While assigned to the Middle East Force from September to December 1990, the Pascagoula-built Spruance-class destroyer USS O’Brien (DD-975) participated in maritime interdiction as part of Operation Desert Shield. Conducting Persian Gulf patrols in support of the United Nations embargo on Saddam’s Iraq, O’Brien investigated over 400 vessels.
Aboard for part of that cruise was naval artist John Charles Roach who chronicled some of the work.
“50-Caliber Watch,” oil on canvas board, John Charles Roach, 1991. Two armed sailors in protective gear stand watch near a .50-caliber machine gun on board USS O’Brien (DD-975) in the Persian Gulf (91-049-D). “On the bridge wing of USS O’Brian (DD 975), two crewmen man the 50-caliber machine gun. They will fire cover during boarding for ship identification or a threat of small boat attack to the ship during the enforcement of sanctions against Iraq.”
“Interdiction and Confirmation,” watercolor by John Charles Roach, 1991. Maritime interdiction operations (MIO) in the Persian Gulf during Operation Desert Shield (99-049-C). “USS O’Brien (DD-975), is moving in close to the Star of South America. Only by a close look can USS O’Brien inspect the weld marks of the ship. Weld marks are as unique as a fingerprint in identifying a ship. USS O’Brien is looking to see if the name on the ship’s transom matches its welds, or if it has been altered recently in an attempt to disguise the ship.”
“Flight to Baghdad,” watching TLAMs head in at the beginning of Desert Storm. Watercolor on Paper; by John Charles Roach; 1991
“Up Romeo” Painting, Watercolor on Paper; by John Charles Roach; 1991
Decommissioned while still in her prime on 24 September 2004 with only 27 years on the Navy List, O’Brien was sunk as a target off Hawaii by USS Lake Erie (CG-70), HMCS Vancouver, and USN aircraft, on 9 February 2006.
Every gun nerd knows about SOPMOD. SOPMOD refers to Special Operations Peculiar MODification kit.
The purpose behind SOPMOD is to provide rifles with the flexibility and versatility to adapt basic issue weapons to meet mission-specific requirements.
It started off a lot less high-speed.
Retired Navy SEAL Mark “Coch” Cochiolo talks about his career in SOPMOD, with a great 11-minute show and tell below going from the old days of pipe-clamping Maglights on MP5s, and drilling eye-bolts through handguards to where we are at today.
Born in Tennessee in 1936, Carl Wade Stiner graduated from Tennessee Tech and joined the Army in 1958, spending his platoon leader days with the 9th Infantry “Manchu” Regiment. Earning a beret with the 3rd Special Forces Group in 1964, he went to Vietnam in the S-3 shop of a battalion in the 4th Infantry Division in 1967 after CGSS school, picking up a Purple Heart for his trouble. By 1970, he was jumping out of planes again as battalion commander of 2/325th Infantry, with the “All Americans” of the 82nd Airborne.
Passing through Carlise Barracks and picking up his first star, he later became the 82nd’s assistant division commander, commanded JSOC as a major general from 1984-87– a time that included the Achille Lauro affair– then went back to the 82nd as divisional commander.
Running XVIII Airborne Corps and JTFS, he was the brain behind taking down the Panama Defense Force in Blue Spoon/Just Cause in 1989.
Following up on that, he pinned on a fourth star and became the second commander on USSOCOM in 1990, a job he held for three years, a time that included running all special ops during Desert Shield/Storm.
Besides his Ranger and Airborne tab along with CIB, he wore a Master Parachutist Badge and Vietnam Service Medal with four campaign stars, showing he knew how to walk the walk in addition to talking the talk.
You may best know Gen. Stiner from his Shadow Warriors: Inside the Special Forces (Commander Series) book with Tom Clancy, a great 400-page treatise on SOCOM’s first decade.
Gen. Carl Stiner, inducted into the Ranger Hall of Fame in 2004 and the 82nd Airborne’s hall of fame in 2019, died in Knoxville last Thursday, at the age of 85.
He is surely off leading the way into a brave new drop zone.
Arising from a need to rapidly build bases on remote islands for the push across the Pacific during World War II, today’s Seabee force turns 80 this month.
Tracing their unofficial origins to 300 skilled artisans who built an advance base in 1813 for Captain David Porter’s squadron operating against the British along South America’s west coast, the Navy officially formed and christened its first Naval Construction Battalions in March 1942.
Recruited from tradesmen in 60 skilled trades– both “vertical” such as in building construction and “horizontal” such as in the construction of roads and airfields– the new “Seabees” were also trained to defend their positions as the islands and beaches they would land on would often still be very much in an active combat zone. Fitting the job, Rear Admiral Ben Moreell set their motto as “Construimus, Batuimus” roughly meaning “We Build, We Fight.”
Early members received only three weeks of training and were sent overseas. They carried at one time or another just about every rifle and pistol in the Navy’s inventory and pioneered such exotic arms as the Sedgley Glove Gun/Haight Fist Gun.
During World War II, some 350,000 men served in the Seabees, organized into no less than 315 regular and special construction battalions. They would construct over 400 advanced bases spanning from Iceland to New Guinea and Sicily to the Aleutian Islands, operating in all theaters.
In the Pacific alone, they would build no less than 111 airstrips while suffering over 200 combat deaths. A further 500 Seabees were killed during their highly dangerous construction work under adverse field conditions. In addition to 33 Silver Stars and 5 Navy Crosses, ‘Bees also earned more than 2,000 Purple Hearts in WWII, the hard way.
Korea and Vietnam
Drawn down to a force of just 3,300 by 1949, the Seabees remained a “Can Do” part of the Navy and Marines’ shore establishment and would rapidly expand to serve in the Korean War and Vietnam. During the latter conflict in Southeast Asia, the Seabees expanded to over 26,000 men in no less than 23 assorted Naval Mobile and Amphibious Construction Battalions by 1969.
In most cases, the bases in which Marines fought from during those conflicts were constructed and improved by Seabees, often, as in WWII, under threat from the enemy.
The Cold War, Desert Storm, and Beyond
Besides service in Korea and Vietnam, the “Fighting Seabees” engaged in new frontiers around the world during the Cold War, constructing bases everywhere the Navy went including in remote Diego Garcia, Greece, Spain, Antarctica, the Caribbean, and elsewhere. They served in Desert Shield/Desert Storm, Restore Hope, in Bosnia, in Panama, in Iraq, and Afghanistan.
The Seabees today still train to “build with rifles on their back.”
The unique Seabee Combat Warfare Specialist insignia, issued to qualified Naval Construction Force members since 1993, tells a bit of the unit’s history.
Some 30 years ago last week, the British Army’s 7th Armoured Brigade thundered out of Saudi Arabia and into Iraqi-occupied Kuwait as part of Operation Granby’s Desert Sabre, the UK’s end of the Desert Storm ground campaign.
The unit, part of the 1st Armoured Division, was made up of elements of many grand old regiments to include the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards (Carabiniers and Greys), Queen’s Royal Irish Hussars, The Queen’s Dragoon Guards, and The Staffordshire Regiment (Prince of Wales’s) while its sister brigade, the 4th, would include battalions of the 14th/20th King’s Hussars, The Royal Scots (The Royal Regiment) and Royal Regiment of Fusiliers. Divisional troops saw a smattering of battalions from the Guards (Coldstream and Scots), some elements of Highlanders and Gurkhas, and the 16th/5th The Queen’s Royal Lancers as well as artillery and support units.
While many of the regiments carried honors from the Crimean War, the armor of the British division was orders of magnitude higher than the Earl of Lucan’s “1,500 sabres and 6 field guns” of the combined 10-regiment Heavy and Light Brigades in 1854.
The outcome was likewise much different.
The division’s 221 FV4030/4 Challenger 1 tanks moved 180 miles in enemy territory under combat conditions within 66 hours, destroying the Iraqi 46th Mechanised Brigade, 52nd Armoured Brigade, and elements of at least three infantry divisions belonging to the Iraqi VII Corps, for the cost of 10 men killed. The Brits took 7,000 Iraqi EPOWs.
‘We’ve got to really go for it,’ came the orders from Battlegroup and Squadron HQ. Even better. ‘Pedal to the metal, Brew.’ The turbos lit up and the tank leapt forward. The desert was hard. Almost as good as the highway. I looked left and right down the line. Squadrons to the left of me. Squadrons to the right of me. Yea, into the Valley of Death went the 600. It was the charge of the Light Brigade all over again, 137 years later. This time we had swopped our one ton beast of burden, lances and sabres for a 62 ton mechanical monster with a 120mm main armament and two 7.62mm machine guns. Far from being a Light Brigade we were definitely a Heavy Brigade.
In the process, the Brits destroyed approximately 120 Iraqi tanks and twice that number of armored and support vehicles, including one Challenger of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards achieving the longest-range (reported) tank-to-tank-kill in the war from 4,700m away.
Below we see the watercolor entitled “Mine No More” by Chip Beck, showing, “An Iraqi mine is blown in place by U.S. Navy EOD divers from USS Missouri as USS Curtis [sic] hovers in the background in the northern Arabian Gulf.”
NHHC Accession #: 91-159-D
The painting is based on a real photograph and depicts the long-hull Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigate USS Curts (FFG-38)hard at work in the Persian Gulf some 30 years ago today.
14 January 1991: The Persian Gulf – An Iraqi mine is detonated by an explosives ordnance disposal team near Curts during Operation Desert Storm. (U.S. Navy photo DVID #DN-SN-91-09317 by PH3 Brad Dillon)
During Desert Storm, Curtswas very busy, supporting a mix of Navy and Army helicopters to capture the 51-man Iraqi garrison on occupied Qaruh Island, Kuwait. While the speck of land, just 275 meters long by 175 meters wide, is tiny, Qaruh was symbolically important as it was the first section of Kuwaiti liberated in Desert Storm on 21 January.
Curts also reportedly destroyed two mines, sank an Iraqi minelayer, and provided further support to combat helicopter operations during the Battle of Bubiyan Island.
Part of the Missouri Battleship Group, Curts, used her sonar to gingerly lead USSMissouri(BB-63) northward to get within striking range of Iraqi strongpoints ashore. Missouri gun crews then sent 2,700-pound shells crashing into an Iraqi command and control bunker near the Saudi border. It marked the first time the battlewagon’s 16-inch guns had been fired in combat since March 1953 off Korea. Missouri‘s gun crews returned to action 5 February, silencing an Iraqi artillery battery with another 10 rounds. Over a three-day period, Missouri bombarded Iraqi strongholds with 112 16-inch shells.
For her part, Curts received the Navy Unit Commendation for her exceptional operational performance, as well as the Admiral Arleigh Burke Fleet Trophy.
Decommissioned in 2013 after three decades of hard service, “38 Special” was slated for possible transfer to Mexico but has since been placed on the list of target ships. Laid up at Pearl Harbor, she will likely be expended in an upcoming RIMPAC Sinkex.
While primitive guided bombs and missiles were fielded in WWII (see = the U.S. Navy’s SWOD-9 Bat and the sinking of the Italian battleship Roma in 1943 by an air-launched Fritz X) it wasn’t until the P-15 Termit (NATO: SS-N-2 Styx) was developed by the Soviets in 1958 that a reliable surfaced-launched anti-ship missile was fielded. Soon answered in the West by the Swedish Saab Rb 08 and Israeli Gabriel in the 1960s, then by more advanced platforms such as Exocet and Harpoon, such weapons replaced coastal artillery batteries as well as surfaced-launched torpedos as the principal means for asymmetric forces to effect a “kill” on a capital ship.
Likewise, the age of the dreadnought and large all-gun-armed cruiser was fading at the same time.
The four Iowa-class fast battleships were mothballed in 1958 (but, of course, New Jersey would be brought back for a tour in Vietnam while all four would be returned to service in the 1980s for the Cold War– more on that later) while the British retired HMS Vanguard in 1960 while the Soviets had gotten out of the battlewagon biz in the late 1950s after their Italian trophy ship Novorossiysk (ex-Giulio Cesare) blew up and their circa 1911 Gangut-class “school battleships” finally gave up the ghost. The French held on to Jean Bart until 1970, although she had been in reserve since after the Suez affair in 1956.
With that, it was no surprise that when the quartet of Iowas was reactivated in the 1980s to play a role in Reagan’s 600-ship Navy, they were “modernized” with 32 Tomahawk cruise missiles fired from eight funky four-shot armored box launchers as well as 16 Harpoon anti-ship missiles in place of some of their WWII-era retired AAA gun mounts. In a nod to the facts, the missiles all out-ranged the battleships’ gun armament.
Fast forward to the 1st Gulf War and Mighty Mo, USS Missouri (BB-63), chunked 28 Tomahawks and 783 rounds of 16-inch shells at Saddam’s forces while dodging a Persian Gulf filled with naval mines of all flavors– as well as the occasional anti-ship missile counterfire.
16-inch (410 mm) guns fired aboard the battleship USS MISSOURI (BB-63) as night shelling of Iraqi targets takes place along the northern Kuwaiti coast during Operation Desert Storm. Date 6 February 1991. Photo by PH3 Dillon. DN-ST-91-09306
As for Missouri, the Iowas were not able to carry Sea Sparrow point defense launchers as they could not be shock-hardened to deal with the vibration from the battleship’s main guns, so they had an air defense provided by soft kill countermeasures such as chaff, decoys, and ducks; along with a quartet of CIWS 20mm Phalanx guns and five Stinger MANPAD stations– meaning a modern anti-ship missile would have to be killed either by an escort or at very close range. Good thing the Iowas had as much as 19.5-inches of armor plate!
While closing in with the enemy-held coastline to let her 16s reach out and touch someone on 23 February 1991, Missouri came in-range of a battery of shore-based Chinese-made CSS-C-2 Silkworm anti-ship missiles. One missed while the second was intercepted by Sea Darts from a nearby screening destroyer, the Type 42-class HMS Gloucester (D96). The intercepted Silkworm splashed down about 700 yards from Missouri.
USS Missouri under Attack by Iraqi Silkworm Painting, Oil on Canvas Board; by John Charles Roach; 1991; Framed Dimensions 28H X 34W Accession #: 92-007-U Official caption: “While providing gunfire support to harass the Iraqi troops in Kuwait in preparation for a possible amphibious landing, USS Missouri (BB-63) was fired upon by an Iraqi Silkworm anti-ship missile. By the use of infrared flares and chaff, the missile’s guidance was confused. It crossed close astern of Missouri and was engaged and shot down by HMS Gloucester (D-96).”
Royal Navy Commander John Tighe told reporters two Sea Dart missiles were fired by the Gloucester less than 50 seconds after the ship’s radar detected the incoming Iraqi missiles at about 5 a.m.
Tighe said one Sea Dart scored a direct hit, destroying the Iraqi missile. He said a second missile launched by the Iraqis veered into the sea.
The commander said allied airplanes subsequently attacked the Silkworm missile launch site. He said that while he had not received a battle damage assessment, he was ″fairly confident that site will not be used to launch missiles against the ships again.”
Missouri did take some damage that day, from CIWS rounds fired by the escorting frigate USS Jarrett (FFG-33), which had locked on to one of the battleship’s chaff clouds and opened fire. One sailor was wounded by 20mm DU shrapnel.
Today, battleships left the Naval List for the final time in 1995 and all that made it that far are preserved as museums. The missiles, however, endure.
Here we see John Charles Roach’s 1991 painting, “Adroit Marks the Way for Princeton.”
“With the use of hand flares, USS Adroit (MSO-509) marks possible mines in an effort to extract the already damaged USS Princeton (GG-59) from a minefield. USS Beaufort (ATS-2) stands by to assist.”
US Navy Accession #: 92-007-X
At about 0715 on 18 February 1991, Princeton was patrolling the Northern Persian Gulf off Failaka Island during Operation Desert Storm and set off not one but two Italian-made MN103 Manta bottom-mounted influence mines, buckling her hull in three places as well as locking her starboard propeller shaft and port rudder. Just three hours later, USS Tripoli (LPH 10), also struck a mine and was able to continue operations until relieved several days later.
Still, the 9,600-ton Princeton fared remarkably well for a ship that hit two mines and remained afloat, with her Aegis system coming back on-line 15 minutes later, allowing the cruiser to be nominally ready to defend herself if attacked and even project air cover for the range of her Standard missiles.
The Canadian destroyer HMCS Athabaskan (DDG 282) stood by to provide assistance while the Acme-class minesweeper Adroit moved in to lead the way out of the minefield after dark. The Iraqi minefield was later confirmed to hold more than 1,000 mines, many of advanced European designs.
Both Adroit and Athabaskan have been paid off and sold to the breakers while USS Beaufort (ATS-2) went on to a second career in South Korea, but Princeton remains very much in service.
On 6 February 1991, during the “Shock and Awe” of Desert Storm, Capt. Robert R. Swain, Jr., of the Louisiana-based 706th Tactical Fighter Squadron, in the Air Force Reserve’s 926th Tactical Fighter Group, was zooming around performing “battlefield interdictions” in his OA–10A Thunderbolt II over central Iraqi-occupied Kuwait.
“As I was leaving the target area after dropping six 500-pound bombs and firing my two Maverick missiles at tanks, I noticed two black dots running across the desert,” Swain said in a 1991 interview published in Air Force magazines. “They weren’t putting up any dust, and yet they were moving fast over the ground.”
It turned out those little black dots were Iraqi Bo-105s, little German-made light observation helicopters which could carry a centerline 20mm cannon or a series of rocket pods.
“On the first pass, I tried to shoot an AIM-9 heat-seeking missile, but I couldn’t get it to lock-on [the target],” said Shaw. “So, on the second pass, I fired a long burst of 30 millimeter from the cannon [GAU-8], and the helicopter looked like it had been hit by a bomb. We tried to identify the type of [helicopter] after we were finished, but it was just a bunch of pieces.”
Shaw’s OA-10, 77-0205, would be dubbed the Chopper Popper, complete with a very Lousiana-like nose-art in honor of the 926th’s “Fighting Cajuns.”
It was the first air-to-air kill in the A-10s history. It would not be the last as another A-10A, flown by Capt. Todd Sheehy of the 10th TFW would splash a Soviet-made Iraqi Mi-8 helicopter with its GAU-8 30mm cannon on 15 February.
As for Chopper Popper, SN 77-0205, it was retired and placed on display at the Academy on 1 November 1993, with Shaw’s AFRES markings. It remains standing guard at Thunderbird Airmanship Overlook, South Gate.
“The American flag flies from a vessel in the foreground as the nuclear-powered guided missile cruiser USS South Carolina (CGN-37) returns to port from deployment in the Persian Gulf area during Operation Desert Storm, 28 March 1991.”
Sadly, the mighty cruiser returning from war overseas had her days numbered.
Though she had received the New Threat Update (NTU) to make her one of the most potent missile slingers in the world and her reactor was re-cored to make her good for another 18 years of service, South Carolina was decommissioned 30 July 1999, at age 24, as part of the Great Cruiser Slaughter.