IRAN SURVEY PROJECT

The following is the recollection of MSGT George Froberg and I  (George A. Jacob) of the Iran Survey Project, as we knew it. 



At the behest of the Mapping and Geodesy Branch of the Corps of Engineer's headquarters and working through the State Department and the Department of Defense, the US in 1954/55 signed an agreement with the Shah of Iran to (1) make maps of Iran and (2) train Iranian soldiers to be mapmakers. The tangible benefits would be to obtain much needed intelligence data via maps, the training of Iranians soldiers in topography, and the establishment of a very close relationship between the two governments.

The USAF took aerial photography of the entire country in the 1954/55-time period. These photos were turned over to the Army Map Service and copies given to the Iranian government.

Agreements were reached as to how, when, where and who would do the ground work in Iran. The only previous survey of the country to establish latitude and longitude was done during the World War II period by the British Royal Survey. One Captain Thomas ran a triangulation network across Iran. This was a simple chain of triangles and each station was marked with the letter "T" to signify Captain Thomas's contribution to geodetic work in Iran.

Essentially, the US would provide the initial surveys utilizing geodesists and surveyors from the Army Map Service and supporting surveyors and personnel from the 30th Engineer Topographic Group then stationed at Fort Winfield Scott, a sub-post of the Presidio of San Francisco, California. Iranian officers and non-commissioned would receive training at the Army Map Service, the Department of Topography at Fort Belvoir, Virginia and on-the-job training in Iran. The Iranians also provided logistical support in the form of vehicles and laborers to transport survey equipment to the mountaintops.

The first group from the 549th Engineer Base Survey Company of the 30th Group went to Iran in 1956 and was headed by Captain John South. Of the enlisted personnel who went in that first group, MSGT George Froberg is the only one with whom I am familiar at this stage. The tour of duty which was performed in TDY (Temporary Duty) status was for one year.

MSGT Froberg e-mailed me the following: "While in Iran from 1956 to 1957 I was NCOIC in charge of 2nd Order Levels which we ran from a Bench Mark on the Iraq side of the river at the Southern Border across the river (don't remember the name of river) to Southern Iran, then North along the railroad to Teheran City and tied into the city bench marks. 1,200 Miles of level line and we tied in within 1 foot. Not bad for 1,200 Miles. I was the instrument man, besides being 2nd Order Level Party Chief.

Ord Ely and Bill Doxey were working on the triangulation. Don't know what ever happened to Ord Ely, but last I heard he got a job with AMS."

Civilian engineers from the Army Map Service in Washington provided the technical support and high-level precision surveying the 30th Engineers could not provide. The triangulation was performed under the direction of William Doxey, Geodesist. He was assisted by Rudy Salvermoser who did the computational work. Mr. Salvermoser eventually replaced Mr. Doxey.

Other civilians from the Army Map Service included, but were not limited to, Mr. Thomas Hughes (now residing in San Antonio, Texas) and Mr. Robert Wannen (deceased). Mr. Hughes provided the names of the following personnel from AMS. Glen Chestnut and Bob Senter preceded me and after that I had the following on my field teams for one year TDY. Aubrey Sapp, Denny Knott, Al Kmieck, Ray Barrowman, Hank Zabinski and Don Poole. When I transferred to IAGS in Panama in 1966 Aubrey Sapp took over the project in Iran. In 1975 after an intense training period at DMA I was sent to Iran to monitor their entire mapping program but after three months there and warnings from many of my former IIA Geographic Department colleagues about the political situation I decided to return to the US.

These engineers performed Field Classification work. This work was the identifying on aerial photography land features such as rivers, roads, bridges, built up areas, railroad lines, airfields, etc.

As mentioned, the tour of duty for the topographers was one year in a TDY (Temporary Duty Station) status. We all received Per Diem. Since enlisted personnel were going to be working with Iranian officers, and to avoid any conflict, the army uniform was not worn. A civilian clothing allowance was provided. 

Civilian clothing was mandatory wear for the field surveyors. This was necessary since American enlisted personnel were in fact training Iranian army officers and warrant officers. It was necessary not to create any indication of a difference in status among officers and enlisted personnel.

Captain John South was replaced by a Captain Louis Giovine in December 1957. Captain Giovine was replaced by LTC Lloyd Stromgren in December 1958. LTC Stromgren was replaced by LTC Richard Underwood in December 1959.

On returning from Germany in January 1957 I became commanding officer of the 549th Engineer Base Survey Company, one of the four survey companies in the 30th Engineer Group. In the spring of 1958 I volunteered to go to Iran. I extended my tour to 18 months returning to Washington, D.C. in January of 1960 and assignment to the Army Map Service.

I was the military chief of a group known as First Order Triangulation. This group performed the high level surveys and astronomic/gravimetric surveys needed to establish ground control for the future process of map making.

Another group of surveyors performed surveys to establish elevations along the triangulation network and some lines of communication throughout Iran. During my tour of duty, a Warrant Officer Earle Dunnington was the party chief for this effort.

The first order of business was to conduct a survey across Iran starting from the Turkish border and running diagonally across Iran to Pakistan. The Turks and the Pakistanis were very cooperative in this venture and permitted tieng into their triangulation network. This was especially critical since the Pakistani survey was tied into the original Royal British Survey of India. This would provide much needed geodetic data for the eastern part of the Middle East. The second order of business was to run another survey from the middle of Iran in a southwest direction to the Persian Gulf.

One of the reasons for securing this geodetic data became clear following the Cuban missile crisis in 1962 in which the US agreed to dismantle its Jupiter missile sites in Turkey. 'Nuff said.'

These surveys required the establishment of temporary camps through out the survey area. I joined the Triangulation Team at a city called Yazd. We eventually had similar camps in Isfahan, Kerman, Bam, Zahedan, Shiraz, and Tabriz. The party doing the elevation survey (leveling) had a camp in Meshed. The main headquarters was in Teheran. While in Bam, the team hired a young lad named Gholem Reza as a houseboy and "go fer". He was tagged, "Kemo Sabe." He came under the wing of our cook, Sergeant Jerry Exum who was like a father to him. He was probably 14 or 15 and by the time I left Iran was speaking English quite well. I even received a letter from him in 1960 written in broken English but understandable. I often wonder what happened to him.

At the beginning, the Topographic Team (It did not have a name) was headquartered with the headquarters of the Iranian Army Survey. This was located in downtown Teheran. Eventually, the US Army Corps of Engineers built a headquarters area known as The Gulf District Engineer Office. The military and civilians who staffed this operation were worked with the Iranian army and civilian governments in the building of  barracks and cantonments throughout Iran. Many of the civilians were third country nationals who had worked for the Corps of Engineers in Libya and Morocco. I estimate that at least three-quarters of these personnel were French nationals.

The survey project moved into the building built by the Corps at its compound and became its headquarters for as long as the project lasted. The project aircraft consisting of DeHavilland L-20 (renamed U-6A in 1962) fixed-wing aircraft and Bell H-13 helicopters were housed at an airfield on the outskirts of Teheran, near the Mehrabad International Airport.

During my tour a Captain Bernie Cobb was the aircraft OIC. The other pilots were LT Charles B. Traill, LT Edward Freeman, LT Al Blankenship, and LT James Watts. Prior to my departure a Captain Saunders or Sanders arrived to replace Captain Cobb. Another later arrival was LT Joe Balint. These officers were qualified in both fixed and rotary-winged aircraft.

Of interest is that Ed Freeman as a Captain won the Medal of Honor for his heroic actions in Vietnam in November 1964. He, along with another topographic engineer officer, Captain Bruce Crandall was instrumental in supporting and evacuating air cavalry troops in the Ia Drang Valley of Vietnam. This action was related in the book, "We Were Soldiers Once and Young" by General Hal Moore. It was also made into a movie by the same name staring Mel Gibson.

The OIC, officers, and pilots assigned to the project were housed in a rented house off Old Shimran Road leading up to a famous hotel, Hotel Darban. Enlisted personnel had a similar rented house a few blocks from the officer's quarters. In both houses, personnel shared expenses for food, laundry and other services.

A side benefit of the project was of course we obtained maps of Iran that no one else, including the Russians, had. With satellite mapping, these paper maps of the late '50s and '60s are easily updated and the intelligence it provides is invaluable, but no one speaks of it. Sort of overt spying.

The usual equipment carried to the triangulation stations consisted of the Wild T-3 theodolite, base plate or trivet, wood and materials to construct instrument stand, 2-inch and 5-inch signal lamps with batteries, steel measuring tape, standard military radio transmitter and receiver, a mountain tent, folding cot, sleeping bag, a 10-column hand-cranked Monroe calculator, TL-22 flashlight, perhaps a heliotrope for daytime signaling, water, rations, and personal items. The observation party was generally accompanied by an Iranian officer who spoke passable English and Iranian soldiers and hired laborers plus donkeys for moving equipment to the station site. Time on station varied because of weather or clouds, but generally was a three to five day stint, sometimes much less. At least 16 repetitions of observations by each station to the other stations in the triangulation chain were required to insure mathematical closure. The locals hired to transport the equipment to station sites were paid by the Iranian army.

The original base line measurements for the triangulation network were conducted by the Army Map Service utilizing the Geodimeter. In late 1959 we received the first Tellurometer, another long distance measuring device for our use. How it was utilized I do not know. We conducted some serious training with it and our Iranian counterparts

In 1959 William Doxey returned to Iran to perform first order astronomic observations utilizing the Bamberg broken theodolite. He also brought a Stromberg/Worden Gravity Meter with him that I used to perform the gravity surveys along the route of the observations. These observations ended toward the end of November 1959 and in December 1959, LTC Stromgren and I departed Iran together, visiting Beirut, Jerusalem, Cairo, Athens, Rome and Frankfurt on our way back to the states.

There were very few disagreeable moments during my tour of duty. But the ones that remain with me and still bother me to this day was the treatment of non-commissioned officers by the officers, and the enlisted men by non-commissioned officers and officers. On more than one occasion, I saw an officer slap a sergeant for some infraction. I also witnessed some soldiers being kicked by their NCOs. Nothing could be done other than turn away. I discussed this with of the more senior Iranian officers and was told that this was a necessary form of discipline.

Although most of our time was spent in the field, there were periods when we returned to Teheran for a few weeks at a time. Entertainment in the city was available mainly though the American Club also on Old Shimran Road. The club had been formed to accommodate civilian employees of the various oil companies working in Iran plus other agencies such as Iran Airlines, US Army Engineer Gulf District and others. There was a large swimming pool, a restaurant and night club. The manager during my tour in Iran was an Austrian who had worked for the Americans in Morocco. His name was Fritz and was quite the ladies man and a partygoer. In downtown Teheran, there was a large German department store with a more than passable restaurant and a roof top nightclub. There was also one nightclub featuring a dancing troupe either from France or Lebanon. Another stop was the restaurant at the Mehrabad airport, which had excellent cuisine and Beluga caviar at ridiculously low prices. At the top of Old Shimran Road was the Hotel Darban, a European style first class hotel. We ate there frequently and on more than one occasion were joined by the head of the Iranian Geographic Service, General Mohammad Behrooz. General Behrooz was married to a German lady and had visited the States on several occasions, especially the Army Map Service and Walter Reed Hospital. I often wonder how he and other high-ranking officers who worked so closely with the Americans fared under the regimes that replaced the Shah.

I am not sure if this is true or not, but the first TV station in Teheran supposedly utilized a Bilby aluminum survey tower as its transmission tower. The tower was located about half way up Old Shimran Road and had a great view of the city below it. I am not aware of any Bilby towers being used in Iran for surveying purposes.

Marriage between members of the topographic unit and locals was discouraged but not prohibited. At least two persons were married during my tour. One man married one of the French girls who worked for the Gulf District. The other marriage was between one of the later pilots and the lady who operated the only Brothel in Teheran. Her name or the name of the establishment was "Effie's". Neither marriage survived.

The continuation of survey work in Iran in the 1960 leads me to believe that that was the period in which third and fourth order surveys, triangulation, and level lines were run for picture point control. No such control was performed prior to 1960 to my knowledge

The caliber of enlisted surveyors from the 30th Engineer Group was outstanding. Having to have a higher level of expertise than normal, the men who volunteered for duty in Iran performed exceedingly well under great difficulty and sometimes great hardship. But, no gripes, no complaints. Up one mountain, then up another and so on for an entire year! Two of these men whom I remember well were George Williams who eventually left the Army and was hired by the Army Map Service as a surveyor. He may have returned to Iran in the middle-1960's. Another fine surveyor was a young lad from Oroville, California, Stanton F.Y. Gee. He had an engineering background and was a great instrument man. In addition, he was a great Chinese cook. His family sent him Chinese food from time to time and Stan would cook up some great rice dishes. I saw Stan in California in 1962 and he was completing his engineering studies.

During my time in Iran, I drove across the entire diagonal of Iran to Pakistan from Turkey and then from a city called Isfahan to the Persian Gulf to Bushehr. During our stay in Shiraz we were able to spend time at Persepolis, an ancient city created by Darius and destroyed by Alexander the Great. Fantastic ruins!

I arrived in Iran as a First Lieutenant and early in 1959 was promoted to Captain. On a routine supply run by the L-20 (known as the L-Beast - the Farsi word for twenty is "beest) I received a package and a note from LTC Stromgren that I had been seen "out of uniform." On opening the package I found a field cap with captain's bars on it, my official notification of being promoted! 

It was a wonderful period of time for me in a professional and personal sense. I had great personal responsibility and was involved in the very first survey of a country. This could be likened to many of the survey explorations of the US Army such as Pike's Peak, the Lewis and Clark Expedition and so forth. And I was glad that the Corps of Engineers was again in the forefront. 

ESSAYONS!