Winds of war
Film depicting Nazi assassination plot in Tehran
By Darius Kadivar
April 15, 2003
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
John Wayne and Stuart Whitman
Longest Day (1962)
on the Battle of Normandy. The Military decisions
concerning the D-Day Operation of June 6th 1944 were
settled during the Tehran Conference between the Big Three.
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
(1978) which at the time was being shot in Iran with Behrooz Vossoughi
and Anthony Quinn in the title roles.
Tehran's Lalezar Street (left)
shortly after WWII and
Shahyad Square Symbol of the modern Iranian capital in the 1970's.
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
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.
Sharing a common political vision
and mutual admiration:
One of rare
photos of Reza Shah's Official visit to Turkey in
the mid thirties greeted by Kemal Attaturk.
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
Left: Reza Shah inaugurates the
Trans-Iranian, his son the Crown Prince Mohammed Reza looks on,
Center: Reza Shah accompanied by Admiral Bayandor views the newly
created fleet with ships delivered by Italy. Right: Iranian gunboat
"Babr" (Leopard) sunk by the British during World War II.
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.
(Below) Iranian pilots with bombshells
and tribesman pos
in front of a Junker aircraft delivered by Germany (1922 ~1924).
Top right Junkers logo of Persian air force.
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
Sardari Qajar chargé of consular affairs of the
Iranian Ambassador in German Occupied France helped save
Jews from being deported.
Jews by Fereydoun Hoveyda)
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
Invasion of Iran by Soviet and
British troops, August, 25th 1941.
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.
The Imperianl Iranian Air Force
was created in 1928-29. Cadets of the Technical pilot School in
Doshan Tapeh with Uniforms with similarities to those of the German
Luftwaffe, even if their instructors were mainly British or Swedish.
Second Row Far Right Standing is Lt.
Nasser Jannatpour. Year 1941.
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
Top: Iranian Navy Cadets on training
in Italy 1929.
The Imperial Navy Emblem on Nov. 5 . 1932.
Below the warship Palang (Tiger).
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
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.
Top Left: Mohammed Reza Pahlavi
succeeds his father as the new Shah. Top Right. The Allies hire
Iranians for forced labour to help them deliver War needs to the
Soviet Troops on the Eastern Front, Iran was thus labled "The
Bridge to Victory" during WWII. Below Left: American and Russian
soldiers stand behind a Persian locomotive built by Germany's Krupp.
Below right: Iranian troops participate in Victory Parade in London
(See More WWII
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
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 "Persian Luger"
aka "Luger Persan" also known as "Parabellum"
came in long and short barrel versions. They were made for the Iranian
army under Reza Shah by the German arms industry. The whole stock
of these Persian Lugers were auctioned in 1970. They have since
become collectors' items because of their unique Imperial Iranian
emblem and serial numbers in Persian.
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.
Jafar Pishevari self -proclaimed
President of the
Republic of Azerbaidjan in 1945 aided
by the Soviets and the Iranian Toudeh Party.
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
army paraded in London.
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
U.S. poster release of 1947 movie
The Plot to Kill Roosevelt
also released under the title Tehran Conspiracy.
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.
Stalingrad Sword presented to
Stalin by Churchill and
Roosevelt at Tehran, from Newsweek, 12/20/43
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.
Alain Delon cast as French Inspector
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.
Ex-German spy Max (Armen Djigarkhanian)
is sheltered by FranÁoise (Claude Jade)
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.
Inspector Roche (Alain Delon)
in charge of the investigations and Marieís daughter ( Natalia Belokhvostikova)
have a brief romance.
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.
Maitre Legraine (Curt Jürgens)
also wants the WW II Documents
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.
French release film poster
Another attractive aspect of the film is the beautiful
music score composed by French-Armenian singer Charles Aznavour
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
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
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.
to victory excerpt from documentary "On Borrowed Wings" by Robert
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