Recently I came across some information regarding a Special Forces unit that was part of the attempted hostage rescue of Americans during Eagle Claw in 1980. We all know the story of what transpired at Desert One and the role that Delta was to play in the rescuing of the hostages and now due to the large part of the very successful new movie Argo; most are very familiar with the joint CIA/Canadian rescue operation of the six American diplomats who were hiding out in the Canadian embassy (aka “The Canadian Caper”).
Well, I started digging/asking around and somebody referred a gentleman for me to speak with in regards to Operation Eagle Claw (he specifically corrected me to let me know that the true operation name was “Rice Bowl”) and specifically what was SF’s role in all this.
The gentleman I connected with was on the ground in Iran as part of the Delta rescue force; he was one of first batch of members into the unit and considered a plank owner. He also played a huge part in creating the selection process for operators of the newly formed Intelligence Support Activity as well as a pioneer in the establishment of Special Force’s CIF teams/training. As he is still somebody who is contributing to the good fight, I will not mention his name, but he has been definitely vetted.
I specifically asked him about the rumored SF role during Rice Bowl (which extensive google-fu research has left me with very little information). It turns out that aside from the remaining 52 hostages in the American embassy, there were three other American individuals who were being kept safe (but against their will) from the Iranian students by the Iranian government itself.
The plan was for this separate rescue team to storm the Iranian Foreign Ministry office in Tehran (4km from the US embassy) and recover the Americans simultaneously to Delta’s assault on the embassy. The unit was actually known as the 39th Special Forces Detachment, or simply Detachment A. The only SF unit part of the Berlin Brigade in Germany which was comprised of six small teams (six men each).
What’s unique about this unit was that it’s presence was illegal in Berlin as neither Allied or Soviet forces were allowed to have an airborne unit there as part of the Four Power Agreement. They were a clandestine commando unit on the front lines of the Cold War on alert 24 hours a day. These guys were made up of selectively trained and language qualified members of SF (many who were German and Eastern European immigrants).
Unlike other SF assignments during the Cold War era, much of Det. A’s history is shrouded in complete secrecy. Much of what they did called for the use of fake documentation and wearing of civilian clothing – nothing short of typical CIA clandestine work! Many of these guys went on to be part of Delta Force in the late 70s.
Fast forwarding back to 1980 Iran: Det. A trained separately from Delta and linked up with them in Egypt for the flight in. Their mission called for the use of suppressed MAC-10 9mm sub-machine pistols. According to the now retired Delta SGM, it was lucky that the mission failed because the SF team borrowed the wrong case of ammo from Delta’s pallet. They thought the ammo they loaded were 9mm BAT rounds (Blitz Action Trauma).
To quote the SGM:
“Unfortunately the ammo they borrowed to go on this live mission were all BLANKS! This wasn’t found out until we returned back to Egypt and repacked everything for the trip home. They had to return the case of blank ammo and come clean. They flew home.”
Imagine that! I’m not familiar with what BAT rounds look like as I don’t think they are as prominent nowadays as they were before. As hard as it is to believe, I have heard of mistakes like these happen before.