British special forces

The raid to rescue the hostages held in the Iranian embassy in London is considered the famous debut battle of the British Special Forces Air Force (SAS).

Six armed members of the Democratic Revolutionary Movement for the Liberation of Arabistan (DRFLA) attacked the Iranian embassy in London on April 30, 1980, capturing everyone inside. Among those taken into custody were the Iranian ambassador and several journalists. And British police, as hostages, demanded the release of prisoners held by the Iranian government, according to War History Online.

Operation Nimrod and the Iranian Embassy

 Days of intense negotiations between British authorities and the terrorists yielded no results. From the outset, Britain had decided to raid the Iranian embassy. If any hostages were killed, they had no intention of letting the terrorists fled. Therefore, while continuing to negotiate, they prepared offensive options.

Royal Air Force Special Forces (SAS) were assigned to carry out the raid. The SAS, made up of the best British military personnel, was secretly established after the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre to carry out special missions and rescue hostages.

The SAS had been mostly unknown to the general public before the raid, but that all changed when the operation was carried out.

The operation Nimrod proposed by Lieutenant Colonel Michael Rose was based on tactics using speed, the element of surprise, and raids. Raiding teams would storm the embassy in various directions, throwing stun grenades and tear gas to disorient the terrorists.

The force will then move quickly and decisively to prevent the terrorists from reuniting and killing the hostages. The plan also anticipates the possibility of large casualties during the raid, with an estimated 40% of the hostages killed and the SAS force having members die.

They constructed a replica of the Iranian embassy to practice the raid.  The SAS created exact duplicates of the building so its members could rehearse their raid strategies.

On the afternoon of May 5, when realizing that the terrorist group had begun to execute hostages, SAS special forces were assigned to conduct the raid. 

All their preparations were recorded by reporters and broadcast live on television; fortunately, the terrorists did not turn on the TV, so they did not know.

At 19:24, 32 SAS special forces troops entered the embassy through a window and swung from the roof, alerted by snipers.

Each team is in charge of an area in the building and does not operate outside this area to avoid mistakenly shooting each other.

Not everything went as planned. One member got entangled while swinging down the structure. Some captives were not located in their intended locations.

Operation Nimrod and the Iranian Embassy
A hostage tries to climb out of a burning room during the raid

One room was blocked from the inside, forcing the special forces to circle around the balcony. The stun grenade set the furniture on fire, and the flames quickly spread throughout the room.

The successful execution of the raid strategy, however, changed that. Terrorists were caught off-guard and only managed to kill one hostage before being eliminated by the special forces’ fire.

Two individuals were taken alive. However, the SAS found a grenade in one of their hands as they descended the stairs. Before he could pull the latch, he was shot dead.

The operation’s success is also thanks to the support of a hostage, police officer Trevor Lock, who protects the embassy. Discovering that the special forces were raiding the building, Lock pushed down the terrorist leader and wrestled with him. Despite inhaling tear gas, Lock still managed to prevent him from having a chance to open fire before a SAS member killed him.

The raid was a great success, as only one hostage was killed, and two others were seriously injured while none of the SAS members were killed. 

In a few minutes, they defeated the terrorists and ended the six-day raid. With the campaign being conducted in front of the live television camera, the British SAS special forces have since been known worldwide.

Operation Nimrod and the Iranian Embassy