Operation Eagle Claw 1980 – Delta Force kit

In November 4th, 1979, a group of around 200 Iranian college students took over the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, Iran and took over 50 American diplomats and citizens hostage. The students were supporters of the Iranian Revolution and had gathered in front of the embassy to demand the return of the former Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, who was in exile and receiving treatment in the United States. He left the United States at the end of 1979 and received asylum in Egypt, where he eventually died from complications caused by cancer, in July 27th, 1980. The hostage situation at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran lasted for 444 days, from November 4th, 1979 until January 20th, 1981.

Operation Eagle Claw was one of the first operations that Delta Force executed. Though the operation ended in failure, the lessons learned from the operation would shape future special operations into what they are today. The operation was ordered by U.S. President Jimmy Carter, after diplomatic negotiations had failed to free the hostages. President Carter has later said, that he lost the 1980 Presidential Election due to his failure to win the release of the hostages at the embassy.

With the history lesson out of the way, let’s begin with the actual gist of this blog post. I have long wanted to do something around Operation Eagle Claw and I finally decided to bite the bullet. There are not that much in regards of images from the operation (the only ones I know of are from the staging area prior to the operation) but we can clearly see some very interesting kit from the images that we have available. From the black dyed M65 jackets with custom modifications (operator specific), custom black belt kits, civilian clothing… The cool factor is there for sure. In addition to the civilian look, there were some Delta snipers (most likely, according to many) who wore Chocolate Chip (6 Color Desert) BDUs during the operation as well.

The OG Black kit – Before black kit was even cool

One possible Operation Eagle Claw setup. Belt is not correct, a few years too modern. The M653 was around during the time, but I have not seen images of it being used. The ammo bandolier is legit, though using a 7-pocket one would be even more correct.

One of the pieces from this kit can be considered “signature kit”, meaning that it was worn by most of the guys who took part in the operation. Some would argue that all wore it, but as I mentioned before, there were some Delta snipers that wore 6 Color Desert BDUs as well. Nevertheless, the OD M65 Field Jacket can be considered as one of the items that mostly identifies with Operation Eagle Claw. These jackets were dyed/painted black prior to the operation, as black M65 jackets were not around. The process gives the jacket a certain hue of black, at least it did with my jacket. Mine is dated from the early 1970s, so depending on the year and such, the dye process can look different on other jackets. I love the color though, not exactly black, which is nice.

Image from the actual operation. Notice the ammo bandolier on the operator to the front of the line, left side of the image. The operator to his right is using a M56 harness and moving down the line we have an ALICE harness. Original image credit to owner.

On the sleeves of the jacket I have large velcro panels, and on one arm I have a large US flag, which is covered with tape. This was done during the operation as well, as you can see from the image below. This was not the only modification done to the jackets. Some operators added additional pouches to their jackets, to accommodate radios, magazines and other essential items that they needed during the operation.

Other than the M65 jackets, the clothing seems to have varied and been personal preference between operator to another. Civilian clothing seems to have been the norm, but you can see some military gear as well. Black watch caps were very common, but there seems to have been some patrol caps present, which seem to have also been dyed black. The images from the era are black and white, so it is a little difficult to tell, but it would make sense to dye them black as well. Boots and shoes vary as well, but a sure bet seems to be US Jungle Boots.

The load bearing kit varied from Vietnam era M56 to ALICE and to custom made belt kits as well. Some operators dyed/painted their ALICE webbing black as well. The point here is that there was a lot of variance between kit setups and unless you are committed to one specific operator, you have some room to maneuver here.

The variance continues on the weapon side of things as well. From what I have spotted in the images, we have M16A1s, XM177E2s, MP5SD5 and SD6, M3 Submachine gun (Grease gun)… I have not spotted an M653 in any of the images, though it was already around during that period. First I have seen of that carbine in Delta hands is in Grenada in 1983. To me, that is a little surprising, but I am no expert in the distribution and such of weapons within the Unit. Nevertheless, for the sake of me having it, I use it in one of my setups.

I think we can agree that there was extreme variance between kit and clothing during the operation. Having a dyed M65 jacket is iconic for this setup, along with old school style civilian clothing. I opted for an ALICE webbing setup in the first image I posted, but I did another webbing kit with a M56 harness and the correct belt. This will be further improved upon with more pieces of kit.

I have not modified my own M65 jacket with more pockets, I just added the velcro panels to the sleeves. If you are not going for a specific setup of a specific operator, you have room to use period items as you feel. This also ensures that everyone looks a little bit different, which is always a good thing. I hope this gave you some great ideas about old school Black Kit. Below are a few images of my kits that I setup for this impression.

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