Making virue of necessity
Diplomatic history of the Caspian Sea
August 2, 2001
From Guive Mirfendereski's A
Diplomatic History of the Caspian Sea: Treaties, Diaries, and Other Stories
(Palgrave, 2001) .
titles and endorsements
13: Taming of the Turkmans
31: The Shah's Northern Navy
-- Chapter 33: Making Virtue of Necessity
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
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.
Diplomatic History of the Caspian Sea