As the Navy closes in on its 240th birthday, it has reached a milestone: Only one ship remaining in its fleet has ever sunk an enemy vessel—and it’s the USS Constitution, which earned the nickname “Old Ironsides” for withstanding British bombardment during the War of 1812.
The USS Constitution’s crew noted the detail on its Facebook page Tuesday, underscoring how uncommon major encounters are between navies in the 21st century. The only other remaining Navy ship to sink an enemy vessel was the USS Simpson, an Oliver Hazard Perry-class guided missile frigate that was decommissioned Tuesday.
The Simpson is best known for combining with the USS Wainwright, a cruiser, and the USS Bagley, a frigate, to destroy an oil rig used as a Iranian surveillance post and the Iranian patrol boat Joshan in Operation Praying Mantis. It was carried out April 18, 1988, during the Iran-Iraq War after the USS Samuel B. Roberts was badly damaged by an Iranian mine in the Persian Gulf.
As noted in this earlier Checkpoint piece, the United States destroyed numerous sea bases and other ships in the attack, wiping out half the Iranian navy, Navy admirals assessed at the time. Two Marines died in a helicopter crash that day.
Naval encounters involving the United States still occur, of course. Navy ships have been buzzed by aircraft on numerous occasions, and China has expressed concern this year about U.S. naval operations in the South China Sea. U.S. officials have downplayed any sign of conflict there, saying naval officers from the two countries regularly speak to each other while underway. The U.S. Navy also has continued to conduct aerial surveillance in the region despite warnings from the Chinese.
The Constitution, a three-mast wooden frigate, was retired from active service in 1881, but has remained a part of the Navy and was designated as a floating museum in 1907. It fought in the Mediterranean Sea during the First Barbary War in the early 1800s, but is best known for its altercation with the HMS Guerriere on Aug. 19, 1812.
About 400 miles off the coast of Nova Scotia, the two ships tangled shortly after the War of 1812 had broken out. The Constitution badly damaged the Guerriere, which was eventually boarded by U.S. sailors and set ablaze, according to a Navy history of the battle.
The Simpson is expected to be towed from Naval Station Mayport, Fla., to Philadelphia, and sold to a foreign military, according to USNI News. Its crew recalled its 1988 battle with the Iranians Tuesday while speaking to CNN. They sunk Joshan using four missiles, they said.