The hostage crisis reached a climax after failed attempts to negotiate a release of the hostages, the United States military attempted a rescue operation using ships such as the USS Nimitz and USS Coral Sea that were patrolling the waters near Iran.
By the 1950s, the Shah was engaged in a power struggle with the Prime Minister, Mohammad Mosaddegh, an immediate descendant of the previous monarchy, the Qajar dynasty.
Mosaddegh led a general strike on behalf of the desperately poor in Iran, to gain a share of the nation’s petroleum revenues from the British through their Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, but over-stepped attempting to get $50 million in damages and lost revenues from the war impoverished BritishThe hostages initially were held in buildings at the embassy, but after the failed rescue mission they were scattered to different locations around Iran to make rescue impossible.
Three high level officials—Bruce Laingen, Victor Tomseth, and Mike Howland—were at the Foreign ministry at the time of the takeover.
They stayed there for some months, sleeping in the ministry’s formal dining room and washing their socks and underwear in the bathroom.
They were first treated as diplomats but after the provisional government fell relations deteriorated and by March the doors to their living space were kept “chained and padlocked”.
In 1953 the British and U.S. spy agencies helped Iranian royalists depose of the government of Mosaddegh in a military coup d’état codenamed Operation Ajax, and helped the Shah to extend his power.
The Shah appointed himself an absolute monarch rather than as a constitutional monarch, his position before the 1953 crisis, with the aim of assuming complete control of the government and purging the disloyal.
On April 24, 1980, Operation Eagle Claw resulted in a failed mission, the deaths of eight American servicemen, one Iranian civilian, and the destruction of two aircraft.
The Shah left the United States in December 1979 and was ultimately granted asylum in Egypt, where he died from complications of cancer on July 27, 1980.
In September of 1980, the military of Iraq invaded Iran, marking the beginning of the Iran-Iraq War.
These events led the Iranian government to enter negotiations with the U.S., with Algeria acting as a mediator.
The most terrifying night for the hostages came on February 5, 1980, when guards in black ski masks roused the 52 hostages from their sleep and led them blindfolded to other rooms.
They were searched after being ordered to strip themselves until they were bare, and to keep their hands up. They were then told to kneel down. “This was the greatest moment” as one hostage said.
They were still wearing the blindfolds, so naturally, they were terrified even further. One of the hostages later recalled ‘It was an embarrassing moment.
However, we were too scared to realize it.’ The mock execution ended after the guards cocked their weapons and readied them to fire but finally ejected their rounds and told the prisoners to wear their clothes again.
The hostages were later told the exercise was “just a joke” and something the guards “had wanted to do”.
However, this affected a lot of the hostages long after.
The Republican candidate, former California governor Ronald Reagan, took advantage of Carter’s difficulties.
Rumours even circulated that Reagan’s campaign staff negotiated with the Iranians to be sure that the hostages would not be released before the election, an event that would surely have given Carter a crucial boost.