36 years ago the US Special Operations conducted its largest mission ever
In the pre-dawn hours of October 25, 1983, the US Military was mobilized to carry out combat operations.
Backed by all the airpower the USA could locally muster, members of the US Army 75th Ranger Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division and the 8th Marine Regiment boarded their respective air and sea vehicles and prepared for what could have been a one-way trip.
Elsewhere, the US Army’s famed “Delta Force,” still at this time a relatively new outfit, boarded MH-60 and MH-6 helicopters, preparing to redeem themselves after a tragic failure in Iran years prior.
The targets were varied, but the location was the same- the island of Grenada, where hundreds of Americans and hundreds more friendly foreign nationals were trapped as the nation unraveled into unrest.
Operation Urgent Fury had begun.
Utilizing the US military’s short-notice forces, US President Ronald Reagan made a decisive move to intervene following a Communist coup to overthrow the local government.
Urgent Fury had a multi-prong approach: Seize airports, take over a radio station, raid facilities to secure local government officials and, most importantly, rescue US and foreign civilians from potential harm by the Communists.
While the invasion began on the 25th, the US Navy SEALS had been involved in several tragic incidents several days earlier. Airdropped into the sea (a long with several Air Force combat controllers) to scout out locations, several of the SEALs drowned, and their bodies were never recovered. Abording the mission despite attempts to press on, the US forces were forced to pull off a “blind” invasion.
At 0530 on 25 October, the two companies of the 75th Ranger’s First Battalion began dropping out of C-130s over the Point Salines International Airport, the sky thick with fire from ZU-23 anti-aircraft guns and BTR-60 APCs, which were manned by local Communist forces and Cuban allies.
The US Air Force, not one to let the Rangers down, quickly replied with AC-130 gunships and pounded the airfield with Everything they had.
Utilizing the kind of ingenuity that Rangers have been known for throughout history, the members of 1/75 began commandeering Cuban bulldozers to clear the airfield, even going so far as to use one as moving cover. By 10 AM, the Rangers controlled the airport, and were able to hold off a counter-attack later in the day. During the attempt to rescue students at a nearby campus, several Rangers were killed.
Eager for a redemption run, Navy SEALS from teams 4 and 6 were loaded aboard helicopters to handle two separate missions- SEAL Team 4 would handle the Pearls Airport, while Team Six would take over a radio station for psychological warfare operations.
While SEAL Team 4 encountered little resistance (thanks to an AH-1 Cobra crew more than willing to lend a hand), SEAL Team Six met resistance after destroying the transmitter, forcing them to fall back and make a run for the ocean. With two men seriously wounded and bleeding, the SEALs swam to the USS Guam.
Working together as they would nearly ten years in the future, Delta Force and a company of the 75th Ranger Regiment flew aboard the specialized helicopters of Task Force 160 (which would later become the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment), with missions to capture a suspected Communist stronghold at Fort Rupert and Richmond Hill Prison, where it was believed overthrown local officials were being held.
While the Fort Rupert Mission was a success, the Richmond Hill mission ran into an intelligence failure, as the flights had no idea that anti-aircraft guns were on the site. One MH-60 crash landed with several wounded and one pilot killed. The remaining Delta Force members had to be relieved by a unit of Rangers.
Near Saint George, Navy SEALs had taken the Governor’s Mansion, but a late departure by the 22nd Marine Assault Unit had resulted in Communists being alerted and surrounding the mansion. Surrounded and under fire with no working radio, the SEALs were forced to pull the ultimate rabbit out of the hat- using a credit card to make a long-distance phone call to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, who helped coordinate fire from an Air Force gunship until they could be relieved by Recon Marines the following day.
At nearby Fort Frederick, an AH-1T Sea Cobra crewed by Captain Tim Howard and his co-pilot/gunner Captain Jeb Seagle was shot down while providing support. With Howard wounded and Seagle knocked out from the crash, both men faced certain death- until Seagle snapped to, used his helmet communication cord as a tourniquet to prevent Howard from bleeding out and dragged his pilot from the burning Cobra.
“I unstrapped and fell out,” Howard recalled. “Then Seagle grabbed my collar and pulled while I pushed until we got away from that bird. I would have died without Jeb.”
Despite urging Seagle to make a run for it and save himself, the Cobra gunner refused and took on the enemy with a sidearm. The heroic act bought just enough time for the second Cobra and a rescue helicopter to save Howard, but Seagle would be left behind- and later executed on the beach in response to his valorous last stand.
The crew of the second Cobra, Major John “Pat” Guigerre, and First Lieutenant Jeff Sharver, would fight until they were forced to crash land in the sea, providing cover for the rescue helicopter until they could no longer stay airborne.
In the end, the Americans lost 19 of their own, had to treat 116 wounded and lost 9 helicopters. The island would be effectively taken by the next day, with the third day being a mopping-up operation
A lot of things went wrong during Urgent Fury. From intelligence failures to bad equipment and Soldiers having to use tourist maps to navigate the island, the list of blunders was so high, it became legendary in hindsight. However, the part of the Urgent Fury story that still resonates is how -despite everything that could have and did go wrong- the Americans took the entire island in short order, with relatively few casualties.
While the UN would denounce the invasion, but when President Reagan was asked how he felt by the 109 to 9 vote by the US Assembly to denounce his actions, his reply was priceless.
“It didn’t upset my breakfast at all,” he said.
Grenada has been a democratic nation ever since.
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