Battle of Persia
War in the Air 1980-1988
By An Iranian
July 24, 2003
Never in the field of human conflict has so much been owed by so
many to so few.
-Winston Churchill, August 20, 1940
63 years ago at this time, the British Royal Air Force was engaged
in a life and death struggle against Nazi Germany's air force,
the Luftwaffe. Hitler had taken all of continental Europe in the
lightning war campaign, known as the "Blitzkrieg". The
Royal Air Force was badly outnumbered by a factor of 3 to 1, and
the US and the USSR would not enter the war until a year later.
The Nazis saw it as essential and very manageable to defeat the
Royal Air Force in order to capture the last remaining country
The fate of Britain and the non-Nazi world lie in
the hands of the pilots and groundcrew of the RAF Fighter Command.
These airmen proved the Nazi war planners wrong, and in the period
of July to September of 1940, fought bravely and successfully against
the Luftwaffe, resulting in Hitler's decision to abandon the invasion
of Britain, and his first defeat.
"The Few", as they
became known, consisted of 2927 pilots, almost half of whom lost
their lives. To this day, the Battle of Britain is commemorated
every year very solemnly by the British people, and is considered
one of the major events of British and world history.
Forty years later, Saddam's Iraq invaded Iran, which
was in the midst of revolutionary turmoil and a hostage crisis.
I remember the day
that the Iraqi Air Force bombed and terrorized most of the major
cities in Iran, and Saddam's army crossed the border virtually
unopposed and captured dozens of cities thousands of square kilometers
of Iran's territory. The atrocities and looting committed by his
troops have yet to be punished or even apologized for.
brave Iranians resisted fierecely on the ground, there was virtually
no army or heavy weapons at that time standing in Saddam's way
as his tanks rolled in and tried to annex Khuzestan and rename
it "Arabistan". Like Hitler, Saddam needed a defeat of
his enemy's air force to secure victory. Like Hitler, Saddam vastly
underestimated his enemy. The air battle that followed was highly
significant, and vastly underreported. This air battle is what
halted the Iraqi invasion in its tracks, and spelled the beginning
of defeat for Saddam's schemes.
The true and amazing story of this
battle as well as the rest of the air war is described in a new
book by Tom Cooper and Farzad
War in the Air 1980-1988, published
by Schiffer Books. This book is the result of 15 years
of research and many interviews with participants of this battle
on both sides.
We have heard very little about the Iranian Air
Force and its role in the defence of our country, and for good
reason. The Iranian government always wanted to downplay the role
of this "American" and "Imperial" and "Taghooti" infested
force. The US never wanted to admit the notion that a "thrid
world terrorist" country (or the "ayatollah's air force")
could so effectively operate its most sophisticated weaponry at
the time despite lack of US support.
The French and Russians never
wanted to admit that an "inoperable" and "kaputt" air
arm could shoot down so many of their most sophisticated aircraft,
it would just be bad marketing. Most of the history written about
this aspect of the war claims that most of Iran's air force was
grounded due to the lack of spare parts, desertion and execution
of pilots and other personnel, and departure of US technicians.
The truth however, was quite different. While clearly,
Iran sufferred from a lack of a constant supply of spare parts
as well as purging and politicizing of the armed forces, the Persian
Air Force put politics aside and fought bravely for its country.
There were cases of imprisoned pilots begging to
be let out to fly missions, and after flying 2 or 3 extremely dangerous
would be shot down and killed. This was one of the greatest and
most dedicated team efforts in our history, where the aircrews
and groundcrews and other Air Force personnel worked and fought
day and night and went far beyond their call of duty to save our
While both sides lost many aircraft, most of Iran's losses were
due to flying extremely dangerous (virtually suicidal) precision
strike missions over heavily defended sites deep inside Iraq and
above the front lines at extremely low altitude to avoid detection
by Iraq's increasing radar coverage provided by the Europeans and
Russians, as well as US and Saudi AWACS support. This was necessary
to slow and ultimately stop the advance of the Iraqi army, and
allow precious time for Iran to regroup and reform its own ground
forces with new command structure to more directly confront the
The use of expensive fighter jets against tanks and
other army equipment is not a good use of military resources, but
was no choice at the time. Meanwhile Iraq's missions were primarily
low precision cowardly attacks against population centers to intimidate
Iran into accepting defeat.
A few more interesting highlights about this part
of the war:
- In air to air engagements, Iran's kill ratio was
roughly 5:1, which is only surpassed by the Israelis against Syria
in 1982 and
the US in the Gulf war in 1991. Very often, air engagements consisted
of 1-2 Iranian fighters engaging 4, or even 8 Iraqi fighters and
winning. It got to the point where Iraq ordered its pilots to avoid
air to air engagements (especially with the F-14), and actually
had to import mercenary pilots from Egypt, and even places like
Belgium, South Africa, and East Germany to fly the critical missions!
- In 1982, Iran launched a brilliantly planned and
daring airstrike on the H-3 airfield near the Jordanian border
where the Iraqis
thought their aircraft were safe. They would find that they were
wrong when 8 F-4s destroyed 48 Iraqi aircraft on the ground with
complete surprise, and all returned safely to Iran.
was the largest destruction of enemy aircraft on the ground after
the 1967 Arab Israeli 6 day war, was one of the most brilliant
air assaults in history, and involved aerial refueling at an
altitude of less than 100 meters, violating about every safety
The flight from Iran to H-3 was longer and more risky
than the flight from Israel to Baghdad's Osirak reactor in 1981.
of the 8 pilots in this raid were subsequently executed in a
purge a few years later by the Iranian government. Some of the
pilots eventually left the country.
- Col Abbas Doran personally flew hundreds of missions
over Iraq, and was so dreaded that Saddam issued a bounty specifically
his head! When he was finally shot down over a heavily defended
Baghdad in 1982, he stayed with his F-4 all the way down rather
than become captured.
- The most accomplished F-14 aces in the world are
Iranian, some of which have 9 kills to their name, most of which
were the most
advanced Soviet and French aircraft.
And unlike the RAF "Few", our "Few" had to
do all this in the face of a mistrusting government who could (and
did) execute them and/or their comrades, and in the face of shortages
and embargoes, while Iraq was fully supported and resupplied with
the latest and greatest (sometimes so new that it was yet to be
tested) weaponry. Sadly, their sacrifice has been mostly untold
and unrecognized except by the few who know the stories. That is
why the original title of this book was "Forgotten Warriors".
This was a painful chapter in our history, and since
then, many of us Iranians have moved on in our lives in a million
directions. While I have described a small piece of the air war
here, this shouldn't detract in the least from the great sacrifices
made on the ground and at sea. I just thought that this story has
been less told. I feel that the Iran-Iraq War should be renamed
the Arab-Iranian War, since that is what it really was.
feel the air war should be called the "Battle of Persia". When
I read Churchill's quote, I cannot help but think of the Persian
Air Force. I don't know what your political leanings or your social
opinions or your visions of the future are, it doesn't matter.
But I think a nation is judged by many things, one of the most
important of which is how it honors its fallen and its great men
and women throughout its history.
I hope you will join me today
in taking a moment to honor the often forgotten Persian "Few",
too many of whom never came home so that we could. In my heart
and in my mind, they are the modern day Ferdosi, who saved us from
a second Qadesiyeh.
The book can be found at:
of the stories of the war can be found at:
this page to your friends