The USS Stark

On this day in 1987, the USS Stark (FFG-31) was operating in the Persian Gulf near the exclusion zone declared because of the ongoing Iran-Iraq War. An Iraqi Mirage F1 launched two Exocet anti-ship missiles at the Stark. Both impacted the port side of Stark. The first failed to explode, but flaming fragments of its unburned propellant ignited fires. The second missile’s warhead exploded.

The Stark was badly crippled. It would take 24 hours to extinguish the blaze. 37 American Sailors died, and a further 21 were injured.  The Stark’s captain, Captain Glenn Brindel, would be relieved of command for failure to defend his ship. He shortly thereafter retired.

The Stark would limp under her own power to Bahrain, where she underwent temporary repairs alongside the destroyer tender USS Acadia (AD-42).

She would then travel to Pascagoula, MS for her definitive repairs.

After repairs, Stark rejoined the fleet until her decommissioning in 1999, and scrapping in 2006.

The Stark was non-mission capable after the attack. But she should have been a loss. The sterling damage control efforts of her crew were very closely studied by the Navy. Many lessons had been learned from the loss of HMS Sheffield in the Falklands, and had been incorporated into US Navy damage control training. And those lessons, as well as new lessons learned the hard way aboard Stark would be further tested in later years, notably aboard USS Princeton, USS Tripoli, and USS Cole.

Update: Here’s the report from the investigation.

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11 thoughts on “The USS Stark”

  1. I didn’t include this in the post, but here’s a thought. Throughout the course of the Iran-Iraq War, most people were at worst ambivalent toward Iraq, and some quite supportive. After all the enemy of my enemy is, if not my friend, at least he’s my enemy’s enemy. And of course, public opinion was hardly in support of Iran after the embassy hostage crisis. Indeed, the US did provide some limited support to the Iraqi regime.

    But after the Stark incident, public opinion turned quickly against the brutal Saddam Hussein regime, and that enmity went a long way toward shaping US public opinion in favor of US intervention after the invasion of Kuwait in 1990.

  2. I remember when the lessons learned from the Stark were being disseminated and rolled into DC training. One of the lessons learned was the trouble survivors had opening their EEBD’s. I can remember adding skateboard grip tape to all the EEBD plastic bags on the FFG I was on.

  3. Any word in how much time the commander actually had to defend his ship? As presented, it would appear that he was railroaded, unless there were significant actions he could have taken, or should have taken, prior to the attack. Curious what other forces were available as well, as I doubt it was all alone. Any good sources?

    1. I’ve linked the basic investigation. I’ll email you a copy. It’s heavily redacted, but there certainly WERE significant issues prior to impact. Certainly not all fall solely on CDR Brindel’s shoulders, as CMEF could have addressed a few things better. But there were material, training, and organizational issues that lead to the attack not being noticed. A lookout actually *saw* the first missile launch. That gave them a couple minutes. But no one realized exactly what the lookout saw. The bridge team spotted the first missile mere seconds before impact.

      On the plus side, CDR Brindel had trained and equipped his DC teams magnificently. For instance, an FFG had an authorization of 18 OBA and 108 canisters for them. Stark had on hand 34 OBAs and a whopping 331 canisters. And they still ran out of canisters, within just a few hours.

  4. As told to me by a Fire Controlman aboard the Stark, the only radar they were allowed to have energized was their surface search radar. All fire control radars shut down as ordered by the commodore. They did see the Mirage that did the launch…but could not see the missiles till it was too late. The rationale for not having the fire control radars energized was to prevent an accidental shoot down. After that, they were all lit up. And while the Captain was charged and investigated, he was allowed to retire as an 0-6. Make of that what you will.

      1. From what I understand, he was promoted to Captain, but at the time of his retirement, didn’t have sufficient time in grade to retire as Captain, and so retired as a Commander. As I recall, the requirement is three years time in grade for Captain.

        And yes, it’s very unusual for an OHP to have a Captain who is, well, a Captain. He *also* was in command for an unusually long time. Wiki also tells us he was in command for about three years, which is way, way past the normal command tour length.

    1. I suspect the charges were a knee jerk reaction and after investigating they really had no basis on which to charge him, but the damage was done to his career. If the Wiki cite of the Naval Register is correct, he may have been allowed to go as Captain as some compensation for the damage.

  5. I am somewhat miffed the article failed to mention, even in passing, the magnificent job done by the officers and crew of USS Samuel B. Roberts following the catastrophic mine hit suffered.

    1. A fair criticism, given that I did mention other ships that suffered damage. No real excuse for the oversight, but if it helps, I’m planning on eventually writing about the Sammy B and her predecessor.

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