American Hostage Situation Lead To The Disastrous Operation Eagle Claw

Desert One

On November 4, 1979, 66 Americans were taken hostage by Iranian students who stormed the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. Six months later, on April 24, 1980, the U.S. attempted to rescue the 52 remaining hostages from inside a country in the middle of a revolution.

Storming the Embassy

The United States chose not to extradite the former king of Iran, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, who had been dethroned during an Islamic revolution. He was in the U.S. undergoing medical treatment, so the students thought they could use the hostages as a bargaining tool, all with the approval of their new leader, Ayatollah Khomeini.

This was the beginning of 444 days in captivity for the Americans. The military hatched a plan and began training a month after the captives were taken.

The newly established Delta Force would run point on the ground since they were the hostage-rescue unit. However, the rescue would be complicated since the region was full of mountains and hard to reach, but a location was found 50 miles from the capital for staging.

Gathering intel was rather difficult for Delta. Most of their intelligence came from Iranian national T.V. For example, the captives were either in the embassy, or they could have been in the Foreign Ministry.

Operation Eagle Claw

Another difficult piece was finding harmony between all four U.S. military branches since they all wanted to be a part of the rescue. The Air Force would have the fixed-wing aircraft with a Special Tactics team, and the Nacy would provide eight RH-53 Sea Stallions from the USS Nimitz.

The Marines would pilot the helicopters, and the Army would provide Rangers, Delta Force, and Special Forces to rescue the hostages. The MC-130E and EC-130E would fly supplies from Oman to Desert One, and the eight RH-53 would meet them.

But nothing went as planned. Two RH-53s were abandoned, and the other went back to the ship due to mechanical failure. The mission had to be abandoned because all six helicopters were needed.

They tried again the following day, but a helicopter ran into an EC-130E, and five airmen and three Marines were killed. Eight aircraft were destroyed.

The mission was a failure. The various teams never trained together and never did a dress rehearsal. As a result of the failure, the Army created the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, so the helicopter problems were not repeated.

Sources: 1, 2

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