Checkpoint Asia

In 1988 the US Sank or Disabled Half of Iran’s Operational Navy

That time the Empire intervened in the Iraqi-Iranian Tanker War on the side of Saddam Hussein

2 frigates and 1 large missile boat, as well as 3 speedboats either disabled or sunk

Editor’s note: At the time Iraq and Iran were engaged in the “Tanker War” hitting tankers exporting the other’s oil. The US was indiferent to the more numerous Iraqi attacks on ships carrying Iranian oil, but used its military to prevent and retaliate against Iranian strikes of the type.


Western and allied navies participated in the Persian Gulf “tanker war” during the mid to late 1980s, protecting oil tankers from attack by Iranian small craft. In April 1988 the frigate Samuel B. Roberts hit a mine, sustaining heavy damage but no casualties. Physical evidence proved what was already apparent—the mine came from Iran.

In response, Enterprise and her escorts with a surface action group launched Operation Praying Mantis, attacking Iranian facilities in the gulf on April 18—the forty-sixth anniversary of the Doolittle raid.

Primary targets were two Iranian oil platforms that offered a base for Revolutionary Guard speedboats harassing reflagged Kuwaiti tankers [carrying Iraqi oil]. Marines helicoptered onto one platform, leaving explosives to disable the facility.

In response, the Iranians deployed Swedishbuilt Boghammer speedboats threatening transiting tankers. Two Enterprise Intruders intercepted the boats, dropping Rockeye cluster bombs that destroyed one Boghammer and holed others.

Meanwhile, one of Iran’s fast La Combattante class frigates exchanged missiles with two U.S. ships, coming off second best. Iran’s Joshan sank with heavy loss of life.

Shortly thereafter an Iranian frigate sortied, firing SAMs at nearby A-6s. The Intruders combined with a destroyer to smother 1,100-ton Sabalan with Harpoon missiles and laser-guided bombs. She drifted away on fire and was towed to port for repair.

During the day the Iranian air force launched two pair of F-4 Phantoms, but neither could intervene. The first two diverted when illuminated by a destroyer’s fire-control radar; the second set was engaged by a guided missile cruiser, damaging one of the American-made fighters and forcing its withdrawal.

In all, Praying Mantis destroyed an Iranian frigate, a gunboat, three speedboats, and damaged another frigate. A Marine Corps helicopter crashed during the operation with two fliers killed in the accident.

Source: History on the Net