Desert Storm 1991
Courtesy of Joe Marturano

An MSO crew deploys a float, part of an mechanical sweep array, during Persian Gulf oerations.
An MSO crew deploys a float, part of an mechanical sweep array, during Persian Gulf oerations. 01 APR 1992

Two ocean minesweepers lie tied up in the foreground as a third ocean minesweeper is moved in alongside them. The three U.S. Navy ocean minesweepers and a mine countermeasures ship are being loaded aboard the SUPER SERVANT 3 for transportation to the Persian Gulf, where they will support U.S. forces sent to the region in reaction to Iraq`s invasion of Kuwait. The nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS ENTERPRISE (CVN-65) is in the background.<br>
Date Shot: 19 AUG 1990
Two ocean minesweepers lie tied up in the foreground as a third ocean minesweeper is moved in alongside them. The three U.S. Navy ocean minesweepers and a mine countermeasures ship are being loaded aboard the SUPER SERVANT 3 for transportation to the Persian Gulf, where they will support U.S. forces sent to the region in reaction to Iraq`s invasion of Kuwait.
Date Shot: 19 AUG 1990

USS Adroit (MSO-509) in the foreground during
      post-ceasefire mine clearance operations.
USS Adroit (MSO-509) in the foreground during post-ceasefire mine clearance operations.

Iraqi Map, caption follows
Location of minefields laid by Iraqi forces during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. Source: Department of Defense, Conduct of the Persian Gulf War, 1992.

Navy Times

Published: 04-12-99


Mine countermeasure personnel who participated in the Persian Gulf operations now may get to pin on the combat action ribbon. The Navy has approvedthe combat action ribbon for mine countermeasures operations from 1990 to 1994.

Navy officials also considered MCM activities during the 1973 Operation End Sweep in Vietnam. However, those units were deemed ineligible for the CAR.

To rate the CAR, personnel must have served during the dates listed below:

* USS Leader (MSO 490), Aug. 2, 1990 to Sept. 19, 1991.

* USS Adroit (MSO 509), April 11, 1991 to Sept. 10, 1991.

* USS Impervious (MSO 449), April 11, 1991 to Sept. 10, 1991.

Copyright 1999 Army Times Publishing Company. All Rights Reserved.


During the Cold War the U.S. mine warfare concept was designed around a European war scenario which relied on North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies to participate substantially in mine warfare operations. The Navy's mine countermeasure (MCM) capabilities in the Persian Gulf War (1990-91) included the surface mine countermeasures capabilities of three 30-year-old minesweepers [USS Impervious (MSO-449), USS Leader (MSO-490), and USS Adroit (MSO-509) Gulf War Stories]. We think they provided as important a role to insuring United States superiority on the seas and ashore as the Destroyers, Aircraft Carriers, Submarines and Battleships and ought to be remembered in the same fashion.


Soon after the Iraqi invasion, it became clear that Iraq was laying mines in international waters. U.S. ships discovered and destroyed six mines during December. The U.S. Mine Countermeasures Group (USMCMG) was established with the objective of cleanng a path to the beach for a possible amphibious landing and battleship gunflre support.

The minesweepers USS Adroit (MSO 509), USS Impervious (MSO 449), and USS Leader (MSO 490) along with the newly commissioned mine countermeasures ship USS Avenger (MCM 1 ) arrived in the Gulf aboard the heavy-lift ship Super Servant III. More than 20 Navy Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) teams were also deployed to support the mine countermeasures force. Allied minesweepers from Saudi Arabia, Great Britain and Kuwait, and the MH-53 Super Stallions of Mine Countermeasures Helicopter Squadron 14 joined the MCM effort.

After months of training off Dubai, United Arab Emirates, US MCM Group (USMCMG) staff embarked in USS Tripoli (LPH 10) on 20 January, and proceeded to the northern Gulf waters to perform their mission. As flagship for the combined operation, Tripoli's flight deck was the base for the mine-sweeping helicopters. Six British minesweepers joined their U.S. counterparts, with British and U.S. warships providing air defense.

USMCMG began its work 60 miles east of the Kuwaiti coastline, working initially to clear a 15-mile long, 1,000-yard wide path. The mine-clearing task force spent the flrst few weeks of DESERT STORM pushing 24 miles to "Point FOXTROT," a 10-mile by 3.5-mile box which became the battleship gunfire support area south of Faylaka Island.

While sweeping further toward shore, the task group was targeted by Iraqi fire control radars associated with Silkworm missile sites inside Kuwait. Task force ships moved out of Silkworm range and worked to locate the radar site. During those maneuvers on 18 February, Iraqi mines found their mark. Within three hours of each other, Tripoli and USS Princeton (CG 59) were rocked by exploding mines. As damage control teams successfully overcame fires and flooding aboard Tripoli and Princeton, Impervious, Leader and Avenger searched for additional mines in the area. Adroit led the salvage tug USS Beaufort (ATS 2) toward Princeton to tow her to safety.

Tripoli was able to continue her mission for several days before she was relieved by USS La Salle (AGF 3) and USS New Orleans (LPH 11) and proceeded to Bahrain for repairs. New Orleans provided the helicopter deck while the mine group staff moved aboard La Salle to coordinate the operation. Princeton restored her TLAM strike and AEGIS anti-air warfare defense capabilities within fifteen minutes of the mine strike, whereupon she reassumed duties as local anti-air warfare coordinator and remained on station, providing defense for the mine countermeasures group for an additional 30 hours, until relieved.

Charts and intelligence captured from Iraq showed the mine field where Tripoli and Princeton were hit was one of six laid in a 150-mile arc from Faylaka Island to the Saudi-Kuwaiti border. Within that arc, there were four additional mine-lines --a total of more than 1,000 mines --laid over a five month period.

Tripoli mine damage.

Countermine Warfare

The five months of Operation Desert Shield permitted Iraq to develop an extensive coastal defense system in Kuwait. The Iraqi mine threat affected almost all naval operations during the Persian Gulf Conflict. After Operation Desert Storm began, the principal mission of Coalition MCM assets was to clear a path to the Kuwaiti coast for naval gunfire support (NGFS) and a possible amphibious landing.

The Iraqi Threat

The bulk of Iraq's mine inventory consisted of Iraqi reproductions of pre-World War I designed Russian contact mines. However, it also included high-technology magnetic and acoustic influence mines purchased from the Soviet Union and Italy. Specifically, Iraq had 11 types of mines including moored contact mines (e.g., the Myam, the Soviet M-08, and a similar Iraqi-produced LUGM-145) and bottom acoustic influence mines (e.g., the Italian Manta acoustic/magnetic mine, the Soviet KMD magnetic influence mine, the Soviet UDM acoustic influence mine, and the Iraqi-produced Sigeel acoustic influence mine). Before Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, Iraq was estimated to have 1,000 to 2,000 mines. After the cease fire, Iraq reported it had laid 1,167 mines during the conflict (Figure VII-13).

Iraq could deliver mines from surface and air platforms. Sea-based mine delivery platforms ranged from mine rail-equipped mine sweepers to landing craft, auxiliaries, and even small boats. As Iran had demonstrated during the Iran-Iraq War, practically any surface vessel could become a minelayer. Iraq's Super Frelon helicopter was assessed as its principal airborne minelaying asset. Other possible air delivery platforms included Hip helicopters and B-6 bombers.

Iraq's minelaying strategy seemed to focus on protecting its seaward flank from an amphibious assault. Iraq apparently started laying mines in the northern Persian Gulf in late November. The Iraqis used two principal methods of offshore mining operations. They laid fields of moored and bottom mines and single mine lines to protect logistics sea lines of communication and the Kuwaiti coast from amphibious assault. In addition, it appears the Iraqis deliberately may have set some mines adrift in the Persian Gulf, perhaps so the mines would drift in the southern currents and damage Coalition ships, or at least disrupt Coalition naval operations. The first drifting mine was discovered by Royal Saudi MCM forces in the Zuluf oil field on 21 December. Although it is possible some floating mines accidentally broke free from their moorings, there is evidence (e.g., no mooring chains and little marine growth or corrosion) that approximately 20 percent of the floating mines recovered and destroyed by Coalition MCM forces were set adrift intentionally.

Intelligence reports during the war indicated the Iraqis used small rubber boats, each carrying a maximum of four mines, to deploy the drifting mines. These small boats operated from Ras Al-Qul'ayah and probably set 20 mines adrift intentionally. After the Coalition's success in neutralizing the Iraqi Air Force, the drifting mines were viewed as the primary threat to Coalition naval vessels operating in the Gulf beyond antiship missile ranges. The drifting mine threat was a considerable concern to the aircraft carriers operating in the Gulf. The high-speed nature of the carrier flight operations reduced the effectiveness of mine watches and helicopter searches.

MCM Command and Control

Naval Forces Component, Central Command (NAVCENT) established a US MCM Group (USMCMG) early in Operation Desert Shield to respond to the Iraqi mine threat. This group operated under Commander Middle East Force's (CMEF) control. The staff assigned to the USMCMG commander were both active-duty personnel from other naval commands and reservists. A British MCM force joined with the USMCMG to conduct most MCM operations during Operation Desert Storm. This British MCM group was under the operational control of the UK's Senior Naval Officer Middle East, but tactical control was given to the USMCMG commander.

MCM planning initially focused on supporting an amphibious assault north of Ash Shuaybah on the Kuwaiti coastline. Commander-in-Chief, Central Command (CINCCENT) made the final decision in early February to cancel this amphibious assault and directed NAVCENT to concentrate on an amphibious raid on Faylaka Island. MCM planning then shifted toward the new target. The mine clearance areas required for the Faylaka Island raid at first included a full set of fire support areas (FSA), a sea echelon area, and a cleared channel to the amphibious objective area. MCM objectives later were reduced to providing a safe path for USS Missourito position herself off Faylaka Island to provide NGFS and present the Iraqis with credible indications of an amphibious landing.

Coalition MCM Capabilities

The US mine warfare concept was designed around a European war scenario which relied on North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies to participate substantially in mine warfare operations, especially in MCM. The Navy's MCM capabilities in the Persian Gulf consisted of surface mine countermeasures (SMCM), aviation mine countermeasures (AMCM), and explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) teams. SMCM capabilities included the newly commissioned USS Avenger (MCM 1) class MCM ship and three 30-year-old USS Aggressive and USS Acme (MSO 422 and 508) class minesweepers. The aviation mine countermeasures (AMCM) capability consisted of six MH-53E AMCM helicopters. More than 20 US EOD teams and a 23-man Australian team also were deployed to neutralize or destroy detected mines.

USS Avenger, the Navy's newest and most capable MCM ship, used the AN/SQQ-32 MCM sonar, a sophisticated mine-hunting sonar, to detect moored and bottom mines in shallow or deep waters. USS Avenger then used the AN/SLQ-48 mine neutralization system (MNS) to locate, examine, and destroy the detected mines. The MNS consists of a remotely piloted submersible vehicle equipped with sonar and two television cameras for locating mines, explosives for neutralizing mines, and cable cutters for cutting the mooring so the mine floats to the surface for destruction. The other US minesweepers used the AN/SQQ-14 MCM sonar to detect bottom and moored mines and mechanical minesweeping gear to cut mine cables.

AMCM helicopters towed a cable with a mechanical cutting device through the water, to cut a mine's mooring cable and release the mine to the surface. EOD teams or gunfire then detonated the mine. The helicopters also used acoustic and magnetic MCM sleds, which simulate a ship's propellers and magnetic signature to detonate influence mines.

The minesweepers USS Impervious (MSO 449), USS Adroit (MSO 503), USS Leader (MSO 490), and the MCM ship USS Avenger arrived in the theater 30 September on the Dutch heavy-lift ship Super Servant III. USS Adroit and USS Impervious were Naval Reserve Force minesweepers, which deployed to the Gulf augmented by Reserve crews. On 7 October, the six MH-53E AMCM helicopters arrived by USAF C-5A airlift. USS Tripoli (LPH 10), which had been part of the amphibious task force, was assigned to the USMCMG as a support ship for the AMCM helicopters and as the USMCMG command ship. The USMC landing force disembarked and off loaded its equipment as the USMCMG staff embarked in USS Tripoli on 22 January. In addition, two UAE-flagged vessels, Vivi and Celina, were contracted as support ships for EOD teams that accompanied the USMCMG. These forces, along with the EOD teams, formed the USMCMG, based in Abu Dhabi, UAE.

In addition to the US MCM assets, two other NATO countries and Saudi Arabia provided surface mine countermeasures (SMCM) ships during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. The Royal Navy provided the most SMCM assets to the Coalition MCM effort. The UK initially deployed the Hunt Class mine hunters HMS Atherstone (M 38), HMS Cattistock (M31), and HMS Hurworth (M 39), along with the support ship HMS Herald (AGSH 138). Later, the mine hunters HMS Ledbury (M 30) and HMS Dulverton (M35) joined the MCM force. This UK MCM group operated closely with the USMCMG in clearing Iraqi mines in the northern Persian Gulf during Operation Desert Storm. Belgium contributed two Tripartite class mine hunters, Iris (M 920) and Myosotis (M 922), plus the support ship Zinnia (A 961). The Belgian MCM group operated mostly in the Gulf of Oman. Saudi Arabia's MCM ships included the minesweepers Addriyah (MSC 412), Al Quysumah (MSC 414), Al -Wadi'ah (MSC 416), and Safwa (MSC 418).

The SMCM and AMCM assets were responsible for clearing areas with water depths greater than 10 meters. The Coalition's MCM force provided the ability to survey the Persian Gulf open water areas, port approaches, harbors, potential amphibious objective areas, and sea lines of communication. The MCM force also had the ability to detect and counter all types of Iraqi bottom and moored mines.

MCM Operations

Before the start of Operation Desert Storm, the US ability to gather intelligence on Iraqi minefield locations, or observe and counter Iraqi minelaying activity in international waters (considered a hostile act under international law) was degraded by restrictions on naval and air operations in the northern Persian Gulf. To avoid any possibility of provoking Iraqi military action before Coalition defensive and later offensive preparations were complete, CINCCENT restricted naval surface forces in the Gulf to operating south of the 27 degrees 30'N parallel (approximately 72 miles south of the Kuwaiti-Saudi border) until early January Similar restrictions kept the flight paths of aircraft south of 27 degrees 45'N (approximately 55 miles south of the Kuwaiti-Saudi border) unless tactically required to exceed that limit. Those restrictions precluded gathering intelligence on Iraqi mining activity and also prevented NAVCENT from acting to deter or counter Iraqi forces from setting mines adrift in the Gulf.

After the Royal Saudi Naval Force (RSNF) discovered the first drifting mine in December, the USMCMG found and destroyed six drifting mines before Operation Desert Storm started. On 24 January, the USMCMG left Abu Dhabi and conducted training and maintenance while enroute to its designated MCM operating area in the northern Persian Gulf. On 14 February, the oceanographic survey vessel HMS Herald and five Royal Navy mine hunters joined the USMCMG. This task force started its MCM operations on 16 February, 60 miles east of the Kuwaiti coast, working initially to clear a 15-mile long, 1,000 yard wide path to a 10-mile by 3.5-mile FSA south of Faylaka Island.

While sweeping toward the shore of Faylaka Island on 17 February, the MCM force was targeted by Iraqi Silkworm antiship missile fire control radars in Kuwait. The ships moved out of the missile's range while Coalition forces located and attacked the radar site. With the Silkworm missile threat diminished, the MCM forces began to move back to the previous minesweeping areas at 0240 on 18 February. At 0435, after operating for 11 hours in an undetected Iraqi minefield, USS Tripoli hit a moored contact mine in 30 meters of water. The explosion ripped a 16 foot by 20 foot hole below the water line. As USS Avenger and USS Leader attempted to assist the damaged warship, USS Princeton (CG 59), while unknowingly heading along a line of Manta mines, continued to provide air defense for the MCM Group. At 0715, USS Princeton actuated a Manta mine in 16 meters of water. A sympathetic actuation of another mine about 350 yards from USS Princeton occurred about three seconds later. These mine blasts caused substantial damage to USS Princeton, including a cracked superstructure, severe deck buckling, and a damaged propeller shaft and rudder. As damage control teams overcame fires and flooding aboard USS Tripoli and USS Princeton, the minesweepers USS Impervious, USS Leader, and USS Avenger searched for additional mines in the area. The minesweeper USS Adroit led the salvage ship USS Beaufort (ATS 2) toward USS Princeton; USS Beaufort then towed the damaged warship to safety.

USS Princeton restored her TLAM strike and Aegis AAW capabilities within two hours of the mine strike and reassumed duties as the local AAW commander, providing air defense for the Coalition MCM group for 30 additional hours until relieved. USS Tripoli was able to continue her mission for several days before being relieved by USS Lasalle (AGF 3) and USS New Orleans (LPH 11). The amphibious assault ship USS New Orleans detached from the ATF and provided the flight deck for AMCM helicopters while the USMCMG staff moved aboard USS Lasalle to continue coordinating the mine clearing operations. USS Tripoli then proceeded to Bahrain for repair.

Charts and intelligence captured from Iraqi forces showed the minefield where USS Tripoli and USS Princeton were hit was one of six in a 150-mile arc from Faylaka Island to the Saudi-Kuwaiti border. Within the arc, there were four additional mine lines, with more than 1,000 mines laid before Operation Desert Storm began.

The initial intelligence assessment, based on limited knowledge of Iraqi minelaying operations and on observations of the transit of an Iraqi merchant ship through the area, was that the Iraqis had placed their minefields closer to the coast. AS a result, Coalition MCM forces initially passed through the outermost minefield and started MCM operations near a second barrier of bottom mines. The USS Tripoli and USS Princeton incidents proved the initial assumption incorrect. The Coalition forces revised the MCM plan, extended the transit lanes 24 miles to the east, moved the MCM and NGFS task groups back out of the Iraqi minefield to unmined areas, and then resumed MCM operations.

USS Princeton Mine Incident


Commanding Officer, USS Princeton - "The ship was steaming slowly, barely maintaining steerage way in order to allow maximum reaction time if a mine was spotted. I had just told the crew that we had to be especially cautious and be on the lookout for mines because Tripoli had been hit just hours earlier. Just as I made that comment, the force of the mine explosion under the stern lifted up the ship and caused a whiplash. We on the bridge were moving up and down rapidly. We all grabbed on to something and tried to maintain our footing...My immediate reaction was that we had hit a mine. But the fact that the ship continued this violent motion for more than a second or two concerned me. I didn't expect the violent motion to continue as long as it did. At this point, both the Boatswain's Mate-of-the-Watch and I sounded General Quarters."

Two seconds after the mine exploded under the stern another mine exploded about 300 yards off the starboard bow. The combined effect of these two mines ripped the ship's superstructure in two at the amidships quarterdeck.

"My first reaction was to notify someone else that we had struck a mine. We had to keep the ship from sinking. Another immediate reaction was that this was what we had been preparing for months. I had total confidence that my crew would do the right thing - that they would do what they had been trained to do."

"The first report that came in was about the injured people on the forecastle. Petty Officer...was already there giving flrst aid to Petty Officer...who was the most seriously injured. Petty Officer...was standing right at the bullnose looking for mines when the blast went off under the stern. Petty Officer...was thrown 10 feet into the air."

Near the ship's stern, where the most serious damage occurred, the firemain ruptured and doused an electrical distribution switchboard, causing a major electrical fire hazard. The switchboard was remotely isolated after the rupture was reported to Damage Control Central. The mine blasts also ruptured fuel tanks, forcing damage control parties to work in a mixture of fuel and water. Automatic sprinklers near the after 5-inch gun mount activated which aggravated the ship's flooding problem. The crew installed and activated dewatering systems within 10 minutes of the explosions and thus reduced the danger of both fire and flooding.

Loss of cooling water to electronic equipment, due to ruptured pipin disabled the ship's combat systems. Damage control teams quickly isolated the ruptures and immediately began emergency repairs to the cooling water systems.

"Within two hours the combat systems and combat information center teams had their equipment back on line with the forward gun and missile systems ready to shoot Princeton reassumed duties as the local AAW commander and did not relinquish those duties until relieved by USS Valley Forge."

"As the day wore on I was concerned about drifting around in the mine field. So I made the decision to have the salvage ship, USS Beaufort, take us in tow, since our maneuverability was not good. Once under way, we moved slowly west with the minesweeper, USS Adroit, leading us, searching for mines. USS Beaufort continued to twist and turn, pulling us around the mines located by USS Adroit and marked by flares. Throughout the night, USS Adroit continued to lay flares. Near early morning, having run out of flares, she began marking the mines with chem-lights tied together. The teamwork of USS Adroit and USS Beaufort was superb."

"I felt the life of my ship and my men were in the hands of this small minesweeper's commanding officer and his crew. I directed USS Adroit to stay with us. I trusted him and I didn't want to let him go until I was clear of the danger area. All of us on USS Princeton owe a big debt to the officers and crew of USS Beaufort and USS Adroit. They were real pros."

On 27 February, USS Avenger, using the AN/SQQ-32 MCM sonar, detected, classified and marked a bottom influence mine similar to the type that had struck USS Princeton - the first bottom influence mine ever found intact during combat. Divers from EOD Mobile Unit 6 placed neutralizing charges and detonated the mine.

After the cease-fire, MCM assets from Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and the Netherlands joined the MCM group. This MCM force swept paths to Kuwait's ports and completed Persian Gulf mine clearing operations by 10 September 1991.

Impact of Iraq's Mine Warfare

Although the Iraqi minefields were not placed to maximize their effectiveness and many mines were deployed improperly, mine warfare had a considerable effect on Coalition maritime operations in the Persian Gulf. Kuwait's relatively short coastline, combined with the large Iraqi mine inventory, caused the Coalition MCM forces to plan and conduct MCM operations in support of an amphibious landing through dense minefields while vulnerable to missile, artillery, and small boat attacks from fortified beaches. Considering hydrographic and operational characteristics, an amphibious landing probably could only occur between Kuwait City and Ras Al-Qul'ayah, along 30 miles of coastline.

Many deployed mines lacked sensors or batteries which prevented their proper operation. During MCM operations, 95 percent of the UDM-type acoustic influence mines were evaluated as inoperable. Several moored contact mines were recovered on the bottom and apparently 13 percent of the moored mines broke away from their moorings. However, even the poorly planned and improperly deployed minefields caused damage to two combatants and were one of several reasons the amphibious invasion was not conducted.

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