Mine Strike!

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.

Artist's conception of 14 April 1988 mine blast to USS Samuel B. Roberts (FFG 58)

arrow up to photoThe 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 looking through the hole in the hull of the guided missile frigate USS SAMUEL B. ROBERTS (FFG-58), sustained when the ship struck a mine while on patrol in the Persian Gulf on April 14, 1988. Photo taken 3 May 1988. The ship was in dry dock undergoing temporary repairs.

arrow up to photoA 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

A view of an auxiliary machinery room on the guided missile frigate USS SAMUEL B. ROBERTS (FFG-58) damaged when the ship struck a mine while on patrol in the Persian Gulf on April 14, 1988. Photo taken 3 May 1988. The ship was in dry dock undergoing temporary repairs.

arrow up to photoThe mine blast damaged this machinery in Roberts’ Auxiliary Machinery Room No. 3, aft of the engineroom. U.S. NAVY PHOTO BY PH2 RUDY PAHOYO

A view of an auxiliary machinery room on the guided missile frigate USS SAMUEL B. ROBERTS (FFG-58) damaged when the ship struck a mine while on patrol in the Persian Gulf on April 14, 1988. Photo taken 3 May 1988. The ship was in dry dock undergoing temporary repairs.

arrow up to photoAnother view of AMR3. U.S. NAVY PHOTO BY PH2 RUDY PAHOYO

A view of the main engineroom on the guided missile frigate USS SAMUEL B. ROBERTS (FFG-58) damaged when the ship struck a mine while on patrol in the Persian Gulf on April 14, 1988. Photo taken 3 May 1988. The ship was in dry dock undergoing temporary repairs.

arrow up to photoThe blast uprooted the engineroom’s red-painted bilge beams.PHOTO COURTESY OF ERIC SORENSEN, THE ROBERTS’ FIRST DAMAGE CONTROL ASSISTANT

Despite the mortal danger, members of the crew assembled textbook-quality shoring in the main storeroom to brace a weakened bulkhead that backed up to a flooded AMR3 aboard the guided missile frigate USS SAMUEL B. ROBERTS (FFG-58), which struck an Iranian mine while in the Persian Gulf on April 14, 1988.

arrow up to photoBeyond 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

A view of the ship's exhaust stack on the guided missile frigate USS SAMUEL B. ROBERTS (FFG-58) damaged when the ship struck a mine while on patrol in the Persian Gulf on April 14, 1988. The ship was in dry dock undergoing temporary repairs.

arrow up to photoThe 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)

The crew piled the naval shells from the 76mm gun aboard the guided missile frigate USS SAMUEL B. ROBERTS (FFG-58) on the ship's forecastle after the ship struck an Iranian mine while in the Persian Gulf on April 14, 1988.

arrow up to photoWhen 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

A port quarter view of the guided missile frigate USS SAMUEL B. ROBERTS (FFG-58) under tow by the tug Hunter after the ship struck a mine on Apr. 14, 1988.

arrow up to photoWith 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 forecastle of the guided missile frigate SAMUEL B. ROBERTS (FFG-58). Some of the crew are sleeping on the deck because of hull damage sustained when the ship struck a mine on April 14, 1988. The guided missile cruiser USS JOUETT (CG-29) is in the background.

arrow up to photoFireman 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.

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