On 16 October 1987, Iranian troops fired a Silkworm anti-ship missile from a launcher on Iran’s northwestern coast. It streaked across open Gulf waters and struck the MV Sea Isle City, a reflagged Kuwaiti oil tanker at anchor off Kuwait. The missile exploded, blinding the tanker’s American captain. It was the first successful strike against a tanker reflagged as part of Operation Earnest Will. U.S. officials took pains to point out that the attack had happened after the tanker had been turned loose by its naval escorts, but the White House nevertheless decided to deal a retaliatory blow. Three days later, on 19 October, the U.S. Navy mounted Operation Nimble Archer.
Two oil platforms were selected as targets; both were being used by Iranian forces as command-and-control posts. Four U.S. destroyers lined up — USS Hoel (DDG-13), USS John Young (DD-973), USS Kidd (DDG-993), and USS Leftwich (DD-984) — and began to steam past one of the platforms. At 2 p.m., Gulf time, the ships began firing hundreds of naval gun shells at the platforms. The facilities stubbornly refused to crumble; their steel lattice proved almost impervious to the blasting shells. But the incendiary effect eventually set them afire.
In a subsequent press conference, President Ronald Reagan called Nimble Archer “a prudent yet restrained response.”
U.S. NAVY PHOTOS BY PHOTOGRAPHER’S MATE 3RD CLASS HENRY CLEVELAND
USS John Young (DD-973) shells one of the Iranian oil platforms.
A U.S. Navy helicopter flies past one of the burning Iranian oil platforms.
Another Iranian oil platform burns.
John Young sails by one of the Iranian oil platforms.
A Spruance-class destroyer passes the burning platforms.