Operation Urgent Fury — Part 2

The Invasion of Grenada

(Continued from Last Week)

Land the Landing Force

Reveille sounded for the Marines at 0100.  They consumed their traditional pre-assault breakfast, drew live ammunition, and the squad and fire team leaders began checking their men.  ACE flight crews made ready to launch aircraft.  Only a few of the pilots in HMM-261 (or their enlisted men) had previous combat experience.  Twenty-one helicopters lifted off at 0315.  Marine pilots maintained radio silence and navigated using night vision goggles.  Intermittent rain showers delayed the launching of aircraft.

Company E 2/8, under the command of Captain Henry J. Donigan III, was “first in.”[1]  Their helicopters went ashore with AH-1 Cobra escorts.  The company’s target was LZ Buzzard, an unused race track south of the Pearls airfield.  Colonel Smith accompanied the lead element.  Smith ordered one platoon to take Hill 275, an anti-aircraft gun site.  Even though Grenadians manned the hill, they opted not to engage the Marines — which they demonstrated by dropping their weapons and fleeing down the other side of the hill.

With Hill 275 secure, Smith ordered Echo Company to push along a road toward the West side of the airfield.  Rugged terrain delayed the Marine’s progress by two hours.  As Echo Company was about to move toward the air terminal, they began receiving enemy mortar fire.  Two or three rounds landed near the terminal complex: five more landed in the vicinity of LZ Buzzard.  There were no casualties, and the firing soon stopped.

Following Echo Company an hour later, Fox Company went ashore just outside the town of Grenville.  The terrain was much rougher than reflected on aerial photographs, and the pre-designated landing site proved unsuitable.  Colonel Amos determined the only alternative landing site was an adjacent soccer field.  The problem with the soccer field was that it had a high brick wall that surrounded it.  Potentially, the field was a kill zone, but because the people of Grenada seemed welcoming of the Marines, Amos approved the landing and designated the soccer field as LZ Oriole.

Local citizens treated the Marines of Echo and Fox Companies as liberators.  In the minds of these civilians, Grenada had been cursed by thugs for far too long.  The locals led Marines to the homes of members of the Revolutionary Army; they pointed out members of the local militia.  They told the Marines where they could find concealed arms and munitions.  Locals even loaned the Marines their private vehicles to carry away dangerous munitions.

Marine Air/Army Rangers

Lieutenant Colonel Smith, who had gone ashore with Echo and Fox companies at Pearls/Grenville, was having a difficult time establishing radio contact with USS Guam.  He suspected that Colonel Faulkner was planning a surface landing at Grand Mal Bay or possibly at Gouyave, but he couldn’t know Faulkner’s intent without radio contact.  At around 1500, Smith received a radio message from his reconnaissance platoon commander informing him of the new plan.  Smith, with only sporadic radio contact, was confused.  He boarded a resupply helicopter, leaving his XO in charge, and returned to Guam.

Back aboard the ship, Smith received an update/briefing from the MAU operations officer, Major Tim Van Huss.  The objective of the Grand Mal Bay operation was to relieve Golf Company of its special mission.  The plan called for an amphibious landing at Grand Mal with Fox Company transferring by helicopter from Grenville — scheduled for execution that very evening.  Smith requested and received permission to delay the landing by two hours.

Captain R. K. Dobson, commanding Golf Company, was becoming irritated.  His company had been “on deck” since 0430; each time he received a “go” order, it was put on hold, rescheduled, or canceled.  Finally, after standing by inside the amphibious tractors for several hours aboard USS Manitowoc, Dobson ordered his Marines out of the tractors and informed them that they would go ashore by helicopter.  From 1330, the company was staged on the flight deck of the LST; Dobson fidgeted because he had no clear idea where his company would be employed — but then, neither did anyone else.

By 1750 it was growing dark; Captain Dobson instructed his platoon commanders to secure all weapons and ammunition return the men to their berthing spaces for much-needed sleep.  No sooner had Dobson given these instructions, he was called to the bridge.  Company G would go ashore at Grand Mal Bay in forty minutes; the amphibious landing was back on.  Marines were mustered and loaded aboard the AAVs … the first tractor left the ship precisely at 1830.  It was by then completely dark — there was no moon to navigate by reckoning.  The track vehicles headed for the beach in single file.  Thirty-one minutes later, the first tractor went ashore on the narrow beach with no opposition.  Captain Dobson was finally ashore, but he still had no instructions.  There was no radio communication with the BLT commander.

At around 1930, Navy LCUs began bringing in tanks, jeeps, and heavy weapons.  Within a short time, the narrow beach became congested with combat Marines and equipment.  Captain Dobson established area security with roadblock positions on the coastal road some 200 meters north and south of LZ Fuel.  After establishing flank security, Dobson sent his recon platoon to reconnoiter the roadway.

At 2300, Dobson could hear the sound of approaching helicopters.  Marines quickly rigged the LZ with red lights and a strobe to guide the aircraft, a Huey UH-1 bearing the MAU air liaison officer (ALO), Major William J. Sublette.  Sublette brought Dobson up to date on the operation and told him that there was a strong enemy force between G Company’s present position and St. George’s.  He also informed Dobson that Fox Company would arrive at his position sometime after midnight.  Dobson asked the major to contact Colonel Smith, give him Dobson’s present position, and request the battalion commander’s orders.

Lieutenant Colonel Smith arrived in a CH-46 an hour later.  The beach was so narrow, the helicopter had to unload its passengers with its back wheels in the surf; Smith and his staff had to wade ashore through the surf.  So far, the operation had been a communications disaster.  When the CH-46 returned to the ship, it carried a message to Colonel Amos asking that he airlift Fox Company from Grenville to Grand Mal Bay.

Smith directed Dobson to begin the process of moving Golf Company to the Queen’s Park Race Track; Fox Company began making its airlift movement from Grenville to LZ Fuel for a link-up with Golf at 0400 — the small LZ could only accommodate two CH-46s at a time, so the movement lasted until near daylight.  With Dobson receiving only light resistance from the Grenadians, Smith directed that he proceed to the Governor-General’s house to reinforce a 22-man special mission team and help evacuate Governor-General Sir Paul Scoon, his wife, and nine other civilians to USS Guam.

Once the Scoon party had safely departed Grenada, Smith ordered Dobson to proceed to and seize Fort Frederick, which dominated the entire area of St. George’s.  En route, local civilians informed Dobson that there remained a company-size unit and a large supply of ammunition inside the fort.

Captain Dobson sent a reinforced platoon to seize the high ground adjacent to Fort Frederick where they could provide supporting fire if needed.  With the balance of the company, Dobson proceeded through dense foliage along the ridgeline.  Nearing the fort, the Marines observed several men climbing down the outside wall as if abandoning their positions.  Within a short time, Captain Dobson’s company entered the fort unopposed, where they found randomly discarded uniforms — a suggestion that perhaps the Grenadian military had taken early retirement from active military service.[2]

Golf Company Marines quickly seized a large store of weapons and ammunition.  Additionally, in a lower chamber inside the fort, Captain Dobson discovered numerous documents purported to be arms agreements with Cuba, Nicaragua, and the Soviet Union, along with detailed maps of the disposition of Grenadian armed forces.  As Golf and Fox company consolidated their positions at Fort Frederick, the Marines of HMM-261 began preparing for the evacuation of American medical students.

Grand Anse

Colonel Amos was organizing additional lift support for BLT 2/8 when he received a directive from Admiral Metcalf to provide airlift support to the Army for NEO evacuations from the Grand Anse area.  Amos proceeded to the Salines airfield where he conferred with the CO 2nd Ranger Battalion (2/75th), Lieutenant Colonel Ralph L. Hagler, Jr., who, as it happened, was a classmate of Colonel Amos at the Virginia Military Institute.  Amos and Hagler sat down and planned the evacuation operations for the next day.  The beach at Grand Anse was narrow in width, short in length, and overgrown with heavy vegetation extending almost to the water’s edge.

The evacuation plan called for CH-46s carrying Rangers to land on the beach in three flights of three helicopters.  Four CH-53s would follow the 46s to pick up medical students.  Once the students had been taken off the beach, the 46s would return for the Rangers.  Amos would personally direct the airlift operation from an airborne UH-1 and coordinate additional air support from the Navy’s A-7 squadron from USS Independence and the USAF AC-130 detachment.  Naval gunfire would provide additional on-call fire support.

At 1600, CH-46s began airlift operations from Salines.  Artillery, mortars, and overhead aircraft opened up on suspected Grenadian and Cuban military positions five minutes later.  The bombardment continued until about twenty seconds before the first flight of 46s touched down on the beach.  The helicopter landings prompted a steady increase of enemy small arms fire. Waist gunners returned fire with their .50 caliber machine guns.

The narrowness of the beach forced the last CH-46 too close to an overhanging palm tree.  When a rotor blade contacted the palms, the pilot had to shut the aircraft down and order the crew to abandon the damaged helicopter.   

As soon as the Rangers exited the aircraft, they sprinted to the medical school dormitories.[3]  When the last of the remaining eight aircraft had departed, Colonel Amos ordered in the CH-53s.  Despite increasingly heavy fire from the Grenadians/Cubans, all students were safely evacuated.  As soon as the last 53 lifted off, the downed 46 became the focus on the enemy’s attention — which pissed off Lance Corporal Martin J. Dellerr, the downed helicopter’s crew chief.  When Dellerr saw that his helicopter was being peppered with small arms fire, he sprinted to the bird, conducted a full inspection of the aircraft, and then sprinted back to the pilot and announced that the bird could fly.[4]  The aircraft was shaking more than usual during takeoff, but it did return to Salines without further mishap.

Back to the Northeast

While Fox and Golf companies were operating in the southwest, Captain Donigan’s Echo Company continued operations in the north.  During the late afternoon of D Day, the company commander received information that armored vehicles, including one tank, were approaching from the north.  It was a false report, but it did cause Company E to suspend its operations and prepare for an armored attack.  Locals offered to help the Marines erect anti-vehicle obstacles, but the Marines urged them to vacate the area.

On 27 October, Colonel Smith ordered Captain Donigan to carry out a reconnaissance in force to the Mount Horne area, a little over two miles from Greenville.  Captured documents from Fort Frederick identified Mount Horne as the location of the headquarters element of the People’s Revolutionary Army Battalion.  Donigan led a reinforced rifle platoon to that location, encountering no enemy resistance.  On the contrary, local civilians welcomed the Marines and pointed them to two buildings that had served as a battalion command post.  One building housed a complete communications center, island maps, and modern radios.

Acting on information from residents, Donigan dispatched another reconnaissance on Mount St. Catherine, where a suspected enemy force controlled a television and microwave station.  En route, Marines weathered a heavy rain squall.  Their approach to the communications station prompted a handful of enemy soldiers to make a rapid withdrawal in the opposite direction.  The Marines discovered and confiscated several mortar and anti-tank munitions.

Smith directed Donigan to check out a report of a large cache of arms stored at the Mirabeau Hospital.  Once more, local civilians helped direct Donigan’s Marines to a large cave thought to contain ammunition.  The cave was empty, so Marines proceeded toward the hospital.  At the crest of a hill, the Marines encountered three Cubans who attempted to flee.  Marine riflemen wounded two of these men and placed them in custody.  In the fading light of day, unknown persons began firing at the Marines from a densely wooded ridgeline, but the enemy broke off contact after a few minutes.  There were no casualties among the Marines.  Donigan led his Marines back to Pearls the following morning.

St. George’s

Following the capture of Fort Frederick, Fox and Golf companies continued seizing the strong points around St. George’s.  The Marines destroyed one Soviet BTR-60 armored personnel carrier blocking the road between Fort Frederick and the Governor-General’s residence.  On 27 October, Smith was ordered to seize Richmond Hill Prison, Fort Adolphus, and Fort Lucas.  Captain Dobson’s Marines quickly took the prison, which had been abandoned, and organized his company for an assault on Fort Adolphus.  Dobson observed human activity inside the fort and reported this by radio to Smith during his approach.  After discussing the employment of prep-fire into the Fort, Smith decided against it because he believed, given the tendency of the Grenadians to flee, pre-assault fire may not be necessary.

Dobson’s Marines cautiously approached the fort.  Along the way, the Marines encountered the Ambassador to Venezuela, who informed the Marines that Fort Adolphus was, in fact, the Venezuela Embassy.  Smith’s discretion had avoided a serious international incident.

There was no enemy resistance as Marines from Fox Company entered St. George’s.  Once more, local civilians helped the Marines to discover caches of weapons and munitions and took into custody suspected members of the People’s Revolutionary Army.

Confusing Tactical Areas of Responsibility

To allow the Marines to continue their southward advance, Admiral Metcalf changed the boundary line between 82nd Airborne units (TF 121) and Marine Amphibious forces (TF 124).  The new line ran from Ross Point on the east coast to Requin Bay on the west.  This vital information never reached the Army’s operating elements and, to make matters worse, Marine and Army units had not exchanged liaison officers.   Radio call signs had not been disseminated for joint fire control center operations.  Both Marine and Army units remained unaware of their close proximities.

With the boundary shift, Colonel Smith’s Marines were no longer an adequate-sized force for controlling the new area of operations.  Since his artillery battery had remained aboard ship, Smith employed these Marines as part of a provisional rifle company and tasked them with area security in and around St. George’s.  Smith’s decision allowed him to employ Fox and Golf companies in other areas.

Smith received a report that as many as 400 Canadian, British, and American nations were located at the Ross Point Hotel, on Mattin’s Bay, south of St. George’s, and eagerly awaiting evacuation.  Fox Company Marines arrived at the hotel just after dark.  They discovered less than two dozen foreign nationals, mostly Canadians with no Americans.  Moreover — no one wished to be evacuated.

At the end of the second day, there was still no sign of Army units, so Fox Company set up a night defense around the Ross Point Hotel.  The next morning, the lead element of the 2nd Battalion, 325th Infantry Regiment (2/325th), reached the hotel.  No one in 2/325 was aware of the boundary shift, and insofar as they knew, the area of the Ross Hotel was a “free-fire zone.”  The only army people aware of the boundary shift were the division and brigade commanders, who had not passed the word to their subordinate units.  Smith became concerned that his Marines might become the targets of US Army units operating “in the dark.”

Mopping Up

By the end of the third day, peacekeeping forces from allied Caribbean nations began to arrive and take up their stations in the St. George’s area.  Smith’s provisional company continued to arrest and detain enemy personnel and confiscate arms and other equipment.  By this time, the number of “enemy” leaders had grown considerably, and these individuals also needed to be turned over to the peacekeepers.  Included in the detained number were the Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of National Mobilization, and Lieutenant Colonel Liam James of the New Jewel Movement.

Marines began preparing to turn over their positions to the 82nd Airborne Division units.  The 22nd MAU was needed in Beirut. 

Finalizing the North

On the fourth day, Captain Donigan’s Marines prepared to seize Sauteurs … an operation interrupted by the discovery of the PRA leader in the northern sector of Grenada, someone calling himself Lieutenant George.  Donigan’s first platoon took George into custody in Greenville.  With George’s surrender peacefully accepted, Echo Company moved out for Sauteurs at around 0300 the following day.  Donigan split the company into two teams.  Donigan intended his raiding team to assault the PRA camp near Sauteurs before the general advance on the town.  The company mortar section was set up on Mount Rose, halfway between Sauteurs and the Pearls airfield, and communicators set up a radio relay station at the same place.  The company’s second team readied for entering the town.

Donigan launched his raid at 0530; the camp seized without any resistance.  With no shots fired, residents awakened to find U.S. Marines in control of their town without resorting to violence.  Having been made aware that the people of Sauteurs were short on food, Captain Donigan took with him enough rations to feed the town for several days.  Red Cross workers undertook to effect fair distribution of these rations.  The goodwill of the Marines toward the town folk resulted in a cooperative attitude, and local people were happy to identify local members of the PRA.  Captured PRA couldn’t sing long enough or loud enough about other members and the locations of arms and munitions.

Meanwhile, Colonel Faulkner planned to move Fox and Golf companies to Gouyave and Victoria on the northwest coast — the only sizeable towns not already under Marine control.  Colonel Smith objected to removing Fox Company away from St. George’s, so Golf Company moved to the two towns alone.  There was no opposition in either of these towns, and both were peacefully seized.

Admiral Metcalf had one final concern: the island of Carriacou, one of two inhabited islands between Grenada and St. Vincent. Naval intelligence reported unconfirmed information that a North Korean military presence existed on Carriacou and that some PRA members had fled to the island.  Accordingly, Metcalf ordered the Marine Amphibious Unit to seize the island before daylight on 1 November 1983.  Once army units had replaced the Marines at Sauteurs, Pearls, St. George’s, Gouyave, and Victoria, the MAU returned to the sea and prepared for an amphibious/vertical landing at Carriacou.

The early morning landing at Carriacou was unopposed.  There were no North Korean soldiers on the island.  All PRA members voluntarily surrendered, and the citizens could not have been happier to see the American Marines.  One native asked if the island had become part of the United States and seemed disappointed with the negative response.  Army units arrived on 2 November to replace the Marines — which brought their role in Urgent Fury to an end.  The 22nd Marine Amphibious Unit Marines then proceeded to relieve the shattered battalion in Beirut, Lebanon.

Post Script

If the invasion of Granada proved anything at all, it was that the National Security Act of 1947 did not resolve age-old problems associated with joint missions’ interoperability.  The military services have different missions, but they also had dissimilar chains of command, incompatible equipment, different ways of completing similar tasks, and, always-present, interservice rivalry.

Service competition, in and of itself, is not a bad thing.  Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines take great pride in their service affiliation.  And, the fact is that interservice rivalry has existed since the Spanish-American War.  It continued through two world wars, the Korean War and Vietnam.  But at some point, an unhealthy rivalry is self-defeating.  During the invasion of Granada, Army Rangers had no way of communicating with Marine or Navy forces.  Senior army and air force officers routinely treated the Navy and Marine Corps as second-class citizens — as if only the Army and Air Force knew how to fight a war — and the Navy and Marines deeply resented it.[5]  Even now, under the unified command system, there is a cultural divide between Army and Marine forces, and nowhere is that better illustrated than the story of Marineistan. 

To fix this problem in 1985, Senator Barry Goldwater and Representative William Flynt Nichols developed a bill to reorganize the Department of Defense (Goldwater-Nichols Department of Defense Reorganization Act, 1986).  The Act essentially streamlined the military chain of command, designated the Chairman, JCS as the principal advisor to the President, National Security Council, and Secretary of Defense.  It also changed how the various services organize, train, equip, and fight.  The first test of Goldwater-Nichols was the U.S. invasion of Panama in 1989.

Sources:

  1. Adkin, M.  Urgent Fury: The Battle for Grenada: The Truth Behind the Largest U.S. Military Operation since Vietnam.  Lexington Books, 1989.
  2. Cole, R. H.  Operation Urgent Fury: The Planning and Execution of Joint Operations in Grenada.  Washington: Pentagon Study, 1997.
  3. Dolphin, G. E.  24 MAU 1983: A Marine Looks Back at the Peacekeeping Mission to Beirut, Lebanon.  Publish America, 2005.
  4. Moore, C.  Margaret Thatcher: At Her Zenith in London, Washington, and Moscow.  New York: Vintage Books, 2016
  5. Russell, L.  Grenada, 1983.  London: Osprey Books, 1985. 
  6. Spector, R. H.  U. S. Marines in Grenada.  Washington: Headquarters, U. S. Marine Corps, 1987.
  7. Williams, G.  US-Grenada Relations: Revolution and Intervention in the Backyard.  Macmillan, 2007.

Endnotes:

[1] Echo 2/8 was my first line unit (1963-1964)

[2] A captured Grenadian captain explained that none of the Grenadians expected a combined surface/vertical assault.  Observing U. S. Marines coming toward them from different positions became a psychological shock to defenders and senior officers alike.

[3] [3] The pilot of the last helicopter of the first flight misjudged the distance to an overhanging palm tree; when the rotor blade brushed against it, the pilot was forced to shut down his engines and abandon the bird where it came to rest on the beach.  The beach area had then become even tighter — another helicopter would have a similar problem.  

[4] Marine Corps crew chiefs become attached to their aircraft and crews.  

[5] Particularly in light of the hard feelings that existed from the earliest days of the Korean War when army units were unprepared to fight.


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Mustang

Retired Marine, historian, writer.

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