On Oct. 18, the USS Independence (CV 62) carrier battle group and the 22nd Marine Amphibious Unit had left port bound for the Mediterranean, where another Lebanon crisis was brewing. When they were diverted to support the Grenada invasion on Oct. 21, the news leaked, eliminating any hope of strategic surprise. Marines, embarked in Navy Amphibious Squadron 4 (Capt. Carl Erie) would seize Pearls Airport, while elements of two U.S. Army Ranger battalions (from the 75th Ranger Regiment – Joint Task Force 123, Army Maj. Gen. Richard Scholtes), parachuting from MC-130s of the Air Force 1st Special Operations Wing, would capture and clear the unfinished runway at Point Salines, allowing six battalions of the 82nd Airborne Division to land in C-141 jet transports. H-Hour was set for 0200 (2:00 a.m.) local time on Oct. 25. Delays and confusion in loading the aircraft caused this to slip to 0400, then 0500 – perilously close to daylight.
Things Start to Go Wrong
Navy SEAL Teams 4 and 6 were assigned some of the most challenging preliminary missions of the invasion. One group made a successful reconnaissance of the island’s northeast coast, which convinced planners that the beaches were unsuitable for landing. The Marines would have to go in by helicopter. Another group of SEALs captured Grenada’s radio station, but were driven out by a strong counterattack. They “exfiltrated” to the coast and swam out to be recovered by USS Caron (DD 970). Another vital political objective was the rescue of Governor General Paul Scoon and his family from house arrest. Grenada had never officially quit the British Commonwealth, and the governor general, who represented the queen, was the remaining symbol of legitimate authority on the island. SEALs fast-roped in from helicopters and quickly secured the house and the governor general, but they were soon surrounded and under fire until Marines broke through to link up with them the next morning.
SEALs fast-roped in from helicopters and quickly secured the house and the governor general, but they were soon surrounded and under fire until Marines broke through to link up with them the next morning
But Point Salines was the key objective, and 12 SEALs drew the task of covertly investigating the defenses and delivering four Air Force combat controllers who would set up radio beacons enabling C-130s carrying the Rangers to line up precisely on final approach. The SEALs parachuted into the ocean 40 kilometers (25 miles) from Point Salines with two Zodiac rubber boats. In darkness, high winds, and heavy seas, four SEALs were lost. The rest carried on, evading a Grenadian patrol craft, but the boats were swamped, and when their engines would not start, the mission was scrubbed.
Rangers Lead the Way
About 350 men of the 1st Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, were originally scheduled to make an assault landing in six MC-130 Combat Talon aircraft of the Air Force 1st Special Operations Wing. A follow-on echelon, the 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, would secure the eastern half of the airfield, then regroup to attack overland to secure a Grenadian army base at Camp Calivigny, about 7.5 miles to the east. Then intelligence confirmed the runway was obstructed with vehicles and equipment. This meant the Rangers would have to parachute from 500 feet, exposed to enemy fire for 10 to 15 long seconds. There was additional delay when the inertial navigation system and FLIR (Forward-Looking Infrared imaging system) in the lead aircraft malfunctioned. A tropical thunderstorm added to the confusion as the Rangers hurriedly re-rigged their chutes and gear for the drop.
The jump went in at 5:34 a.m. Ground fire was heavy (from Zu-23 and M-53 quad machine guns) but inaccurate due to untrained crews. Not one man was killed by enemy fire during the drop, although one soldier broke a leg on landing. A supporting AC-130 gunship took out some of the enemy guns, but it was almost 90 minutes before all of the Rangers were on the ground. Capt. John Abizaid (later a commander of U.S. Central Command), commanding A Company, 1/75th, ordered his men to hot-wire a Cuban bulldozer and start clearing the runway. Later, the bulldozer was used like a tank to lead an advance against the Cuban camp – a scene immortalized in Clint Eastwood’s 1986 film Heartbreak Ridge.