On May 17, 1987, the U.S. Navy guided missile frigate USS Stark was on a patrol in the central Persian Gulf, about three kilometers outside the Iraq-declared war-zone off the coast of Iran.
Around 22.00hrs local time, Stark came under attack from an Iraqi air force fighter jet. Radars on the U.S. warship tracked the aircraft as it approached, and Capt. Glenn R. Brindel ordered his radioman to issue a warning and request the pilot to identify himself.
The Iraqi did not respond. Instead, he approached to a range of 35 kilometers and fired two Aerospatiale AM.39 Exocet anti-ship missiles.
Stark’s radars failed to detect the incoming missiles and thus the crew realized much too late that it was under fire. Underway at an altitude of only three meters and guided by their relatively simple active-radar homing heads, both missiles aimed for the part of the ship with the highest radar cross-section.
The first penetrated the hull directly under the bridge. It failed to explode but its unspent rocket fuel ignited and sparked a raging fire. The second Exocet hit almost the same spot and detonated, tearing a three-meter by 4.6-meter hole in the hull.
Combined, the two missiles inflicted massive damage and ignited a conflagration that burned for almost 24 hours. In order to prevent his ship from sinking, Brindel ordered the flooding of the starboard side of the ship, thus keeping the hole on the port side above water.
Supported by the destroyers USS Waddell and USS Conyngham, the ship barely managed to reach the port of Manama in Bahrain the next day. The destroyer tender USS Acadia affected temporary repairs.
Twenty-nine U.S. Navy personnel died in the initial explosion and fire, two of whom were lost at sea. Eight others died of their injuries, while 21 were injured. The Navy’s incident review board relieved Brindel of command and recommended him for court-martial. Eventually he received non-judicial punishment and retired early.
Read the Remainder at War is Boring