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Imperial Iranian Navy

Unlike many countries, modern Iran does not have a long naval history. The development of Iran's naval forces was kick-started by the discovery of Iran's petroleum deposits in the early 20th century and the country's subsequent need to protect its maritime commerce. However, the Shah's navy operated under the shadow of foreign forces until the 1970s when British stewardship in the Persian Gulf came to an end.

In 1921, Reza Khan, an Iranian officer of the Persian Cossack Brigade, seized control of the government. In 1925, after finally ousting the Qajar dynasty, he declared himself Shah and established the Pahlavi dynasty, ruling as Reza Shah for almost 16 years. Reza Shah forcibly enacted policies of modernization and secularization

By 1925 the "Persepolis" and "Muzafferi" (built about 1900) in the Shat-el- Arab were no longer seaworthy. The shah's navy added another vessel in 1925 when an Iranian resident of Al Basrah purchased a small British craft, later named Khuzestan, and presented it to Iran as a gift. Iran belatedly sent the first party of naval cadets to Italy for training in 1926, and in 1928 a number of warships arrived in Persian waters from Italian yards to be the nucleus of a Persian fleet.

Concerned over apparent growing German influence in Iran, in 1941 the British proposed that the Soviets cooperate in a joint occupation of Iran. The small Iranian Navy consisted of two frigates and four small gunboats. Shortly before dawn on the 25th, British forces sailed down the Shatt-al-Mala waterway to assault Khorrarnshahr and Abadan, sinking or capturing all the frigates and gunboats of the small Iranian Navy during the initial minutes of the attack. Indian troops moved ashore to seize theIranian naval base at Khorramshahr and therefinery at Ahadan. At Bandar Pahlavi, the Soviet Caspian Sea flotilla bombarded the port and landed troops. The Iranian fleet lost no time in surrendering and the naval action came to a close at about noon, 25 August 1941. The Caspain port of Pahlevi suffered perhaps more than any other Iranian city as a result of the combined naval and air bombardment.

Reza Shah was forced to abdicate in 1941 in favor of his son Mohammad Reza Shah.

The Iranian navy played an increasingly important role of in the planning of Shah Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi for regional security. Expansion and modernization of the IIN would mean both serious growing; pains and significant opportunities for cooperation, affecting the USN and overall US-Iranian relations.

The Shah was acutely conscious of Irans great past and was determined to set his country on the road to a great future. He was determined to ensure for Iran a position of power and leadership to which he believed it was entitled on the basis of its history and standing in the region. The Shah saw the British withdrawal from the Gulf as a development which gave Iran an opportunity to restore its historic position in the Gulf, but which also contained dangers of turmoil.

After the British withdrawal, Iran took a larger role in protecting the Persian Gulf sea-lanes, particularly escorting Iranian merchant ships. The Shah, awash with oil revenue, provided a large defense budget and the promise of new equipment with which the navy could carry out its expanding missions. In line with the government's cooperative relationship with the West, the Shah's navy bought frigates, destroyers, corvettes, and patrol craft and operated them largely according to NATO doctrine. Items ordered included modified SPRUANCE-class destroyers and diesel submarines from the United States and Germany. While some acquisitions were necessary for the navy's mission, others were more for the prestige that came with having one of the strongest navies in the region. So great were the Shah's ambitions that a few western countries sought to impose limits on the Shah's quest for regional power.

The Shah wanted modern sophisticated armed forces to establish military superiority over neighboring Arab countries, particularly Iraq, in order to deter present or potential hostile forces from any notions of armed adventure in Iran, and to promote Iranian interests in the Gulf. In the early 1970s, he emphasized improvement of his air force, and to a lesser extent his navy. By 1973 Irans Armed Forces were already larger and better equipped than any the Iranians are at all likelyto fight-notably that of Iraq.

On 9 September 1972, the Shah of Iran and members of the Supreme Commander's Staff were briefed by US Navy and US Air Force teams on the F-14 and F-15 aircraft. The Chief, ARMISH-MAAG Tehran, reported that the three hour and forty-five minute uninterrupted briefings were well received; the Shah was appreciative, and he asked many technical questions which were readily answered by the team members. The Shah also asked questions about the possible use of the AWG-9 Radar and Phoenix missile in helicopters and the P-3 reconnaissance aircraft. He was apparently interested in exploring ways to use this equipment in various roles against water-borne surface targets.

In this connection, the MAAG noted the Shah was thinking of giving attack missions to the P-3 aircraft and that he stated Iran had to become an Indian Ocean power. The Shah stated that he recognized time was required to perfect the F-14 and F-15 aircraft, and that he visualized that his operational squadrons would be echeloned at least two years after those of the US. He said that he would make the decision as to the best type of aircraft for Iran when the time came. In a development related to the Shah's F-14/15 plans, the Iranians canceled the FMS case for the purchase of 36 F-5E's, i.e. the last two squadrons. Iran now had outstanding orders for eight squadrons of F-5E's (141 aircraft).

Prior to late 1975, the Imperial Iranian Air Force (IIAF) was very hesitant to involve themselves in major joint/combined exercises either with CENTO or within the Iranian Armed Forces. Their internal joint exercise program with the Imperial Iranian Ground Forces and the Imperial Iranian Navy was very elementary with all exercises being scenario driven. On 19 June 1977, a mixed flight of 24 IIAF/USAF F-4Es conducted a simulated attack against the IIN destroyer Babr. The fighters were under the control of a KC-707 airborne command and control center (ABCCC). The airborne commander was assisted by a combined IIAF, MAAG and USAFE operations staff. The IIN Babr was defended by four IIAF F-14s which, for the first time, were under the operational control of the ship's captain. This training mission was most realistic and successful for both the IIAF and the IIN.

The Shah's plans to dominate the region's waters were ultimately terminated by the Islamic Revolution. In 1979, the Shah was deposed and the nation was transformed into the Islamic Republic of Iran, led by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini. Iran's ties with the West and the defense contracts that came with them were severed, leaving many Iranian naval aspirations unfulfilled. However, the remnants of the Shah's Imperial Iranian Navy survived to form the core of the new Islamic Republic of Iran Navy.

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Page last modified: 21-02-2014 18:47:15 ZULU