Tuesday, May 29, 2007

USS Samuel B. Roberts (FFG-58)

The USS Samuel B. Roberts (FFG-58) is one of the last ships in the US Navy’s Oliver Hazard Perry Class of guided missile frigates. The ship is named after a US Navy coxswain who was killed during the Battle of Guadalcanal in 1942 and is the third ship to be named Samuel B. Roberts (the first was sunk during the heroic Battle off Samar in the Philippines in 1944; the second was a Gearing Class destroyer which served honorably from 1946 to 1970). The frigate was commissioned on April 12, 1986, and, after initial shakedown cruises and training exercises, was sent to the Persian Gulf in January of 1988. The Samuel B. Roberts, under the command of Commander Paul X. Rinn, became part of the US Navy task force that was assigned to escort re-flagged Kuwaiti oil tankers during the Iran-Iraq war. This US Naval commitment in the Persian Gulf was known as Operation Earnest Will.

On April 14, 1988, the Samuel B. Roberts struck an Iranian M-08 mine in the central Persian Gulf. The resulting explosion punched a 15-foot hole in the hull, knocked the ship’s two gas turbine engines off their mounts, and flooded the engine room. The ship was almost broken in two and for five horrific hours the crew fought fires and flooding. Ten sailors were injured and taken off the ship by helicopter for medical treatment. Eventually, though, the remaining crewmembers were able to bring the situation under control and the ship was towed to Dubai for temporary repairs.

As a result of this incident, Navy divers swept the area and discovered several unexploded mines in the Persian Gulf. The serial numbers stamped on them matched the sequence of numbers found on mines that were seized by the US Navy the previous September on board the Iranian minelayer Iran Ajar. Clearly, the Iranians were mining the Persian Gulf and, in retaliation, President Ronald Reagan unleashed Operation Praying Mantis. It was a devastating attack on Iranian naval and oil assets, which caused the destruction of two Iranian oil platforms in the Persian Gulf, sank one Iranian frigate, damaged another, and destroyed several high-speed Iranian patrol boats. America lost one Marine attack helicopter and its crew of two. This was one of the largest naval battles to take place since the end of World War II.

Shortly after Operation Praying Mantis, the Samuel B. Roberts, in no shape to steam back to the United States, was literally carried to America on board the Mighty Servant 2, a semi-submersible heavy-lift ship owned by a Dutch shipping firm. The Samuel B. Roberts was brought to the Bath Iron Works in Maine and was repaired in time to take part in Operations Desert Storm and Desert Shield. The ship remains in service today and its home port is Mayport, Florida. The Samuel B. Roberts, like the USS Stark before it, showed that the Oliver Hazard Perry Class frigates could take an amazing amount of punishment and still survive. This was, and still is, one of the most successful frigate designs built since the end of World War II.


Figure 1 (top): The Samuel B. Roberts being towed to Dubai for repairs. Note how low in the water her stern is because of the flooding caused by the mine blast. Click on photo for larger image. Photo by Fred Weiss.

Figure 2 (Middle): The Samuel B. Roberts being carried back to the United States on board the Mighty Servant 2. Click on photo for larger image. Photo by John La Sala.

Figure 3 (Bottom): The Samuel B. Roberts arrives in Souda Bay, Crete, for a scheduled port visit in April of 2002. Click on photo for larger image. Photo by Bill Gonyo.