By Lieutenant Colonel Danny M. Johnson, AUS-Ret.
When the subject of the the U.S. Army and the Persian Gulf comes up, the first thing today’s Americans often think of is 1990-91, when American and coalition forces deployed to Saudi Arabia as part of Operation DESERT SHIELD/DESERT STORM to drive the Iraqi Army out of Kuwait, or more recent military operations in support Operation IRAQI FREEDOM. Many Americans do not realize that during World War II, the Army had 30,000 troops stationed in Iran and Iraq. The Persian Gulf Command (PGC), at times known as the Persian Gulf Service Command (PGSC), was assigned the mission of expediting the shipment of war materials to the Soviet Union as part of the Lend-Lease program.
By 1940, the United Kingdom, already heavily involved in World War II, was strapped for cash and supplies. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill asked President Franklin D. Roosevelt for assistance. At that time, the Neutrality Act of 1939 limited what the United States could do in terms of assisting belligerent nations. Nevertheless, the United Sates was willing to sell weapons to Britain but under strict “cash and carry” regulations. As Great Britain approached bankruptcy by 1941, Roosevelt pushed the Lend-Lease Act, formally known as “An Act to Further the Defense of the United States” (Public Law 77-11), through Congress and signed it into law on 11 March 1941. The terms of the agreement provided that the materiel was to be used until returned or destroyed. In reality very little equipment was ever returned. The United States supplied war materiel at a discount using long-term loans or in exchange for rights to set up military bases in British possessions Under Lend-Lease, the U.S. contributed more than $50 billion to the Allies, mostly to Great Britain but also to the Soviet Union through the Persian Gulf Corridor. Smaller amounts were also provided to France and China.
The strategic importance of Iraqi oil for the British war effort, the state of British colonial rule in Iraq, and the April 1941 coup by Rashid Ali al-Gaylani, led to a brief Anglo-Iraqi war. Aside from maintaining access to oil, Churchill also wanted to prevent German intervention on the Iraqi side. This conflict between the United Kingdom and the rebel government of Ali al-Gaylani in the Kingdom of Iraq lasted from 2 May to 31 May 1941. The campaign resulted in the re-occupation of Iraq by British forces and the return to power of the ousted pro-British Regent of Iraq, Prince Abdul Ilah. While the British secured Iraq for the Allies, the campaign further fueled nationalist resentment in Iraq toward the British-supported Hashemite monarchy.
Coming shortly after the British occupation of Iraq and the German invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, the Anglo-Soviet occupation of Iran secured a vital route for supplies to the Soviet Union and assured British control of the region’s oil fields. This Anglo-Soviet invasion of Iran, codenamed Operation COUNTENANCE, began on 25 August 1941 and concluded on 17 September. Allied occupation of Iran secured supply lines for the Soviets now fighting against Axis forces on the Eastern Front. Although Iran was officially neutral, its monarch Rezâ Shâh Pahlavi, was friendly toward the Axis Powers. He was deposed during the subsequent occupation and replaced with his young son, Mohammad Rezâ Shâh Pahlavi.
Although coveted by the Axis powers for its rich oil supplies, the Persian Gulf Theater was the scene of very little fighting in World War II. Nonetheless, the theater remained important. The delivery of war materiel to the Soviet Union brought a substantial American military presence to the region for the first time. At its peak, the theater had approximately 65,000 U.S. civilians and 30,000 uniformed service members. However, when the U.S. Army began deploying troops to Iran, American policy makers and the general public had very little knowledge of the region. The War Department did not have maps of Persia when the decision was made to move into the country, and the State Department’s Division of Near-Eastern Affairs had a small staff of thirteen, only three of whom spoke regional languages.
The importance of the Persian Gulf region became even more apparent when the North Atlantic sea lane to the Soviet ports of Murmansk and Archangelsk was all but closed in July 1942. This was the result of the Convoy PQ-17 debacle, when the Germans sank twenty-four of the thirty-five Allied ships of the convoy in the Arctic Ocean. Though the Soviet Union and Japan were not at war with each other, large-scale transport of cargo from American West Coast ports to Vladivostok presented too many diplomatic and military obstacles to make it practical. The only alternative solution was the Southern Route, transiting halfway around the world and terminating in Iran with what was then called the Persian Corridor. A 22 September 1942 report of the Allied Combined Planning Staff stated, “If our shipping losses continue at their present excessive rate along the Northern Russian route, it may become necessary to use the Persian Gulf route entirely.”
The history of the Persian Gulf Command began on 27 September 1941 when Roosevelt ordered the creation of the U.S. Military Iranian Mission. Colonel (later Lieutenant General) Raymond A. Wheeler was appointed as its chief and reported directly to Secretary of War Henry Stimson. At the same time, the Army Corps of Engineers established the Iranian District, North Atlantic Division, to provide construction support. The first allocation of Lend-Lease funds was made in October 1941. The mission set up its headquarters in Bagdad, Iraq, in November 1941. The headquarters later moved to Basra, Iraq, in March 1942. Initially, the U.S. Military Iranian Mission territory included Iran, Iraq, and India. In April, the territory of the mission was changed by excluding India. At the same time, Colonel (later Brigadier General) Donald Shingler succeeded Wheeler. On 27 April, the mission was put under the Mission Branch, International Division, Services of Supply (later the Army Service Forces).
The U.S. Military Iranian Mission was discontinued on 24 June 1942, and reorganized redesignated as the Iran-Iraq Service Command, U.S. Army Forces in the Middle East (USAFIME), with Colonel Shingler in command. When the command was again re-designated as the PGSC in August 1942, it was assigned to USAFIME, at Cairo, Egypt, with Colonel Shingler still in command. Its geographic limits were then fixed as embracing Iraq, Iran, and those parts of Arabia that bordered the Persian Gulf. In order to facilitate control and supervision, it was divided into territorial areas on 1 September 1942. Brigadier General (later Major General) Donald Connolly succeeded Shingler on 20 October 1942. Shortly thereafter, on 4 November 1942, the PGSC was put under the jurisdiction of the Services of Supply, USAFIME. The first large echelon of troops, numbering 5,430, arrived at Khorramshahr, Iran, by ship on 11 December 1942.
Among the Army units assigned to the Persian Corridor mission were a railway grand division (later reorganized as a military railway service), three railway operating battalions, two railway shop battalions, and a rail transportation company; a port headquarters with three port battalions; a motor transport service headquarters, three quartermaster (QM) truck regiments, two QM truck battalions, and twenty nine QM truck companies; two ordnance medium maintenance battalions and seven ordnance medium companies; a signal battalion and two signal companies; two military police battalions and two military police companies; and engineer, medical, and other miscellaneous support units. In addition, Army Air Forces units were assigned to the aircraft assembly plants in the region.
Large numbers of American troops continued arriving during 1943 and, on 10 December, PGSC had become important enough to be made independent of USAFIME. It then reported directly to the War Department, with the redesignation of Persian Gulf Command under Major General Donald H. Connelly and continued to assure the supply of U.S. lend-lease war materiel to the Soviet Union.
The Persian Gulf Command was organized into four district and port areas that stretched northward from the Persian Gulf along a busy route for lend-lease supplies to the Soviet armies. The headquarters remained at Basra until January 1943, when it moved to Camp Amirabad, two miles from Tehran, Iran. When construction was completed, the camp included a modern headquarters, a hospital, brick barracks, shops, offices, warehouses, and recreational facilities. The area of the Gulf District, previously known as the Southwestern Area and as the Basra District, included all of Iraq and the south shore of the Gulf; its headquarters (9th Port) was moved from Basra to Khorramshahr, Iran, in May 1943. The Desert District, first called the Central Area, then the Ahwaz Service District, moved its headquarters from Ahwaz to Andimeshk, Iran, in November 1943. The Mountain District, whose headquarters was located at Tehran, was organized first as the Northern Area, and then re-designated the Tehran District. Even though Iraq was in the original title of command, the majority of PGC activities took place in Iran, with limited port and rail facilities built in Iraq.
In 1943, Tehran was chosen as the site of the first of two meetings between the Big Three—Churchill, Roosevelt and Soviet Premier Josef Stalin. Zoya Zarubina, who worked for the Soviet delegation as one of Stalin’s translators at the Tehran Conference, remembered the high drama surrounding the visit: “The city was filled with German spies and all that, and there were rumors that they might be getting some ideas about a conspiracy.” For four days the British, American, and Soviet leaders met secretively at the Soviet Embassy in Tehran. “It was an old aristocratic mansion and I was translating the war bulletins from Russian into English,” said Zarubina. The decisions made at the Tehran Conference affected the outcome of the war and the postwar landscape for decades, including the opening of a second front in Western Europe in 1944 and the establishment of the United Nations after the war.
On 2 December 1943, while attending the Tehran Conference, President Roosevelt inspected Camp Amirabad and its personnel. He spoke with hospital patients and medical staff and made an impromptu speech to about 3,000 troops assigned to the camp. Roosevelt said, “America is proud of you, proud of what you are doing in this distant place. I wish that great numbers of our people could see this work of getting the necessary equipment and supplies through to our ally, who has had very heavy losses, but who is licking the Nazi hordes.”
The U.S. Military Iranian Mission was responsible for the initial construction or reconstruction of approximately 1,000 miles of all-weather road; the building and operation of airplane, truck, and barge assembly plants; and the development of port facilities. The first of three large American construction projects for aid to the Soviet Union through Iran were planned as soon as the Iranian Mission became operational. It was a joint venture between the Army and private corporations, with assistance from the Royal Air Force (RAF) and the British Tenth Army. The Army awarded contracts for its first projects in Iran to the construction firms of Foley Brothers and Spencer, White, and Prentis. These projects included construction of deep-water and barge berths in the Karun River at Khorramshahr in May 1942. Foley Brothers also finished a truck assembly plant started by the British at Khorramshahr and worked on highways connecting Andimeshk, Ahwas, and Khorramshahr.
The second large project was the construction of an aircraft assembly plant. The Army Air Corps (later Army Air Forces, or AAF) began negotiations for a contract with the Douglas Aircraft Corporation to operate a plant in either Iran or Iraq. The city of Abadan, Iran, was chosen by then Major General Lewis J. Brereton, Commanding General of U.S. Army Air Forces in the Middle East. Before the aircraft assembly plant at Abadan was up and rolling, AAF pilots flew A-20 Havoc light bombers across the Atlantic to Abadan, where they were turned over to Soviet fliers. British Royal Engineers started construction of hangars and runways, and the RAF began assembly on a small scale at Abadan and Shaiba, Iraq, in March 1943. A handful of American military and Douglas Aircraft personnel assisted them. Later the AAF 82d Air Depot Group and the 17th and 18th Depot Repair Squadrons were assigned the function of assembling aircraft destined for the Soviet Union.
The main body of Army and Douglas personnel arrived for the plant in May 1943, and assembly of planes began on a larger scale. The Army cancelled its contract with Douglas, effective March 1943. At that point, the AAF took over the plant, although many Douglas civilian employees remained on the job for months afterwards. During the war, nearly 5,000 bomber and fighter planes were assembled at Abadan and delivered to Soviet pilots, who then flew them to the Soviet Union. Through Lend-Lease, Soviet forces received more than two-thirds of the Douglas A-20Bs manufactured and a significant portion of the G and H models. In fact, the Soviet Air Force had more A-20s than the USAAF. Other aircraft provided to the Soviets were the P-39, P-40, P-63, P-47, AT-6, and B-25.
The third large early project was the assembly of trucks and other military vehicles for the Soviet Union. In January 1942, Andimeshk was selected as the site for an assembly plant to be operated by General Motors Overseas Corporation of Bombay, India. In March, assembly of vehicles began. The other main assembly plant, built later at Khorramshahr, began operation in January 1943. On 1 July 1943, the Army took over both plants from General Motors for operation, but thousands of native employees were retained.
Nearly 200,000 trucks and other military vehicles were assembled in these plants and delivered to the Soviets before the plants were dismantled in 1944. Large numbers of lend-lease Studebaker US6 (M16A1) trucks were sent into the Soviet Union via the Persian Corridor. The Soviets found them a good platform for Katyusha rocket launchers, although it was not their prime use in the Red Army. Studebaker trucks fulfilled many roles, such as towing artillery, and were renowned for their ruggedness and reliability. Soviet drivers or Iranians hired by the Soviets drove most of these vehicles, affectionately called the “Studer,” away from the plants and on into northern Iran or the Soviet Union. Most of these trucks were loaded by the PGC with lend-lease cargo before starting north, thus augmenting the PGC Motor Transport Service and United Kingdom Commercial Corporation deliveries to the Soviets. Dodge ¾ ton trucks were also assembled at the Iranian plants and shipped in quantity to the Soviets.
Included in the lists of American tasks drawn up in November 1941 was the assembly of knocked-down prefabricated barges shipped from the United States for delivery to the Inland Water Transport (IWT) agency of the British Tenth Army. Before the war, there was considerable barging up the Tigris River to Baghdad and some on the Euphrates. On the Karun River in Iran, barges had furnished the chief means of carrying cargoes inland to Ahwaz before the British extended the railway to Khorramshahr. By request of the British authorities early in 1942, the Americans began to provide large numbers of new barges for the British IWT to meet increasing demands of river traffic controlled by that agency. The assignment went to the Iranian District Engineer. In March 1942, $100,000 was earmarked for the cost of local assembly; on 13 April, Lieutenant General Brehon B. Somervell, commander of Army Service Forces, notified Colonel Shingler that in two days the first shipment of sixty-two disassembled barges that had been designed and procured in the United States would be shipped.
The site chosen for the barge assembly operation was the picturesque Arab town of Kuwait, then in the Sheikdom of Kuwait and a former British protectorate sandwiched between Iraq and Saudi Arabia at the northwest corner of the Persian Gulf. Here an ancient hereditary guild of shipwrights, whose oral tradition claims that they once sent a party to the Mediterranean to instruct the Phoenicians, carried on a thriving boat-building industry. An adequate force of native craftsmen and carpenters was available to work under the supervision of a small number of American civilians responsible to an area engineer delegated by the Iranian District Engineer. The 368th and final barge was launched on 23 June 1943, and the barge assembly project was officially terminated on 28 June.
In order to accomplish PGC’s mission of aid to the Soviet Union, in accordance with the objectives approved by the Combined Chiefs of Staff, three main operating services began operation in the command in early 1943: the Ports Service, the 3d Military Railway Service (MRS), and the Motor Transport Service. The Ports Service began to operate the ports of Khorramshahr in December 1942 and Bandar Shahpur in February 1943. It unloaded American and Allied ships dispatched there by the U.S. War Shipping Administration. Responsibility for the ports was handed back to the British in July 1945, when the mission of the PGC had been declared completed.
The second main operating service was the 3d MRS, which began to take over the Iranian State Railways (ISR) from the British in January 1943. By the end of March 1943, it operated the ISR from the ports to Tehran, a total of over 650 miles. The first American-operated train of Soviet supplies was delivered on March 1943 to the Soviets at Tehran. Trains were always operated by the Soviets from Tehran through northern Iran into the Soviet Union. In 1943, 3,473 American soldiers of the 3d MRS began running trains between the Persian Gulf and Caspian Sea using ALCO RS-1 locomotives rebuilt with three-axle trucks and designated RSD-1. The Americans set up headquarters in Ahwaz, but were unable to tolerate the daytime heat so they usually operated the railway at night.
To provide headquarters staff soldiers for administration and operation of the 3d MRS, the 702d Railway Grand Division, along with the 754th Railway Shop Battalion and the 762d Railway Diesel Shop Battalion, were activated on 15 October 1942. These units were given brief military training before deployment. The 702d arrived in Iran in late January 1943 and moved to Tehran. The 702d was sponsored by the Union Pacific Railroad and was largely staffed by former civilian railroaders. Although never subjected to enemy fire, the soldier-railroaders faced other dangers along the tracks, such as “a lot of Iranians who were pro-German, and sabotaged the trains and took supplies,” according to Army nurse Anna Connelly Wilson.
The single-track ISR had inadequate rolling stock as well as poor signal communication facilities, but the Allies were fortunate that this remarkable railroad was available. It was completed in 1938 at a cost of $250 million after nearly fourteen years of planning and construction by German, American, British, Belgian, Danish and Scandinavian engineers and workers. The branch from Ahwaz to Khorramshahr was built by the British Royal Engineers in 1942.
One particular stretch of track between the Persian Gulf and Tehran ran for 165 miles through the Zagros Mountains. This section included 131 tunnels, many of them curved and inclined, totaling more than thirty-seven miles in length. There were hundreds of bridges, miles of massive retaining walls of masonry, solid constructed galleries or sheds for protection against erosion and landslides, enormous quantities of filled in canyons and gorges, spiraled switchbacks and circuits showing as many as three widely spaced levels of track, one above the other, up the mountain sides. At several points, the railroad’s elevation exceeded 7,200 feet. The total amount of lend-lease material for the Soviet Union transported by rail over the course of the war was approximately 2.1 million tons. Responsibility for, and operation of, the railroad was returned to the British in June 1945.
The Motor Transport Service (MTS) was the last of the three main operating services of the PGC. The mission of MTS included driving cargo-laden trucks across hot deserts or through blinding winter blizzards that swept the mountain passes. Heavy cargo was hauled by truckers up steep mountain grades, where trucks had to stop, back up, then go forward again in order to make treacherous bends in roads before continuing the trek north. Convoys kept moving day and night, hauling war materiel as fast as possible in time for the Red Army. At its peak, there were an estimated 2,000 trucks along the route, headed north loaded with supplies.
The huge tractor-trailer rigs and the treacherous mountain roads overwhelmed the first batch of Army quartermaster drivers assigned to the PGC whose experience had been limited to civilian jobs driving delivery trucks in the United States. To recruit skilled drivers, the War Department contacted the American trucking associations and the Teamsters Union, calling for volunteers for a “secret mission.” At that time, most heavy duty truck drivers in America were exempt from the draft because they were deemed essential for the war effort at home. Within a short time more than 1,000 drivers had given up their deferments and joined the Army.
Units picked up and hauled war goods over some of the toughest and most dangerous stretches on the supply route to the Soviet Union. Drivers pushed their semi-tractor trailers, six by fours, and 10-ton Mack diesels, heavily loaded with vital war supplies, from Khorramshahr to Andimeshk—155 miles of winding road over deserts and mountains. In addition, a pipeline was laid from Abadan, then the location of the world’s largest refinery, to Andimeshk; from there the fuel was re-loaded onto trucks and transported to the Soviet Union. In all, American truck drivers in the PGC drove more than 97 million miles, much of the time under difficult conditions.
In 1944, the Shah of Iran made an inspection trip to an American camp and rode in a jeep for the first time in his life. The royal visitor was fascinated with the little “puddle jumper.” A few days later, Major General Donald H. Connolly, Commanding General, PGC, presented the Shah with a jeep on behalf of the U.S. government. Sergeant Clyde Walstead, who had previously run a civilian garage in Minneapolis, Minnesota, was assigned as the Shah’s instructor. “His Majesty caught on fast,” said Walstead, and “he was mighty proud of that jeep.”
There were plenty of physical, mental, medical, and environmental hardships for personnel assigned to the PGC. Pete Perich of Warren, Ohio, who was in Iran from 1942 to 1944, said “the veterans were not informed of where they were going when they left home.” This mission required the utmost secrecy by personnel serving in this ancient land. Once they got to Iran, their letters to and from home had cut-outs of censored portions to ensure they did not reveal any classified information to their families. “We used to call them lace curtains because they were cut up so much,” said Robert Patterson of Danville, Pennsylvania, who was a truck driver. Speaking of mail, many soldiers in the PGC never received their 1943 Christmas mail because some 500 bags of it went down when the Liberty ship Albert Gallatin was torpedoed and sunk by a Japanese submarine en route from British-controlled Aden to Bandar Shapur, Iran, on 2 January 1944.
Technical Sergeant Ray B. Wilson, a driver who had also served in the Army in World War I, said, “Dust storms chewed your truck parts away, and the holes in the road were so deep that the gas tanks got bounced off. Every [day] drivers crashed [their] heads against the cab roofs and rubbed the skin off the small of [their] backs, and swallowed a bushel of dust and sand every day. You either boiled in the heat or nearly froze to death in the high mountains.” Lillian Toll Tekel of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, who was a nurse in the PGC, said “Soldiers frequently came down with heat exhaustion [and] dehydration as well as malaria and sand fly fever.”
There were plenty of challenges in communicating within the Persian Gulf. Signal Corps units within the theater found most wire and radio facilities inadequate along the railroad and non-existent along the truck routes. This required thousands of miles of wire to be strung, including construction of fixed and mobile radio and teletype networks. Many highly technical installations were completed so that wire or radio communications were constant among all key points. However, the Signal Corps work was not always successful. For example, it was discovered that over 250 miles of copper communications wire was stolen from telephone poles strung along the railroad for conversion into bazaar trinkets.
Weather also presented a problem. Those who arrived in theater in the summer of 1942 were welcomed by torrential rains and mud more than a foot deep. Soldiers had to pitch their tents and sleep on the ground for the next six months until huts were built. Walter C. Peach, a veteran of the PGC, said, “We had no electricity for the first few months in Persia, and our only food was dried or in cans; dried potatoes, dried milk, dried coffee powder, and powdered eggs. No fresh fruit or vegetables, and we were served canned meat. Gad, what a memory!” While in Iran, soldiers sometimes had to improvise to make up for their lack of fresh meat, said former PGC soldier John Varner of Farmville, Virginia. “At night we used to hunt gazelles and wild boar,” he said. “We’d take off after them in our jeeps at about 70 miles per hour. That was a big deal when we brought back fresh meat,” he added.
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. Sergeant Burt Evans, a correspondent with Yank magazine, wrote “They don’t publish the temperature at Andimeshk, but estimates of the summer heat range from 130 to 180 degrees, with most of the soldiers favoring the higher figure. Worst thing is that it’s almost that hot at night, making it hard to sleep. An old-time GI resident of this desert hot box will pour a canteen of water onto his mattress, then lie down in it and try to get to sleep before the water evaporates.” In the same article, Evans wrote, “Metal subjected to this red-hot sun has caused many a flesh burn. Your dog tags will sear your chest in the short walk from barracks to the mess hall.”
Recreation for the soldiers of the PGC was handled by the Special Services Branch which showed movies, managed recreation halls, coordinated USO and soldier shows, and ran athletic programs. Organized leagues and tournaments were made available to all soldiers in the main camps and some of the secondary camps of the PGC. Soldiers could take part in baseball, basketball, football, boxing, softball, track, swimming, volleyball, table tennis, checkers, bridge, and fishing. The most elaborate and worthwhile recreational project of the PGC was the 3,000-mile round-trip to Palestine at the Army’s expense. Thousands of officers and enlisted men made this trip from Khorramshahr to Basra by truck, then from Basra to Baghdad by the Iraq State Railway, and from Baghdad to Tel Aviv and Camp Tel Litwinsky, Palestine, by truck. The trip took up to six days each way and included a five-day visit to various Holy Land sites. Most officers and some enlisted men were able to make the trip by air.
The mission of the PGC was declared accomplished by Chief of Staff General of the Army George C. Marshall on 1 June 1945. During its entire period of operation, the PGC delivered over 2.5 million tons of material to the Soviet Union. This figure included assembling nearly 5,000 planes and 200,000 military vehicles. In its single-month peak operation, July 1944, the command delivered nearly one-tenth of its total tonnage despite brutal summer heat. Including the tonnage delivered by the British and Soviet trucking agencies, it was officially estimated in August 1944 that fifty percent of the total aid to the Soviet Union from the United States, Great Britain, and Canada had come through the Persian Corridor.
The separation of the command from the Middle East Theater occurred in December 1943. In the summer of that year, the command was near its greatest strength. The PGC reached the peak of deliveries of war materials to the Soviet Union during 1944. By the end of 1944, the motor transport routes to the Soviet Union started closing down, narrowing the major supply activities to the more confined route of the railroad from Khorramshahr to Tehran. Progressive reductions in tonnage through the first half of 1945 completed the primary mission of the PGC by 1 June, after which it packed and shipped excess supplies, turned over surpluses to a liquidation commission, provided security detachments for remaining fixed installations until they could be disposed of, and continued to supply the Air Transport Command. These residual duties required fewer troops and many soon began moving out of the command.
During 1945, many units were sent home for reassignment or were transferred to other theaters of the war. In the summer many soldiers were released and sent home for discharge. Because it had completed its mission and had decreased considerably in size, the PGC again became the Persian Gulf Service Command in October 1945 and came under the U.S. Army’s Africa-Middle East Theater, successor to the U. S. Army Forces in the Middle East, in Cairo. Finally, on 26 December 1945, the last echelon of the command left Khorramshahr for the United States or other theaters. In all, the Persian Corridor was the route for 4,159,117 tons of cargo delivered to the Soviet Union during World War II. After Germany was defeated, Iran, under the Shah, remained an ally of the United States and Great Britain for decades, until he was overthrown in the Islamic Revolution in 1979 and replaced by the Ayatollah Khomeini.
Before the last man crossed the gangplank of the ship General Richardson, a considerable amount of planning had taken place for that inevitable moment. On 12 May 1945, four days after V-E Day, the War Department designated the PGC an inactive theater. This action was the culmination of a series of steps which included the disbandment of the Motor Transport Service on 1 December 1944, the closing of the port of Bandar Shahpur for Soviet-aid purposes later that month, the ending of aircraft and motor vehicle assembly in early 1945, the relinquishment of the railway in June 1945, and a progressive contraction in function, structure, and personnel paralleling the falling off of incoming shipments
In 1945, in order to foster esprit de corps and comradeship, a group of officers stationed in Tehran formed the Persian Gulf Command Veterans’ Organization. Membership quickly grew, particularly among the command’s officers and senior noncommissioned officers. The veteran’s group for the PGC was disbanded in 2007 after its sixtieth and final national convention because of a dwindling number of veterans left to gather and remember. Their contributions to the war effort should not be forgotten. In 1995, Russia awarded veterans of the PGC a commemorative medal in recognition of their contribution to a common struggle against fascism during the last war. The medal, known as the Jubilee Medal on the 40th Anniversary of the Victory in the Great Patriotic War, features an inscription in Russian: “To the participant of war on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the victory in the Great Patriotic War 1941-1945.”
The accomplishments of the Persian Gulf Command cannot be overstated. Supporting the Soviet Union’s need for equipment and raw materials made for an interesting story of the Allies working together to achieve the common goal of defeating the Axis powers. The PGC delivered tanks, airplanes, vehicles, locomotives and rails, construction materials, entire military production assembly lines, food and clothing, aviation fuel, weapons, ammunition, oil, gasoline, chemicals, aluminum and steel, machine tools, field telephones, and telephone wire. The efforts of the soldiers in the PGC thwarted the attempts of Nazi Germany to defeat the Soviet Union, allowing the Red Army to turn the tide on the Eastern Front and eventually overwhelm the Wehrmacht.