In the post below concerning the release of the journalists commenter lurker links to a story about the Iranian navy testing missiles. This brought to mind a naval battle fought in 1988 between the US and Iran. I bet most people today know nothing about Operation Praying Mantis.
Operation Praying Mantis was the April 18, 1988 action waged by U.S. naval forces in retaliation for the Iranian mining of an American warship by the Iran Ajr.
The April 14 mining nearly sank the guided missile frigate USS Samuel B. Roberts, which was sailing in the Persian Gulf as part of Operation Earnest Will, the 1987-88 convoy missions in which U.S. warships escorted reflagged Kuwaiti oil tankers to protect them from Iranian attacks. By the time the Roberts was towed to Dubai on April 15, battered but saved with no loss of life, U.S. planning for the retaliatory operation had already begun in Washington and in the Middle East.
The Iran Ajr was linked to the mineblast when military explosives analysts discovered that the serial codes on the mines matched those on the Iran Ajr. Operation Praying Mantis ensued, as the United States Navy retaliated against the Iran Ajr and attacked many other Iranian vessels.
The battle, the largest between surface forces since World War II, sank two Iranian warships and as many as six armed speedboats (in addition to the Iran Ajr). The attack by the U.S. may have helped pressure Iran to agree to a ceasefire with Iraq later that summer, ending the eight-year conflict between the Persian Gulf neighbors.
On April 18, 1988, the Americans responded with several groups of surface warships, plus airplanes from the carrier USS Enterprise. The action began with coordinated strikes by two surface groups. One group, consisting of two destroyers and the amphibious transport dock USS Trenton, attacked the Sassan oil platform while the other, which included a guided missile cruiser and two frigates, attacked the Sirri oil platform. U.S. Marines from Marine Air-Ground Task Force (MAGTF) 2-88 fast-roped onto the Sassan platform, gathered intelligence, and set explosives to disable it.
Iran responded by dispatching Boghammar speedboats to attack various targets in the Persian Gulf, including an American-flagged supply ship and a Panamanian-flagged ship. After these attacks, A-6E Intruder aircraft from VA-95 were vectored in on the speedboats by an American frigate. The aircraft dropped Rockeye cluster bombs on the speedboats, sinking one and damaging several others.
Action continued to escalate. Joshan, an Iranian Combattante II Kaman-class fast attack craft, challenged USS Wainwright (CG-28) and her surface group, firing a Harpoon missile at them. The American ships responded to the challenge by firing six Standard missiles and one Harpoon at Joshan, destroying it. Fighting continued when the Iranian frigate Sahand departed Bandar Abbas and challenged elements of an American surface group. She was observed by two VA-95 A-6Es while they were flying surface combat air patrol for USS Joseph Strauss (DDG-16). Iranian frigate IS Sahand (74) burning on April 18, 1988 after being attacked Enlarge Iranian frigate IS Sahand (74) burning on April 18, 1988 after being attacked
Sahand launched missiles at the A-6Es, and the Intruders replied with launches of two Harpoons and four laser-guided Skipper bombs. This was followed by a Harpoon firing from Joseph Strauss. The weapons delivered against Sahand were successful.
Fires blazing on her decks eventually reached her magazines, resulting in an explosion that led to her sinking. Despite the loss of Sahand, one of Iran's most modern ships, the Iranian navy continued to fight. A sister ship, Sabalan, departed her port for operations in the Persian Gulf. She fired on several A-6Es from VA-95 with a surface-to-air missile. One of the Intruders responded with a laser-guided bomb that hit Sabalan and stopped her dead in the water. The Iranian frigate was taken in tow by an Iranian tug with the stern partially submerged. VA-95's aircraft, as ordered, did not continue the attack.
By the end of the operation elements of the American fleet had damaged Iranian naval and intelligence facilities on two inoperable oil platforms in the Persian Gulf, and sank at least six armed Iranian speedboats. Sabalan was repaired in 1989 and has since been upgraded, and is still in service with the Iranian navy. In short, Iran lost one major warship and a smaller gunboat. Damage to the oil platforms was eventually repaired and they are now back in service.
The U.S. side took only two casualties: the aircrew of a Marine Corps AH-1T Sea Cobra gunship. The Cobra, attached to the USS Trenton, was flying reconnaissance from the Wainwright and crashed sometime after dark about 15 miles southwest of Abu Musa island. The bodies of Capt. Stephen C. Leslie, 30, of New Bern, N.C., and Capt. Kenneth W. Hill, 33, of Thomasville, N.C., were recovered by Navy divers in May, and the wreckage of the helicopter was raised later that month. Navy officials said it showed no sign of battle damage, though the aircraft could have crashed while trying to evade Iranian fire.