The Beginning of American Involvement PDF Print E-mail
Sunday, 29 September 2013 22:29

The Anglo-Soviet occupation of Iran in 1941 would have been less essential to the Allied war purposes had the Iranian State Railway (ISR) not existed.  Churchill’s appeal for American  locomotives, rolling stock and technical advice played a large part in the War Department’s decision to establish the Iranian Mission, but there were marked discussions between the State and War  Department, and pessimism was evident in a memorandum by the War Plans Division which, while accurately assessing the foreseeable difficulties, can hardly be blamed for not achieving equal  accuracy regarding the future.  Noting that the  Southern area served by the railroad is unhealthful,  the paper went on to state:

“U.S. civilians or military personnel, not acclimated, would not be efficient or effective...Bad living conditions, shortage of water, unsatisfactory legal  status and difficult working conditions make it questionable if competent Civilian railroad technicians would be retained...Should U.S. Railroad units  operate the Trans-Iranian Railroad, the next logical step would be for U.S. Quartermaster units to operate the docks and U.S. Quartermaster truck  companies to do the trucking.  This could only be justified if it were contemplated that U.S. combat troops were later going to operate in this  area.  Since this is not the current plan, U.S. Army service troops should not  be provided for this duty.”

The matters rocked along until global pressures produced the crisis of midsummer 1942, one of whose resolutions was the assignment of the British sector of the ISR to the U.S. Army.  It is recorded  that when Prime Minister Churchill was told that the U.S. Army was ready to undertake the assignment, some British officers expressed alarm at putting control of an essential line of British  empire communications into foreign (i.e., American) hands; whereat Churchill dismissed the objection with the words,  "and in what better hands could it be?"

American control, however, was still not being contemplated, since directives from the Combined Chiefs of Staff studiously avoided any modification of British authority over movements and security.   Operations and control were to be in different hands.  American responsibilities had been enormously enlarged, but once again it was responsibility without authority, an anomaly from every point of view  and one whose adverse affects upon operations called for the prompt attention and vigorous negotiations which General Connolly gave to the problem as soon as he arrived.  If there had been in  anybody’s mind the thought that the new American command was to be integrated with the British, or subordinate to it, it soon became clear that the meshing of the two forces would be much subtler than  that.  Connolly wrote candidly in December 1942 to Somervell:

“. . . we are setting up our show on the Perishing pattern.  This naturally does not, and cannot be expected to arouse any great degree of enthusiasm  on the part of our British cousins.  They have been dominating the situation south of Tehran and competing with the Russians in Tehran.  It is  understandable that they want to keep a grip on all facilities and resources both for use during the war and for afterward.  Up to date our arguments  with them on labor, covered storage, supplies, etc., have been on a very friendly and cooperative basis. The idea is gradually percolating that this is  a part of the U.S. Army - not part of the British Army.”

A few days after this letter was written, the first five thousand American troops reached Khorramshahr.   The next big argument,  General Connolly wrote in the letter just quoted,  is going to  be over control of the railroad.