next.
To oversee operations, the group would form a de facto junta or military government with the commanders of the US, British, French, and Italian contingents acting as the leaders of their contingents and representatives of their respective countries. Although the group acknowledged the protests from the diplomats that they should be in change as the sole-surviving representatives of the old civilian governments, the commanders stated military rule would have to take precedence given the current situation. Further, the MNF decided it would no longer be their responsibility to ensure the government of President Amin Gemayel would remain in power, although they would work with the Lebanese military regarding security. The MNF would assume control over the refugees who had and continued to arrive, working to set-up camps to shelter them; organizing distribution of food and medicine; and ensure civil order. Three days later, the commanders held a meeting with the Lebanese government as well as representatives of the various militia factions in the city and put forward their proposal. The groups gave their acquiescence to the request, glad to be able to focus their own efforts on resolving internal matters affecting the nation. However, the MNF made it clear that although they would not become involved in internal political matters, any attack against either them, their nationals, or the refugees would not be tolerated and they would respond with full force.
Contact With Other Areas
Beginning with Doomsday, the MNF had made numerous attempts to reach out to other areas to determine who was still there. In October, radio operators were able to establish contact with the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) located in the southern area of the country; the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) stationed in the Golan Heights; and the Multinational Force and Observers (MFO) in the Sinai Peninsula. Each group confirmed being unable to raise anyone outside the immediate region, especially their home countries or the United Nations. Because of the unstable and dangerous situation along with Syrian-Israeli border, the result of refugees fleeing the Syrian strikes and Israel trying to push them back, UNDOF had abandoned their positions and taken what they could and crossed into Lebanon to link up with UNIFIL, after receiving permission from Israel to cross through their occupied territory. The MFO was still holding its positions along the Egyptian-Israeli border, but was becoming concerned with the growing chaos.
They were also able to raise contact with the US Embassy in Jerusalem, who confirmed the city as still standing and provided a brief synopsis of what had happened in the country. They advised the MNF to stay away from Israel for the time being given the current state of paranoia which had gripped the government as to the possibility of someone attacking them. They confirmed the borders as being closed to outsiders for the most part.
MFO Joins MNF
Around Thanksgiving, 1984 the Sinai Observer Force contacted the MNF about being evacuated to Beirut. With the destruction of their headquarters when Rome was destroyed, the MFO had been doing what it could to survive on their own since. Most had withdrawn to their respective camps and were trying to stay out of harms way and help as they could. However, given the growing chaos on the Sinai Peninsula, the MFO ground commanders wanted to effect a withdrawal to a safer location. After discussing the matter, the MNF agreed to evacuate them and merge their forces with the MNF to help with the work they were doing. On December 1, 1984, a three ship task force, including the carrier Tarawa, arrived off the Sinai to evacuate the MFO. Over a period of a week, they successfully evacuated approximately 2,700 soldiers of eleven nations, including the US, Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Italy, France, Columbia, Uruguay, Netherlands, Norway and Hungary, along with nearly 600 civilians. The MFO took as much of their equipment as they could, destroying what was left. The few airplanes they had, flew to Beirut where they linked-up with the MNF forces.
Those troops from an MNF nation were integrated into their respective commands. With the exception of the Australian-New Zealand troops who paired up with the British, the remainder continued as separate entities within the MNF structure.
MNF Takes on New Role in Southern Lebanon
In March 1984 Israel approached Lebanon about discussing the possible withdrawal of their troops from southern Lebanon, which they had occupied since June 1982. Given Israel's concerns about security following World War III, it was reluctant about withdrawing IDF forces seeing them as a necessary element of national security. Both the Israeli military and government had no confidence at the time Lebanon was in any shape to protect the border between the two countries. Because of the pressure by many Israelis to withdraw the troops so they could help with the rebuilding of the nation, representatives contacted them to meet. With both sides equally suspicious of the other, the MNF agreed to act as mediators between the two groups. In early April, the sides met in the coastal city of Tyre, Lebanon to see if a resolution could be reached. The reemergence of old arguments and prejudices resulted in an impasse by the third day of the conference, with the very real threat talks would collapse.
On April 7, 1984 the MNF broke the stalemate by making a surprise offer to both sides. They explained they had been holding discussions with UNIFIL and UNDOF troops in southern Lebanon about merging operations under the auspices of the MNF since the United Nations no longer existed. The MNF said if both sides were in agreement, they would relocate from Beirut to the south and the new organization would take on the role of a guard and peacekeeper between the two sides. They would work with to train Lebanese Army units to work alongside them and incorporate Lebanese nationals into their ranks for training and operations. The two sides accepted the offer and on April 10, 1984, signed the Treaty of Tyre.
Per the terms of the agreement, MNF troops would move into the south and begin taking over positions from Israel as their forces pulled out. In return, Israel would provide additional equipment to assist the MNF from its stocks. Further, as a condition of the accord, Israel would have to evacuate the unwelcome Southern Lebanese Army (SLA) which they had helped to create, in fact turning over their equipment to the MNF. After over a month of planning, units of the MNF began moving out of Beirut in May and heading south where they linked up with UNIFIL and UNDOF. Concerned for their safety, a number of refugees moved south as well, many westerners, making the decision to stay under the groups protection with the offer of working with local residents to help rebuild the infrastructure. By early June, two years to the day Israel had invaded Lebanon, the last forces had departed, with the new MNF having taken over.
To be continued...