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Unternehmen Francois

Page Created
April 7th, 2023
Last Updated
April 7th, 2023
German Flag
Special Forces
Sonderverband z.b.V. Friedenthal
June 21st, 1943 – July 9th, 1943
Unternehmen Francois (Operation Francois)
  • Use and support the dissident Qashqai people in Iran to sabotage British and American supply lines bound for the Soviet Union.
  • Raiding Latrun Prison in Palestine where the Persian Axis-sympathiser General Fazlollah Zahedi is being held. The General is to be transported to Axis-held territory.
Operational Area
  • Southern Iran
  • Central Iran
Unit Force
  • 16 men of the Sonderverband z.b.V. Friedenthal
  • 85 Fallschirmjäger
Opposing Forces
  • British occupation Force Palistine
  • The Soviet Union under General Dmitry Timofeyevich Kozlov
    • 44th Army of the Transcaucasian Front
    • 47th Army of the Transcaucasian Front
    • 53rd Army of the Central Asian Military District
  • Great Britain
    • Royal Navy
    • Persia and Iraq Force (Paiforce) under command of Lieutenant-General Edward Quinan
      • 8th Indian Infantry division
      • 10th Indian Infantry division 
      • 2nd Indian Armoured Brigade, 
      • 9th Armoured Brigade
      • 21st Indian Infantry Brigade
  • Australia
    •  Royal Australian Navy

In the aftermath of the catastrophic defeat at Stalingrad, the German Reich and the Axis Powers are reeling. The Oberkommando des Heeres (OKH) is desperately searching for new tactics to disrupt Soviet supply lines. Aware that the Americans and British are shipping large amounts of war materials to the Soviet Union through various ports such as Murmansk, Vladivostok, and the Persian Corridor, the Oberkommando des Heeres prepares plans for a summer offensive.

After much deliberation, the Oberkommando des Heeres decides that the Allied ports in the Persian Corridor are the most efficient places to strike. They recognise that disrupting these supply lines could potentially cripple the Soviet war effort. However, they face a significant challenge: the Allied forces guarding these ports are well-equipped and well-trained, making it difficult to launch a direct attack.

To overcome this challenge, the Germans turn to a less conventional strategy. They know that there are many ethnic communities and pro-Axis sympathisers in the occupied nations that they can leverage to their advantage. To this end, the Oberkommando des Heeres utilises intelligence provided by the Abwehr, the German Army’s intelligence service, and devises a military operation codenamed “François.”

The plan is to use the dissident Qashqai people in Iran to sabotage British and American supply lines bound for the Soviet Union. The Qashqai are a nomadic tribe that has traditionally opposed central Iranian authority and have a long history of conflict with the Persian government. The Germans see this as an opportunity to exploit their discontent and use them as a proxy force to disrupt Allied supply lines.

With Unternehmen François, the Germans hope to strike a major blow to the Allied war effort and shift the tide of the war in their favor. The plan is daring and risky, but the desperate situation of the Axis Powers leaves them with few alternatives.

In the summer of 1943, the German Army plans to deploy the commandos of Sonderverband z.b.V. Friedenthal and Fallschirmjäger units to Iran as part of Unternehmen François. which will be led by SS-Hauptsturmführer Otto Skorzeny. While Skorzeny remains in Germany to train and gather supplies, the troops will parachute into Iran to disrupt Soviet supply lines.

To prepare for the operation, the German government contacts pro-Axis sympathisers in Iran, including the Qashqai people, and promises them wealth and autonomy after the war. They also approach Palestinian citizens in British territory to conduct acts of sabotage against the British occupation forces.

Additionally, a raid is to be conducted in Latrun where Axis-sympathiser General Fazlollah Zahedi is being held. The General is to be transported to Axis-held territory. and the Qashqai people are initially hesitant to collaborate with the Germans. However, with the promise of large amounts of gold and other material goods as payment, they eventually agree to gather any useful information and provide suitable locations for airdrops.

June 21st, 1943

The start of Unternehmen Francois. 10 Junkers Ju-52 transport aircraft take off from an airfield in Bulgaria. Each of the transport aircraft carries two pilots and seventeen men. The composition of this force is 85 Fallschirmjäger and 16 Kommandos of the Sonderverband z.b.V. Friedenthal. After receiving permission from the Turkish government, they fly over the Turkish landscape before dropping their paratroopers along the outskirts of Persia. The Qashqai have selected a rendezvous point where the terrain would permit a successful drop without detection.

Simultaneously, Palestinian citizens begin attacking several British positions, gathering weapons and intel about the location of their objective. They raid the town of Latrun, calling for the end of British rule and the liberation of Palestine. The Palestinians eventually reach a prison complex within the city where they find General Zahedi and hastily transport him to Turkey. Axis-sympathisers are standing by, ready to transport him to Germany as the British Army arrives to quell the Palestinian insurgents.

The Qashqai and Iranian rebels quickly share the locations of major Allied naval ports and railway lines with the Germans, which are important areas where Lend-Lease supplies travel through. As promised, the Germans provide the rebels with gold, telecommunication systems, and explosives to launch coordinated attacks on Allied supply lines.

To avoid detection by Allied forces, the Germans are given traditional Persian clothing and taught local customs to blend in with the local population. General Zahedi issues a radio broadcast from Germany, calling on all Iranians to rise up against the Allied invaders with Axis support.

In a matter of days, coordinated attacks are launched across Persia, damaging major supply routes in Bushehr, Bandar Shahpur, Tehran, and Nowshahr, with harbours damaged, supply trains and convoys destroyed by mines, derailment or ambush. Any recovered weapons and supplies are utilised by the Germans or given to the Iranian rebels to strengthen the operation. The Sonderverband z.b.V. Friedenthal reports to German intelligence that the attacks have disrupted supplies to the Soviet Union, causing severe damage to their war effort.

Operations on Kursk

This news prompts the Oberkommando des Heeres to plan a summer offensive, either by attacking the Kursk salient or by Generalfeldmarschall von Manstein’s rapid offensive plan, UnterNehmen Zitadelle (Operation Citadel). Army Group Centre, led by Generalfeldmarschall Günther von Kluge, will engage from the north, while Army Group South, led by von Manstein, will attack from the south.

As German forces begin to gather, Marshal of the Soviet Union Georgy Zhukov can only speculate about what is about to happen. His speculations are confirmed when British Intelligence reports reveal that the Germans are indeed preparing for a summer offensive, including the location and timing of their attack. In response, Zhukov orders the construction of a series of defensive lines and massively increases Soviet forces in the Kursk salient, pulling in troops and tanks from less vulnerable areas of the front.

On May 13th, 1943, the North African Campaign ends with over 275,000 German and Italian troops being taken prisoner. German High Command becomes concerned that the Allied next target will be somewhere in Italy or Greece and deploys several divisions to secure those areas.

Meanwhile, in Iran, it becomes apparent that operations in the Persian Corridor have been compromised. The Western Allies suspect Axis interference but are uncertain how the attacks are being carried out. Some Allied leaders believe that the Axis are using the civilian population to conduct acts of sabotage and espionage. As a result, the Allies take a more defensive approach to their supply convoys to the Soviet Union. They set up checkpoints, establish curfews, and deploy armored trains and armed escorts to protect convoys from ambush. They take whatever measures necessary to secure their supply lines.

After increasing security measures, further attacks on Allied supply lines fail and cost the lives of many Iranian guerrillas. Upon examining the bodies, Allied suspicions of Axis involvement are confirmed. The British and Americans realise that they have a severe problem and are uncertain of how many Iranian citizens are involved in these attacks.

Reprisals are severe, with hundreds of suspected saboteurs arrested and, in some cases, executed, especially in the north under Soviet occupation. German commandos disguised as Iranian civilians take photos or film the executions and transmit the information back to Germany for use as propaganda to incite the Iranian population against the Allies by portraying them as war criminals. As a result, thousands of Iranians revolt, demanding an Allied withdrawal from the country. The Germans hope that a nationwide uprising will force the Allies to divert resources from other fronts, thereby relieving pressure on their forces in Europe.

In the Eastern Front, the Germans make their final preparations for the Citadel Offensive. They aim to regain the strategic initiative and compel the Soviets to seek a negotiated peace with Germany to divert their resources and manpower to the Western Front.

July 5th, 1943

The start of Unternehmen Zitadelle. After undergoing a massive Soviet artillery bombardment, the German troops prepare for their assault. The following morning, the panzers charge forward, but they face a well-entrenched enemy, making it impossible for a lightning blitzkrieg breakthrough. In the north, the German infantry struggles to push through the Soviet defenses and gains only ten kilometres of territory. In contrast, in the south, the German panzers make steady progress, despite encountering heavy resistance and high casualties, driving a wedge 40 kilometres deep.

However, as they continue their advance into the salient, it becomes increasingly apparent how well-prepared the Soviets are. The Red Army has constructed three defensive lines interconnected by webs of minefields, barbed-wire fences, anti-tank ditches, deep entrenchments for infantry, anti-tank obstacles, dug-in armored vehicles, and machine-gun bunkers. Although material shortages are experienced due to sabotaged supply lines in the Persian Corridor, it is still the largest defense network ever constructed, stretching over 80 kilometres deep. In the skies above, the Luftwaffe and the Red Air Force engage in spectacular dogfights to gain air superiority, while on the ground, over 3,000 tanks battle it out in the largest armored battle in history.


The Germans find themselves in a precarious situation in Iran, with depleted supplies of explosives and gold, diverted reinforcements, and the Allies cracking their codes. Operation François is in danger of failure due to insufficient reinforcements and supplies, and the possibility of betrayal by the Qashqai tribes.

To avoid losing his special forces unit, SS-Hauptsturmführer Otto Skorzeny orders the men from Sonderverband z.b.V. Friedenthal to withdraw from Persia. A squadron of transport aircraft is assembled and sent to Iran to retrieve the German troops before the Allies can capture them.

July 9th, 1943

The Junkers Ju-52’s land near the same area where the men from Sonderverband z.b.V. Friedenthal and Fallschirmjäger were first dropped. With the failure of the nationwide revolt they had hoped for, the Germans destroy any potential assets, board their transports, and hastily evacuate Iran before the Allies can wipe out the remaining resistance.

Despite these setbacks, the Allies secure the Persian Corridor and begin reconstruction efforts to reopen their supply lines. Large quantities of Lend-Lease are sent to the Soviet Union in an attempt to salvage a victory for the Red Army. The Qashqai tribe captures two men from Sonderverband z.b.V. Friedenthal, who are turned over to the British for questioning.