• Simon Biggs

RFA Argus Receives Casualties from mined USS Princetown

Casualties from USS Princeton

Unit/ Formation: RM Band Service Location: Iraq Period/ Conflict: Operation Granby (Gulf War 1) Year: 1991 Date/s: 18 February 1991

In the vicinity of the D'horra Oilfield in the Northern Persian Gulf the surgical teams on board RFA Argus received three causualties from USS Princeton (CG59) after the warship had been mined.

On the morning of 18 February 1991, during Operation Desert Storm, Princeton was patrolling 28 nautical miles (52 km) off Failaka Island in the Persian Gulf.

The cruiser was providing defense for the coalition mine sweeping force, which was busy clearing potential mine fields in preparation for moving in the battleships, and for any possible amphibious landings.

CAPT Edward Hontz, Princeton'scommanding officer, had received information that a possible Silkworm missile site was being activated along the Kuwaiti coast, about 30 miles from the mine sweeping activity.

He decided to put the ship between the shore and the ships he was protecting. Ironically, the submerged mine exploded as the captain was speaking to the crew about the potential mine threat and the Tripoli strike.

At exactly 7:15 AM local time two Italian-made MN103 Manta bottom-mounted influence mines detonated, one just under the port rudder and the other just forward of the starboard bow.

The explosion raised Princeton's fantail out of the water into the air, folding the keel like a hinge. This caused extensive bending and breaking of the Ibeams that provide structural strength for the ship, buckling the thick steel deck.

"We (on the bridge) were moving up and down very rapidly," Hontz said. "We all grabbed onto something and tried to maintain our footing."

Boatswain's Mate 3rd Class James Ford, serving as mine lookout on the bow of the ship, was thrown 10 feet into the air. He suffered serious injuries. Just seconds after the blast, Signalman 3rd Class Dennis Amador was already giving first aid to Ford.

Ford and two others were taken to the British ship RFA Argus (A 135) for initial treatment, then transferred to the hospital ship USNS Mercy (T-AH 19)

The second explosion most likely being a sympathetic detonation caused by the first.

The blasts cracked the superstructure, buckled three lines in the hull, jammed the port rudder, flooded the #3 switchboard room through chilled water pipe cracks, and damaged the starboard propeller shaft.

Three crewmembers were injured, one seriously. Despite the severe damage, the forward weapons and the AEGIS combat system were back online within 15 minutes.

At great peril, the Canadian destroyer HMCS Athabaskan moved north through the minefield to deliver damage-control supplies to the severely damaged Princeton, which remained on station for 31 hours until she was relieved. Princeton's commanding officer, Captain Edward Hontz, specifically requested the assistance of Athabaskan despite the latter not originally assigned to the area. Unlike most ships of her size, Athabaskan could simultaneously operate two large CH-124 Sea King helicopters, which could search out mines for long periods. As a gesture of solidarity, Athabaskan winched over several cases of beer for the crew of Princeton, since United States Navy vessels were dry.

Princeton, which suffered from a locked starboard propeller shaft and a locked port rudder, was guided through the minefield by the minesweeper Adroit.



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