Attacks on U.S. Naval Ships Short of War

The U.S.S. Liberty, 1967

U.S.S. Liberty 1967

Attacks on U.S. Naval Ships Short of War


From its inception as an independent nation, the United States has been a sea-going nation, building up a powerful naval force to protect American shipping and economic interests, as well as to defend the coastline. In the nation's history, several attacks against U.S. Navy ships have occurred outside of an actual war. Below is a list of those attacks.


USS Chesapeake (1807)--June 22, 1807, the British frigate H.M.S. Leopard attacked and boarded the US Naval ship USS Chesapeake.

USS Water Witch (February 1855) The USS Water Witch, a U.S. Navy steamer, was surveying the Río de la Plata off the coast of Paraguay, when she was fired upon by the Paraguayan military post, Fort Itapirú. The Paraguayan shelling killed U.S. Sailor, helmsman Samuel Chaney. This attack cause the Water Witch to halt the surveying mission . The gunboat, however, continued her mission in other areas of the southeastern coast of South America until 1856. On 8 May 1856, she returned to the Washington Navy Yard for repairs and went out of commission on the 12th. In response to this attack, the U.S. sent a naval squadron of 19 ships, including the repaired USS Water Witch, arrived off of the shores of the Paraguayan capital city, Asuncion, causing Paraguay to apologize to the United States, indemnified the family of the the late Samuel Chaney, and granted the United States a new and highly advantageous commercial treaty.

USS Maine (Feb. 15, 1898)

U.S. battleship, the USS Maine, blew up in the harbor at Havana, Cuba. The island was at that point a colony of Spain, and was in the midst of a war of independence. The Maine was sent to Havana as a show of force, (U.S. public opinion favored the Cuban rebels), and the explosion of the Maine proved to be the spark that ignited the Spanish-American War.

USS Maine--From the U.S. Navy's website.


USS Panay (Dec. 12,1937)--During the Sino-Japanese War, the U.S. Navy maintained several river gunboats to protect American interests on the Yangtze River in China. In late 1937, the Japanese advance on Nanking, which served as China's wartime capital city, caused the American embassy there to evacuate. While conducting the U.S. diplomatic evacuation and while also escorting American Standard Oil barges, one gunboat, the USS Panay, came under attack from Japanese warplanes. After several runs by the Japanese planes, the Panay and two of the oil barges were sunk. The surviving crew and passengers escaped and found shelter with friendly Chinese until they could be picked up by other U.S. ships. Two U.S. sailors and one civilian passenger were killed, while eleven others were wounded.

The Japanese government claimed the attack was an accident, saying that their forces mistook the American ships for a Chinese river convoy, despite the American flags painted on several parts of the ship. Japan did apologize profusely and paid an indemnity. Most likely the attack was ordered by members of a faction in the Japanese military who sought either to provoke a war and/or discredit the civilians in the government. At this point in time, the U.S. was busy with domestic matters dealing with the Great Depression and the American public had no stomach for war at this time.

PR-5 USS Panay-outside link.


USS Tutuila (July 30, 1941)--Japanese aircraft bomb USS Tutuila (PR-4) at Chungking, China; First U.S.Navy ship damaged by Axis during World War II.

USS Greer (Sept. 4, 1941)--A German submarine, U-652, attacks the USS Greer, which was tracking the submarine southeast of Iceland. The Greer is not damaged, but damages U-652 by dropping depth charges.

USS Kearny (Oct. 17, 1941) --The destroyer USS Kearny (DD-432) is torpedoed anddamaged southwest of Iceland. U.S. Navy orders all U.S. merchantment in Asiatic waters to put in to friendly ports.

USS Salinas (October 30, 1941) -- The oiler USS Salinas (AO-19) is torpedoed 700 miles east of Newfoundland. There are no casualties and the ship makes port.

USS Reuben James (Oct. 31, 1941) - -German submarine U-552 sinks USS Reuben James (DD- 245), which was escorting Convoy HX 156, with loss of 115 lives. First U.S. ship lost to enemy action in World War II.


USS Liberty (1967)- -During the Arab-Israeli War of 1967 (also known as the Six-Day War), Israeli warplanes attacked the USS Liberty, claiming that they believed it was a ship belonging to their Arab enemies.

USS Pueblo (Jan. 23, 1968)-- During a period of increased tension on the Korean Peninsula, North Korean forces fired upon and captured the U.S. surveillance ship, the USS Pueblo. This nearly set off a new Korean War. The crew, who were tortured during their confinement, were released after several months.

USS Stark (1987)- -During the First Persian Gulf War (also known as the Iran-Iraq War), an Iraqi warplane shot a missile at the USS Stark in the Persian Gulf. As the U.S. was effectively on Iraq's side in this conflict, the United States accepted the claim from Saddam's government that the pilot fired in error.

USS Samuel B. Roberts (April 14, 1988)-- During the First Persian Gulf War (also known as the Iran-Iraq War), the USS Samuel B. Roberts, a frigate, struck an Iranian mine and sustained heavy damage. This incident caused the U.S. to respond with "Operation Praying Mantis," in which U.S. forces destroyed two oil platforms being used by Iran as bases for commando attacks on merchant ships in the Persian Gulf. American forces also destroyed three Iranian naval ships and sank six Iranian speedboats.

USS Cole (Oct. 12, 2000)-- During a port stop in Aden, Yemen, al-Qaida terrorists rammed an explosives-filled boat into the USS Cole, causing serious damage. See USS Cole for more information.

USNS Impeccable (March, 2009)-- About 70 miles off the Chinese coast, the USNS Impeccable was harassed by Chinese naval vessels. See Naval Incidents Between the United States and China (2009) for more information.


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