On 26 October 1983, as U.S. medical students came pouring out of the C-141B Starlifter that had just carried them home from the revolution-racked island of Grenada, one of the students joyfully knelt and kissed the runway. A camera captured the moment, and the picture became overnight-iconic; the Reagan White House was thrilled—and relieved. The U.S. invasion of Grenada had been a success, and with that one photograph, the publicity war was won as well.
Operation Urgent Fury, the name given to the invasion, transpired in whirlwind fashion 40 years ago this October; it was a brief undertaking—a “splendid little war,” emphasis on the “little”—yet it nonetheless felt like a triumphal moment for an American public still mired in lingering post-Vietnam defeatism.
But as Ed Offley points out in his trenchant and insightful cover story this issue, the U.S. military was very lucky that things worked out as they did. In the mad scramble of the hastily assembled operation, any number of near-catastrophes and almost-disasters could have spiraled the operation into a tragic blunder. Logistical nightmares, miscommunication, stovepiping among service branches and disparate chains of command, interservice rivalries—all this may have been largely overshadowed by the victorious fanfare that greeted the final outcome, but military insiders realized they had dodged a bullet. And from the experience, they learned. Interservice coordination and cooperation would improve in the wake of Urgent Fury, and for that, all can be grateful.
You couldn’t ask for a more uplifting example of interservice cooperation—in this case, both interservice and international—than Reg Newell’s article on the struggle for the Treasury Islands that was unfolding 80 years ago during the war in the Pacific. New Zealand troops—Kiwis—and U.S. Naval Construction Battalions—Seabees—turned out, as Newell recounts, to be a dream team. Operation Goodtime (the invasion of the Treasury Islands), launched in late October 1943, “was the first test of battle for the men of both groups, and they would emerge with profound respect for each other.”
Also in this issue, former Secretary of the Navy Kenneth Braithwaite and coauthor Charles Robbins present a masterful centennial commemoration/re-examination of the September 1923 Honda Point disaster—the worst peacetime loss of ships in the U.S. Navy’s history. And retired U.S. Army Brigadier General Raymond E. Bell Jr. serves up a great historical example of how naval gunfire support can be a determining factor in victory on land—in this case, the Battle of Omdurman, fought along the Nile 125 years ago in September 1898. In that climactic clash of the Mahdist War, British gunboats, in more ways than one, saved the day.
Lastly, foremost on our minds here at the U.S. Naval Institute right now is a joyous milestone occasion—our 150th birthday. On 9 October 1873, Rear Admiral John L. Worden and 14 fellow officers, concerned that the Navy had gone adrift, gathered to found an organization where they could discuss the pressing issues and concerns of the fleet in a free and open forum. A century and a half later, the Institute they founded continues to be that open forum for debate, discussion, and innovation.
We celebrate the Naval Institute’s sesquicentennial herein with a pair of feature articles, John V. Quarstein’s “Worden and the Californios” and retired Lieutenant Commander Thomas J. Cutler’s “Fifteen Founders.” Today, like all those who have worked here down through the generations, we still stand on the shoulders of those founders. May we do them proud.