Operation Praying Mantis was an April 18, 1988 attack by U.S. naval forces in retaliation for the Iranian mining of the Persian Gulf and the subsequent damage to an American warship.
On April 14, 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 put a 25-foot hole in the Roberts' hull and nearly sank it. The crew saved their ship with no loss of life, and Roberts was towed to Dubai on April 16.
After the mining, U.S. Navy 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.
The battle, the largest for American naval forces since World War II, sank two Iranian warships and three armed speedboats. It also marked the first anti-ship surface-to-surface missile engagement in U.S. Navy history.
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 April 14th 1988 the Americans attacked with several groups of surface warships, plus aircraft from the carrier USS Enterprise (CVN-65), and her ASW/AAW escort USS Truxtun (CGN-35). The action began with coordinated strikes by two surface groups. One group, consisting of the destroyers USS Merrill (DD 976) and USS Lynde McCormick (DDG 8), plus the amphibious transport dock USS Trenton (LPD-14), neutralized the Sassan oil platform. The Iranians on the platform were given the opportunity to abandon it for a tugboat waiting alongside, but instead opened fire on Merrill, whose auto-loading 5-inch, 54-caliber guns quickly destroyed the smaller, platform-mounted Iranian gun with artillery shells. Immediately afterward, U.S. Marines from Marine Air-Ground Task Force (MAGTF) 2-88 fast-roped onto the Sassan platform, gathered intelligence, and set explosive charges to render it unusable. The other group, which included a guided missile cruiser and two frigates, attacked the Sirri oil platform.
Iran responded by dispatching Boghammar speedboats to attack various targets in the Persian Gulf, including an American-flagged supply ship and a Panamanian-flagged ship. After these attacks, A-6E Intruder aircraft from the VA-95 "Green Lizards" were directed to the speedboats by an American frigate. The two aircraft, piloted by 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. Joshan, an Iranian Combattante II Kaman-class fast attack craft, challenged USS Wainwright (CG-28) and Surface Action Group Charlie, firing a Harpoon missile at them. The USS Simpson (FFG-56) responded to the challenge by firing two Standard missiles, while Wainwright followed with one Standard missile. The attacks destroyed the Iranian ship's superstructure but did not immediately sink it, so USS Bagley (FF-1069) fired a Harpoon of its own; the missile did not find the target. The Wainwright of SAG Charlie closed on the Joshan, destroying it with its five-inch gun.
Two Iranian F-4 fighters then approached the Wainwright. One fighter left the area soon after the cruiser placed its 55B Fire Control Radar in search mode. The second fighter made a low-altitude approach towards the warship, which fired two SM-2 missiles at it. The first missile malfunctioned, but the second missile found its mark. The Wainwright was credited with downing the F-4 Phantom.
Fighting continued when the Iranian frigate IS Sahand (F74) departed Bandar Abbas and challenged elements of an American surface group. The frigate was spotted by two VA-95 A-6Es while they were flying surface combat air patrol for USS Joseph Strauss (DDG-16).
Iranian frigate IS Sahand (F74) burning from bows to stern on April 18, 1988 after being attacked.
Sahand fired missiles at the A-6Es, and the Intruders replied with two Harpoons and four laser-guided Skipper bombs. USS Joseph Strauss added a Harpoon. Most, if not all, of the U.S. weapons hit the Iranian ship.
Fires blazing on Sahand's decks eventually reached her munitions magazines, causing an explosion that sank the ship. Despite the loss of Sahand, one of Iran's most modern ships, the Iranian navy continued to fight. Late in the day, a sister ship, IS Sabalan (F73), departed from its berth and fired a surface-to-air missile at several A-6Es from VA-95. Intruder pilot Engler dropped a laser-guided bomb on Sabalan, leaving the ship dead in the water. The Iranian frigate, stern partially submerged, was taken in tow by an Iranian tug. VA-95's aircraft, as ordered, did not continue the attack. Engler was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross by Admiral William J. Crowe, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, for these actions against the Sabalan and the Iranian gunboats.