April 18, 1988: US Navy Engages in Largest Naval Battle Since World War II!

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A Brief History

On April 18, 1988, the US Navy retaliated against the Navy of Iran in response to the USS Samuel Roberts being damaged by a mine.

Digging Deeper

Iran and Iraq engaged in an 8 year war that threatened to stop the flow of oil in the Persian Gulf, something that would have catastrophic economic consequences for the US and Europe.

Furthest ground gains.  Map by Maximilian Dörrbecker (Chumwa), translations by flow jojo.

The US Navy was escorting oil tankers through the Gulf when the USS Samuel Roberts had the misfortune to run into a mine, blowing a huge 25 foot hole in the ship.  Although no US sailors were killed, the ship was saved only by skilled and heroic action by the crew.

Not content to leave it at that, President Reagan authorized the Navy to retaliate, and the retaliation ended up being the largest naval engagement by the US Navy since World War II.  Two Iranian oil drilling platforms were attacked and boarded by US Marines who saw to the destruction of any military related systems (both weapons and intelligence gathering gear).  2 Iranian frigates, 1 gunboat, and 3 speed boats were sunk (1 of the frigates was heavily damaged and only partially sunk).  Two Iranian F-4 fighter jets were also shot down.  US forces suffered only a helicopter crash that killed 2 US Marines.

The Iranian frigate Sahand attacked by aircraft of U.S. Navy Carrier Air Wing 11 after the guided missile frigate USS Samuel B. Roberts struck an Iranian mine

This battle was a milestone for the US Navy in that it was the first time the Navy had engaged other ships with ship to ship missiles.  American weapons also included fighter planes, light bombers, and attack helicopters besides warships.

The battle, known as Operation Praying Mantis by the US military, was a success and directly contributed to ending the 8 year war between Iran and Iraq.  Although in 2003 the International Court of Justice ruled against any reparations for or against either Iran or the US, they did say that the action against the oil platforms was not justified.

Combat Patch of Operation Praying Mantis

Question for Students (and others): Should the US military be involved in foreign affairs far from our shores?  The debate was intense then and remains intense today.  What do you think?  Please place your answer in the comments section below this article.

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Historical Evidence

For more information, please see…

Peniston, Bradley.  No Higher Honor: Saving the USS Samuel B. Roberts in the Persian Gulf.  Naval Institute Press, 2013.

The featured image in this article, a photograph of the Iranian frigate Sahand burning from bow to stern on 18 April 1988 after being attacked, is a work of a sailor or employee of the U.S. Navy, taken or made as part of that person’s official duties. As a work of the U.S. federal government, it is in the public domain in the United States.

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About Author

Major Dan

Major Dan is a retired veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He served during the Cold War and has traveled to many countries around the world. Prior to his military service, he graduated from Cleveland State University, having majored in sociology. Following his military service, he worked as a police officer eventually earning the rank of captain prior to his retirement.