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Special Forces Berlin
by James Stejskal



Operation Eagle Claw

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Aircraft wreckage from Operation Eagle Claw

Operation Eagle Claw was the aborted attempt to rescue 53 Americans held hostage in the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, Iran in April 1980. The mission was a failure after 3 of the 8 helicopters in the raiding force became non-mission capable. The failed mission resulted in the loss of eight servicemen, seven helicopters, and one C-130. It also was a huge embarassment for the United States.

On November 4, 1979 the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, Iran was seized by Iranian protestors and activists. A total of 66 U.S. personnel were held hostage in the embassy and the Iranian Foreign Ministry. Thirteen hostages were released leaving 53 detained. Of the 53 several were members of the Marine guard detachment and three were CIA employees. After the realization that a diplomatic solution to the release of the hostages was not going to happen President Carter decided on military action.

Operation Eagle Claw began with contributions from all service branches and the Central Intelligence Agency. The Air Force contributed three MC-130s to transport the personnel of Delta Force. In addition, three EC-130s served as fuel transports.

The first stage of the operation was to take place at Desert One located about 200 miles southeast of Tehran. Delta Force would arrive on the three MC-130s. Eight RH-53D helicopters flown by Marine pilots from the aircraft carrier Nimitz would also arrive. The choppers would refuel, board the Delta operators, and head to a second 'hide' location about 65 miles from Tehran. The next night the Delta operators would be transported into Tehran on vehicles provided by trusted agents of an SF network established by an advance team.

The embassy would be stormed by Delta Force and the hostages either evacuated by helicopter from the embassy compound or a nearby soccer field. The helicopters would fly the hostages to an airfield that had been seized by U.S. Army Rangers. Once at the airfield C-141s would fly the hostages and rescuers out of Iran.

The mission was aborted at the first staging area - Desert One. Two helicopters had to turn back due to mechanical problems during the infil flight into Iran. One helicopter had mechanical problems on the ground a Desert One. This left the raiding party with just five helicopters for the mission. One of the requirements for completion of the mission was six helicopters - so the mission was aborted by the ground force commander - Colonel Charles Beckwith.

President Carter's efforts to get the release of the hostages before and after the failed mission in April 1980 proved to be unsuccessful. The hostages were released on the date of the inauguration of President Reagon on January 20, 1981.

Websites about Operation Eagle Claw

Operation Eagle Claw by Wikipedia

1980 - Operation Eagle Claw - Air Force Historical Support Division

Papers, Reports, and Pubs about Opn Eagle Claw

Chang, Edward, "How The Iran Hostage Rescue Was Supposed to Go Down If It Hadn't Ended Early In Disaster", The Drive War Zone, January 28, 2021. Chang looks at the role the helicopters played in mission failure and says "What if?".

Lamb, Richard, "This is what special ops learned 40 years ago from Operation Eagle Claw", Military Times,  April 24, 2020.

Russell, Edward T., "Crisis in Iran: Operation Eagle Claw", Short of War: Major USAF Contingency Operations 1947-1997, August 2012, pages 125-134.

Marion, Forrest, "Air Force Combat Controllers at Desert One", Air Power History, Spring 2009.

Bowden, Mark, "The Desert One Debacle", The Atlantic, May 2006.

Kernan, William F., The Holloway Report: Did it Reflect all the Facts and Lessons Learned?, Army War College, March 1987. Posted by Defense Technical Information Center. (PDF, 15 pages).

Adm Holloway, Iran Hostage Rescue Mission Report, August 1980. Posted by Naval History and Heritage Command.

Books about Operation Eagle Claw

Williamson, Justin, Operation Eagle Claw 1980: The disastrous bid to end the Iran hostage crisis, Osprey Publishing, March 2020.

Videos about Operation Eagle Claw

Jon Snow: First on scene at Iran hostage crisis crash, Channel 4 News, April 28, 1980.

40th Anniversary of Operation Eagle Claw. Operation Eagle Claw ended in tragedy and served as the genesis of special operations forces reform and revitalization. Video by USSOCOM, April 24, 2020, 15 mins.






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