Pete Wikul


Commander Peter I. Wikul, USN



Mobile Sea Base Hercules In The Northern Persian Gulf: Beirut Barracks II? 

CSC 1995

SUBJECT AREA: Warfighting 


  • Title: Mobile Sea Base Hercules in the Northern Persian Gulf: Beirut Barracks II? 

  • Author: Commander Peter I. Wikul, United States Navy 

  • Thesis: Because U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) did not apply the lessons learned from the Beirut Barracks bombing on 23 October l983 to the planning and deployment of Mobile Sea Base (MSB) Hercules to the northern Persian Gulf, U.S. forces almost suffered another Beirut tragedy.  

  • Background: The United States military takes great pains to write, catalog, and disseminate lessons learned to improve doctrine. An analysis of the planning and manner in which MSB Hercules was deployed to the northern Persian Gulf is cause for concern. It makes one wonder if anyone seriously reads, studies and applies lessons learned. The Long Commission identified problems and recommended solutions to preclude another Beirut tragedy, but CENTCOM appears not to have provided sufficient command oversight to Commander, Middle East Force prior to their deploying MSB Hercules near Farsi Island without adequate protection. A little over two weeks later, the Iranians launched an attack. The Iranians lost. Because America won a decisive victory on the night of 8 October l987, serious problems went unnoticed.  

  • Recommendation: All military planners should thoroughly review lessons learned to avoid repeating tragic mistakes. This is especially true for those planners at the operational level who are tasked to provide command and oversight to the tactical forces.


Early Sunday morning 23 October l983 a fanatic Lebanese militiaman from Hezbollah drove a truck laden with the equivalent of l2,OOO pounds of explosives into the U.S. Marine Corps Battalion Landing Team (BLT) Headquarters Barracks at Beirut Airport. The fanatic perished the instant he detonated the bomb, killing 24l American servicemen and wounding 7O.1 The Hezbollah succeeded in their mission.

Five years later on the night of 8 October l987, fanatics from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) mounted an attack against a secret U.S. mobile sea base (MSB) approximately 25 miles west of Farsi Island.2 This time the Americans exacted a harsh toll on the Iranians. U.S. forces sank three boats, probably killed fourteen IRGC personnel, and captured four survivors.3 By contrast, there were no U.S. casualties. The IRGC mission failed. My thesis contends that U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) failed to apply the Beirut bombing lessons learned, as documented in the Long Commission Report,4  the planning and deployment of Mobile Sea Base Hercules to the northern Persian Gulf. In support of my thesis I contrast specific report recommendations with CENTCOM’s employment of MSBs during the initial phase of Operation ERNEST WILL, where there was potential for another Beirut Barracks disaster. A discussion of the strategic imperatives, operational considerations and tactical employment of MSB Hercules will precede my analysis. Because the facts concerning the incident of 8 October l987 often have been reported erroneously for lack of accurate information both in the  press and by historians, I provide a correct historical account of this incident. Finally, I deliberate the impact of applying lessons learned to future operations.

On the surface, both incidents are seemingly disparate events. The Beirut bombing is the worst disaster for U.S. military forces in recent history. By contrast, history has recorded the combat action on 8 October l983 as a decisive victory for the U.S. military.5 However, two common threads tie both incidents together. First, the U.S. military underestimated the Muslim fundamentalist militants’ capability to assess a critical vulnerability within the U.S. operational theater; and they further underestimated their ability to follow through with their assessment by planning and executing an operation designed specifically to thwart U.S. strategy. Second, we underestimated their moral will to attack superior U.S. forces.  


Operation ERNEST WILL has its roots in the Iran-Iraq war. The war escalated into an economic war of targeting oil tankers. By spring of l987 the Tanker War claimed 325 ships.6 “Kuwait--seeing its oil exports seriously imperiled by Iranian attacks on its tankers transiting the Gulf--sought protection for them.”7

A small nation without military credibility to deter attacks against its oil tanker fleet, Kuwait made appeals for help to both the Soviet Union and the U.S. It was only after the Soviets responded that the U.S. followed suit.8 The Soviets leased to Kuwait three oil tankers which would sail under the Soviet flag and be protected by its navy.9 The U.S. approach was different. While in the Arabian Sea and Persian Gulf, Kuwaiti oil tankers would sail under the American flag (called reflagging) in convoy with U.S. warships. Two other events would further hasten U.S. involvement in the Persian Gulf. On l7 May l987, two Iraqi missiles fired in error by one of its jet fighters accidentally hit the frigate USS Stark.

Then, on the very first ERNEST WILL escort mission, the reflagged tanker Bridgeton hit a mine near Farsi Island while U.S. warships escorted it. It was probably sheer luck which kept one of the warships escorting the Bridgeton from the same fate.10 Although the U.S. could not prove it, the mine that the Bridgeton hit was most likely Iranian. Seeding mines and attacking commercial shipping with impunity, Iran seemed to have free rein in the northern Persian Gulf and was threatening U.S. policy objectives.

Fig. 1 - Location of Hercules and WimbrownVII


As the combatant commander for the Persian Gulf region, U.S. Commander-in-Chief Central Command (USCINCCENT) had the responsibility to counter the Iranian threat. USCINCCENT tasked Commander, Middle East Force (COMIDEASTFOR)11 to devise a solution to ensure the safe passage of ERNEST WILL convoys. After the Bridgeton incident minesweeping operations would be required to clear the convoy route. However, minesweeping operations would be slow and laborious and would not prevent the Iranians from seeding more mines.

COMIDEASTFOR’s solution was therefore, a combination of surveillance, presence, and minesweeping. The implementation of this solution required the placement of sea bases (similar to SEAFLOAT in Vietnam) along the convoy route contiguous to Farsi Island. COMIDEASTFOR’s vision had advantages over devoting U.S. Navy warships, which would be subject to the same mine threat as the tankers they were escorting, to full-time patrolling in the north.

The operational concept was militarily plausible. USCINCCENT would employ two mutually supporting mobile sea bases utilizing the unique capabilities of Special Operations Forces (SOF). The MSBs would be positioned opposite Farsi Island to counter Iranian aggression and provide Patrol Boats (PBs) to ERNEST WILL convoys for flank security.

CENTCOM contracted two derrick barges from a major international company in Bahrain. The barges, named Hercules and Wimbrown Seven were originally designed for constructing at-sea oil platforms in the Persian Gulf.12 Because of the long Iran-Iraq war, the international company had mothballed these barges, so they were readily available for conversion into mobile sea bases.

USCINCCENT ordered the barges converted into fortresses capable of supporting ERNEST WILL convoys, conducting patrols, and supporting minesweeping and other special operations missions.

Fig 2. - Barge Hercules

Hercules required fewer modifications than Wimbrown Seven to be ready for military operations. COMIDEASTFOR rushed Hercules into operation within two weeks in order to deploy it by late September l987. Crews of U.S. military personnel and the contractor’s engineers, fabricators and welders worked around the clock to modify “Barge Hercules” into “MSB Hercules,” a military base capable of supporting patrol boats, minesweepers, and helicopters. Wimbrown Seven required major structural work and a new helicopter deck prior to it being ready and it took three months to modify, outfit, and deploy.

 Once outfitted, the MSBs could be slowly moved from place to place but were not maneuverable like ships. At sea, a four point mooring system stabilized Hercules and Wimbrown Seven. Once anchored, it took about an hour to rig the MSBs for towing--usually at a maximum speed of only four knots. This would make the MSB highly vulnerable to air or missile attacks.

Fig. 3 - Wimbrown 7 fitted out in 1987. Note Seafoxes, PBMKIII and PBRs

Throughout his tenure as USCINCCENT, General Christ, a Marine who undoubtedly understood the lessons of Beirut, was deeply concerned about the safety of the mobile sea bases. He would often visit to inspect the MSBs, and personally and quite emphatically would give orders to build additional hardened defensive positions and install more weapons. Despite the apparent concern for MSB defenses, USCINCCENT hastily put Hercules into operation in close proximity of Farsi Island without the mutual support of Wimbrown Seven. And unless an ERNEST WILL convoy passed by Hercules, no U.S. warships were within supporting range--and often were fifty nautical miles away.  


On 2l September l987 the Iran Ajr incident hastened the  deployment of MSB Hercules. U.S. Army helicopter gunships, called Seabats,13 successfully attacked and halted the Iranian vessel, Iran Ajr, as it was seeding mines in international waters routinely transited by ERNEST WILL escort patrols.14 Later, U.S. Naval Special Warfare elements, i.e., SEALs and Special Boat Unit personnel, captured the ship and took prisoners.

Two nights later, Naval forces executed a mission to scuttle the minelayer. A formation consisting of the destroyer USS Kidd in the lead, followed by the frigate USS Thach towing the Iran Air, and a screen of four MK III Sea Spectre Patrol Boats providing rear security, towed the Iran Air into the Iranian Exclusion Zone. In pitch black, U.S. Navy Explosive Ordnance and SEAL personnel emplaced demolition charges and set fuses. Thirty minutes later the charges detonated. The Iran Air keeled over and sank in less than a minute.

Fig. 4 - TF-160's SEABAT

Fig. 5 - An Iranian Ajar Minelayer

Tehran vowed retribution.15  The Iranians’ target was MSB Hercules. In accordance with their threat, Iranian gunboats opened fire on U.S. helicopters seventeen days later. As late as “... Thursday, before the shooting, an Iranian Revolutionary Guard commander said Tehran was planning a surprise attack against the United States and its allies.”16

In light of these developments, it is astonishing that COMIDEASTFOR did not warn the MSB Hercules commander that Tehran had vowed a surprise attack against the U.S., that Iranian gunboats were transiting to and from Farsi Island, and that more than sixty Iranian gunboats had massed at Kharg Island.

MSB Hercules sat 25 miles from Farsi Island, isolated from the force, highly vulnerable while attached to a four point moor, and under the rules of engagement, the commander could do nothing about an Iranian dhow17 shadowing the Hercules and apparently providing intelligence to the Iranians. 


During the day of 8 October, the MSB commander and his deputy were discussing their concern with the Iranian dhow and their lack of intelligence, or even a basic news service, to keep them informed of the situation. They both had a “gut feeling” that something was going to happen that night and decided to mount an intelligence gathering mission in conjunction with their routine patrol that evening.18

The plan to set up a listening post was simple. Two 65-foot MK III Patrol Boats19 would transit in company with a 36-foot SEAFOX.20 The PBs would move in a tight column with the SEAFOX abreast and to port of the second PB. The MSB commander intended this formation to shadow the SEAFOX from the Decca radar on Farsi Island. The patrol would move to Middle Shoals light where the SEAFOX would decrease speed to let the second PB pass ahead so the SEAFOX could maneuver to the buoy undetected by the Iranian radar.

Fig. 6 - We worried that Dhows gathered Intell on us.



Fig. 7 - The 36' Seafox

Fig. 8 - The 65' MK III Sea Spectre Patrol Boat

Once tied off to the buoy, communications technicians would attempt to intercept Iranian signals. For protection, the MSB commander ordered the SEAFOX to be armed heavier than normal. Two PBs and three Seabats would be in close proximity to render support. Under cover of darkness, the patrol got underway while simultaneously, in a different direction, three Seabats took off to reconnoiter Middle Shoals Light and the PBs’ transit route.

Meanwhile, Iran was executing its plan for retribution. The IRGC deployed three gunboats west of the Iranian Exclusion Zone in the vicinity of Middle Shoals Light at a time when no merchant shipping was transiting their zone of operations. The Iranians were not targeting merchants; their target was the Hercules.

The Iranians shot first. At approximately 2OOO hours Persian Gulf Local time, Seabat pilots reported they were “taking fire.” An Iranian Boghammer and two Boston whaler- type speedboats opened fire with l2.7MM machine guns and launched a U.S. made Stinger at the Seabats. As the Commander and his deputy watched the attack from the Hercules’ upper flight deck, they saw the Seabats respond.

Fig. 9 - A Iran Boghammer

Fig. 10 - Iran IRGC Whaler

The PBs were on-scene within minutes. Their crews captured six IRGC members, giving the wounded immediate first aid and retrieving the remains of the two speedboats. Amid the oily debris and fire that still raged on the water, one sailor saw what he thought was a Stinger battery afloat in its styrofoam container. He dove in the sea and retrieved the battery.21  The PBs returned to Hercules, off-loaded the prisoners and speedboat wreckage, and were  ordered to screen the Hercules while the Seabats refueled and rearmed.

Suddenly, in the Tactical Operations Center (TOC) on the Hercules, the radar screen showed approximately forty blips at about forty miles away. The MSB TOC communicated this information to COMIDEASTFOR, who immediately dispatched the frigate USS Thach and amphibious ship USS Raleigh to reinforce the Hercules. The blips were CBDR--constant bearing, decreasing range on their way toward Hercules. The IRGC had launched a strike of forty gunboats at Hercules!

Fig. 11 - A PBMKIII captures crew of Iran Ajar


As crews frantically rearmed the Hercules’ Seabats, three more Seabats from the USS Thach had arrived and needed fuel. A USMC CH-46 from the USS Raleigh landed and evacuated the IRGC prisoners. At general quarters, the Hercules braced for an attack as its commander calmly spoke to the PBs’ patrol leader apprising him of the situation and giving him the order, “interdict and engage.” After about fifteen minutes, six Seabats were orbiting in two formations waiting to battle the IRGC gunboats. As the USS Thach approached the area, the IRGC gunboats suddenly retreated. The surprise attack Tehran vowed against the United States had failed. 

Fig. 13 - USS Thach, FFG-43



A comparative analysis of the Beirut Barracks and MSB Hercules incidents reveals common problems. The problems and recommendations identified in the Long Commission Report should have provided CENTCOM planners a means to prevent the same problems which later were encountered by MSB Hercules on the night of 8 October l987. These problems entailed ineffectual command and control, poor intelligence support, a lack of protection and security planning for tactical forces, and confusing rules of engagement.  

Command and Control

The Long Commission found the U.S. Commander-in-Chief European Command (USCINCEUR) at fault in the Beirut Barracks incident by “... citing the failure of the USCINCEUR operational chain of command to monitor and supervise effectively the security measures and procedures employed by the USMNF on October l983.”22 Had the Iranians succeeded in striking disaster on MSB Hercules, the Secretary of Defense (SECDEF) most likely would have ordered an investigation similar to the Long Commission. If the SECDEF had ordered the “Hercules Commission,” it would have arrived at the same conclusion as the Long Commission; i.e., it would have charged USCENTCOM with failure to monitor and supervise effectively the deployment of MSB Hercules before it was properly outfitted with a certified communications suite, adequate defensive positions and weapons, and protection from Iranian and Iraqi air threats, including the mutual support of MSB Wimbrown Seven. 

Intelligence Support

In both the Beirut incident and the employment of MSBs, intelligence support was ineffective at the tactical level. The Long Commission reported that the BLT commander did not receive “...timely intelligence, tailored to his specific operational needs.”23 The same problem pervaded MSB commanders throughout their participation in ERNEST WILL.

Two MSB commanders with military subspecialties in intelligence complained of the lack of indications and warning intelligence and tailored intelligence information for their operations.24  This lack of intelligence restricted the MSB commanders’ ability to plan and execute patrol missions based on an accurate intelligence assessment.

Other facets of intelligence support for the MSBs were lacking. For instance, the MSBs were not assigned dedicated Intelligence Officers. After nine months on station in the northern Persian Gulf, CENTCOM assigned a U.S. Air Force senior enlisted intelligence specialist to MSB Hercules; however, he did not possess the requisite background and training in both US, and Iranian naval order of battle nor naval electronic warfare capabilities.


COMIDEASTFOR envisioned two MSBs to be mutually supportive, providing a degree of protection to negate the requirement for a ship to be permanently stationed in the northern Persian Gulf. That being the case, why would USCINCCENT approve the COMIDEASTFOR decision (over the objections of the JTFME Commander) to deploy MSB Hercules without the support of MSB Wimbrown Seven?

After the incident of 8 October l987, COMIDEASTFOR permanently stationed an FFG-7 class frigate to provide air protection, positive communications, and additional weapons. Yet the stationing of a warship was not part of the initial operational plans. Weeks later a Naval Special Warfare communications van arrived onboard MSB Hercules. This van was complete with the full range of communications equipment, including satellite communications and hard copy terminal equipment. Still a year after MSB Hercules’ deployment, weapons and defensive positions were being constantly upgraded. These facts suggest that MSB Hercules was unnecessarily rushed into deployment without adequate protection.  

Rules of Engagement

The Long Commission found the USMNF rules of engagement (ROE) to be ambiguous, adversely affecting the mind set of the Marines at Beirut International Airport. This detracted from the overall readiness of Marines on duty and caused them to respond less aggressively to the terrorist threat on 23 October l983.25 U.S. warship and MSB commanders were mindful of the Beirut experience and aggressively conducted their mission. As a result of the Iran Ajr and Middle Shoals Light Incidents, U.S. forces became increasingly vigilant to Iranian attack and conducted patrols in a more aggressive manner. Notwithstanding, the Persian Gulf ROE were lengthy, complex and as ambiguous as the USMNF ROE. This is best illustrated by the weekly Rules of Engagement Quiz administered by COMIDEASTFOR via general service message to all ships in the Persian Gulf. Commanders of U.S. naval ships were required to respond in a timely manner. They often disagreed on the answers and many responded with the wrong answer. I opine that the Persian Gulf ROE may have contributed to the unfortunate accidents in which the USS Stark and USS Vincennes26 were involved. One must understand that commanders, junior officers, and senior enlisted men with weapons release authority had to interpret what constituted “hostile intent.” 


In failure we learn the hard lessons, but successes often eclipse the serious mistakes we should have learned from failure. On that fateful day in l983 the bombing of the Marine Barracks severely tested U.S. strategic policy objectives in Lebanon. Those policy objectives failed. A few years later in the Persian Gulf Iran and Iraq twice tested U.S. strategic policy objectives: against Iran during Operations ERNEST WILL and PRAYING MANTIS and against Iraq during OPERATIONS DESERT SHIELD and DESERT STORM. In those operations the application of military power as an extension of national policy worked well. If the successes of Operations ERNEST WILL and PRAYING MANTIS in the Persian Gulf somehow assuaged our strategic failure in Lebanon, the successes of Operations DESERT SHIELD and DESERT STORM completely overshadowed them.

During the course of and following all conflicts, the military establishment takes great pains to document what works and what does not. This is a process called lessons learned. At the joint and service levels, staffs catalogue, disseminate, teach, debate and incorporate lessons learned into military doctrine--a painstaking process. But what good does doctrine serve if we merely treat it as a body of knowledge for occasional reference? While doctrine is authoritative, it is not directive. Therefore, doctrine should be a stimulus to critical thinking because it requires judgment in application, and judgment requires purposeful and logical thought. The adage that one can leada horse to water but cannot make him drink applies to the use of doctrine. Just because doctrine exists does not mean we will necessarily use it.

The Beirut incident had important lessons that the military services should have incorporated into doctrine and should have been utilized by operational planners. Of the six operational functions-- command and control, intelligence, maneuver, fires, logistics, and protection--that are used to analyze campaigns and military actions, the function of protection appears to have been lacking for the Marines at Beirut airport. This is despite the fact that just six months prior to the Beirut bombing, Lebanese terrorists bombed the U.S. embassy in Beirut in a similar manner killing 63. Protection should have been a top priority for theater planners at the operational level. The lessons of both bombing incidents in Beirut should have weighed heavily on the minds of operational planners at CENTCOM who should have taken them into account while planning the employment of the mobile sea bases. If CENTCOM planners did take these incidents into account, then why was mobile sea base Hercules rushed into deploying to the northern Persian Gulf, isolated from the force without protection, and with a planned two hour medical evacuation turnaround time?

Because we know little about the mobile sea bases and their employment, analysis and critical thinking of this subject have been lacking. In retrospect one can speculate whether the employment of derrick barges as mobile sea bases in the northern Persian Gulf was the best operational solution during Operation EARNEST WILL to effectively serve U.S. foreign policy objectives. Numerous other questions could be debated such as the following. Was it plausible that U.S. forces serving aboard MSB Hercules could have suffered the same fate as the U.S. Marines in l983? Was CENTCOM’s operational solution the result of deliberate planning or another round of crisis action? And were U.S. forces put at undue risk?

At the strategic level, Operation ERNEST WILL was the military instrument of U.S. national policy to protect Kuwaiti oil tankers and ensure freedom of the sea lines of communication. At the operational level, USCINCCENT conceived and executed a plan to stop Iranian aggression on the high seas by employing mobile sea bases in the northern Persian Gulf. At the tactical level, U.S. forces in theater conducted convoys, surveillance patrols, and mine


CENTCOM rushed MSB Hercules into operation, deployed it without protection opposite Farsi Island, and isolated it from the force without an adequate communications suite. Additionally, the MSB commander had to integrate a crew of 18O U.S. servicemen from eight separate units and three services (Navy, Army, USMC) with fifty foreign national contractors (from six nations) that never received even a cursory security check. These factors made Hercules highly vulnerable to Iranian attack. The Iranians attempted to exploit our weaknesses and almost succeeded. A combination of luck, military professionalism, and a gut feeling by the commander and deputy commander narrowly averted disaster. It was only after the Iranian attack that CENTCOM and COMIDEASTFOR must have realized the full extent of our vulnerability and stationed an FFG-7 class frigate in the vicinity of Hercules. The frigate (rotated on a routine basis) provided air defense protection and a communications data link to the Air Force AWACS and COMIDEASTFOR. Despite the presence of the frigate and the many upgrades and improvements to the MSB, Hercules was still a vulnerable, stationary target. Given the U.S. military’s propensity for after-action reports and official histories, the failure to apply lessons learned from our disaster in Beirut in October l983 to Operation ERNEST WILL appears in retrospect to be an egregious breach of operational art on the part of USCINCCENT. Future staff planners at the operational level should take the time to “read and digest,” as Frances Bacon would say, after-action reports and historical accounts prior to crises. Moreover, staff planners would do well to double-check their planning methodology by comparing their plan with the six operational functions taught at all command and staff colleges. Had this been done, it is doubtful that planners would have rushed MSB Hercules into service without adequate C2, protection, and the time to conduct general quarters and damage control drills.

In the first two months of deployment to the northern Persian Gulf, the fate of personnel aboard MSB Hercules was indeed luckier than that of the Marines at the Beirut Barracks. The threat was worse than planners want to admit and the Iranians’ attack on 8 October l987 proves the point.

If things had gone awry, how would our government have explained the deaths of members of a joint task unit with contracted foreign national civilians? In the future, we should readily admit our mistakes and incorporate them into lessons learned. Hercules could have been Beirut Barracks II. Today, given the decrease in defense allocations and the military drawdown, it is ever more important for military planners at all levels to heed lessons learned. When we put our forces in harm’s way, we have a responsibility to limit failure and ensure success.


l.    Benis N. Frank, U.S. Marines in Lebanon l982-l984 (Washington, D.C.: History and Museums Division, Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps, GPO, l987), l52, l68. 

2.    John H. Cushman Jr., “U.S. Says Copters, Answering Shots, Sank 3 Iran Boats,” New York Times, 9 October l987, Sec Al.  

3.    Many reports on this incident differ; two cases illustrate this point. The October l9, l987 issue of Time reported six Iranians were captured and two died later aboard the USS Raleigh. In The Gulf and The West: Strategic Relations and Military Realities, Anthony Cordesman reported, “Eight Iranians were killed and six were taken prisoner...” My recollection of that night is vivid. Six Iranians were captured and two severely wounded died onboard MSB Hercules after immediate first aid was provided. Months later, a salvage operation was conducted on the Boghammer and a third Iranian was confirmed dead. My estimate of the number of Iranian killed is probably fourteen. This is based upon the three confirmed dead plus an additional eleven. The interrogation of the prisoners by MSB Hercules personnel that night revealed that eighteen Iranians had participated in the mission. This is consistent with photographs taken of Iranian gunboats taken during that period which normally showed six men per boat. Of the probable eighteen Iranians that crewed the three boats engaged by the helicopters, seven were positively identified and another seven were unaccounted. Therefore, I conclude that the seven unaccounted Iranians most likely were killed in the incident.  

4.    Report of the DOD Commission on Beirut International Airport Terrorist Act, October 23, l983, 2O December l983. This report is referred to as the Long Commission Report after its chairman Admiral Long. It was convened by the Secretary of Defense on 7 November l983 and completed 2O December l983. 

5.    Cushman, Al. Ed Magnuson, “We Engaged,” Time, l9 October l987, l2-l4. 

6.    Anthony, H. Cordesman, The Gulf and the West: Strategic Relations and Military Realities (Boulder, Colorado. Westview Press), 328.  

7.    Robert J. Hanks, RADM, USN (Retired), “The Gulf War and U.S. Staying Power.” Strategic Review. Page 38. 

8.    Hanks, 39. 

9.    Hanks, 39. 

1O.   Almost a year later on l4 April l988, the frigate USS Samuel B. Roberts hit a mine and almost sank. The crew’s outstanding damage control saved the ship.  

ll.   At this time COMIDEASTFOR was the naval component commander in the Persian Gulf directly subordinate to USCINCCENT. COMIDEASTFOR’ flagship, the USS LaSalle, was stationed in Bahrain. On l9 September l987 USCINCCENT created Joint Task Force Middle East (JTFME) and made COMIDEASTFOR subordinate to it. JTFME was stationed outside the Persian Gulf in the Arabian Sea and was tasked to command Operation ERNEST WILL. 

l2.   It often has been reported erroneously in the press that the MSBs were code-named Hercules and Wimbrown Seven. These were the original names given the barges upon construction. 

l3.   U.S. Army helicopter gunships initially deployed to support Operation ERNEST WILL were referred to as Seabats. These were Hughes OH-6 helicopters, each armed with a 7.62MM minigun and 2.75 inch rocketpod. The rocketpods could be loaded with a mix of ammunition, e.g., high explosive and flechette rounds. A year later the Seabats were replaced with U.S. Army OH-5BD helicopters.  

l4.       Richard Halloran, “U.S. Reports Firing On Iranian Vessel Seen Laying Mines,” New York Times, 22 September l987, Sec. Al. “Secret U.S. Army Unit Had Role in Raid in Gulf,” New York Times, 24 September l987, Sec. Al2.  

l5.       Cushman, Sec. A8. “Ever since the Iranian naval ship, the Iran Ajr, was captured as it sowed mines in September, Iranian officials have warned that Iran would retaliate against the United States.”  

l6.       Cushman, Sec. A8.  

l7.       A dhow is a wooden boat indigenous to the Persian Gulf region.  

l8.       Author’s recollection of 8 October l987 during first deployment to MSB Hercules as Deputy Task Unit Commander. The deputy walked into the commander’s office and stated that he, had a gut feeling that something was going to happen that night.” The commander replied, “That’s funny, I was just on my way to find you and tell you the same thing. What do you think we should do?” The deputy remarked, “We are in the blind and not getting any intel up here. How about a listening post op at Middle Shoals Light and we’ll tighten up the watch tonight.” The commander looked amazed, “This is weird! We must be on the same wavelength because I was just thinking the same thing. Tell John the concept; have him put together the details and brief us in two hours; and get a test fire on all weapons tonight.”  

l9.   The Mark III Sea Spectre Class Patrol Boat is a 65 foot aluminum hulled boat with three 8V7lTI Detroit Diesel engines. During ERNEST WILL each PB was crewed with one commissioned officer or Chief Petty Officer and ten enlisted men. Its armament consisted of a MK 3 Mod 9 4OMM Bofors cannon, two MK l6 Mod 5 2OMM machineguns, two M2HB .5O caliber machineguns, two MK l9 Mod 3 4OMM grenade launchers, and two M-6O machineguns. Fully fueled and combat loaded, its top speed was about 25-3O knots. 

2O.   SEAFOX is the name for the Special Warfare Craft, Light (SWCL). The SEAFOX was a 36 foot fiberglass hulled boat with two diesel engines and armed with two M2HB .5O caliber machineguns and two M-6O machineguns. It had an enlisted crew of four and was primarily designed as a SEAL insertion craft. Fully combat loaded it could attain a top speed of 35 knots. These craft were decommissioned in l993.  

2l.      Because of this sailor’s quick thinking and decisive action, it was confirmed that the IRGC possessed Stinger missiles. This was significant as we then knew that the Iranians could easily threaten U.S. aircraft. After this discovery helicopter pilots flew their aircraft with greater caution. 

22.     Long Commission Report, 56. USMNF is the acronym for U.S. contingent of the Multinational Force in Lebanon. 

23.     Long Commission Report, 9.  

24.     Authors recollection of discussions with MSB commanders during second deployment as Deputy Task Unit Commander of MSB Hercules in the summer of l988. Both the MSB Hercules and Wimbrown Seven Task Unit Commanders were Naval Special Warfare Officers and both had a proven intelligence subspecialty. They both criticized the lack of intelligence support during their MSB command. Although COMIDEASTFOR produced a daily Force Intelligence Advisory, this product was often inadequate for special operations mission planning. Both MSB Commanders had requested intelligence information tailored specifically for the MSBs as well as indications and warning intelligence from COMIDEASTFOR, these products were never produced.  

25.   Long Commission Report, 5l.  

26.   On 3 July l988 the cruiser USS Vincennes accidentally shot down an Iranian Airbus, a civilian airliner, killing all aboard.  


Cordesman, Anthony, H. The Gulf and the West: Strategic Relations and Military Realities. Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, l988.  

Cushman, John, H. Jr., “U.S Says Copters, Answering Shots, Sank 3 Iran Boats.” New York Times, 9 October 9, l987, Sec. Al.  

Department of Defense. Report of the DOD Commission on Beirut International Airport Terrorist Act, October 23, l983, 2O December l983. Washington D.C. GPO, l984. O-429-987.  

Hanks, Robert, J. RADM, USN (Ret.). “The Gulf War and U.S. Staying Power.” Strategic Review  Vol. XV no. 4 (Fall l987): 36-43.  

Koren, L.T. “Congress wades into Special Operations.” Parameters U.S. Army War College Quarterly Vol. XVIII No.4 December l988: 62-74.  

Magnuson, Ed. “Aftermath in Bloody Beirut.” Time/Special Report, 7 November l983, 32-39.  

Magnuson, Ed. “Caught in the Act.” Time, 5 October l987: 2l-23. 

Magnuson, Ed. “We Engaged.” Time, l9 October l987: l2-l4. Hiro, Dilip. The Longest War: The Iran-Iraq Military

Conflict. New York: Routledge, Chapman, and Hall: l99l.

Neuchterlein, Donald, E. “U.S. National Interests in the Middle East: Is the Persian Gulf A Bridge Too Far?”  Naval War College Review  Vol. XlII no. 1, Sequence 325, (Winter l989): lO8-l2O. 

Maull, Hanns, W. and Pick, Otto. The Gulf War: Regional and International Dimensions. New York: St. Martin’s Press: l989.  

O’Rourke, Ronald. “Gulf Ops.”  U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, (Naval Review Issue l989): 42-5O.  

Palmer, Michael, A. On Course to Desert Storm: The United States Navy and the Persian Gulf. Washington D.C.:

Department of the Navy, Naval Historical Center, l992.