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 now all know what transpired at Desert One — due in large part to the very successful new movie Argo — and the role that Delta was to play in the rescue of the hostages. Most are also 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 about and asking around regarding Operation Eagle Claw. Finally, somebody referred a gentleman to me to speak with regarding the operation and specifically the 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 in one of the first batches 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 CRF teams and 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, for which extensive google-fu research had left me with very little information — he specifically corrected me to let me know that the operation’s true name was “Rice Bowl.” 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 (four kilometers from the U.S. 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 Detachment was the only SF unit that was part of the Berlin Brigade in Germany. It was comprised of six small teams of six men each.
What’s unique about this unit was that its presence in Berlin was illegal, as, according to the Four Power Agreement, neither Allied nor Soviet forces were allowed to have an airborne unit in the city. It was 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 of whom 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 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 operator, it was fortunate that the mission failed because the SF team borrowed the wrong case of ammo from Delta’s pallet. They thought the ammo they loaded was 9mm BAT rounds (Blitz Action Trauma).
To quote the operator:
f”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 then. And as hard as it is to believe, I have heard of mistakes like these happen before.
Editor’s note: This article was written by Iassen Donov, a former Ranger who served in the 3rd Ranger Regiment.