FACT CHECK: Is The Houthi Conflict The First Time The US Navy Ships Has Been ‘Engaged In Combat’ Since World War II?

Elias Atienza | Senior Reporter

Vice Admiral Brad Cooper said during a Feb. 18 interview with CBS News that, “I think you’d have to go back to World War II where you have ships who are engaged in combat.”

Verdict: Unsubstantiated

The U.S. Navy has fought several times since World War II, such as the Korean War, Vietnam War and Operation Praying Mantis. Experts broadly said that Cooper was correct.

Fact Check:

The U.S. and the U.K. conducted joint strikes on the Houthis for the fourth time on Feb. 24, according to BBC News. The strikes targeted several Houthi installations, a helicopter, radars and others, the outlet reported.

Adm. Cooper, during an interview with CBS News, said that the ships of the U.S. Navy have not been engaged in combat since World War II.

“When I say engaged in combat, where they’re getting shot at, we’re getting shot at, and we’re shooting back,” Adm. Cooper said.

Experts said Cooper’s claim was mostly correct.

Justin F. Jackson, an associate professor of history at Bard’s College at Simon’s Rock, said that it “depends on what kind of naval combat and what ship.”

“If by naval combat you mean battleships, then Cooper is correct – but if you mean any US Navy vessel engaging in direct fire that happened quite a bit during the Vietnam War, but with much smaller US vessels,” Jackson said.

Adrian R. Lewis, the David B. Pittaway Professor in Military History at the University of Kansas, told Check Your Fact that “the statement is correct.”

“During the Korean War, the Inchon Landing, U.S. ships were fired upon by North Koreans. During the Cold War the Soviet Union challenge the dominance of the U.S. Navy underwater, submarines, attack and SLBM. During the Vietnam War you had the Gulf of Tonkin incident, which did not actually happen. Since, World War II there has been no significant threat to the dominance of the U.S. Navy., particularly the surface fleet,” Lewis said.

Peter R. Mansoor, the General Raymond E. Mason Jr. Chair of Military History at Ohio State University, said that “[t]he admiral is mostly correctly as he defines combat.”

“There were riverine operations in the Vietnam War where U.S. Navy crews were involved in combat, but that was not on the high seas. During the tanker war in the Gulf, in which the U.S. Navy was engaged in 1987-1988, the USS Stark was hit by an Iraqi missile and the USS Vincennes shot down an Iranian civilian airliner, but there was no they’re getting shot at, we’re getting shot at, and we’re shooting back,’ Mansoor said.

U.S. Navy warships have shot at and been shot at by other nations. One of the most recent examples is during Operation Praying Mantis, in which the U.S. Navy engaged the Iranian Navy in 1988, described as “the largest of five major U.S. Navy surface actions since World War II” by the Navy History and Heritage Command.

“It was the first, and so far only, time the U.S. Navy has exchanged surface-to-surface missile fire with an enemy, and it resulted in the largest warship sunk by the U.S. Navy since WWII. In the one-day operation, the U.S. Navy destroyed two Iranian surveillance platforms, sank two of their ships, and severely damaged another,” the Navy History and Heritage Command’s website page on the operation reads.

U.S. Navy Captain J.B Perkins III wrote in the 1989 “Proceedings” magazine that during the seizing of an oil platform, “the first muzzle flash from the [USS] Merrill’s 5-inch mount 51, the Iranian 23-mm. gun mount opened up, getting the attention of the ship’s bridge and topside watchstanders. The Merrill immediately silenced the Iranian gun with a direct hit, and encountered no further opposition.”

Operation Praying Mantis is not the only time that the U.S. Navy has exchanged and received fire with other forces. During the Korean War, the USS Saint Paul engaged in shore bombardment against North Korean forces and was fired at by a “Communist shore battery,” according to the Navy History and Heritage Command.

“On 17 November, she provided gunfire support to the United Nations troops advancing on Chongjin. That day, shrapnel from a near miss by a shell from a Communist shore battery injured six men at gun mount stations. The cruiser destroyed the enemy emplacement with counter-battery fire and continued her support mission,” the website reads.

The USS Saint Paul was also fired upon by North Vietnamese shore batteries in a September 1, 1967 action during the Vietnam War, according to the 2009 book “Lightning From the Sky, Thunder From The Sea.” The warship exchanged fire and a shell from a North Vietnamese battery “entered near the starboard bow and damaged a storeroom and several staterooms,” though it did not cause any casualties.

“Accompanied by two destroyers, she moved in to attack waterborne logistics craft when about 25 coastal defense sites opened fire. She immediately returned the enemy fire and a running battle ensued with shells falling all around the ship. More than 500 rounds were fired at Her that morning, and one round found its mark,” the book states.

This information was also published on “CDR Salamander’s” Substack. Salamander is a retired naval officer. (RELATED: No, Video Does Not Show Residents Of Avdiivka Greeting Russian Troops)

The Houthis have targeted U.S. warships with drones and anti-ship missiles, according to CNN. The Houthis claimed in late Jan. to hit at least one warship, though there is no evidence for this claim and U.S. officials have denied to Check Your Fact that any warship was hit

Check Your Fact reached out to CENTCOM for comment and will update this article if a response is provided.

Elias Atienza

Senior Reporter
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