On this day in 1983, members of the 1st and 2nd Ranger Battalions, 82nd Airborne Division, Marine Corps 8th Marine Regiment, US Army Delta Force and Navy SEAL commandos invaded the island nation of Grenada. The small island, located about 100 miles north of Venezuela, was under strife after Prime Minister Maurice Bishop was placed under arrest and executed. The military operation, conducted with members of the Jamaican forces as well as troops from the Regional Security System, overwhelmed the Grenadian and Cuban forces in the country in a matter of days.

However, despite the battle being basically a cakewalk for the U.S. forces, the operation brought to the forefront, several flaws in the US warfighting machine. The inability to communicate between the services, the lack of joint interoperability and coordination would bring sweeping change to the way Americans go to war. This would lead to the Goldwater-Nichols Act and soon the creation of the Special Operations Command.

Background to Invasion:

Grenada had been a colony of the  United Kingdom but it was granted its independence in 1974. Maurice Bishop led the New Jewel Movement which was a Marxist-Leninist organization and he seized power in 1979. However, Bishop was a relatively moderate in terms of foreign policy and it upset the more hard-line members of the military. On October 19, 1983, military junta members arrested Bishop and executed him, his partner Jacqueline Creft, along with three cabinet ministers and two union leaders. The new head of the government was Hudson Austin.

President Reagan justified U.S. intervention by stating that the American government was worried about the fate of the 600 U.S. medical students going to school at St. George. The Iran hostage fiasco had been resolved less than two years before.

Interestingly enough, the Grenadian people supported the U.S. invasion, the government of Austin was ousted and replaced with a democratic regime. The date of the invasion, October 25 is now a National Holiday in Grenada.

Cuban Dilemma:

At the time of the invasion, there were nearly 800 Cubans on the island. Fidel Castro at different times, identified most as construction workers while at others calling them soldiers. The Cuban commander, Colonel Pedro Comas, later said that he issued most of the construction workers with weapons for self-defense. The Cuban soldiers and “construction workers” were forbidden to surrender to the American forces.  There were some stories floated around afterward that the construction workers were actually Cuban Special Forces or Combat Engineers.

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SEAL Recon Mission Ends in Disaster:

Two days before the planned invasion, the SEALs were tasked with doing a reconnaissance of the island. Members of DEVGRU or SEAL Team 6 with Air Force combat controllers were parachuted at sea to conduct a reconnaissance mission on Point Salinas.  Something went horribly wrong and as a result, four SEALs drowned. The bodies of Machinist Mate 1st Class Kenneth J. Butcher, Quartermaster 1st Class Kevin E. Lundberg, Hull Technician 1st Class Stephen L. Morris and Senior Chief Engineman Robert R. Schamberger were never recovered.

The survivors continued on with the mission but their boats flooded and the mission had to be aborted. A second mission on October 24, likewise was beset by bad weather, so very little of the needed intelligence was gathered.

25 October – Invasion:

After departing Hunter Army Airfield at midnight and refueling in Barbados, A&B Companies of the 1st Ranger Bn conducting a classic airfield seizure by parachuting at Pointe Salinas airport. The original plan called for an air-land seizure. They learned while in-flight that there were obstacles in the middle of the runway. The 2nd Bn of the Rangers would be closely behind the 1st and jump in.

The Rangers began their assault at 0530 and received antiaircraft fire from Russian made ZSU 23-2 as well as BTR-60 Armored Personnel Carriers. Accurate fire from the Rangers’ 90mm Recoilless Rifles and AC-130s suppressed the antiaircraft fire and knocked out the APCs. After securing the airfield, the Rangers moved on and took the heights surrounding the airfield.

By 1000 the obstacles were removed and reinforcements (Carribean Peace Force troops) began unloading and other aircraft began to airland on the strip. Beginning at 1400, elements of the 82nd Airborne Division (325th Abn Inf) began to arrive and land on the ground and began spreading out. Landing in the aircraft was a bitter pill to swallow for the 82nd. They pride themselves on being airborne and when the US next seized a major airfield, in Panama in 1989, the 82nd would get their jump. Even though the Rangers seized the airfield again, they would not be denied. And although some of their heavy drops ended up in the ocean, they would get their combat jump.

The Grenadians attacked with a Motorized Rifle Company with three more BTR-60s but the Rangers 90mm and the Air Force AC-130s drove them back. Four Rangers, looking for the medical students at the True Blue campus, got disoriented and were killed in an ambush. The students were later found but only 140 were located, the rest were at the campus at Grand Anse.

Meanwhile, the Pearls Airport was captured by SEALs from SEAL Team 4 who came ashore just after midnight and Marines from the 2 Bn., 8th Marine Regiment who flew in on CH-46s and CH-53s. They encountered light resistance and swept it aside easily.

Elements of SEAL Team 6 captured Radio Free Grenada unopposed, however, soon after capture, they were attacked by Grenadians in armored personnel carriers. The frogmen were forced to evade by cutting a hole in the chain link fence and swimming out to US ships. Two SEALs were seriously wounded in the action and were medevaced by helicopter to the USS Independence.

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Due to the lack of good intelligence, the raid by Delta Force on Fort Rupert and Richmond Hill Prison nearly turned into a disaster. Delta commandos and C Co. of the1st Ranger Bn were tasked with the taking of these two targets with helicopters from Task Force 160, now known as the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment. The Night Stalkers were flying UH-60s and MH-6 “Little Birds”.

The raid of Fort Rupert was very successful, several members of the People’s Revolutionary Council were captured. The raid on the prison at Richmond Hill, where political prisoners were held was another story. The ground was very steep, too much so to land helicopters. There were also several anti-aircraft guns on site. One helicopter was shot down and the pilot killed. Several of the commandos were wounded. The Rangers sent reinforcements to assist in the Delta commandos in safely exfilling the area.

SEALs conducted a rescue operation for Governor General Paul Scoon from his mansion in Saint George. They entered the area unopposed but a counterattack by Grenadian forces supported by BTR-60 APCs had the SEALs trapped inside. The US forces called in air strikes with AC-130 gunships, A-7 Corsair strike planes, and AH-1 Cobra attack helicopters. The SEALs were forced to hold inside the mansion for 24 hours.

The next morning 250 Marine reinforcements with M-60 tanks relieved the SEALs and were able to bring Paul Scoon safely out. The Marines then overwhelmed the enemy opposition.

The fighting continued the next day as the 82nd Airborne pushed out the perimeter around the Salinas airfield. They got into a huge firefight with the Cubans and lost two dead and six wounded. The Cubans were pounded with airstrikes and artillery, and their resistance quickly faded after that.

By Day Three, the major fighting was over and the island secure.

UN, US Reaction:

President Reagan stated the purpose for the invasion was to protect American citizens, including medical students, living on the island. The reaction in the US was that the operation was justified.

In the UN, however, the situation was much different. From Wikipedia,On 2 November 1983 by a vote of 108 in favour to 9 voting against (Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica, El Salvador, Israel, Jamaica, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and the United States), with 27 abstentions, the United Nations General Assembly adopted General Assembly Resolution 38/7, which “deeply deplores the armed intervention in Grenada, which constitutes a flagrant violation of international law and of the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of that State.”

Free elections were held less than 14 months later and the vast majority of the people in Grenada voted for the Grenada National Party and a government was formed led by Prime Minister Herbert Blaize.

The majority of US troops would be pulled from Grenada by December. The lack of usable intelligence and the issues with communication were things that pointed to massive changes that needed to be made.

From Wiki also, The Goldwater-Nichols Act reworked the command structure of the United States military, thereby making the most sweeping changes to the United States Department of Defense since the department was established in the National Security Act of 1947. It increased the powers of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and created the concept of truly unified joint U.S. forces (i.e., Army, Air Force, Marines, and Naval forces organized under one command). One of the first reorganizations resulting from both the Department of Defense analysis and the legislation was the formation of the U.S. Special Operations Command in 1987.

Photos: DOD