“A fine job of recounting a 20-year-old fight that was no doubt just another round in a continuing struggle.”—US Naval Institute Proceedings
In May 1987 the US frigate Stark, calmly sailing the waters of the Persian Gulf, was suddenly blown apart by an Exocet missile fired from an Iraqi jet fighter. A fifth of the ship’s crew was killed and many others horribly burned or wounded. This event jumpstarted one of the most mysterious conflicts in American history: “The Tanker War,” waged against Iran for control of the Persian Gulf.
This quasi-war took place at the climax of the mammoth Iran-Iraq War during the Reagan administration. Losing on the battlefield, Ayatollah Khomeini’s Iran had decided to close the Persian Gulf against shipping from Iraq’s oil-rich backers, the emirate of Kuwait. The Kuwaitis appealed for help and America sent a fleet to the Gulf, raising the Stars and Stripes over Kuwait’s commercial tankers.
The result was a free-for-all, as the Iranians laid mines throughout the narrow passage and launched attack boats against both tankers and US warships. The sixth largest ship in the world, the tanker Bridgeton, hit an Iranian mine and flooded. The US Navy fought its largest surface battle since World War II against the Ayatollah’s assault boats. Meanwhile, US Navy Seals arrived in the Gulf, setting up shop aboard two mobile platforms. As Saddam Hussein, who had instigated the conflict, looked on, Iranian gunners fired shore-based Silkworm missiles against US forces, actions which, if made known at the time, would have required the US Congress to declare war against Iran.
In July 1988, nervous sailors aboard the cruiser USS Vincennes shot an Iranian airliner out of the sky, killing 300 civilians. This event came one month before the end of the war, and may have been the final straw that influenced the Ayatollah to finally drink from his “poisoned chalice.”
Author Lee Allen Zatarain, employing recently released Pentagon documents, firsthand interviews, and a determination to get to the truth, has revealed a conflict that few recognized at the time, but which may have presaged further battles to come.
“Anyone thirsting for the maximum detail of the period under the spotlight will not be disappointed…packed with information…a very readable account, which sheds considerable light and insight on what the public were fed at the time.”
ROYAL NAVY AND MARITIME BOOK REVIEWS, 2011-03-01
“…full of such head shaking revelations and is a good source of information on America’s naval readiness, its Middle East policies and its heroes and scapegoats in the not too distant past.”
THE JOURNAL OF AMERICA’S MILITARY PAST, 2012-02-17
...presents a case study of the complex relations based on oil, politics, and power. During the Reagan administration, and undeclared war was launched between America and Iran after the latter threatened shipping through the Gulf and the Straits of Hormuz. The ensuing conflict is known as the Tanker War, and Zatarain’s account is both thorough and balanced…The author’s thoroughness creates an almost first person narration of the conflict beginning with Iran’s ambush of the American frigate Stark to the errant shooting down of Iran Air Flight 655. His chronicale adopts and American perspective yet bias remains absent from his work….For readers interested in Persian Gulf affairs, America’s First Clash With Iran offers an exhaustive and impartial history of largely forgotten and overlooked situation…a well rounded discussion of the metaphorical chess match between America and Iran. Though the Tanker War ceased in 1988, these events continue to be relevant today, as America’s relationship with Middle Eastern nations remains tenuous…
NAUTICAL RESEARCH JOURNAL, 2012-12-12
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Tanker War America’s First Conflict with Iran, 1987–88
In May 1987 the US frigate Stark, calmly sailing the waters of the Persian Gulf, was suddenly blown apart by an Exocet missile fired from a jet fighter of Iraq’s Saddam Hussein. A fifth of the ship’s ...