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Operation Praying Mantis

A Look Back at How U.S. Naval Forces Responded to Hostile Forces in the Arabian Gulf.

An engagement 25 years ago on April 14, 1988 sparked a determined and quick response four days later from the U.S., known as Operation Praying Mantis, which demonstrated the same priorities the Navy maintains today.

In early 1988, as part of Operation Earnest Will, the U.S. Navy was engaged in maintaining freedom of navigation in the Arabian Gulf as Iraq and Iran continued in a bloody war. The USS Enterprise (CVN 65) was operating in the region.

Little did anyone know that what would happen that day would draw naval forces into action and alter the course of history.

Watchstanders aboard USS Samuel B. Roberts (FFG 58), Northeast of Qatar, sighted three mines floating approximately one-half mile from the ship. Twenty minutes after the first sighting, as Samuel B. Roberts was backing clear of the minefield, it struck a submerged mine. The blast injured 10 Sailors and tore a 21-foot hole in the hull, nearly ripping the warship in half. Quick and determined actions by the crew, who worked for seven hours to stabilize the ship, kept the vessel from sinking.

"We heard about it right away and very shortly thereafter I was told I was going to fly off to Bahrain to help put a plan together and command one of the Surface Action Groups (SAG)," said Vice Adm. (Ret.) James B Perkins, III, who was a Surface Action Group (SAG) commander during Operation Praying Mantis. "We spent the 17th of April flying from one side of the gulf to the other, briefing the SAG commanders as to what the plan was."

Four days after the mine blast, forces, of the now-Joint Task Force Middle East, executed a response -- Operation Praying Mantis. The operation called for the destruction of two oil platforms used by Iran to coordinate attacks on merchant shipping.

"The gas-oil platforms were huge structures," said Perkins. "What I had in mind were the oil platforms off the coast of Santa Barbra. But These were floating cities with berthing quarters and all that sort of stuff," Perkins recalled.

"On the morning [of April 18] we called them up and told them, in Farsi and English, that we were getting ready to destroy them and to get off the platforms," said Perkins. "There was a lot of running around looking for boats to leave the decks."

By the end of that day the coalition air and surface units not only destroyed the two oil rigs but also Iranian units attempting to counter-attack U.S. forces.

Naval aircraft and the destroyer USS Joseph Strauss (DDG 16) sank the Iranian frigate Sahand (F 74) with harpoon missiles and laser-guided bombs. A laser-guided bomb, dropped from a Navy A-6 Intruder, disabled frigate Sabalan (F 73), and Standard missiles launched from the cruiser USS Wainwright (CG 28) and frigates USS Bagley (FF 1069) and USS Simpson (FFG 56) destroyed the 147-foot missile patrol boat Joshan (P 225). In further combat, A-6s sank one Bodghammer high-speed patrol boats and neutralized four more of the speedboats.

"The air wing from Enterprise did a superb job taking on the Bodghammers," said Perkins.

By the end of the operation, U.S. air and surface units had sunk, or severely damaged, half of Iran's operational fleet.

"This particular exercise, in my view, finished the Iranian Navy in the Arabian Gulf," said Perkins. "They were still around - but after that operation, they didn't have as active a stance."

Operation Praying Mantis proved a milestone in naval history. For the first time since World War II, U.S. naval forces and supporting aircraft fought a major surface action against a determined enemy. The success of Praying Mantis and the broad-based allied naval cooperation during Operation Earnest Will proved the value of joint and combined operations in the Gulf and led the way for the massive joint coalition effort that occurred during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm.

The operation also demonstrated the importance of being ready to fight and win today, of providing offshore options to deter, influence and win in an era of uncertainty; and showcased the teamwork, talent and imagination of the Navy's diverse, capable force.

It also proved the value of all the training the Navy had done.

"You have to be ready on a moment's notice," Perkins said. "You may not always have sufficient time to get prepared, so train hard and often. (In this case) it worked out very well."

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