The invasion of Iran - August 1941
Perhaps more important, in
retrospect, that the Berlin crisis, was the Anglo-Soviet Invasion of
Iran. Known as Operation Countenance, the British-Soviet invasion was
conducted between 25 August and 17 September 1941. Like neighbouring
Turkey, Iran was neutral and wanted to remain so. It was led by the
dictatorial, modernising, monarch, Reza Shah. Winston Churchill’s
government was worried about Britain’s oil supplies (through the
Anglo-Iranian Oil Co) and supplying the Soviet Union with war materials
through Iran. Many in Britain and the USA thought Soviet Russia was on
the verge of collapse, which would then have facilitated the German
occupation of Iran. It was also claimed that Iran was harbouring German
agents. Little evidence of this was ever produced. Some German
technicians were helping in the development of infrastructure projects.
The Shah refused to let the two powers deploy their troops in Iran. As
in the First World War, the two states then embarked on a full-scale
military operation involving Soviet armies advancing from the north,
and, from the south, mainly British-Indian divisions. They were opposed
by much smaller Iranian forces.
Iran's army was on purpose equipped with weapons procured from neutral
states (Czechoslovakia, Sweden, Switzerland) and also the US, Britain,
Italy, France and Russia. The Iranian rifle, for example, was the Czech
Brno Mauser. Iran's General Nakhjevan, was one of the Iranians
responsible for arms purchase. Nakhjevan favoured British and neutral
arm suppliers rather than Germans.
The Allies sustained light casualties during the invasion. British
forces, suffered 22 killed and just over 40 wounded and sick.
Hostilities did not last long because the new Iranian government ordered
the army to cease fighting. Iranian forces surrendered to the British
and the Soviets on 29-30 August. The Shah was deposed and exiled in
1941, and his son, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, was crowned in his place.
Three months after the invasion, the United States extended assistance
to the Soviet Union through its Lend-Lease Act of March 1941. Lend-Lease
was the most visible sign of wartime cooperation between the United
States and the Soviet Union. About $11 billion in war material was sent
to the Soviet Union under that program. Additional assistance came from
U.S. Russian War Relief (a private, non-profit organization) and the Red
Cross. About seventy per cent of the aid reached the Soviet Union via
the Persian Gulf through Iran; the remainder went across the Pacific to
Vladivostok and across the North Atlantic to Murmansk. Lend- Lease to
the Soviet Union officially ended in September 1945.
The United States sent a military force and technical team to Iran to
help maintain and operate sections of the railroad. Major improvements
were made to Iranian ports, roads, and railways. Given the fact that the
Wehrmacht was largely destroyed on the Eastern Front by the Red Army,
these supplies delivered through Iran were very important indeed. The
Allies transported more than 5 million tons of munitions and other war
supplies through Iran to the Soviet Union. Deliveries of trucks through
Iran greatly increased the mobility of the Red Army.
In 1943 Iran joined the Allies in the War, declared war on Germany, and
joined the United Nations.
The Iranian people suffered extreme food shortages under the Allies. The
occupation continued until 1946 with the Soviets most reluctant to
withdraw. Nascent democracy developed and the Iranian parliament
nationalised the oil company (AIOC, later BP). Under the British,
conditions for Iranian oil workers and their families were very bad.
Britain organized a western boycott of Iranian oil exports, which hit
Iran’s economy hard and thwarted Premier Dr. Mosaddegh’s economic and
social reform programmes. The Shah fled. In 1953, the US sided with
Britain and the Shah against Mosaddegh’s government because of oil and
fear of Tudeh [Communist] Party influence. Assisted by military men and
Islamic clerics, the CIA and MI6, the Shah returned. Repression
followed. Mosaddegh was imprisoned. However, oil revenues were more
evenly distributed between Iran and the British, American, Dutch, and
French oil companies. Increasingly, Iranians perceived the Shah as a
puppet of imperialistic masters and he was overthrown in 1979.
Does the wound still hurt the Iranians? The Iranians are proud of their
ancient, pre-Islamic civilisation and the fact that they are one of the
very few nations not to become a colony. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
has demanded that the World War II Allies reimburse Tehran for the
country's occupation during the war.
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