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Making virue of necessity
Diplomatic history of the Caspian Sea

August 2, 2001
The Iranian

From Guive Mirfendereski's A Diplomatic History of the Caspian Sea: Treaties, Diaries, and Other Stories (Palgrave, 2001) .

-- Chapter titles and endorsements
-- Foreward
-- Introduction
-- Chapter 13: Taming of the Turkmans
-- Chapter 31: The Shah's Northern Navy
-- Chapter 33: Making Virtue of Necessity

Chapter 33

In the predawn hours of August 25, 1941, the British and Soviet forces attacked Iran, from the south and north, respectively. The British forces sank the Iranian navy in the Persian Gulf. Among the ships detained or destroyed were also five German vessels, each about 10,000 tons, and three Italian ships of similar tonnage; they all had taken refuge at Bandar Shahpur for some time.

The British Persian Gulf Command now took control of the Transiranian Railroad. The Iranian naval units in the Caspian Sea, however, fared better than their counterpart in the south, only because the Soviets seized the vessels and carried them off. The Iranian coast, on the other hand, took a heavy pounding.

On the eve of the Soviet invasion, Iran's northern navy was headquartered at Bandar Pahlavi and had been integrated into the national naval command structure since 1932. Its assets, such as they were, included the following: the 60-ton steamers Babolsar, Sefidrud, and Gorgan, each armed with a 47mm Skoda canon, and a Maxim machine gun, and communication gear; the 70-ton Nahang, which was devoid of armaments and equipment and used largely for transport purposes; the gunboats Ramsar and Nowshahr, which were dedicated to Reza Shah's use; the 600-ton unarmed imperial cruiser Shahsavar, with communications gear and a salon appointed with posh furniture and expensive custom-made dinnerware; motor launches No. 1 and No. 2, which were used for ferrying officers and personnel; a fire boat; and "the Camel." There was a plan at this time to establish three coastal artillery sites at Ashuradeh, Nowshahr, and Bandar Pahlavi, with two mobile artillery units to rove the coastline, but events overtook their completion and deployment.

In the evening of August 24, 1941, the Gorgan had been on patrol off Bandar Pahlavi when it found the seas too choppy to venture far. However, it was able to ride the waves long enough to spot a Soviet naval presence nearby. At 4 o'clock in the morning of August 25, a Soviet carrier with its squadron of seaplanes appeared unannounced and anchored at a distance of 12 nautical miles from Bandar Pahlavi. In order to prevent the Soviet navy from entering the port, the Iranians quickly sank "the Camel" at the entrance to the harbor. Around noon, a Soviet plane appeared above Bandar Pahlavi on a reconnaissance mission. Later in the day, Soviet planes in groups of four appeared overhead and repeatedly bombed Bandar Pahlavi and Ghazian.

The next day, August 26, the Soviet planes returned and repeatedly bombed the garrisons at Bandar Pahlavi and Rasht. Meanwhile, Soviet troops from Astara reached Bandar Pahlavi by land, and by the day's end on August 27 they occupied Bandar Pahlavi, Rasht, and the nearby village of Marzanabad. The Iranian government declared a general cease fire, and on the same day an Iranian emissary, carrying a white flag, put to sea in order to meet the Soviet fleet. Soon after he boarded, a contingent of Soviet troops motored in, landed at Bandar Pahlavi, and seized all of Iran's naval vessels, except the imperial cruiser Shahsavar.

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