Operation Earnest Will

Mess Management Specialist 2nd Class Williams Hendrickson scans for mines from the bow of the guided missile frigate USS Nicholas (FFG-47) on June 1, 1988, during an Earnest Will convoy. (PHCS Mitchell/U.S. Navy)

Mess Management Specialist 2nd Class Williams Hendrickson scans for mines from the bow of the guided missile frigate USS Nicholas (FFG-47) on June 1, 1988, during an Earnest Will convoy.

What was the USS Samuel B. Roberts (FFG 58) doing in the Persian Gulf in 1988? Escorting Kuwaiti oil tankers.

By 1984, the bloody war between Iraq and Iran had spilled into the waters of the Persian Gulf. The targets were the oil tankers whose cargoes helped replenish each other’s warchest, and the result was the Tanker War. In late 1986, Kuwait asked the United States to help protect its ships, and within several weeks, the Reagan administration acceeded to the request. The U.S. Navy prepared for the world’s largest maritime convoy operation since World War II. It was to be called Operation Earnest Will, and it would involve scores of U.S. warships.

That summer, nearly a dozen Kuwaiti tankers were reflagged as U.S. vessels. Beginning on 22 July, they were escorted by American warships and combat aircraft on the 500-mile run between the Gulf of Oman and the home waters of Kuwait. The dangers were amply demonstrated on the very first Earnest Will convoy. Two days into the Persian Gulf, the supertanker al-Rekkah, now renamed MV Bridgeton, struck a naval mine.

On the bridge, the Bridgeton’s skipper said, the explosion felt “as if a 500-ton hammer” had come down on the 400,000-ton ship. Fortunately, the tanker’s double hull and compartmentalized structure kept the damage to a minimum. The convoy moved on — with the three thin-skinned U.S. warships following meekly in the behemoth’s wake. And the danger would only grow — from mines, from warplanes, from warships….

 

An RH-3D Sea Stallion helicopter from U.S. Navy Helicopter Mine Countermeasures Squadron 14 (HM-14) tows a mine-clearing device through the waters of the Persian Gulf on 1 August 1987 during Operation Earnest Will.

An RH-3D Sea Stallion helicopter from Helicopter Mine Countermeasures Squadron 14 (HM-14) tows a mine-clearing device through the waters of the Persian Gulf on 1 August 1987.U.S. NAVY PHOTO BY PH2 HICKS

A starboard bow view of the U.S. NAvy guided missile frigate USS JARRETT (FFG-33), left, and the reflagged Kuwaiti supertanker SEA ISLE CITY underway during Operation Earnest Will. The JARRETT is one of several U.S. Navy ships assigned to escort supertankers through the PERSIAN GULF.

The guided missile frigate USS Jarrett (FFG 33), left, and the reflagged Kuwaiti supertanker Sea Isle City underway on 11 August 1987. U.S. NAVY PHOTO BY PHC GRUSHKIN

Crew members hoist a minesweeping float, known as a pig, over the side of the ocean minesweeper USS ILLUSIVE (MSO-448) during a training exercise. The ILLUSIVE is one of three minesweepers being towed to the PERSIAN GULF by the salvage ship USS GRAPPLE (ARS-53) to support U.S. Navy escort operations during Operation Earnest Will.

Crew members hoist a minesweeping float, known as a “pig,” over the side of the ocean minesweeper USS Illusive (MSO 448) during a training exercise on 1 September 1987. The Illusive was one of three minesweepers towed to the Persian Gulf by the salvage ship USS Grapple (ARS 53) after the Bridgeton hit a mine during the first Earnest Will convoy. U.S. NAVY PHOTO BY PH2 DUVALL

Crew members stand watch on the bow of the U.S. Navy guided missile destroyer USS <i>Kidd</i> (DDG 993) as reflagged Kuwaiti tankers move through Persian Gulf waters on 22 September 1987 during Operation Earnest Will.

Crew members stand watch on the bow of the guided missile destroyer USS Kidd (DDG 993) as reflagged Kuwaiti tankers move through Persian Gulf waters on 22 September 1987. The convoy includes, from foreground to background: the Gas King, Ocean City, Sea Isle City, and Bridgeton. U.S. NAVY PHOTO BY PH2 TOLLIVER

A starboard bow view of ships from a tanker convoy underway in the Persian Gulf during Operation Earnest Will. Included in the convoy are the reflagged tanker GAS KING, the U.S. Navy guided missile cruiser USS WILLIAM H. STANDLEY (CG-32) and the amphibious assault ship USS GUADALCANAL (LPH-7).

An Earnest Will tanker convoy underway in the Persian Gulf on 21 October 1987. From left, the reflagged tanker Gas King, the guided missile cruiser USS William H. Standley (CG 32), and the amphibious assault ship USS Guadalcanal (LPH 7). U.S. NAVY PHOTO BY PH2 (SW) JEFFREY ELLIOTT

During Operation Earnest Will, the U.S. Navy destroyer USS CHANDLER (DD 996) passes by the burning Greek tanker ARIANDE as fire tugs attempt to put out the blaze. The tanker was attacked earlier by small gunboats.

The destroyer USS Chandler (DD 996) passes the burning Greek tanker Arianda as fire tugs attempt to put out the blaze on 15 December 1987. The tanker was attacked by small gunboats. U.S. NAVY PHOTO BY PH2 (SW) JEFFREY ELLIOTT

A U.S. Marine mans a Mark 19, Mod 3 40mm automatic grenade launcher on the deck of the U.S. Navy amphibious transport dock USS Trenton (LPD 14) during general quarters during Operation Earnest Will in the Persian Gulf.

A U.S. Marine mans a Mark 19, Mod 3 40mm automatic grenade launcher on the deck of the amphibious transport dock USSTrenton (LPD 14) during general quarters on 20 February 1988. U.S. NAVY PHOTO BY CAPT. JOHN HYP, USMC

Lt. Dana Wiener, intelligence officer aboard the U.S. Navy guided missile frigate USS Nicholas (FFG 47), indicates the positions of ships in the Strait of Hormuz during a 1 June 1988 intelligence briefing during Operation Earnest Will.

Lt. Dana Wiener, intelligence officer aboard the guided missile frigate USS Nicholas (FFG 47), indicates the positions of ships in the Strait of Hormuz during a 1 June 1988 intelligence briefing. U.S. NAVY PHOTO BY PHCS MITCHELL

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