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.   

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