Invasion of Grenada

Invasion of Grenada
Grenada Invasion
Part of the Cold War
CH-53D HMM-261 Grenada Okt1983.jpeg
A U.S. Marine Corps Sikorsky CH-53D Sea Stallion helicopter hovers above the ground near a Soviet ZU-23 anti-aircraft weapon during the invasion
Date 25 October – 15 December 1983
Location Grenada
Result Decisive United States/CPF victory
 United States

 Antigua and Barbuda
 Saint Lucia
 Saint Vincent and the Grenadines

Grenada People's Revolutionary Government of Grenada
 Soviet Union (Advisor)
Commanders and leaders
United States Ronald Reagan
United States Vice Admiral Joseph Metcalf III
United States Major General H. Norman Schwarzkopf
Grenada Hudson Austin
Cuba Pedro Tórtolo
United States:
special forces
special forces,
Casualties and losses
United States:
19 killed,
116 wounded[2]
45 killed,
358 wounded
25 killed,
59 wounded,
638 captured[2]
Civilian Casualties:
24 killed

The Invasion of Grenada, codenamed Operation Urgent Fury, was a 1983 United States-led invasion of Grenada, a Caribbean island nation with a population of about 100,000 located 100 miles (160 km) north of Venezuela. Triggered by a military coup which had ousted a four-year revolutionary government, the invasion resulted in a restoration of constitutional government. It was controversial due to charges of American imperialism, Cold War politics, the involvement of Cuba, the unstable state of the Grenadian government, and Grenada's status as a Commonwealth realm.

Grenada gained independence from the United Kingdom in 1974. The leftist New Jewel Movement seized power in a coup in 1979 suspending the constitution. After a 1983 internal power struggle ended with the deposition and murder of revolutionary Prime Minister Tyrone McBurnie, the invasion began on 25 October 1983. A combined force of about 7,600 troops from the United States, Jamaica, and members of the Regional Security System (RSS)[3] defeated Grenadian resistance. The military government of Hudson Austin was deposed and replaced by a government appointed by Governor-General Paul Scoon until elections were held.

While the invasion enjoyed broad public support in the United States,[4] and received support from some sectors in Grenada from local groups who viewed the post-coup regime as illegitimate,[5] it was criticized by the United Kingdom, Canada and the United Nations General Assembly, which condemned it as "a flagrant violation of international law".[6]

The date of the invasion is a national holiday in Grenada, called Thanksgiving Day, and the Point Salines International Airport was renamed in honor of Bishop.[7][8] The invasion highlighted issues with communication and coordination between the branches of the United States military, contributing to investigations and sweeping changes, in the form of the Goldwater–Nichols Act and other reorganizations.



Sir Eric Gairy had led Grenada to independence from the United Kingdom in 1974. His term in office coincided with civil strife in Grenada. The political environment was highly charged and although Gairy – head of the Grenada United Labour Party – claimed victory in the general election of 1976, the opposition did not accept the result as legitimate.[citation needed] The civil strife took the form of street violence between government supporters and gangs organized by the New Jewel Movement (NJM). In the late 1970s, the NJM began planning to overthrow the government. Party members began to receive military training outside of Grenada.[citation needed] On 13 March 1979 while Gairy was out of the country, the NJM – led by Maurice Bishop – launched an armed revolution and overthrew the government, establishing the People's Revolutionary Government.

M102 howitzers firing during battle.
Members of the Eastern Caribbean Defense Force
American students waiting to be evacuated from the island

On 14 October 1983, a party faction led by Deputy Prime Minister Bernard Coard seized power. Bishop was placed under house arrest. Mass protests against the action led to Bishop escaping detention and reasserting his authority as the head of the government. Bishop was eventually captured and murdered along with several government officials loyal to him. The army under Hudson Austin then stepped in and formed a military council to rule the country. The Governor-General of Grenada, Paul Scoon, was placed under house arrest. The army announced a four-day total curfew where anyone seen on the streets would be subject to summary execution.

The Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), as well as the nations of Barbados and Jamaica, appealed to the United States for assistance.[citation needed] According to a reporter for The New York Times, this formal appeal was at the request of the U.S. government, which had already decided to take military action.[9] U.S. officials cited the murder of Bishop and general political instability in a country near U.S. borders, as well as the presence of U.S. medical students at St. George's University on Grenada, as reasons for military action. Sivapalan also claimed that the latter reason was cited in order to gain public support.[10]

On October 25, Grenada was invaded by the combined forces of the United States and the Regional Security System (RSS) based in Barbados, in an operation codenamed Operation Urgent Fury. The U.S. stated this was done at the request of Dame Eugenia Charles, of Dominica. While the Governor-General, Sir Paul Scoon, later stated that he had also requested the invasion[citation needed], it was highly criticised by HM Queen Elizabeth II and the governments of the United Kingdom, Trinidad and Tobago and Canada. The United Nations General Assembly condemned it as "a flagrant violation of international law"[11] by a vote of 108 in favor to 9, with 27 abstentions.[12] The United Nations Security Council considered a similar resolution, which failed to pass when vetoed by the United States.[citation needed]


UH-60A Black Hawk helicopters over Point Salines. (The conflict saw the first use of the UH-60s)

The Bishop government began constructing the Point Salines International Airport with the help of Britain, Cuba, Libya, Algeria, and other nations. The airport had been first proposed by the British government in 1954, when Grenada was still a British colony. It had been designed by Canadians, underwritten by the British government, and partly built by a London firm. The U.S. government accused Grenada of constructing facilities to aid a Soviet-Cuban military build-up in the Caribbean, and to assist the Soviet and Cuban transportation of weapons to Central American insurgents. Bishop’s government claimed that the airport was built to accommodate commercial aircraft carrying tourists, pointing out that such jets could not land at the existing airport on the island’s north. Neither could the existing airport, itself, be expanded as its runway abutted a mountain.

In 1983, then-Member of the United States House of Representatives Ron Dellums (D, California), traveled to Grenada on a fact-finding mission, having been invited by the country's Prime Minister. Dellums described his findings before Congress:

...based on my personal observations, discussion and analysis of the new international airport under construction in Grenada, it is my conclusion that this project is specifically now and has always been for the purpose of economic development and is not for military use.... It is my thought that it is absurd, patronizing and totally unwarranted for the United States Government to charge that this airport poses a military threat to the United States’ national security.[13]

In March 1983, Ronald Reagan began issuing warnings about the threat posed to the United States and the Caribbean by the "Soviet-Cuban militarization" as evidenced by the excessively long airplane runway being built as well as intelligence sources. He said that the 9,000-foot (2,700 m) runway and the oil storage tanks were unnecessary for commercial flights, and that evidence pointed that the airport was to become a Cuban-Soviet military airbase.[14]

The invasion

An AH-1S firing its cannon, 25 October 1983.
An explosion that occurred during the invasion, 25 October 1983.

The invasion, which commenced at 05:00 on 25 October 1983, began when forces refuelled and departed from the Grantley Adams International Airport on the neighboring Caribbean-isle of Barbados before daybreak en-route to Grenada.[15] It was the first major operation conducted by the U.S. military since the Vietnam War.[citation needed] Vice Admiral Joseph Metcalf, III, Commander Second Fleet, was the overall commander of U.S. forces, designated Joint Task Force 120, which included elements of each military service and multiple special operations units. Fighting continued for several days and the total number of U.S. troops reached some 7,000 along with 300 troops from the OECS. The invading forces encountered about 1,500 Grenadian soldiers and about 700 Cubans. Also present were 60 advisors from the Soviet Union, North Korea, East Germany, Bulgaria, and Libya.[citation needed] According to journalist Bob Woodward in his book Veil, the supposed captured "military advisers" from the aforementioned countries were actually accredited diplomats and included their dependents. None took any actual part in the fighting.[16] Some of the "construction workers" were actually a detachment of Cuban Military Special Forces and combat engineers.[17]

Official U.S. sources state that the defenders were well-prepared, well-positioned and put up stubborn resistance, to the extent that the U.S. called in two battalions of reinforcements on the evening of 26 October. The total naval and air superiority of the coalition forces – including helicopter gunships and naval gunfire support – overwhelmed the local forces.

Nearly eight thousand soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines had participated in URGENT FURY along with 353 Caribbean allies of the CPF. U.S. forces had sustained 19 killed and 116 wounded; Cuban forces sustained 25 killed, 59 wounded and 638 combatants captured. Grenadian forces casualties were 45 killed and 358 wounded; at least 24 civilians were killed.[18]

Reaction in the United States

Leaflet air-dropped during the invasion

A month after the invasion, Time magazine described it as having "broad popular support." A congressional study group concluded that the invasion had been justified, as most members felt that U.S. students at the university near a contested runway could have been taken hostage as U.S. diplomats in Iran had been four years previously. The group's report caused House Speaker Tip O'Neill to change his position on the issue from opposition to support.[4]

However, some members of the study group dissented from its findings. Congressman Louis Stokes stated: "Not a single American child nor single American national was in any way placed in danger or placed in a hostage situation prior to the invasion." The Congressional Black Caucus denounced the invasion and seven Democratic congressmen, led by Ted Weiss, "introduced a quixotic resolution to impeach Reagan...which would, of course, go exactly nowhere."[4]

In the evening of 25 October 1983 by telephone, on the newscast Nightline, anchor Ted Koppel spoke to medical students on Grenada who stated that they were safe and did not feel their lives were in danger. The next evening, again by telephone, medical students told Koppel how grateful they were for the invasion and the Marines, which probably saved their lives. State Department officials had assured the medical students that they would be able to complete their medical school education in the United States.[19][20]

International reaction

Map of invasion plan.

By a vote of 108 in favor to 9 (Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica, El Salvador, Israel, Jamaica, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Grenada, and the United States voting against) 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".[6] The government of China termed the United States intervention an outright act of hegemonism. The USSR government observed that Grenada had for a long time been the object of United States threats, that the invasion violated international law, and that no small nation not to the liking of the United States would find itself safe if the aggression against Grenada was not rebuffed. The governments of some countries stated that the United States intervention was a return to the era of barbarism. The governments of other countries said the United States by its invasion had violated several treaties and conventions to which it was a party.[21]

A similar resolution was discussed in the United Nations Security Council and although receiving widespread support it was ultimately vetoed by the United States.[22][23] The then president of the United States Ronald Reagan, when asked if he was concerned by the lopsided 108–9 vote in the UN General Assembly said "it didn't upset my breakfast at all."[24]

Grenada is part of the Commonwealth of Nations and, following the invasion, it requested help from other Commonwealth members. The invasion was opposed by the United Kingdom, Trinidad and Tobago, and Canada, among others.[25] British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher personally opposed the U.S. invasion, and her Foreign Secretary, Geoffrey Howe, announced to the British House of Commons on the day before the invasion that he had no knowledge of any possible U.S. intervention. At 12:30am Tuesday 25 October, on the morning of the invasion, Prime Minister Thatcher sent a message to President Reagan: This action will be seen as intervention by a Western country in the internal affairs of a small independent nation, however unattractive its regime. I ask you to consider this in the context of our wider East-West relations and of the fact that we will be having in the next few days to present to our Parliament and people the siting of Cruise missiles in this country...I cannot conceal that I am deeply disturbed by your latest communication. ... hope that even at this late stage you will take it into account before events are irrevocable[26][27] (The full text remains classified). She telephoned Reagan twenty minutes later, Ronald Reagan, President of the United States, assured Thatcher that an invasion was not contemplated. Reagan later said, "She was very adamant and continued to insist that we cancel our landings on Grenada. I couldn't tell her that it had already begun."[28]


Following the U.S. victory, Grenada's Governor-General Paul Scoon formed a government in December 1983 by appointing Nicholas Brathwaite as acting head of government. Democratic elections held in December 1984 were won by the Grenada National Party and a government was formed led by Prime Minister Herbert Blaize.

A VA-87 A-7E from USS Independence over Port Salines airfield

U.S. forces remained in Grenada after combat operations finished in December as part of Operation Island Breeze. Elements remaining, including military police, special forces, and a specialized intelligence detachment, performed security missions and assisted members of the Caribbean Peacekeeping Force and the Royal Grenadian Police Force.

United States

The invasion showed problems with the U.S. government's "information apparatus," which Time described as still being in "some disarray" three weeks after the invasion. For example, the U.S. State Department falsely claimed that a mass grave had been discovered that held 100 bodies of islanders who had been killed by Communist forces.[4] Major General Norman Schwarzkopf, deputy commander of the invasion force, said that 160 Grenadian soldiers and 71 Cubans had been killed during the invasion; the Pentagon had given a much lower count of 59 Cuban and Grenadian deaths.[4] Ronald H. Cole's report for the Joint Chiefs of Staff showed an even lower count.[18]

Also of concern were the problems that the invasion showed with the military. There was a lack of intelligence about Grenada, which exacerbated the difficulties faced by the quickly assembled invasion force. For example, it was not known that the students were actually at two different campuses and there was a thirty-hour delay in reaching students at the second campus.[4] Maps provided to soldiers on the ground were rudimentary, did not show topography, and were not marked with crucial positions. The U.S. Navy ships providing naval gunfire and U.S. Marine and Navy fighter bomber support, as well as U.S. Air Force aircraft providing close air support mistakenly fired upon and killed U.S. ground forces due to differences in maps and location coordinates, datum, and methods of calling for fire support. The landing strip was drawn-in by hand on the map given to some members of the invasion force.[citation needed]

A heavily fictionalized account of the invasion from a U.S. military perspective is shown in the 1986 Clint Eastwood movie, Heartbreak Ridge.

Goldwater-Nichols Act

Calivigny barracks before and after being bombed.

Analysis by the U.S. Department of Defense showed a need for improved communications and coordination between the branches of the U.S. forces. U.S. Congressional investigations of many of the reported problems resulted in the most important legislative change affecting the U.S. military organization, doctrine, career progression, and operating procedures since the end of World War II – the Goldwater-Nichols Department of Defense Reorganization Act of 1986 (Pub. L.99–433).

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 a truly unified joint U.S. forces (i.e., Army, Air Force, Marines, and Navy 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.


25 October is a national holiday in Grenada, called Thanksgiving Day, to commemorate the invasion.

SGU Campus Memorial

St. George's University built a monument on its True Blue campus to memorialize the US servicemen killed during the invasion, and marks the day with an annual memorial ceremony.

In 2008, the Government of Grenada announced a move to build a monument to honor the Cubans killed during the invasion. At the time of the announcement the Cuban and Grenadian government are still seeking to locate a suitable site for the monument.[29] On 29 May 2009 the Point Salines International Airport was officially renamed in honor of the slain pre-coup leader Maurice Bishop by the Government of Grenada.[7][8]

Order of battle

Operation Urgent Fury.

U.S. land forces

U.S. naval forces

Amphibious Squadron Four USS Guam (LPH-9), USS Barnstable County (LST-1197), USS Manitowoc (LST-1180), USS Fort Snelling (LSD-30), USS Trenton (LPD-14)

Independence Task Group USS Independence (CV-62), USS Richmond K. Turner (CG-20), USS Coontz (DDG-40), USS Caron (DD-970), USS Moosbrugger (DD-980), USS Clifton Sprague (FFG-16), USS Suribachi (AE-21) with the Invasion Tactical Planning and Hands On Operational Control conducted by the Air Staff of the USS Independence

In addition, the following ships supported naval operations: USS America (CV-66), USS Aquila (PHM-4), USS Aubrey Fitch (FFG-34), USS John L. Hall (FFG-32), USS Briscoe (DD-977), USS Portsmouth (SSN-707), USS Silversides (SSN-679),USS Recovery (ARS-43), USS Saipan (LHA-2), USS Sampson (DDG-10), USS Samuel Eliot Morison (FFG-13), USS Taurus (PHM-3), USCGC Chase (WHEC-718), and USS Kidd (DDG-993) Caribbean Peace Force (CPF)


  1. ^ Ronald H. Cole, 1997, Operation Urgent Fury: The Planning and Execution of Joint Operations in Grenada 12 October – 2 November 1983 Joint History Office of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Washington, DC, p.6, p.26, p. 62. (Retrieved 9 November 2006).
  2. ^ a b Cole, op. cit., p.6, 62
  3. ^ – Caribbean Islands: A Regional Security System
  4. ^ a b c d e f Magnuson, Ed (21 November 1983). "Getting Back to Normal". Time.,9171,926318-1,00.html 
  5. ^ Steven F. Hayward. The Age of Reagan: The Conservative Counterrevolution: 1980–1989. Crown Forum. ISBN 1400053579. 
  6. ^ a b "United Nations General Assembly resolution 38/7, page 19". United Nations. 2 November 1983. 
  7. ^ a b "St Vincent PM to officiate at renaming of Grenada international airport". Caribbean Net News newspaper. 26 May 2009. 
  8. ^ a b "BISHOP'S HONOUR: Grenada airport renamed after ex-PM". Caribbean News Agency (CANA). 30 May 2009. 
  9. ^ New York Times, Mythu Sivapalan, 29 October 1983
  10. ^ Cole, op. cit., p.1, 57
  11. ^ "United Nations General Assembly resolution 38/7". United Nations. November 2, 1983. 
  12. ^ "Assembly calls for cessation of "armed intervention" in Grenada". UN Chronicle. 1984. 
  13. ^ Peter Collier, David Horowitz (January 1987). "Another "Low Dishonest Decade" on the Left". Commentary. 
  14. ^ Gailey, Phil; Warren Weaver Jr. (26 March 1983). "Grenada". New York Times. Retrieved accessdate=2008-03-11. 
  15. ^ "Ex-airport boss recalls Cubana crash". Nation Newspaper. September 26, 2010. Retrieved October 16, 2011. 
  16. ^ Woodward, Bob (1987). Veil: The Secret Wars of the CIA 1981–1987. Simon & Schuster. 
  17. ^ Leckie, Robert (1998). The Wars of America. Castle Books. 
  18. ^ a b Ronald H. Cole, 1997, Operation Urgent Fury: The Planning and Execution of Joint Operations in Grenada 12 October – 2 November 1983 Joint History Office of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Washington, DC, p.62.] (Retrieved 9 November 2006).
  19. ^ Nightline – 25 Oct 1983 – ABC – TV news: Vanderbilt Television News Archive
  20. ^ Television News Archive: Nightline
  21. ^ United Nations Yearbook, Volume 37, 1983, Department of Public Information, United Nations, New York
  22. ^ Zunes, Stephen (October 2003). The U.S. Invasion of Grenada: A Twenty Year Retrospective. Foreign Policy in Focus. 
  23. ^ "Spartacus Educational". 
  24. ^ The Spokesman-Reviev, 101st year, no. 170, 4 November 1983,,2048008
  25. ^ Cole, op. cit., p. 50
  26. ^ "Thatcher letter to Reagan ("deeply disturbed" at U.S. plans) [memoirs extract"]. Margaret Thatcher Foundation. 25 October 1983. Retrieved 30 October 2008. 
  27. ^ Thatcher, Margaret (1993) The Downing Street Years page 331.
  28. ^ Reagan, Ronald (1990). An American Life page 454.
  29. ^ For Cubans – "The Nation Newspaper", 13 October 2008
Further reading

External links

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