Iran Hostage Crisis

Iran Hostage Crisis

On November 4, 1979, an angry mob of some 300 to 500 "students" who called themselves "Imam's Disciples," laid siege to the American Embassy in Teheran, Iran, to capture and hold hostage 66 U.S. Although women and African-Americans were released a short time later, 51 hostages remained imprisoned for 444 days with another individual released because of illness midway through the ordeal.BackgroundIn 1953, the CIA staged "Operation Ajax," which unseated a duly elected prime minister, Mohammed Mossadegh, and reinstated Mohammed Reza Pahlavi as Iran's traditional and ancestral shah (monarch). The agreement stipulated that, in exchange for military and economic aid to Iran, there would a continuous supply of oil to the U.S.Pahlavi, however, made some bad decisions. That didn't happen.The shah's wealth grew, and he succumbed to the temptations of a luxurious western lifestyle, which angered the Iranian people, especially the religious right wing. The shah was forced to abdicate the throne again and leave the country in January 1979.The new ruler, Ayatollah Khomeini (pronounced Ko-MAY-nee), railed against the American government, denouncing it as the "Great Satan" and "Enemy of Islam."When the shah was diagnosed with lymphoma, he requested to be treated by U.S. That was the proverbial "straw that broke the camel's back," and so enraged Iranians that a rabble stormed the American Embassy in Teheran.Negotiations and other failuresPresident Jimmy Carter immediately imposed economic sanctions and applied diplomatic pressure to expedite negotiations for the release of the hostages. First, Carter cancelled oil imports from Iran, then he expelled a number of Iranians from the U.S., followed by freezing about $8 billion of Iranian assets in the U.S.At first, the Iranian government denied responsibility for the incident, but its failure to take action against the hostage-takers belied the denial. The Carter administration could do little other at that point than be patient and persistent.In February 1980, Iran issued a list of demands for the hostages' release. They included the Shah's return to Iran, a demand for an apology for American involvement in Iran, including the coup in 1953, and a promise to steer clear of Iranian affairs in the future. From the president's perspective, those demands could not be met.In late April, Carter decided upon an ultra-secret mission to rescue the hostages. The operation, dubbed "Eagle Claw," seemed hastily thrown together by some, doomed to failure by others. To be on the safe side, eight copters were prepared for the mission.Once inside Iranian borders and advancing under cloak of night to a predetermined staging area 50 miles outside Teheran in the Great Salt Desert, one "helo" had to turn back with operating problems. Another helo and then another succumbed to a swirling dust storm, known in that area as a "haboob." The mission was aborted.Upon attempting their retreat, a miscommunication gave one helo the okay to lift off. The storm slammed the helo into a C-130, causing a gigantic fireball, killing three in the chopper and five in the airplane.The aftermath, as Iranians eventually found and mockingly paraded the wreckage on worldwide television, was total humiliation for the United States, and spurred an onslaught of investigations and congressional hearings. Back to square one."October Surprise"Upon the death of the shah in July (which neutralized one demand) and the Iraqi invasion of Iran in September (necessitating weapons acquisition), Iran became more amenable to reopening negotiations for the hostages' release.In the late stages of the presidential race with Ronald Reagan, Carter, given those new parameters, might have been able to bargain with the Iranians, which might have clinched the election for him. The 11th-hour heroics were dubbed an "October Surprise"* by the Reagan camp — something they did not want to see happen.Allegations surfaced that William Casey, director of the Reagan campaign, and some CIA operatives, secretly met with Iranian officials in Europe to arrange for the hostages' release, but not until after the election. If true, some observers aver, dealing with a hostile foreign government to achieve a domestic administration's defeat would have been grounds for charges of treason.Reagan won the election, partly because of the failure of the Carter administration to bring the hostages home. Within minutes of Reagan's inauguration, the hostages were released. Under Reagan, the Iran-Contra Affair completes this story.

*"October Surprise" has now come to mean any shenanigans pulled by a political party close to an election.

US History

The Iran hostage crisis occurred when Iranian students stormed the U.S. embassy in Iran and took a group of U.S. citizens hostage. They held the hostages for over a year from November 4, 1979 to January 20, 1981.

Iran Hostages Return Home
by Don Koralewski of the DoD

For many years, Iran had been ruled by a king called the Shah of Iran. The United States supported the Shah because he was against communism and sold oil to western nations. However, many people in Iran did not like the Shah. They thought he was a brutal dictator.

In the 1970s, revolutionaries led by the Muslim leader Ayatollah Khomeini began to protest against the government. In 1979, they managed to take control of the government and overthrew the Shah. The Shah fled Iran.

Jimmy Carter Admits the Shah

The Shah was sick with cancer at the time and needed medical care. President Jimmy Carter decided to allow the Shah to come to the United States to get treatment. This started off a wave of protests against the United States in Iran.

Takeover of the American Embassy

Angry at the United States for protecting the Shah, Iranian students stormed the U.S. embassy in Tehran, Iran on November 4, 1979. They took 66 of the people there hostage.

Thirteen of the hostages were let go after a short time. They were mostly women and African-Americans. A fourteenth man was released later when he got sick. The remaining 52 hostages were held for a total of 444 days.

Being a hostage was terrifying. For over a year, the hostages lived in fear of death and torture. They were sometimes blindfolded and marched in front of angry crowds. They often were not allowed to talk for months, placed in solitary confinement, and had their hands bound for days at a time. Their captors constantly threatened them with execution and even performed a mock execution one night to scare them.

In April of 1980, President Carter ordered a mission to rescue the hostages. It was called Operation Eagle Claw. The mission failed when a sandstorm damaged the helicopters, causing one helicopter to crash into a transport plane. Sadly, eight soldiers were killed in the crash.

The Hostages are Released

The Iranian militants holding the hostages agreed to start negotiations for their release in late 1980. The Shah had died of cancer and President Carter had lost his reelection bid for president to Ronald Reagan. As punishment to Carter, the militants waited until just after Reagan had taken the oath of office to release the hostages. After 444 days, on January 21, 1981, the hostages were sent home.

Operation Eagle Claw

The CIA and Canada had successfully carried out a historic deception rescue, but there were still Americans held at gunpoint in the American embassy in Tehran. Diplomatic solutions were at a stalemate. In April 1980, President Carter authorized the launch of Operation Eagle Claw, which has since been cast as the Desert One Debacle . U.S. special operations forces from all four military branches were tasked with the mission. U.S. Army’s Delta Force, the Army’s Special Missions Unit (SMU) took ownership as the lead element for the hostage rescue. Delta Force was created for this very reason — to conduct high-risk operations.

Delta Force had five months to prepare for the raid. The mission would last two nights, and before any aircraft landed at Desert One , a salt flat staging area on Masirah Island in the Gulf of Oman, an impromptu airstrip needed to be created. Weeks ahead from the rest of the assault force, Charlie Beckworth, the creator of Delta Force, volunteered seasoned U.S. Air Force Combat Controller (CCT) John Carney for the job. A tiny plane carrying two CIA pilots picked up Carney in Athens, Greece, and flew to the site. Carney had one hour to mark the airfield before the plane would leave without him.

“It was the shortest hour of my life,” said Carney . “I had so much to do and so little time to do it, I didn’t really think about anything but getting the job done.”

Working alone in the desert, Carney had to install infrared lights underground using his K-bar knife as a shovel. The infrared strobes could be seen under night vision goggles, but not with the naked eye. After the risky job was complete, he boarded the CIA’s plane he would return 23 days later with a full CCT team. He worried about his hurried work but later said, “When I saw the satellite imagery, it was a perfect diamond-and-one,” in reference to the setup of the lights.

After Carney’s early success, the Pentagon moved forward in their plan for three MC-130 aircraft to fly approximately 118 Delta Force operators to Desert One. Here, as the plan went, a force of eight U.S. Navy RH-53D Sea Stallion helicopters would fly enroute from the USS Nimitz sailing in the Arabian Sea and rendezvous with the assaulters. They’d refuel, pick up the operators, and fly to a second location — called Desert Two — just 65 miles outside of Tehran.

The second night, Delta Force operators would conduct the hostage rescue mission and ferry the hostages to a nearby soccer field. At the same time, U.S. Army Rangers from the 75th Ranger Regiment would secure the Manzariyeh Air Base in Iran. Once the airbase was secured, the hostages would board two MC-130 aircraft and escape.

This multi-step plan never made it past the transport stages because of a terrible series of failures. Three RH-53 helicopters had issues: one turned back to the USS Nimitz because of a sandstorm another landed short of Desert One because of a cracked rotor warning light and the third arrived safely at Desert One but had hydraulic failure and couldn’t continue. The mission was aborted. As the remainder of the four helicopters departed, one of them hovered and crashed into an EC-130E killing everyone on board.

The tragedy and failure of the mission resulted in a necessity for a unified command that stressed joint operational training. The tragic failures of Operation Eagle Claw helped establish Special Operations Command (SOCOM), today’s most reputable special operations command in the world. On Jan. 20, 1981, the same day President Ronald Reagan gave his inaugural address, the last of the hostages held in Tehran were released after 444 agonizing days.

444 Days in the Dark: An Oral History of the Iran Hostage Crisis

They were geeks with guns—hundreds of Muslim medical and engineering students who stormed the U.S. embassy in the heart of Tehran on November 4, 1979. In brazen violation of international law, they triumphantly seized as hostages sixty-six Americans. The Americans were CIA, they claimed, and the embassy a "nest of spies."

Nine time zones away, President Jimmy Carter assumed that the Iranian government would swiftly quash the occupation, as it had done with a similar incident the previous February. But those expectations were demolished when, days later, the provisional government fell. It would be months before the president knew who was actually in charge in Iran, and 444 days before the hostages returned home.

During those fourteen and a half months, America discovered to its surprise that millions of Iranians loathed our government. As the students told the world, a CIA-led coup in 1953 had overthrown Mohammed Mossadeq, the prime minister of Iran, and replaced him with the Shah, a puppet dictator in thrall to the West. In the weeks before the takeover, President Carter had allowed the dying Shah, who had fled Iran, into the U.S. This, the students believed, was proof that America was planning yet another coup.

Rallying behind the charismatic cleric Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, and caught up in his romantic vision of an Iran cleansed of Western influence, the students demanded that the U.S. return the Shah so that he could stand trial. Only later did they realize Khomeini was using them to consolidate his own power.

Thirty years later, it's clear that the takeover of the embassy in Tehran changed the world in ways we're still coming to understand. The power struggle that Khomeini won put Iran's immense oil revenues into the hands of radical mullahs who used them to help fund modern Islamic jihad. And when Khomeini died in 1989, he left behind a political culture so repressive that today many of the hostage-takers themselves are leading the effort to reform it.

GQ spoke with more than fifty men and women—hostages, hostage-takers, commandos from the ill-fated U.S. rescue mission, and Iranian and American politicians and policymakers—to re-create this fateful historical moment and explore its ongoing impact.

Mohsen Mirdamadi Hostage-taker now a reformist and defendant in ongoing show trials
When the revolution happened in Iran, young people were concerned about the intentions of the United States regarding the new regime. We believed the United States was against the revolution and that it was preparing another coup. When the Shah went to America, it was a confirmation of this belief.

Saeed Hajjarian Hostage-taker now jailed for dissent
The U.S. made a mistake taking in the Shah. People in Iran were very sensitive to this issue. If they had not admitted him, nothing would have happened.

Mirdamadi: There is a difference between a revolutionary atmosphere and a normal atmosphere. In a revolutionary atmosphere, you aren't afraid of anything.

Ebrahim Asgharzadeh Chief architect of the takeover now a reformist, jailed for dissent
"Imperialism" was the biggest word for me: It signaled what the U.S. was all about. We didn't see complexities we saw the U.S. as one bloc. But we were engineers, students we weren't fundamentalists. In fact, we saw fundamentalism as a danger.

Mirdamadi: We believed we had a right to do this—that if we didn't attack the embassy, they could attack us. We thought we needed two or three days to see all the documents. If there was a plan [for a coup], we would find something.

Asgharzadeh: It was supposed to be a small, short-term affair. We were just a bunch of students who wanted to show our dismay at the United States. After that, it got out of control.

Elaheh Mojarradi Hostage guard wife of Mohsen Mirdamadi
Were we exploited? Definitely. Certain groups used the crisis for their own ends.

Asgharzadeh: It turned into a power battle. The temporary government was crushed, and the more revolutionary and radical forces gained self-confidence and self-assurance.

Mirdamadi: The reason it lasted so long was that when we captured the embassy, we got the support of Ayatollah Khomeini. He was a charismatic leader, and his influence over the people was exceptional in history. I don't know any other example like it.

Asgharzadeh: It came to a point where no one could say any longer when the hostages could be freed, even after the Shah was gone. It became an international affair, with repercussions we hadn't foreseen. We were taken out of the decision-making process. We were basically just hostages of the hostages.

William Gallegos Marine guard, U.S. embassy
Early that morning, I'm doing my security checks on the second floor. I look out the window, and I see thousands and thousands of people outside of the gates. They weren't screaming, they were just moving around and talking, but you could hear a strange buzz in the air, even inside the embassy.

Michael Metrinko Political officer, U.S. embassy
Normally, my schedule was I would go out every night until one or two in the morning. (There were some great parties—revolutions are always good for parties.) So I would never ordinarily have been in the office that early in the morning. But I was at the embassy, waiting for Iranian friends to show up for a meeting. It was fairly early when I started to hear noise outside my office window.

Rocky Sickmann Marine guard, U.S. embassy
All of a sudden, my walkie-talkie said, "Recall! Recall!" which means report back to the embassy immediately. I was right in front of the gate, and I will never forget as long as I live that the two Iranian guards, who were supposed to be protecting us, walked into their hut like nothing was happening.

Gallegos: I said, "Shut the door, they're breaching the walls!" The embassy had magnetic steel doors, bombproof. Once you close them, they're not gonna open for anything. Here comes Rocky, and the door's almost closed, and he sticks his arm out and I just pull him in.

Sickmann: We had the embassy secured, locked down. Now it was the responsibility of the host government to come and protect us.

Charles Jones Communications officer, U.S. embassy
We all retreated to the vault where classified material was stored. There's a protocol to destroy the top-secret stuff first, and then you work down. We had shredders and an incinerator to actually burn the stuff.

Bruce Laingen Chargé d�ires and acting ambassador, U.S. embassy
That morning I had an appointment at the Iranian Foreign Ministry, on the other side of town. My deputy and a security officer, Mike Howland, were with me. We tried to return to the embassy, but it was so overrun that we had to go back to the Foreign Ministry.

Paul Lewis Marine guard, U.S. embassy
Over the radio, we could hear Billy Gallegos in the basement. By then they had cut the lock off the fire escape. The embassy basement was full of Iranians.

Gallegos: I remember the females had assault rifles under their chadors. You could see the guns swinging underneath. I racked a round and they stopped and moved back.

Metrinko: I called the friend of mine who was supposed to meet with me that morning. He was a powerful figure—head of a large group of revolutionaries. His bodyguard answered. I told him I wanted to speak with my friend, and his response was, "He won't talk to you, Michael." That's exactly the way he said it. "He won't talk to you." I asked him, "Do you know what's happened?" And he said, "Yes, we know." Then he said, "I personally am very sorry." And he hung up. I realized then that Iɽ been set up by my friends to make sure that I was in the embassy when it got hit.

Gallegos: Then they started coming forward again. I'm getting ready to shoot, I have my rifle at my shoulder, and suddenly I hear, "Don't shoot, don't shoot!" It was Al Golacinski.

Al Golacinski Chief security officer, U.S. embassy
Our rules of engagement said that we were not allowed to use deadly force. I was able to pull the leader out of the crowd he spoke English. He said, "We want to speak to the ambassador." I said, "Let me see what I can do." That's the way you did things there. You had to dialogue with them, find out what they wanted, let them save face.

Mike Howland Security officer, U.S. embassy
Because the ambassador and I couldn't get back to the compound, we had people in charge of the embassy who really were not trained to be making decisions like this. Al called me on the radio and said he wanted to go out and try to talk to these guys. I was absolutely opposed to it. So far, all of our people were still safe. I told Al that Iɽ pass his request on to the ambassador, but before I could he decided to go out. I was really upset when I found out.

Golacinski: Going out there violates just about any tactical effort that anybody would ever do. But I don't think it changed anything. I went out there, and I turned over my weapon. I was getting it settled down. Then things started coming apart. They took me out in front of the embassy, tied me up, and they started yelling for the people inside to come out. They produced a weapon, cocked it, and put it to my head.

Howland: Over the radio, I could hear Al screaming for his life and saying, "They're gonna kill me if you don't open the door!" I was telling them, "For God's sake, don't open the door!"

Laingen: I remain convinced to this day that it was not their intention at any time to shoot.

Golacinski: All of a sudden, I feel an intense heat at my face. What they had done was light newspapers on fire to dissipate tear gas, but at the time I thought they were torching me. I remember yelling, "Shoot me, don't burn me!"

John Limbert Political officer, U.S. embassy
I finally went out there nobody had a better idea at this point. I speak Farsi, I had taught in Iran. I put on the rather arrogant air of a professor: "What is this you're doing? You're disgracing yourself." They put a gun to my head, too.

Gallegos: The next thing I know, our people were saying, "The ambassador has ordered the Marines to stand down."

Laingen: From what I knew at the time, speaking by radio and telephone from across town, it looked hopeless for us to begin some Custer's Last Stand operation. I thought that would be very dangerous.

Limbert: They opened the door. The embassy fell.

Gallegos: They tied us up, blindfolded us, dragged us outside. I remember shaking, and I was like, Why am I shaking? And then I realized it wasn't me it was the two guys holding me.

Limbert: It was a cool, rainy day. I felt good about two things: One was to get out into the fresh air, because there was smoke and tear gas inside the embassy. The other was still being alive.

Gallegos: The crowd around me were hissing, "CIA." It sounded like they were going, "Ssss."

Kathryn Koob Director of the Iran-American Society, U.S. embassy
They took my jewelry. It didn't have much value, but I saw them twisting it—they were sure it was some kind of secret spy paraphernalia. They thought we were all James Bond.

Golacinski: They would start out with, "You are a spy we are going to try you and ecute you." Then they would try to get you to confess.

Joseph Hall Military attaché, U.S. embassy
They accused the United States of causing some crop failures in Iran. I told them, tongue in cheek, that yes indeed, I was the agent for wheat mold. They worked on that one for about a day and a half.

Sickmann: Eleven of my comrades were interrogated by Ahmadinejad. He's denied it, but he wasn't at home rearranging his sock drawer that morning. He was a radical Islamic leader he was in the midst of the whole thing.

Limbert: The students claimed that their plan, if they had one, was to hold the embassy for maybe a day at most, make a statement, and then march out.

Laingen: The standing opinion is that Khomeini at the outset would have been prepared to release us. But overnight his son was hoisted over the walls of my embassy, and he communicated back to his father that this is a very interesting, dangerous situation, that the students represented a political force that the Ayatollah could not ignore.

Metrinko: By grabbing all of the embassy files, they were [later] able to start a real purge of the government and go after a lot of people that they expected were antirevolution.

Barry Rosen Press attaché, U.S. embassy
Eventually, they put us into rooms with twenty-four-hour guards. We weren't permitted to speak to each other. We were tied up, hand and foot. You felt like a piece of meat.

Golacinski: The worst part was the humiliation. You don't go to the bathroom unless you're given permission to go to the bathroom. You don't eat unless someone decides to feed you.

Hall: I kept thinking, The cavalry's coming to the rescue this is all going to end I'll be home for Thanksgiving.

Rosen: Theyɽ beat the freakin' hell out of you, and then theyɽ ask, "When this is all over, can I get a visa?" In Iranian culture, they can compartmentalize anything.

Golacinski: Christmas was coming. You're thinking, Our government is not gonna just leave us here for Christmas.

Reverend M. William Howard Former president, National Council of Churches USA
On the Saturday before Christmas, I received a telegram saying that the Revolutionary Council was requesting my presence in Iran to conduct Christmas services. We would be the first Americans to be able to report on the hostages' well-being. We arrived there on Christmas Eve, we were blindfolded, and at midnight we were in the compound.

Golacinski: You had mid feelings, because the priest who was sitting there was going to be able to walk out, and you were going to stay. I whispered to him that it was not what it appeared to be, that we were being treated like animals. He just said, "I know."

Kevin Hermening Marine guard, U.S. embassy
You've probably seen the picture of us enjoying a Coca-Cola and some cookies: The Iranians were using us, absolutely. But all I thought was, This is a chance to have my family see me. I've heard other families say how terrible it was that they never saw their loved one while he or she was in captivity.

Thomas Gumbleton Former auxiliary bishop, Archdiocese of Detroit
In the States, the hostages were on the news every day, but they had no sense of that. They felt like theyɽ been abandoned.

Moorhead Kennedy Economics and commercial officer, U.S. embassy
We were not allowed to talk until well into January. We whispered, but there was no normal conversation. One day they came in and said sort of proudly, "You can talk now." Everybody got along less well after that.

Metrinko: I read everything I could get. The most important was [Aleksandr] Solzhenitsyn's The Gulag Archipelago. He was writing about the same experience and what he had done to cope—about how, for instance, prisoners, no matter how intelligent they are, can only think about what will be for lunch or dinner. You lose your mental sharpness. I thought I was surrendering in some way because I was thinking about food all the time, but I found out that was quite natural.

Limbert: It helped to have a routine. You had a certain amount of ercise, sleep, reading. If you could get through the next fifteen minutes, you could get through the next hour.

Metrinko: It just kept dragging on. It wasn't something they announced at nine in the morning, "Oh, we've decided to hold you for fourteen months." It just sort of drifted into it.

Robert Armao Aide to the Shah, 1979-80
In January 1979, I went over to see the Shah. The situation was untenable. He was weak from cancer, tired, confused, and he was preparing to leave.

David Aaron Deputy national-security adviser
The Shah had been extremely important to us. He was viewed as a regional leviathan, and Iran was the local hegemonic power we relied on to keep order and civility in the Gulf. Then he's challenged by Khomeini. As the revolution took on greater momentum, we couldn't seem to get the Shah to do anything. He wouldn't even say no.

Reza Pahlavi The Shah's son
The question was where we might end up, and it was not very clear as to which country would be willing to host my father.

Armao: The Shah was advised that it would be in everyone's best interest if he did not come to the States. He ended up in Mexico, where his health deteriorated. He was dying, and suitable medical care was not available there.

Aaron: Henry Kissinger, Nelson Rockefeller, and [national-security adviser] Zbigniew Brzezinski played the violin in meetings with the president: "The Shah stood up for us for thirty years. You can't just toss him on the ash heap of history. He's a dying man. He's got to come in."

Hendrik Hertzberg President Carter's chief speechwriter
It was, "This guy was a shit, but he was our shit for all these years."

Henry Precht Director of Iranian affairs, State Department
Carter was in an impossible situation: Do we go for a new relationship with Iran, or do we recognize the human obligation we have to the Shah? I said, "If we want to deal with Iran, we have to keep the Shah out of the country." I wrote a memo saying, "If the Shah is admitted, the following things might happen. " The first was that the embassy personnel might be taken hostage. It had been clear for months that we did not have adequate protection at the embassy.

Jody Powell White House press secretary
The president was quite reluctant to admit the Shah. It was a delicate time. Their government was not yet overwhelmingly hostile to the United States, and there was hope that a reasonable relationship could evolve.

Zbigniew Brzezinski National-security adviser
I personally told the Iranian government that we wouldn't encourage the Shah to undertake any political activities and that therefore they could rest assured that granting him asylum in the United States would not be exploited in any political sense whatsoever. Either they were convinced that this was not true, or they thought it was a good issue around which to stir up public emotions.

Gary Sick Adviser, National Security Council
The president was the last one to give in. He said, "I just wonder what advice you're going to give me when they take our people hostage."

Mansour Farhang Iran's first postrevolutionary ambassador to the U.N.
When I first heard that the United States was going to let the Shah in, it absolutely blew my mind.

Armao: We came to New York on October 22, and the Shah went into the hospital. So many old friends came to see him. Kissinger, Rockefeller. I took Frank Sinatra up one day.

Farhang: On November 1, 1979, there was an event in Algiers to celebrate the anniversary of Algerian independence. Brzezinski was there, as was [Iranian] prime minister Mehdi Bazargan, who wanted to normalize relations with the United States, and Foreign Minister Ebrahim Yazdi. They exchanged niceties, but they didn't discuss specific issues. This meeting led to all kinds of innuendo and false charges.

Sick: Shortly after they were out of a job.

Marvin Zonis Author, 'Majestic Failure: The Fall of the Shah'
The meeting was proof for Khomeini that these guys were traitors to the Islamic revolution.

**Sick: **On November 4, I was awakened in the middle of the night. Someone called and told me the embassy had been broken into and that people were assembling at the State Department. I drove in and joined the group. They were in a room with speakerphones linked to telephones at the embassy the people there were reporting on a minute-by-minute basis. As the process went on, one after another went silent as the students found them, broke in, and took them hostage.

Powell: The president called me early in the morning and woke me up. He was seriously concerned but somewhat hopeful, because the previous situation, in February, had turned out all right in the end. And the Iranian government was quick to give us assurances. But there was no way to know exactly who the people were that had gone into the embassy.

Bill Beeman _Author, 'The "Great Satan" vs. the "Mad Mullahs" ' _
It was a small and unauthorized group that took over the embassy they intended to be there for only a few days. They called themselves Students Following the Line of the Imam, which put Ayatollah Khomeini in a curious position: Was he going to denounce them?

Farhang: Khomeini hadn't expected the seizure—nobody had. It turned out to be a gold mine for him.

Aaron: Somebody would step forward and say, "I have the power," and theyɽ start negotiations. Then the Khomeinists would immediately say, "You're pro-American, you're selling out the revolution," and that person would lose their job and sometimes their life. Khomeini began to see how he could use this to clean out the café liberals who were running the government.

Leslie Gelb
Assistant secretary of state for politico-military affairs
What was our awareness of the Ayatollah and the clergy? None. And not a single person, not a single CIA document, had raised the possibility of a revolution.

**Hodding Carter ** State Department spokesman
Our information out of Iran was crappy to nonexistent. We had nobody who spoke Farsi, and what passed for our intelligence was what was given to us by SAVAK [the Shah's secret police], since the Shah, paranoid as he was, had gotten an agreement from us that we would not infiltrate Iran with our own intelligence people. The Shah himself had been our chief source of information about internal dissent!

Farhang: Iranians were so taken with Khomeini. We had a highly romantic view he was the personification of moral opposition to the Shah. I thought of him as the Mahatma Gandhi of Iran. I didn't know he was going to be the Reverend Jones.

Precht: Carter sent Ramsey Clark to Tehran to give a letter to Khomeini, which would be the instrument that would get the hostages freed.

Ramsey Clark Special emissary attorney general under President Johnson
I said that there has got to be absolute secrecy, otherwise it won't work. We get out of the car at Andrews Air Force Base and there are fifty people with cameras.

**Precht: **We hadn't yet been given authority from the Iranians to come, and within a few hours the story of the mission was on the nightly news. When we got to Istanbul on November 7, Khomeini decreed that no Iranian officials were to talk to American officials. It would have been better not to have sent the mission at all. It looked as though we were set up to bully them, and that set Khomeini off.

Clark: This must be one of the saddest affairs of my life. I think it changed history. I think Carter would have been reelected. I knew Khomeini, Bazargan, and Yazdi well, and I knew I could talk heart-to-heart with them.

Hodding Carter: The fundamental error was keeping this story on the front burner day in and day out. We talked about it every goddamn day.

Sick: Every night it was the top story—whole news programs, like Nightline, were invented just to cover it.

**Ted Koppel ** Anchor, 'Nightline'
Years later I ran into Jimmy Carter, and he said, "There were only two people who really benefited from all of that—you and Ayatollah Khomeini." Certainly, it boosted my career way beyond anything Iɽ ever dreamed of. I'm forever sorry that it came at the pain of so many people, but that's what we news people do, cover stories like that. There was a gigantic appetite for it it was not unusual for us to have 10 million people watching the program.

David Farber _Author, 'Taken Hostage' _
The hostage-taking occurred at a time when many Americans felt that their nation was under siege in so many ways, in particular economically. Here were fellow Americans who were completely adrift. The hostages became a kind of symbol.

Koppel: President Carter famously said the hostages were the first thing he thought about in the morning and the last thing he thought about at night. It was a downright foolish thing to say, because it made the people holding the hostages realize that they had an awful lot of influence over the United States.

Hertzberg: I thought Carter was essentially making himself a hostage. Every single night it was, "America is being humiliated because Carter is a wimp." The Rose Garden strategy was a mistake. [Because of the crisis, Carter initially decided to remain in the White House instead of campaigning this became known as the Rose Garden strategy.] It was crazy to sit in the White House while there was a presidential campaign going on.

Abolhassan Banisadr_ First postrevolutionary president of Iran _
Early on I put together a proposal with three conditions for freeing the hostages. That proposal was approved by Mr. Khomeini himself and by the U.S. I would go to the U.N. and make Iran's case, the General Council would approve, and the hostages would be freed. When I was about to leave for New York, Mr. Khomeini issued an order over the radio that nobody will go to the U.N. on behalf of Iran. I went to Khomeini, and in a heated manner I asked him why he had changed his mind. He had a very ridiculous reason: He said, "What if the U.N. passes a resolution against Iran because of the problems with the islands in the Persian Gulf?" [At the time, Iran was claiming ownership of three islands.] I told him, "Sir, you are dealing with a lot of ifs. If this, if that. They have already agreed to the conditions of the meeting." I realized later that he didn't really want to resolve the situation. He also didn't want me to solve the crisis, because my popularity in Iran would have risen, which would have been a direct threat to him.

David Gergen Adviser, Reagan campaign
In Washington there was tension right from the start between the camps of Cy Vance, the secretary of state, and Zbigniew Brzezinski, the national-security adviser. Zbig Brzezinski was more of a Cold Warrior. Heɽ come out of Eastern Europe he understood the dark side of the Soviet empire and wanted to be very tough with the Iranians. Cy came from the school that said, "We can negotiate with them, we can work this out."

Brzezinski: The basic difference was, I had absolutely no confidence that a post-Shah regime would be stable and pro-U.S., while Vance thought it highly probable that some sort of democratic coalition could emerge that would be friendly, even if not quite as friendly as the Shah's regime.

Gergen: The tension boiled over at times. Famously, Jimmy Carter had asked each team to draft an Annapolis-commencement address. He got two different drafts: One hard-line from Brzezinski, one soft-line from Vance. And he said, "Marry the drafts." He went and gave this speech that essentially was two different speeches. It made Carter appear ambivalent about the use of force that's what gave Reagan the advantage in the campaign. But it also sent this message to the hostage-takers that there was a waffling quality inside the White House.

Sick: By the end of March, it was clear that we had exhausted all avenues—diplomatic pressure, economic pressure, world negotiations. There was really no good option left.

Warren Christopher Deputy secretary of state
Brzezinski was very enthusiastic about a rescue mission. Vance doubted it would work he was firmly against it, and he felt it would sour our relationships in the Middle East.

Aaron: We had a review of the plan for the rescue mission. When it was over, the president looked at the members of the cabinet and said, "This is my decision. If something goes wrong, I'm taking responsibility." Of course, they were all very eager to place it on him.

**Gergen: **When they ordered the rescue mission, Vance gave the president a letter saying, "You have my resignation as soon as this operation is over, however it turns out."

Brzezinski: I was very much aware that we could fail. But we also knew that there were other rescue attempts that had succeeded, and they had all involved chances and risks. There was a consensus in the National Security Council in favor of the mission.

Farber: It's one of the great unknowns: What if that military mission had succeeded? Does Carter beat Reagan?

Mark Colvin ABC Radio correspondent, Tehran
We got a call one day to come down to a side gate of the embassy. We entered the compound, and in the middle of this big courtyard about forty chairs faced a pile of tarpaulins. We were told to sit. Eventually, a short, fat ayatollah, Ayatollah Khalkhali, arrived. He was known as "the cat strangler" because once, during a TV interview, a reporter asked, "What would you do if the Shah came back tomorrow?" And Khalkhali had a cat on his lap, which he picked up and strangled in front of the camera. That's the way he rolled. He proceeded to harangue us in Farsi for half an hour, screaming a lot of the time. About halfway through, the Revolutionary Guards started taking off the tarpaulins. Beneath were some wooden crates, and they started opening them, and Khalkhali started pulling out all these blackened pieces. We were all trying to work out what these things were. Then he picked up one of these objects and started scraping at it with a pocketknife, and gradually you made out a wristwatch and you suddenly realized he was holding the blackened arm of an American. These were the remains of the men who had come to rescue the hostages.

Bucky Burruss _Operations officer, Delta Force _
We used to watch Nightline religiously. One hostage was a Marine security guard, and there was footage of his kid sister crying on Christmas Eve. I thought, You sons of bitches, we're coming after you.

Eric Haney Sergeant, Delta Force
The plan was for the air force to fly us on C-130 aircraft into Desert One, a site about 250 miles from Tehran, where we would meet helicopters coming from the USS Nimitz in the Indian Ocean. The 130s carried big rubber bladders holding thousands of gallons of fuel. We would refuel the helicopters, then move forward that same night to Desert Two, a hide site about forty miles outside the city. The planes would then return to Masirah, off the coast of Oman.

Burruss: Two of our people on the ground had arranged for a warehouse and trucks, and we had some expat Iranians who were going to serve as drivers and interpreters. They would take us to this warehouse before daybreak.

Haney: That night we would scale the embassy walls—weɽ assault the buildings, kill the hostage-holders, and recover the hostages.

Burruss: We would then blow a hole in the embassy wall and take the hostages to a soccer stadium across the street. Choppers were then going to land in the stadium.

Haney: The hostages would be loaded and immediately carried out, and we would follow.

**Burruss: **We would land at the Masirah airfield, then weɽ all go back home and be heroes, and Carter would be reelected.

Logan Fitch Squadron commander, Delta Force
I felt confident we were going to succeed. I knew that we would lose some people and probably some hostages, but isn't it worth it to show people around the world that you can't do that to us?

**Burruss: **Weɽ laid out the whole embassy compound. Guys knew that they had to go eight steps this way and turn left and go four steps and then turn right and go up a set of stairs. That's how well rehearsed they were. One guy said it was like a ballet, which I thought was a wimpy way to put it, but it was.

John Carney Air force combat controller, Delta Force
The problem was the helicopter part, the Marine pilots. They hadn't been trained in this type of mission. We needed guys with experience landing in the dirt, like in Vietnam. When you try to land one of those big helicopters in the dirt, it just browns out. You can't see anything.

B. J. McGuire _Marine helicopter pilot _
Our feeling was that the training had been so long and so arduous that the mission itself would be easy.

Haney: We launched from Masirah on April 24. When we crossed into Iranian airspace, we were probably about 200 feet above the ground.

Jim Kyle Colonel, U.S. Air Force
You fly nape of the earth. That's to get through the radar net at the coast.

Fitch: My squadron was on the first aircraft [to land at Desert One]. I came off the plane, I had my arm up trying to shield my eyes from all the blowing dust, and then—what in hell is this?

**Haney: **There's a tanker truck, a passenger bus, and a pickup truck.

**Fitch: **Weɽ landed at midnight in the middle of nowhere. Murphy's Law dictated that a bus and two trucks should be there.

Haney: We run out to stop the vehicles. The tanker truck doesn't stop, so one of the Rangers takes out his anti-tank rocket. He tried to shoot the engine, but the rocket hit the dirt right under the bumper, bounced up into the belly of that 10,000-gallon tanker of gasoline, and—BOOM! It was biblical. It was like the pillars of fire that the children of Israel followed across Sinai. The guy in the tanker dove out of the cab, ran to the pickup, and got away.

Carney: We moved the bus out of the way and told the passengers that theyɽ be all right just as long as they stayed there.

Haney: Eventually, the other planes start coming in. We're all waiting for the helicopters. The clock is ticking. We have to get this done during darkness. Another hour goes by. Finally, we see one of the helicopters. He staggers in—the crew is rattled, overwhelmed. Then the other helicopters start staggering in.

Fitch: Weɽ conducted seven rehearsals in environments similar to this—Arizona, Nevada. What the pilots had never encountered, however, was a haboob.

McGuire: These storms kick sand into the air, and afterward, because there's no wind whatsoever, very fine particulates remain suspended. The pilots couldn't see squat. It's like trying to look through a glass of Tang.

Kyle: The first helicopter aborted due to a blade problem about an hour into the mission. Another pilot was separated from the group in the dust storm. He lost his confidence and went back to the carrier. He claimed he was afraid he was going to crash and all sorts of blubbering things.

Carney: Theyɽ launched eight helicopters from the Nimitz. The one major contingency of the mission was that we had to have six. That was the absolute minimum. Six helicopters made it to Desert One.

Kyle: We refueled them. All were ready to go with Delta northbound.

**Carney: **Now you're high-fiving: "We did it—let's go!" And then it just turned to manure. One of the helicopters shut down his backup hydraulic system was out. That left us with five helicopters—an automatic abort.

Kyle: The mission could not go with five helicopters, because the extra twenty-some people on the chopper that had aborted were too much weight. I was just trying to keep the mission going. I said, "Is there any way you can reduce by twenty shooters?" [Colonel Charlie] Beckwith said, "Fuck you, I ain't gonna do that. I don't know what I'm up against."

McGuire: They got on the phone to Washington, and President Carter decided to abort.

**Haney: **I heard an outburst from Beckwith: "Fuck it. Just load everybody up. We'll come back tomorrow night."

Carney: Weɽ kept the engines running the whole time, and one of the airplanes was running low on fuel. Its pilot needed to get out of there so heɽ have enough fuel to get back to Masirah. The decision was made to move the helicopters out from behind the aircraft [to clear the runway]. One helicopter picked up to reposition and browned out. This is a ninety-mile-per-hour wash coming down into the sand and then blowing it up he can't see anything.

J. J. Beyers Air force radio operator
All of a sudden, the whole windscreen of the airplane lit up.

Fitch: I thought, Oh shit, we're under attack. The whole left side and back of the plane was in flames.

Beyers: I made it from the cockpit to the door the whole airplane was on fire. Two shadows on the ground grabbed me and threw me on the ground. That was the last thing I remember. Evidently, I was on fire.

Fitch: I ran maybe fifty yards. When I looked back, I could see the helicopter was on top of the cockpit of the 130. That's when I knew what had happened.

Haney: The blades cut through the fuselage and the flight deck, and that pulled the helicopter up on top of the plane—that's when the helicopter exploded.

Carney: It killed three Marines in the back of the helicopter and five airmen who were trapped in the cockpit of the plane.

**Kyle: **The airplane blew its guts out and shrapnel spewed all over the place.

Burruss: We left eight guys on this pyre in the middle of the desert. That's something you live with forever.

Haney: There's an old army maxim: "No plan survives contact with the enemy." We didn't even have to contact the enemy on that one. No plan survives contact with yourself sometimes. When we got home, we started preparations for a second go-round, but it was obvious that no one from the White House had their heart in it.

Kyle: What it all boils down to is, one guy with a good helicopter—a helicopter we needed to complete the mission—turned around and flew all the way back to the Nimitz. The Marines nicknamed that pilot Turn Back.

**Haney: **The hostage-takers were worried about the possibility of another attempt, so they scattered the Americans around Iran. It was our one opportunity, and it was gone.

Joseph Hall _Military attaché, U.S. embassy _
They panicked and spread us all over the country in forty-eight hours. I think I was moved seventeen times during the next two months.

Abolhassan Banisadr _First post-revolutionary president of Iran _
The consequences of the rescue mission were severe. The mullahs' suspicions were raised against the military, because they wondered how the U.S. could enter Iranian airspace undetected. So they started a purge that resulted in the extreme weakening of Iran's military power.

Rocky Sickmann _Marine guard, U.S. embassy _
One day the guards brought over a copy of The Sporting News, and I'm sitting there reading that a tennis tournament was postponed "due to the death of the Shah of Iran." I said, "Holy shit!" We bang on the door: "Hey, Ali"—everybody's name was Ali they wouldn't give us their real names—"What is this, the frickin' Shah is dead?"

**Banisadr: **His passing wasn't something the students were happy about. As long as the Shah was alive, they could use the excuse that he was planning to come back, that he was a direct threat to the government.

John Limbert _Political officer, U.S. embassy _
His death didn't affect the way we were treated. It was clear this whole incident was not about the United States—it was an internal political game. One of the students even said that to me. They had been turned into prison guards. I think many of them felt used by the politicians.

Sickmann: At times youɽ think, Boy, they're probably as much hostages as we are.

**Moorhead Kennedy ** Economics and commercial officer, U.S. embassy
But once, when they were moving us, one of the guards stood there with tears pouring down his cheeks. He was a local hire, and when we were moved he was laid off. This was obviously the most exciting moment of his life terrorism gives a lot of unemployed people something exciting to do.

Mansour Farhang _Iran's first postrevolutionary ambassador to the U.N. _
The hostage-taking probably cost Iran over $10 billion. Khomeini didn't care he enjoyed his immense popularity and the idea of being involved in a moral struggle. The sanctions, the freezing of Iran's assets, were devastating. Without the economic weakness and international isolation, Saddam Hussein would not have invaded Iran in September 1980. There was hardly any resistance.

Michael Metrinko Political officer, U.S. embassy
Our guards started to leave, to go to the war front. They asked if weɽ be willing to defend the prison if it were attacked. I said, "Give me a gun."

Bruce Laingen Chargé d�ires and acting ambassador, U.S. embassy
Iran was in trouble. They needed funds, they needed help, they weren't getting it anywhere. They were dramatically isolated at the U.N. and in international opinion.

Gergen: In the U.S., election day 1980 fell on the one-year anniversary of the hostage-taking. It was clearly a factor in Reagan's ten-point defeat of Carter. I am among those who believe the coming to office of Reagan was a significant factor in the Iranians' decision to free the hostages. I remember one common quip going around was: What's flat, red, and glows in the dark? Answer: Tehran, after Reagan becomes president.

**Sick: **There's no smoking gun, but there are many who believe that the Reagan people deliberately slowed down progress in the hostage issue. Nobody who was involved in it has come out publicly. Maybe we'll have a deathbed confession someday.

Banisadr: In the spring of 1980, the Reagan-and-Bush team contacted my team and also the Islamic Republican Party, the friends of Mr. Khomeini. Reagan's team tried to make a deal with us to free the hostages. I rejected the deal because they weren't official representatives of the U.S. at the time, but the Islamic Republican Party decided to work with them. [As a result] Khomeini delayed implementation of the release until Reagan was elected.

Farhang: Congress spent more than $1 million to investigate. I testified, and I remain convinced to this day that there was no contact or conspiracy.

Hall: We didn't know if it meant anything or not, but we were counting down to inauguration day. On January 19, they led me into a room and asked me questions about my treatment. I remember they presented it as though I was a "candidate for release." I wasn't going to sing their praises, but I wasn't going to say a whole lot.

Metrinko: It was a sort of Tokyo Rose-type interview.

**Limbert: **They asked, "How were you treated?" I just said, "You could have done a good thing with your revolution, but you really screwed it up." They didn't have a response.

Sickmann: On January 20, they told us we were going home. They came back five minutes later and we were still sitting there. Seriously. You have to understand that they have screwed with our minds for 444 days. I remember walking out that night. They had taken our shoes away, and we had plastic sandals. I was blindfolded, and it was snowing the snow was running through my toes as I was walking through it. I can hear to this day the crunching of the snow under my feet as we walked to this bus that supposedly was taking us to the airport.

Hall: They stood us up individually inside the bus, took the handcuffs and the blindfolds off, and we literally ran a gauntlet to the steps of that airplane, one final insult of slapping and shoving and punching.

Limbert: I thought to myself, This group has no class at all. This is a chickenshit outfit.

Sickmann: We walk to the back of the airplane. Nobody high-fives, nobody says a word. You're free, but you're still whispering to each other because you're in shock. The plane starts revving and shaking, and all of a sudden it comes to an idle. It's like, "God, they're messing with us." Iran had turned off the runway lights.

Koppel: The hostages were on the plane, but the Iranians did the cruelest thing they could think of, which was to wait until one second after noon on inauguration day. And that was just crushing. Carter and Brzezinski and their advisers were in the Oval Office all night, praying that they would get these guys released while they were still on duty. Because Carter really did, it must be said, try with all his heart to get those men and women out of there.

**Bill Daugherty ** _CIA officer, U.S. embassy _
You cannot underestimate the hatred that the hostage-takers felt for Jimmy Carter. They felt betrayed by him. He had come in on a platform of human rights, and he had said these standards will apply to friends as well as enemies. He mentioned Iran in the campaign! The Iranians really believed he was going to come in and stop the Shah's human-rights violations.

Barry Rosen Press attaché, U.S. embassy
We were very worried that some sort of Iranian jet fighter, if they had any left, would shoot us down.

Warren Christopher _Deputy secretary of state _
The Iranians sent two commercial planes, one as a decoy. But until I saw the landing lights of those planes off in the distance, near the Algiers airport, I had no real confidence that they were coming home. It was a very tricky moment.

**Sickmann: **We got off the airplane in Algiers and kissed the ground. The left cheek of my pants was completely ripped out from sitting on my can so much. I felt sorry for the ambassador and all the other people having to look at us and smell us.

Metrinko: When we got to the military hospital at Wiesbaden [in Germany], there were stacks of newspapers in the reception area. I was glancing at one, and I looked at one of the photographs and thought, My God, it looks just like my grandfather's portrait. Then I realized it was the portrait that hung in our dining room at home, and that the people standing under it were my mother and father. Why it would be in The New York Times I had no idea. I did not know that anyone was interested or cared. It was like Rip Van Winkle waking up.

Henry Precht Director of Iranian affairs, State Department
I was invited to go on the plane to Wiesbaden with Carter and Vice President Walter Mondale. I said, "Mr. President, many of the hostages are likely to hold you responsible for admitting the Shah and leaving them vulnerable in Tehran." He said, "I realize that, and I'm prepared to deal with it."

Kevin Hermening _Marine guard, U.S. embassy _
Six or eight Americans refused to meet with President Carter and Mondale.

**Al Golacinski ** _Chief security officer, U.S. embassy _
A gentleman stood up—I will not reveal who he was—and said to the president, "Why did you do the one thing that would fire up the Iranians like that?" His answer was, "We had been given assurances that our embassy and our personnel would be protected." I stood up and said, "Mr. President, with all due respect, I and others wrote that those assurances were not worth the paper they were written on." Later we had our pictures taken individually with the president, and he apologized to me. He said he had seen what had been written. I really believe the president was a very decent man.

Daugherty: Had we had any inkling that they would actually let the Shah into the United States, I don't think many of us would have gone to Tehran in the first place. I certainly wouldn't have. Before I went over, a senior officer told me, "The only real danger is if they let the Shah in, but nobody is that stupid." Golacinski: I sometimes wish I could go back and relive those first few days or that first month, because I don't remember much of it. I do remember, though, that in all of the stopovers on the way home, I had to be the last one on the airplane. I just wanted to make sure everybody was there. I don't know how to explain it to you. I think maybe I was just trying to make myself feel better about something.

6 of France’s greatest military victories that people seem to forget

Posted On February 16, 2021 06:47:00

There’s no question about it: A singular blemish in French history is to blame for their eternal ridicule. The moment Marshal Philippe Petain surrendered (kind of) to the Germans after being the main target of the blitzkrieg was the moment people started associating “s’il vous plaît” with “surrender.”

Ridicule against Vichy France, the German puppet state, isn’t without merit — we get it. But to overlook the storied nation’s thousands of years of badassery is laughably incorrect. Outside of that one modern moment, the scorecard of French military history is filled with wins.

Author’s Note: It’s a fool’s errand to try and rank these by historical significance or how they each demonstrate French military might, so they’re listed in chronological order:

Coincidentally, this would also be the last time England was taken over.

Battle of Hastings

If you want to get technical, this battle happened before the formation of France proper. Still, it’s generally agreed that France began with the Franks. Sorry, Gauls. Their legacy of military might includes (successfully) fighting off vikings, Iberians, and, occasionally, the Holy Roman Empire.

But the single landmark victory for the Franks came when Duke William the Bastard of Normandy pressed his claim over the English crown in 1066. At the Battle of Hastings, outnumbered Normans fought English forces, led by King Herald Godwinson. The Normans, led by William, pushed through English shield walls to take out the crown. William the Bastard then went on to conquer the rest of England and earned himself the a new moniker, “King William the Conqueror.”

Surprisingly enough, feeding your troops makes them fight better.
(Jean-Jacques Scherrer, “Joan of Arc enters Orleans,” 1887)

Siege of Orleans

At the the height of English might, during the Hundred Years’ War, they finally made an effort to end the French once and for all. The city of Orleans was put under siege — and the throne was thrust into dire circumstances. All the English had to do was starve city. That was, until a young peasant girl arrived: Joan of Arc.

Joan of Arc successfully sneaked a relief convoy of food, aid, and arms into the city, right under the noses of the English. This bolstered the strength of the defenders. With food in bellies and morale on the rise, the besieged made a stand and finally pushed the English out of France.

Seriously. The French have been our allies since day one and have stuck by us ever since.
(John Trumbull, “Surrender of Lord Cornwallis,” 1820)

Battle of Yorktown

This is the battle that won the Americans the Revolutionary War, so it’s most often seen as a major victory for the Americans. But the victory would have never been if it weren’t for massive support from the French.

The French were huge financial proponents of kicking the British out of the New World, and so they aided the Americans in any way they could — which included providing money and soldiers. Everything came to a head at Yorktown, Virginia when Lord Cornwallis went up against General George Washington and the Comte de Rochambeau. It was an effort of equal parts — both Washington and Rochambeau flanked Cornwallis on each side, forcing his surrender and officially relinquishing British control over the Colonies.

If you gotta go out, go out in a blaze of glory… I guess.
(William Sadler, “The Battle of Waterloo,” 1815)

Most of the Napoleonic Wars

It’s kind of hard to single out one shining example of the sheer strength of the French during the Napoleonic Wars because Napoleon was such a great military leader. If you break down his win/loss ratio down into baseball statistics, like these guys have, he outshines every general in history —from Alexander the Great to modern generals.

Let’s look at the Battle of Ligny. Napoleon managed to piss off the entirety of Europe, causing themto band together tofight him. He was cornered in Prussia andhis enemies were closing in. In a last-ditch effort, he took a sizable chunk out of the Prussian military and forced them to retreat. This all happened while the English, the Russians, the Austrians, and the Germans were trying to intervene.

Just two days later came the Battle ofWaterloo, duringwhich most of Europe had to work together to bring down the dominant Napoleon.

This is why Petain remains such a polarizing figure. He may have given up France in the 40s, but he saved it thirty years earlier.
(National Archives)

The Battle of Verdun

Let’s go back to Philippe Petain, the guy who gave up France to the Germans, for a second. Today, many see him as a traitor, a coward, and a weakling — but these insults can’t be made with putting a huge asterisk next to them. In World War I, he was known as the “Lion of Verdun” after he oversaw and won what is known as the longest and single bloodiest battle in human history.

For almost the entirety of the year 1916, the Germans pushed everything they had into a single forest on the French/German border. It was clear within the first six days that after the Germans spent 2 million rounds, 2 million artillery shells, and deployed chemical warfare for the first time, that the French would not budge. 303 days later, the Germans finally realize that the French wouldn’t give in and gave up.

​So maybe lay off the “French WWII Rifle for sale” jokes. It might be funny if it weren’t completely inaccurate.
(National Archives)

Operation Dragoon

In the opening paragraph, there was a “(kind of)” next to mention of French surrender during WWII. Well, that’s because not all of France gave in — just parts of it. France was split into three: Vichy France (a powerless puppet state), the French Protectorates (which were mostly released back to their home rule), and the resistance fighters of Free France.

The Free French resistance fighters were widespread across the French territory, but were mostly centralized in the South. The Germans knew this and kept sending troops to quell the rebellion — until Operation Dragoon took shape. Aided by Allied air power, French resistance fighters were able to repel the Germans out of Free France in only four weeks and give the Allies the strong foothold they needed in the Mediterranean until the fall of fascist Italy.

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What caused relations to deteriorate between the United States and the Soviet Union in 1979? The United States invaded Afghanistan to prevent the spread of Communism. The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan to help its Communist government. The Shah of Iran entered the United States, which angered Communists.

What caused the tension between the Soviet Union and the United States after the war? Kennan, an American diplomat in Moscow, in February 1946. taking measured to prevent any extension of communist rule to other countries. To prevent any extension of communist rule to other countries.

Iran Hostage Crisis

Iranian Hostage Crisis, a diplomatic conflict caused by the holding in captivity of United States embassy personnel by Iranian militants from November 4, 1979, to January 20, 1981. The crisis was precipitated when Mohammed Riza Pahlavi, the deposed shah, was allowed into the United States for medical treatment. Iranian militants, supported by the revolutionary government under Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, seized the embassy in Tehran, took the personnel hostage, and announced that the hostages would not be released until the shah was returned to Iran to stand trial. President Jimmy Carter refused the demand and retaliated with economic sanctions and diplomatic pressure. All efforts to negotiate the release of the hostages were rebuffed.

On April 24, 1980, the United States attempted a commando raid to rescue the hostages, but the mission failed when three helicopters broke down. During the mission eight United States servicemen died in a helicopter crash. On July 27, the shah died, but Iran refused to release the hostages.

Late in 1980, negotiations between the United States and Iran made progress with Algeria acting as intermediary. Finally, on the inauguration day of Ronald Reagan as President, the 52 hostages were released after 444 days of captivity.


On 4 November 1979, fifty-two American diplomats and citizens were taken hostage in the United States Embassy in Tehran, Iran by a group of Iranian college students belonging to the Muslim Student Followers of the Imam's Line, avid supporters of the Iranian Revolution. [6] [7] American President Jimmy Carter called the hostage-taking an act of "blackmail" and the hostages "victims of terrorism and anarchy." [8] but in Iran it was widely seen as an act against the U.S. and its influence in Iran, including its perceived attempts to undermine the Iranian Revolution and its longstanding support of the Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, who was overthrown in 1979. [9]

The crisis had reached a climax after diplomatic negotiations failed to secure the release of the hostages. Facing elections and with little to show from negotiations, the Carter government ordered the State Department to sever diplomatic relations with Iran on 7 April 1980. [10] Cyrus Vance, the United States Secretary of State, had argued against a push by National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski for a military solution to the crisis. [11] Vance left Washington on Thursday 10 April for a long weekend vacation in Florida. [11] On Friday 11, Brzezinski held a newly scheduled meeting of the National Security Council where he insisted that it was time to "lance the boil", [12] and Carter said it was "time for us to bring our hostages home". [13] It was during this Security Council meeting of 11 April, that Carter confirmed that he had authorised the mission. [11] [12] [Note 1] He did however continue to entertain the planning for a concurrent punitive air-strike, but this was finally rejected on 23 April, one day prior to the commencement of the mission. [12] The rescue mission was code named Operation Eagle Claw. [14]

Planning for a possible rescue mission began on November 6, two days after the hostages were taken. [15]

Army Major General James B. Vaught was appointed as Joint Task Force commander and was to be forward-based at Wadi Kena in Egypt, reporting directly to the President. In turn, he had two field commanders: USAF Colonel James H. Kyle as the field commander for aviation and U.S. Army Delta Force Colonel Charlie Beckwith as ground forces field commander. [16]

The ambitious plan was to be based on the use of elements from all four branches of the U.S. military: army, navy, air force, and marines. The concept was based on an operation whereby helicopters and C-130 aircraft, following different routes, would rendezvous on a salt flat (code-named Desert One) 200 miles (320 km) southeast of Tehran. Here the helicopters would refuel from the C-130s and pick up the combat troops who had flown in on the C-130 transports. The helicopters would then transport the troops to a mountain location (Desert Two) closer to Tehran from which the actual rescue raid would be launched into the city the following night. [14] The operation was further to be supported by an in-country CIA team. [17] On completion of the raid, hostages were to be shepherded to a captured Tehran airport from which they were to be flown to Egypt. [14]

On 31 March, anticipating the need for military action, a U.S. Air Force Combat Controller, Major John T. Carney Jr., was flown in a Twin Otter to Desert One by covert CIA operatives Jim Rhyne and Claude "Bud" McBroom for a clandestine survey and reconnaissance of the proposed landing areas for the helicopters and C-130s. Carney successfully surveyed the airstrip, installed remotely operated infrared lights and a strobe to outline a landing pattern for the pilots. [Note 2] He also took soil samples to determine the load-bearing properties of the desert surface. At the time of the survey, the salt-flat floor was hard-packed sand, but in the ensuing three weeks an ankle-deep layer of powdery sand had been deposited by sandstorms. [18] [20]

The Tehran CIA Special Activities Division in-country paramilitary team, led by retired U.S. Army Special Forces officer Richard J. Meadows, had two assignments: to obtain information about the hostages and the embassy grounds [Note 3] and to transport the rescue team from Desert Two to the embassy grounds in pre-staged vehicles. [17]

Assault teams Edit

The ground forces consisted of 93 Delta soldiers to assault the embassy and a 13-man special forces assault team from Detachment "A" Berlin Brigade to assault the Ministry of Foreign Affairs where three further hostages were being held. A third group of 12 Rangers were to act as the roadblock team at the Desert One landing area. Rangers were also tasked with taking and holding the Manzariyeh Air Base near Tehran to provide the springboard for escape from Iran. In addition, the CIA had prepared an in-country team of 15 Iranian and American Persian-speakers, most of whom would act as truck drivers.

Ingress Edit

The complex plan required that on the first night, three USAF EC-130Es (Call signs: Republic 4, 5, and 6) carrying the logistical supplies and three MC-130E Combat Talons (Call signs: Dragon 1, 2, and 3) carrying Delta Force and Ranger troops (132 assault and security troops in total) [22] would depart the island of Masirah, off the coast of Oman for Desert One, a flight of over 1,000 miles (1600 km). They would be refuelled by Air Force KC-135 tankers en route. Desert One would be secured by a protection force and once secured, a refueling area would be established for the helicopters with approximately 6,000 US gallons (22,700 L) of jet fuel being made available from collapsible fuel bladders carried in the C-130s.

Eight United States Navy (USN) RH-53D Sea Stallion (Call signs: Bluebeard 1 – 8) [23] helicopters were positioned aboard USS Nimitz, 60 miles off the coast of Iran. [24] The helicopters would fly 600 miles (970 km) to Desert One, refuel, load up the Delta Force and part of the Ranger teams, and then fly 260 miles (420 km) further to Desert Two. Because it would be close to morning, the helicopters and ground forces would hide during the day at Desert Two. The rescue operation would take place the second night.

Rescue raid Edit

First, CIA agents who were already inside Iran would bring trucks they had sourced to Desert Two. Together, the CIA officers and ground forces would then drive from Desert Two into Tehran. This assault team would assault the embassy and Foreign Affairs building, eliminate the guards, and rescue the hostages, with air support from Air Force AC-130 gunships flying from Desert One. The hostages and rescue team would then rendezvous with the helicopters which had flown from Desert Two to the nearby Amjadieh Stadium where the rescue teams and the freed hostages would board the helicopters.

Egress Edit

In parallel to the rescue, an Army Ranger company would capture the abandoned Manzariyeh Air Base near Tehran to allow two C-141 Starlifters [25] flying from Saudi Arabia to arrive. With the Rangers holding the airport, the helicopters would bring everyone from the stadium to the Manzariyeh airbase, where the C-141s would fly everyone back to an airbase in Egypt. The eight helicopters would be destroyed before departure.

Protection and support Edit

Protection for the operation was to be provided by Carrier Air Wing Eight (CVW-8) operating from Nimitz and CVW-14 operating from USS Coral Sea. For this operation, the aircraft bore special invasion stripe identification on their right wings. This was necessary to distinguish support aircraft from Iranian F-14 and F-4 aircraft purchased by Iran from the US in the time of the Shah. CVW-14 Marine F-4Ns were marked with a red (VMFA-323) or yellow (VMFA-531) stripe enclosed by two black stripes while CVW-14 attack aircraft (A-7s and A-6s) had an orange stripe enclosed by two black stripes. [26] [27]

Only the delivery of the soldiers, equipment and fuel by the C-130 aircraft went according to plan. [28] MC-130 Dragon 1 landed at Desert One at 22:45 local time. The landing was made under blacked-out conditions using the improvised infrared landing light system installed by Carney on the airstrip, visible only through night vision goggles. The heavily loaded Dragon 1 required four passes to determine that there were no obstructions on the airstrip [Note 4] and to align with the runway. Dragon 1 off-loaded the road-watch teams in Jeeps and a USAF Combat Control Team (CCT) [29] to establish a parallel landing zone north of the dirt road and to set out TACAN beacons to guide in the helicopters.

Soon after the first crews landed and began securing Desert One, a civilian Iranian bus with a driver and 43 passengers was stopped while traveling on the road, which now served as the runway for the aircraft. The bus was forced to halt by the Rangers and the passengers were detained aboard Republic 3. [30] [Note 5] Minutes after the bus had been stopped, the Rangers in the road-watch team observed a fuel tanker truck, ignoring their orders to halt, bearing down on them. [31] The truck, apparently smuggling fuel, was blown up by the Army Ranger roadblock team using a shoulder-fired rocket as it tried to escape the site. The truck's passenger was killed, but the driver managed to escape in an accompanying pickup truck. As the tanker truck was thought to be engaged in clandestine smuggling, the driver was not considered to pose a security threat to the mission. [32] However, the resulting fire illuminated the nighttime landscape for many miles around, and actually provided a visual guide to Desert One for the disoriented incoming helicopters.

Two hours into the flight, RH-53D Bluebeard 6 made an emergency landing in the desert when a sensor indicated a cracked rotor blade. [Note 6] Its crew was picked up by Bluebeard 8 and the aircraft was abandoned in the desert. [34] The remaining helicopters ran into an unexpected weather phenomenon known as a haboob [35] (an enormous, nearly opaque cloud of fine dust). Bluebeard 5 flew into the haboob, but abandoned the mission and returned to the Nimitz when electrical problems disabled flight instruments and flying without visual references proved impossible. The remaining six helicopters reached Desert One, 50 to 90 minutes behind schedule. Bluebeard 2 arrived last at Desert One at 01:00 with a malfunctioning secondary hydraulic system, leaving only one hydraulic system to control the aircraft. [28]

With only five fully serviceable helicopters now remaining to transport the men and equipment to Desert Two (minimum of six aircraft was the planned mission's abort threshold), the various commanders reached a stalemate. Senior helicopter pilot Seiffert refused to use unsafe Bluebeard 2 on the mission, while Beckwith (field commander for ground forces) refused to consider reducing his trained rescue team's size. Kyle (the field aviation commander), therefore, recommended to Vaught that the mission be aborted. The recommendation was passed on by satellite radio up to the President. After two and a half hours on the ground, the presidential abort confirmation was received. [36]

Fuel consumption calculations showed that the extra 90 minutes idling on the ground waiting for the abort confirmation order had made fuel critical for one of the EC-130s. When it became clear that only six helicopters would arrive at Desert One, Kyle had authorized the EC-130s to transfer 1,000 US gallons (3,800 L) from the bladders to their own main fuel tanks, but Republic 4 had already expended all of its bladder fuel refueling three of the helicopters and had none to transfer. To make it to the air tanker refueling track without running out of fuel, it had to leave immediately and was already loaded with part of the Delta team. In addition, RH-53D Bluebeard 4 needed additional fuel, requiring it to be moved to the opposite side of the road. [37]

To accomplish both actions, Bluebeard 3 piloted by Maj. James Schaefer [38] had to be moved from directly behind the EC-130. The aircraft could not be moved by ground taxi and had to be moved by hover taxi (flying a short distance at low speed and altitude). [39] [Note 7] A Combat Controller attempted to direct the manoeuvre from in front of the aircraft but was blasted by desert sand churned up by the rotor. The Controller attempted to back away, which led Bluebeard 3 's pilot to mistakenly perceive that his craft was drifting backward (engulfed in a dust cloud, the pilot only had the Controller as a point of reference) and thus attempted to "correct" this situation by applying forward stick to maintain the same distance from the rearward moving marshaller. The RH-53D struck the EC-130's vertical stabilizer with its main rotor and crashed into the EC-130's wing root. [40]

In the ensuing explosion and fire, eight servicemen died: five of the fourteen USAF aircrew in the EC-130, and three of the five USMC aircrew in the RH-53D, with only the helicopter's pilot and co-pilot (both badly burned) surviving. [Note 8] After the crash, it was decided to abandon the helicopters and during the frantic evacuation to the EC-130s by the helicopter crews, unsuccessful attempts were made to retrieve their classified mission documents and destroy the aircraft. The helicopter crews boarded the EC-130s. Five RH-53D aircraft were left behind at Desert One mostly intact, some damaged by shrapnel. They could not be destroyed, because they were loaded with ammunition and any fire or explosion would have endangered the C-130s. [41]

The EC-130s carried the remaining forces back to the intermediate airfield at Masirah Island, where two C-141 medical evacuation aircraft from the staging base at Wadi Abu Shihat, Egypt [Note 9] picked up the injured personnel, helicopter crews, Rangers and Delta Force members, and returned to Wadi Kena. The injured were then transported to Landstuhl Army Regional Medical Center in Germany. The following day, after learning about the events at Desert One from the local Iranian news, the Tehran CIA team quietly left Iran, with the Iranians unaware of their presence. [42]

The White House announced the failed rescue operation at 01:00 a.m. the following day (25 April 1980). [43] Iranian Army investigators found nine bodies, eight Americans, and one Iranian civilian. The American bodies were later returned to the United States and buried at various locations across the country. [44] The 44 Iranian civilians captured on the bus were released and subsequently gave eyewitness accounts of the operation. [32]

Casualties Edit

The eight servicemen who died included three Marines (Sgt. John D. Harvey, of Roanoke, Virginia Cpl. George N. Holmes Jr., of Pine Bluff, Arkansas Staff Sgt. Dewey Johnson, of Dublin, Georgia) and five Air Force personnel (Maj. Richard L. Bakke, of Long Beach, California Maj. Harold L. Lewis Jr., of Fort Walton Beach, Florida Tech. Sgt. Joel C. Mayo, of Harrisville, Michigan Capt. Lyn D. McIntosh, of Valdosta, Georgia Capt. Charles T. McMillan of Corryton, Tennessee). On 25 April 1980, Major General Robert M. Bond read a message from President Jimmy Carter at a memorial service commemorating them in Niceville, Florida. [45] [46] A memorial honoring them was erected in the Arlington National Cemetery and Carter attended a memorial service there with the families on 9 May. [47] Three of the servicemen who died – Maj. Richard Bakke, Maj. Harold Lewis Jr., and Sgt. Joel Mayo – were buried in the Arlington National Cemetery in a grave marked by a common headstone, located about 25 feet from the group memorial. [48] In addition, five servicemen were injured, including USMC Majors Jim Schaefer, pilot, and Les Petty, co-pilot. [49]

After the termination of the operation and the abandonment of equipment by the infiltration team, the Iranians became aware of the landings as well as the subsequent accident and firefight. Mohammad Montazer al-Qaim, Commander of the Yazd Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) went to the scene to investigate reports from locals. At the same time, without knowing of the investigation activities of the IRGC, the Iranian Air Force conducted two observation flights over the incident area. During the first flight, two F-14s flew over the abandoned US equipment and the flight requested permission to fire on the equipment. This was refused by the Iranian command. The next day, Iranian Air Force F-4 fighter jets patrolling the area thought that the American helicopters were about to fly and they fired at the remaining American equipment, killing Mohammad Montazer al-Qaim. [50]

Political consequences Edit

President Carter continued to attempt to secure the hostages' release before his presidency's end. On 20 January 1981, minutes after Carter's term ended, the 52 US captives held in Iran were released, ending the 444-day Iran hostage crisis. [51] US Secretary of State Cyrus R. Vance, believing that the operation would not work and would only endanger the lives of the hostages, opted to resign, regardless of whether the mission was successful or not. His resignation was confirmed several days later. [52]

Ruhollah Khomeini condemned Jimmy Carter, [53] and in a speech after the incident, credited God with throwing sand to protect Iran. [54] [55] He said:

Who crushed Mr. Carter's helicopters? We did? The sands did! They were God's agents. Wind is God's agent . These sands are agents of God. They can try again! [56]

The embassy hostages were subsequently scattered across Iran to preclude any second rescue attempt and were released on 20 January 1981, minutes after Ronald Reagan had taken the oath of office after winning the election against Carter. [57]

Investigation and recommendations Edit

Retired Chief of Naval Operations Admiral James L. Holloway III led the official investigation in 1980 into the causes of the operation's failure on behalf of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The Holloway Report primarily cited deficiencies in mission planning, command and control, and inter-service operability, and provided a catalyst to reorganize the Department of Defense. [58]

The various services' failure to cohesively work together prompted the establishment of a new multi-service organization several years later. The United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) became operational on 16 April 1987. Each service now has its own special operations forces under USSOCOM's overall control. [58] [Note 10]

The lack of well-trained Army helicopter pilots who were capable of the low-level night flying needed for modern special operations missions prompted the creation of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (SOAR) (Night Stalkers). In addition to the 160th SOAR's creation, the US Defense Department now trains many military helicopter pilots in low-level penetration, aerial refueling and use of night-vision goggles.

In addition to the formal report, various reasons for the mission failure have been argued, with most analysts agreeing that an excessively complex plan, poor operational planning, flawed command structure, lack of adequate pilot training and poor weather conditions were all contributing factors and combined to doom the operation. [59]

  1. Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum (Simi Valley, CA). The Library has series related to the Hostage Crisis. For more information, check " Research at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library"
  2. Minnesota Historical Society (Minneapolis, MN). It has a collection of items related to the Hostage Crisis from hostage Bruce Laingen and vice-president Walter Mondale. and
  3. Purdue University (West Lafayette, IN)
    It has a collection of Congressional materials relating to the Hostage Crisis ---primarily copies of legislation.
  4. Penn State University (State College, PA)
    It has a collection of Congressional materials relating to the Hostage Crisis, including copies of legislation.
  5. Richard B. Russell Library for Political Research and Studies (Athens, GA)
    It has a collection of political cartoons from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution related to the Hostage Crisis.
  6. The Digital National Security Archive. Available through ProQuest, it has over 120 declassified government documents related to the Hostage Crisis, in addition to chronologies, glossaries, and bibliographies dealing with the subject. It has over 400 documents dealing with the Iranian Revolution itself. The National Security Archive also maintains a large, unpublished collection of declassified materials that includes numerous files pertaining to both the Iranian revolution and hostage crisis. Although it is subscription-only, it is available for free through research rooms at National Archives facilities, local libraries (email [email protected] for information on specific local libraries) or through visiting the Smith Bagley Reading Room at the National Security Archive in Washington D.C.
  7. Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS). This series of published records by the Department of State will eventually include two volumes on the topic of Iran, one of which will deal specifically with the Hostage Crisis. They are currently under declassification review and are planned for publication in 2017 and later.

This page was last reviewed on January 9, 2017.
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