The story of how US Army Rangers rescued US students at Grand Anse Campus during Operation Urgent Fury by means of USMC helicopters

By Dario Leone
Apr 27 2024
Sponsored by: Helion & Company
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Operation Urgent Fury

In October 1983, the attention of the United States was drawn to the Caribbean island of Grenada, where a military coup had just occurred. According to Air Force Historical Support Division fact sheet 1983 – Operation Urgent Fury, at the time, hundreds of US citizens attended medical school on the island and President Ronald W. Reagan was concerned for their safety. After an official request from the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States, President Reagan decided to intervene to protect the medical students, to restore democracy to the tiny nation, and to eliminate an ever-increasing Cuban presence on the island.

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The Department of Defense began to work on plans for an invasion, code named Operation Urgent Fury. The invasion plan called for US Marines to assault the northern half of the island while the USAF would airlift US Army Rangers onto the southern section of the island near the capital, St. George’s. The invasion was scheduled for Oct. 25.

US Army Rangers Rescuing the students at Grand Anse during Operation Urgent Fury

On Oct. 26 Rangers were tasked with rescuing the US students at Grand Anse Campus.

As explained by Sanjay Badri-Maharaj in his book Urgent Fury Grenada 1983, the plan to rescue the students at Grand Anse was conceived to have three phases. In phase one, a Ranger assault force in Marine CH-46 helicopters would be flown in to establish a perimeter around the campus. Once secure, the heavy-lift CH-53 helicopters of the USMC would fly in to retrieve the students and final the CH-46s would return to extract the Rangers.

The story of how US Army Ranger rescued US students at Grand Anse Campus during Operation Urgent Fury by means of USMC helicopters
A CH-46E (AerNo 157654) of HMM-261 on the ground in Grenada.

The Rangers based at Point Salines had established telephone contact with the students at Grand Anse and, with a Resident Assistant from the True Blue campus, James Griffee, they were able to plan a reasonably coherent and workable plan to evacuate the students. The latter were to gather at 1200 hours on October 26 on the ground floor of a two-story students’ residence building overlooking the beach. The students were able to inform the Rangers of PRAF [People’s Revolutionary Armed Forces (Grenada)] dispositions in the area, including a M53 12.7mm quad machine gun stationed 500 metres northeast of the campus and the 15-20 PRAF soldiers located near the campus.

USMC CH-53 helicopters evacuate students at Grand Anse

Prior to the evacuation, USAF AC-130s and US Navy A-7s joined 82nd Airborne’s mortars and artillery in bombarding suspected PRAF and Cuban positions. The latter were non-existent, and much attention was spent on attacking the Carifta cottages only because they were leased to Cuban engineers working on the Point Salines runway. The old Police Training College was also attacked although most students believed it to be a roofless former hotel. The sole M53 AA gun fired a few rounds before being silenced by return fire from a Spectre gunship.

At 1630 hours, nine CH-46 helicopters in three flights of three aircraft approached and disgorged the Rangers. One managed to get itself entangled with some palm fonds and ended up being damaged, though it was declared flyable. However, the Rangers were able to quickly secure the perimeter. The CH-53s were not long in coming and taking in some 50 passengers each; in all, five CH-53s evacuated 233 civilians to Point Salines. Three others – Dr Robert Jordan, a histology instructor hampered by a leg brace and a German Shepherd named Brandy – hid in the Spice Island Hotel where the following morning they encountered troops of the 82nd Airborne Division.

The story of how US Army Ranger rescued US students at Grand Anse Campus during Operation Urgent Fury by means of USMC helicopters
The wreck of the USMC CH-46 lost during the rescue of the students, seen after being destroyed by an AC-130H gunship.

Two of the nine CH-46s assigned to the Rangers out of action

Extracting the Rangers, however, proved to be not quite so easy. As the CH-46s returned, bombs from 82mm mortars began landing around the helicopters. One CH-46 made contact with a palm tree and a tree trunk fell onto the rotor blades, wrecking the helicopter. With two of the nine CH-46s assigned to the Rangers out of action, 11 Rangers of Charlie Company were left behind. They had planned to evade and avoid the PRA and to link up with the 82nd Airborne. However, concerned about friendly fire in the dark, the Rangers decided to use the rubber life rafts aboard the wrecked CH-46 to row out to the naval vessels off-shore. They were spotted and picked up by the destroyer USS Caron.

The students had been successfully evacuated with only five Rangers being wounded but with one CH-46 wrecked and another damaged. Fortunately, no students were injured in this operation. Another 200 US students, living off campus, were reached the next day without incident while 21 other students never left Grenada.

Urgent Fury Grenada 1983 is published by Helion & Company and is available to order here.

CH-46 print
This print is available in multiple sizes from AircraftProfilePrints.com – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. CH-46E Sea Knight HMM-161 Grayhawks, YR02 / 154841

Photo credit: TSgt. Mike Creen and SPEC. Long / US DoD


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Dario Leone

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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