Operation Urgent Fury
Grenada, one of the smallest independent nations in the Western Hemisphere and one of the southernmost Caribbean islands in the Windward chain, has an area of only 133 square miles. The population is 110,000. But size is not necessarily the determining factor when governments consider strategic military locations. The Cuban government knew the value of Grenada's location when it decided to utilize the former British colony as a holding place for arms and military equipment, complete with a major airport. Eastern Caribbean nations fully understood the implication of the communist threat and called upon the United States for help. The response was Urgent Fury, a multinational, multiservice effort.
On March 13, 1979, the New Joint Endeavor for Welfare, Education, and Liberation (New Jewel) movement ousted Sir Eric Gairy, Grenada's first prime minister, in a nearly bloodless coup and established a people's revolutionary government (PRG), headed by Maurice Bishop, who became prime minister. His Marxist-Leninist Government established close ties with Cuba, the Soviet Union, and other communist-bloc countries. In October 1983, a power struggle within the government resulted in the arrest and subsequent murder of Bishop and several members of his cabinet by elements of the people's revolutionary army.
Following a breakdown in civil order, U.S. forces, in conjunction with contingents of the security forces of several neighboring Caribbean states, invaded the independent state of Grenada on October 25 in response to an appeal from the governor general and to a request for assistance from the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States. The mission was to oust the People's Revolutionary Government, to protect U.S. citizens and restore the lawful government.
Not until about 40 hours before H-hour were commanding officers of the US Navy ships told what the mission in Grenada would be--to evacuate U.S. citizens, neutralize any resistance, stabilize the situation and maintain the peace. That didn't leave much time to get the ships ready. On board USS Guam (LPH-9), flag ship of Amphibious Squadron Four, Aviation Ordnanceman Third Class George Boucher Jr. staged ammunition for vertical replenishment to the other four ships of the Marine amphibious group--USS Barnstable County (LST-1197), USS Manitowoc (LST-1180), USS Fort Snelling (LSD-30) and USS Trenton (LPD-14). He wondered why Marine CH-46 pilots were flying in unfavorable winds on that dark night of Oct. 24; the helicopters had trouble lifting the pallets as the ships rushed through the water.
Stateside, Army Rangers and 82nd Airborne Division paratroopers assembled and prepared for departure to Grenada. Out of sight in the darkness, the USS Independence (CV-62) task group, including USS Richmond K. Turner (CO-20), USS Coontz (DDG-40), USS Caron (DD-970), USS Moosbrugger (DD-980), USS Clifton Sprague (FFG-16) and USS Suribachi (AE-21), steamed into position off the coast of Grenada.
To secure objectives in Grenada and to facilitate operations, the island was operationally split in half. The Marines covered the northern half of the island while Army rangers covered the south. The invasion in the south focused on an unfinished runway at Point Salines.
The 22d Marine Amphibious Unit was diverted to Grenada while en route to Lebanon. The Marine amphibious unit conducted landings as part of Operation Urgent Fury at Grenada on 25 October and at Carriacou on 1 November.
The first heliborne landing force launched before dawn from Guam's flight deck. When the helicopters touched down at Pearls Airport at 5 a.m. on 25 Oct., the PRA--People's Revolutionary Army--greeted the Marines with bursts from small arms and machine guns. In pairs, the Marines scrambled out of the helos and immediately dug in, waiting for the choppers to leave. Three Soviet-made 12.7mm guns on a nearby hill fired at helicopters bringing in the second assault--Marines of Fox Company--to the town of Grenville, just south of Pearls, at 6 a.m. Sea- Cobra [two-bladed, single turbine engine] attack helicopters were called in to silence the guns and Fox Company landed amid light mortar fire. Echo and Fox companies moved slowly and cautiously after their landings; after a couple of hours, most of the resistance at Pearls and Grenville was beaten down.
Preceding the operations in the north and south, Navy seal teams were airdropped near St. Georges to secure the safety of the Grenadian Governor General who was being held under house arrest by opposing forces in the governor's mansion and to capture the government radio station at St. Georges. A Navy SEAL team which was to have provided intelligence on the airfield at Salines was unable to get ashore.
At 0534 the first Rangers began dropping at Salines, and less than two hours elapsed from the first drop until the last unit was on the ground, shortly after seven in the morning. Army Rangers, arriving in four-engine turboprop C-130 Hercules aircraft, met much stiffer resistance than the Marines encountered at Pearls. To avoid the anti-aircraft fire, the Rangers jumped from a very low altitude--500 feet. Machine-gun fire blasted at aircraft and Rangers on the ground. But US Air Force four-engine turboprop AC-130 Spectre gunships silenced the hostile fire with devastatingly accurate blasts.
After the rangers had secured the runway, 800 more troops would land, freeing the rangers to press northward where they were to secure the safety of American medical students and bring under control the capital of St. Georges. At the end of the first day in Grenada, the Rangers had secured the airfield and True Blue Campus at a cost of five dead and six wounded. Once the Rangers had secured the runway, elements of the 82nd Airborne Division landed, and late in the evening of the 26th the 82d Division's 3d Brigade began to deploy across the island. In the north, 400 Marines would land and rescue the small airport at Pearls.
Even before securing Point Salines airfield on the first day, Rangers had moved to evacuate American students at the True Blue campus of St. George's Medical Center. The campus, located at one end of the 10,000-foot runway the Cubans had been building, was reached easily and the students were rescued. A second campus at Grand Anse was farther away, and retreating Cubans and PRA units blocked the Rangers from the students. By afternoon the Point Salines air field was secured from all but sporadic mortar and small arms fire, and Rangers were moving against PRA positions near St. George's, the capital. Other Rangers removed obstacles on the Point Salines runway, and elements of the 82nd Airborne Division flew in to add more people and heavier weapons to the assault.
During the evening, Marines of Golf Company, from the tank landing ships Manitowoc and Barnstable County, landed at Grand Mal beach, just north of St. George's, with 13 amphibious vehicles and five tanks. Throughout the first night, a constant stream of logistics aircraft landed and took off from the partially completed runway at Point Salines. Gunfire roared from ships and aircraft. At first light on the second day, Marine armor supporting the Rangers and 82nd Airborne began final assaults on Cuban and PRA positions around St. George's. With close air support from Navy attack aircraft from Independence, Golf Company captured the governor's residence at 7:12 a.m., freeing several civilians and Sir Paul Scoon, governor-general of Grenada and representative of Queen Elizabeth.
On the morning of the third day of operations, Rangers and Marines, with close air support from the carrier Independence, attacked heavily fortified positions at Fort Adolphus, Fort Matthew and Richmond Hill prison above St. George's. U.S. aircraft flying in the vicinity during the first two days had met a torrent of anti-aircraft fire; three helicopters had been shot down. One of the heavily defended positions in the area later turned out to be a hospital.
The 82nd Airborne, with close air and naval gunfire support, moved against the Calivigny military barracks east of Point Salines. The assault completed the last major objective for the peacekeeping forces. After wards, the Rangers were airlifted out of Grenada.
The next day--Oct. 28--the 82nd Airborne and Marines linked forces at Ross Beach. They secured St. George's and began mopping up the last few pockets of resistance scattered around the island.
From 22 October-4 November 1983, Eighth Air Force sent its KC-135 and KC-10 tankers to provide refueling support for the US assault on Grenada. Eighth Air Force tankers, operating from several stateside locations, refueled various fighters, reconnaissance planes, and other aircraft for URGENT FURY. They completing all assigned missions without degrading their ability to perform their strategic mission. General Charles A. Gabriel, Chief of Staff of the Air Force, recognized all participating units for their efforts.
By Nov. 2, all military objectives had been secured. Next day, hostilities were declared to be at an end. Grenadians went about putting their country back in order--schools and businesses reopened for the first time in two weeks or more.
By 3 November, the Marine amphibious unit was reembarked aboard its amphibious shipping and had resumed its passage to Lebanon.
Urgent Fury was a success, but not without the inevitable tragedies of battle. People did get hurt and die. At the end of the operation, 18 American men had died and 116 were wound ed. Guam had treated 77 wounded, and many others had been sent to Roosevelt Roads Naval Station, Puerto Rico.
In total, an invasion force of 1,900 U.S. troops, reaching a high of about 5,000 in five days, and 300 troops from the assisting neighboring islands encountered about 1,200 Grenadians, 780 Cubans, 49 Soviets, 24 North Koreans, 16 East Germans, 14 Bulgarians, and 3 or 4 Libyans. Within three days all main objectives were accomplished. Five hundred ninety-nine (599) Americans and 80 foreign nationals were evacuated, and U.S. forces were successful in the eventual reestablishment of a representative form of government in Grenada.
That is not to say, however, that the invasion went without challenge. The first challenge was the lack of good intelligence data. For example, at Point Salines operations bogged down because resistance was much greater than expected. In attempting to rescue the Governor General, American forces were stymied by larger Cuban and Grenadian forces than anticipated. By listening to Cuban radio broadcasts, it seemed that the resistance was being directed from a place called Fort Frederick. As it turned out, but not previously known, Fort Frederick was the nerve center for the Cuban and Grenadian forces and once it was destroyed resistance simply melted away.
The invasion force lacked precise data on the location of the American medical students they were to rescue. One account noted that attack planners did not realize that the American medical students were spread out over three locations.
The final challenge to invading forces was the lack of a fully integrated, interoperable communications system. Unlike the fighting elements which were organized to conduct operations independent of one another, communications systems were not allowed such freedom. Communications was to have been the glue that would tie together the operation of the four independent United States military service elements. Unfortunately, communications support failed in meeting certain aspects of that mission. It cannot be said that communications capability itself was abundant. Several participants cite shortages of communications.
Shortages were not the only communications problems found during the invasion of Grenada; interoperability was another. For example, uncoordinated use of radio frequencies prevented radio communications between Marines in the north and Army Rangers in the south. As such, interservice communication was prevented, except through offshore relay stations, and kept Marine commanders unaware for too long that Rangers were pinned down without adequate armor. In a second incident, it was reported that one member of the invasion force placed a long distance, commercial telephone call to Fort Bragg, N.C. to obtain C-130 gunship support for his unit which was under fire. His message was relayed via satellite and the gunship responded.
Several factors have been cited as the cause of the communications problems which were confronted in Grenada. Among them were insufficient planning for the operation, lack of training, inadequate procedures, maldeployment of communications security keying material for the different radio networks, and lack of preparation through exercise realism.
One of the more noted intelligence shortcomings of the operation was the lack of up to date topographical information (maps) on Grenada. When adequate maps were found, they apparently had to be flown to the Grenada task force rather than being sent by electrical transmission.
No journalists were on the island of Grenada to provide live reporting on the invasion, nor had any been taken along with the invading force. Vice Admiral Joseph Metcalf, in charge of the operation, had originally planned to exclude the media completely from the operation until he was convinced that they could do no harm. As word of the imminent invasion spread, hundreds of journalists moved into the area but were blocked from proceeding to Grenada. Indeed, there were no first-hand reports from Grenada until 2½ days after the operation began. The media, citing the American people's right to know, and frustrated at their inability to provide the current reporting that they would have liked, protested loudly about the military's gross oversight in failure to permit journalists to accompany the operation.
An advisory council, named by the governor general, administered the country until general elections were held in December 1984. The New National Party (NNP), led by Herbert Blaize, won 14 out of 15 seats in free and fair elections and formed a democratic government. Grenada's constitution had been suspended in 1979 by the PRG, but it was restored after the 1984 elections.
- OPERATION URGENT FURY The Planning and Execution of Joint Operations in Grenada 12 October - 2 November 1983 Ronald H. Cole, Joint History Office Office of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, 1997 [93 pages, 1246 kb PDF]
- "The Grenada Invasion" Chapter IV Command and Control and Communications Lessons Learned by Colonel Stephen E. Anno and Lieutenant Colonel William E. Einspahr, Air War College Research Report, No. AU-AWC-88-043, Air University
- Operation Urgent Fury
- Grenada Invasion
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