Marines recount Grenada miscues

By RICHARD C. GROSS   |   March 12, 1985
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WASHINGTON -- Snafus galore plagued U.S. troops during the 1983 Grenada invasion, a military report made available Tuesday said, including a near-attack on the Venezuelan Embassy mistaken for a possible Cuban stronghold.

The embassy apparently was saved from assault when a Marine commander at the scene realized the error and called off plans to soften up the position, the 32-page Marine Corps report said.

The after-action report first obtained by The Washington Post and later released by the Marines painted a picture of U.S. soldiers and Marines entering combat without the benefit of accurate maps or intelligence, functioning radios, protective artillery or sufficient firepower.

A Navy report on the invasion released Feb. 25 expressed similar criticisms. It said Army Blackhawk helicopters carrying wounded were refused permission to land on the helicopter carrier USS Guam because the pilots were not familiar with night landing operations.

The refusal may have meant delays in treating the wounded.

U.S. troop strength on the Caribbean island peaked at about 6,000 and more than 8,000 medals were award for the operation, which President Reagan hailed as a resounding success. The two reports, however, make clear the invasion, described as a rescue mission for 1,000 American students on the island, was encumbered with problems.

Officers involved in the invasion told the Post that casualties would have been much higher than the toll of 19 killed and 115 wounded had it not been for the quick thinking of officers on the ground and plain luck.

The Marine report recounted how, two days after the invasion, Marines searched for Cuban holdouts. A Marine commander, handicapped by a lack of hard intelligence, became suspicious of Fort Adolphus because it flew an 'unknown type' of flag.

'The company commander considered using preparation fires to soften what he believed to be a possible Cuban stronghold,' it said. 'This consideration was reversed and prep fires were not used.

The decision was sound because, as it turned out, Fort Adolphus was the Embassy of Venezuela, a longtime ally and major supplier of oil to the United States.

The report also said that on D-Day -- Oct. 25, 1983 -- Army Rangers did not have enough firepower to advance beyond their initial landing zone at Point Salines airfield and they had to be reinforced by a company of Marines from the other side of the island to 'relieve the pressure on the Ranger units.'

As the morning 'wore on, it became evident that the Rangers did not possess enough combat power to prosecute combat operations beyond the positions then held,' the report said, adding, 'Most of the enemy resistance came from the well-armed Cuban construction workers.'

The workers were expanding the airfield at Point Salines, the target of the Ranger landing. The Marines staged a simultaneous amphibious assault against Pearls Airport on the other side of the small island.

'Another problem initially was an almost total lack of information concerning suitable beaches and helicopter landing zones on Grenada,' the report said. 'Hard planning data was still lacking.'

It said helicopters trying to land at what was identified from aerial photographs as a smooth race track 'encountered tall palm trees and unexpectedly high scrub brush.' But the pilot wore night vision goggles that enabled them to pick out a safe landing zone nearby, the report said.

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