Sputnik Escalates the Cold War
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Grenada Invasion (25 October 1983)

Title: Grenadians watch patrol
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U.S. invasion of the Caribbean island nation of Grenada on 25 October 1983, code-named Operation urgent fury. The assault was the culmination of increasing U.S.-Grenadian tensions that began when Maurice Bishop took power through a bloodless coup in March 1979. Bishop, a Marxist, pursued close relations with the Soviets and Cubans. President Ronald Reagan believed that Bishop's policies marked increasing communist penetration of Latin America. A Cuban construction project in Grenada involving a 9,000-foot runway caused U.S. policymakers to worry that the island was being prepared as a base that could interdict U.S. logistical routes in the region. The Grenadian government responded to U.S. diplomatic complaints by explaining that the runway was intended for use by larger airliners in an effort to enhance the island's tourist trade.

On 12 October 1983, a radical anti-U.S. component of the governing party staged a coup, eventually resulting in Bishop's execution. The junta established control via a Revolutionary Military Council headed by General Hudson Austin, the commander of the armed forces.

Following the coup, U.S.-Grenadian tensions grew, and U.S. officials became concerned about the status of the more than 1,000 U.S. citizens on the island, especially some 600 students attending the St. George's School of Medicine. On 19 October, the U.S. military began to develop formal contingency plans to conduct an evacuation of American citizens from the island, with options ranging from diplomatic overtures to a full-blown invasion. The United States was sensitive to the potential of a hostage crisis, so planners emphasized the use of a relatively large force structure to ensure a quick and decisive victory. To support the combat options, naval forces heading to the Mediterranean were diverted to Grenada, and mobile forces in the United States were alerted for a potential mission. Diplomatic efforts continued, with the objective of gaining the release of U.S. citizens or, failing that, to build an alliance that would provide international support for military action. Diplomatic overtures focused on the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), which would provide a regional political cover for the invasion operation and would serve as the source of a multinational peacekeeping force after a U.S. invasion.

American sea-based forces involved a battle group built around the aircraft carrier Independence and the 22nd Marine Amphibious Unit, supported by the amphibious assault ship Guam. Forces deployed from the continental United States included two Ranger battalions, a brigade from the 82nd Airborne Division, and special operations forces. Responsibility for the operation was divided between U.S. Marine forces in the north and U.S. Army forces in the south. Special operations forces were scheduled to land early in order to conduct reconnaissance missions and secure high-value targets. The Marines were tasked with an assault landing at Pearls and Grenville on the northeast side of the island. Rangers were to parachute into the Point Salinas airport, followed by the 82nd Airborne.

The assault began in the early morning hours of 25 October. Weather and mechanical difficulties disrupted some of the early operations, but the plan nonetheless generally unfolded as designed. The Marines encountered only slight resistance and pressed south past the original dividing line on the island. The Rangers and follow-on army forces faced determined opposition at the airfield but quickly overcame Cuban and Grenadian combatants and rescued the medical students from three campus locations, placing them on evacuation flights back to the United States.

Significant combat was over by 27 October, although some sniping continued to occur until 2 November 1983. The U.S. military quickly shifted control of the island to a new civilian government, backed initially by the OECS multinational security force. The American government considered the operation a complete success and used captured documents and large weapons caches to justify the intervention in the face of strong international criticism.

Casualties in Operation urgent fury were relatively light: the U.S. military suffered 19 deaths and 116 wounded; Cuban forces saw 25 killed, 59 wounded, and 638 captured; and the Grenadian defense forces sustained 45 deaths and 358 wounded. Postconflict analyses, however, pointed out serious problems with interservice communications and compatibility because of technological glitches and differences in doctrine and training. Combined with issues raised during the failed April 1980 Iranian hostage rescue mission, the problems that were highlighted in Operation urgent fury contributed directly to the reorganization of the U.S. Department of Defense under the 1986 Goldwater-Nichols Defense Reorganization Act.

Jerome V. Martin


Further Reading
Cole, Ronald H. Operation Urgent Fury: The Planning and Execution of Joint Operations in Grenada. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1997.; Dunn, Peter M., and Bruce W. Watson, eds. American Intervention in Grenada: The Implications of Operation "Urgent Fury." Boulder, CO: Westview, 1985.
 

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