The History of the boats in the Persian Gulf


"Persian Gulf Conflict"

Operation Earnest Will

Iraq attacked Iran in September 1980, launching a war that would last eight years. By 1982, more than 100,000 people had died. The war was costing each side $1 billion a month and devastated both countries' oil industries. In the so-called "tanker war", both belligerents launched attacks on neutral merchant vessels transiting the Gulf, prompting several Gulf states to seek protection from foreign navies.  . . . More history at this link.

Operation Praying Mantis

On 14 April 1988, watchstanders aboard USS Samuel B. Roberts (FFG 58) 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 minefleld, she struck a submerged mine nearly ripping the warship in half. Working feverishly for seven hours, the crew stabilized the ship. Samuel B. Roberts was sent back to the United States for repair.

More Details at this link.


During the Iran-Iraq war there was the "Tanker War" in the Gulf.  The American presence began on 10 March 1987 as OPERATION ERNEST WILL.  Eleven Kuwaiti tankers were reflagged and put under U.S. protection.  In August 1987, Special Operations Command put OPERATION PRIME CHANCE I into effect.  Six Mk III PBs, other small boats, two SEAL platoons, and six MH-6/AH-6 helos were established on bases in the Gulf off oil service rigs Hercules and Wimbrown 7.

Units of ST-1 and -2, SBU-1 and -2, the Army's "Night Stalkers" spec ops helo unit, and 82nd Airborne were there and rotated in and out in four month tours.  Helo ops began on 8 October 1987 sinking three Iranian patrol boats. 

OPERATION NIMBLE ARCHER began on 19 October when an Iranian Silkworm missile hit the tanker Sea Isle City off Kuwait City's oil terminal.  Four U.S. destroyers shelled two oil platforms in the Rostram oil field.  SEALs and a unit from Force Recon destroyed one of the platforms and the SEALs searched a third.   

U.S. patrol boats began ops on 9 September.  Jim Gray commanded at Mk III PB from HerculesHercules and Wimbrown 7 operated patrol boats and helos within 15 miles of each other in the waters around Karan Island.  

On 25 September the SEALs took down and captured the Iranian the Iran Agr that was used to drop mines in the paths of the tankers.  [The ship was scuttled in deep water by the SEALs the next day.] 

In November, two MH-60 Blackhawk helos were added for night-time search and rescue.

 On 14 April 1988, USS Samuel B. Roberts hit an Iranian mine.  On 18 April, U.S. forces launched OPERATION PRAYING MANTIS.  The Iranian frigate Sahalan and oil platforms in the Sirri and Sassan oil fields were hit.  The Sirri oil platform was set ablaze and was destroyed by secondary explosions.  U.S. units also sank two Iranian boats and damaged five in other strikes.  Iranians fired two Silkworm missiles at Hercules and Wimbrown 7.  The frigate USS Gray decoyed them with chaff and later discouraged an attack by Iranian F-4 jets and small boats when it illuminated them with its fire control radar.

 On 16 July, the AH-6/MH-6 helos were replaced by OH-58D Kiowa [Longbow] units.  On 18 July, Iran and Iraq accepted a cease-fire and the war ended on 20 August.  The last EARNEST WILL convoy was run in December 1988.  That same month, the Wimbrown 7 was sent to a Bahrain ship yard for conversion to civilian use.  Joint operations continued from Hercules until June of 1989, when the units were returned to their home bases.   

Bob Stoner


Operation Earnest Will - 1988 as experienced by Jim Gray

10/05/03  I commanded the 753 boat in the Gulf during Operation Earnest Will in 1988. The Army called it Operation Prime Chance. It was a interesting time, the first mission of the newly formed US Special Operations Command. We operated off converted Oil Rigs paid for by the Kuwaiti Gov.  Read More Here