Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Operation Urgent Fury

A map showing the invasion plan for Grenada (Wikimedia Commons)

By Zachary Smyers
HRNM Educator

The small island nation of Grenada, also referred to as the “island of spice,” is located 100 miles north of Venezuela. In 1983, Grenada became a legitimate concern for President Ronald Reagan, who feared that the island was becoming a communist client state. Starting in 1979, Grenadian leadership had started developing close ties with the Soviet Union and Cuba. These ties continued to grow over time, as the leadership of Grenada had communist values. With both Soviet and Cuban support, Grenada was in the process of constructing a modern airport with a sizeable runway.

Aerial reconnaissance photo showing the runway and other key areas of the airport. (

The size of the airstrip under construction was much larger than what was usually required for commercial aircraft use. President Reagan was alarmed by the airport construction as he was concerned that the runway would be used in a military capacity, allowing for the possibility of Soviet military aircraft operating 1,500 miles from Florida. Compounding Reagan’s concerns was the fact that 600 American students were attending medical school on the island. The U.S. State Department had serious concerns about the lives of the Americans on Grenada. Reagan did not want another scenario playing out similar to the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, and more importantly, he did not want another situation like the Iran hostage crisis a few years prior. After the bombing of the Marine barracks and the death of 241 US service members on October 23, 1983, the majority of American citizens thought that the US might invade Lebanon. Instead, Reagan chose to invade Grenada on October 25, 1983.
President Reagan meeting with Congress on October 25, 1983. (Wikimedia Commons)

USS Guam (LPH 9) seen off of Grenada in October 1983 (Navsource)
The majority of U.S. Naval support for the operation came from Hampton Roads. USS Guam (LPH 9), served as the flagship for Vice Admiral Joseph Metcalf III, who was commander of the American forces designated Joint Task Force 120.  Aboard Guam with Admiral Metcalf was then Major General Norman Schwarzkopf who was initially the Army liaison, but later during the operation became Admiral Metcalf’s Deputy Commander. The aircraft carrier USS Independence (CV 62) provided the bulk of the close air support. In addition to the Navy ships from the 2nd Fleet were SEAL Teams 4 and 6. Joint Task Force 120 also included US Army Rangers, the 82nd Airborne Division, the 160th SOAR, Delta Force, various Air Force units, and the 22nd Marine Amphibious Unit. 
A CH-46 prepares for a flight  off of USS Guam (LPH 9) (Navsource)
Operation Urgent Fury was the first time that US military forces had operated together since the Vietnam War. This interservice mission led to several problems. One was the multiple communication issues between the various units operating in the field. There were interservice rivalries that delayed key decisions from being made. The intelligence for planning purposes was limited at best and also outdated.  The Marine Corps was using maps of the island that had been produced in 1936. They excluded the time zone of Grenada, which would prove to be a fatal error as the mission progressed. The operation as a whole was also planned on very short notice.  
Rangers advancing in Grenada (

Despite the flaws, Urgent Fury commenced on the morning of October 25. The mission objectives were to restore order, neutralize Grenadian and Cuban Forces, and protect American civilians. Army Rangers secured the Point Salines International Airport on the first day, while Navy SEALs and Delta Force carried out missions to acquire better intelligence and secure additional objectives like the island’s radio station. The Marines landed on the northeastern side of Grenada and captured Pearls Airport. The goal of the second day of the operation was to secure the perimeter around Point Salines and rescue American medical students. By the third day of the operation, all of the American medical students had been rescued, and organized resistance on Grenada ended.

American medical students being evacuated from Grenada (

International response to Urgent Fury was not favorable. The United Nations considered it to be a violation of international law, while privately England’s Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was upset about the short notice she received of the operation taking place. However, she supported the operation in a public capacity.  In the United States, public support was favorable, and in Grenada itself, the date of the invasion is now recognized as a national holiday.  
The branches of the American armed forces involved in the operation conducted a careful analysis of what went right and what went wrong with Urgent Fury. This led to a restructuring of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, an increase of power for the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the creation of the Joint Special Operations Command. Changes this thorough had not been made since the Department of Defense was established in 1947. Operation Urgent Fury proved to be a much-needed confidence boost for the American military after the long war in Vietnam.   

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

First in Peace: USS George Washington (SSBN 598) and the Polaris Missile

USS George Washington (SSBN 598) crest, with the ship's motto "First in Peace" reinforced by the Polaris missile for nuclear deterrence. (Naval History and Heritage Command)

Thomas Grubbs
Guest Contributor

As the nation’s first president, George Washington has long been remembered through the practice of naming various places, from high schools to the forty second state, after him. This fact, combined with President Washington’s early and vocal support for the establishment and maintenance of the United States Navy, led to no fewer than sixteen American ships being named after him.  Four, including a pair of battleships, have been named for the state named for him. Of all of these ships, perhaps the most powerful, and least well known, is the ballistic missile submarine with the pennant number SSBN 598. 
USS George Washington on the surface while on patrol (Wikimedia Commons)

The first use of sea-based missiles came immediately after the end of the Second World War, utilizing captured German technology. Such weapons were not confined to the surface fleet. Beginning in the early 1950s, advances in missile technology gave submarines the capability to launch surface to surface missiles.  At first simply armed with conventional high explosive warheads, these missiles were soon paired with a far more terrifying weapon: the atomic bomb.  
A Regulus missile fired from USS Tunny (SSG 282) (Wikimedia Commons)

Given the submarine’s inherent ability to remain both mobile and hidden, both the United States and the  Soviet Union began to base a proportion of their nuclear arsenals aboard submarines.  It took less than fifteen years for science and technology to realize their full potential, and by the 1950s, missile boat technology had reached a point where a single nuclear armed missile submarine could launch up to five nuclear warheads from more than five hundred miles away. Beginning in 1957, the United States Navy conducted nuclear deterrence patrols using a pair of World War II-era diesel submarines modified to carry a pair of Regulus nuclear-capable cruise missiles.  They were soon supplemented by a pair of purpose-built Greyback-class vessels and the nuclear-powered USS Halibut (SSGN 587). These five boats provided valuable real-world experience in operating a seaborne nuclear deterrent.  However, the effectiveness of the subsonic Regulus missile, with its limited range, a host of guidance limitations, and vulnerabilities to enemy defenses and countermeasures (both the missile in flight and the submarine having to surface to fire), was soon outpaced by technology.  To overcome these drawbacks, the Navy turned to a new and more advanced weapon, the ballistic missile.    
Polaris missile launch in July 1960 (Naval History and Heritage Command)

The first workable submarine-launched ballistic missile used by the United States Navy was introduced in 1960. Named Polaris, after the North Star, the missile grew from experiments by noted physicist Edward Teller that allowed for miniature hydrogen bombs to be fitted on missiles for anti-submarine warfare as part of Project Nobska in 1956. Drawing on experimental experience with the Army’s liquid-fueled Jupiter missiles, the two-stage solid fueled Polaris made its operational debut for the United States Navy in February 1960 after just four years of testing and development.  Found in thirty-one of the forty-one ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs) that were in commission for the United States Navy between 1960 and 1990, it proved both a long lasting and valuable component of the United States nuclear triad during the Cold War. Larger (32ft 4in) and heavier (35,700lb) than the previous cruise missiles, Polaris could deliver three W58 thermonuclear warheads with a total yield of 600kt out to a distance of 2,500 nautical miles. Surprisingly accurate, each 200kt W58 warhead could land within 3,000 feet of its intended target, impressive for 1960s technology. Launched from a mobile and submerged platform and possessing a top speed of 8,000 miles an hour, Polaris was all but utterly immune to interception prior to launch and impossible to hit afterwards with the technology available at the time. The more powerful and longer ranged Trident and Trident II missiles eventually replaced the Polaris missile, and are currently carried by the Ohio-class SSBNs.
A view of the missile compartment "Sherwood Forest" aboard USS George Washington (Naval History and Heritage Command) 

Polaris first went to sea aboard the world’s first purpose-built SSBN, the USS George Washington, which was built at the Electric Boat Corporation of Groton, Connecticut. On the morning of November 1, 1958, workers laid down the keel of a new attack submarine to be named USS Scorpion (SSN 589). Modified while under construction by the addition of a 130-foot-long missile compartment and renamed USS George Washington (SSBN 598), the former Scorpion, now the world’s first ballistic missile submarine, slid into the water on June 9, 1959. It formally joined the fleet on December 30 of that year. A true underwater leviathan, Washington, affectionately nicknamed “Georgefish,” displaced 6,800 tons, measured 381 feet long, with a beam of 33 feet, and required a crew of 112 officers and men. Armed with sixteen Polaris missiles and six  torpedo tubes, George Washington would be the first of a planned five Washington-class ballistic missile submarines.  
Loading a Polaris missile aboard George Washington for testing in July 1960. Pictured is the outer fiberglass "sleeve" around the missile. (Naval History and Heritage Command)

After sea trials and under the command of Commander James Osborn, the boat set course for Cape Canaveral, Florida in June 1960, where the crew took on a pair of Polaris missiles for testing purposes. On July 20, 1960, USS George Washington became the first submarine to launch a ballistic missile while submerged on the Atlantic Test Range. At 12:39 PM, Osborn sent the message “POLARIS - FROM OUT OF THE DEEP TO TARGET. PERFECT” to President Eisenhower. Less than two hours later, the missiles hit their target some 1,300 miles away. The successful test, carried out under the personal supervision of Polaris project director Rear Admiral William Raborn, marked a new, and more terrifying, world order.
(Wikimedia Commons)
Rear Admiral Raborn (center) aboard the submarine after the successful Polaris test launch in July 1960 (Naval History and Heritage Command)

After this brief flirtation with fame, USS George Washington settled into the repetitive duty of deterrence patrols near the coastline of the Soviet Union.  In 1970, the submarine reported for a refueling at Charleston, South Carolina in 1970 after having traveled some 100,000 nautical miles the previous decade. Next, George Washington reported to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii for service with the Pacific Fleet. The submarine concluded its final deterrence patrol in 1982 prior to disarmament as a SSBN the next year in compliance with the terms of the SALT I Treaty.  It briefly served as an attack submarine after the removal of its Polaris missiles. 
Sail from SSBN 598 at U.S. Navy Submarine Force Museum (Wikimedia Commons)
USS George Washington was decommissioned on January 24, 1985, and later scrapped at Puget Sound Naval Yard.  The submarine’s sail, or conning tower, is on display in Groton, Connecticut, at the Submarine Force Museum, where it can be seen today.  Preserving peace, yet constantly prepared for war, USS George Washington carried some of the deadliest weapons ever devised by man. Similarly, the current submarine fleet, as well as future Columbia-class SSBNs being built will be charged with maintaining the sea-based nuclear deterrent for the United States of America and with it, the balance of terror that has kept the peace for the last seventy-five years.  

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Captured Viet Cong Propaganda

The Hampton Roads Naval Museum’s "Ten Thousand-Day War at Sea" exhibit is home to various propaganda artifacts, such as the one that hangs above the sampan in the Riverine area, which reads: “(1) To the military brothers, don’t listen to the American soldiers. (2) Punji sticks are for the Americans, don’t go in. (3) The military who kills the Americans is patriotic.” This sign was captured by members of the Mobile Riverine Force (Task Force 117). (Naval History and Heritage Command)

By Matthew Headrick
HRNM Educator

In a journal article published in 1973, Lt. Colonel Philip M. Flammer, a professor of military history at Air University and former professor at the USAF Academy, defined the word “propaganda” by quoting the Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels, who said that propaganda “has nothing to do with truth…. What matters is that it achieves its purposes.” Flammer believed that, during the Vietnam War, the North Vietnamese embraced some of the same methodologies put forth previously by the Nazis, formatting it to fit the Communist doctrine. However, the mission was not just to proselytize. Propaganda was a way of spreading fear while giving direct orders, such as to protect against an “other.” The fact is, propaganda was used on both sides with the same goals: to promote an ideal and to protect that ideal through the use of violence.   

Vietnamese propaganda came in many different forms. Propaganda was not just comprised of singular messages about the U.S. “invading army.” Nor could it only be found in pamphlets full of anti-American literature. The Viet Cong often used symbols as propaganda. For example, the lotus flower represented a sort of logic or philosophy about the human condition. Then there was the visually striking Communist iconography: a giant billboard of Ho Chi Minh’s face. Artwork portrayed soldiers fighting on the front lines, emerging victoriously against the opponent.
(Courtesy Dogma Collection via CNN)

For the most part, the state controlled all aspects of the media. This is evident in images such as the one below which reads, “We stand ready to fight by our Vietnamese friends!” It infers that Communists around the world are joined together in fighting the enemy. Not only did these messages incentivize war against the U.S., but they were also meant to direct people's attention towards a particular ideology, a selling point on Communism.
(Pritzker Military Museum & Library)

The Naval History and Heritage Command (NHHC) has in its possession numerous propaganda pieces. These artifacts help museum professionals convey a more extensive narrative about the role propaganda played in the Vietnam War. For example, housed at NHHC’s artifact storage facility are the leaflets and banner taken from this Viet Cong propaganda float. The float was captured by PBRs of River Section 523 in the Co Chien River on September 1, 1967. The South Vietnamese had their way of getting messages downriver as well, such as utilizing banana stalks. The U.S. would sometimes resort to floating toy sailboats with messages. 
(Naval History and Heritage Command)

Located in the museum’s Intelligence part of the Vietnam gallery is another piece of North Vietnamese propaganda in the form of a banner which translates to: “We are ready to defeat any night ambush from the RVN stubborn servants.”
(Naval History and Heritage Command)

Also on display at the museum is a two-sided propaganda sign on a piece of wood. On the front, it translates as, “Long live the South Vietnam people’s liberation front, the only and true representative of the people of the south.” On the back side, it reads, “In light of the victory spirit, all young men and women, hold and aim guns straight to the enemies, American puppets, to exterminate them.” 
Front of sign (Naval History and Heritage Command)

Reverse side (Naval History and Heritage Command)

During the Vietnam War, both the U.S. and Viet Cong commonly used radio, posters, signs, symbols, and literature to share their respective messages about the enemy. Today, propaganda is used to influence how we reflect and remember the past, particularly during times of war. Now more than ever, historians are paying close attention to the power of propaganda. Through the study of these types of artifacts, we are better equipped to put conflicts, such as the Vietnam War, into context. Understanding the use of propaganda allows us to gain perspective on more than just the “what,” but the “why” as well. 

Thursday, September 10, 2020

VJ Day Artifact Series (Part 4): Journal from a USS Bennington (CV 20) Sailor

 To commemorate the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II, we asked our colleagues at our sister museums for some interesting artifacts that highlight unique aspects of the Navy during the war. To close out this series, we have an artifact from our sister museum, the National Museum of the American Sailor in Great Lakes, Illinois. 

USS Bennington (CV 20), with camouflage paint, preparing to go to war. (Naval History and Heritage Command)

By Jennifer Steinhardt and Samantha Belles
Archivist and Collection Manager at National Museum of the American Sailor

It is difficult to select only one item from an artifact collection that captures so many important historical stories about the Navy’s enlisted Sailor. One such item from the National Museum of the American Sailor’s collection is Fireman 1/c (EM) Nicholas Saroukos’ journal. Born in Wilmington, Delaware in 1920, Saroukos enlisted into the United States Navy in 1942. As the Navy forbade American service members to keep personal journals during World War II, Saroukos’ account as an electrician aboard the aircraft carrier USS Bennington (CV 20) from January-April 1945 provides a rare contemporaneous firsthand account of what it was like to be a Navy Sailor during World War II.
A page from Saroukos' journal. Of note is the reference to President Franklin D. Roosevelt's death, as well as to kamikaze attacks (off of Okinawa). (National Museum of the American Sailor)

A sailor keeps an eye on a control board below deck aboard USS Bennington in 1945. (Naval History and Heritage Command)

In his journal, Saroukos first recounts the USS Bennington (CV 20) tying up to the USS Utah (BB 31) “Had my first glimpse of the historic port of Pearl Harbor. We tied up to the______ of the U.S.S. Utah which is lying on the bottom of the harbor.” Throughout his journal, he continues to detail his life aboard the ship. One notable part of the journal is when Saroukos discusses the disadvantages of having a below deck battle-station. He states, “that nothing can be done when a plane is diving at us but lie on the deck face down…”

The wreck of USS Utah (BB 31) at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii in 1944 during salvage operations. The battleship was one of those sunk during the Japanese attack on December 7, 1941. (Naval History and Heritage Command)

This personal and important story is one of many in our collection. By keeping a journal, Nicholas Saroukos provides a glimpse into the daily life of enlisted sailors, something the National Museum of the American Sailor strives to preserve and make available to everyone each and every day.