Winds of war
Film depicting Nazi assassination plot in Tehran

By Darius Kadivar
April 15, 2003
The Iranian

In wartime, truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies. - Ian Fleming

Prior to the the Yalta Conference in February 1945, during which the U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Soviet leader Joseph Stalin were to decide of the fate of Europe before a Bewildered Winston Churchill, another major conference held in Tehran November 28-December 1, 1943.

The Tehran Conference was to unite the Big Three on a military agenda set to win the War against Nazi Germany, already weakened by a major defeat at Stalingrad. It was in Tehran that preperations for D-Day ("Operation Overlord") were ultimately decided, and were to remain a Top Secret between the three leaders. This the most important military operation in modern history is depicted with great panache in Darryl F. Zanuck's 1962 film The Longest Day.

This strategic conference and its military implications were to intrigue the German secret services and the Allies knew that. Tehran was therefore a nest for spies, double agents informing and disinforming each other, in order to discover the real intentions of their foes.

In the late 70's, French star Alain Delon recieved the script for Tehran '43: Spy Ring, written by Russian filmakers who wished to make a spy film focusing on the historical events of the 1943 Conference. The Soviet film industry was showing the first signs of what was to be known as Glasnost in the years to come, with the intention of opening new oppurtunities for co-productions with Western firms.

The film's subject and the oppurtunity to work with Soviet actors in the USSR and Iran immediately seduced Delon to co-produce the film. The cast and production crew flew back and forth between Tehran, Paris and Moscow between 1977 and 1978 to look for possible locations. The Tehran of the 1940's had changed immensely. With increasing oil revenue, Iran had become much more modern under the Shah.

Iranian film co-productions with American or European partners had proven successful. This was the case for And Then There Were None (1974) and The Caravans (1978) which at the time was being shot in Iran with Behrooz Vossoughi and Anthony Quinn in the title roles.

Delon's friend and co-star Curt Jurgens had appeared in another Iranian-American co-production in the late 60's called The Invincible Six and was impressed by the competance of his Iranian collegues, like Vossoughi, and the effiiciency of the Iranian producers. It was not difficult for Delon to convince him to join in. The country's exotic landscapes also provided a good deal of possibilites. Back in 1974 Dino Buzzati's Novel The Desert of the Tartars was shot in the old citadel of Bam.

Recreating WW II Tehran was not an impossible task, for some of the capital's older sectors were still intact since the war. Many Iranian aristocratic homes could also be used for the film and a number of Iranian stars like Vossoughi, Parviz Sayyad or Malek Motiee spoke English and had experiences with non-Iranian film companies. As for the Soviets, this was something new. Soviet actors rarely got the oppurtunity to work outside their country and even less with an international cast. The bazaar was also an ideal place to shoot some of the action scenes.

The Big Three had held their meetings at British, Soviet and American embassies. These locations had to be recreated in the studio for practical reasons, both for the crew and the actors. Unfortunately as the preperations were being made, political turmoil that let to the 1979 revolutionn, seriously compromised the project. But some of the Soviet republics had similar landscape and population, and therefore it was decided to shoot all scenes relative to the conference in those republics instead of Iran. The Iranian producers could not join in the project either, so the film became soley a French-Soviet production.

Historical background

To the dismay and bewildernment of communists worldwide, Stalin had signed a non-aggression pact with Von Ribbentrop, Nazi Germany's Foreign Minister in August 1939 at the break of the War. When Hitler breached the treaty byinvading the Soviet Union, Stalin finally sided with the Allies on the 4th of July 1941.

The Middle-East had been a subject to rivalries between the European colonial powers for the past century (see cartoon) . The fall of the Ottoman Empire and the end of WW led to the rise of nationalistic movements and sentiments in countries such as Turkey, Egypt and Iran. Turkey under Ottoman rule was already an ally of the German Kaiser during WW I and Mustapha Kemal Ataturk -- then a colonel in the Ottoman army -- had managed to set back the allies in the Dardanelles. Ismet In–n¸, who succeeded to Ataturk after his death in 1938 was to sign a precarious Treaty of Friendship in 1941 with Nazi Germany (actually a non-aggression pact). Along with Portugal, Spain, and Switzerland, Turkey was to remain neutral throughout the World War II, and thus a nest for foreign espionage of all sorts shared between the Allies and the Axis.

Aware of anti-British sentiments in the Middle East in general, the Germans did not hesitate to encourage nationalistic sentiments through radio broadcasts in Arabic or Persian. German archeologists and engineers had been working in Iran before Hitler came to power in 1933, and helped construct Iran's railway infrastructure with the expertise of Krupp Steel.

Part of Iran's military armemant was also equipped by the Germans.A particular brand of the famous Luger was designed for the Iranian army and a number of Junker planes were sold as well. Some historians claim that the name Iran -- already in use in Persian and meaning Land of the Aryans -- was suggested to Persia's Ambassador to Germany who in turn passed the idea on to Reza Shah Pahlavi, who in 1935 demanded all countries to abandon Persia, and call the country Iran instead..

The new Pahlavi dynasty wanted to find some legitimacy in the country's long monarchical history, although references to Irans pre-Islamic past did not start from the Pahlavis (see stamps). However Nazi ideology never took root in Iran, where strong historical ties existed between Jews and other Iranians ever since Cyrus issued a decree to free the Jews captive in Babylon, centuries before.

The horrors of the Nazi Holocaust had not yet been commited, but Hitler's anti-Semitism was not a mystery in Europe, and the Jewish community was directly targeted by Nazi thugs (Hitler came to power in 1933). In addition Reza Shah was attached to the idea of maintaining Iran's political neutrality and independance.

It should also be added that the Iranian Jewish community, one of the oldest in the Middle-East, were never subjected to any form of discrimination whatsoever. Many of the Polish refugees who fled to Iran after the German occupation of Poland in 1941, were Jews. Also a number of Iranian diplomats in France such as Abdol-Hossein Sardari Qajar (see Saving Jews by Fereydoun Hoveyda) courageously helped the French Resistance and saved a number of Jews from deportation to Nazi concentration camps.

Although never colonized, Iran had nevertheless undergone numerous political changes under foreign influence since the turn of the century and the political survival of most of the governments depended particularily on the goodwill of the Russians or the British. Thus in the wake of WW II, Iran was judged much more unstable than its neighbour, Turkey, who was united after the fall of the Ottoman Empire by its charismatic leader Attaturk, who was seen as a role model by Reza Shah.

Although Iran had declared neutrality in 1939, the Allies, sought the transit use of Iranian territory and its north-south railway link in order to transport supplies and reinforcements to aid the Russians against Nazi Germany. Upon the refusal of Reza Shah, and after a short ultimatum, on August 25, 1941 the British and Russian forces (British from the south and Russians from the north) entered Iranian territory. The oilfields of Abadan were immediately seized by British forces who also entirely destroyed the Iranian fleet. (See Sunrise at Abadan and here in Persian)

The Allied occupation of Tehran, resulted in the forced abdication of Reza Shah in favor of his young crown prince, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, who was sworn in as the new Shah on September 16th ,1941, in front of the Iranian parliament. Reza Shah and some family members were exiled to Johanesburg in South Africa and held under house arrest by the British until the monarch's death on July 1944.

When Pearl Harbor was attacked by the Japanese air force on December 7, 1941, the President Roosevelt declared war on Japan, which resulted in an open war with the Axis forces composed of Japan, Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy.

The Iranian military was from then on under the control of the Allied forces as the Iranian government rallied them in the war against Nazi Germany.

In 1937 the Iranian standing army numbered some 1,500 officers and 30,800 NCOs and men. By 1939, the army was composed of nine mixed divisions and five independent brigades. There was also one independent infantry regiment, as well as one heavy artillery regiment, one anti-aircraft battalion, one independent transportation squadron, and an air force component consisting of three air regiments (200 machines, mostly British-manufactured Hawkers and De Havillands).

The Iranian navy possessed two sloops, five patrol vessels, and some tug boats and motor patrols in the Persian Gulf and Gulf of Oman, in addition to an imperial yacht and patrols for service on the Caspian Sea. Aside from the yacht, all vessels were Italian-made. The sloops suffered considerable damage after the British takeover, but were later repaired and returned to service.

In 1940 an independent mechanized brigade made up of anti-aircraft, tank, and mechanized infantry regiments came into being. The number of active army personnel increased to 120,000. All of the armed forces were dispersed into six military districts. The armed police force fielded seven independent mixed regiments and 15 mixed battalions that formed a corps for internal and frontier security duties. Afterwards the Iranian armed forces did not play any combat role during the remaining years of World War II. Major re-organization efforts of the armed forces started to be implemented in 1944.

According to the living testimony of Nasser Jannatpour who was being trained as a pilot and technical officer in 1941, the Iranian air force also had two German Junkers which were light bombers. But they were in poor shape and never used. According to Jannatpour, a German mechanic came to Iran to fix them, but he could not make them ready to fly before the allied army invaded Iran.

By 1943, the Nazi ambitions of world conquest were begining to ebb as much as the morale of the German troops who were forced to retreat from the Eastern Front after their defeat in Stalingrad. The German determination was still strong, but by the end of the year, time seemed ripe for a major conference between the British, Americans and the Soviets.

At the conference held in the Iranian capital, the Big Three -- Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and Joseph Stalin -- approved an outline of deception operations for D-Day invasion of Europe. That plan, originally known as "JAEL", was named after a treacherous woman of the biblical Old Testament. However, in December of that same year the Allies renamed it "BODYGUARD". The deception operation was a stunning success and helped ensure the Ally victory in Normandy.

The strategic nature of "BODYGUARD "can be seen in its five main deceptions. "VENDETTA" and "FERDINAND" were false invasions in the western Mediterranean, and "IRONSIDE" was an invasion of France from the Bay of Biscay. "ZEPPELIN" was an equally false invasion of the Balkans, and was so successful that historians continue to debate Churchill's desire to invade the Balkans rather than France. The fifth deception, "FORTITUDE", had two parts: "FORTITUDE NORTH" was the invasion of Norway, and "FORTITUDE SOUTH" was an invasion of France at the Pas de Calais.

While each deception operation had a degree of success, FORTITUDE SOUTH was the key deception of when and where the D-Day invasion would actually occur. It made sense for a variety of reasons. The distance from Dover to the Pas de Calais was the shortest across the notoriously difficult English Channel. It was the shortest route to the heart of Germany, which resulted in a quick turn-around time for ships and air cover.

There were three large harbors in the area (Dunkirk, Calais and Boulogne); the beaches and terrain around the Pas de Calais were ideal for supporting such an invasion. Also, FORTITUDE SOUTH had the advantage of being the plan Adolf Hitler wanted to believe would occur. Indeed, Hitler had planned to use the same route in the opposite direction for Operation SEA LION, the aborted German plan to invade Britain.

Germany had three primary means of collecting information prior to the actual invasion: aerial reconnaissance, spies, and signals intelligence. FORTITUDE SOUTH used all of these means to "paint the picture" the Allies wanted the Germans to see. They allowed the Germans to work methodically to become more convinced of the Allied "illusion". Each intelligence method had some limitations in its ability to collect information. In every case, however, the Allies endeavored to release only pieces of a well-orchestrated puzzle that would make sense in the context of the overall collection effort.

Hitler's fear of an attack at the Pas de Calais was such that the German army in that area, the 15th, was only permitted to partially redeploy to Normandy, far too late to have a decisive impact on the battle. "FORTITUDE SOUTH" was an important aspect of the synergistic effect that had an unquantifiable, yet very positive affect on the D-Day invasion.

The trilateral agreement signed in 1942 by Britain, Russia and Iran, stipulating that the allied troops should leave Iran "during the six months following the end of the war". During the occupation about five million tons of war supplies reached the USSR through this Persian corridor. However by 1944, divisions between the allies become clear as the British and Americans extend their control of the Iranian oil resources with an agreement between Anglo-Iranian and Standard Oil and the Soviets demand the creation of a mixed Soviet-Iranian oil company for South Azerbaijan.

By the spring of 1945, the Fuhrer of the German Reich was dead and its armies had surrendered. Soon after the end of the war the British and American troops departed. But the USSR refused to withdraw. The Red Army remained. with the ambition to unite the Northern Azeri Soviet Republic and the Southern Iranian Azerbaijan, which had (and still has) a majority Azeri population. In their zone of occupation the Soviets proclaimed a Republic in December 1945 with its capital in Tabriz, headed by Jafar Pishevari and supported by the Toudeh communists. In a similar move, activists in neighboring Kurdistan established the Kurdish Republic of Mahabad.

The Soviet refusal to leave originated a wave of international protest and the case reached the UN Security Council. President Truman in private even threatened to use the Atom bomb against the Soviet Union, if Stalin would not order his troops out of Iranian Azerbaijan and Kurdistan. The USSR finally retreated in May 1946. The Pishevari Republic collapsed, as its leader fled to the Soviet Union and as Iranian troops entered South Azerbaijan and Kurdistan. The Iranian participation in the War effort was also aknowledged during Victory Ceremonies as a small regiment of the Iranian army paraded in London.

The Film

The theme of a Nazi plot against the Big Three in Tehran was not new. Shortly after the Second World War, an American-Italian film was released based on some facts of an assassination attempt on the life of President Roosevelt during the Tehran Conference. It was called Tehran aka Plot to Kill Roosevelt. It was released in 1947 and once again in 1948 under the title Tehran Conspiracy"directed by William Freshman and starring Derek Farr.

The French-Soviet production Tehran 43: Spy Ring doesn't attempt to tell the exact story of one of the most important WW II conferences, nor does it get involved in the complexities of the major decisions made at the time. Nevertheless it is first and foremost a fictionous historical thriller based on the events surrounding the conference and an assassination attempt by the Germans on the lives of the Big Three.

The film starts in 1980 in Paris as Soviet Agent Andrei (AndrÈ) Borodin (Igor Kostolevsky), attends an auction of secret documents dating back to 1943, and supervised by Maitre Legraine (Curt J¸rgens) for his client, Max Richard (Armen Djigarkhanian). The memories of AndrÈ take the action back to 1943 during the Tehran meetings of Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill.

A high-ranking Nazi officer Scherner (Albert Filozov) , developed a plan to assassinate the three world leaders in order to undermine the Allied forces. He commissions the German agent Max Richard to carry out his plan, but it failed miserably due to AndrÈ's quick action and thinking. While in Tehran, AndrÈ meets a French woman, Marie Louni (Natalia Belokhvostikova), living in the city and they have a brief but intense affair.

Nearly four decades later, AndrÈ is looking for his one time love but this time to protect her knowing that Scherner -- now the head of a dangerous terrorist organization -- has been released in Paris in exchange of hostages of a high-jacked airplane. The ex-Nazi officer wants to eliminate all witnesses of the events which took place in Tehran during WW II. Unfortunately AndrÈ arrives too late and Marie is killed by a truck while attempting to make an important phone call from a cabin. Freed by terrorists, the Nazi officer hunts down the German agent who failed to carry out the planned assassinations.

Max Richard on the other hand has become a bitter old man. He lives with FranÁoise (Claude Jade), a young French woman, who hides him. He trusts her and shows her all the documents. However Max doesn't know that FranÁoise actually works for officer Scherner, who having found the documents, kills Max.

In the meantime, while AndrÈ keeps hunting for the Nazi officer, he comes accross a young beautiful woman who strangely looks like Marie. He soon discovers that she is actually the daughter he had with his one-time lover. As for Maitre Legraine (Curt J¸rgens) he interrogates Scherner and FranÁoise on the whereabouts of the famous War documents. Alain Delon plays the role of a French police Inspector Roche who is investigating assassinations carried out in Paris and gradually discovers the political and historical intentions behind these assassinations.

This film was shot in 1979 and is a French-Russian co-production. It was supposed to be shot in Iran but due to the political upheavals of the time, the producers decided to reconstruct the Tehran of the 1940ís in the Soviet Union. The sets are quite authentic and the atmosphere of Tehran is recreated quite faithfully.

Tehran '43 was essentially an attempt by the Soviet Film industry of the time to collaborate with Western producers and actors to achieve a film that could attract international audiences and which focuses essentially on the love story between AndrÈ (Igor Kostolevsky) and Marie (Natalia Belokhvostikova) and the romance which develops between there daughter also played by Natalia Belokhvostikova and the French inspector Roche portrayed by Alain Delon.

Despite its shortcomings, the film succeeds fairly well in recreating a love story with a historical background. But it does not achieve the qualities of an efficient thriller and some characters such as the Nazi agent appears as too naive or stereotyped. This is a pity because a good thriller needs a balance between the good and the bad in which the audience can be able to identify with the characters, though not necessarily their motives.

Also had the producers managed to have the film shot in Iran in normal circumstances they would certainly have had more time and control of the project in order to film on location, offering wider possibilities in the plot. Still to give it justic,e the film was a good and interesting attempt in setting a story around the Tehran Conference of 1943 which has never been done in any other movie to this day. It should also be noted that this film was to be German star Curt J¸rgens last screen appearance as Maitre Legraine for he died shortly after the film's release in 1981.

The film won the Golden Prize at the Moscow International Film Festival in 1981 but despite an interesting plot and good casting, it did not do well at the box office.

Another attractive aspect of the film is the beautiful music score composed by French-Armenian singer Charles Aznavour : "Une Vie D'Amour" which seems to be the only trace of this film, as it is has yet to be released on video or DVD. Below are the lyrics to the song which is available on several of Aznavour CDs:

UNE VIE D'AMOUR (A Life of Love)
Lyrics: Charles Aznavour / Musique : Georges Garvarentz

Une vie d'amour
Que l'on s'Ètait jurÈe
Et que le temps a dÈsarticulÈe
Jour aprËs jour Blesse mes pensÈes
Tant des mots d'amour
En nos cúurs ÈtouffÈs
Dans un sanglot l'espace d'un baiser
Sont restÈs sourds
¿ tout, mais n'ont rien changÈ
Car un au revoir Ne peut Ítre un adieu
Et fou d'espoir
Je m'en remets ý Dieu
Pour te revoir
Et te parler encore
Et te jurer encore

Une vie d'amour Remplie de rires clairs
Un seul chemin
DÈchirant nos enfers
Allant plus loin
Que la nuit
La nuit des nuits

Une vie d'amour
Que l'on s'Ètait jurÈe
Et que le temps a dÈsarticulÈe
Jour aprËs jour
Blesse mes pensÈes
Tant des mots d'amour
Que nos cúurs ont criÈs
De mots tremblÈs, de larmes soulignÈes Dernier recours
De joies dÈsaharmonisÈes

Des aubes en fleurs
Aux crÈpuscules gris
Tout va, tout meurt
Mais la flamme survit
Dans la chaleur D'un immortel ÈtÈ
D'un Èternel ÈtÈ

Une vie d'amour
Une vie pour s'aimer
Jusqu'au souffle dernier
Bon an mal an
Mon amour
T'aimer encore

Et toujours ...


The author is a film critic and would like to insist that he is not a specialist in Iranian history or espionage and that the subject of this article is to introduce this rare film on one of the major WW II conferences. The documents and historical background in my article are based on widely known historical facts: that is Nazi Germany's vain attempts to extend their influence in Iran which do not appear in the film they do not intend to shock or hurt the memory of the victims of the Nazi Jewish Holocaust.

The Author would like to thank Nasser Jannatpour for his help regarding information on the Iranian air force during WW II and Major Farhad Nassirkhani and the Imperial Iranian Airforce Pilots Association and IIN (Imperial Iranian Navy) websites for the pictoral and historical background information on the Iranian military.

Recommended Reading: The mystery of Ambassador Sepahbody's vanished report that could have prevented Iran's invasion during World War II.

0f Cats, Dogs and other Beasties in Persian Diplomacy
by Farhad Sepahbody, former Iranian Ambassador to Morroco.

Bridge to victory excerpt from documentary "On Borrowed Wings" by Robert D. Burgener.

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