US Warship Downs Iranian Airliner (Persian Gulf, 1988)
Engaging ragtag gunboats
A fabulously expensive US warship designed to fight World
War III, with a “gung ho” captain, found itself larking around with Iranian gunboats, and in the process shot down an Iranian airliner on a scheduled flight. The loss of the Pan Am 747 over Lockerbie, Scotland, was just possibly a consequence of this.
Iran Air Flight 655 and USS Vincennes, July 3, 1988
The “Sea of Lies” article in Newsweek (July 12, 1992), still available online today, is one of the best in-depth accounts of what happened, covering the events leading up to the incident, the incident itself, and the cover up that followed.
Rather like the narratives in this book, it benefits from having been produced long afterward, when much more information was available. It further benefits from being written by a whole group of writers and researchers in collaboration with ABC News Nightline.
Here we just give the basic facts. Anyone really interested in the details should consult that excellent Newsweek article, which was used as the basis for much of this account.
“Gung Ho” Captain
Much attention has been focused on the gung-ho tendencies of Captain William C. Rogers III, commander of the USS Vincennes guided missile cruiser that shot down the Iranian airliner. According to a fellow officer on another ship nearby, he had shown excessive aggressiveness in an earlier action in the area, while others maintained he would take gratuitous risks in order to gain promotion.Rogers had served on the staff of the Chief of Naval Operations and supposedly had friends in high places. Someone pointed out “actual combat action during his dream posting in command of the ultra-sophisticated Aegis cruiser would have been his ticket to flag rank.”
One officer responsible for his training noted his failure to stick to battle plans.
Captain Rogers was not operating in isolation, but directly under the orders of fleet headquarters in Bahrain, and one should point out that the Vincennes operated on their time, whereas Iranian time was a confusing thirty minutes ahead of that. This half hour difference may have contributed to the confusion when an officer on the Vincennes checked the time the Iranian aircraft took off against the published timetable.