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The Brief Conflict: America's War With Iran in 1988

Updated on April 2, 2015

Operation Praying Mantis

It is said, and it is true, conflicts begin over minor events. Sometimes, trivial events, that trigger a government to overreact or some other reaction. WW1, for instance, was triggered by the murder of a prince of a king. Four years and millions of dead later, it was over. So, Operation Praying Mantis, began when the USS Samuel Roberts hit a mine somewhere in the Persian Gulf. The ship did not sink and it was able to limp to port for repairs. US Navy divers found that remnants of the mine had serial numbers that matched those about the Iranian minelayer ship, Ajr, that the US had seized in September, 1987.

At this stage, the America could have simply walked away, and many subsequent presidents would have. At the time, the president was Ronald Reagan, known for tough minded actions. Reagan responded with Operation Praying Mantis. It consisted of three groups of U.S. naval ships with air support. On April 18, 1988, the brief war with Iran began.

Two groups, consisting of six USN ships (USS Trenton, FFG McCormick, USS Merrill, Wainright, Simpson, and Bagley) fired upon the Iranian control center used to attack shipping in the Persian Gulf, the Sassan and Siri oil platforms. The Siri platform was destroyed and ablaze, while the Sassan platform was not and US Marines were sent to gather intelligence from what was left of it. This military action was over within two hours and now Iran contemplated how to react.

Iran reacted with its missile patrol boat, Joshan, which approached a US warship despite repeat warnings to the boat. Suddenly, a Harpoon missile launches. Now, the target of the Harpoon fired was 13 miles away. At its early detection, the US ship fired chaff and used ECM to make the incoming missile go off course and into the ocean. The American ship retaliated and fires its Harpoon and sinks the Joshan. This was the first ever missile duel between naval vessels. Angered, Iranian F-4's attempt to bomb the USS Wainwright, but the ship's defensive missiles chase the Iranian's away. The next thing Iran does is to send their armed speedboat, Boghammar, to attack the Panamaniam oil barge, Scan Bay, off the UAE at the Mubarak oil platform. Two A-6E and a F-14 are dispatched. The A-6 aircraft sink the Boghammar on its approach and the other four Iranian attack boats flee in many directions. The US then used the same aircraft to sink the Iranian frigate, Sahand. It was not over. Iran now retaliates with its frigate, Salaban, that fires its weapons at the A-6. The A-6's ECM thwarted this and then dropped a bomb down its exhaust stack, rendering it useless. The ship could have been sunk also, but further aggression is pointless, so the ship is allowed to return to Bandar Abbas, the Iranian naval base.


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