Awards For Persian Gulf Actions
On 14 April 1988, USS Samuel B. Roberts, on routine patrol in the central Persian Gulf struck an M-80 mine. Even while the crew of “Sammy B.” worked heroically to save their crippled warship, U.S. planners developed an appropriate, measured action against Iran in response to that country’s mining of international waters.
Three surface action groups (SAG’s) were assembled to take part in Operation PRAYING MANTIS, a planned strike against two Iranian oil platforms identified as staging points for patrol boats used to attack merchant shipping in the Gulf. SAG’s Bravo and Charlie would strike the platforms while SAG Delta acted as a deterrent to hostile Iranian naval activity in the Strait of Hormuz.
SAG Bravo commanded by CAPT James B. Perkins, COMDESRON NINE and consisting of USS Merrill (DD 976), CDR C. Covington commanding, USS Lynde McCormick (DDG 8), CDR Terrance T. Etnyre commanding and USS Trenton (LPD 14), CAPT Robert M. Nutwell commanding took its position near the Iranian Sassan gas/oil platform on 18 April 1988. Prior to opening fire, SAG Bravo warned personnel on the platform of the impending strike and ordered them to abandon their position. Although some of the platform personnel did leave, others remained and opened fire on the SAG with a 23 mm cannon. Merrill responded and fire from the platform was quickly suppressed.
As the remaining platform personnel took flight in a rubber raft, approaching Iranian F-4’s re-focused the SAG’s attention on the UP, OUT, and DOWN nature of modern surface action. The Phantoms turned away before a confrontation with SAG Bravo ships took place.
Hostile fire neutralized and the platform evacuated, Marines from Trenton boarded the rig. After surveying the platform for intelligence material, they set explosive charges and departed. The charges were detonated and the platform was damaged so severely that it was militarily useless.
Less than 100 miles away, SAG Charlie, commanded by CAPT James F. Chandler, CO of USS Wainwright (CG 28), and including USS Simpson (FFG 56), CDR James J. McTigue commanding and USS Bagley (FF 1069), CDR Keith P. Bersticker commanding, took position to strike the Sirri gas/oil platform.
As at Sassan, personnel on the Sirri platform were given time to evacuate before SAG Charlie opened fire. Within thirty minutes, smoke and fire completely engulfed the rig. As the SAG withdrew the 154-ft, 2334-ton Iranian Kaman-class fast attack craft Joshan armed with Harpoon antiship cruise missiles closed on the U.S. force. Ignoring three warnings from Wainwright, the French-built Iranian missile craft continued its hostile approach on SAG Charlie. At the same time an Iranian F-4 was detected, also closing the SAG.
In response to the warnings, Joshan fired an antiship missile at Wainwright. Simpson, directed to engage Joshan, immediately returned fire with three surface-to-surface missiles. Wainwright fired two SAM’s at the Iranian Phantom then Bagley and Wainwright joined Simpson in the surface engagement against Joshan with Wainwright and Simpson firing one more surface-to-surface missile apiece and Bagley firing a harpoon missile.
The F-4, apparently damaged, descended rapidly and made a rum for Iran. Joshan, though heavily damaged and burning furiously from the missile hits, did not sink. SAG Bravo sent the wallowing hulk to the bottom with gunfire.
As surface actions unfolded to the west, SAG Delta, commanded by CAPT Donald A. Dryer, COMDESRON 22, and consisting of USS Jack Williams (FFG 24), CDR Edward Mann commanding, USS O’Brien (DD 975), CDR R. James Abbott commanding and USS Joseph Strauss (DDG 16), CDR Samuel K. Anderson commanding, continued their security patrol near the Strait of Hormuz.
The SAG’s presence was justified as the Iranian missile frigate Sahand, sortied from its anchorage at Bandar Abbas. The 310-ft, 1220-ton ship initiated hostile action by opening fire on A-6’s sent by USS Enterprise (CVN 65), CAPT Robert J. Spane commanding, to identify the Iranian ship. In the first coordinated antiship missile attack using surface and air assets, Joseph Strauss and the A-6’s launched a total of three Harpoon missiles against Sahand. The missile attack was followed by a laser-guided bomb dropped from an A-6 which left the Iranian frigate a sinking hulk.
A second Iranian missile frigate, Sabalan, sistership of Sahand, also sortied from Bandar Abbas. Sabalan was damaged by laser-guided bomb hits after the frigate opened fire on aircraft from Enterprise.
All ships received the Joint Meritorious Unit Award and the Combat Action Ribbon. Sailors assigned or attached to the ships (and temporarily assigned sailors deemed necessary by the ship’s commanding officer) who were actually present and participated in Operation PRAYING MANTIS are authorized to wear these awards permanently.
The Bronze Star Medal with Combat “V” was awarded to 14 sailors and the Navy Commendation Medal with Combat “V” was awarded to 15 sailors from the three SAG’s.
As printed in Surface Warfare Magazine May/June 1989 issue.