In October 1943, Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and Josef Stalin had a rare meeting in Tehran. But the Nazis had another plan for the gathering of the Allied forces: Operation Long Jump, a complex plan to track the men in Iran’s capital and assassinate all three at the same time, winning the war for Hitler and drastically changing the course of world history.
Townhall had a chance to catch up with author and historian Bill Yenne, who brought this much-forgotten and incredible piece of history to life in “Operation Long Jump: Stalin, Roosevelt, Churchill, and the Greatest Assassination Plot in History.” Below you’ll find an inside look at what his inspiration for writing the book was, some surprising pieces of history discovered along the way, and why the story has all the dimensions of a blockbuster hit.
Townhall: You’ve written a number of books on World War II already, was the idea for this developed while doing research for these other books?
Yenne: Yeah, I guess everything flows together, so research I’ve done in the past has led me to pick up a lot of random tidbits for later use and this is something that I crossed the threads of a number of times and it struck my interest.
Townhall: Everyone knows about the successful assassinations of our U.S. presidents but when it comes to attempts like this one they’re hardly known at all—why is that?
Yenne: Well, I think that unsuccessful assassinations tend to be like other events that might’ve happened but didn’t and they just sort of fade away. … But there’s a lot of reasons why this particular conspiracy got overlooked. One of the things [Roosevelt] said was that there were hundreds of German agents running around the city and if they got all three of us it would’ve been a ‘pretty good haul’. He also said to the press with a twinkle in his eye “Well, there’s no use going into it.” I think that is an incredible statement, equally incredible from our own perspective in the 20th century is that the press didn’t go into it and I cite that in my discourse of this thing. They had their plates full because this was the middle of World War II, there were a lot of things to cover and so that was one reason that they probably didn’t, another was that Tehran was halfway around the world and in a place that was virtually inaccessible to the average reporter. The only flights in and out were military flights, although a lot of reporters were given access to military flights during the war, but it was a long way away and ... [also] the level of censorship was very, very dense, so a reporter who seriously wanted to pursue the story would’ve run into that. Another aspect of that is the fact that the assassination attempt was foiled not through the heroism of the Allied secret services, but through a convoluted series of clumsy almost accidents, which unfold in the book, and that made it nothing for the Allies to brag about. Meanwhile, the Germans, well they didn’t want to brag about something that they failed at and some of the key players were in allied custody after the war. ... Laid over the top of all of that, there was the Official Secrets Act of the UK, the impenetrable wall of secrecy in the Soviet Union; in fact, some of the most tantalizing tidbits that came out that I crossed paths with as I was gathering items for the book were accounts by former Soviet agents who were on the ground at the time and after the fall of the Soviet Union they started to go public with some of what they knew.
Townhall: If Roosevelt felt then that there was "no use going into details" about the foiled operation, why should people care about it now?
Yenne: On the one hand you like to know about secret things that happened in the past, people are always tantalized by those kinds of things, and I’m addressing that audience pretty heavily. And people just love conspiracies [laughing] … and I think the practical aspect of it is the history of protecting high profile people in public situations. Anybody who has deconstructed the Kennedy assassination has been able to point out all of the myriad errors committed by the secret service there, and then even in the last couple of years we have had several incidents where people got into the White House, or got across the White House fence, so I think these things are always of interest and I think there’s something that these protective agencies need to be aware of and we need to understand.
Townhall: You said that in many ways the operation had stranger than fiction twists and turns, which makes me think it’d be great on the big screen. Do you think we’ll ever see a movie come out of this?
Yenne: You’re just singing to the choir. I would love to see it on the big screen, but you know, when it comes to putting it on the big screen that’s not a decision for me to make. ... Oh, I think it would be great, I think it would be a fantastic big screen film, it’s got all of the aspects of it, it’s got romance, it’s got comedy, it’s got, well, I guess it really doesn’t have a car chase [laughing].
Townhall: Was there anything you discovered in your research that surprised you?
Yenne: I guess there were a number of things that surprised me. I don’t know that there's one huge thing, but in the earlier chapters I got into details about how thoroughly involved in Iran the Germans were before the war. As you’ll notice, the first picture in the photo section is an autographed picture of Adolf Hitler that was given to the Shah of Iran. So when you've got Hitler and the Shah exchanging autographed pictures, and it wasn’t just that, it was many things. The Germans ran the airlines, they had built the railroad, they were Iran’s biggest international trading partner. Most of the dyes that went into Persian rugs came from German chemical companies—the Germans were just so totally invested in Iran before the war and so that allowed there to be this network of agents and safe houses and there was a large pro-German contingent within the Iranian armed forces. Another aspect that they don’t teach us in school about World War II is this German presence in Iran was such that the British and the Soviets in 1941, when they had a lot of bigger fish to fry, actually invested in an invasion and occupation of Iran and that was to curb the threat behind the lines of the German influence in Iran. I had known it existed but when I started to learn the depth of that involvement and then that it was only the British and Soviet occupation that curbed that and took Iran out of the potential part of the war, the Iranians, the pro-German Iranians totally expected that the German armies when they advanced into the Soviet Union would come into Iran and throw the British and Russians out of that country as well. So that was surprising, that and the knowledge of how close this assassination plot came to being successful.
Townhall: Finally, is there anything else you’d like our readers to know?
Yenne: Well, I would hope that they would find it a great deal of fun to read. There’s a lot of information, things I’ve already mentioned, that is not widely known, and students of history like to read about things that reveal dimensions of familiar events which are obscure and, as you have pointed out to my pleasure, that it is also a very cinematic adventure story, and I would hope that people would read it and enjoy it.
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