Skip to comments.Joe Galloway: Out of Iran Tragedy Is Born U.S. Special Operations Command - Op Detachment-Delta
Posted on 04/18/2005 11:15:51 PM PDT by Former Military Chick
WASHINGTON - It was a quarter-century ago this month, April 24, 1980, that the secret American raid into Iran to rescue 53 hostages from the U.S. Embassy in Tehran collapsed in disaster on a make-shift airstrip in the middle of the Iranian desert.
The embarrassingly public failure of the raid, code-named Operation Eagle Claw, was a low-water mark for the Carter administration and for our military as well, still struggling to get back on its feet in the wake of the debacle in Vietnam just five years before.
Eight American servicemen died when the raid came apart with the fiery collision of a Marine RH-53 helicopter and an Air Force EC-130 on the ground. President Jimmy Carter had already ordered the mission aborted when too few helicopters were still usable after a low-level flight into Iran from an American aircraft carrier out to sea.
With the raid the world also got its first partial look at a super-secret U.S. Army Special Operations force known as Operational Detachment-Delta and its legendary founding commander, Col. Charlie Beckwith, a Special Forces and 101st Airborne Division veteran of two tours in Vietnam.
Carter announced the failure and, appropriately, took full responsibility for it. He had micro-managed the operation from the White House and bent to pressure from all the services for a piece of the action and the glory.
Beckwith's forces did not own their own transportation, so the Air Force would haul the raiders into the staging and refueling area deep in the Iranian desert by C-130 turboprop transport planes, while Marine helicopters that would ferry the Delta operators from the airstrip to Tehran came in from the sea.
The helicopter crews had to be cobbled together from Marine, Navy and Air Force pilots at the last minute when it was discovered that some of the Marine pilots lacked the skills needed to fly such a mission.
A number of Operation Detachment-Delta operators and agents had already infiltrated into Tehran to help conduct the strike to rescue the 53 diplomats and Marine guards who were taken hostage when a mob seized the U.S. Embassy on Nov. 4, 1979.
Beckwith and higher-ranking supporters in the Pentagon had lobbied for the rescue mission to be carried out by the hostage-rescue experts of Delta, and had begun planning a rescue within hours of the seizure of the Americans.
But all that planning and hard work had come apart so disastrously. The raiders and the air crews, their secret airstrip now marked by the towering flames of burning aircraft, packed up and flew out on the remaining C-130s. Orders were given to destroy the helicopters but in the confusion they weren't carried out. The secret plans fell into the hands of the Iranians, and the Tehran agents working for the United States narrowly escaped capture themselves.
Some say the failure paralyzed the administration and led directly to Carter's defeat by Ronald Reagan the following November. The Iranians finally freed the hostages on the day Reagan was inaugurated, 444 days after they were seized.
Not long afterward Beckwith quietly retired from the Army. He never tried to put the blame on Carter then, or ever. He died nearly 15 years later, convinced that most of the blame lay with inter-service rivalry.
What grew out of that failure was a determination by some powerful members of Congress, as well as those who believed in and nurtured the small special operations community, that this would never happen again, that a command designed to ensure the success of such secret missions was needed and it needed to be totally self-sufficient in everything, including aircraft, helicopters and pilots.
Against stubborn opposition in the Pentagon, such a command was born. It is today's U.S. Special Operations Command at MacDill Air Base, Fla., headed by a four-star flag officer -- general or admiral -- and has come into its own since 9/11.
However for this article I would love to hear from folks who either knew of Operational Detachment-Delta and COL Beckwith. It will add much to Galloways thread on FR. Thanks in advance.
I believe I once read that the C-130 was specially fitted for vertical take-off and landings, or that they experimented with the idea but it crashed miserably during testing. It was specifically intended for this mission.
C-130s got JATO back during the Vietnam War. Check out http://members.aol.com/mkonvalin/fave/herk.htm for more details.
"This is the YMC-130H "Credible Sport", a Herk specially modified with acceleration and deceleration rockets. This was the plane the US was planning to use for a second raid into Iran in the late 1970's to rescue the hostages. The rockets were supposed to enable it to land and then takeoff again in the soccer stadium in Teheran. You can see the acceleration rockets under the tail and behind & below the wings. The deceleration rockets are in the pods in front of the wings. There is a recently declassified video of the test-flight of this plane that shows it crashing and catching on fire when it lands. Not a successful test, but still very impressive. The US was going to build a new one, but the project was cancelled due to word that Iran was going to release the hostages."
They actually built three out of standard MC-130H's. The first aircraft crashed, the second one was demodded and returned to regular service, the third was mothballed and never flown with the bottles active. http://www.museumofaviation.org/aircraftCollection/cargo/16-ymc130h.htm
"I believe I once read that the C-130 was specially fitted for vertical take-off and landings, or that they experimented with the idea but it crashed miserably during testing. It was specifically intended for this mission."
What happened was that a plan was devised for a C-130 to land in the soccer field near the hostage site. To allow for the short landing field a series of retro-rockets were fitted to the forward section of the C-130. In testing the pilot lit the rockets while at still too high an altitude and the plane virtually stopped in midair, and fell to its destruction.
Pictures of a test are online somewhere. I recall seeing them in the last several years.
Actually in his book He blamed the lack of interservice training.