The Hangar Queen: The Failure of RH-53D Helicopters in Operation Eagle Claw

 

Destroyed RH-53D and C-13O parts in Iran
Destroyed RH-53D and C-13O parts in Iran

From “Iran Raid: Deep Footprints in the Sand.” Economist 275, no. 7131 (May 3, 1980): 34.

Washington insider Garry Sick noted the gravitas of Operation Eagle Claw, the code name for the U.S. military joint service rescue operation in Iran on April 24-25, 1980, writing:

A military raid is, by definition, a high-risk venture that operates on the outer margins of the possible, relying on skill, daring and a goodly measure of luck. When a raid succeeds, it acquires almost magical qualities and endows its authors with the badge of genius. Hence the appeal. When it fails, it invites ridicule…[1]

This failed mission was Joint Task Force 1-79 attempted rescue of 53 American hostages taken on November 4, 1979 in the former U.S. Embassy in Tehran occupied during the Iranian Revolution. The raid prematurely ended when the mission critical number of RH-53D helicopters did not materialize at the assembly point, Desert One. In the resulting withdraw, a helicopter collided with a C-130 cargo aircraft which killed eight American military personnel. The strike force, the elite of the American military, failed to reach its intended target to complete its objective and suffered casualties, while the hostages continued to languish in enemy captivity. This paper argues that the use of the “hangar queen” RH-53D helicopter compounded with pilot error and an overemphasis on operational security (OPSEC) because of Cold War tensions with the Soviet Union led to the failure of Operation Eagle Claw.[2]

 

Operation Rice Bowl: Rescue Mission Planning

“Iran is a long damn way from Fort Bragg.” – Colonel Charlie Beckwith[3]

American military planners scrambled for a contingency operation to rescue the hostages should the Iranian militants start to execute the embassy staff. On November 6, 1979, President Jimmy Carter delegated authority to National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski to begin to marshal assets for a military rescue option. The Joint Chiefs of Staff, Special Operations Division, Unconventional Warfare Branch coordinated a joint service military group, Joint Task Force (JTF) 1-79, assembled to rescue the American hostages. The Joint Chiefs of Staff named Major General James Vaught, an experienced Ranger officer, as the Commander of the Joint Task Force (COMJTF), and Colonel James H. Kyle, a veteran special operations C-130 pilot, as the Deputy Commander of the Joint Task Force (DEPCOMJTF). Colonel Charlie Beckwith, the commander of the recently validate Delta Force, would led his unit and control the ground assault plan. These actors, along with supporting staff from Special Operation Division, drew the framework for Operation Rice Bowl, the concept of operations (CONOP) to save the American hostages in Tehran through military means.[4]

The Operation Rice Bowl staff faced numerous operational challenges while creating a CONOP that would save the hostages. Beckwith summarized the transportation challenges by stating:

Logistically speaking it would be a bear. There were the vast distances, nearly 1,000 miles, of Iranian wasteland that had to be crossed, then the assault itself, against a heavily guarded building complex stuck in the middle of a city of 4,000,000 hostile folks. Nothing could be more difficult (my emphasis).[5]

Not only did the Americans have to move long distances and assault an enemy stronghold, but they also had to plan and to execute without alerting the Soviet Union. In the mindset of the planners, only operational security would prevent the Russians from using their intelligence apparatus to warn the Iranians of impending rescue efforts. Brzezinski claimed his greatest fear during the mission planning “was that any rescue mission would have to be assured maximum secrecy and surprise,” leading to the primacy of OPSEC concerns.[6] This obsession on OPSEC became even more pronounced after the Russian invasion of Afghanistan on December 24, 1979. Planners concluded that “If the Soviets concluded that a small, quick U.S. military move was designed strictly to obtain release of the hostages they may not intervene. If the Soviets concluded the U.S. intended to create a pro-U.S. regime in Tehran or take the oilfields, they would probably peremptorily invade and occupy all or part of Iran.”[7] This fear of detection led to a culture of secrecy and compartmentalization at the Special Operations Division, which inhibited mission planning. Furthermore, the CIA liaison officer to the JTF revealed that the agency had no useable human intelligence assets in Tehran. The planners of Operation Rice Bowl had to contend with logistical, tactical, security, and intelligence constraints while creating a CONOP.[8]

Because of the strict operational restraints, the first briefings in November 1979 of the various rescue CONOPs seemed desperate at best. Intelligence Officer Lieutenant Colonel Rod Lenahan described the framework of initial mindset at the Special Operations Division as “No information was rejected and virtually every idea was considered.”[9] The first emergency assault plan had the Delta Force parachute into Tehran, commandeer vehicles, fight through the city to the embassy, rescue the hostages, fight to Mehrabad International Airport, and hold out until American aircraft could extract the rescue force and the hostages. Beckwith gave this mission plan a “zero” chance of success.[10] After Kyle left the briefing, he came to conclude that “the capability to accomplish this mission, as defined by the Chairman, simply did not exist in the U.S. military forces.”[11] The planners continued to develop this plan from theoretical stages into a realistic concept of operations that could return the hostages and the rescue force alive.[12]

The major turning point of the mission planning came later in November 1979 with the decision to utilize helicopters. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff David Jones approved mission planning that included rotary elements on November 19, 1979. The mechanical beasts would serve as the primary means of transportation for the assault force from staging areas into Iran. Parachuting from the original emergency assault plan was ruled out due to risk of injury, as well as taking trucks from Turkey due to the risk of premature detection. Beckwith begrudgingly accepted this decision, as he believed helicopters would make the mission feasible, but the machines were often “undependable.”[13] The decision to use helicopters moved the planning forward from dire to doable.[14]

The planners then selected the RH-53D helicopter as the best rotary aircraft available to ferry the assault force from the Indian Ocean to extraction from Tehran. The JTF staff considered the CH-46, CH-47, CH-53, RH-53, and the HH-53 platforms, with the 53 series providing the best weight capacity and distance. The JTF staff ultimately picked the RH-53 airframe because it “provided the best combination of range, payload, and shipboard compatibility,” whereas the HH-53 airframe was “just coming off the production line…only a handful of pilots were proficient in flying them…. Reliability and maintainability of such a sophisticated system was doubtful at this early stage of its introduction.”[15] Kyle noted the emphasis on OPSEC in the decision to pick the RH-53D airframe, as “The clincher for the Sea Stallion was that we could make up a good cover story (mine clearing) to explain their presence in the Indian Ocean.”[16] Yet while the brass determined to go with the RH-53D helicopter platform, Delta Force operator Eric Haney had his misgivings. He claimed, “The helicopters were nothing but problems. They were maintenance beasts at a time when maintenance and spare parts were a low priority – shortly after Vietnam and during the shoestring military budget of the Carter administration. To put it bluntly, the birds stunk.”[17] Another problem was that the helicopters did not carry enough fuel to fly roundtrip to Tehran; the Americans would have to develop procedures and equipment to refuel in the Iranian desert or take over an Iranian airfield. Additionally, newer helicopter platforms, such as the MH-53J Pave Low and UH-60A Blackhawk, had superior performance ratings for long range night missions than the RH-53D, but budget constraints delayed their production. While the field grade officers leading Operation Rice Bowl argued that the RH-53D would be the best helicopter for the rescue mission due to its OPSEC cover, range, and lift, other members had misgivings about the helicopter platform selection and refueling.[18]

The planners of Operation Rice Bowl then decided that the tentative number of six RH-53Ds should be operated by Navy and Marine Corps pilots and crews. The Navy would supply pilots, crew chiefs, and helicopters from a Navy Minesweeping unit, HM-16, based in Naval Air Station, Norfolk under the leadership of Commander Van Goodloe. The JTF paired these pilots with Marines who had experience with assault and night operations. The decision to pick an established unit to fly the RH-53 came out of the concern that “an immediate capability to mount a possible rescue attempt was mandatory.”[19] The JTF staff did not consider Army pilots who had experience flying night assaults, as they did not have any background with the 53 series of helicopters. Air Force Search and Rescue helicopter pilots had a strong background in long range night missions, but their commanders did not want to risk their humanitarian status by participating in a clandestine rescue mission and appearing to overstep branch lines against the Navy. The crews were not told that they would participate in a rescue attempt of the American hostages in Tehran. Navy Captain Jerry Hatcher and Marine Colonel Chuck Pitman retained overall operational control over the pilots in the JTF hierarchy. Beckwith initially estimated he would need 70 Delta Force shooters. Staff planners calculated that six helicopters would be sufficient for the mission, as four RH-53Ds could extract the ground assault force and two RH-53Ds could be kept in reserve in case of aircraft failure. The Joint Chiefs responded to this calculation by moving six RH-53Ds from Norfolk on to the U.S.S. Kitty Hawk (CV-63) on November 28th. The joint Navy-Marine crews began training with 92 Delta Force operators at Camp Smokey, North Carolina on November 27th with an emphasis on close night flying formations, special insertion techniques, and developing an air dropped bladder refueling system. The mission planning had gone from an abstract plan to RH-53D crews conducting training for the eventuality of hostage rescue.[20]

The Field Training Exercises: Changing RH-53D Crews and Mission Capabilities

“One of them actually quit a few days into the training. He flat out refused to fly anymore. Scared. He’d lost his motivation, his objectivity, and his desire. He’d also lost his balls.” – Colonel Charlie Beckwith on a Navy pilot[21]

The Joint Task Force continued to modify Operation Rice Bowl as the pilots struggled to develop the necessary repertoire of skills for the mission from November 1979 to April 1980. The RH-53D platform exhibited numerous mechanical problems in training. High pilot turnover plagued the rotary crews. While training missions prepared the assault force, the exercises highlighted numerous problems with the RH-53D platform and the pilots that flew the machines.

The first field training exercise for Operation Rice Bowl held in December 1979 at the Yuma Proving Grounds of Arizona revealed deficiencies in the air operations. Some low-light maneuvers required the pilots to fly wearing PVS-5 night vision goggles, which induced vertigo after prolonged use and forced the pilot to rotate control of the helicopter with the copilot every thirty minutes. During training missions, the Navy piloted RH-53Ds failed navigational tasks and night landings numerous times. Major Bucky Burris, the Operations Office of the Delta Force, was so disappointed in the pilots that he remarked, “I’ll be damned if I’m riding back on this thin – I’ll walk home first!”[22] The fuel bladder air drops from C-130s failed in that some of the bladders exploded because of faulty rigging, and Delta Force personnel struggled to recover the surviving fuel receptacles and move them to the helicopters which took precious time. Beckwith concluded that the Navy pilots’ minesweeping skills, “did not lend themselves to those which would be required for the rescue mission” and “didn’t believe in taking the risks we knew were required of the pilots flying into an enemy-held city.”[23] The Navy pilots had failed so miserably failed in their training mission tasks that General Vaught sought to replace most of the rotary personnel. Kyle ultimately concluded that the training exercises “had not been overly successful – we seemed to come away with more problems than we started with. But worst of all, our helicopter force was in total disarray.”[24] Beckwith continued to expand the number of Delta Force personnel with drivers and Farsi translators, ballooning their number to 120 men. The first training exercise revealed that JTF had to reconfigure the composition of the helicopter crews to increase the chances of success for a low-level, dark, long-range raid.[25]

Colonel Chuck Pitman dramatically restructured the personnel of the helicopter force following the dismal performance at the Yuma Proving Grounds. With the consent of the members of the JTF, Pitman removed Captain Hatcher, Commander Van Goodloe, and nine Navy pilots; only four crew members were still active in training for the mission. Marine Lieutenant Colonel Edward Seiffert, a veteran of the Vietnam War, became the flight leader, and with the assistance of JTF staffer turned RH-53D operations officer, Major Jim Schaefer, restructured the helicopter training. Some member of the ground assault force viewed Seiffert as “aloof” and “hard to read.”[26] Colonel Pitman selected six replacement Marine rotary crews that came from the East coast and two Marine crews came from the West coast. Lenahan critiqued this selection method as “subjective” to Colonel Pitman’s whims.[27] Colonel Beckwith had the growing suspicion that “those in the JCS wanted to make sure each of the services had a piece of the action,” made the decision to keep naval pilots rather than the best pilots available in all the branches of the military.[28] Despite some negative remarks against his methods, Colonel Pitman determined “that if you needed two helicopters, because of their undependeabliliy, you actually had to have three,” meaning at least eight helicopters would have to be staged from the Indian Ocean and six helicopters would be needed at the desert refueling point.[29] This idea became incorporated into the mission abort matrix in the statement, “Helos depart refuel point with DELTA / < 6 OK, Insufficient helos for operation / Good helos return to carrier, rest of fore return —- on C-130.”[30] In late December, the Joint Chiefs moved two additional RH-53Ds to the U.S.S. Nimitz (CVN-68)in the Indian Ocean; the other six RH-53Ds transferred to the Nimitz from the Kitty Hawk in January, 1980. The restricted helicopter forced under Colonel Pitman continued to be dominated by Navy personnel drawn from different units across the United States.[31]

The next training exercise focused on seizing an airport took place at Twenty-Nine Palms, California on December 18, 1979 during which Seiffert encountered a Blade Inspection Method (BIM) malfunction. While six helicopters participated at the onset of the operation, only four rotary craft arrived at the airfield. One RH-53 aborted because of an oil-pump failure, and Seiffert’s RH-53 aborted because his BIM warning light flashed. The blades of the RH-53D were filled with nitrogen under pressure; if the pressure was lost due to a crack in the blade or interaction with a filler valve, the BIM lights illuminated. The Navy standard operational procedure for an RH-53D when a warning light brightened was to land the aircraft and inspect the blades for cracks; if none were located, then the aircraft could continue to fly for fifteen hours. However, Seiffert and the Marines used a different standard operational procedure for the CH-53 which they imposed on the RH-53D – grounding the aircraft if the BIM light flashed. Overall, “The exercises went poorly.”[32] The official standard operational procedure for the BIM remained official unresolved with most pilots following de facto Marine protocol.[33]

As the joint force continued training, further mission planning continued in the winter of 1980 with the selection of a landing zone; however, problems plagued the RH-53Ds. After the Yuma field training exercise, the JTF officers sent the dismissed Navy pilots to the Nimitz to oversee the RH-53D helicopters that would be used during the attempted rescue. They found the helicopters hidden below deck and without spare parts. Later in January, JTF planners found a relatively isolated patch in the Iranian desert for refueling the RH-53Ds, codenamed Desert One; however, a sparsely used desert road ran through the landing zone. The key questioned that remained was whether the desert floor could support EC-130s to refuel the RH-53Ds. Furthermore, the JTF used ad hoc network that initially struggled to gather supplies, such as funds, fuel and Night vision googles, through the military bureaucracy for the RH-53Ds. These difficulties led the Joint Chiefs of Staff J-3 Lieutenant General Philip Shutler to conclude that “the odds on success (60-70% in execution tempered by 15-30% possibility of disruption) do not appear to be high enough to warrant an attempt under current conditions.”[34] The force, plagued with problems with the helicopters, was not ready to execute the rescue mission.[35]

Problems continued to persist with the RH-53Ds when Colonel Pitman and Major Schaefer checked on the helicopters in February. Commander Van Goodloe reported to the Marine colonel that the RH-53s had minimal flight time due to OPSEC and that Nos. 7 and 8 had been cannibalized for parts. Colonel Pitman sought to correct the deficiencies by telling the skipper of the Nimitz the real reason for the RH-53D helicopters. The Marine aviator created a flight system for the rotary aircraft, and demanded daily status updates on their status. Major Schaefer later returned in late March to find that No. 7 kept breaking down and lacked critical parts, while No. 8 remained grounded indefinitely. Furthermore, daylight started to increase which created a time pressure to complete the mission before May 1, 1980, when there would not be enough darkness to maneuver the strike force without alerting the Iranians. Another crucial debate persisted over where to launch the fixed wing aircraft; the Omani island of Masirah was closer to Tehran, but more diplomatic sensitive than Diego Garcia. While the hostages languished in captivity, the leaders of the rescue effort debated key elements of the plan, as the mission RH-53s remained in a questionable state.[36]

At the Twenty Nine Palms exercise of late March, the Marine crews felt they could successfully execute the rescue mission. Colonel Kyle described the crews as being “comfortable performing nigh low-level operations and navigating over long distances under visual flight conditions.”[37] In a rather shocking move, Pitman and Seiffert decided to abandon secure helicopter-to-helicopter communication equipment because they reasoned the crews could communicate using hand signals and Morse code lights in order to preserve weight and operational security. During the training mission, one helicopter lost its bearings and delayed the rest of the operation. Despite the one rotary mistake, the JTF concluded that the exercise “was considered a success, with a recognized increase in confidence.”[38] The exercise at Twenty-Nine Palms displayed that the helicopter crews were feeling confident but were still making questionable decisions and errors.[39]

The two major questions of Desert One’s capability to support C-130 aircraft and the use of Masirah were settled in late March and early April 1980. Air Force Combat Controller Major John Carney and CIA elements conducted the reconnaissance of the desert refueling location on March 31, 1980. Major Carney took soil samples of the landing zone and planted remote landing lights for the C-130s. The samples revealed that C-130s could land on both sides of the road, despite two inches of sand; The JTF felt that Desert One was an acceptable landing zone for fixed wing to helicopter refueling operations. Furthermore, The JTF received permission to use Masirah for a rescue attempt on April 2, 1980. The effort started to creep towards an operation stage with two major obstacles out of the way.[40]

The JTF prepared roster and radio lists to ensure command and control of the strike force during the rescue attempt against numerically disproportionate Iranian forces. The total operation would expose 389 American military personnel, including Delta Force personnel for the ground assault, Farsi translators to operate the vehicles, helicopter crews to fly the RH-53Ds, Rangers to take the extraction airfield by force, three MC-130s for the rescue force insertion, two MC-130s for a reserve, medical support staff to treat casualties, three AC-130s for gunship support, two C-141s for evacuation of the rescue force with hostages, and three EC-130s for refueling the RH-53Ds. The strike force was supported by 569 men including a headquarters element, liaison officers, mechanics, maintenance, and medical staff. The strike force would fight a broad variety of combatants at the embassy, such as students acting as guards, Fatah trained militants, Pasdaran sentries, and PLO advisors armed with small arms including pistols and G-3 assault rifles. They would not willingly release the hostages. These combatants were “fervently committed,” “youthful,” and “zealous” in their duties.[41] According to an American intelligence estimate, the Iranians could mobilize a mobilize a mob of two thousand to three thousand, a Hawk missile site, helicopters or fighter jets within 60 minutes. Iranian combatants could easily overwhelm the small American strike force if the raid stalled.[42]

Both sides implemented radio procedures to streamline control during the operation. The Iranians had “a series of overlapping” communication, utilizing verbal orders, written orders, walkie-talkies, telephones, various alarms, and a public address system.[43] The Americans organized four command networks using both secure and insecure communications, resulting in a byzantine system with an emphasis on the JTF commander for operational security purposes. The Communications Electronics Operating Instructions (CEOI) stressed “absolutely minimum essential air to air traffic enroute” to preserve OPSEC.[44] Furthermore, the lower command shifted during the mission; while the vertical line from the National Command Authority to the Joint Chiefs of Staff to the COMJTF, the command of the field officers changed during the mission stages. Both sides in the rescue attempt deployed a command and control network over various units and communication devices.[45]

The JTF prepared a detailed CONOP on the rescue attempt to coordinate the military assets for the operation. The planners slated that the operation would take place over nine days, setting aside seven days for movement and two nights and one day for execution. The JTF further subdivided the execution of the mission into insertion, hostage release, and extraction phases. At 1405Z, three MC-130s followed by three EC-130s would transport the Delta Force unit to Desert One from Masirah. At 1506Z, the RH-53s would leave the Nimitz and rendezvous with the force at Desert One. The helicopters would restock with fuel and the assault force at 1930Z, then fly them to a hide site as the C-130s withdrew at 2010Z. Delta Force personnel would move in DOD agent provided vehicles to a warehouse and conduct a reconnaissance of Tehran. The assault force, covered by AC-130s, would breach the embassy in the morning and would liberate the hostages within thirty minutes. Concurrently, Rangers would secure Manzariyeh Airfield, after which the extraction C-141s would land. The RH-53Ds would extract the assault force and hostages from Tehran to the airfield. The entire assault force would load onto the C-141s and the Rangers into their C-130s and then leave Iran.[46]

The elites in Washington moved towards the decision to execute a rescue operation. Zbigniew Brzezinski described the three options he perceived for the United States:

We could continue to negotiate ad infinitum, even though the Iranians gave no indication of the willingness or ability to make any accommodation, raising the prospects of our having eventually to accept humiliating conditions; we could undertake a large, primarily punitive, military operation against Iran, with the likelihood that the Iranians would respond by doing something brutal or murderous to the hostages and that they may even invite Soviet Union to provide military assistance, or, finally, we could undertake the admittedly risky but increasing feasible rescue mission.[47]

General David Jones briefed President Jimmy Carter at Camp David on March 22 on the rescue mission possibility; following this briefing, the president authorized the reconnaissance of Desert One. At the National Security Committee meeting of April 7, the president decided that “the time had come for the United States to act more assertively” and approved economic sanctions against Iran while breaking diplomatic relations with the revolutionary country.[48] Jimmy Carter determined at a National Security Council Meeting on April 11 that a rescue should be attempted on April 24, 1980 without consulting Secretary of State Cyrus Vance.[49] The commanders of the JTF presented the CONOP on April 16 to the president, who would “not interfere with operational decisions.”[50] After hearing the briefing President Carter responded, “The decision has been made. My decision is to go.”[51] When Vance discovered that Carter had formally approved the mission that so egregiously went against Secretary Vance’s principles, he swore to resign “whether or not the mission was successful” after the attempt.[52] The president had authorized the mission as other options fizzled out and alienated Secretary of State Vance.[53]

Concurrently, the final scalded down rehearsal of the Desert One scenario went flawlessly with shuffled crews. The JTF staff brought in Air Force helicopter pilot Captain Rakip to fly an RH-53 in April 1980, making the mission composition of the rotary pilot element to one Air Force, five Navy, and eleven Marines. The JTF conducted a scaled down rehearsal of the Desert One scenario using one MC-130, one EC-130, and four 53 series helicopters at Edwards Air Force Base, California in mid-April 1980. During the simulation, the helicopters arrived on time and the crews refueled them in thirty minutes. The sand from the desert was “just a nuisance more than anything else. It had little effect on performance.”[54] In preparation for the mission, the helicopter pilots flew over 1,000 combined hours of long range night training missions. Joint Task Force 1-79 was ready to execute a desert refueling operation while rescuing the hostages in Tehran.[55]

 

RH-53Ds on the U.S.S. Nimitz, courtesy of Kyle, "The Guts to Try."
RH-53Ds on the U.S.S. Nimitz, courtesy of Kyle, “The Guts to Try.”

The Execution of Operation Eagle Claw: The Failed Mission

“It was risky and we knew it, but it had a good chance of success and America had the courage to try.” – Special Operations Review Board[56]

The JTF began the complex shell game of moving to the Middle East while not arousing the suspicion of the Soviets in April 1980. On April 17, 1980, two expert mechanics from Sikorsky, the rotary pilots, CIA pilot Chuck Gilbert, Chuck Pitman, and JTF liaison officer to Pacific Command Jim Keating, left Yuma, Arizona to the Nimitz in order to aid the Navy mechanics on staging the RH-53Ds for the mission. The mechanics attempted to repair RH-53D No. 8’s rotor transmission assembly and a leaking rotor head seal by creatively utilizing heavy lubricant found aboard the Nimitz to temporarily fix the faulty parts. Navy pilots then briefed the JTF pilots on carrier procedures; afterwards, the JTF pilots flew their mission RH-53Ds for four hours and found “they were in as good a condition as any they had flown.”[57] The rotary crews were staged on the Nimitz and all eight helicopters appeared to be functioning well, allowing the mission to proceed.[58]

The crewmembers of the Nimitz tailored the helicopters for the rescue mission over Iranian airspace. Navy crewmembers sprayed the RH-53s brown to appear as Iranian RH-53s. Colonel Pitman asked General Vaught for permission to remove the black boxes of the secure radios as some were not functioning, weighed down the aircraft, and risked being compromised if the rotary craft was disabled over Iran; the COMJTF granted the helicopter commander’s request. Additionally, the engine air particle separators (EAPS), designed to remove foreign particles from the engine of the RH-53s were removed to increase engine power. Navy crews installed specialty navigation equipment including the OMEGA and PINS systems. Another upgrade to the RH-53Ds used for the mission was specialty internal fuel tanks that gave extended range and loitering time for the rotary aircraft. During one of the RH-53D tune-ups, a mechanic set off the fire-suppression system that covered five of the helicopters in corrosive foam, which was cleared off in thirty minutes. The RH-53s were modified to accomplish the mission, trading the weight of black boxes and EAPS for improved navigation systems and fuel tank equipment.[59]

The launch of eight RH-53Ds – Bluebird flight – occurred without problems; however, the pilots were soon challenged by an Iranian haboob, a sandstorm. The pilots held their final pre-mission briefing on April 24, 1980 at 1300Z at which Intelligence Officer Bob Mattingly predicted the “possibility of blowing sand” and that the pilots should “remain at 100 to 200 feet above the ground.”[60] The crews started to crank the helicopters’ engines at 1430Z, and all eight successfully launched at 1505Z. While most equipment was working well, none of the helicopter received reliable readings from the Omega navigation systems. After crossing into Iranian airspace, “an unexpected sever sandstorm,” or haboob, which engulfed the RH-53Ds for three hours.[61] This sandstorm resulted in “reduced crew visibility,” impaired “visual orientation,” and “reduce[d] performance.”[62] These factors, compounded with the use of night vision devises, led to “severe vertigo,” and gradually eroded the pilots’ will to continue the mission.[63] The meteorological conditions impaired the performance of the RH-53Ds and its pilots.[64]

The first aircraft (A/C) to fail was Bluebeard-6 because of a BIM malfunction. Two hours into the flight, Bluebeard-6 “experienced a two (2) channel BIM indication and the loss of the 2d stage hydraulic pressure. These symptoms indicated imminent rotor failure.”[65] The pilot landed the RH-53D in the desert and its crew chief visually confirmed that the indicator had lost nitrogen pressure. Following the de facto precedent set by Seiffert and Marine CH-53s, the crew sanitized and abandoned Bluebird-6. Its wingman, Bluebird-8, landed, recovered the crew of Bluebird-6, and then proceeded to continue the mission. Two hours into the mission, and one mission critical RH-53D had been lost to a faulty standard operational procedure (SOP).[66]

The helicopter portion of the mission became delayed when Bluebeard-1 and Bluebeard-2 tried to reorient the flight to escape the haboob. After losing contact with the ground and the rest of the flight, Bluebeard-1, piloted by Seiffert, landed with his wingman, Bluebeard-2. They had hoped that the rest of the flight would see them and land so that they could escape the haboob and approach Desert One from a different approach; however, their hopes sank when the rest of the flight continued to Desert One through the haboob. Bluebeard-1 and Bluebeard-2 then launched back into the storm, straggling 35 minutes away. The attempts of the lead helicopter pilot to change the route of the rotary aircraft failed and wasted precious darkness as the mechanical beasts trudged to the rendezvous point.[67]

The next helicopter that failed was Bluebeard-5 because of electronic equipment malfunctions and the erosion of pilot will. Bluebird-5 lost its TACAN (tactical air navigation system) and AFCS (automatic flight control system) resulting in disorientation and decreased yaw stability. Later, the same RH-53D lost its RMI (radio magnetic indicator) for direction, and the pilot decided “mission continuation in instrument meteorological conditions at low level through the mountains which lay ahead to be impossible (my emphasis).”[68] The pilot of Bluebeard-5 turned the helicopter around and returned to the Nimitz. These malfunctions occurred because the ASN-50 power supply overheated, because carelessly placed duffel bags and flak jackets blocked the air duct of the cooler blower. In addition to loosing another helicopter and moving closer to the abort criteria, Bluebird-5 had the only extra parts for helicopter repairs. This cargo loading error meant that if any other helicopter suffered a mechanical malfunction, the mission would be terminated. The loss of Bluebeard-5 due to electronic failure and the crew giving up mitigated the any chance for success in Operation Eagle Claw.[69]

The RH-53Ds eventually started to trickle into Desert One where the C-130s and Delta Force had already stationed; however, Bluebeard-2 suffered a mechanical failure, prematurely ending the mission. The six remaining RH-53Ds straggled in forty-five to eight-five minutes late. All of the rotary aircraft arrived from different directions, and Bluebeard-1 was the last to arrive. After inspecting the remaining helicopters and crews, Seiffert gave the orders to load the Delta Force personnel. Yet as the riflemen started to board the rotary aircraft, “A/C #2 experienced a failure of the 2d stage hydraulic system pump enroute,” making it unsafe to fly.[70] The mission abort threshold had been compromised now that in the statement, “< 6 OK, Insufficient helos for operation.”[71] A heated argument ensued between Colonel Beckwith, who felt the mission could now not succeed with the reduced number of helicopters, and COMJTF Vaught, who wanted to send some of the strike force back with the C-130s. The JTF leadership decided to follow the planned abort criteria: “Good helos return to carrier, rest of fore return —- on C-130.”[72] The force had assembled at Desert One in the Iranian desert, but lost a mission critical number of helicopters, forcing the commanders to scrub the mission.[73]

While the mission had failed, it had not been a catastrophe; that status changed when Bluebeard-3 collided into a C-130. After refueling for the trip back to the Nimitz, Bluebird-3 took off during “extremely dusty conditions in total darkness degraded visibility,” lost its bearings, and collided into a C-130.[74] Five Airmen and three Marines perished in the resulting conflagration. Four burn casualties complicated the ensuing extraction. Ammunition in the C-130 started to cook off, adding to the chaos. The RH-53D crews quickly abandoned their sensitive documents in the helicopters for the relative safety of the taxing C-130s. The on-the-ground commanders realized this hasty departure, and called in an airstrike on the abandoned RH-53Ds as the strike force departed from Desert One.[75]

As the strike force moved back through Egypt to the United States, they discovered that the air strikes had not occurred leading to the compromise of sensitive information and equipment at Desert One. President Carter had described the mission as, “humanitarian,” and that “it was not directed against the people of Iran.”[76] The president canceled the airstrikes because the strike force had detained 53 Iranian civilians on a bus at Desert One, and the bombing mission would kill them. Carter accepted full responsibility for this action. Later, Iranians found valuable intelligence information including the JTF-79 CEOI extract, route books, TACAIR information, briefing notes, one KY-65 PARKHILL radio, and NESTOR radios components left on the hastily abandoned RH-53s. Not only had the Americans failed to rescue the hostages and had taken casualties; they had also lost sensitive information to the enemy that complicated any future rescue attempts.[77]

The official government reports after the mission lambasted the performance of the RH-53D helicopters. In a General Q+A on the failure of Operation Eagle Claw, the military questioned the reliability of RH-53Ds:

Q: Does the RH-53 have a history of maintenance problems?

A: Yes. The RH-53 has historically had a low availability rate. This is attribute to shortages of qualified maintenance personnel, unique deployment requirements, and the small size of the AMCM (Airborne Mine Countermeasures) community (only about 30 helos.)[78]

The Joint Chiefs of Staff commissioned the Special Operations Review Board chaired by Admiral James L. Holloway III in May 1980 to investigate the causes of failure during Operation Eagle Claw. The panel identified 23 issues, which included OPSEC, joint training, and C-130 pathfinders. Some other issues directly pertained to the rotary element including the possible use of other helicopters, the helicopter force size, the helicopter pilots, the helicopter unit, the helicopter aborts, the helicopter communications, and the possibility of placing destruction devices in the helicopters. The panel also concluded that the “two factors” that ultimately caused the mission to abort were the “unexpected” helicopter failure rate and haboob.[79] The panel argued that “Many things that could have been done to enhance mission success were not done because of OPSEC considerations.”[80] The board contended that USAF rotary pilots, who had “more experience in the mission profiles envisioned for the rescue operation, would have probably progressed more rapidly than pilots proficient in the basic weapons systems,” which the ad hoc force had for the mission.[81] Furthermore, the panel listed that the HH-53 as a viable alternative to the RH-53D. The board also noted that the helicopter force should have been at least increased to ten, if not twelve, to increase the probability of mission success. The military blamed mission failure explicitly on the weather conditions and the failure of the RH-53D helicopter, while noting the underlying structural flaws of an ad hoc rescue unit and the primacy for OPSEC.[82]

Key figures involved with Operation Eagle Claw and the media mostly assigned blame to similar factors noted by the Holloway Commission. Colonel Beckwith citied Murphy’s Law and claimed, “we purely had bad luck,” despite probably calling the helicopter pilots cowards during the movement from Desert One back to the United States.[83] Colonel Kyle cited four factors that directly lead to mission failure: the selection of helicopter pilots, helicopter aborts, exaggerating the enemy radar threat, and lack of helicopter communications. Brzezinski originally feared compromised OPSEC would cause the mission to fail. Following the mission, he blamed the machines, claiming, “Little did I dream that our failure would involve technology, an area where America normally excels.”[84] Jimmy Carter pronounced a similar failure, stating that “Equipment failure in the rescue helicopters made it necessary to end the mission.”[85] The president recorded in his private diary that this failure was “caused by a strange series of mishaps – almost completely unpredictable,” which contrasted with the performance of RH-53Ds in training.[86] General Philip Gast blamed the lack of reliable human intelligence (HUMINT). Secretary of State Cyrus Vance, who was appalled at the mission, formally resigned his post on April 28. Seiffert felt that his decisions during the rescue were adequate. The Soviet newspaper, Tass, claimed the failed rescue mission was “an aggressive incident.”[87] Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini denounced the Americans, stating that “the Great Satan has resorted to a foolish act.”[88] Journalists Stuart Koehl & Stephen P. Gick of the American Spectator provided a caustic review of the mission, arguing that “the conception and execution of the mission were so deficient and amateurish that it was probably doomed to failure from the start (my emphasis).”[89] They critiqued the RH-53D, and claimed the strike force should have used Marine CH-53Es citing the airframes “armor, heavy armament, aerial refueling capability, and fully redundant systems.”[90] The force, in their opinion, should have used aerial refueling and a direct air assault into Tehran, rather than a desert rendezvous and convoy into Tehran. The duo closed their argument noting that “it was perhaps for the best that Eagle Claw failed when it did. At some later point, the mission’s inevitable cumulative errors might well have resulted in the death or capture of the entire force.”[91] Thus, other actors critiqued Operation Eagle Claw, citing the RH-53D helicopters and other compounding factors.[92]

Ultimately, the failure of the RH-53D in Operation Eagle Claw can fall on two specific factors. The first factor was high pilot turnover leading to the lack of common rotary techniques, knowledge, and skill for the RH-53D helicopter. The initial pilots of JTF 1-79 were constantly rotated out because they lacked the technical skills to accomplish the mission. The first Navy squadron had unit cohesion and RH-53D experience, but lacked long rang night flying in high risk missions. Some of the later Marines had the helicopter assault skills, but were brought in from across the United States in a rather ad hoc manner. The final mix had a working knowledge of the perishable skills of long rand night raids, but lacked unit cohesion, resilient morale, and common SOPs. This fragility exacerbated the problems of the RH-53D aircraft. The pilot of Bluebeard-5 simply quit mid-mission. The lack of proper SOPs, as witnessed in the BIM incidents, directly led to the loss of Bluebird-6. Bluebeard-2 had a mechanical failure in the aircraft. The high amount of pilot turnover created an ad hoc unit that lacked experience as a unified team, leading to the loss of unwieldy helicopters.

The second factor was the faulty implementation of technologies for special missions which competed with other priorities, such as OPSEC. Furthermore, the pilots utilized advanced technology; while some innovations worked, others failed or the JTF overlooked because of Brzezinski’s OPSEC concerns. While Brzezinski blamed technology, the realistic explanation is more nuanced. Many devices and techniques lacked field manuals, limiting their effectiveness. Relatively new technology used in the mission, such as the TACAN, SATCOM radios, OMEGA navigation systems suffered glitches and failed to perform to the high standard of special operations. Other technological advancements, including the HH-53 and the UH-60A airframes, offered an alternative to the RH-53D platform.[93] Furthermore, the clinching argument for the use of the RH-53D helicopter was operational security, as Brzezinski placed OPSEC over helicopter performance. The Department of Defense slowed deployment of the new airframes because of the low level production after Vietnam budget cuts, the structural flaw of service parochialism within the special operations community, and the fear of unknown technological bugs with the new rotary airframes. The strike force could have also prevented several calamities by paying more attention to technological details, such as not placing the flak jackets around the air cooler or failing to cross load the RH-53Ds with spare parts. The probability of mission success would have been greatly enhanced by the proper implementation of American technology.

While Operational Eagle Claw was a failure in that the American military failed to rescue the hostages, took casualties, and lost sensitive information, it provided the benefit of showing the limitations of the RH-53D “Hangar Queen,” and the limitations of the Cold War OPSEC mindset. The mission demonstrated the dangers of an ad hoc unit composition and the faulty implementation of technology. The misinterpretation mechanical failures and pilot error grounded so many of “hangar queen” RH-53Ds that the JTF aborted the mission at Desert One. The odyssey to rescue the hostages had failed, but truly became a Greek tragedy when an aircraft collision involving a RH-53D and C-130 resulted in American casualties and the loss of sensitive material. The elites of the mission and the media blamed several factors for the causality of the mission failure, with the RH-53D platform being the common denominator of several high profile critiques of the mission. Military planners dedicated a special effort, Project Honey Badger, to improve rotary skills in the planning for a second rescue attempt called Operation Snowbird. Iran finally released the hostages when Ronald Reagan became president on January 20, 1981. Prospective military field grade officers have used this incident to critique and to improve command and control functions of the United States military.[94] Later, legal, institutional, and technological reforms in the Department of Defense corrected the deficiencies highlighted by the failed mission, Operation Eagle Claw, and the failed machine, the RH-53D Hangar Queen.[95]

 

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Haney, Eric L. Inside Delta Force: The Story of America’s Elite Counterterrorist Unit. Dell Mass Market edition. New York: Bantam Dell, 2003.

Kyle, James H., and John Robert Eidson. The Guts to Try: The Untold Story of the Iran Hostage Rescue Mission by the On-Scene Desert Commander. New York: Orion Books, 1990.

Lenahan, Rod. Crippled Eagle: A Historical Perspective of U.S. Special Operations 1976-1996. Charleston: Narwhal Press, 1998.

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Sick, Garry. All Fall Down: America’s Tragic Encounter with Iran. New York: Random House, 1985.

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Gwertzman, Bernard. “U.S. Attempt to Rescue Iran Hostages Fails; 8 Die as Planes Collide during Withdrawal.” New York Times. (April 25, 1980): 1, 14.

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Scott, Alexander. “The Tehran Raid: The Lessons of the Iranian Raid for American Military Policy.” Armed Forces Journal International 117, no 10 (June 1980): 26, 30, 32, 73.

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Carter, Jimmy. “Statement on the Iran Rescue Mission (April 25, 1980).” Accessed September 15, 2013. http://millercenter.org/president/speeches/detail/3936.

Gast, Philip C. Memorandum for Director, Defense Intelligence Agency. “Intelligence Capability.” December 10, 1980. In The Pentagon’s Spies. National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 46. Edited by Jeffrey T. Richelson. May 23, 2001. Accessed September 16, 2013. http://www2.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB46/index2.html.

The Office of the Secretary of Defense and Joint Staff. “Abort Criteria.” Iranian Hostage Crisis. Accessed January 19, 2014. http://www.dod.mil/pubs/foi/International_security_affairs/iranian_hostage_crisis/522.pdf.

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——. “Communications.” April 25, 1980. Iranian Hostage Crisis. Accessed January 19, 2014. http://www.dod.mil/pubs/foi/International_security_affairs/iranian_hostage_crisis/522.pdf.

——. “Daily Events.” April 24, 1980. Iranian Hostage Crisis. Accessed January 19, 2014. http://www.dod.mil/pubs/foi/International_security_affairs/iranian_hostage_crisis/522.pdf.

——. “Enemy Command and Control.” April 22, 1980. Iranian Hostage Crisis. Accessed January 19, 2014. http://www.dod.mil/pubs/foi/International_security_affairs/iranian_hostage_crisis/522.pdf.

——. “Exposed Mission Personnel.” Iranian Hostage Crisis. Accessed January 19, 2014. http://www.dod.mil/pubs/foi/International_security_affairs/iranian_hostage_crisis/522.pdf.

——. “General Q&A.” Iranian Hostage Crisis. Accessed January 19, 2014. http://www.dod.mil/pubs/foi/International_security_affairs/iranian_hostage_crisis/523.pdf.

——. “Guard Force Distribution.” April 22, 1980. Iranian Hostage Crisis. Accessed January 19, 2014. http://www.dod.mil/pubs/foi/International_security_affairs/iranian_hostage_crisis/522.pdf.

——. “CJCS – Hostage Assessments.” February 20, 1980. Iranian Hostage Crisis. Accessed January 19, 2014. http://www.dod.mil/pubs/foi/International_security_affairs/iranian_hostage_crisis/522.pdf.

——. “Intelligence Assessment No. 5.” Iranian Hostage Crisis. Accessed January 19, 2014. http://www.dod.mil/pubs/foi/International_security_affairs/iranian_hostage_crisis/522.pdf.

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[1] Garry Sick, All Fall Down: America’s Tragic Encounter with Iran, (New York: Random House, 1985), 352.

[2] Charles G. Cogan, “Desert One and Its Disorders,” Journal of Military History 67, no. 1 (January 2003): 201-216, accessed August 24, 2013, https://muse.jhu.edu/journals/journal_of_military_history/v067/67.1cogan.html; John E. John E. Valliere, “Disaster at Desert One: Catalyst for Change,” Parameters 22 (Autumn 1992): 69-82, accessed September 3, 2013, http://strategicstudiesinstitute.army.mil/pubs/parameters/Articles/1992/1992%20valliere.pdf.

[3] Charlie A. Beckwith and Donald Knox, Delta Force, (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1983), 194.

[4] Beckwith and Knox, Delta Force, 194; James H. Kyle and John Robert Eidson, The Guts to Try: The Untold Story of the Iran Hostage Rescue Mission by the On-Scene Desert Commander, (New York: Orion Books, 1990), 23; The Office of the Secretary of Defense and Joint Staff, “JTF-79 Organization,” Iranian Hostage Crisis. Accessed January 19, 2014. http://www.dod.mil/pubs/foi/International_security_affairs/iranian_hostage_crisis/522.pdf; Paul B. Ryan, The Iranian Rescue Mission: Why It Failed, (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1985), 12.

[5] Beckwith and Knox, Delta Force, 188.

[6] Zbigniew Brzezinski, “The Failed Mission: The Inside Account of the Attempt to Free the Hostages in Iran,” New York Times, April 18, 1982, 29.

[7] The Office of the Secretary of Defense and Joint Staff, “Soviet Reaction to U.S. Military Intervention in Iran,” Iranian Hostage Crisis. Accessed January 19, 2014. http://www.dod.mil/pubs/foi/International_security_affairs/iranian_hostage_crisis/522.pdf; In Foreign Relations of the United States 1977-1980 Volume VI, Soviet Union, on page 696, it is interesting to note the extent of Soviet support for the Iranians against the Americans; “Soviet media containing allegations that can only further inflame tensions in Iran and endanger the lives of American hostages being held there. In particular, commentary by A. Petrov appearing in Pravda of December 5 contains inexcusable and irresponsible statements. This commentary all but justifies the seizure of American hostages.”

[8] Beckwith and Knox, Delta Force, 196; The Office of the Secretary of Defense and Joint Staff, “Memorandum for CJCS: Threat Review,” April 24, 1980. Iranian Hostage Crisis. Accessed January 19, 2014. http://www.dod.mil/pubs/foi/International_security_affairs/iranian_hostage_crisis/522.pdf; The Office of the Secretary of Defense and Joint Staff, “Memorandum for Director of Operations, Joint Staff, Intelligence Capability,” May 5, 1981. Iranian Hostage Crisis. Accessed January 19, 2014. http://www.dod.mil/pubs/foi/International_security_affairs/iranian_hostage_crisis/522.pdf; The Office of the Secretary of Defense and Joint Staff, “Sequence of Events,” Iranian Hostage Crisis. Accessed January 19, 2014. http://www.dod.mil/pubs/foi/International_security_affairs/iranian_hostage_crisis/522.pdf.

[9] Rod Lenahan, Crippled Eagle: A Historical Perspective of U.S. Special Operations 1976-1996, (Charleston: Narwhal Press, 1998), 41.

[10] Beckwith and Knox, Delta Force, 198.

[11] Kyle and Eidson, The Guts to Try, 21.

[12] Beckwith and Knox, Delta Force, 198.

[13] Ibid. 215.

[14] Kyle and Eidson, The Guts to Try, 36; Special Operations Review Board, “The Holloway Report,” Joint Chiefs of Staff, August 23, 1980. Accessed via The National Security Archive. http://www2.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB63/., 32.

[15] Special Operations Review Board, “The Holloway Report,” 32.

[16] Kyle and Eidson, The Guts to Try, 48.

[17] Eric L. Haney, Inside Delta Force: The Story of America’s Elite Counterterrorist Unit, Dell Mass Market edition. (New York: Bantam Dell, 2003), 233-234.

[18] Beckwith and Knox, Delta Force, 216-218; Lenahan, Crippled Eagle, 52; Special Operations Review Board, “The Holloway Report,” 32.

[19] Special Operations Review Board, “The Holloway Report,” 35.

[20] Beckwith and Knox, Delta Force, 217-218, 227; Kyle and Eidson, The Guts to Try, 48, 59, 71; Lenahan, Crippled Eagle, 52; The Office of the Secretary of Defense and Joint Staff, “Sequence of Events,” Iranian Hostage Crisis. Accessed January 19, 2014. http://www.dod.mil/pubs/foi/International_security_affairs/iranian_hostage_crisis/522.pdf; Special Operations Review Board, “The Holloway Report,” 33-35.

[21] Beckwith and Knox, Delta Force, 224.

[22] Kyle and Eidson, The Guts to Try, 94-95.

[23] Beckwith and Knox, Delta Force, 224.

[24] Kyle and Eidson, The Guts to Try, 98.

[25] Beckwith and Knox, Delta Force, 96, 228-229, 231; Kyle and Eidson, The Guts to Try, 96; Special Operations Review Board, “Holloway Commission,” 5.

[26] Beckwith and Knox, Delta Force, 226.

[27] Lenahan, Crippled Eagle, 51.

[28] Beckwith and Knox, Delta Force, 225.

[29] Beckwith and Knox, Delta Force, 231-232.

[30] The Office of the Secretary of Defense and Joint Staff, “Abort Criteria,” Iranian Hostage Crisis. Accessed January 19, 2014. http://www.dod.mil/pubs/foi/International_security_affairs/iranian_hostage_crisis/522.pdf.

A note further expanded on the OPSEC emphasis of the mission claiming in potential abort criteria in that, “If there is a problem with any A/C (aircraft) departing the refuel point, it will be destroyed in place and the area made to appear Russian.”

[31] Beckwith and Knox, Delta Force, 225, 233; Kyle and Eidson, The Guts to Try, 106; Special Operations Review Board, “Holloway Commission,” 5-6.

[32] Special Operations Review Board, “Holloway Commission,” 5.

[33] Kyle and Eidson, The Guts to Try, 114-116; Lenahan, Crippled Eagle, 64-65.

[34] Philip Shulter, memo to General Jones, January 28, 1980, in Lenahan, Crippled Eagle, 85.

[35] Beckwith and Knox, Delta Force, 231-232; Kyle and Eidson, The Guts to Try, 133-134; Special Operations Review Board, “Holloway Commission,” 5-8.

[36] Kyle and Eidson, The Guts to Try, 138-139, 153, 177; Lenahan, Crippled Eagle, 91; The Office of the Secretary of Defense and Joint Staff, “Operation Evening Light, Post Mission Summary of the RH-53 Helicopter Maintenance and Material Condition,” May 8, 1980. Iranian Hostage Crisis. Accessed January 19, 2014, 4. http://www.dod.mil/pubs/foi/International_security_affairs/iranian_hostage_crisis/524.pdf; Special Operations Review Board, “Holloway Commission,” 8.

[37] Kyle and Eidson, The Guts to Try, 161-162.

[38] Special Operations Review Board, “Holloway Commission,” 8.

[39] Kyle and Eidson, The Guts to Try, 162-164.

[40] Kyle and Eidson, The Guts to Try, 166-167, 171-174; Beckwith and Knox, Delta Force, 247, 253; Special Operations Review Board, “Holloway Commission,” 8.

[41] The Office of the Secretary of Defense and Joint Staff, “Psychological Operations Plan – Iranian Hostage Issue,” Iranian Hostage Crisis. Accessed January 19, 2014. http://www.dod.mil/pubs/foi/International_security_affairs/iranian_hostage_crisis/523.pdf.

[42]The Office of the Secretary of Defense and Joint Staff, “CJCS – Hostage Assessments.” February 20, 1980. Iranian Hostage Crisis. Accessed January 19, 2014. http://www.dod.mil/pubs/foi/International_security_affairs/iranian_hostage_crisis/522.pdf; The Office of the Secretary of Defense and Joint Staff, “Exposed Mission Personnel,” Iranian Hostage Crisis. Accessed January 19, 2014. http://www.dod.mil/pubs/foi/International_security_affairs/iranian_hostage_crisis/522.pdf; The Office of the Secretary of Defense and Joint Staff, “Guard Force Distribution,” April 22, 1980. Iranian Hostage Crisis. Accessed January 19, 2014. http://www.dod.mil/pubs/foi/International_security_affairs/iranian_hostage_crisis/522.pdf; The Office of the Secretary of Defense and Joint Staff, “Intelligence Assessment No. 5,” Iranian Hostage Crisis. Accessed January 19, 2014. http://www.dod.mil/pubs/foi/International_security_affairs/iranian_hostage_crisis/522.pdf;The Office of the Secretary of Defense and Joint Staff, “Working Paper for J-3: Iranian Situation Report as of 050024APR1980,” Iranian Hostage Crisis. Accessed January 19, 2014. http://www.dod.mil/pubs/foi/International_security_affairs/iranian_hostage_crisis/522.pdf.

[43] The Office of the Secretary of Defense and Joint Staff, “Enemy Command and Control,” April 22, 1980. Iranian Hostage Crisis. Accessed January 19, 2014. http://www.dod.mil/pubs/foi/International_security_affairs/iranian_hostage_crisis/522.pdf.

[44] The Office of the Secretary of Defense and Joint Staff, “JTF-79 CEOI – Call Signs,” Iranian Hostage Crisis. Accessed January 19, 2014. http://www.dod.mil/pubs/foi/International_security_affairs/iranian_hostage_crisis/522.pdf.

[45] The Office of the Secretary of Defense and Joint Staff, “Command and Control,” Iranian Hostage Crisis. Accessed January 19, 2014. http://www.dod.mil/pubs/foi/International_security_affairs/iranian_hostage_crisis/523.pdf; The Office of the Secretary of Defense and Joint Staff, “Communications,” April 25, 1980. Iranian Hostage Crisis. Accessed January 19, 2014. http://www.dod.mil/pubs/foi/International_security_affairs/iranian_hostage_crisis/522.pdf.

[46] Beckwith and Knox, Delta Force, 253-255; The Office of the Secretary of Defense and Joint Staff, “Daily Events,” April 24, 1980. Iranian Hostage Crisis. Accessed January 19, 2014. http://www.dod.mil/pubs/foi/International_security_affairs/iranian_hostage_crisis/522.pdf;

The Office of the Secretary of Defense and Joint Staff, “Overall Concept of Operations,” Iranian Hostage Crisis. Accessed January 19, 2014. http://www.dod.mil/pubs/foi/International_security_affairs/iranian_hostage_crisis/522.pdf.

[47]Brzezinski, “The Failed Mission,” 28.

[48] Ibid., 31.

[49] Cyrus Vance, the Secretary of State who had “strong views against the use of military force in Iran” took a vacation on April 10, 1980 and was not present for the NSC meeting. Warren Christopher sat in for Vance, but the military had not previously briefed him on the information because of Brzezinski’s OPSEC compartmentalization of labor according to Hard Times, p. 409.

[50] Brzezinski, “The Failed Mission,” 28, 64.

[51] Ibid.

[52] Vance, Hard Choices, 410-411.

[53] Brzezinski, “The Failed Mission,” 30; Jimmy Carter, Keeping Faith; Memoirs of a President, (New York: Bantam Book, 1982), 507; Special Operations Review Board, “Holloway Commission,” 9. Cyrus Vance, Hard Choices: Critical Years in America’s Foreign Policy, (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1983), 409.

[54] Kyle and Eidson, The Guts to Try, 190.

[55] Kyle and Eidson, The Guts to Try, 188-190, 200; Lenahan, Crippled Eagle, 104.

[56] Special Operations Review Board, “The Holloway Report,” Fowarding Statement.

[57] Kyle and Eidson, The Guts to Try, 217.

[58] Kyle and Eidson, The Guts to Try, 206-207, 217; Special Operations Review Board, “The Holloway Report,” 9.

[59] Kyle and Eidson, The Guts to Try, 206-207, 217-218; The Office of the Secretary of Defense and Joint Staff, “Operation Evening Light, Post Mission Summary of the RH-53 Helicopter Maintenance and Material Condition,” May 8, 1980. Iranian Hostage Crisis. Accessed January 19, 2014. 4-5; The Office of the Secretary of Defense and Joint Staff, “General Q&A,” Iranian Hostage Crisis. Accessed January 19, 2014. http://www.dod.mil/pubs/foi/International_security_affairs/iranian_hostage_crisis/523.pdf; Special Operations Review Board, “The Holloway Report,” 9.

[60] Kyle and Eidson, The Guts to Try, 232-233.

[61] The Office of the Secretary of Defense and Joint Staff, “General Q&A,” Iranian Hostage Crisis. Accessed January 19, 2014.

[62] Ibid.

[63] Ibid.

[64] Kyle and Eidson, The Guts to Try, 238-240; The Office of the Secretary of Defense and Joint Staff, “Operation Evening Light, Post Mission Summary of the RH-53 Helicopter Maintenance and Material Condition,” May 8, 1980. Iranian Hostage Crisis. Accessed January 19, 2014. 5; Special Operations Review Board, “The Holloway Report,” 9.

[65] The Office of the Secretary of Defense and Joint Staff, “General Q&A,” Iranian Hostage Crisis. Accessed January 19, 2014.

[66] The Office of the Secretary of Defense and Joint Staff, “Operation Evening Light, Post Mission Summary of the RH-53 Helicopter Maintenance and Material Condition,” May 8, 1980. Iranian Hostage Crisis. Accessed January 19, 2014, 5-6; Special Operations Review Board, “The Holloway Report,” 9, 44-45. U.S. Congress, Committee on Appropriations, Hostage Rescue Mission. Hearings 96th Congress, 2nd Session. Washington: GPO, 1980: 608.

[67] Kyle and Eidson, The Guts to Try, 255.

[68] The Office of the Secretary of Defense and Joint Staff, “Operation Evening Light, Post Mission Summary of the RH-53 Helicopter Maintenance and Material Condition,” May 8, 1980. Iranian Hostage Crisis. Accessed January 19, 2014, 7.

[69] Mukarram Ali, “The Debacle at Tabas,” Islamic Defense Review 5, no. 2 (1980): 4; The Office of the Secretary of Defense and Joint Staff, “General Q&A,” Iranian Hostage Crisis. Accessed January 19, 2014; The Office of the Secretary of Defense and Joint Staff, “Operation Evening Light, Post Mission Summary of the RH-53 Helicopter Maintenance and Material Condition,” May 8, 1980. Iranian Hostage Crisis. Accessed January 19, 2014, 6-7.

[70] The Office of the Secretary of Defense and Joint Staff, “General Q&A,” Iranian Hostage Crisis. Accessed January 19, 2014.

[71] The Office of the Secretary of Defense and Joint Staff, “Abort Criteria,” Iranian Hostage Crisis. Accessed January 19, 2014.

[72] The Office of the Secretary of Defense and Joint Staff, “Abort Criteria,” Iranian Hostage Crisis. Accessed January 19, 2014.

[73] Beckwith and Knox, Delta Force, 274-275; The Office of the Secretary of Defense and Joint Staff, “Abort Criteria,” Iranian Hostage Crisis. Accessed January 19, 2014; The Office of the Secretary of Defense and Joint Staff, “Operation Evening Light, Post Mission Summary of the RH-53 Helicopter Maintenance and Material Condition,” May 8, 1980. Iranian Hostage Crisis. Accessed January 19, 2014, 7; Special Operations Review Board, “The Holloway Report,” 9.

[74] The Office of the Secretary of Defense and Joint Staff, “General Q&A,” Iranian Hostage Crisis. Accessed January 19, 2014.

[75]“Transcript of Brown’s Statement and His News Conference with Gen. Jones,” New York Times, (April 26, 1980): 7; Beckwith and Knox, Delta Force, 274-275, 279; Mark Bowden, “The Desert One Debacle,” The Atlantic. May 1, 2006. Accessed August 24, 2013. http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2006/05/the-desert-one-debacle/304803/2/; Kyle and Eidson, The Guts to Try, To the Memory of; JD Lock, “Operation Eagle Claw: Desert One,” 2013. Accessed August 24, 2013. http://www.armyranger.com/index.php/history/modern-era/iran.

[76] Jimmy Carter, “Statement on the Iran Rescue Mission (April 25, 1980),” Accessed September 15, 2013. http://millercenter.org/president/speeches/detail/3936.

[77] Beckwith and Knox, Delta Force, 283; Bernard Gwertzman, “U.S. Attempt to Rescue Iran Hostages Fails; 8 Die as Planes Collide during Withdrawal,” New York Times. April 25, 1980, 1; The Office of the Secretary of Defense and Joint Staff, “Penetration of Iranian Airspace,” Iranian Hostage Crisis. Accessed January 19, 2014. http://www.dod.mil/pubs/foi/International_security_affairs/iranian_hostage_crisis/523.pdf The Office of the Secretary of Defense and Joint Staff, “Smugglers,” Iranian Hostage Crisis. Accessed December 5, 2013. http://www.dod.mil/pubs/foi/International_security_affairs/iranian_hostage_crisis/168.pdf.; The Office of the Secretary of Defense and Joint Staff, “Working Paper – Analysis of Documents Left aboard Helicopters,” Iranian Hostage Crisis. Accessed January 19, 2014. http://www.dod.mil/pubs/foi/International_security_affairs/iranian_hostage_crisis/522.pdf; UPI, “Text of White House Statement,” New York Times. April 25, 1980, 14.

[78] The Office of the Secretary of Defense and Joint Staff, “General Q&A,” Iranian Hostage Crisis. Accessed January 19, 2014.

[79] Special Operations Review Board, “The Holloway Report,” v.

[80] Ibid, vi.

[81] Ibid., 35.

[82] Ibid., i-ii, 32-33.

[83] Beckwith and Knox, Delta Force, 283, 294.

[84] Brzezinski, “The Failed Mission,” 79.

[85] Carter, “Statement on the Iran Rescue Mission (April 25, 1980),” Accessed September 15, 2013.

[86] Carter, Keeping Faith, 518.

[87] “The Reactions Worldwide.” New York Times. (April 26, 1980): 1.

[88] “Transcript of Khomeini’s Remarks.” New York Times. (April 26, 1980): 6.

[89] Stuart L. Koehl and Stephen P. Glick. “Why the Rescue Failed.” The American Spectator. July 1980.

[90] Ibid.

[91]Koehl and Glick, “Why the Rescue Mission Failed.”; They also staunchly denounced COL. Beckwith’s leadership as “giving into panic.”

[92] Brzezinski, “The Failed Mission,” 79; Philip C. Gast, Memorandum for Director, Defense Intelligence Agency. “Intelligence Capability,” December 10, 1980. In The Pentagon’s Spies. National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 46. Edited by Jeffrey T. Richelson. May 23, 2001. Accessed September 16, 2013. http://www2.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB46/index2.html; Peter Goldman et al., “Another Rescue Mission: Special Report.” Newsweek 95, no. 19 (1980): 26-53; Stuart L. Koehl and Stephen P. Glick. “Why the Rescue Failed.” The American Spectator. July 1980; Otto Kriesher, “Desert One,” Air Force Magazine 82, no. 1 (January 1999): 60-67. Accessed August 23, 2013. http://www.airforcemag.com/MagazineArchive/Pages/1999/January%201999/0199desertone.aspx; Kyle and Eidson, The Guts to Try, 255; Vance, Hard Choices, 412.

[93] The 101st Airborne had UH-60As in June 1979, which were being produced at low rate production. They were first fielded in the invasion of Grenada in 1983. I sincerely wonder if the JTF planners even considered this airframe. See Sikorsky Product History. “UH-60A Blackhawk.” Accessed March 31, 2014. http://www.sikorskyarchives.com/S-70A%20%28UH-60A%20Black%20Hawk,%20YEH-60B%20SOTAS,%20EH-60A%20Quick%20Fix%29.php.

[94] See Stephen E. Anno and William E. Einspahr, “Command and Control and Communications Lessons Learned: Iranian Rescue, Falklands Conflict, Grenada Invasion, Libya Raid,” Military College Paper, Air War College, May 1988. http://www.dtic.mil/cgi-bin/GetTRDoc?AD=ADA202091; Harry S. Brown, “The Command and Control of Special Operations Forces,” Military College Paper, Naval Postgraduate School, December 1996. http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&ved=0CC4QFjAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.dtic.mil%2Fcgi-bin%2FGetTRDoc%3FAD%3DADA327428&ei=1PhRUvbTBrWq4APb6oGABw&usg=AFQjCNHW8EfrRLbK4nPijesRGn7wwbTteA&sig2=u6s3RXISCnqff2NOC7iFSg&bvm=bv.53537100,d.dmg; Peter D. Buck, “The Iranian Hostage Rescue Mission: A Case Study,” Military College Paper, Command Staff College, 2002. http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&ved=0CCwQFjAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fsmallwarsjournal.com%2Fdocuments%2Fbuck.pdf&ei=p7HgUerCEonkygHqloD4BQ&usg=AFQjCNE9COo65SY_d2h7cJprIJaeLPiY8A&bvm=bv.48705608,d.aWc; William C. Flynn III, “Broken Stiletto: Command and Control of the Joint Task Force During Operation Eagle Claw at Desert One,” Military College Paper, School of Advanced Military Studies, April 1995. http://www.dtic.mil/cgi-bin/GetTRDoc?Location=U2&doc=GetTRDoc.pdf&AD=ADA300214; C.E. Holzworth, “Operation Eagle Claw: A Catalyst for Change in the American Military,” Military College Paper, Command Staff College, 1997. Accessed August 23, 2013. http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/library/report/1997/Holzworth.htm.

[95] Charles G. Cogan, “Desert One and Its Disorders.” Journal of Military History 67, no. 1 (January 2003): 201-216. Accessed August 24, 2013. https://muse.jhu.edu/journals/journal_of_military_history/v067/67.1cogan.html; The Office of the Secretary of Defense and Joint Staff, “Memorandum for Director, Joint Staff and Service OPSDEPS: Subject: Snowbird Training and Preparation Program,” Iranian Hostage Crisis. August 5, 1981. Accessed January 19, 2014. http://www.dod.mil/pubs/foi/International_security_affairs/iranian_hostage_crisis/534.pdf.

 

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