Saturday, October 9, 2010

Birth, Death, and Rebirth of the Iraqi Navy

The Iran-Iraq War
In the early 1980s Iraq had built up a nucleus of a capable navy; it included a Frigate, 11 missile boats, 10 torpedo boats, plus a number of mine sweepers and landing craft. In November of 1980 it vanished. Following several skirmishes between Iraqi and Iranian patrol boats in the northern gulf the Iranian missile boat Paykan sank two Iraqi missile boats one a BGM-84 Harpoon missile and the other with its 76mm gun on November 5th.

Iranian Missile Boats similar to the Payken.
Photo: MEHR

In Operation Morvarid (November 28) Five Osa missile boats (some sources say seven, with two sunk by ship launched Harpoon missiles) and four Komar class missile boats (most sources incorrectly cite these as P-6 torpedo boats) were sunk by Iranian F-4 Phantoms. The Iranians lost the missile boat
Paykan in return to a barrage of four SS-N-2 antiship missiles as the missile boat withdrew. The Iraqis also lost a number of smaller patrol ships and support vessels, approximately 80% of the Iraqi navy. This major failure of the Iraqi navy can be traced to two things; one the poor reliably of the SS-N-2 STYX missile. The Iraqi's expended prodigious numbers of N-2s in several engagements against the Paykan, the N-2s proved vulnerable to not just chaff and decoys but high speed maneuvering, gunfire and shoulder launched anti-aircraft missiles. Two the lack of effective air defense both from air support so close to shore and on-board air defense, many Iraqi ships were lost to Maverick missile firing F-4 Phantoms which could engage from far beyond the range of their anti-aircraft defenses. Iraqi air force fighters proved unable to defend their navy counterparts and lost 6 fighters in the battle.

On April 12 and May 2nd 1983 Iraq patrol boats attacked the Iranian oil rig in the Northern Gulf. In these attacks the Iraqis lost two Osa missile boats. This was the last attacks by the Iraqi navy in the war.

Osa I class missile boat
Photo: US Navy

A Fleet In Exile
The Mussa Ben Nussair impounded in La Spezia.
Photo: HarpoonHQ Database

When war with Iran broke out Iraq was in the process of purchasing several Italian naval vessels. The few vessels completed for Iraq were unable to sail home due to the war since Iran dominates the Straits of Hormuz, these vessels remained in their Mediterranean ports during the war and after... some are still there. The largest of these vessels is the armed replenishment tanker Agnadeen, she remains ported in Alexandria. Two Mussa Ben Nussair class frigates were completed and remained in Italy during the Iran-Iraq war. They were scheduled to sail to Iraq in the winter of 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait and Italy denied them permission to leave. They sat and rotted in La Spezia with only the minimum of maintenance and remain their today.

The Assad Al Tadjier.
Photo: US Navy

Six Assad class corvettes were built but not delivered four were sold to Malaysia while two remain in La Spezia. Four Lupo class multipurpose frigates were built but not delivered, they were seized by Italy and incorporated in to the Marina Militare as the Artigliere class after having their ASW weapons removed. The final vessels were three SX-756/W and /S midget submarines.

Artigliere class frigate
Photo: Jorge Guerra Moreno

Desert Storm
Lurssen TNC 45 Missile Boat
Photo: Lurssen

When Iraq invaded Kuwait it captured a sizable (for the region) naval force including one FPB-57 and five TNC-45 missile boats, 100 Exocet anti-ship missiles, and a number of smaller patrol craft. Stemming from the unfamiliar systems of the Kuwait vessels none of them contributed in a meaningful way to the defense of Iraq against the US lead coalition, five of them were sunk or damaged during the war and one was recaptured. During the invasion of Kuwait the Iraqi's lost four vessels taking Bubiyan Island, three by a Kuwaiti missile boat that escaped the conquest of their country.

Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein had threatened to use oil as a weapon against the US led Coalition. Iraq as a oil producing country possessed several merchant tankers each one a potential floating bomb. One of the first Iraqi vessels attack was the tanker Amuriyah along with a British made Mk 6 hovercraft. Several Mk 20 Rockeye cluster bombs ignited the Kerosene aboard her and the resulting explosion destroyed her. The hovercraft was sunk with missiles and cluster bombs.

Polnocny class LSM
Photo: US Navy

During the
Battle of Khafji an Iraqi amphibious force including 15 small craft attempted to cut off the city in Saudi Arabia that had been taken by Iraqi armored and mechanized forces. This operation was stopped by Coalition aircraft that sank three of them, the remainder took shelter in a Kuwait port that was off limits to Coalition bombing due to the risk of collateral damage, eventually permission was granted to attack them and 10 were sunk by aircraft.

An Iraqi Yevgenya Minesweeper under fire from Coalition forces
Photo: US DoD

In the Battle for Qurah and Umm al Maradim (two Kuwaiti islands) a patrol boat and two mine warfare craft were sunk by USN A-6s while another minelayer struck one of its own mines attempting to escape.

The Tripoli in dry dock after striking a LUGM-145 mine.
Photo: US DoD

In the northern gulf area the Iraqis laid approximately 1,300 sea mines; two US warships fell victim to these both on February 13th within minutes of each other: the Missile Cruiser Princeton and the Helicopter Assault Ship Tripoli. The Princeton fell victim to a Italian made Manta bottom mine in a area already declared clear of mines, the cruiser was able to limp back to port. Only three crew were injured. The Tripoli hit a LUGM-145 mine injuring four sailors. The ship was able to continue its duties for several days before returning to port for repairs.

LUGM-145 and Manta mines.
Photo: US Navy

The small number of Coalition ships damaged by mines can be partially attributed to the mishandling of the mines on the Iraqi's part. Mines were laid in strait lines and not random patterns. Ground mines were laid in their packing crates or were not fitted with their sensor packages, moored mines had their cables fouled or their acid horns still covered. In all the Iraqis laid six mine fields, each field had three barriers containing three lines of mines each. There were also four separate mine lines laid. Coalition mine clearince operations continued until mid July although US and Japanese clearance efforts continued in one problem area until September 1st.

Shelling from the WWII era USS Missouri on February 23 drew unwanted attention of the Iraqis two days later.
Photo: US Navy

The only other notable attack by Iraqi naval forces was the missile attack against the battleship Missouri on February 25. This attack was conducted by shore based HY-2 'SEERSUCKER' missiles (more commonly known as 'SILKWORMS'). One of the missiles crashed short of its target; ether decoyed or due to malfunction, the second missile was intercepted by a Sea Dart missile from the British destroyer Gloucester and it crashed 640 meters away from the American battleship.

An example of a HY-2 missile captured in 2003.
Photo: US Government.

Facing destruction by US lead forces the Iraqi's Navy (just as parts of its Air Force had) attempted to flee to neutral Iran, this resulted in what would be called the "Bubiyan Turkey Shoot". USN A-6s and F/A-18s used laser guided bombs to sink several Iraqi ships, Canadian CF-18s sank three captured Kuwaiti missile boats with 20mm cannon fire and damaged an Osa that escaped to Iran. British Lynx helicopters using Sea Skua missiles damaged or sunk several Iraqi ships. An interesting footnote is the lost of a captured Kuwaiti Maymoon class patrol craft sunk by gunfire along with 14 other boats by the battleship Wisconsin during the shelling of the Khawr al-Mufattah marina in Kuwait; possibility the last warship sunk by a battleship in combat.

One Polnocny LSM, one Osa PTG, and one Bogomol PC were among the major craft to escape to safety. The fate of the two patrol craft is uncertain but the Polnocny was recently seen as the subject of a life fire exercise by the Iranians in 2010. In all 140 craft of all kinds were destroyed or interned in Iran in this operation.

Saddam's Yacht
In 1983 Iraq took delivery of the $50 million Finnish made yacht al-Mansur. The ship was 120 meters long, capable of speeds of 20 knots and had a helicopter pad. The ship was furnished to excess, it featured a dining hall for up to 200 guests seated on velvet lined chairs, 24k gold toilet seats were provided, the passenger space was taken up with five large staterooms and for Saddam himself a one man escape submarine accessed from his stateroom (the submarine was never delivered). In 2003 the ship (which had survived the two previous wars unscathed) was attacked with a Maverick missile and three 500 lb bombs launched from US Navy aircraft. Additonal bomb hits tore the yacht loose from its anchor. Following looting by locals the vessel capsized and in 2005 was scrapped.

The bombed hulk of the al-Mansur.
Photo: AP

Saddam also had two other yachts, the small al-Quadisya for voyages along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers which was sunk during Desert Storm, and the Qadissat Saddam which never arived in Iraq and was first given to the King of Saudi Arabia (a gift that was later retracted) then sold to its current French owner.

Iraqi Freedom
Following the near total destruction of its navy and UN sanctions in new military purchases Iraq only source of new warships and arms was its self. At this time their foreign built ships, the Ibn Marjid frigate, the remaining Osa I,
Bogomol and SO-1 class subchaser remained mostly immobile due to a lack of spare parts or unrepaired battle damage.

Around 80 Sawari class patrol boats were built following the '91 Gulf War. The Sawari was a simple gasoline powered patrol boat that could be armed with a 12.7 mm machine gun and up to four mines. The aft deck could be covered with a tarp or sheets to conceal the presence of mines aboard.

Mines and fake oil drums aboard an Iraqi Tug.
Photo: UK MoD

Another development of this time was outfitting their remaining non-combat vessels as mine layers. In 2003 Coalition forces captured two two tugs outfitted for mine laying in the Khor Abd Allah waterway. One had oil drums that would cover the mines on its deck. The other tug towed a barge with a set of hidden mine laying rails installed inside. Between them they could carry 100 sea mines incl. LUGM-145 moored mine and the hard to find Manta bottom mine.

Following the fall of the Saddam regime Iraq found it self in need of a new navy and had virtually a clean slate to build it on. The first vessels (which had been designed before the war) were the al-Uboor class patrol boats, these craft turned out to be a failure with one never passing sea trials. All five were eventually replaced by foreign built boats.

Predator class patrol boat at sea
Photo: MoD

One of the more successful boats are the five Predator class 81' patrol boats (also called Nasir class). Built in China for the Saddam regime these boats were impounded in the UAE until after the war. These craft are lightly armed capable of caring only one or two 7.62mm machine guns depending on configuration.

Iraqi Saettia class patrol ship Majed ariving in Umm Qsar.
Photo: MoD

Four Saettia Mk 4 class offshore patrol vessels are to be built for the new Iraqi Navy. These patrol vessels are armed with a Otobreda 25mm cannon, have a helipad capable of handling a Huey sized helicopter and is equipped with a stern ramp for launching a RHIB.

Defender class boat.
Photo: MoD

Iraq's southern border with Iraq is the Shatt al Arab waterway which includes the major port of Basra, to the south west is the
Khor Abd Allah waterway near the border with Kuwait. Small and fast boats are commonly used for patrol on these rivers. The US built 25' Defender class response boat is one of the more common ones with 26 vessels acquired. Smaller craft such as RHIBs and Airboats are also used. Swiftships has recently received the contract to build nine 35 meter patrol boats.

Harpoon HQ database
MIW 21st Century eBook
Iraq and the War of Sanctions (Via Google Books)
Gulf War Mining Case Study by "Seaman84"
Desert Storm at sea: What the Navy really did (via Google Books)
Iran-Iraq War in the Air, 1980-1988


  1. Great article! Thanks for the info.

    What a shame, destroying the al-Mansur like that. This was obviously done out of spite.

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