Operation Praying Mantis II

An Iranian command and control platform is set afire after being shelled by four US Navy destroyers. The shelling is a response to a recent Iranian missile attack on a reflagged Kuwaiti super tanker.

This conflict had little direct connection to the Cold War, which was still America’s dominant concern, but historically the United States had always been a champion of freedom of the seas. Consequently, at the outbreak of the Iran-Iraq War, President Carter had declared, “Freedom of navigation in the Persian Gulf is of primary importance to the whole international community. It is imperative that there be no infringement of that freedom of passage of ships to and from the Persian Gulf region.” Similarly, Carter’s secretary of state, Edmund Muskie, declared to the United Nations that “the freedom of navigation to and from the Persian Gulf . . . must not be infringed upon in any way.” But despite these statements, the United States directed its principal efforts at halting Iranian seaborne attacks and ignored Iraq’s airstrikes on Iranian shipping.

In January 1981 Ronald Reagan replaced Jimmy Carter in the White House, and in a deliberate slap at the departing president, Iran released the American hostages the same day. Like his predecessors, Reagan focused most of his foreign policy attention on the Cold War rivalry with the Soviet Union, which the new president called an “evil empire.” Indeed, efforts by the Reagan administration to strengthen the U.S. military—including a plan to increase the U.S. Navy to six hundred ships—were directed exclusively at the Soviets. Reagan’s secretary of defense, Casper Weinberger, was especially focused on the Soviet issue; one administration insider noted that Weinberger’s “whole world was Moscow.” Despite such single-minded focus, other issues intruded. In 1982 the United States sent eight hundred Marines into Lebanon as part of a peacekeeping force, and in October of the following year 241 of them died when a terrorist drove a truck bomb into their barracks. In 1986, the United States executed an air raid against Libya in retaliation for a series of terrorist acts against Americans and others. That same year the number of attacks on tankers in the Gulf jumped to 111, and Reagan sounded very much like his predecessor in announcing that “the United States has a vital interest in maintaining freedom of navigation in the gulf and stability in the region generally.”

In the midst of this sudden acceleration in the number of attacks, Kuwait sought protection for its tanker fleet by appealing first to the Gulf Cooperation Council and soon thereafter to the United States. At first the Reagan administration resisted entanglement in a lengthy and bloody war in the Persian Gulf, especially after the loss of the Marines in Lebanon. The United States was naturally and genuinely concerned by the menace to trade, but accepting responsibility for the security of the Gulf seemed to many to be a slippery slope and a distraction from the country’s focus on countering Soviet ambitions. Then the State Department learned that Kuwait had also appealed to the Soviet Union for help and that the Soviets were giving it serious consideration. In fact, the Soviets had already chartered three Kuwaiti tankers and re-flagged them as Soviet vessels. To the Reagan administration, the only scenario worse than putting U.S. forces in the middle of a shooting war halfway around the world was one that allowed the Soviet Union to become the patron of the oil-rich countries of the Persian Gulf. “Once we knew that the Kuwaitis were negotiating with the Soviets,” an American official admitted, “it sped up the process tremendously and we said ‘Let’s do it all!’” As a result, the United States advised the Kuwaiti government in March 1987 that it would accept responsibility for escorting Kuwaiti tankers in and out of the Persian Gulf.

To justify an American escort, the first step was to reflag the Kuwaiti tankers as American vessels. Only after the Reagan administration had committed itself did someone think to ask the Coast Guard about the legal ramifications of such a move. As the Coast Guard representative began to explain the rules at a meeting in the White House, Weinberger became visibly agitated, finally bursting out: “Are you telling me we can’t do this?” It could, in fact, be done, but it would require a lot of work. The ships would have to be refitted to meet U.S. standards, American skippers had to be found, and it all had to be accepted by the Kuwaitis. “We had to scurry around and get the Kuwaitis to agree,” recalled Admiral William J. Crowe Jr., the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, “and they were very reluctant. . . . They were grumbling all the way.”

Nor was that the only complication. Revelations that the Reagan administration had been engaged in secretly (and illegally) selling arms to Iran in order to obtain funds that it funneled into Central America to support a revolution there not only triggered a political firestorm in the United States but dramatically weakened the administration’s Gulf policy as well, since it was at least possible to argue that some of the weapons Iran was using to attack neutral shipping had been provided by the United States. Indeed, the United States continued to deliver missiles clandestinely to Iran as late as October 1986.

Then on May 17, 1987, an Iraqi fighter jet put two Exocet missiles into the USS Stark, and an angry Congress voted to put the escort mission on hold. The nation found itself entangled in a policy web so complex that even experts had difficulty sorting it out. As policy makers wrestled with the alternatives, there seemed to be three options: (1) the United States could back away from its emerging role as the cop on the beat and pull its naval assets out of the Gulf, conceding the field to the Soviets; (2) it could invite other nations to join it in establishing a multinational maritime force to protect trade; or (3) it could aggressively reinforce its own position in the Gulf and attempt to do the job alone. The Reagan administration considered the first option completely unacceptable. The United States might have opted for a multinational approach if it had been able to convince other nations to participate, but America’s NATO partners did not see Gulf security as a NATO issue despite the fact that in 1986 Western European countries obtained 46 percent of their oil from the Gulf. In the end, therefore, the United States settled on option three.

The Reagan administration determined to proceed with the convoy program partly because any alternative suggested a kind of retreat and partly because the habit of standing up to the Soviets had become irresistible. It is unlikely that those who contributed to the decision had any intention of carving out a new foreign policy doctrine for the nation; Caspar Weinberger stated bluntly that “our ships are not there as referees.” That same week, however, a Newsweek article observed that the new challenge for the United States was “how to act as a neutral gendarme.” In any event, two days after the Stark disaster, Reagan declared, “We remain deeply committed to supporting the self-defense of our friends in the gulf and to insuring the free flow of oil through the Strait of Hormuz.”

To do that, of course, the United States would have to increase its naval presence dramatically and modify the rules of engagement to allow captains more leeway to defend their commands. Within days the United States sent additional surface forces into the Persian Gulf, and the carrier Constellation moved into Camel Station in the northern Arabian Sea. Altogether, the United States committed thirty warships to the operation, with more to follow. In addition, although the rules of engagement remained officially unchanged, Admiral Crowe made a visit to the Gulf to encourage commanders to interpret “hostile intent” more broadly. In particular, he told them that they did not have to be shot at first before they acted in self-defense. “If you are locked on, and you think you are under threat, you do what you need to do to protect your ship.” That included shooting first. “If you make a mistake,” he told them, “I’ll support you.”

More than a few in Congress and in uniform worried about the new policy. By acting to protect Kuwaiti tankers trading with Iraq, the United States appeared to be openly choosing sides in the war. Others wondered if by acting unilaterally, the United States was not assuming too high a profile. Lee Hamilton, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs committee, asked “if an international force would have been more appropriate,” and Admiral Wesley McDonald in the semiofficial U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings expressed a concern about America becoming the “policeman of the world.” Finally, of course, the decision would put U.S. ships and sailors in peril. The New York Times quoted one Iranian firebrand who declared, “Those who think that by flying the U.S. flag they can help the aggressor, are making a mistake and should know that we will set those flags on fire.” In spite of all these concerns, however, the U.S. Navy prepared to fulfill the mission it was assigned: to escort Kuwaiti tankers through the war zone of the Persian Gulf in what was officially code-named Operation Earnest Will.

The first convoy of Earnest Will got under way on July 22, 1987, in the middle of the searing Gulf summer. The escort was a strong one, consisting of three U.S. Navy warships: the guided missile cruiser Fox, the destroyer Kidd, and the frigate Crommelin (a sister ship of the Stark), under the overall command of Captain Dave Yonkers. Their assignment was to escort two vessels, the 400,000-ton supertanker Bridgeton (formerly the Al Rekkah) and the much smaller Gas Prince, a liquid petroleum gas transport ship, from the Gulf of Oman through the Strait of Hormuz to the Al Ahmadi oil terminal near Kuwait City at the head of the Persian Gulf, a two-day journey. The Bridgeton’s new American captain, Frank Seitz, assured his Kuwaiti crew that they had nothing to fear on the trip through the Gulf because they would be under the protection of the U.S. Navy, and when the American flag broke at the Bridgeton’s masthead, the crew offered a round of applause.

Yonkers had originally planned to take the convoy through the Strait at night. It was there, where the main ship channel was only twelve miles from Iranian territory, that the danger would be greatest. Yonkers knew that the Iranians had Chinese-made Silkworm missile batteries on the north side of the strait, and with their thousand-pound warheads, not only could those missiles cripple a tanker, they could very likely sink his warships. But Navy officials wanted to minimize the possibility of another error in identification such as the one that had nearly doomed the Stark and directed Yonkers to make the run in daylight. Consequently, the convoy got under way at 9:30 in the morning, with the temperature already topping a hundred degrees. Over the ship’s loudspeaker, Captain Bill Mathis of the Fox set the tone: “Remember—this is the real thing—this is not a drill. We are going to be ready—we will make sure that these ships get to Kuwait on time and unharmed.”

All three U.S. warships set Condition One Alpha, in which two-thirds of the crew remained at battle stations, and they stayed in that condition throughout the seven-hour transit through the Strait. The Fox led, with the two tankers next in line, and the small frigate Crommelin in the rear. The destroyer Kidd took the flank, alternating from one side to the other depending on where the danger seemed greatest. The crew was on high alert, the men in the air-conditioned CIC bent low over their radar repeaters, and the lookouts topside in the baking sun were more intent than usual as they searched the Iranian shoreline with their binoculars for any sign of approaching small craft. On the escorts, the chaff and Phalanx systems were set in automatic mode; in the air, AWACS planes kept the escorts apprised of air activity over the Gulf; at Camel Station in the Gulf of Oman, A-6 attack planes and F/A-18 fighters sat in launch positions on the deck of the Constellation. As the convoy passed into the Strait of Hormuz the warships detected Iranian missile-control radar tracking them. A petty officer on the Fox confided to an onboard journalist: “Everybody has the feeling that something is going to happen.”

But it didn’t. Despite all the threats made by the Iranians that they would not tolerate American interference in the Gulf War, the convoy passed through the strait not only unscathed but largely ignored. Once into the southern Gulf, two Iranian F-4 aircraft approached the convoy at 5,000 feet, but when warned off by the Kidd, they disengaged and departed the area. With a straight run to the oil-loading pier off Kuwait City, it seemed that the United States had successfully called Iran’s bluff. Then on July 24, with the convoy just 120 miles from its destination, Captain Seitz, on the Bridgeton, felt a sudden jarring blow. He recalled later, “It felt like a 500-ton hammer hit us up forward.” A shock wave rippled down the twelve-hundred-foot length of the giant ship, and when it reached the bridge near the stern, it snapped the guy wires on the ship’s radar mast and nearly knocked Seitz off his feet. The Bridgeton had struck a Soviet-made M-08 mine, an old-fashioned contact mine: a bottom-moored sphere with projecting horns not significantly different from the mines that the Spanish had dumped in Manila Bay in the hope of deterring Dewey. Although it was a particularly low-tech weapon in this new age of electronic warfare, it had blown a thirty-by-fifteen-foot hole in the forward hull of the Bridgeton.

Seitz ordered all stop, but a 400,000-ton tanker steaming at sixteen knots cannot stop in a hurry. Even ordering full astern had a minimal effect in halting the ship’s inertia. As far as Seitz knew, there were more mines ahead, but if so, there was nothing he could do about it as the Bridgeton continued forward for another three miles before it slowed, finally, to a halt. Seitz ordered an inspection of the damage. The giant hole in the forward hull was less critical than it first appeared. Because the tanker’s storage tanks were compartmented, the structural damage was limited to one section, and the Bridgeton was in no danger of sinking. Moreover, because it was traveling north, it was unburdened—that is, empty—though in fact crude oil is remarkably stable, and in most attacks on tankers the cargo failed to ignite. Seitz recalled later, “After about five minutes, we knew the ship was in no real danger.” After hearing Seitz’s report, Yonkers decided to continue the voyage, though at reduced speed.

It was now evident, however, that in addition to Iranian speedboats, Silkworm missiles, and Iraqi fighter jets, there was a new peril in the Persian Gulf. Mines—silent and impersonal—could be lurking anywhere in its narrow, crowded confines. The mine threat caught the United States by surprise. It was not that Americans had failed to imagine it; instead policy makers had doubted Iran’s willingness to employ mines, expecting (actually hoping) that the large U.S. naval presence would deter Iran’s rulers from escalating the naval conflict. As a result, the U.S. Navy was simply unprepared for mine warfare, and its impressive fleet seemed suddenly very vulnerable. The Bridgeton had demonstrated that it could survive contact with a mine, but the same explosion that tore a thirty-by-fifteen-foot hole in the bottom of the 400,000-ton Bridgeton would very likely be fatal to the 3,600-ton Crommelin or even the 6,500-ton Fox.

Quickly appraising the new circumstances, and aware that where there was one such mine there were almost certainly others, Seitz recommended to Yonkers that each of the escorts “get in behind the Bridgeton.” Yonkers agreed, and in that moment the protectors suddenly became the protected. As the convoy proceeded north at a reduced speed of eight knots with the American escorts trailing the giant Bridgeton like so many ducklings, Seitz took a good deal of ribbing from his crew for his earlier assurance that the voyage would be a safe one because they were being escorted by the U.S. Navy.

The United States took steps to dramatically improve its minesweeping capability. Giant Air Force C-5 transport planes flew eight RH-53D Sea Stallion minesweeping helicopters from the United States to the tiny island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, and from there the helicopters flew under their own power to the deck of the helicopter carrier Guadalcanal. In addition, the United States anchored two enormous barges (named Hercules and Winbrown) in the Gulf and used them as immobile helicopter carriers. Leased from the Houston, Texas, firm of Brown & Root, these heavy-lift barges essentially fulfilled the role that many felt should have been assumed by Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, both of which refused to allow the United States to use its bases for minesweeping helicopters. Later, the United States added half a dozen old minesweepers built in the 1950s and called into service from the reserve fleet.

Eventually these Gulf convoys became more or less routine. Two or three American destroyers or frigates would rendezvous with between two and four tankers at one end or the other of the Persian Gulf and escort them through the combat zone. During the passage it was not uncommon for other ships of any nationality to join the convoy, though they did so without authorization, shouldering their way into the formation and causing headaches for the convoy commander. One convoy ended up with a total of twenty-one ships, most of which were uninvited hangers-on. As one convoy commander recalled, they barged into the formation “like Mama Cass at an all-you-can-eat buffet . . . there was nothing we could do about it.”

Eventually U.S. naval forces conducted a total of 136 convoys in the Persian Gulf, escorting 270 ships through the war zone. Of those, 188 (70 percent) were reflagged Kuwaiti tankers. In the end, only the unlucky Bridgeton suffered any damage. America’s debut as the policeman of the Persian Gulf in Operation Earnest Will was a success. In a larger sense, however, what was important in all this was the nation’s initial decision to accept responsibility for the control and direction of Gulf traffic. The convoys themselves, as Michael Palmer has pointed out, were largely symbolic. What was historically significant was America’s willingness, and the Navy’s ability, to turn the Persian Gulf into a kind of American lake.

To this point, American involvement in the Iran-Iraq War was peripheral, but it nevertheless caused the Iranians serious concern, for if it chose to do so, the U.S. Navy could easily dominate the naval war. Iran did have a substantial surface navy: it was essentially the navy that the Khomeini regime had inherited from the shah, much of it supplied by Britain and the United States.* But the Iranian navy, like the Iranian army, had suffered greatly in the wake of the 1979 revolution, and in any case it could not come close to matching up to the U.S. Navy. Whenever Iranian warships ventured out of port, the U.S. Navy made it clear that they were to keep their distance. “We would just illuminate them with our fire control radar,” one officer recalled, “and that would be enough to keep them outside the range of our missiles.”

Iran’s most sophisticated antiship weapon was the Chinese-made Silk-worm missile, which had a range of eighty miles. But using a Silkworm against tankers turned out to be like shooting elephants with a .22 rifle. They could punch a hole in a tanker, but they seldom proved fatal or even particularly serious. Moreover, Silkworm missiles were expensive. As defense analyst Norman Friedman noted at the time, “It cost less to repair a tanker than to buy another anti-ship missile on the international market.” In short, firing Silkworm missiles at tankers was a losing proposition.

A more unpredictable element of Iran’s naval capability was the seagoing arm of what was called the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (or just the Guard), a semiautonomous cadre of religious fanatics who were not only self-appointed guardians of Iran’s internal morals and religious purity but also virtual free agents in the war with Iraq. The Guard’s “navy” consisted of a score or so of small rubber Zodiac boats armed with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) launchers. Just as the Iranians embraced low-technology warfare on land—launching human-wave attacks against the Iraqi army—so, too, did the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps adopt a low-technology naval effort in the Gulf. These dedicated fanatics put to sea in vessels so tiny they could hide behind navigational buoys; even in the open sea they didn’t show up on radar. The notion of attacking a 400,000-ton tanker in a rubber boat may have looked like a mosquito assaulting a rhinoceros, but these vessels could still do damage. Their usual procedure was to approach a tanker and politely ask its nationality and port of embarkation. Receiving the information, they would then leave, only to return at night and shoot up the bridge and living quarters with small-arms fire. They couldn’t sink ships, but they could kill people, and their presence created anxiety for U.S. warship commanders. “A lot of the time there’d be small boats, whether they were smuggling, fishermen, or whatever,” one U.S. officer recalled. “They’d come by and we’d man the .50-caliber and 25 mm guns. . . . It was very unsettling. There’s a war going on with people shooting and killing each other on land and air and sea. We’re not an active belligerent in that war, but at the same time there are commercial airliners, merchant shipping, fishermen, and others, and it was stressful to distinguish among all these. It was very nerve wracking.”

But Iran’s most dangerous low-technology weapon was mines. Iran turned to mine warfare because it simply lacked the assets to fight a traditional naval war against the U.S. Navy. Just as the Confederacy turned to ironclads in 1862 and Germany to submarines in 1914, so in 1987 did Iran seek an alternative to the conventional weapons of naval warfare. Cheap and easy to put in place, mines caused the U.S. Navy special problems in the confined and crowded waters of the Persian Gulf because they did not distinguish among targets and were difficult to remove and destroy.

From the moment of impact, the Americans had assumed that the mine that damaged the Bridgeton had been laid by Iranian forces. Iran’s government made no secret of its determination to target the shipping of both Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. The Iranians contended that both countries, though officially neutral, were effectively supporting Iraq in what was, after all, an unprovoked war of aggression. As far as Iran was concerned, that made Saudi and Kuwaiti vessels fair game, and if the United States chose to put itself in harm’s way by escorting them through a war zone, the United States, too, was fair game, though Iran was reluctant to challenge the United States directly. For that reason, Iran did not publicly claim credit for damaging the Bridgeton, instead attributing the incident to “invisible hands.” Nevertheless, the location of the mine, only eighteen miles from Iranian-controlled Farsi Island, was suspicious, and most Americans assumed that Iran was the culprit. Still, it was hard to prove who was responsible for sowing any particular mine, and to hold Iran accountable, it would be necessary to catch them in the act.

Americans found the smoking gun in September. As one example of an emerging tendency toward interservice cooperation (or jointness), Admiral Crowe arranged for a few U.S. Navy frigates in the Gulf to carry U.S. Army Special Forces MH-6 helicopters, which fit easily into the hangers that had been designed for the Navy’s ASW helicopters. Despite initial resistance by Navy personnel to the whole idea of hosting Army Rangers on Navy ships, the small, two-seater Army helicopters soon proved their value. What made them especially desirable was that they were remarkably quiet and were equipped with the latest in night-vision technology. Because they flew only at night, the Navy crews called them “Sea Bats.” The pilots, Army Special Forces warrant officers, stayed aboard the ships during the day in quarters that the Navy men quickly labeled the “Bat Cave” and ventured out at night when the Iranians believed they were protected by the veil of darkness. On the night of September 21, two of these small but lethal helicopters from the USS Jarrett spotted a vessel in a ship channel northeast of Bahrain. Through their night-vision goggles, they could clearly see sailors on the fantail dropping mines over the side.

Prior to their deployment to the Gulf, the Army pilots had been briefed personally by Admiral Crowe, himself a former commander of the Middle East Forces, who had emphasized that laying mines was “a hostile act” and told them that if they observed any vessel so engaged, they could open fire without warning. Consequently, the Sea Bats immediately swooped down and laced the stern of the vessel with their 7.62-millimeter Gatling guns. The crew members threw themselves to the deck, but when the helicopters flew past, they resumed dropping mines in the water. The Army helicopters came around for another run, and this time they fired 3.75-inch rocket pods filled with fléchette rounds—hundreds of tiny nails. The ship’s crew jumped over the side, and the vessel caught fire. The next morning a Navy SEAL team boarded the abandoned vessel, which proved to be the Iranian transport vessel Iran Ajr, and found ten mines still on board along with their fuses and timers.

Dead and living Iranians were plucked from the water nearby and taken aboard the U.S. command ship LaSalle, a converted transport dock that was serving as the flagship of the Commander Middle East Force. The dead were stored rather awkwardly in the ship’s freezer, those who needed hospital attention were flown to the Guadalcanal, and the rest were bound with plastic handcuffs and detained aboard the LaSalle. Their legal status was a bit murky. “We’re not at war,” a U.S. Defense Department spokesman declared, “so they really couldn’t be called prisoners. For now they’re being called detainees.” It was a new term for a new kind of conflict, and it would not be the last time the United States would find occasion to use it.

The Sea Bats soon made nighttime mine laying a dangerous business for the Iranians. On October 8 a night-flying MH-6 helicopter sank an Iranian Boghammer gunboat and damaged two other craft. Iran protested these attacks and called for a mutual withdrawal of forces from the Gulf. Instead, the United States warned Iran that continued mine laying would provoke even harsher responses. In a press interview, Secretary of the Navy James Webb declared, “There comes a time when a different sort of reaction could be necessary in order to make it clear what our objectives are.”

With the night-flying Sea Bats interrupting their mine-laying efforts, and Sea Stallions sweeping the mines ahead of the convoys, the Iranians tried a new tactic. Their reconquest of the Faw Peninsula, just east of the Shatt-al-Arab, put them within missile range of Kuwait, and on October 15, 1987, they fired a Silkworm missile at a Liberian-registered tanker near the Al Ahmadi oil terminal. The next day they fired another into the bridge of the reflagged supertanker Sea Isle City. Technically, because the oil terminal was in Kuwaiti waters, the Sea Isle City was no longer under American protection, but because it had been previously reflagged as an American vessel, the Reagan administration decided that some kind of retaliation was needed. Despite the administration’s public disdain for the kind of incremental escalation that had drawn the United States into Vietnam, Reagan sought a measured response. The key word in the administration was “proportionality.” What would constitute a proportional response for a missile attack on the Sea Isle City?

Rather than sink an Iranian warship, which some in the administration feared would provoke a dangerous escalation, administration planners decided instead to target an Iranian oil platform. The justification for this was that the Iranians used these platforms to monitor maritime trade in the Gulf and to conduct surveillance of U.S. warships. The particular platform selected was the Rashadat platform in the southern Gulf, from which the Iranians had fired (though unsuccessfully) at a U.S. helicopter the year before.

To ensure overwhelming firepower superiority, the United States assigned no fewer than six warships to the mission: one cruiser, four destroyers, and the small frigate Thach, named in honor of Jimmy Thach, who had commanded VF-3 in the Battle of Midway. Their orders were to steam up to the Rashadat platform, warn the Iranians to evacuate, and then destroy it with gunfire. To ensure that the rest of the world (including the American public) witnessed this expression of American displeasure, a film crew also came on board with orders to photograph the entire operation.

The attack took place on October 19, 1987. One of the two platforms caught fire almost immediately, but the other proved remarkably resilient; it was like trying to destroy a spiderweb with rifle fire. After an hour and a half, although the U.S. ships had fired more than a thousand rounds of high-explosive ordnance into its skeleton, the second platform stubbornly refused to collapse. Finally, the Thach sent an ordnance disposal team over to it; the team planted munitions and returned. When the ordnance was detonated, “the platform disappeared.”

The purpose of the raid was to make a clear statement not only to the Iranian government but also to the international community. The commanding officer of the Thach recalled, “The real payoff . . . was the film of the U.S. ships firing as a demonstration of U.S. power and resolve, not the actual destruction of an oil platform.” Without a doubt, it got the Iranians’ attention. The Iranian ambassador to the United Nations wailed that the United States “has opened an all-out war against my country.” But there was concern within the U.S. Navy, too. A relatively large U.S. naval squadron had expended more than a thousand rounds of high explosive and fragmentation shells to cripple an oil platform. A cartoon that was reprinted in the Navy Times depicted a Navy gunner reporting to his superiors: “That’s ONE THOUSAND high-explosive five inch rounds fired at close range, target sort of destroyed, sir!” To which the officer replied: “Dam’ fine shooting, gunner. Good thing that oil platform wasn’t moving!” And another officer added: “Or firing back!” One critic calculated the cost of a thousand shells and concluded that the operation had cost the United States more than it had the Iranians.

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