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On the 1941 Soviet Intervention into Iran


‘Neutral’ Iran harboured Nazi German military intelligence bases, was to serve as avenue for Wehrmacht conquest of Caucasus oilfields.


The 1921 Soviet-Iranian ‘Friendship’ Treaty officially permitted Soviet intervention against fascist forces harboured in Iran, in exchange for USSR’s return of Iranian assets seized by Tsarist Russia.


The History of the USSR & the Peoples’ Democracies

Chapter 10, Section 5 (C10S5) 


Saed Teymuri


Pahlavi Iran was to join the Nazi invaders. A CIA document noted that under the ‘commercial’ agreements between Iran and Germany, German ‘technicians’ (read: spies) were to go near the Soviet-Iranian border, and that the Nazi German intelligence service had two intelligence bases, one located in Tehran and the other in Tabriz. The top priority of the Nazi German intelligence bases was to gather intelligence on the oil-rich region of the Soviet Caucasus. The CIA document stated:

1. Before the German invasion of Russia in June 1941 and the Allied occupation of Iran in August 1941, Germany not only maintained active commercial exchanges with Iran, but was also engage in industrial construction work, some of which involved the transit of goods through Soviet Russia and brought German technicians close to the Soviet-Iranian border. The Soviets tried to hinder German-Iranian trade and to slow down the shipment of Iranian exports to Germany, presumably because they suspected that these activities provided cover for the GIS [German intelligence service]. During this pre-occupation period the following German intelligence operatives were using commercial cover in Iran:

     fnu [First Name Unknown] ALLARDT

     Dr. fnu TISMER

     fnu WOEHRL

     fnu KUNDERT

     Dr. Paul LEVERKUEHN

2. There were two German intelligence bases in Iran. In Novemeber 1940 Lt. Erwin Otto FINK undercover as German Commercial Attache, became chief of the base in Tehran, and in April 1941 R. KULLENKAMPF and Lt. (fnu) KORRER joined him as assistants. Captain Bruno SCHULZE-HOLTHUS (post-war author of Daybreak in Iran) [published 1954] was chief of the base in Tabriz. The targets of the bases were Iran, Iraq, Northern India, and the Caucasus. Priority was given to operations to target and OB data on the Soviet Black and Caspian Sea areas, to establish contact with the border tribes in northern India; and to prepare for sabotage of the oil installations in southern Iran.


In this situation, the USSR had every legal right to intervene into Iran, and to overthrow the pro-Nazi elements of the regime there – and that meant the overthrow of Iran’s regime in general, because Iran’s regime was pro-Nazi. The Article 5 of the 1921 Soviet-Iranian Friendship Treaty states:

The two High Contracting Parties undertake:

(1) To prohibit the formation or presence within their respective territories, of any organisations or groups of persons, irrespective of the name by which they are known, whose Object is to engage in acts Of hostility against Persia or Russia, or against the Allies of Russia.

They will likewise prohibit the formation of troops or armies within their respective territories with the afore-mentioned object.

(2) Not to allow a third Party or any organisation, whatever it be called, which is hostile to the other Contracting Party, to import or to convey in transit across their countries material which can be used against the other Party.

(3) To prevent by all means in their power the presence within their territories or within the territories of their Allies of all armies or forces of a third Party in cases in which the presence of such forces would be regarded as a menace to the frontiers, interests or safety of the other Contracting Party.

(Persia and the Russian Socialist Federal Soviet Republic - Treaty of Friendship, signed at Moscow, February 26, 1921 [1922] LNTSer 69; 9 LNTS 383, p. 3) (IMG)

The US intelligence too stated:

With the advent of Riza Khan as army chief of staff in 1931, strong efforts to re-establish Iran’s authority over the area were encouraged by the favorable terms of the 1921 Soviet-Iranian Treaty of Friendship. Under the terms of this agreement the young Bolshevik Government renounced extraterritorial rights and all concessions and holdings gained in Iran during the Czarist regime (including the Julfa-Tabriz Railway) with the exception of Soviet interests in the Caspian Sea fisheries. The USSR did, however, reserve “the right to advance her troops into (Iran) for the purpose of carrying out military operations necessary for its defense” should a third party threaten the frontiers of Russia through this area and should Iran be unable to meet such a threat after having been once called upon to do so by Russia. (DEVELOPMENTS IN THE AZERBAIJAN SITUATION, US intelligence, Central Intelligence Group, ORE, June 4, 1947, p. 3) (IMG)

The USSR warned Iran that this course of action – the hosting of hostile anti-Soviet units in Iran – was a violation of the 1921 treaty which stated that Iran was prohibited from harbouring anti-Soviet units in its territory, and that should Iran violate this clause, the USSR has a right to deploy troops to overthrow the hostile anti-Soviet units. The Soviets again and again warned Iran against the impending German plans to stage a coup and force Iran to the Axis camp. The Soviet calls would fall to deaf ears. Iran’s treasonous pro-Nazi Shah would accept none of it. On June 26, 1941:

Iran [was] notified by USSR that German agents were preparing for revolt to put Iran on the side of the Axis. (Chronology of Principal Events Relating to the USSR Part II, OSS, September 25, 1945, p. 2) (IMG)

On July 19, 1941:

USSR made representations to the Iranian government demanding suppression of German agents. (Chronology of Principal Events Relating to the USSR Part II, OSS, September 25, 1945, p. 7) (IMG)

On August 11, 1941:

Ankara reported Stalin’s warning to Iran to expel German agents. (Chronology of Principal Events Relating to the USSR Part II, OSS, September 25, 1945, p. 12) (IMG)

August 16, 1941:

On August 16, 1941, there was a:

 Joint British-Russian warning to Iran to oust Germans. (Chronology of Principal Events Relating to the USSR Part II, OSS, September 25, 1945, p. 13) (IMG)

Finally, on August 25, 1941, the:

USSR [made a] note to the Iranian government on securing the Soviet rights under the Soviet Iranian treaty of 1921. (Chronology of Principal Events Relating to the USSR Part II, OSS, September 25, 1945, p. 15) (IMG)

And thus, the USSR deployed its troops to Iran to overthrow the German Nazis and their collaborators.

In order to help the Soviets and at the same time expand their imperial presence at the expense of their German imperial rivals, the British intervened in Iran as well. The British intervention was legal, as it was invited by the Soviets. According to the 1921 Soviet-Iranian treaty, the USSR had the right to militarily occupy Iran until six months after the defeat of the hostile power hosted by Iran.


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