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.
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.
Down in the flag spaces, the operational commander, Vice Admiral Joseph Metcalf III, and his staff studied the plan for Operation Urgent Fury.
In the hangar bay, ammunition stacked to the overhead and machine guns laid in rows were ready to be in stalled in choppers. Forces of the 2d Battalion, 8th Marines, packed their field gear and cleaned weapons.
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.
Toward midnight, Hull Technician Second Class Timothy Stevens descended one of Guam's fireroom ladders to weld a leaking economizer on a boiler. He didn't mind that reveille would sound in a little more than two hours; he was going to be up anyway.
At the 2 a.m. reveille, Mess Management Specialist Seaman Stephen Green started serving breakfast to the first few officers who trickled into the wardroom, His counterparts on the mess decks fed Marines and ship's crew. No one expected the lines would remain open for the rest of the day--and for the next five days.
The first heliborne landing force launched before dawn from Guam's flight deck. Marines of Echo Company huddled in the helos, wondering what kind of resistance they would encounter. Many had been in the Corps for less than a year.
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.
"Commanders were directed to ensure minimum casualties to both friendly and Grenadian people," said Commodore Robert S. "Rupe" Owens, Commander in Chief Atlantic, deputy chief of staff for operations. "We didn't want to go down there and tear the island apart. We had to move slowly, making sure we had good defensive positions, and not exposing ourselves."
Army Rangers, arriving at the airfield at Point Salines at dawn the same day in [four-engine turboprop] C-130 [Hercules] aircraft, met much stiffer resistance than the Marines were encountering 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.
"The Cubans and PRA were very well placed," said Captain Thomas Scott, CinCLant [Commander-in-Chief Atlantic] assistant chief of staff for current operations. "They had occupied the high ground and strategically placed their anti-aircraft positions around the airfield before the initial assault by U.S. and Caribbean forces. They were probably where we'd have been if we'd been on the resisting side."
The airfield at Point Salines was blocked, a clear sign an assault was expected.
"There were reports in the press on Saturday (Oct. 22) that the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States had met," Scott said. "Right after that meeting, someone passed the word to Grenada that the United States and a Caribbean peacekeeping force would invade, probably within 24 or 48 hours. In fact, word was put out on Grenada radio that the invasion would occur on Sunday."
On Sunday, however, the United States was still discussing the risks of the operation and trying to ascertain how much resistance the Caribbean peace keeping force would meet.
"Three or four dozen Cuban Army regulars were in Grenada," said Captain Thomas A. Brooks, CinCLant assistant chief of staff for intelligence. "They were not organized into a regular military unit, but were primarily advisers and instructors to the Grenadian military.
"In addition to those people, there were a handful of paramilitary Cubans--such as police and secret service types.
"There were also about 600 Cuban construction workers. Contrary to what people might have read, we knew the construction workers were all militarily trained, that they were armed and that they practiced with their weapons. We anticipated that if the PRA elected to oppose the intervention of American and Caribbean peacekeeping forces, the Cubans might fight against us, too."
Brooks added that the Cuban construction workers were lightly armed with personal weapons.
"They were not very effective," he said. "Within a couple of hours most of them had thrown down their arms and surrendered."
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.
Meanwhile, Fox and Echo companies merged north of St. George's and secured a flat, stadium-like area called the Queen's Racecourse, which the Marines dubbed "LZ Racetrack" (LZ standing for landing zone). The battalion landing team commander set up headquarters there.
"We did a lot of humping today," said Marine Captain Mike Dick, Fox Company commander, after the first day of the operation. He looked over his men and added in a low tone, "It's quite a bit different from Camp Lejeune. We're doing this for real and for keeps.
"The performance of these young Marines has gone one step beyond professionalism. That's a factor of their training and maturity."
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. "Kamikaze" flies, mites and gnats with "teeth like the great white shark" added to everyone's discomfort.
The night was as hot as the day had been. The Caribbean air was thick with salt and humidity. Dawn greeted the is land with a burning, bright sun.
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.
At Point Salines airfield, soldiers with faces painted green peered out of foxholes. Jeeps crisscrossed the runway breakneck speeds. The noise was unceasing: the steady whine of [four- engine long range transport] C-141s [Starlifter], the constant thumping of helicopters, the scream of a Navy A-6 Intruder [two-seat subsonic, carrier-based attack aircraft] , sharp staccato bursts of strafing fire, and the low hum of a circling AC-130 gunship. Occasional bursts and mortar fire echoed in the distance. The popping small arms fire came from just over the hills to the north and west.
But the loudest sounds of all were the cheers of rescued medical students. Casually dressed, they carried only what they had grabbed at a moment's notice. Looking more like tourists than refugees, they cheerfully boarded C-141 aircraft ready to fly to the United States.
In the meantime, students at the Grand Anse campus were still trapped inside a wall of PRA soldiers and Cubans.
"Marine helicopters and Rangers were combined to outflank the line of resistance," said Scott. "We did a vertical assault--or vertical rescue--and inserted Rangers behind the line. The students were taken out by helicopter while the resisting forces were beaten down."
Late in the second afternoon the Marines captured Fort Frederick, where they found the PRA's command and control system plus a room full of automatic weapons.
"We stomped the heart of the resistance here," said Marine Colonel James P. Faulkner, the Marine amphibious unit commander. "Thereafter, resistance was disorganized."
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.
"That was a physically co-located defensive position for the PRA," Scott said. "It was advertised by flag and by gunfire to be an enemy position." At about noon, Golf Company secured Fort Matthew, and about a half hour later they took Richmond Hill prison.
When Fox Company marched into Fort Rupert on the second day, they found so many communist weapons that a squad was left behind to guard them.
Echo Company marched north of Pearls Airport and seized Soviet-made AK-47s [7.62 mm Kalashnikov assault rifles] and rocket launchers, along with three 12.7mm guns. While moving inland, Marines clashed with an enemy patrol.
"The Marines banged up that squad to a point that they headed the other way," Faulkner said.
Meanwhile, 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.
In St. George's the peacekeeping forces encountered the biggest surprise of the operation: the civilian population.
"We expected that the people would at least passively accept the situation," Scott said. "After all, they had been under a 24-hour shoot-on-sight curfew for several days before we got there."
But the reception the Grenadians gave the peacekeeping force was anything but passive.
"The thing that is most indelibly in scribed in my mind," said Brooks, 'in regard to Grenada, was how incredibly happy they were to see us." Brooks, on the fourth day of the operation, flew into Grenada with Admiral Wesley L. McDonald, Commander in Chief of the U.S. Atlantic Command, who had over all command of Urgent Fury.
"The people came up to Admiral McDonald--and they had no way of knowing who he was--shook his hand and said, 'Thank you and God bless you.' We encountered this all through St. George's," Brooks said. 'People were leaning Out of windows and saying 'God bless America.'
"As we were passing a street corner, three ladies were dressed up in their Sunday best. One of them held up her index finger and said, 'Reagan number one.' Then the ladies had a brief confab and I guess it must have been ladies day, because then one of the others said, 'Eugenia Charles (prime minister of Dominica) number one; Reagan number two!"' Brooks said, laughing.
"Uniformly and universally, they were very, very happy to see us there," he said. "I thought it must have been like it was a generation earlier, when Europe was liberated during World War II. We hadn't anticipated anything like that."
The Grenadians showed their appreciation with more than words. They gave away fresh fruit, ice water and cases of soft drinks. At Pearls Airport, they cooked rice, meat and fruit for the Marines. The gratitude of the people was a great reward for the members of the peacekeeping force. It made the hard ships endured worthwhile and made the troops feel they had done something very noble, that they were very much needed and appreciated.
"Morale is sky high," Faulkner said proudly. "One reason is how well we were received by the Grenadians. We were not treated as conquerors, but as friends of the people."
In fact, according to a survey done by an independent Caribbean firm, 87 per cent of the Grenadians believed the intervention by the Caribbean peacekeeping force was a "good thing." Only three percent didn't believe the intervention was justified.
That positive reaction came despite a heavy anti-American campaign by the New Jewel Movement.
"The Grenadians had obviously been fed a lot of anti-American doctrine," Brooks said. "We saw a lot of that down there. But it didn't take, which must have frustrated the Marxist leadership."
Fortunately, the Grenadians were so glad to see the Caribbean peacekeeping force that they turned in suspected PRA soldiers, and helped lead their rescuers to hidden arms caches. The PRA soldiers were questioned and, unless they were part of the upper echelon of the Grenadian military establishment, were released.
The remaining Cubans who had not been captured fled to the Cuban or Soviet embassies and were later flown to Cuba.
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.
Urgent Fury was a success, but not without the inevitable tragedies of battle. People did get hurt and die. In the full light of morning on the first day of the operation, helicopters transported wounded to Guam. As the helos landed, teams of hospital corpsmen rushed to help carry stretchers. A triage area was set up in the hangar bay. The ship's doctor, Lt. Dan Walsh, flight surgeons and corpsmen prepared patients for surgery.
As the first casualties were taken to sick bay, an Army [twin-engine] UH-60 Blackhawk [helicopter] gunship approached Guam. The pilot had been shot through the left leg and was bleeding profusely. Anti-aircraft fire had damaged the engine controls. The co-pilot fought the helicopter to the flight deck, but couldn't shut the engines down.
Chief Aviation Boatswain's Mate (Hydraulics) Walter Anderson reacted instantly. On his command, a water hose was rushed to the helicopter where a stream of water was directed into the engine's intakes. The rotor blades stopped and two aircrewmen aboard the Blackhawk scrambled out, beaming with relief. Hospital corpsmen helped the wounded pilot onto a stretcher.
By noon it was obvious to the sailors on Guam that the Army, landing at Point Salines, had encountered the heaviest resistance. All the medevacs up to that point had been Army soldiers.
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.
Other statistics illustrating the intensity of Urgent Fury were recorded on Guam's flight deck: 1,214 launchings and landings; 103,422 gallons of aircraft fuel consumed; 186,968 pounds of car go lifted; and 13,775 pounds of mail delivered.
Urgent Fury had lived up to its name. But it was only the first stage of what was to become a long deployment. The Marines returned to their ships and Phibron Four and the Independence task group set course for Beirut, Lebanon.
On Jan. 24, 1984, Admiral McDonald summed up the success of Operation Urgent Fury in an address before the House Armed Services Committee.
"In summary, history should reflect that the operation was a complete success," he stated. "All phases of the as signed mission were accomplished. U.S. citizens were protected and evacuated. The opposing forces were neutralized. The situation stabilized with no additional Cuban intervention. U.S. students have returned to resume their studies at the medical school and tourism is steadily increasing. And, most importantly, a lawful, democratic government has been restored."
Adapted from: Berry, William et al. "Ten Days of Urgent Fury" All Hands 807 (May 1984): 19-27.
4 February 2000