Ronald Reagan. (AP) Ronald Reagan. (AP)

Ronald Reagan. (AP)

Tom Kertscher
By Tom Kertscher January 15, 2020

Yes, President Reagan destroyed about half of Iran's Navy after a US ship was damaged

A week after a U.S. drone attack killed Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, a boastful historical claim about another U.S. military action against Iran appeared on Facebook.

The post shows a photograph of President Ronald Reagan with the following words across it: 

"IN 1988 IRAN NEARLY SANK THE USS SAMUEL B. ROBERTS. IN RESPONSE REAGAN DESTROYED HALF OF IRAN’S NAVY."

The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)

The post is a reference to Operating Praying Mantis in 1988, and it appears to be accurate.

Here’s how the U.S. Navy describes the operation:

"On 18 April 1988, the U.S. Navy launched Operation Praying Mantis against Iranian targets in the Arabian Gulf in retaliation for USS Samuel B. Roberts mining four days earlier, which blew an immense hole in the ship’s hull," nearly sinking the ship. 

"Ten Sailors from Samuel B. Roberts sustained severe injuries. Four were seriously burned. Commander Paul X. Rinn was hurt as well. ...

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"It was the first, and so far only, time the U.S. Navy has exchanged surface-to-surface missile fire with an enemy, and it resulted in the largest warship sunk by the U.S. Navy since WWII."

The operation sank or crippled six armed Iranian vessels, the New York Times reported, and was done, according to the Reagan administration, in retaliation for the mining that damaged the Samuel B. Roberts four days earlier.

Half of Iran’s operational fleet was sunk or severely damaged, according to the U.S. Navy’s description. 

The attacks "cost the Iranians about half of their operational navy," writes East Carolina University professor and naval historian Michael Palmer in his book, "Command at Sea: Naval Command and Control since the Sixteenth Century."

Richard Fontaine, chief executive officer of the Center for a New American Security, describes the retaliatory strikes as "destroying at least half" of Iran’s Navy; while C.C. Felker, a retired U.S. Navy captain and executive director of the Society for Military History, said the attacks "destroyed nearly half."

Our ruling

In 1988, in response to Iran’s attack on the U.S.S. Samuel Roberts, President Ronald Reagan "destroyed half of Iran’s Navy."

The statement is accurate and nothing significant is missing.

We rate it True.

Our Sources

Facebook, post, Jan. 10, 2020

Washington Post, "A brief history of Iran-U.S. naval altercations as tensions rise near Yemen," April 21, 2015

U.S. Navy, "Operation Praying Mantis," Sept. 13, 2019

U.S. Navy, "Operation Praying Mantis Demonstrates Same Priorities Navy Values Today," April 7, 2013

Smerconish.com, "Our ‘Quasi War’ With Iran," Jan. 13, 2020 

The Atlantic, "The Most Dangerous Moment of the Trump Presidency," Sept. 23, 2019

The New York Times, "U.S. strikes 2 Iranian oil rigs and hits 6 warships in battles over mining sea lanes in Gulf,", April 19, 1988


"Command at Sea: Naval Command and Control since the Sixteenth Century," page 313

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Yes, President Reagan destroyed about half of Iran's Navy after a US ship was damaged

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