On the morning of 25 October 1983, elements of Joint Task Force 120 conducted simultaneous amphibious and airborne assaults on the Caribbean island of Grenada. Their mission was to protect U. S. citizens and other foreign nationals and to restore peace and public order to the island. The reason for the operation, code-named Urgent Fury, was the rapid and almost total disintegration of governmental institutions and public order in Grenada following the 19 October murder of Prime Minister Maurice Bishop and other government and civilian leaders. The likelihood was high of a continued, violent internal power struggle which would endanger U. S. and other foreign nationals on the island.
Major forces for the operation came from all U. S. military services, supplemented by contingents from six Caribbean states. Despite unexpected Cuban and Grenadian resistance, in three days, these combined forces attained all key mission objectives on the island and evacuated a total of 599 American citizens and 80 foreign nationals.1 Subsequently, the U. S. forces were instrumental in helping the Grenadians reestablish viable and representative governmental institutions.
Forces participating in operation Urgent Fury were specifically instructed to minimize casualties and property damage. U. S. casualties totalled 18 killed in action and 116 wounded. Of the Grenadian dead, 24 were civilians, including 21 killed in the accidental bombing of a mental hospital adjacent to an active antiaircraft site. The joint task force found 784 Cubans on the island; of these, 25 were killed in action and 59 wounded. The remainder were evacuated to Cuba.2
The combined forces found detailed evidence of Soviet and Cuban intent to subvert sovereign governments in the Caribbean to further communist objectives. A large quantity of Soviet-supplied weapons was captured on Grenada. These weapons would have eventually provided a military capability totally disproportionate to the needs of Grenada’s population of 110,000. With this evidence, one could readily conclude that Grenada was destined to become another way station, in the “revolution without frontiers,” for the export of subversion into the northern tier of South America and Eastern Caribbean States. The irony in operation Urgent Fury is that an action intended as a preventative measure had a curative effect.
In many respects, Urgent Fury was unique. The conflict proved a paradigm of limited military actions, particularly in the Third World environment. It featured a “come as you are” scenario typified by critical, time-sensitive mission requirements; minimal planning; employment of joint and combined forces; incomplete intelligence; command, control, and communications intensity; and high political visibility. These critical elements were balanced by several advantages. Among them: The relative proximity of Grenada to the United States; the lack of enemy opposition during deployment; the unsophisticated nature of enemy opposition; access to facilities in Barbados; and availability of a major, established U. S. operational facility at Roosevelt Roads, Puerto Rico. This combination of factors is unlikely to reoccur in future conflict scenarios.
Although Urgent Fury was a strategic and tactical success, we must exercise caution in determining the relevant lessons from the operation. However, one major lesson has been consistently visible from the outset: the absolute utility of the mobility and tactical flexibility inherent in naval amphibious forces during the campaign. To place their participation into a perspective for analysis, one must start with some background on the area.
The Grenadian Setting
Grenada, the “Isle of Spice,” is a tourist’s dream come true—120 square miles of mountainous terrain and rugged coast, lush tropical vegetation, one of the most picturesque ports in the Caribbean, and sunny beautiful beaches. The alluring image depicted in travel brochures fades quickly when compared with the realities and challenges imposed by the military geography of the island. The participants in operation Urgent Fury encountered a far different Grenada.
The island is the southern terminus of the Antilles Archipelago that extends 2,500 miles from Florida to Venezuela, separating the Atlantic Ocean from the Caribbean. Grenada is the southernmost of the Windward Islands, a subgrouping of the Antilles chain named because they are exposed to the northwest tradewinds. This translates to irregular, high surf on the exposed windward side of the island—a challenge that would be encountered and overcome by the amphibious task force on D-Day.
Grenada is approximately 86 nautical miles from the northeast coast of Venezuela and 58 nautical miles southwest of St. Vincent, its nearest neighbor in the Windwards. The relative proximity of Grenada to the United States—approximately 1750 miles from Fort Bragg, North Carolina—greatly facilitated the deployment of airborne/air-landed forces during the operation.
The island, which is oval in shape, is approximately 20.5 miles in length and 11.8 miles at its greatest width. Its area of 133 square miles is roughly twice the size of the District of Columbia. Grenada includes as dependencies the southernmost Grenadine Islands, an arc of small islands extending from Grenada north to St. Vincent. Carriacou, the largest, has an area of only 13.5 square miles.
Grenada, like the other Antilles, is volcanic in origin. The predominant topographic feature is the ridge of mountains which extends down the entire length of the island. This central cordillera, partially severed in several locations by steeply sloped valleys, extends almost through the entire width of the island as well. The steeper slopes are found on the west of the island and the more gradual on the east and southwest. The island’s interior is formidable and characterized by escarpments, ravines, stream cuts, and the like. The coast is rugged, and suitable amphibious landing areas, drop zones, and helicopter landing zones are at a premium. Good cover from flat trajectory fire is available throughout the island. Grenada is edged by a discontinuous coastal plain. From St. George’s south and east around the island to Grenville, the coastal plain is broadest, in some places up to 10 kilometers wide.
Grenada has a tropical climate with an average annual temperature of 82°. The rainy season runs from June through December with the wettest month being November. Forces participating in operation Urgent Fury, which was conducted in late October, were affected by rain squalls. Prevailing winds are from the east-northeast. On the windward side of the island, irregular plunging surf of one meter or higher can be encountered year round.
Vegetation on the island is typical of a tropical climate and ranges from dense undergrowth on the coastal plain to double canopy jungle in the Grand Etang rain forest in the interior. In the majority of areas, the dense foliage restricts ground maneuver and off-road movement of tactical vehicles. At minimum, it affords excellent concealment from ground or aerial observation.
The terrain throughout St. George’s parish is characterized by highlands that channelize movement and provide excellent fields of fire. This is generally apparent along the main avenue of approach from Point Salines to the city of St. George’s. It is specifically evident in areas where the highlands come close to the seacoast and within the city limits of St. George’s itself. As subsequent events would show, effective use of terrain by a determined defender can rapidly reduce a battle to the simplest of equations—infantryman against infantryman. These facts provide a basic geographic frame of reference, but Grenada’s location must also be viewed from a strategic perspective.
Grenada is located athwart a key transit zone for strategic materials and oil. In time of war, unfriendly access to facilities on the island would jeopardize the flow of shipping. In conditions short of war, Grenada’s strategic value lies in its geographic proximity to the northern tier of South America—Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname, French Guiana, and Brazil, as well as to the rest of the Eastern Caribbean States. Grenada’s potential as a transit point and support base for the export of revolution into the northern tier made the island most attractive to the Soviets and their Cuban surrogates.
The causes of Grenadian instability were deeply rooted. Grenada, in common with most of the micro-states in the Antilles, had perennial socioeconomic problems that were exacerbated in the late 1970s by the worldwide inflationary spiral that drove up the prices of virtually all necessary imports, particularly petroleum. Grenada suffered from overpopulation and underemployment. Moreover, the Grenadian population is concentrated in the coastal areas with 30% of the population located in St. George’s alone. The economy is principally based on the export of agricultural products which are extremely susceptible to international market fluctuation. The cultivation of tourism as an alternative met with mixed results. This industry was depressed as well, and austere Grenadian facilities could not compete within the limited market.
The eccentric Sir Eric Gairy, who was obsessed with witchcraft, astral projection, and unidentified flying objects, dominated the Grenadian political scene for years and, by late 1979, had lost almost all popular support due to his penchant for self-aggrandizement and the use of brutality to intimidate the populace. Gairy had created paramilitary squads (one of which was called the “Mongoose Gang”) to further cement his power. These measures failed to stifle the growth of left-wing opposition groups on the island.
Grenada’s drift into the Cuban/Soviet sphere of influence began in March 1979, when Maurice Bishop, leader of the leftist New Joint Endeavor for Welfare, Education and Liberation (JEWEL) Movement took advantage of Prime Minister Gairy’s temporary absence and staged a near-bloodless coup. In a radio address to the nation the day of the coup, Bishop assured the people of Grenada that all democratic freedoms, including the freedom of elections, religion, and public opinion would be fully restored. The new People’s Revolutionary Government combined the populist nationalism of Bishop and the Marxism of Deputy Prime Minister Bernard Coard.
Cuban Premier Fidel Castro moved quickly to solidify ties with the new government and to offer military and economic assistance. By late 1979, Grenada had received small-arms shipments from Havana, and it became evident that Maurice Bishop had no intention of fulfilling his promise of early and free elections. Suspending the island’s constitution and speaking against traditional parliamentary democracy, Bishop announced that a new revolutionary course, based on the Cuban model, would be charted for Grenada. By early 1980, Grenada’s transition to a Marxist state appeared irrevocably set in motion.
Grenada’s position as a close ally of the Soviet Union and Cuba appeared solid until an intra-party feud came to a head in October 1983. Bishop’s power was openly challenged by the ultra-leftist Coard. The rift had been developing for some months and focused on a party decision, orchestrated by Coard, to limit Bishop’s one-man rule by establishing a council form of government, with Coard as chief policymaker. Coard was clearly dissatisfied with Bishop’s slowness in converting Grenada into a truly socialist state. Bishop apparently refused to go along with Coard’s grab for power, and after a heated discussion at a 12 October party meeting, Coard resigned his post as Deputy Prime Minister and quickly began rallying his supporters for a showdown with Bishop. The following day, Bishop was arrested. Coard had apparently secured the support of the majority of the New JEWEL Movement and the Army, commanded by General Hudson Austin. The liberation of Bishop from house arrest by his supporters, the subsequent march on Fort Rupert (named after Bishop’s father, who was killed by Gairy’s police during street demonstrations in 1978), the shootings there that took the lives of Bishop, several cabinet ministers, and scores of others, and the imposition of martial law and formation of a revolutionary military council to govern the island were the key events that pointed to a continued, violent internal Power struggle on the “Isle of Spice.”
In January of 1981, the Bishop government restructured its armed forces under the umbrella organization of the People’s Revolutionary Armed Forces (PRAF). The PRAF was composed of the standing People’s Revolutionary Army (PRA), the People’s Revolutionary Militia (PRM), the Grenada Police Service (GPS), the Coast Guard, the Prison and Fire Services, and the Cadet Corps. General Austin,'a former prison guard, assumed command °f both the PRAF and PRA. By 25 October 1983, the PRAF had a regular army of 600, supplemented by a militia estimated to be between 2,500 and 2,800.3
Almost 900 Cuban, Soviet, North Korean, Libyan, East German, and Bulgarian personnel (including permanent military advisors) were found on the island. Of the 900 man total, 784 were Cubans. Fifty-three Cubans were identified as military advisors on the PRA staff, in field units, or in security-related positions. Six hundred thirty-six fell in the category of “construction worker.” Cuba has had a comprehensive and strictly enforced compulsory military service law since August 1963. The most recent version of the law (1973) mandates active or reserve military service for at least three years with the military obligation continuing until age 50.4 Given the high level of Cuban military activity throughout the world as well as the requirement for compulsory military service, a substantial level of military expertise on the part of the Cuban “construction” workers must be assumed. This has been further substantiated by evidence of Cuban control of resistance to the multinational force on Grenada and reports of Cuban participation in combat.
The weaponry of the People’s Revolutionary Armed Forces included state of the art, Soviet supplied infantry weapons, as well as 12 ZU-23 antiaircraft guns, eight 73mm. SPG-9 recoilless guns, and BTR 60 armored personnel carriers. The role the ZU-23 antiaircraft guns would play in the ensuing battle is particularly noteworthy. First fielded in the early 1960s, the ZU-23 is a prime example of a system which, when properly emplaced to capitalize on terrain and channelized approaches and employed by well-trained crews, can provide utilitarian service far in excess of its projected technological life span. The Grenadan ZU-23 crews were among of the most highly trained members of the People’s Revolutionary Army. Weapons were well situated for point defense of key areas in St. George’s as well as the Salines and Pearls airfields. Captured range cards indicated that the crews had been well briefed on the operating characteristics of U. S. aircraft.
The threat posed by armed factions on Grenada to U. S. nationals, particularly the 600-plus medical students at the St. George’s University school of medicine heightened in light of the increased probability of a violent internal power struggle. The United States began to determine the availability of forces should the need arise.
Joint Task Force 120 was activated on 23 October 1983 and the Commander, Second Fleet, Vice Admiral Joseph Metcalf III, was named commander. The naval amphibious forces (Task Force 124, commanded by Captain Carl R. Erie) selected by U. S. Commander in Chief Atlantic for operation Urgent Fury consisted of Amphibious Squadron Four, which included the USS Guam (LPH-9), USS Trenton (LPD-14), USS Fort Snelling (LSD-30), USS Manitowoc (LST-1180), and USS Barnstable County (LST-1197) with the 22nd Marine Amphibious Unit (Colonel James P. Faulkner) embarked. The Marine amphibious unit comprised Battalion Landing Team 2/8 (Lieutenant Colonel Ray L. Smith), Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 261 (Lieutenant Colonel Granville R. Amos), and MAU Service Support Group 22 (Major Albert E. Shively), along with a small MAU headquarters element.5 The 22nd MAU, like all Marine air-ground task forces, is a task-organized, combined-arms force including an integral supporting air combat element.
On 18 October, Amphibious Squadron Four, with embarked Marines, sailed for the Mediterranean where they were scheduled to relieve the U. S. contingent in the multinational force in Lebanon. They would participate in a NATO exercise in Spain en route. Prior to departure, intensive training had been conducted in amphibious operations, night helicopter assaults, and noncombatant evacuation. Many of the Marines were veterans of previous tours in Lebanon. More than 40% of the battalion’s personnel had been with the unit two years or more.6
The murder of Maurice Bishop and the establishment of a 24-hour, shoot-on-sight curfew on Wednesday, 19 October proved to be the catalyst for the commencement of contingency planning in Washington. Although the gradual internal breakdown of governmental institutions on the island had been monitored closely since Bishop’s house arrest on the 13th, serious planning for noncombatant evacuation operations had not yet begun.7 The potential for a violent internal power struggle in the wake of Bishop’s death and the increasing danger to the more than 600 U. S. medical students prompted the activation of the National Security Council crisis management mechanisms.8 During the evening of 19 October, a Joint Chiefs of Staff warning order for the conduct of noncombatant evacuation operations was sent to CinCLant.9 Courses of action were requested. Early on the morning of 20 October, the National Security Council interagency Crisis Pre-Planning Group met to consider the situation in Grenada. It decided the situation was serious enough to warrant immediate consideration by the National Security Council’s Special Situation Group, chaired by Vice President George Bush. During the day, assessments were refined and options were prepared for the Commander in Chief. As a preliminary precaution, the USS Independence (CV-62) battle group and Amphibious Squadron Four with the embarked 22nd Marine Amphibious Unit—already en route for the eastern Mediterranean—were directed to change course and steer closer to Grenada on their transit across the Atlantic.10
Following the recommendations of the special situation group, President Reagan directed that noncombatant evacuation planning continue. Paralleling U. S. concern, the heads of state of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) plus nonmembers Jamaica and Barbados met in Bridgetown, Barbados, on Friday, 21 October, to discuss the recent events in Grenada. The Eastern Caribbean countries determined by unanimous vote that conditions in Grenada (a fellow OECS member) required action under the 1981 treaty to protect the region. The OECS asked Barbados, Jamaica, and the United States to assist them. The initial OECS request, received in Washington on 21 October, noted the current conditions of anarchy and the threat to peace and security in the region created by the lack of authority in Grenada. It requested the United States join them in a military operation to restore order and democracy. This request for help required further deliberation by the special situation group, since a military operation would, under these circumstances, extend beyond the limits of noncombatant evacuation. A revised action plan to support the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States request was prepared for the President. After extensive deliberation, he approved the operation, in conjunction with OECS participants, to restore democratic government on Grenada.
It should be noted that throughout this entire planning process, operational security was paramount. Washington principals were directed to maintain regular scheduled activities. However, all remained in constant touch with the situation throughout the planning phase. Late on 22 October, in response to Presidential direction, the Joint Chiefs of Staff provided the Commander in Chief Atlantic, Admiral Wesley McDonald, with confirmation of the expanded mission. Operation Urgent Fury was to be conducted not later than dawn 25 October. CinCLant had little more than 48 hours to assemble his forces, plan, and execute the operation.
Early Sunday, 23 October, the tragic news of the suicide bombing of the Marine battalion landing team headquarters in Beirut, Lebanon, reached Washington. The President returned from Augusta, Georgia, and convened a meeting of the National Security Planning Group to assess the situation.11 The issue of the bombing’s impact upon the impending operation on Grenada was raised. In spite of the political risk of the operation, the President affirmed that he had an obligation to U. S. citizens in danger and to the Caribbean nations that had requested assistance. He issued a final confirmation of the decision to move ahead with the operation.12 On the 23rd, the first U. S. Atlantic Command liaison officers arrived aboard the Guam and commenced detailed coordination with operational elements.13 They were followed on the 24th of October by Commander Joint Task Force 120, Vice Admiral Metcalf, and his staff.
From the perspective of the amphibious forces, arrival of liaison personnel late on 23 October provided the first details on the expanded mission and scope of Urgent Fury 2nd necessitated a major adjustment in planning. Initial Planning had focused on only a unilateral Navy-Marine Corps effort in the Salines-St. George’s area. The island was now to be divided into two separate operating areas. The boundary would roughly divide the island in half and follow the general trace of the road between St. George’s and Grenville. Objectives in St. George’s were assigned to U.S. Army forces. Landings in both north and south were to occur simultaneously.
Planning continued throughout the amphibious forces on 24 October. The revised plan assigned, among other things, responsibility to the commander of the amphibious task force for the northern area and the mission of seizing Pearls airfield and other key terrain and the protection of U.S. and designated foreign nationals. The preliminary plan was to conduct a helibome assault on the Pearls Airfield-Grenville complex followed, at H + 30, by a surface assault of forces who would subsequently assist in the expansion of a lodgement area.
At approximately 2200, D-1 (24 October), Navy SEALS were inserted in the northern beaches, in spite of adverse weather conditions, in the vicinity of Pearls to conduct a beach reconnaissance. By 0300 on D-Day, reports had been received from the SEALS indicating that beach conditions were marginal for amphibian assault vehicles and unsuited for landing craft.14 Reporting was delayed somewhat until the SEALS successfully ex- filtrated from amongst the People’s Revolutionary Army security personnel guarding the airfield. The SEALS were not detected.
In the few hours remaining until H-hour, the commander of the amphibious task force and the commander of the landing force quickly shifted to the alternate landing plan. Company G, 2/8, was embarked on the USS Manitowoc (LST-1180). This unit was scheduled to conduct the surface assault and subsequently assist in expansion of the beachhead. The men of Company G were directed to remain embarked until conditions improved. The landing zone for Company E, originally tasked to land by helicopter directly on Pearls Airfield, was moved 700 meters to the south when intelligence was received on active People’s Revolutionary Army antiaircraft sites on the hill to the north of the airfield. Company F remained scheduled to conduct a helo assault into landing zone Oriole near Grenville and subsequently to secure the city and key road junctions. Initial assault waves went off on schedule for a 0500 H-hour, but a combination of darkness and ground fog delayed first touchdown until 0520. The lead aircraft carrying Company E into the new landing zone south of the airstrip drew enemy antiaircraft fire. The company suffered no battle casualties. The antiaircraft sites were engaged and subsequently neutralized by the Marine amphibious unit’s AH-1T Cobra gunships. The shift of the landing zone, in response to intelligence, had disrupted planned People’s Revolutionary Army defensive fires and had landed the Marines in an area at the far limits of effective range of the PRA 12.7-mm. antiaircraft guns. The airfield complex was quickly secured. Two 12.7-mm. antiaircraft guns and a number of small arms were captured. A Cuban AN-26 aircraft and a 12-man aircrew which had delivered a Cuban colonel the day before were captured. The colonel was to organize the defense of the island, but he was too late. He subsequently availed himself of diplomatic sanctuary.
Company F, 2/8, was inserted, without opposition, and by 0630 commenced movement into Grenville. Later that morning, a single amphibian assault vehicle would land over the Pearls beach in an attempt to determine the feasibility of a surface landing. Through a combination of skill and good luck, the vehicle made it ashore, but the preliminary assessment of the SEALS was confirmed. The beach conditions were not suitable for use. Company G and the remaining 13 of 14 assault vehicles would remain on board the Manitowoc. Within several hours, this would prove fortuitous for the entire joint task force.
Concomitant with the initial D-day activities of Joint Task Force 124, a U. S. Army ranger task force conducted airdrop/airland operations to seize the Salines airfield complex. The landing was later than planned and came under fire. Resistance, which was heavy, initially came from several antiaircraft weapons situated overlooking the airfield and, subsequently, from Cuban and Grenadan forces athwart the main avenue of approach from Salines to St. George's.15 In spite of the opposition, the airhead was gradually expanded.
Initial Caribbean Peacekeeping Forces commenced their closure into Salines and, by 1400 that afternoon, the first two battalions of the U. S. 82nd Airborne Division began to land.
Enemy fire in the vicinity of the airhead continued after the initial assault. Moreover, it became increasingly clear that some of the Cuban “construction” workers were as adept with their AK-47 rifles as they were with shovels. Manifestations of overall Cuban command of the defensive effort became evident.
At 1200 at D-day, Commander Joint Task Force 120, Vice Admiral Metcalf, actively began to consider additional tactical options for bringing the conflict to a prompt and decisive conclusion without needless loss of lives or collateral property damage. Marine Corps air support in the form of AH-IT Cobra gunships was diverted into the Army sector to provide air support to the U. S. elements in the Governor General’s residence. People’s Revolutionary Army forces, utilizing armored personnel carriers, had counterattacked and had pinned the personnel in the residence. Antiaircraft sites were active within the city of St. George’s and from the commanding high ground overlooking the residential areas. The Cobras engaged PRA antiaircraft sites, but in the course of the ensuing action two aircraft were shot down resulting in the deaths of three Marine pilots and the wounding of another.
In the face of continuing enemy resistance, Admiral Metcalf made the decision, by early afternoon D-Day, to land the Marines into the Army sector in the vicinity of St. George’s. This move would reassign some of the Army objectives to the Marines. A boundary change was effected to accommodate the arrival of the Marines.
The tactical plan for Pearls and the northern zone was quickly adjusted. Company F was directed at 1400 to return to landing zone Oriole to prepare for a helicopter assault into the vicinity of St. George’s. E Company, the battalion landing team’s 81-mm. mortar platoon and the 2/8 Bravo command group consolidated defensive positions overlooking the Pearls airfield, commenced aggressive local patrolling, and established an evacuation control center that would eventually transfer 47 evacuees to the USS Trenton (LPD-14). Locals began to provide invaluable information on the location of People’s Revolutionary Army members and weapons caches.
The circumstances that left Company G embarked on board the Manitowoc were now to pay off. The LST got under way immediately with the rest of the amphibious task force (except for the Trenton), following in trace around the southern coast of Grenada. By 2000 on D-day, Company G, reinforced by amphibian assault vehicles and tanks, was ashore at Grand Mai and the amphibious forces had completed their second assault of the day under combat conditions. The story of the selection of Grand Mai as a landing site was, strangely enough, paralleled by a Royal Marines experience during the 1982 Falklands campaign. They were able to draw extensively during planning upon the personal knowledge and experience of Major Ewen Southby-Tailyour, who had commanded the Royal Marine Detachment in the Falklands. An amateur sailor, Major Southby-Tailyour had travelled throughout the islands by small boat and had even published a navigation guide for private circulation. Fortunately for the U. S. amphibious task force, the chief staff officer of the squadron, Commander Richard Butler, another small boat aficionado, had visited Grenada several years prior while on vacation. He recalled the hydrography of the Grand Mai area and recommended it as a landing site, thereby filling an important intelligence gap at a critical juncture in the operation.
Preparations continued that night for the assault into St. George’s. Company F assembled at landing zone Oriole, Grenville and conducted a cross-island night helicopter- borne assault. They were inserted at 0300, D+ 1 into helicopter landing zone Fuel, which was adjacent to the Grand Mai beachhead.
Company G was given the mission of securing the Governor General’s residence. At 0400 D + 1, Company G conducted a night attack and by 0700 had rescued 33 personnel including the Governor General, Sir Paul Scoon. Numerous weapons, to include recoilless rifles, 23-mm. and .50 caliber machine guns were captured en route. Company F, reinforced by tanks, Dragon, and TOW elements and the battalion landing team reconnaissance platoon, attacked south and occupied the Queens Park Race Course. At 1100, Company F moved onto the Gretna Green high-ground. Company G then continued the attack to secure Fort Fredrick. This was accomplished by 1700. Concomitantly, the reconnaissance platoon occupied Fort George.
In the southern zone, the airborne task force which had assumed operational control of the Rangers late on D-Day, consolidated at Point Salines airfield. Operations were commenced in the Mome Rouse area. Continued opposition was encountered.
At midday on D + 1, Admiral Metcalf directed a joint Marine/Ranger Battalion helibome assault on the Grand Anse campus of the St. George’s University School of Medicine where additional American students were discovered to be. The assault was conducted at 1600 that afternoon. Two hundred twenty-four U. S. students were rescued and returned to Point Salines. One Marine CH-46 helicopter was lost due to enemy action. There were no casualties.
Ground operations continued on the island on Thursday, 27 October, which was D + 2. U. S. Army elements from Task Force 121 attacked the police academy at Grand Anse and moved into the Ruth Howard area. A vertical assault, using U. S. Army helicopters, was conducted on Calivigny Barracks. Marines continued the attack to secure key terrain in St. George’s. The Richmond Hill Prison, Fort Adolphus, and Fort Lucas were secured by Company G by 1000. E Company, moving out from Pearls airfield, secured the Mt. Home Agricultural Station at 1422 and captured large quantities of People’s Revolutionary Army arms.
H Battery, 3rd Battalion, 10th Marines, was landed at Grand Mai as a provisional rifle company and moved to Queens Park Race Course. H Battery assumed security for the battalion landing team command group and prisoner of war camp. Company F then moved south into St. George’s proper and secured the Botanical Gardens, Bel- wont, and the Ross Point Hotel.
D + 3, 28 October was a day for consolidation. U. S. Army elements swept through the Lance aux Epines peninsula and evacuated another 202 U. S. medical students. A linkup with Marine Corps elements at Ross Point Hotel was effected. Marines consolidated positions in St. George’s and Pearls and commenced identification and screening of People’s Revolutionary Army members. Marines recovered documentation which revealed the existence of five secret military agreements between the PRA and the Soviet Union (three), North Korea, and Cuba.
On D + 4, Marines maintained static strong point positions and continued to assist in the restoration of government services and control in St. George’s. Army elements conducted a reconnaissance in force through Richmond Hill, Mt. Hartman, and the Egemont Peninsula. Caribbean Peacekeeping Force elements arrived in the Pearls area and began coordination for the relief of Company E, 2/8. Bernard and Phylis Coard, Leon James, and Selwyn Mrachan—key actors in the overthrow and murder of Maurice Bishop—were captured by Marines from H Battery.
At 0330 on D +5, a 90-man patrol from E Company, 2/8, left the Pearls airfield in a motorized movement to Secure Sauteurs. The company moved by jeep and commandered civilian vehicles. No resistance was encountered. Equipment and a People’s Revolutionary Army battalion commander were captured. Sauteurs was secured by 0915. Company F was relieved by Caribbean Peacekeeping Force personnel and moved to Queens Park Race Course in preparation for future operations. Company G, 2/8, with amphibian assault vehicles moved north at 1500 in an aggressive reconnaissance in force to liberate Gouyave and Victoria. They were supported by Cobra gunships, Navy close air support, naval gunfire, and followed up the coast by an LCU with tanks. Only scattered small arms fire was encountered. Army elements continued to sweep the southeastern peninsula and prepare to replace Marine forces throughout the island.
By 1500 on D + 6, 31 October, Battalion Landing Team 2/8 backloaded aboard respective vessels after relief in place by elements of the Caribbean Peacekeeping Force and 82nd Airborne Division. The remaining tasks on Grenada were turned over to the Army and amphibious forces got immediately under way for Carriacou Island.
The island of Carriacou lies north of Grenada. Intelligence identified People’s Revolutionary Army units and arms caches on the island. Simultaneous helicopterbome and surface assaults were conducted at 0530, 1 November. Surprise was complete and no resistance was encountered. Company F captured a large cache of weapons at Belair House. By 1400, all PRA had surrendered or were captured. Later that day, Company G backloaded aboard the Manitowoc.
On 2 November, F Company and the Battalion Landing Team Alfa command group were relieved in place by elements of the 82nd Airborne Division. Backload was rapidly completed and the amphibious ready group and embarked Marines were under way for Beirut.
Operation Urgent Fury was a strategic and tactical success. Mission objectives were achieved with minimal casualties. The ability of U. S. forces to plan and execute a complex operation in an extremely compressed time period was demonstrated.
This type of operation may well be a precursor of conflict in the Third World in the coming years. Without a doubt, the “come as you are” nature of the operation, with rapid fusion of joint and combined forces, minimal planning data to include intelligence and high political visibility, will be seen again by U. S. planners.
The conduct of Urgent Fury was facilitated by favorable logistic, geographic, and operational variables. These fortuitous elements are unlikely to appear in future conflict scenarios.
From the naval perspective, the Grenada experience served more to highlight old lessons and to validate training and operational philosophy rather than to identify new requirements. Salient among these lessons are: first, the continued utility of amphibious forces in regional crisis response. Second, requirement for tactical flexibility to accommodate the Clausewitzian “fog and friction” of a come-as-you-are crisis.
The strategic mobility of amphibious forces made them quickly available for participation in operation Urgent Fury. In the post-World War II period, four out of five of the more than 215 incidents requiring use of military power to achieve national objectives involved naval forces. True to this pattern, the first forces to move in Urgent Fury were naval.
The ready availability of amphibious forces provided the national command authority with more options for use in crisis resolution ranging from psychological suasion to a forcible entry capability. Had the need for military force on Grenada failed to materialize in Grenada, naval forces would have continued into scheduled deployments without sending premature or inappropriate signals. The precautionary movement of ground forces, particularly during a period of crisis assessment, poses an infinitely greater risk. The narrow constraints on the mode of their deployment and relative inflexibility during insertion tend to convert any significant deployment into a clear national commitment.
The departure of amphibious forces from the United States on 18 October for a NATO exercise and subsequent relief of the U. S. contingent of the multinational force in Lebanon, although routine, was highly publicized by the media. Under this smokescreen, the diversion of this force during transit across the Atlantic posed minimal operations security problems. In accordance with standard operating procedure, the amphibious task force was combat-loaded and ready for immediate employment.
The logistic advantage accrued to the joint task force commander by the use of self-deployable and self-sustaining forces must not be overlooked because of the proximity of the objective area to the United States, the availability of airlift, and the relatively low intensity of combat. In a different scenario, the sustainability provided by the war reserve stocks embarked on the amphibious task force would be a far more significant asset.
The Grenada experience again highlighted the utility of amphibious forces as a viable and flexible instrument of national policy. Amphibious forces provide a significant capability for controlled crisis response at a relatively small cost. However the current paucity of amphibious shipping limits the potential of this unique capability.
Rarely do operational plans provide all the solutions to the challenges of a combat situation. In virtually every conflict scenario, there are operational variables that cannot be quantified such as the weather, degree of enemy resistance and the effect of terrain. These can only be overcome by tactical innovation and flexibility, applied within the framework of an operational philosophy that allows for the "friction and fog" of war. Such a philosophy has long been the hallmark of the Navy-Marine Corps team. Its enduring message was sounded again in clarion tones during Urgent Fury.
The immediate transition to an alternate landing plan at H-2 on D-Day, the rapid planning and execution of the Joint heliborne assault with Army Rangers into Grand Anse, and the aggressive reconnaissance in force operations throughout the northern area of operations are examples of tactical innovation and flexibility fostered by this Operational philosophy.
The best example occurred on D-Day.
With enemy resistance in the southern operational sector, Admiral Metcalf redirected the amphibious task force from operations in the northern region to relieve the pressure in the south. Marines readjusted the ground scheme of maneuver, amphibious ships moved quickly, and hasty plans were developed while en route. In less than four flours, combat units landed at St. George's, stunning the defenders with armored shock power. Marine tanks and amphibian assault vehicles struck quickly. This tactical coup de grace diverted pressure from the U. S. combat elements engaged in the south and broke the heart of People's Revolutionary Army resistance on the island. This also pointed up the value of combat power. The inherently greater firepower and mobility of the Marines psychologically undercut the Cubans and the PRA and made discretion on their part the better part of valor.
In the span of seven days, amphibious forces executed three amphibious combat assaults, all during the hours of darkness and under poor landing conditions. Each assault was, in turn, followed by a backload. All of these evolutions transpired under stringent time constraints. The amphibious task force not only provided command and control facilities, and logistic and medical support for its embarked forces but for those of Joint Task Force 120 as well. Finally, the amphibious warfare ships provided a vital safe haven for noncombatant evacuees.
As Clausewitz indicates, “In war, the will is directed at an animate object that reacts.” The key element in combat is flexibility—the inherent ability to cope with challenges, both expected and unexpected. As long as this element is in demand, the amphibious mission will be as viable as ever.
1. U.S. Departments of Defense and State, Grenada: A Preliminary Report (Washington, D.C.: n.p., 16 December 1983), p. 1.
3. U. S., Departments of Defense and State, op-cit., p. 18.
4. U. S., Defense Intelligence Agency, Handbook on the Cuban Armed Forces, (Washington, D.C., n.p., 1979), p. 1-13.
5. Ronald Spector, “Marines in Grenada,” top secret Marine Corps Historical Center, Washington, D.C., p. 2.
6. Ibid. p. 3.
7. Washington level crisis management has been described in various sources. One of the best ones is “Grenada: Anatomy of a ‘Go’ Decision,” Ralph Kinney Bennett. Reader’s Digest, February 1984, pp. 72-77.
8. See Les Janka’s “The National Security Council and the Making of American Middle East Policy,” Armed Forces Journal International, March 1984, pp. 8486, for a definitive account of the National Security Council’s structure for policy formulation.
9. U. S., Department of Defense, “Question and Answer Session with Senior Defense Official,” Saturday, 29 October 1983, TS, Acme Reporting Company, Washington, D.C., p. 2.
10. Ibid., p. 3.
11. Bennett, p. 75.
12. Ibid., p. 76.
13. Spector, p. 7.
14. Robert Bernal and Christopher Grey, “Grenada,” Marines, January 1984, p. 8.
15. U. S., Department of Defense, "Question and Answer Session with Senior Defense Official,” pp. 14-17.
Bennett, Ralph Kinney. “Grenada: Anatomy of a ‘Go’ Decision.” Reader’s Digest, February 1984, pp. 72-77.
Bernal, Robert, and Grey, Christopher. “Grenada.” Marines, January 1984, pp. 7-10.
DeFrank, Thomas M. and Walcott, John. “The Invasion Countdown.”
Newsweek, 7 November 1983, p. 69.
Diederich, Bernard. “Images from an Unlikely War.” Time, 1 November 1983, pp. 30-31.
Janka, Les. “The National Security Council and The Making of American Middle East Policy.” Armed Forces Journal International, March 1984, pp. 84-86.
Kling, Bill. “Advance Warning Hindered U. S. Operations in Grenada.” Washington Times, 9 November 1983, p. 1.
Magnuson, Ed. “D-Day in Grenada.” Time, 7 November 1983, pp. 22-28.
Mullin, Dennis. “Why the Surprise Move in Grenada and What Next?” U. S. News and World Report, 7 November 1983, pp. 31-34.
Spector, Ronald. “Marines in Grenada,” top secret, Marine Corps Historical Center, Washington, D.C.
Tift, Susan. “A Treasure Trove of Documents.” Time, 14 November 1983, p. 30.
U.S. Department of Defense. Grenada: October 25 to November 2, 1983. Washington, D.C.: n.p., 1983.
U.S. Department of Defense. Question and Answer Session with Senior Defense Official (SDO), Saturday, 29 October 1983, TS. Acme Reporting Company, Washington, D.C.
U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency, Handbook on the Cuban Armed Forces. Washington, D.C.: n.p., 1979.
U.S. Departments of Defense and State. Grenada: A Preliminary Report. Washington, D C.: n.p., 16 December 1983.
Whitaker, Mark et al. “The Battle for Grenada." Newsweek, 1 November 1983. pp. 66, 68-69, 72, 75-76.