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 crew were 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 last years of 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 had arrived in the Gulf, setting up shop aboard a mobile platform from which they would sally out in fast craft to combat the Iranians. As Saddam Hussein, who had instigated the conflict, looked on, Iranian gunners fired shore-based Silkworm missiles against US ships, 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 to influence the Ayatollah to finally drink from his "poisoned chalice."In Tanker War, 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.
"...not only an exciting work but an essential one for those wishing to understand America's vast naval and air capability as well as its enduring vulnerability."-Stephen Tanner, author of Afghanistan: A Military History from Alexander the Great to the Fall of the Taliban and The Wars of the Bushes"...an amazingly detailed look inside the U.S. Navy during the period it encountered a myriad of threats from Iranian ships, aircraft and missiles in the Persian Gulf. Given the fact that a reprise of the conflict is just beyond the horizon, this book should be essential reading for all U.S. policymakers as well as-and even more so-the current leaders of Iran."-Samuel A. Southworth, author of U.S. Armed Forces Arsenal and U.S. Special Warfare"...this thoroughly researched and well presented history of a relatively little known, but significant, contributor to victory is a valuable addition to US Army history"Journal of America's Military Past, 01/2008"...does an excellent job of describing the tension aboard US ships and helicopter/ air crews... a good read and a fast one, especially for those of us unfamiliar with the "war" in the first place."Magweb.com 05/2008"...a fine job of recounting a 20 year old fight that was no doubt just another round in a continuing struggle."Proceedings, US Naval Institute, 08/2008"Well paced and factual... clearly understands the details of war at sea. As the United States discusses a possible conflict with Iran in the global press, the important lessons outlined...become particularly valuable."The Northern Mariner Spring 2008"...one of the best reads of the year...the best and most accurate account of the events of that fateful time period...answers a lot of questions and brings up a few as all, It is one that you simply must read."Modeling Madness, 03/2008"...well researched... a compelling read for the armchair enthusiast and military veteran alike." IPMS, 06/2009"An excitingly written and very clear description of two oft forgotten but vitally important years in the relationship between Iran and the West." Ships and Shipping, 04/2010"...a compelling and immensely readable account of one of the least-known chapters of the U.S. Navy's maritime combat operations... a must read for those who have a desire or a duty to understand how recent history may shape perceptions of these protagonists in the future."Naval War College Review, Spring 2010"...a very well documented book on a subject we saw flash on the nightly news back in the 1980's...an excellent book on a very little known conflict in US Naval History. Kitmaker Newtwork, 07/2010"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, 03/2011"...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
The Definitive Reference and a Great Read
By Tom Wetherald
- March 14, 2009
TANKER WAR is unquestionably the definitive book about the events in the Persian Gulf in 1987-88. It is also just a darn good story, told well. As a first hand participant in these events I heartily applaud Mr. Zatarain's extraordinary accomplishment in the telling of the story of the Tanker War.
TANKER WAR does an exceptional job laying out the geopolitical currents of the era and the background behind the seminal events. Against this tapestry, Mr. Zatarain tells the story of the U.S. Navy's largest, most complex and deadliest Naval conflict since the end of WWII. This is the only time that some of the U.S. Navy's modern weapons systems have ever been used in combat. While subsequent history is replete with U.S. Navy involvement in land campaigns, at no other time in the modern era of radar guided missiles, modern data systems, electronic warfare, and jet aircraft and helicopters, has there been a head to head engagement of a modern armed force with the U.S. Navy... read more
An incredible exposé of America's strength and vulnerability.
By Ned Middleton
- April 6, 2009
When I first saw this book's two-word title, I immediately thought this was another work about the dreaded convoys of WW2. Not so. This book starts with the Iraqi attack on the USS Stark in the Persian Gulf in 1987. It then goes on to explain US determination to keep that international waterway open to the merchant navies of the world and many of the ongoing crises since that time.
In a meticulously researched work, author Lee Allen Zatarain has accessed newly released Pentagon documents in addition to the personal accounts of those who took part in various confrontations - most of which were not reported at the time. For example in 1988; Whilst under general orders to act in a robust manner but "not" to start a war!, Commander Paul Rinn of the Frigate USS Samuel Roberts was escorting a convoy of 7 ships when he was confronted by two Iranian warships approaching in a manner which suggested they might attack in a pincer movement. Commander Rinn immediately put his vessel... read more
Detailed and Astute Analysis of the 1987-88 Conflict in the Gulf
By Rob Squires
- February 28, 2009
This is the definitive book on the 1987-1988 conflict in the Persian Gulf between forces of the United States of America and the so-called "Islamic Republic" of Iran. This conflict is often referred to as the "Tanker War" since it centered around attacks on oil tankers that were traversing the Gulf, and the efforts of US forces to prevent such attacks. The author, Lee Allen Zatarain, obviously gave this subject due diligence and performed a great deal of painstaking and thorough research, including numerous interviews with participants. The author does an outstanding job of covering the conflict at the diplomatic, senior command, and personal levels--and all points in between. Parts of the book are harrowing, such as the details of the Exocet missiles hitting the USS Stark and the ensuing damage control, and other parts are inspiring--including the USS Gary's heroic actions to defend itself and the mobile sea bases from inbound Silkworm missiles (and the author essentially proves... read more