Samuel Booker Roberts, Jr. -- born in San Francisco, Calif., on 12 May 1921 -- enlisted in the United States Naval Reserve on 13 April 1939 at Portland, Oreg. He advanced to the rank of Coxswain and served continuously until his death on 28 September 1942. Roberts received the Navy Cross posthumously for his extraordinary heroism while serving on the crew of a landing craft that, despite intense enemy fire, rescued stranded marines from Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands the previous day. For additional information see Douglas Munro at Guadalcanal.
The first Samuel B. Roberts, an escort ship (DE-413), served only briefly in 1944, but received the Presidential Unit Citation for her role in the Battle off Samar in October 1944. The second Samuel B. Roberts, a destroyer (DD-823), served from 1946-1970.
(FFG-58: displacement 4,100; length 453'; beam 47'; draft 26'; speed 29+ knots; complement 219; armament 1 Mk 13 Guided Missile Launcher with RGM-84 Harpoon surface to surface missiles and RIM-66 Standard surface to air missiles, 1 76 millimeter Mk 75 rapid fire gun, 6 Mk 32 torpedo tubes, 1 Mk 15 Phalanx Close-in Weapon System, up to 4 .50 caliber M2 machine guns, and aircraft 2 Sikorsky SH-60B Light Airborne Multi-Purpose System (LAMPS) Mk III Seahawks; class Oliver Hazard Perry)
The third Samuel B. Roberts (FFG-58) was laid down on 21 May 1984 at Bath, Maine, by Bath Iron Works Corp.; launched on 8 December 1984; sponsored by Mrs. Ivonette E. Roberts, sister-in-law of the late Coxswain Roberts; and commissioned on 12 April 1986, Cmdr. Paul X. Rinn in command.
During the first dog watch on 14 April 1988, Samuel B. Roberts steamed at 28 knots about 55 miles northeast of Qatar in the Arabian Gulf. The frigate had just escorted a pair of reflagged tankers during the 25th Operation Earnest Will convoy - her 13th convoy. The U.S. had launched Earnest Will to ensure freedom of navigation to ships sailing in the Arabian Gulf during the “Tanker War” between Iran and Iraq. Samuel B. Roberts had just shepherded Hunter and Striker, a pair of 150-foot tugs the Americans chartered from the Kuwaiti Oil Tanker Co. and converted to improvised minesweepers, safely into Bahrain, and then made for a rendezvous with combat store ship San Jose (AFS-7) to replenish her stores.
Suddenly, lookout SN Bobby Gibson spotted three mines ahead in an area that had already been swept by coalition minesweepers. Cmdr. Rinn raced to the bridge and confirmed through his binoculars Gibson’s alarm when he spotted mines surrounding the frigate. The commanding officer quietly sent his men to battle stations without sounding the alarm to avoid panicking them or triggering mines, and ordered men below topside in the event of mine damage below the waterline. Rinn weighed his options and decided to attempt to follow the ship’s wake to exit the minefield. “I thought,” Rinn afterward noted, “we came in that way so we probably could go out that way.” The ship reversed engines but Samuel B. Roberts had already passed over additional mines, and at 1649 she struck a fourth device set deeply. The explosion lifted the ship into the air, drove her bow down into the water, and blew a 21-foot hole in the port side near Frame 276. The impact damaged the hull, deckhouse, and foundation structures, and burning fuel shot a column of fire from the stack. The blast shook the main engines from their mountings, flooded the engine room, opened cracks in her superstructure, and caused a split in the ship’s bulkhead between the main engine room and an auxiliary machinery room.
The explosion thrust some sailors up into the overhead and threw other crewmen across compartments (helmets protected them from fatal injuries) Ten sailors sustained severe wounds in the attack, which injured additional men, some of whom endured horrible burns. Men stunned by the mine hesitated before they responded. The shock wave broke the metatarsal bone in Rinn’s left foot but despite intense pain he tied his shoelaces tightly and led his men. The menacing sight of swarms of snakes and sharks in the water helped persuade him to stay and fight, because of his realization that men would die if they abandoned ship.
Rear Adm. Anthony A. Less, Commander Joint Task Force Middle East/Middle East Force radioed Rinn several times from his flagship, Coronado (AGF-11), and at one point asked him to evaluate the possibility of losing Samuel B. Roberts. “No higher honor,” the captain replied, a reference to when the Japanese sank the first Samuel B. Roberts (DE-413) during the Battle of Leyte Gulf on 25 October 1944. That ship’s survivors had pulled Cmdr. Robert W. Copeland, their commanding officer, from the water and Copeland said he could think of “no higher honor than to have served with these men.”
Samuel B. Roberts’ temporary loss of most systems augured poorly for the ship when Iranian frigate Sahand (F.74) closed to 23 miles, apparently intent on taking propaganda pictures or Americans hostage, but Rinn warned the vessel away. Then an Iranian Lockheed P-3F Orion orbited suspiciously, until Samuel B. Roberts locked fire-control radar onto the plane and it fled while the crew controlled the damage. The vessels that assisted the stricken frigate included amphibious transport dock Trenton (LPD-14), Capt. Robert M. Nutwell in command, which provided equipment and fresh water. Trenton received one of the ten wounded sailors from Samuel B. Roberts who suffered ghastly burns about his upper body, arms, neck, and face. Following the patient’s stabilization a helo flew the man to Administrative Support Unit Bahrain.
The intensive training of the crew and their valiant dedication saved Samuel B. Roberts. “He is a master at damage control,” Less said of Rinn, but the commander unassumingly paid tribute to his men. “They never hesitated to do the right thing,” Rinn recalled, “and showed incredible bravery in the face of almost-certain death.” “Their successful battle against all odds,” Adm. William J. Crowe Jr., Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, declared, “is the stuff of which naval tradition is made.” American, British, Dutch, French, and Italian ships swept the ten miles surrounding the area where the frigate struck the mine, and then expanded their search another five miles, locating eight additional mines of Iranian origins. The lack of barnacles or marine growth on the devices revealed their recent deployment, and on 18 April the U.S. consequently launched Operation Praying Mantis - retaliation against the Iranian-occupied Rakhsh, Salman (Sassan), and Sīrrī-D (Nassr) oil platforms. Hunter meanwhile towed Samuel B. Roberts into Dubai in the United Arab Emirates on 17 April, the frigate proudly flying a huge Stars and Stripes that her signalmen dubbed “the Chevy-dealer model.” The crew was flown to Newport, R.I., and Dutch heavy lift ship Mighty Servant II sailed the frigate to a drydock at Bath Iron Works, Maine.
On 3 May 1988, Adm. Crowe presented medals to crewmen for their actions in saving the ship. Rinn received the Legion of Merit, and the crew received the Navy Unit Commendation medal as well as the following individual awards: 10 Bronze Stars; 14 Navy Commendation Medals; and two Purple Hearts. An additional four Purple Hearts were awarded to crewmen hospitalized after the mining of the ship. In addition, Rinn was awarded a Navy Commendation Medal with Combat Distinguishing Device for his “superior performance and management of the wounded,” along with the U.S. Navy League John Paul Jones Inspirational Leadership Award. He also received an Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal.
Samuel B. Roberts returned to sea and on 12 January 2004, her embarked Seahawk, of Helicopter Antisubmarine Squadron (Light) 44 Detachment 7, tracked a suspicious vessel in the Southern Command’s area of responsibility. The helo guided the frigate to intercept the boat, and Samuel B. Roberts dispatched her boarding team and Coast Guard Law Enforcement Detachment 403, which seized eight drug traffickers and more than 7,000-pounds of cocaine.
Hurricane Felix devastated northeastern Nicaragua on 4 September 2007. United States-led international relief forces, including amphibious assault ship Wasp (LHD-1) and Samuel B. Roberts, played a major role in the relief operations. Wasp airlifted more than 125,000-pounds of relief supplies and medically evacuated 34 people. Joint Task Force Bravo coordinated efforts by the two SH-60B Seahawks from HSL-48 Detachment 7, embarked on board Samuel B. Roberts, and Army, Navy, and Marine helos including Sikorsky MH-53E Sea Dragons, Boeing Vertol MH-47 Chinooks, and UH-60 Black Hawks while they flew dozens of missions into an airfield at Puerto Cabezas. A USAF Lockheed C-130 Hercules from Homestead Air Reserve Base, Fla., and a USMC Hercules arrived later with additional supplies. The relief efforts continued until 18 September.
Samuel B. Roberts, with HSL-60 Detachment 2 and Coast Guard Law Enforcement Detachment 402 embarked, recovered 41 bales of cocaine that smugglers on board a go-fast vessel jettisoned during an interception in the Eastern Pacific, on 2 December 2008.
During early 2010, Nigerian patrol boat Burutu (P.174) collided with Samuel B. Roberts while both vessels carried out a training exercise. The latter sounded a warning using her loudspeakers that the Nigerian vessel sailed on a collision course, but the patrol boat subsequently scraped along the frigate’s side, requiring $371,000 in maintenance and repairs to Samuel B. Roberts. While the ship deployed to the Mediterranean (23 April-23 October 2010), her four embarked Northrop Grumman MQ-8B Fire Scout unmanned air systems (UASs) set a new Navy record of 1,712 Fire Scout UAS flight hours in support of mission tasking, breaking the previous record by more than 800 hours.
Samuel B. Roberts is scheduled to be decommissioned on 22 May 2015.
She is eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places.
Detailed history under construction.
Mark L. Evans
13 May 2015