Iraq Did All It Could to Kill Hashem All-e-Agha, Iran’s Top F-14 Pilot
It took two MiGs and a lot of luck to take him down
Part two of two. Read part one.
During the first four years of the Iran-Iraq War, one Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force F-14 pilot earned a fearful reputation — especially in Iraq. Amazingly enough, he remains entirely unknown to the public, even in Iran.
This might unsurprising, considering Iran’s fascistic regime and its ongoing efforts to falsify not only the history of its armed forces, but of the entire country. However, the lengths officials have gone to to avoid acknowledging Iran’s top F-14 pilot are quite extraordinary.
Contrary to standard practice in Iran, there are no magazine articles about Hashem All-e-Agha, no books, no spectacular movies, no T.V. documentaries and no murals decorating the streets of Iranian cities. Tehran apparently doesn’t want the world to how one of its deadliest aerial warriors ultimately fell in battle.
As the deputy commander of Tactical Fighter Base 8 near Esfahan, All-e-Agha was the mastermind of many Iranian air-defense operations during the first four years of the Iran-Iraq War that began in 1980.
His planning resulted in the IRIAF scoring around 40 confirmed kills and establishing aerial dominance over the oil-rich Khuzestan province, in turn enabling Iranian ground forces to launch a series of offensives that gradually pushed the Iraqi forces out of the country in 1981 and 1982.
However, on Nov. 15, 1981, the Iraqi Air Force hit back when its Dassault Mirage F.1 interceptors shot down two of IRIAF’s vaunted F-14 Tomcats. Determined to recover not only the shattered morale of his pilots, but also the aerial dominance in the skies over Khuzestan, All-e-Agha developed a plan.
Although risky, his plan worked better than anyone expected. All-e-Agha first imposed a complete ban on all other aerial activity of Iranian aircraft and helicopters — except for his interceptors. While leaving much of ground forces exposed to Iraqi air strikes and without any helicopter support, this measure enabled Iranian F-14 crews and their ground controllers to operate free of usual problems with sorting out own from enemy aircraft.
They enjoyed full freedom of operation, and were cleared to fire as necessary.
On Nov. 25, 1981, a pair of Tomcats from TFB.8 deployed on the same patrol-station occupied by the pair that was shot down four days earlier. At a pre-determined point in time, their crews made a fake radio call announcing they would be short of fuel and about to return to base.
One of last known photographs of All-e-Agha — standing, third from the left — showing him together with the F-14A 3–6053 and a group of pilots from the 81st TFS at Khatami air base in 1983 or 1984. Tom Cooper Collection
A few minutes later, the pilots of two low-flying F-5E Tigers sighted a pair of brand-new Iraqi MiG-23MFs approaching the area below the Iranian patrol-station in a tight formation at a very low altitude.
The Tigers were much too slow to follow, but their warning was sufficient. Both Tomcats performed a vertical descending maneuver known as a “split s.” The crew of the lead F-14 — Capt. Fazlollah “Javid” Javad-Nia and 1st Lt. Gholamreza Khorshidi — quickly acquired one of their low-flying opponents with their AWG-9 radar, set up an attack and launched an AIM-54 Phoenix missile before flying another vertical maneuver known as the “F-pole.”
In this fashion, their Tomcat flew down and to the side of the incoming enemy, while still keeping its radar pointed on the target in order to provide course corrections for the Phoenix missile.
Converted from hunters into a prey in a matter of few seconds, the two Iraqis now fought for their survival. Each fired one R-23R medium-range air-to-air missile. Too late. Out of the three missiles that were airborne, Javid’s Phoenix was not only the first fired, but also the fastest. It blotted out the lead MiG-23. The debris of the smashed fighter struck the other MiG.
One of Iraqis was killed, the other ejected and was captured by the Iranians. Left on their own, both of the R-23Rs missed their targets.
With MiG-23MFs out of the way, the IRIAF’s Tomcats had a field day. By sunset on Nov. 25, 1981, they scored five additional confirmed kills, effectively sweeping the skies clean of the Iraqi Air Force.
When the MiGs attempted to return four days later, the crews of two F-14s vectored a pair of F-5Es from Vahdati to intercept, and these scored another kill.
In December 1981, the Iraqis re-initiated their attempts to knock out the Tomcats that ruled the skies over Khuzestan. This time, they began using Kuwaiti airspace to outflank Iranians. All-e-Agha reacted by combining high-flying F-4Es with low-flying F-14s. When Iraqis attempted to ambush the Phantoms, they were hit by Tomcats they did not know were around.
Interestingly, while the Iraqis deny having suffered even 20 percent of the losses claimed by Iranians during that month, a former U.S. Marines Corps pilot who served as instructor with the Kuwaiti Air Force in late 1981 described on condition of anonymity “a series of mysterious accidents” involving Kuwaiti Mirages around the same period of time.
Apparently, some of the “Iraqi Mirages” engaged by AIM-54 Phoenix missiles from long range were actually unsuspecting Kuwaitis. To the Iranians, causing losses to the Kuwaitis did not make any difference. Kuwait, after all, financed Iraq’s aggression against Iran with billions of petro-dollars.
Despite countless claims of the contrary, the Iranian F-14 fleet remained fully operational throughout the war with Iraq, and played a dominant role for most of that conflict. Tom Cooper Collection
All-e-Agha versus the Iraqi Air Force
Due to his success, in 1983 All-e-Agha was appointed the deputy of operations of the IRIAF — only the second in the air force’s hierarchy and de-facto primary planner of the air force.
Although advised by nearly everybody to stop risking his life, and requested to concentrate on his actual job as well as training of pilots, he not only continued planning most of the air-defense operations, but also continued leading by example and flying combat sorties, too.
Exactly how many kills he might have achieved over the time remains unknown. Not only that his own score was never important to All-e-Agha, but his former colleagues recall him as somebody who never stopped cautioning them to keep their expenditure of irreplaceable AIM-54 Phoenix missiles to an absolute minimum.
On the contrary, Iraqis — who not only convinced themselves that majority of Iranian F-14s would be non-operational, but also considered Iranian Tomcat crews to be incompetent — learned to fear All-e-Agha. According to Brig. Gen. Ahmad Sadik, a retired officer in the Iraqi Air Force Intelligence Department, his service paid great attention at tracking the activity of the Iranian commander and issued special warnings whenever he was airborne.
To a certain degree, the Iraqis began considering the issue of aerial superiority over Khuzestan as one of a clash between the Iraqi Air Force and All-e-Agha.
It was thus little surprising that the IrAF began searching for an opportunity to liquidate the top Iranian aerial tactician. A chance offered itself in early August 1984, when the Iraqi intelligence got wind of an Iranian convoy of merchant ships and tankers underway from Hormuz Straits toward Bushehr and Bandar-e Khomeini.
As so often before, the mastermind behind the IRIAF’s efforts to protect this convoy was Hashem All-e-Agha.
As the caravan approached the island of Khark on Aug. 11, 1984, the IrAF planned to attack. This, however, necessitated the removal of a pair of F-14s that were flying a combat air patrol between Khark and Bushehr. The task of destroying the pair of Tomcats was issued to the commander of the newly-established №73 Squadron, equipped with recently-delivered MiG-23MLs.
A post-war photograph of Fazlollah ‘Javid’ Javad-Nia — the pilot that avenged the loss of two IRIAF F-14s by downing two Iraqi MiG-23MFs on Nov. 25, 1981. Photo via Javad A.
Following their usual tactics, the two MiGs thundered low over Kuwait and then in a southerly direction over the waters of the Persian Gulf before turning east in the direction of Khark Island. Underway at near-supersonic speed, they timed their approach so as to hit at least one of the F-14s while it was flying along the southeastern leg of the race-track CAP pattern.
When the ground controllers at Wahda air base southwest of Basra issued the code-word “giraffe,” both MiGs engaged afterburners and climbed to 23,000 feet, expecting to hit Tomcats from below.
Once activated, their radars showed no targets ahead of them. After some confusion, the two Iraqis were ordered to roll out and look around. Rather surprised by what he saw in front of him, the Iraqi wingman — youngster pilot 1st Lt. Ameer — screamed, “Fouurrrrrrrrrrrrrrteeeeeen!” on the radio.
Puzzled by this message, the Iraqi ground controller required an explanation, and Ameer replied that there was an “F-14 sitting right in front … 500 meters or less away!”
He was ordered to calm down, decelerate and thus fall back within the minimal range for R-60M missiles. Within seconds, one of these acquired the target and Ameer squeezed the trigger.
The crew of the Tomcat in question consisted of All-e-Agha and 1st Lt. Mohammad Rostampour. They had been airborne for hours and had survived at least one engagement with another formation of Iraqi MiGs earlier the same day. They focused their attention northward as the MiG-23s approached from the west.
“Despite our high altitude, the visibility was poor,” Rostampour recalled. “We switched the position with our wingman while turning port towards the coast. After that turn, Hashem felt some movement in his controls and requested our wingman to check our six, and also make a visual inspection of our aircraft for possible combat damage. When the wingman looked back, he saw a missile approaching and — bang! Our right engine was hit!”
“I was knocked unconscious by the impact,” Rostampour continued. “When I recovered, I felt as hot as in a sauna. The cockpit hood was still intact, but our aircraft was afire and the sea surface rapidly approaching. Instinctively, I pulled the handle and ejected both of us, crashing into the water only seconds later. [My vision] was still poor and I couldn’t see very far. I also needed minutes to reach my dinghy and climb into it. Once outside the water, I called for Hashem several times, and I heard his voice calling back. But he was never found.”
Concluding the two MiG-23MLs still had enough fuel, the ground control at Wahda ordered them into a new attack. Ameer and his section leader were confident. Their R-24Rs could engage from a longer range than AIM-7E-2-armed F-4Es could.
Approaching to a distance of 30 kilometers, the lead Iraqi MiG pilot achieved a lock on. When the range was down to 25 kilometers, he fired one R-24R. The Phantom reacted with a hard turn, and the subsequent analysis of the HUD film from that engagement showed that the missile attempted to follow this maneuver, but missed by between two and three kilometers.
The turn exposed the Iranian fighter’s rear to 1st Lt. Ameer. The young Iraqi reacted by firing one of his R-24Ts. The missile guided well but failed to reach its target as the F-4 accelerated away.
With this, the morning air battle of Aug. 11 1984 was finally over. While Radio Baghdad was rather overenthusiastic in claiming three F-14s as shot down in to the sea, it wasn’t until a week later that the two Iraqi pilots were informed that they had shot down and killed the top Iranian aerial warfare expert.
Despite clear recollections of his RIO and his wingman and those of the two IrAF MiG-23 pilots, rumors regarding All-e-Agha’s death have circulated for years.
One falsehood claimed he was attacked by up to a dozen Mirages. The most fantastic is the story circulating the internet that All-e-Agha’s Tomcat collided with an Iraqi R-15/SS-N-2 Styx anti-ship missile that he was trying to intercept.
Obviously, the loss of the IRIAF’s top aerial tactician to two MiGs is unacceptable to the Iranian F-14 community. Some Iraqis are not the least surprised. Sadik insists that after All-e-Agha’s death, the IRIAF F-14 fleet was never again as effective as before.
The author would like to express his gratitude to Babak All-e-Agha, Javad A. and Brig. Gen. Ahmad Sadik for their help in preparing this article.