The Iranian Navy: 1921-1941

The content of the article below on the history of the Iranian navy from 1921 to 1961 is derived from Iran at War: 1500-1988-(ایران در جنگ (۱۹۸۸-۱۵۰۰– The photographs are mainly derived from the Photo archives of Mehdi Farrokh, Fouman.com and Babaie. Kavehfarrokh.com will continue to produce more articles on the history and evolution of the Iranian navy.

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In 1921 the Persepolis and Shoush from the Nasser e Din Shah era were finally decommissioned. Only the four vessels acquired by Ahmad Shah (last Qajar monarch) remained to be officially formed as the nucleus of the new Iranian navy by 1923. The only “naval” operation in the Persian Gulf was that of a small naval ship, the Khuzestan which was originally a British craft in World War One. The British then handed the vessel to Iran after they removing its heavy cannon (unknown calibre).

 

[Click to Enlarge] A small patrol vessel manned by a small crew of 10 men. This had been built in 1933 in Palermo, Italy. This vessel was propelled by a 150 hp engine which ran on petroleum. Its dimensions (length and width) were 3/2×13/30 meters (Photo Archives of Mehdi Farrokh).

The Khuzestan carried 60 soldiers along the Karun River between Khorramshahar and Ahvaz to support the operations of the army in 1924 against Sheikh Khazal.

 

[Left] Sheikh Khazal of Khuzestan, circa 1920. Khazal had strong ties to the British but this failed to rescue him from the arrival of Reza Shah’s forces into Khuzestan (Picture Source: Photo Archives of Mehdi Farrokh) (Right) Sheikh Khazal’s palace in Khuzestan along the Shatt al Arab waterway. Khazal amassed considerable wealth by collecting taxes from the local Arab and non-Arab urban and tribal populations of Khuzestan. As noted by Price, Khazal’s rise in Khuzestan had been facilitated by “an … isolated population, a weak central government, and British support” (Price, M., Iran’s Diverse Peoples: A Reference Sourcebook. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO, 2005, pp.160) (Picture Source: Fouman.com).

After the fall of Sheikh Khazal, three of the latter’s ships were appropriated by the armed forces. One of these was re-Christened as the Homa (able to carry 1000 troops) and was capable of operating as far as the Indian Ocean; the other two were contracted to American naval engineers for repairs. 

The original Palang (Leopard) manned by a crew of 70 men. This vessel had no significant armaments at first, thereby being used exclusively for the transportation of supplies. The vessel was later installed with armaments prior to World War Two (Photo Archives of Mehdi Farrokh).

In April 1925, Iran took delivery of its first German built minesweeper (weight at 141 tons). The Iranian navy however remained inadequate at disrupting piracy and smuggling along Iran’s coastline prompting the Tehran Majlis to legislate the buildup of the Iranian navy on March 20, 1928. This entailed working alongside Italian naval advisors to appropriate ships suitable for Iran’s naval needs. Italian naval advisors were in Iran from 1928-1933. The Italian naval advisors stayed in Iran until 1935. The first cadre of European trained naval officers arrived from Italy in 1933 and gradually the navy acquired Italian-built ships (two ships of 950 tons each, four ships at 330 tons, three smaller craft at 75 tons). These were named as the Gilan, Mazandaran and Azarbaijan (each armed with a 75mm cannon.

 

Iranian naval ships at the eve of the Anglo-Soviet invasion. The Babr (above at left) was shelled by the HMAS Yarra on August 25. Hassan Milanian, the captain of the Palang, had extended an invitation to his British Commonwealth counterpart to visit his vessel a day before hostilities began on August 24 Picture Source TOP: Babaie, 2005a, pp.435.. Babaie, A. (2005). Tarikh e Artesh e Iran [The History of the Iranian Army]. Tehran: Iman Publications).

The Caspian Sea witnessed a diminutive “navy” of s single ship, the Sefid-Rood, landing a contingent of 61 Rashti infantry on the Gorgan coast to raid rebel Turkmens in March 1925. When the ship returned to Bandar Anzali it was renamed as the “Nahang”.

 

Book Review of Farrokh Text by Small Wars Journal

 

Kaveh Farrokh’s third text. Iran at War: 1500-1988-(ایران در جنگ (۱۹۸۸-۱۵۰۰– has been reviewed in the Small Wars Journal by Youssef Aboul-Enein on July 12, 2012.

 

 

Iran at War: 1500-1988. Osprey Hardcover 480 pages, released May 24, 2011 • ISBN: 978-1-84603-491-6. Contact: John Tintera, Marketing Director @ 718/433-4402, john.tintera@ospreypublishing.com.

To order consult Chapters-Indigo or Amazon.

 

 

 

 

 

Cover jacket of Iran at War: 1500-1988. [CLICK TO ENLARGE] A photo taken in 1926 of a military assembly in Tehran. The troops are about to pose for a military review. Standing at far left with hand resting on sword is Colonel Haji Khan Pirbastami (of Northern Iranian origin). Note the diverse nature of Iranian troops, reminiscent of the armies of Iran since antiquity. Kurds, Azaris, Lurs, Baluchis, Qashqais, Persians, all partake as one in the assembly.  Colonel Haji Khan and the officer to the right are members of the Gendarmerie para-military forces. Haji Khan died just a year later when fighting as a colonel with the Iranian army against Bolshevik/Communist and Russian troops attempting to overrun northern Iran after World War One.  

Note that this text has also been reviewed by the Wall Street journal (click on icon below):

 

The Farrokh text has been reviewed by the Iran-based Library, Museum and Center of Manuscripts (see also –ارایه کتاب «ایران در جنگ: ۱۹۸۸-۱۵۰۰» در کتابخانه مجلس-).

The review by Youssef Aboul-Enein opens in the following fashion:

Dr. Kaveh Farrokh … has published a timely volume immersing readers in five centuries of how Persians have waged and conducted war.  The book delves deeply into the history and psychology of warfare and provides a grounding of how Iranians see threats and challenges today. 

The book begins with the Safavids, the empire that ruled Persia from 1501 to 1736, and was largely responsible for imposing Shiism in the region, making it the state religion and forcing the conversion of Sunni Muslims, Jews and Zoroastrians.  His insights are fascinating, and include the caste system introduced by the Arabs when they conquered Persia, which led to a yearning for an Islamic system that incorporated and respected Persian identity.  Shah Ismail I, the founder of the Safavid Empire, is detailed and we see a military leader who although was merciless towards Sunnis, personally provided medical care to his soldiers.  Shah Ismail would battle the Uzbeks, Portuguese, and Ottoman.   

[Click to Enlarge]Shah Ismail as depicted by a European painter – the painting is now housed in the Uffizi Gallery in Italy. Note the Latin terms “Rex Persareum” [Monarch of Persia] which makes clear that Shah Ismail was the king of Safavid Persia or Iran. Despite being hopelessly outmatched by the Ottoman armies in manpower and firerams, Ismail stood his ground in Chaldiran on August 23, 1514. Despite their victory, the Ottoman Turks, who had also sufferred heavy losses,  failed to conquer Iran.

Note then the following observation about the Safavids by Youssef Aboul-Enein:

It was under Shah Abbas I that the Persian army began to acquire gunpowder, and readers will be surprised to learn of the intrigues between the Shiite Muslim Empire of the Safavids and various European monarchs wanting to use the Safavids to divert the growing power of the Sunni Ottoman Empire.  Imagine what the Ottomans could have accomplished if it were not for the Shiite Safavid Empire challenging the eastern edges of their empire

 

Rare drawing by a European traveller who witnessed the aftermath of the liberation of Tabriz by Shah Abbas I on October 21, 1603. Local Azari citizens welcomed the Iranian Safavid army as liberators and took harsh reprisals against the defeated Ottoman Turks who had been occupying their city. Many unfortunate Turks fell into the hands of Tabriz’s citizens and were decapitated (Picture Source: Matofi, A., 1999, Tarikh-e-Chahar Hezar Sal-e Artesh-e Iran: Az Tamadon-e Elam ta 1320 Khorsheedi, Jang-e- Iran va Araqh [The 4000 Year History of the Army of Iran: From the Elamite Civilizaiton to 1941, the Iran-Iraq War]. Tehran:Entesharat-e Iman, p.63). Had the Ottomans not been embroiled in Iran and the Caucasus, their armies could have advanced much deeper into Europe.

Youssef Aboul-Enein then notes the following regarding the military career of Nader Shah:

The section on Nader Shah is exquisite, and contains a few unique tactical innovations, like the use of camels with incendiary materials sent within the ranks of Elephants causing them to panic and turn against their Mugal opponents.  Reading Nader Shah’s campaigns matter for it will give you a grounding on fighting in the terrains as varied as Iraq to Afghanistan.  After the Shah Tahmasp I was attacked by the Ottomans, Afghans and Russians, the Safavid Persian Empire was carved up between these powers.  Nader Shah would reorganize the Persian Army and would be instrumental in restoring the Persian Empire created by Shah Ismail and Abbas, he would also put aside the weak figurehead Shah Tahmasp II and assume rule evolving from Nader Khan to Nader Shah, he is right or wrong Islam’s Napoleon and just as controversial.  Nader Shah use of a highly mobile light cannon, the Zanbourak, that can be packed on camels and set up quickly to amass firepower is a must read. 

 

[CLICK TO ENLARGE] A painting of the Battle of Karnal (February 22, 1739) made by Mosavar ol-Mamalek.The battle ended in an overwhelming victory for Nader Shah (see his statue in the inset photo). The Iranians then occupied Delhi and captured India’s royal jewels. Some Indian historians (i.e. Sarkar) have argued that India was severely weakened by Nader Shah; this allowed the British Empire to easily spread its dominance over the entire Indian subcontinent just decades after the battle of Karnal (picture source: R. Tarverdi (Editor) & A. Massoudi (Art editor), The land of Kings, Tehran: Rahnama Publications, 1971, p.228).

The review then discusses the book’s sections on the Zands, Qajars, and Pahlavis. Youssef Aboul-Enein then concludes: 

The section on the Iran-Iraq War is a must read and offers a fresh narrative of the tactics used by the Islamic Republic against Saddam’s armies.  My only critique is that I would have liked to have seen a discussion or even section on Iranian use of proxies like Hizbullah to asymmetrically undermine their adversaries.  That said, the book is recommended for anyone interest in warfare generally, the Middle East, and even Afghanistan.  In short, this is the kind of book worthy of discussion in America’s War Colleges of the 21st century.

 

[CLICK TO ENLARGE] Elements of the Iraqi 12th Armored Division assemble at Fakkeh (in the Dezful area) on March 23rd 1982 to rescue remnants of the Iraqi 4th Army Corps crushed by a powerful Iranian offensive (Left – Steven J. Zaloga, Modern Soviet Combat Tanks, Osprey Vanguard  37, pp.32).  As these units deployed to attack, they were bombed and strafed by up to 95 Iranian F-4 and F-5 combat aircraft.  The Iraqi 12th Armored Division was virtually eliminated. At right are Iranian regular army troops atop an overturned Iraqi tank of the 12th armoured division (source: www.shahed.isaar.ir). Note that the vehicle has been overturned as a result of aerial bombardment by Iranian F-4 and F-5 combat aircraft.  For more see Pars TV (August 27, 2011).

Dr. Manouchehr M. Khorasani: Traditional Iranian Martial Arts

 

Dr. Manouchehr Moshtagh Khorasani, the world’s leading expert on the history of Iranian and Oriental arms. armour, firearms and traditional Iranian martial arts.See for example Dr. Khorasani’s lecture at M.I.T. on Iranian arms and armor from the Bronze age to the Qajar era. For more information on Dr. Khorasani’s works, consult his list of publications.

Note that Dr. Khorasani is the only person to have obtained two awards of academic merit in the field of Iranian Studies – he won the Book the Year Award in 2009 and well as the Book of the year Award in 2012. Dr. Khorasani’s first book (recipient of the 2009 award), Arms & Armor from Iran: The Bronze Age to the End of the Qajar Period is also unique in that it is the first textbook of its kind to provide an exhaustive and detailed compendium on the history, development, description and analysis of Iranian arms and armor from the bronze age to the Qajar era.

Dt. Khorasani “Lexicon of Atms and Armor from Iran (which won the 2012 award) is the first academic book ever to be written on the lexicon and terminology of Iranian arms and warfare.

To rrder these books, please click on the Legat Publishers link or order directly from LEGAT Publishers: Alexander Frank (alexander.frank@legat-verlag.de)Tel. +49 (0) 70 73 / 30 24 49; Mobile +49 (0)179 / 453 61 21

   

The pictures seen below will appear in Dr Khorasani’s upcoming text:  “Persian Archery and Swordsmanship: Traditional Martial Arts of Iran” .

 

[Click to Enlarge] Historical weapons of Iran (kard, khanjar, separ, gorz, tabar, neyze, akenakes, shamsher sasani, qame, qaddare, ir va kaman, pishqabz/deshne): part of the upcoming book by Dr Manouchehr Moshtagh Khorasani “Persian Archery and Swordsmanship: Traditional Martial Arts of Iran” to be published soon

[Click to Enlarge] Koshti jangi (war wrestling) part of the upcoming book by Dr Manouchehr Moshtagh Khorasani “Persian Archery and Swordsmanship: Traditional Martial Arts of Iran” to be published soon.

 

[Click to Enlarge]  Traditional workouts from the Zoorkhaneh (lit. House of Power) along with traditional Iranian martial arts and archery techniques. Dr. Khorasani has done much to restore and revive traditional Iranian martial arts.

 

[Click to Enlarge]Razmafsar

 

[Click to Enlarge]War wrestling (koshti-ye jangi). 

 

[Click to Enlarge]War wrestling (koshti-ye jangi)

[Click to Enlarge]Razmafzar: Persian swordsmanship and traditional martial arts of Iran

[Click to Enlarge]  Razmafzar, Dr. Khorasani’s project of reviving Persian/Iranian martial arts and swordsmanship is going very well. Now he has also our constitution (asasnameh) defining all steps and levels with names and techniques

[Click to Enlarge]Razmafzar: A Persian Fighting Art based on Persian manuscripts

 

Financial Times: UK secretly supplied Saddam

The article below was penned by Michael Stothard on December 30, 2011 in he Financial Times.

Kindly note that the pictures and their accompanying descriptions shown below do not appear in the original Financial Times article. 

The Financial Times and the Reuters News Service also reviewed Kaveh Farrokh’s 2011 text, Iran at War: 1500-1988 which features several chapters on the Iran-Iraq war as well as the role of Western support for Saddam Hussein’s war machine

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Margaret Thatcher’s government was covertly supplying military equipment to Iraq as early as 1981, according to newly released government documents.

Secret files made public on Friday contain an exhaustive list of equipment from Hawk fighter jets to military air and naval bases that the government was attempting to sell Saddam Hussein’s regime.

This came despite the fact that the UK was officially neutral in the Iran-Iraq war, which begun in late 1980. Britain had also signed up to a UN Security Council resolution calling on its members to “refrain from any act which may lead to a further escalation and widening of the conflict”.

 

[Click photo to Enlarge] An Iraqi T-55 training with an advanced British-manufactured tank gunnery simulator in 1987. Iraq’s armoured corps had undergone a massive training and rearmament program by 1987-1988 – thanks to the the assistance of the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc, Egypt, India, Pakistan, England and numbers of Western countries (Picture Source: Armed Forces journal, July 1987 , pp.354; see also Farrokh, Iran at War, 2011, pp.400-402). British military personnel also refurbished and re-activated captured Iranian Chieftains for Saddam Hussein’s forces. 

The list shows 78 different types of military equipment including Land Rovers, tank recovery vehicles, terrain-following radar and spare tank parts that were in the process of being sold. Not all the sales on the list were completed.

All the equipment on the sales list was technically “non-lethal”, although equipment such as tank parts stretched the definition.

One prime-ministerial brief recommended that the best way to avoid public condemnation but to still make money from Iraq was to sell only non-lethal equipment but to “define this narrowly”.

[Click photos to Enlarge] Iraqi-Kurdish victims of Saddam’s chemical weapons attacks at Halabja in 1988. Many Iranian (and Iraqi Kurdish) civilians and soldiers were to be exposed to chemical weapon attacks during the war. Despite the brutal rapacity of these actions, Western lobbies (including the UK) continued to support Saddam Hussein right up to 1990 (Picture sources: Iran Photo Foundation). Less known are Iraqi Chemical weapons “experiments” on Iranian prisoners of war – a fact which was virtually ignored by the UK and Western press during the 1980s (Farrokh, Iran at War, 2011, pp.402). 

“Contracts worth over £150m have been concluded [with Iraq] in the last six months including one for £34m (for armoured recovery vehicles through Jordan),” writes Thomas Trenchard, a junior minister, in a secret letter to Mrs Thatcher in March 1981.

The letter also says that a meeting with Saddam Hussein “represent a significant step forward in establishing a working relationship with Iraq which … should produce both political and major commercial benefits”.

Mrs Thatcher wrote by hand at the top of the letter that she was “very pleased” by the progress being made.

Throughout her premiership Mrs Thatcher took a direct roll in securing deals for British defence companies, calling her efforts “battling for Britain”. Partly thanks to her efforts, the UK climbed from being the fifth- to the second-largest supplier of military equipment over the decade.

A pair of Saddam Hussein’s modified Scud ground to ground missiles known as the “Al-Hussein”. These were essentially improved versions of the Soviet-designed SCUD missiles; the range of these missiles had been enhanced with the assistance of mainly German, Egyptian, Argentinean and other Western engineers. More ominous was Saddam’s threat to mount chemical warheads on the Al-Hussein for firing against Iranian population centers (consult Farrokh, Iran at War, 2011, pp.404; Ripley, 1991, pp.14). The pro-Saddam stance of the Western (especially US and British) governments at the time meant that such dangers were either ignored or at best downplayed by the Western media. Iraq was to fire 189 Al-Husseins at Iran (135 at Tehran) in February-March 1988 (picture source: onwar.com)

Her greatest defence coup over the decade was the Al-Yamamah contract with Saudi Arabia in 1985 and 1988, which was one of the largest arms deals in history worth about £40bn to British Aerospace and other British companies.

The push to sell arms in Iraq, encouraged by the privatisation of British Aerospace in 1981, in the end caused serious embarrassment when, in 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait. Britain then found itself at war with the country they had been selling weapons to just a few months earlier.

Another consequence was the Scott Report, which was published in 1996 and gave a damming assessment of the Conservative government’s role in selling arms to the Middle East through the 1980s.

[Click photos to Enlarge] Iran Air Flight 655 [1] was shot down by missiles fired from the USS Vincennes [2]. All civilians and crew aboard the doomed airliner were killed [3]. Investigations by John Barry and Roger Charles of Newsweek Magazine and ABC News’ Ted Koppel of Nightline revealed the ugly truth behind these events. In short the reports revealed that both Captain Will Rogers III (Captain of the Vincennes) [4]  and Admiral William Crowe (Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) [5] had falsified information to mislead US and world public opinion. Barry and Charles concluded that “The top Pentagon brass understood from the beginning that if the whole truth about the Vincennes came out, it would mean months of humiliating headlines…the US Navy…told lies and handed out medals” (Barry & Charles, 1992, “Sea of Lies”, Newsweek, July 13, pp. 29; see also Farrokh, Iran at War, 2011, pp.411).

The newly released papers also show how some in the government were concerned about Mrs Thatcher’s aggressive arms sales policy. One prime ministerial brief in January 1981 warned that

“if we expose ourselves to serious accusations of breach of neutrality obligation [in Iraq] or deviousness our efforts could backfire”.

Ivor Lucas, the ambassador to Oman, writes:

I should prefer a more balanced approach to arms sales in the Sultanate, for fear that an accumulation of sophisticated equipment largely for prestige reasons will be more than the defence capability of this country requires“.

[Click photos to Enlarge] Saddam’s “Wunderwaffe”: The Babylon Super-Gun. At left is the unfinished assembly of one of these super-guns and at right is an undelivered section of the weapon now in England. The project almost became an operational reality, thanks in large part to British technical and manufacturing expertise. Saddam Hussein planned to install at least 75 of these Super-guns for use against Iran. Each of these guns could then fire conventional or nuclear-tipped projectiles into Iranian population centers.  

Books on the History of the Iranian Air Force by Farzad Bishop and Tom Cooper

Farzad Bishop and Tom Cooper have written three excellent books which have done much to dispel myths regarding the Iranian air force. Much of the history of the Iranian air force (and indeed Iranian military history since ancient times) has often been narrated by historians often propelled by Eurocentrist, Classicist and political biases.

[CLICK TO ENLARGE] LEFT: Nader Jahanbani the flight leader of the Golden Crown aerial acrobat team in 1960 (highlighted by red line) (Source: IIAF website). RIGHT:  Painting of an Iranian air force F-14A depicted in combat during the Iran-Iraq war (picture by Osprey Publishing’s  “Iranian F-14 Tomcat Units in Combat” by Tom Cooper and Farzad Bishop, 2004). Nader Jahanbani worked hard to inculcate world-class air to air combat skills among Iranian fighter pilots. As noted by Cooper and Bishop, Iranian Tomcats repelled Russian flown Mig-25s violating Iranian air space before the 1978-1979 revolution and downed several Iraqi air force aircraft in 1980-1988, including aircraft flown by Western, Soviet and Pakistani pilots (see also Iran at War: 1500-1988,, 2011, pp. 397, 401).

By the late 1970s, the Iranian air force had produced an excellent cadre of top-gun pilots – these were as adept in air to air combat as they were in ground attack missions. This was in large part due to the efforts of a large pool of highly capable officers and personnel.

 

An Iranian F-5 Tiger (Picture source: pp. 31 in “IRIAF: 75th Anniversary review”, World Air Power Journal, Volume 39 Winter 1999 issue, pp.28-37). Research by Cooper and Bishop that an F-5 fired the  finishing rounds at an already damaged (by an F-14) Iraqi MiG-25 during the Iran-Iraq war. 

In one critical missions of the Valfajr-8 offensive (capture of Fao in 1986),, a pair of F-5s like the one above, attacked the headquarters of Iraq’s 5th Mechanized Division on March 4, 1986 (during the battle for Fao), killing the general and his entire staff (see Cooper & Bishop text “Iran-Iraq War in the Air” below). Thanks to the works of Bishop and Cooper, the daring exploits of Iran’s unknown airmen are finally coming to light. These researchers have done much to provide (at last) the real history of the Iranian air force since its inception in the early twentieth century.

It must also be mentioned that widespread translation and quotation of the Cooper-Bishop works have taken place in Persian publications and weblogs in recent years. Despite being sometimes doctored and even censored – these works have triggered a massive movement not only among young Iranian aviation enthusiasts, but also among the veteran air force pilots, and the service itself, to further dig out, document and disseminate historical details pertaining to that war.

It is also important to note that alongside the works of Bishop and Cooper, a whole series of independent publications have appeared in British military journals as well as first-class works in Iran that complement and further corroborate the works of Bishop and Cooper.

[CLICK TO ENLARGE] Iranian pilots and crew proudly pose with their venerable Tomcat. Iranian Tomcats faced vastly superior numbers of Iraqi aircraft, many of these piloted by non-Iraqi mercenary pilots. Iranian airmen such as these proved their mettle in supporting Iranian ground and naval forces in defense of Iranian territory and the Persian Gulf. Few as yet are aware of the incredible achievements of Iranian combat aircraft (especially the F-14 Tomcat) against Soviet-designed Tu-22, MIG-21, MIG-23, MIG-25, Su-22, Su-25 and French-designed Mirage F1EQ combat aircraft (Picture source: Cooper & Bishop, 2004).

The Bishop and Cooper books are not only of interest to Iranian and Western readers but also US-pilots who have flown the F-4 (Phantiom), F-5 (Tiger) and the F-14 (Tomcat). This review introduces readers to the following books produced by these authors.

  • The Iran-Iraq War in the Air: 1980-1988 (2000)
  • Combat Aircraft 37: Iranian F-4 Phantom II Units in Combat (2003)
  • Combat Aircraft 49: Iranian F-14 Tomcat Units in Combat (2004)

The Iran-Iraq War in the Air

The  first of the Bishop & Copper books to appear has been:

Title: The Iran Iraq War in the Air: 1980-1988

Publisher: Atglen, PA: Shiffer Military History (200o)

ISBN-10: 0764316699

ISBN-13: 978-0764316692

Order at Amazon or e-mail at info@schifferbooks.com

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The contents of this book are as follows:

  • Introduction
  • Chapter 1: Two Novel Air Arms
  • Chapter 2: The Shah’s Eagles
  • Chapter 3: Saddam’s Falcons
  • Chapter 4: First Gulf War, Phase I: Another Day of Infamy
  • Chapter 5: Phase II: Iraqi Spearhead into Iran
  • Chapter 6: Phase III: Iranian Counteroffensives
  • Chapter 7: Phase IV: Entering Iraq
  • Chapter 8: Phase V: Total War
  • Chapter 9: Phase VI: The Grand Slam
  • Chapter 10: Phase VII: Trading Hot Punches
  • Chapter 11: Phase VIII: The Mess in the Gulf
  • Chapter 12: Phase IX: The Final Air Battle
  • Summary

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Perhaps the best perspective on this valuable contribution to aviation military history is provided by Dr. Sean M. Maloney (War Studies professor at Royal Military College):

In the English-language literature, the air campaigns of the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s have received scant attention. It is common for those studying airpower to examine case studies based on the Anglo-American strategic bombing experience during the Second World War, the air war over Vietnam, Arab-Israeli experiences, or the first Gulf War of 1990-91. We now have a good window into a previously unexamined and fascinating modern air war: an American-trained-and-equipped force versus a Soviet-trained-and-equipped force fighting during the last decade of the Cold War.

 

At right is Iraqi SU-22 pilot, Captain Mohammad Radje Suleiman who was shot down and captured by the Iranians in the Eyne Khosh region in November 7, 1982 (Picture Source: Cooper & Bishop, 2003. pp.147). At left are remains of a two-seater Iraqi SU-22 UN-3K which was forced to crash land in Iran. The type was often used to fire anti-radiation missiles  against Iran’s deadly ground-based HAWK anti-aircraft system. The SU-22 airframe was part of a larger display shown at the First Iranian Grand War Exhibition held in Tehran on September 22-October 1, 2001 (Picture source: Farzad Bishop, Air Forces Monthly, 2000, pp.66).

Dr. Sean M. Maloney further notes that:

…the authors employ a chronological approach to the air war, and they have been careful to include the political and ground operational contexts for the air operations. Tactical helicopter, airmobile, and special operations aspects also receive recognition throughout, as do maritime air missions during the so-called Tanker War.

[CLICK TO ENLARGE] An excellent gun camera view of an F-4 Phantom attack on a rear Iraqi supply unit on May 15, 1984. The Phantom is flying very low as seen by its shadow; note explosions in background. Iran often launched successful attacks with its aircraft, but these were far too few to offset Iraq’s growing military strength on the ground and in the air.(Picture Source: Farzin Nadimi, Air Forces Monthly, Classic Aircraft Series no.1, The Phantom, 2000, pp.79).

Dr. Sean M. Maloney also observes that:

Cooper and Bishop have come up with some fascinating angles. ….detailed examination of how the Iranian Air Force remained operational during a period of crippling American economic and military sanctions and constant bombardment by Iraq…How was it able to keep its personnel motivated under very difficult conditions? Why was Iraq unable to prevail – despite having access to Soviet resources and American intelligence? What was the nature and extent of French support to Saddam Hussein’s air force? The answers will surprise you. On the operational side, readers will learn of a daring Iranian raid on the h -2 and h -3 bases in western Iraq…

[CLICK TO ENLARGE] At left is an Iraqi fighter aircraft flaming downwards at Fao in February 1986 – yet another victim of Iranian anti-aircraft defenses (Picture source: Military Photos). The Iranian HAWK missile batteries took a heavy toll of attacking Iraqi aircraft at Fao – see for example photo at left which shows an Iraqi SU-22M shot down in the Fao area on February 16, 1986. The extended rails indicate that the unfortunate pilot had tried to eject but had failed to do so – his charred body was found in the flaming cockpit. Though not recognized, Iranian combat aircraft acting in concert with HAWK anti-aircraft missiles, did much to support the Iranian success in the capture of Fao in 1986.  (Picture Source: Cooper & Bishop, 2000, pp.216).

Dr. Sean M. Maloney further concludes:

The book is profusely illustrated. It includes Iranian Air Force reconnaissance photos and more-than-adequate maps and order of battle charts…there is enough information in the early chapters to compare the development of both air forces. There are also details of how each of the air forces was equipped in the 1970s, and how this laid the groundwork for the 1980s. Of note, there is a beginning section that examines the Shah’s covert aerial intelligence-gathering efforts against the Soviet Union during the Cold War. This book is highly recommended to anyone interested in modern air warfare.

 

[CLICK TO ENLARGE] An Iranian Boeing 747-2J9F. Iranian pilots achieved something of a miracle with their Boeing 747s on May 9, 1982 when they transported over 6000 fully armed troops of the Khorasan’s  77th infantry division from Mashad (near the USSR-Afghanistan border in Iran’s northeast) to Khuzestan in a single night (Cooper & Bishop, 2000, pp. 134). This achievement had received little attention in the West, where the world record for this type of transport was incorrectly attributed to the Israeli airlift of 1200 Ethiopian Jews in a single night ( Picture Source: pp. 31 in “IRIAF: 75th Anniversary review”, World Air Power Journal, Volume 39 Winter 1999 issue, pp.28-37).

Readers are also referred to this excellent analysis of the book provided in Iranian.com:

In air to air engagements, Iran’s kill ratio was roughly 5:1, which is only surpassed by the Israelis against Syria in 1982 and the US in the Gulf war in 1991. Very often, air engagements consisted of 1-2 Iranian fighters engaging 4, or even 8 Iraqi fighters and winning. It got to the point where Iraq ordered its pilots to avoid air to air engagements (especially with the F-14), and actually had to import mercenary pilots from Egypt, and even places like Belgium, South Africa, and East Germany to fly the critical missions!

[CLICK TO ENLARGE] An Iraqi Air Force Mirage F1EQ (left – picture source: Ejection History website ) and another Iraqi Mirage F1EQ which was shot down near Ahvaz on January 15, 1986 (right – picture source: Farzad Bishop) – the doomed Mirage exploded in mid-air when struck by a HAWK ground to air missile – note smoke still emanating from the wreckage.

 

Combat Aircraft 37: Iranian F-4 Phantom II Units in Combat

The  second of the Bishop & Copper books to appear has been:

Title: Iranian F-4 Phantom II Units in Combat (Combat Aircraft 37)

Publisher: Osprey Publishing (2003)

ISBN: 10: 1841766585

ISBN:  3: 978-1841766584

Order at Amazon or Osprey Publishing.

=========================

The contents of this book are as follows:

  • An IIAF Requirement
  • Revolution Sweeps
  • The Start of the War
  • Baghdad Express
  • Thrusting into Iraq
  • Fighting Over the Gulf
  • Final Assaults

=========================

 

 

This book outlines the different versions of the F-4 Phantom which was the workhorse of the Iranian air force throughout the 1970s. This venerable, tough and dour fighter-bomber has seen service with an entire generation of Iranian pilots and ground crew (both before and after the revolution).

Fill her Up! This F-4 Phantom is being refuelled by a Boeing 707 aerial tanker during the Iran-Iraq war. Iranian jets often refuelled before going into combat missions inside Iraq. This particular Phantom is equipped with six Mk-82 bombs (equipped with Snakeye retarding fins). These allowed the Phantoms to attack ground targets at low-level  and high-speed (Picture Source: Bishop & Cooper, 2003. colour picture 5).

The Phantom was indeed the workhorse of the Iranian air force during the 8-year Iran-Iraq war. Iranian F-4 Phantom IIs in particular were some of best equipped models exported by the US. Some Iranian Phantom II pilots accumulated massive combat experience with this aircraft, some flying this in combat for ten-plus years!

However, the Phantom II had already experienced combat even before the onset of the Iran-Iraq war. Iranian Phantoms flew alongside British Hunters during operations against Communist rebels in Oman in the 1970s. However the Phantom was also critical for defending Iranian airspace and territory.

[CLICK TO ENLARGE] Cold War encounter: Iranian F-4 Phantom in flight over Northern Iran (left) and a high-performance Soviet Air Force MIG-25 Foxbat interceptor (right). By the late 1970s Iranian pilots were approaching NATO levels of effectiveness. This was demonstrated by a Phantom II which shot down a highly advanced Soviet Air Force MIG-25 Foxbat which had entered Iranian airspace in 1977 (the stricken Soviet aircraft reportedly crashed inside the Soviet Union as it attempted to flee Iran). The rising abilities of Iranian pilots were duly noted in a USAF-Hughes Aircraft Company report.  

In one incident in June 1975, Iraqi tanks invaded Iran’s Khuzestan province in June 16, 1975. Iranian F-4E Phantoms wiped out an entire Iraqi tank column in 20 minutes – none of the Iranian F-4Es were lost. The Iraqi invasion force was then rapidly thrown back for just 3 Iranian casualties (for more information see Copper & Bishop, 2000, pp. 62 and Iran at War: 1500-1988, 2011, pp. 316-317).

[CLICK TO ENLARGE] -Tayyara! Tayyara! (Arabic: Airplane! Airplane!). Iraqi crew of a BMP armored peronnel carrier advancing in Iran in 1980 (at left) abandon their vehicle in haste at the sound of the roaring engines of two US-made Iranian F-4E Phantoms. Iranian Phantoms (at right) were also reported to be flying just meters above ground level to fire their 20mm cannon at Iraqi tanks and armored vehicles (Picture Source at left: www.Acig.org; Picture Source at right: Farzad Bishop, Combat Aircraft 37, reproduced with permission in Iran at War: 1500-1988, 2011).

Iranian pilots repeatedlyexhibited their deadly skills throughout the  Iran-Iraq war of 1980-1988. It was during the liberation of Khuzestan province in March-May 1982 when up to 95 F-4 and F-5 fighter aircraft virtually annihilated the Iraqi 12th armored division in a single operation (for more information see Iran at War: 1500-1988, 2011, pp. 363-364). Such feats set Iranian pilots on par with the world’s best.

[CLICK TO ENLARGE] Elements of the Iraqi 12th Armored Division assemble at Fakkeh (in the Dezful area) on March 23rd 1982 to rescue remnants of the Iraqi 4th Army Corps crushed by a powerful Iranian offensive (Left – Steven J. Zaloga, Modern Soviet Combat Tanks, Osprey Vanguard  37, pp.32).  As these units deployed to attack, they were bombed and strafed by up to 95 Iranian F-4 and F-5 combat aircraft.  The Iraqi 12th Armored Division was virtually eliminated. At right are Iranian regular army troops atop an overturned Iraqi tank of the 12th armored division (source: www.shahed.isaar.ir). Note that the vehicle has been blown upside down as a result of aerial bombardment by Iranian F-4 and F-5 combat aircraft.   

Bishop and Cooper’s excellent text on Iranian Phantoms has finally removed the “info blackout” with respect to Iranian Phantom II missions before and during the Iran-Iraq war.

[CLICK TO ENLARGE] An F-4E lands after the conclusion of a successful mission during the Iran-Iraq war (date unknown). At the back-seat is war hero Lieutenant-General Abbas Babaie, who was at the time deputy-commander of the Iranian air force. Babaie also flew combat missions before finally being reportedly killed by Iraqi anti-aircraft fire (Picture Source: 2000, Air Forces Monthly Special: Classic Aircraft Series Number 1, “Combat over Iraq”).

Combat Aircraft 49: Iranian F-14 Tomcat Units in Combat

The third of the Bishop & Copper books to appear has been:

Title: Iranian F-14 Tomcat Units in Combat (Combat Aurcraft 49)

Publisher: Osprey Publishing (2004)

ISBN:10: 1841767875

ISBN: 13: 978-1841767871

Order at Amazon or Osprey Publishing.

===========================

The contents of this book are:

  • Introduction
  • The Requirement
  • The First Kills
  • Three-to-One!
  • Combat Continues
  • Crippling the Weasel
  • The Fog of Disinformation
  • Appendices

===========================

 

Before the overthrow of the Pahlavi establishment in 1979, the Iranian air force had ordered 80 F-14A Tomcats (79 were delivered before the revolution). Along with the Tomcats came the lethal AIM-54 Phoenix missiles.

 

[CLICK TO ENLARGE] Freshly delivered F-14 Tomcats at the Iranian airbase of Khatami before the revolution (Cooper & Bishop, 2004, Color plate 3).

Despite the massive disruptions wrought upon the air force in the aftermath of the revolution (i.e. purges, imprisonment, etc) Iran’s pilots were to achieve incredible feats in air to air combat in 1980-1988. The new leadership acquiesced to the reality that these ‘Top Gun” pilots were a vital element for Iran’s survival.

 

[CLICK TO ENLARGE] Iran’s Sattar-1 laser-guided air-to-ground missile designed after the Iran-Iraq war. This is believed to have borrowed some features from the Phoenix air to air missile. The Phoenix downed large numbers of Iraqi air force aircraft during the Iran-Iraq war,  including those flown by mercenary pilots (Picture source: The Arkenstone).

Though just beginning to be acknowledged, the Iranian pilots and ground crews demonstrated an unprecedented level of skill, which in combination with an ancient and deeply ingrained sense of national identity, allowed Iran to defend its airspace against seemingly impossible odds, right up to the ceasefire of August 1988. In one of the interviews conducted by Kaveh Farrokh for the recent text, Iran at War: 1500-1988, a veteran of the Iranian air Force named (“Ghahreman“) noted to the author that:

When the Iraqis invaded in 1980 a young colonel arrived at the Vahdati airbase… he bluntly told us ‘Gentlemen…today Iranzamin is theatened as it has been so many times in its ancient history…do not despair as you enter combat …you are the sons of Cyrus, Khosrow,  and Rustam of Iran Bastan [ancient Persia] …

This speech is reminiscent of the tribute given by British Prime Minister Winston Churchill to the British RAF’s exploits against the German Luftwaffe in 1940 – Churchill declared: “Never in history has so much been owed by so many to so few“. The pilots of the Iranian F-14s, F-4s and F-5s certainly deserve the same level of professional praise as that bestowed upon other world-class air fleets such as the RAF.

 

An Iranian F-14 Tomcat shows off a modified HAWK missile. The integration of the huge surface-to-air Hawk missile into the F-14 weapon system as an air-to-air missile was a surprising feat of ingenuity. When the pictures of Iranian Tomcats carrying the HAWK were released for the first time, most Western media had been claiming for years that Iran’s F-14 fleet was grounded due to lack of spare parts and qualified technicians to maintain them. Those pictures showed that the Iranians had become very good at reverse engineering Western systems without any assistance, to the point that they not only could keep the Tomcats airworthy. This also shows that the iranians are capable of coming up with Indigenous and imaginative solutions in order to use all weapons in their arsenal. (Picture source:  Mehr News).

Interestingly, the exploits of Iranian F-14 Tomcats remain largely unknown. There are numerous false narratives about the Iranian Tomcats during the Iran-Iraq such as claims that that the Iranians were  incapable of firing their Phoenix missiles (i.e. Sreedhar, 1985, pp. 127) or Western authors (.e. Peacock, 1986, pp.43, F-14 Tomcat, Osprey Publishing) repeating the Baathist-regime propaganda that Iraqi jets had downed as many as 70 Tomcats. Bishop and Cooper reveal that nearly all of these Baathist-based Western reports are overwhelmingly false.

Detailed post-war studies also based on Bishop and Cooper’s studies have been published in British military journals which question and revise claims such as those made by Peacock and Sridhar. Below are a number of excerpts by various editions of the British Air Forces Monthly journal:

Despite many reports to the contrary, the type [F-14A] was instrumental in defending Iranian air space…it used all its weapons to near perfection shooting down any type of combat aircraft in the Iraqi inventory…(2002, 177, pp.30)…the Tomcat shot down at least 95 Iraqi combat aircraft, at least thirty of which were confirmed as AIM-54A Phoenix killsseven and ten more were listed as probable kills… (2002, 169, pp.64)”

The World Air Power Journal reported that during the Iran-Iraq war:

“…the presence of one or two Tomcats was usually enough to send the Iraqi jets scurrying away. Only one Iranian Tomcat was confirmed as shot down in air to air combat during eight years of war…” (1999, pp. 32; see also report by Noush in Aircraft Illustrated, 1999).

Although research conducted by Cooper and Bishop so far show only one Tomcat loss can be positively attributed to air-to-air causes, however, newly surfaced data suggest probably more F-14s were lost to Iraqi aircraft. For further details click this link in ACIG…

 

WARNING-GRAPHIC PHOTO -[CLICK TO ENLARGE] An Iraqi  Mig-23 just before it was shot down by Iranian forces (left) and the remains of its unfortunate pilot after the plane crashed (right) (Picture sources: Military Photos Net). Iraqi Mig-23 aircraft suffered heavy losses at the hands of Iranian F-14s – despite much Soviet-East Bloc, French-Western, and some Indian assistance, right up to the last days of the war (Picture Source: AviationLive.org).  

As documented by Cooper and Bishop, Iranian F-14s downed large numberss of Iraqi Migs, Sukhoi, Tupolev and Mirage III fighters. In practice, the Iranian pilots would sometimes “rotate” by flying different aircraft types during the war.

What must be appreciated is the fact that some of the Iraqi jets, especially after 1983, were reportedly piloted by mercenary pilots of Russian, East German, Belgian, Egyptian, and probably even French pilots. Belgian pilot Max von Rosen for exanple, reportedly planned or even  led a number of air raids against the Iranian Kharq Island oil terminal. Cooper and Bishop also noted to Kavehfarrokh.com on Sept. 12, 2011 the following:

…few Western mercenaries, a few French pilots seconded via the AMD, some Soviets on exchange tours, and few Egyptians flew with the Iraqi air force. The Indians were there from 1960s until 1980, and again in the 1983-86 period – but only as trainers assigned to IrAF training units.

The Flying Pharaohs: An Egyptian Mirage 5-SDE on an Iraqi airfield partaking in special combat (electronic warfare) operations against Iranian forces at Fao in 1986. Note that the Egyptian markings have been removed (Picture Source: Cooper & Bishop, 2003, pp.243).

The daring exploits of Iranian Tomcat pilots and their ground crew almost defy imagination and are a must-read for US Navy pilots who also used to fly the Tomcat.

 

An Iraqi air force Su-25 (left – Picture source:  Iran Defense Net – original owner of photo is Christopher Foss) and a  Su-22M shot down near Baneh in northwest Iran on October 16, 1987 (right – picture source: Farzad Bishop). The doomed Sukhoi was first targeted for termination by an Iranian Tomcat forcing the Iraqi jet to dive extremely low – the Su-22 did this to avoid being blasted by the Tomcat’s Phoenix missile. This only led the doomed jet into the sights of Iranian 35mm anti-aircraft guns which shot down the aircraft.

There are numerous other dramatic cases reported by Bishop and Cooper. One of these was the very lucky escape of Iraqi Generals Abdul Jabbar Mohsen and General Maher Abdul Rasheed of the Iraqi Fourth and Third Army Corps respectively.

The Generals had boarded a Mi-8 helicopter on November 20, 1982 to fly towards Iraq’s front lines. Two Mi-8s and eight fighter aircraft (four MIG-21s and four MIG-23s) provided escort for the VIP helicopter. What occurred next proved to be one of the most dramatic incidents of the entire Iran-Iraq war.

An Iranian  Tomcat appeared and fired its deadly Phoenix and Sidewinder missiles into the Iraqi aircraft. Two MIG-23s and one MIG-21 plunged downwards in flames – right in between the three helicopters. The debris narrowly missed the “VIP” helicopter of Generals Rasheed and Mohsen. This and the remaining aircraft rapidly fled with their lives from the scene.

The Iraqi pilots had had no idea how their comrades had been destroyed. Fortunately for the Iraqi generals, the Tomcat’s radar had not detected the slow moving helicopters. This was one experience that the Iraqi general’s never forgot – yet none of those encounters were ever reported in the Western media which was overwhelmingly pro Saddam Hussein at the time.

[CLICK TO ENLARGE] A two-phase painting of a dogfight between an Iranian Tomcat and an Iraqi MIG-21. At left the two adversaries are locked in combat and maneuvers and at right the Tomcat kills the MIG-21 (Picture source: Uskowi on Iran). It was on November 20, 1982 when a Tomcat like the one above fired its deadly Phoenix missiles into Iraqi MIG-21 and MIG-23 aircraft escorting a VIP Mi-8 helicopter ferrying  Iraqi Generals Abdul Jabbar Mohsen (Iraqi Fourth Army Corps) and General Maher Abdul Rasheed (Iraqi Third Army Corps). Three Iraqi combat aircraft were immediately blown to pieces . Luckily for the Generals, their helicopter had not been detected by the Tomcat’s AWG-9 radar – otherwise they most certainly would have been blotted out of the sky by one of the Tomcat’s  Phoenix missiles. General’s Mohsen and Rasheed had indeed had a “near-death experience”.

Bishop and Cooper also provided a detailed compendium of F-14 kills, identifying at least three Iranian aces, one with a minimum of nine confirmed kills. This list has more updated and corrected, and can be accessed on at this Acig link and this Acig link. As noted by Cooper and Bishop to Kavehfarrokh.com (Sept. 12, 2011): Please be aware that this list has not been updated since 2006.

Video showing a practice dog-fight between two USAF F-16 Falcons and two USN F-14 Tomcats – the F-14 and F-16 are high-performance air superiority aircraft. Iran was due to obtain hundreds of state of the art F-16s and F-18s (as well as additional Tomcats) but luckily for Saddam Hussein (who invaded Iran in 1980), these plans never came to fruition after the 1979 revolution.

This book on the F-14 by Bishop and Cooper provides a major step forward in finally looking at the exploits of the Iranian Tomcat; free of political rhetoric and biased analyses. As in all works by these authors, this work on the F-14 is yet another must-read on the history of the Iranian air force.

[CLICK TO ENLARGE] A tribute to one of the Unsung Heroes of the Iranian War Effort: the F-14A Tomcat seen in new air superiority colors maneuvers after the war. The role of the Tomcat in the defense of Iran cannot be underestimated. It would be no exaggeration to state that despite the small numbers of Tomcats available throughout the war, these more than compensated against the vastly superior numbers of Iraqi aircraft, especially in the latter stages of the war. (Picture Source: pp. 31 in “IRIAF: 75th Anniversary Review”, World Air Power Journal, Volume 39 Winter 1999 issue, pp.28-37).

Iranian F-14 Tomcat emblem – note the word “Tom Cat” written in Persian  (Picture source: Iran Defense).

Further Comments & Updates

For an updated list of publications/articles by Cooper and Bishop  please see  the Acig website.

Cooper and Bishop  have also updated their previous publications with the ‘newly’ emerged data from the Iraqi side (unavailable when they wrote their first three books), which have largely appeared in a two volume French specials:

  • ‘La Guerre Iran-Irak: les combats aériens. Vol. 01’, Hors Série Avions No. 22, Septembre 2007
  •  ‘La Guerre Iran-Irak: les combats aériens. Vol. 02’, Hors Série Avions No. 23, December 2007)

and also in German:

  •  ‘Die “Persischen Kater”: F-14 Tomcat im Irak-Krieg’, Fliegerrevue EXTRA, Vol. 14, September 2006.

Readers are also allowed access to the photos of Cooper and Bishop from the Acig website -(click this link).