Operation Praying Mantis was an attack on 18th April 1988, by the United States Armed Forces within Iranian territorial waters in retaliation for the Iranian mining of the Persian Gulf during the Iran–Iraq War and the subsequent damage to an American warship.
On 14th April, the guided missile frigate USS Samuel B. Roberts struck a mine while deployed in the Persian Gulf as part of Operation Earnest Will, the 1987–88 convoy missions in which U.S. warships escorted reflagged Kuwaiti oil tankers to protect them from Iranian attacks. The explosion blew a 4.5 m (15-foot) hole in the Samuel B. Roberts’s hull and nearly sank it. The crew saved their ship with no loss of life, and the Samuel B. Roberts was towed to Dubai, United Arab Emirates on 16th April. After the mining, U.S. Navy Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) divers recovered other mines in the area. When the serial numbers were found to match those of mines seized along with the Iran Ajr the previous September, U.S. military officials planned a retaliatory operation against Iranian targets in the Persian Gulf.
According to Bradley Peniston, the attack by the U.S. helped pressure Iran to agree to a ceasefire with Iraq later that summer, ending the eight-year conflict between the Persian Gulf neighbors.
On 6th November 2003, the International Court of Justice ruled that “the actions of the United States of America against Iranian oil platforms on 19th October 1987 (Operation Nimble Archer) and 18th April 1988 (Operation Praying Mantis) cannot be justified as measures necessary to protect the essential security interests of the United States of America.” However, the International Court of Justice dismissed Iran’s claim that the attack by the United States Navy was a breach of the 1955 Treaty of Amity between the two countries as it only pertained to vessels, not platforms.
This battle was the largest of the five major U.S. surface engagements since the Second World War, which also include the Battle of Chumonchin Chan during the Korean War, the Gulf of Tonkin incident and the Battle of Dong Hoi during the Vietnam War, and the Action in the Gulf of Sidra in 1986. It also marked the U.S. Navy’s first exchange of anti-ship missiles with opposing ships and the only occasion since World War II on which the US Navy sank a major surface combatant.
By the end of the operation, U.S. air and surface units had sunk or severely damaged half of Iran’s operational fleet.
On 18th April, the U.S. Navy attacked with several groups of surface warships, plus aircraft from the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise, and her cruiser escort, USS Truxtun. The action began with coordinated strikes by two surface groups.
One Surface Action Group, or SAG, consisting of the destroyers USS Merrill (including embarked LAMPS MK I Helicopter Detachment HSL-35 Det 1) and USS Lynde McCormick, plus the amphibious transport dock USS Trenton and its embarked Marine Air-Ground Task Force (Contingency MAGTF 2-88 from Camp LeJeune, NC) and the LAMPS (Light Airborne Multi-Purpose System) Helicopter Detachment (HSL-44 Det 5) from USS Samuel B. Roberts, was ordered to destroy the guns and other military facilities on the Sassan oil platform. At 8 am, the SAG commander, who was also the commander of Destroyer Squadron 9, ordered the Merrill to radio a warning to the occupants of the platform, telling them to abandon it. The SAG waited 20 minutes, then opened fire. The oil platform fired back with twin-barrelled 23 mm ZU-23 guns. The SAG’s guns eventually disabled some of the ZU-23s, and platform occupants radioed a request for a cease-fire. The SAG complied. After a tug carrying more personnel had cleared the area, the ships resumed exchanging fire with the remaining ZU-23s, and ultimately disabled them. Cobra helicopters completed the destruction of enemy resistance. The Marines boarded the platform and recovered a single wounded survivor (who was transported to Bahrain), some small arms, and intelligence. The Marines planted explosives, left the platform, and detonated them. The SAG was then ordered to proceed north to the Rakhsh oil platform to destroy it.
As the SAG departed the Sassan oil field, two Iranian F-4s made an attack run but broke off when Lynde McCormick locked its fire-control radar on the aircraft. Halfway to the Rahksh oil platform, the attack was called off in an attempt to ease pressure on the Iranians and signal a desire for de-escalation.
The other group, which included the guided missile cruiser USS Wainwright and frigates USS Simpson and USS Bagley, attacked the Sirri oil platform. Navy SEALs were assigned to capture, occupy and destroy the Sirri platform but due to heavy pre-assault damage from naval gunfire, it was determined that an assault was not required.
Iran responded by dispatching Boghammar speedboats to attack various targets in the Persian Gulf, including the American-flagged supply ship Willie Tide, the Panamanian-flagged oil rig Scan Bay and the British tanker York Marine. All of these vessels were damaged in different degrees. After the attacks, A-6E Intruder aircraft launched from USS Enterprise, were directed to the speedboats by an American frigate. The two VA-95, aircraft, piloted by “Lizards” Lieutenant Commander James Engler and Lieutenant Paul Webb, dropped Rockeye cluster bombs on the speedboats, sinking one and damaging several others, which then fled to the Iranian-controlled island of Abu Musa.
Action continued to escalate. Iranian fast-attack craft Joshan, an Iranian Combattante II Kaman-class fast attack craft, challenged USS Wainwright and Surface Action Group Charlie. The commanding officer of Wainwright directed a final warning (of a series of warnings) stating that Joshan was to “stop your engines, abandon ship, I intend to sink you”. Joshan responded by firing a Harpoon missile at them. The missile was successfully lured away by chaff. USS Simpson responded to the challenge by firing four Standard missiles, while Wainwright followed with one Standard missile. All missiles hit and destroyed the Iranian ship’s superstructure but did not immediately sink it, so Bagley fired a Harpoon of its own. The missile did not find the target. SAG Charlie closed on Joshan, with Simpson, then Bagley and Wainwright firing guns to sink the crippled Iranian ship.
Two Iranian F-4 Phantom fighters were orbiting about 48 km (26 nmi) away when Wainwright decided to drive them away. Wainwright fired two Extended Range Standard missiles, one of which detonated near an F-4, blowing off part of its wing and peppering the fuselage with shrapnel. The F-4s withdrew, and the Iranian pilot landed his damaged airplane at Bandar Abbas.
Fighting continued when the Iranian frigate IRIS Sahand departed Bandar Abbas and challenged elements of an American surface group. The frigate was spotted by two A-6Es from VA-95 while they were flying surface combat air patrol for USS Joseph Strauss.
Sahand fired missiles at the A-6Es, which replied with two Harpoon missiles and four laser-guided Skipper missiles. Joseph Strauss fired a Harpoon. Most, if not all of the shots scored hits, causing heavy damage and fires. Fires blazing on Sahand’s decks eventually reached her munitions magazines, causing an explosion that sank her.
Late in the day, the Iranian frigate IRIS Sabalan departed from its berth and fired a surface-to-air missile at several A-6Es from VA-95. The A-6Es then dropped a Mark 82 laser-guided bomb into Sabalan’s stack, crippling the ship and leaving it burning. The Iranian frigate, stern partially submerged, was taken in tow by an Iranian tug, and was repaired and eventually returned to service. VA-95’s aircraft, as ordered, did not continue the attack. The A-6 pilot who crippled Sabalan, LCDR James Engler, was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross by Admiral William J. Crowe, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, for the actions against the Sabalan and the Iranian gunboats.
In retaliation for the attacks, Iran fired Silkworm missiles (suspected to be the HY-4 version) from land bases against SAG Delta in the Strait of Hormuz and against USS Gary in the northern central Persian Gulf, but all missed due to the evasive maneuvers and use of decoys by the ships. A missile was probably shot down by Gary’s 76 mm (3.0 in) gun. The Pentagon and the Reagan Administration later denied that any Silkworm missile attacks took place, possibly in order to keep the situation from escalating further – as they had promised publicly that any such attacks would merit retaliation against targets on Iranian soil.
Following the attack on Sabalan, U.S. naval forces were ordered to assume a de-escalatory posture, giving Iran a way out and avoiding further combat. Iran took the offer and combat ceased, though both sides remained on alert, and near-clashes occurred throughout the night and into the next day as the forces steamed within the Gulf. Two days after the battle, Lynde McCormick was directed to escort a U.S. oiler out through the Strait of Hormuz, while a Scandinavian-flagged merchant remained near, probably for protection. While the ships remained alert, no hostile indications were received, and the clash was over.
By the end of the operation, American Marines, ships, and aircraft had destroyed Iranian naval and intelligence facilities on two inoperable oil platforms in the Persian Gulf, and sank at least three armed Iranian speedboats, one Iranian frigate, and one fast attack gunboat. One other Iranian frigate was damaged in the battle. Sabalan was repaired in 1989 and has since been upgraded, and is still in service with the Iranian navy. The fires eventually burned themselves out but the damage to the infrastructure forced the demolition of the Sirri platforms after the war. The site was built up again for oil production by French and Russian oil companies, after buying the drilling rights from the Iranian government.
The U.S. side suffered two casualties, the crew of a Marine Corps AH-1T Sea Cobra helicopter gunship. The Cobra, attached to USS Trenton, was flying reconnaissance from Wainwright and crashed sometime after dark about 15 miles southwest of Abu Musa island. The bodies of the lost personnel were recovered by Navy divers in May, and the wreckage of the helicopter was raised later that month. Navy officials said it showed no sign of battle damage. In his recent book “Tanker War”, author Lee Allen Zatarain indicates there was some indication they may have crashed while evading hostile fire from the island.
VFA-22, Strike Fighter Squadron 22
VFA-22, Strike Fighter Squadron 22, also known as the “Fighting Redcocks”, are a United States Navy F/A-18F Super Hornet fighter squadron stationed at Naval Air Station Lemoore, California. Their tail code is NA and their radio callsign alternates between “Beef” and “Beef Eater”.
Strike Fighter Squadron 22 was originally established as Fighter Squadron 63 (VF-63) at Naval Air Station Norfolk, Virginia on 28th July 1948, the squadron was re-designated as Attack Squadron 63 (VA-63) in March 1956, redesignated as Attack Squadron 22 (VA-22) on 1st July 1959 and redesignated Strike Fighter Squadron 22 (VFA-22) on 4th May 1990.
The squadron originally flew the F8F Bearcat, then the F4U Corsair, F9F Panther, F9 Cougar, FJ-4 Fury, A-4 Skyhawk, A-7 Corsair II, and the F/A-18C Hornet. Today, the 220 enlisted men and women and 40 officers of VFA-22 are based at NAS Lemoore, California, and have completed the transition from the single seat F/A-18E Super Hornet to the twin-seat F/A-18F Super Hornet.
Over the years, the squadron completed three combat deployments during the Korean War and six combat deployments during the Vietnam War, where it participated in Operation Pocket Money.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, VA-22 embarked with Carrier Air Wing 15 aboard USS Kitty Hawk and deployed to the Western Pacific and Indian Ocean. The Squadron won back to back Battle E awards during the 80 & 81 competitive cycles and was the co-west coast launch squadron for FLIR mounted A7Es. While deployed aboard USS Enterprise in April 1988, while in the Persian Gulf, VA-22 aircraft participated in sinking the Iranian frigate Sahand which fired missiles at two American A-6 Intruders.
In 1993, the squadron deployed aboard USS Abraham Lincoln to the Persian Gulf and participated in Operation Southern Watch, enforcing the United Nations Southern no-fly zone over Iraq. Before returning home from deployment, the squadron diverted to the coast of Somalia and provided air support during Operation Continue Hope.
In December 1998, VFA-22 led the only Carrier Air Wing 11 air strike of Operation Desert Fox.
In October 2001, VFA-22 operating from USS Carl Vinson performed strikes against Taliban and Al Qaeda forces in Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. In 2003, VFA-22 deployed with Carrier Air Wing 9 on board Carl Vinson on an extended eight month Western Pacific deployment in support of the Global War on Terrorism. In July 2004, VFA-22 transitioned to F/A-18E Super Hornets, and in January, 2006, deployed with Carrier Air Wing 14 on board USS Ronald Reagan for six months in support of the Global War on Terrorism.
In early 2007, VFA-22, made a surge deployment with Carrier Air Wing 14 and USS Ronald Reagan to the Pacific Ocean with a mixed unit of F/A-18E and F/A-18F as the unit was in the middle of transitioning aircraft again, this time from the single seat F/A-18E to the two seat F/A-18F. By the end of 2007, VFA-22 had transitioned to the F/A-18F Super Hornet, marking the first time in the squadron’s history that it had operated twin-seat tactical aircraft and integrated Naval Flight Officers with the Naval Aviators in its officer complement.
On May 28th, 2009, VFA-22 and Carrier Air Wing 14 deployed with USS Ronald Reagan on a deployment to the 7th and 5th Fleet Areas of Responsibility.
In 2010, The squadron re-located from Carrier Air Wing Fourteen to Carrier Air Wing Seventeen sporting the CVW-17 “AA” tailcode, and are now attached to USS NIMITZ.
JC Wings A-7E Corsair II US. Navy VA-22 Fighting Redcocks Operation Praying Mantis 1988
US Navy Fighter Squadron 63 (VF-63) was established at NAS Norfolk, Virginia in July 1948, flying the F8F Bearcat. It was redesignated Attack Squadron 63 (VA-63) in March 1956 and then again as Attack Squadron 22 (VA-22) in July 1959. During that period, the squadron flew the F4U Corsair, F9F Panther, F9 Cougar and FJ-4 Fury. The squadron flew the A-4 Skyhawk for most of the 1960s before transitioning to the A-7E Corsair II in 1971. After 19 years operating the A-7, the squadron was redisgnated Strike Fighter Squadron 22 (VFA-22) and began flying the F/A-18C Hornet. In 2004 the VFA-22 upgraded to the F/A-18E and F/A-18F Super Hornet that it is still flying today.
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