As the USS Samuel B. Roberts (FFG 58) limped away from the minefield on April 14, 1988, 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, which was 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.
Watch a news clip about Operation Praying Mantis, produced by U.S. Navy public affairs and aired 30 April 1988.
All times approximate, and given in local Persian Gulf time. Ship photos by U.S. Navy.
First light: The Roberts’ SH-60 helicopter, now flying from the USS Trenton (LPD 14), lifts from the deck of the amphibious transport dock. The aircraft, call sign Magnum 447, heads off to give the targets a final visual check, and to stand by to evacuate wounded troops.
8:00 a.m.: A few minutes after delivering a radio warning, the destroyers of Surface Action Group Bravo open fire on the Sassan oil platform, which was being used by Iranian forces as a command-and-control center for attacks on Gulf shipping.
Gallery: Surface Action Group Bravo
8:05 a.m.: The ships of Surface Action Group Charlie open fire on the Sirri oil platform, which is being used to control Iranian maritime attacks.
Gallery: Surface Action Group Charlie
9:25 a.m.: Twin-rotor CH-46 helicopters deliver U.S. Marines to the Sassan platform, where they collect intelligence and set demolition charges. Plans are scratched to send Navy SEALs to the Sirri platform, which was set afire by the bombardment.
Gallery: Marines Hit Sassan Platform
11:30 a.m.: The Iranian patrol boat Joshan ignores radio warnings and approaches SAG Charlie. About 45 minutes later, Joshan fires a U.S.-made Harpoon missile — the remnant of a pre-Revolutionary arms purchase by the Iranian shah. Some 13 miles away, the U.S. ships fire chaff and dodge the incoming weapon. They return fire with Harpoons and Standard missiles, sinking Joshan in the world’s first missile duel between warships.
12:50 p.m.: A pair of Iranian F-4 fighters approach the cruiser Wainwright, which chases them off with a pair of Standard missiles.
1:30 p.m.: Iranian Boghammar speedboats attack the Scan Bay, a Panamanian jack-up barge with 15 American workers in the Mubarak oil field off the United Arab Emirates. Through a lengthy commo hookup, President Reagan himself authorizes a strike against the boats — the first time U.S. forces had intervened to stop an attack on a non-U.S. flagged vessel in the Gulf, and a harbinger of a formal policy to come. Two A-6E Intruders and an F-14 Tomcat are dispatched to attack; SAG Bravo provides a vector.
2:25 p.m.: The A-6s sink the lead Boghammar with Rockeye cluster bombs. Four other boats flee to the Iranian-controlled Abu Musa island and beach themselves.
3:30 p.m.: U.S. A-6s and warships attack the Iranian frigate Sahand with coordinated bombs and missiles. The frigate will sink several hours later.
Gallery: Intruders In Action
5:15 p.m.: The Iranian frigate Sabalan fires at an A-6, which dodges the missile and returns to drop a 500-pound bomb down the ship’s exhaust stack, leaving it dead in the water. Top U.S. defense officials in Washington, who are monitoring the fight, decide not to sink a third Iranian warship. They tell U.S. ships and aircraft to lay off Sabalan, and Iranian tugs eventually tow the damaged frigate back to the Bandar Abbas naval base.