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The Invasion of Grenada, codenamed Operation Urgent Fury, was a 1983 U.S.marker-led invasion of Grenadamarker, a Caribbeanmarker island nation of just over 100,000 population located north of Venezuelamarker, triggered by a military coup which ousted a brief revolutionary government. The successful invasion led to a change of government but was controversial due to charges of American imperialism, Cold War politics, the involvement of Cubamarker, the unstable state of the Grenadian government, and Grenada's status as a Commonwealth realm.

Grenada gained independence from the United Kingdommarker in 1974, but a 1979 revolution by the Marxist-Leninist New Jewel Movement suspended the constitution. After an 1983 internal power struggle ended with the deposition and execution of Grenadian Prime Minister Maurice Bishop, the invasion began on October 25, 1983. A combined force of troops from the United States (nearly 10,000 troops), Jamaicamarker and members of the Regional Security System (RSS) (approximately 300 troops) defeated Grenadian resistance and the military government of Hudson Austin was deposed.

The invasion was criticized by the United Kingdommarker, Canadamarker and the United Nations General Assembly, which condemned it as "a flagrant violation of international law". It enjoyed broad public support in the United States as well as among segments of the people of Grenada. October 25 is a national holiday in Grenada, called Thanksgiving Day, to commemorate this event. Additionally, on 29 May 2009, the Point Salines International Airportmarker was officially renamed in honour of the slain pre-coup leader Maurice Bishop by the Government of Grenada.


Sir Eric Gairy had led Grenadamarker to independence from the United Kingdommarker 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 (GULP) – claimed victory in the general election of 1976, the opposition did not accept the result as legitimate. The civil strife took the form of street violence between government supporters and gangs organized by the New Jewel Movement. In the late 1970s, the NJM began planning to overthrow the government. Party members began to receive military training outside of Grenada. On March 13, 1979 while Gairy was out of the country, the NJM – led by Maurice Bishop – launched an armed revolution and overthrew Gairy's government, establishing the People's Revolutionary Government. Bishop then suspended the constitution and the New Jewel Movement ruled the country by decree, as Prime Minister of Grenada, until 1983. All other political parties were banned and no elections were to be held. Internationally, the government quickly aligned itself with Cubamarker and other communist governments.

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

On October 13, 1983, a party faction led by Deputy Prime Minister Bernard Coard seized power illegally. 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.

After the United States invaded, Cuba released a series of official documents to the press. According to these documents, when the murder of Maurice Bishop was reported on October 20, the government of Cuba declared that it was "deeply embittered" by the murder and rendered "deep tribute" to the assassinated leader. The same official statement reported instructions to Cubans in Grenada that "they should abstain absolutely from any involvement in the internal affairs of the Party and of Grenada," while attempting to maintain the "technical and economic collaboration that could affect essential services and vital economic assistance for the Grenadian people."

The Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), then chaired by Eugenia Charles, the Prime Minister of Dominicamarker, appealed to the United States, Barbadosmarker, and Jamaicamarker for assistance. According to Mythu Sivapalan of The New York Times (October 29, 1983), this formal appeal was at the behest of the US government, which had already decided to take military action. US officials cited the murder of Bishop and general political instability in a country near US borders, as well as the presence of US 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.

On October 22, 1983, Fidel Castro sent a public message to "Cuban workers" in Grenada, stressing that they should take no action in the event of a US invasion unless they were "directly attacked." Referring to the Point Salines International Airportmarker, the message ordered, if US forces "land on the runway section near the university or on its surroundings to evacuate their citizens," Cubans were "to fully refrain from interfering."

On October 26, Alma Guillermoprieto reported in The Washington Post that at a "post-midnight news conference" with "almost 100 foreign and local journalists," Castro "released texts of what he said were diplomatic communications among Cuba, Grenada and the United States," giving the essential facts. U.S. sources "confirmed the exchange of messages," she added, but said they could not respond to Cuba at once because the telephone lines of the U.S. interest section in Havana were down from the evening of October 23 to late at night on October 24.

Reagan administration spokesman, Larry Speakes, said that "the U.S. disregarded Cuban and Grenadian assurances that U.S. citizens in Grenada would be safe because, 'it was a floating craps game and we didn't know who was in charge'." The same issue was reported by Alan Berger in The Boston Globe on the same day.


The Bishop government began constructing the Point Salines International Airportmarker with the help of Britainmarker, Cubamarker, Libyamarker, Algeriamarker, 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 Canadiansmarker, underwritten by the British government, and partly built by a London firm. The US government accused Grenada of constructing facilities to aid a Soviet-Cuban military build-up in the Caribbeanmarker, 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 1982, then-Member of the United States House of Representatives Ron Dellums, 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.

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. The runway and the oil storage tanks were unnecessary for commercial flights, thus all evidence pointed that the airport was to become a Cuban-Soviet military airbase.

The invasion

The invasion, which commenced at 05:00 on October 25, 1983, was the first major operation conducted by the US military since the Vietnam War.

Vice Admiral Joseph Metcalf, III, Commander Second Fleet, was the overall commander of the U.S. forces, designated Joint Task Force 120, which was put under the planning and operational control of Commander Timothy J. Coughlin for tactics, invasion force management and force implementation. Fighting continued for several days and the total number of US troops reached some 7,000 along with 300 troops from the OECS. The invading forces encountered about 1,500 Grenadian soldiers and about 700 Cubansmarker, most of whom were loyal members of the Cuban secret police and the Soviet KGB masquerading as "construction workers". Also present were 60 advisors from the Soviet Unionmarker, North Koreamarker, East Germanymarker, Bulgaria, and Libyamarker. Some of the "construction workers" were actually a detachment of Cuban Military Special Forces and combat engineers.

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

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 US 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.

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, attempted to impeach Reagan.

International opposition and criticism

Map of invasion plan.
By a vote of 122 in favour to 9 (Antigua and Barbudamarker, Barbadosmarker, Dominicamarker, El Salvadormarker, Israelmarker, Jamaicamarker, Saint Luciamarker, Saint Vincent and the Grenadinesmarker, 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". 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.

A similar resolution was discussed in the United Nations Security Council and although receiving widespread support it was ultimately vetoed by the United States.

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 Kingdommarker, Trinidad and Tobagomarker, and Canadamarker, among others. British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher personally opposed the US invasion, and her Foreign Secretary, Geoffrey Howe, announced to the British House of Commonsmarker on the day before the invasion that he had no knowledge of any possible US intervention. 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."

After the invasion, Prime Minister Thatcher wrote 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 Parliamentmarker and people the siting of Cruise missiles in this country...I cannot conceal that I am deeply disturbed by your latest communication. The full text remains classified.


Following the US victory, Grenada's Governor-General Paul Scoon announced the resumption of the constitution and appointed a new government. US forces remained in Grenada after combat operations finished in December. Elements remaining included military police, special forces, and a specialized intelligence detachment.

The invasion showed problems with the US government's "information apparatus," which Time described as still being in "some disarray" three weeks after the invasion. For example, the US State Departmentmarker falsely claimed that a mass grave had been discovered that held 100 bodies of islanders who had been killed by Communist forces. 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 Pentagonmarker had given a much lower count of 59 Cuban and Grenadian deaths. Ronald H. Cole's report for the Joint Chiefs of Staff showed an even lower count.

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. Maps provided to soldiers on the ground were rudimentary, did not show topography, and were not marked with crucial positions. The US Navy ships providing naval gunfire and US Marine and Navy fighter bomber support, as well as US Air Force aircraft providing close air support mistakenly fired upon and killed US 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.

Goldwater-Nichols Act

Analysis by the US Department of Defensemarker showed a need for improved communications and coordination between the different branches of the US forces. US Congressional investigations of many of the reported problems resulted in the most important legislative change affecting the US 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 made the most sweeping changes to the United States Department of Defense since the department was established in the National Security Act of 1947. The Goldwater-Nichols Act reworked the command structure of the United States military. It increased the powers of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and created the concept of truly unified joint US 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 US Special Operations Command in 1987.


In 2008, the government of Grenada announced a move to build a monument to honour 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.

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

Order of battle

Operation Urgent Fury.

US land forces

U.S. naval forces

Amphibious Squadron Four
,  ,  ,  ,

Independence Task Group
,  ,  ,  ,  ,  ,   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: , , , , , , , , , , and

Caribbean Peace Force (CPF)


  1. -- Caribbean Islands: A Regional Security System
  2. Cole, op. cit., p.1, 57
  3. 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 November 9, 2006).
  4. United Nations Yearbook, Volume 37, 1983, Department of Public Information, United Nations, New York
  5. Cole, op. cit., p. 50
  6. Reagan, Ronald (1990). An American Life page 454.
  7. Thatcher, Margaret (1993) The Downing Street Years page 331.
  8. For Cubans - "The Nation Newspaper", 13 October 2008

External links

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