Notes: This simple, basic moored contact mine is based on an Imperial Russian design of WWI; the current variant entered service in the inter-war years. It is about as simple as a mine can be; consisting of a sinker unit with wheeled dolly for laying, cable spooled inside the sinker unit, and the buoyant mine itself. The actual mine is an iron sphere with five Hertz horns, these contain glass vials full of acid that when broken, spill onto the fuse (screwed into the center of the mine prior to laying) and detonate the 253lb warhead. The M-08 has long left Soviet/Russian service but remains in use worldwide; it was also license-built in Iran as the SADAF-02. Worldwide average cost is just $1,500 making it an effective force multiplier.
Libyan mining of Red Sea
During the summer of 1984, nineteen different merchant ships belonging to fifteen different countries struck M-08s in the Red Sea. The mines were later traced to the Libyan merchant ship M/V Ghat which had transited the Suez Canal southbound on 6 July 1984, en route to Assab, Ethiopia. Ghat retransited the Canal back towards Libya on 21 July 1984. By reviewing port logs and Ghat’s speed, Egyptian investigators determined the voyage should have taken 8 days but instead took 15. Ghat’s next port call was in West Germany where undercover agents boarded the ship and found damage to her ro-ro ramp consistent with having been opened underway and dragged through the water.
The mining was too much for the Egyptian navy to handle alone. The first American response was by the oceanography ship USNS Harkness (T-AGS-32) to which an EOD team was transported in July. In early August, the amphibious assault ship USS Shreveport (LPD-12) unloaded her Marines at Rota, Spain and embarked four Sea Stallion MCM helicopters of squadron HM-14. Once in the Red Sea, she was joined by British, French, and Italian minesweepers in operation “Intense Look“. While not directly operating jointly with the NATO units, the Soviet navy also assisted by sending the helicopter carrier Leningrad from the Black Sea and a minesweeper from Aden, South Yemen. Leningrad had offloaded her normal “Hormone” ASW helicopters and operated Mi-14 “Haze” minesweeping helicopters.
Libya’s reason for the mining has never been understood. It is possible that it was in retaliation for the cooling of tensions between Egypt and Israel during the 1980s, or, possibly to cause economic damage to the USA by driving up the price of oil. Either way, the only end result was Libya becoming even more isolated internationally.
Use of M-08 and SADAF-02 mines in the Persian Gulf
Both Iraq and Iran used this design during their 1980-1988 conflict, but much more so by Iran which also built them domestically. The Iranian mining effort really picked up after 1985, first against Iraqi-bound shipping in the northern Persian Gulf and later in the entire Gulf to retaliate against Arab states which were sympathetic to Iraq. One of the first major victims was the Soviet merchant M/V Marshal Chuikov which struck one south of Kuwait City on 17 May 1987. Although the incident received little western press, it infuriated the USSR and almost led to a Soviet naval response (the later American re-flagging of Kuwaiti tankers was, in part, intended to placate the situation and avoid a reason for the USSR to station warships in the Gulf).
On the evening of 14 April 1988, the Perry-class frigate USS Samuel B. Roberts (FFG-58) struck a M-08 while attempting to reverse course after the captain realized he was in an unmarked minefield. The mine detonated slightly aft, almost directly underneath the frigate. The explosion lifted Roberts’ stern out of the water so far that her bow was awash. The mine broke the frigate’s keel and caused a 15’x20’ hull breach in the engine room destroying her gas turbines. A huge fiery plume of smoke and burning lagging (shipboard insulation) shot up from her turbine exhaust and it appears this may have helped save the ship as some of the blast’s kinetic energy was apparently funneled upwards through the exhaust. The blast severed the fuel feeds to the engine starting a fire, and also dislodged the shaft seal flooding the aft compartment (AMR-3).
After initial emergency damage control, Roberts’ captain, CDR Paul Rinn (whose foot was broken by the blast) met with senior officers to discuss options. Roberts was in dire straits: on fire, two compartments (ER and AMR-3) flooded, and a third compartment (AMR-2) taking on water. The keel break meant that all the hull’s horizontal stresses was being borne by the weather deck, which was starting to creak and groan. The main propulsion was gone and there was no immediate hope of a tow as the Roberts was still in the middle of a minefield. It was decided that if AMR-2 could be dewatered, the crew could avoid abandoning ship.
Meanwhile, an Iranian P-3 Orion was observed circling Roberts, possibly taking propaganda pictures. Roberts’ radio room informed the P-3 that it was preparing to fire a SAM at it. The Iranian pilot got the message and departed immediately.
As the fire was being fought, hot steam was observed exiting the Mk75 gun. It was discovered that firefighting water was pooling in it’s magazine and being boiled by the heat below. The crew formed a line and hand-unloaded the magazine, throwing the 76mm ammo overboard.
By midnight the flooding in AMR-2 was under control but by this point Roberts had taken on 6000 tons of seawater (the designed survival limit of the Perry class is 5000 tons) and the superstructure was beginning to come apart due to the stresses on the weather deck. The decision was made to try and exit the minefield using Roberts’ APU (small outboard propulsion). Roberts proceeded at 3kts out of the minefield, avoiding five more M-08s along the way. At daybreak on 15 April, the civilian tug Hunter took Roberts under tow to Dubai Shipyards in the UAE.
CDR Rinn was rightfully praised for his expert handling of the emergency. Damage was estimated at $93 million. Later the USN asked David Taylor Model Basin (a civilian research arm of the DoD) to study the damage control techniques. In seven simulated run-throughs of the event, Roberts sank all seven times.
End of Iranian mining operations
After the Roberts incident ships continued to strike Iranian mines, on 10 August the Liberian tanker Texaco Caribbean and five days later the UAE merchant M/V Anita. On 21 September, US Army MH-6 'Little Bird' scout helicopters observed the Iranian ship Iran Ajr laying M-08s and strafed the ship, disabling it. A SEAL team from USS La Salle (AGF-3) boarded Iran Ajr and captured a treasure trove of maps, mining charts, and radio transcripts; not to mention a shipload of mines. The SEAL team scuttled Iran Ajr. This, combined with the “Praying Mantis” operation against the Iranian navy and offshore oil platforms used as mining bases, put an end to the menace. In retrospect, the problem could have been much worse than it was, Many of the M-08s laid by Iran were laid wrong, had tangled cables, sank due to barnacle growth, etc.
USERS: USSR, Albania, Bulgaria, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Poland, Syria