The PERSIAN GULF COMMAND
World War II
In 1994, when veterans of the Persian Gulf Command who had just received a medal from Russia and an invitation to a ceremony at the White House to meet the President and Boris Yeltsin, contacted an Army Colonel at the Pentagon, he asked, "Who are you guys?" This is who they are.
Starting in 1942, the United States sent thousands of troops to Iran and Iraq specifically to transport war Materiel to Russia. Iran was already occupied by British and Russian troops who were guarding the oil fields and keeping more than a watchful eye on the pro-German Iranians (Persians). Hitler thought it was only a matter of time before his troops, led from the north by General von Paulus and from the west by General Rommel, would decimate the British, the Russians, and the newly-arrived Americans to take possession of the oil fields and the railroad that snaked through the mountains from the Persian Gulf to the Russian border. But von Paulus found that the Russians fought relentlessly for their homeland and endured unspeakable hardships during the siege of Stalingrad until aid from America enabled them to rally. Rommel found that he had his hands full in Africa.
Conditions in Persia were nothing the American troops could have trained for. Those who arrived in the summer of 1942 were welcomed by pouring rain and mud more than a foot deep. This is where they had to pitch their tents to sleep on the ground for the next six months until huts were buit. The rainy season was followed by temperatures that rose as high as 170 degrees in the desert sun, accompanied by sand storms that persisted for as long as a week as they constantly changed the landscape. Beyond the vast expanse of desert dunes were the Zagros Mountains with peaks that rose more than 16,000 feet. Temperatures there dropped to 25 degrees below zero with year round snow cover on the mountaintops.
The culture was even more exotic than the terrain. Camel caravans wound their way through the dunes just as they had thousands of years before Alexander the Great. As the seasons changed, the desert nomads drove millions of sheep across the highway for days at a time as they moved their herds to new grazing grounds. But the tribes of nomads were not the benign shepherds they might seem to be. They were fierce warriors bribed by the Germans to attack the Allies' convoys and trains. Actually, the tribes needed no encouragement to raid the supplies going to Russia. Stealing arms and ammunition was their way of life.
Between 1942 and 1945, the United States armed Russia with 192 thousand trucks and thousands of aircraft, combat vehicles, tanks, weapons, ammunition and petroleum products later estimated as sufficient to maintain 60 combat divisions in the line. Before the construction of the aircraft assembly plant at Abadan, Iran, the American Air Force flew A-20 medium bombers across the Atlantic to Abadan, where they were turned over to Russian flyers who painted the white star red and took off for Stalingrad and other sites on the Eastern Front. Army engineers transformed the camel paths into a highway for trucks and improved the railroad with its more than 200 tunnels so trains could carry tanks and tons of other heavy equipment over the mountains. Historians have stated that without the Russian thrust on the Eastern Front, General Eisenhower would have had to delay the invasion of Normandy until 1945 or later, with a great many more casualties than were suffered in the D-Day 1944 invasion.
The Teheran Conference in the fall of 1943, was the meeting of United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin in the capital city of Iran where Allied troops all over the country were on the alert to protect the Big Three. When Hitler's agents made him aware of the location of the conference, he made plans to assassinate the three leaders of the Allies. German paratroopers, some in Russian uniforms, were dropped in several locations, including the outskirts of Teheran, Kasvin and Qom. The assassination of the Big Three and the destruction of some of the railroad tunnels near Qom were their goals, but they were apprehended almost as soon as they touched ground. The Persian Gulf Command, along with British and Russian troops also rounded the Nazi accomplices, and the Big Three completed their conference without incident.
The veterans of the Persian Gulf Command share many experiences little known to anyone else. Their Persian Gulf Veterans Organization has been meeting since
1946, held together for more than half a century by military service to their country in a strange, exotic land.