Just before 5 p.m. on 14 April 1988, USS Samuel B. Roberts (FFG 58) found itself in a minefield laid in the central Persian Gulf’s main eastbound shipping channel. While attempting to work clear, the guided missile frigate struck an Iranian M-08 naval mine.
The explosion broke the ship’s keel and blew a hole in the hull beneath the waterline. Superheated gases tore through the ship’s exhaust vents until a fireball burst from the ship’s stack, lighting fires on four decks.The engineroom and one auxiliary machinery space flooded immediately. A third space began to fill — threatening to send the ship to the bottom. ILLUSTRATION BY CHRIS STOPA
A view through the hole in the Roberts’ hull. This photo was taken on 3 May 1988, as the ship rested on blocks in a Dubai drydock. U.S. NAVY PHOTO BY PH2 RUDY PAHOYO
The mine blast damaged this machinery in Roberts’ Auxiliary Machinery Room No. 3, aft of the engineroom. U.S. NAVY PHOTO BY PH2 RUDY PAHOYO
Another view of AMR3. U.S. NAVY PHOTO BY PH2 RUDY PAHOYO
The blast uprooted the engineroom’s red-painted bilge beams.PHOTO COURTESY OF ERIC SORENSEN, THE ROBERTS’ FIRST DAMAGE CONTROL ASSISTANT
Beyond this bulkhead is a machinery space nearly full of oil-fouled seawater. It threatened to burst through the steel plates and flood the Roberts’ main storeroom; the crew assembled textbook-quality shoring to buttress it. U.S. NAVY PHOTO BY PH2 RUDY PAHOYO
The explosion sent a fireball up through the ship’s stack, where fires would burn for hours, blackening its skin and the Engineering “E.” Over the next five hours, the crew of the Robertslabored to stanch the flooding and extinguish fires on four decks.PHOTO COURTESY OF THOMAS MOWRY, AN OPERATIONS SPECIALIST 1ST CLASS ABOARD ROBERTS (MORE PHOTOS BY MOWRY)
When the fires threatened the 76mm gun magazine, the crew formed a working party — a sort of bucket brigade — to pass the shells up onto the deck and forward to the forecastle. The support ship USS San Jose (T-AFS 7) is in the background. PHOTO COURTESY OF ERIC SORENSEN
With its engines dead, the Roberts limped free of the minefield on its auxiliary thrusters. The next day, 15 April, the tug Huntertook the frigate in tow and headed for Dubai. Here, a U.S. Marine Corps CH-46 Sea Knight helicopter approaches the ship’s flight deck. U.S. NAVY PHOTO BY PH2 RUDY PAHOYO
Fireman James Seward sleeps on the Roberts’ forecastle. With the hull creaking and groaning, Capt. Rinn judged the ship too unstable to let his sailors sleep inside. The guided missile cruiser USS Jouett (CG 29) is in the background. U.S. NAVY PHOTO BY PH2 RUDY PAHOYO
U.S. NAVY PHOTO BY PHOTOGRAPHER’S MATE 1ST CLASS CHUCK MUSSI
Meanwhile, Navy divers recovered other mines whose serial numbers matched the ones found aboard the Iranian minelayer Iran Ajr several months earlier. Planning for the retaliation, dubbed Operation Praying Mantis, began immediately, and three groups of U.S. warships were assembled in the Gulf. On the morning of 18 April, four days after the mining, they were ready to strike.