Was the United States almost defeated by Grenada's local police force?

A claim has been made by our esteemed colleague, @Crane:

Putting aside what does or doesn’t count as a “war”, I have never before heard that the United States was nearly defeated by the Grenadan police. But then I’ve never been terribly familiar with that war. Would anyone care to enlighten me?


Grenada literally had 2 armored cars as their entire armored force during the 1983 invasion of Grenada, the four American Patton tanks pretty easily swept them aside.

My understanding is that there was a lot of command confusion in Grenada but there never was any possibility of the United States losing. We had an overwhelming superiority of force.

Of course we prevailed, however the initial force was unable to overcome Grenadan resistance and serious consideration was given to pulling them out.

The invasion was a poorly planned operation. It prompted passage of the Goldwater-Nichols act that restructured the upper echelons of the military.

I haven’t found a cite for “serious consideration was given to pulling them [troops] out” of Grenada.

The invasion was instituted on four-days notice with no intelligence, and the deployment was a “disaster” and a “debacle” according to Military Times. There was more resistance than expected. But that just meant that the Americans kept calling for more troops and weapons and materiel. Other independent recaps I read say the same thing. Imagine the loss of prestige if we had pulled out because of a tiny force of Cubans. It’s unthinkable.

Can you give me some evidence that Americans were thinking the unthinkable in Grenada?

If we had considered withdrawing from Grenada, it wouldn’t have been a military issue. It would have been due to diplomatic protests from the UK and other countries.

In a memoir, one of the Delta Force soldiers involved reported that many U.S. Ranger paratroopers had landed, but these two Grenadian armored vehicles posed a serious threat to the American infantry and could have inflicted awful casualties. But the Americans managed to stop them with recoilless rifles.

Just looking at the claim that in all wars (I suppose that depends on how you define ‘war’…but if Grenada counts then it’s pretty broad) we were defeated since 1945, which is pretty ridiculous alone, I’d say that the poster is, at best, being hyperbolic and exaggerating for effect.

I’m doing this from memory. I did read a book on the invasion but do not have it at hand. At the time I was working 24/7 and usually got the late night and early morning news. The forces that went into Georgetown were pinned down and were prevented from moving inland to join up with the paratroops sitting at the airport construction site. The US force was opposed by the local police until the police were joined by members of the Grenada Army. The news broadcasts reported that withdrawal was being considered. On the 26th the force was still stalled so two additional battalions were landed and the total force was successful. They moved inland and rounded up the Cuban contractors at the airport.

The invading force had seal teams on or near the island the day before the landing. They were unsuccessful and were withdrawn. Four Seals died of accidents during the aborted missions. Two helicopters were lost when they flew into each other. A mental hospital and an allied command post were bombed from the air.

Whether we won or lost is a value judgement. It was not our finest hour.

You’re basing this claim on 40-year-old memories of contemporary news broadcasts? Aren’t the first news reports always incomplete or flatly inaccurate? That’s how conspiracy theorists work: they take stuff bleated out in panic as absolute gospel that is later denied to cover up the TRUTH. It doesn’t work for them, and it doesn’t work here.

I had suspected you might have had a single operation in mind rather than the whole war. As I understand it, operation rescue-the-governor-general resulted in the two SEAL teams being pinned: one team with the governor in his mansion, and one team in a nearby radio tower. The four casualties were due to one of the transport planes missing its drop zone, which left only twelve men split into two groups. Both groups were pinned down by Grenadan and Cuban troops (including BTR-60 armored personnel carriers). The group at the radio tower sneaked out and made their way to the ocean where they were later picked up by U.S. forces. The group at the mansion was relieved by the Marines, including four Patton tanks. Is that what you were referring to?


Thanks for the comments.

You are correct that much time has passed. However, the news for 25/26 Oct was the troops pinned down in the harbor. No conspiracy at all, we were watching it unfold on TV. It’s interesting to me that the internet sources I found today do not mention the incident. They state that the airport was secured on the 25 and some state that they were joined by two additional battalions on the 26th. I will have to read Woodward’s book to check my recollection.

Well, you seem to be confusing a war with a battle, or in this case just a skirmish. Has the US lost battles or skirmishes in the time period the OP was questioning? Absolutely we have. Hell, I’d say we lost the Vietnam war, even though we won many of the battles. We didn’t achieve our strategic objectives, such as they were (i.e. there isn’t any South Vietnamese government today), so I’d say that’s a loss by any measure. I can’t think of any other ‘war’ in that time period we out and out lost, however, though, as noted, we did lose battles in that time period for sure.

Like I said, I figure you were being hyperbolic and exaggerating for effect. It’s sensational to say we almost lost in Grenada, considering the disparity in forces, but we really never had any chance to lose in the conventional sense. We might have chosen not to continue, and certainly we could have lost a tactical battle or skirmish, especially as much of a cluster fuck the planning was for the operation.

From what I can find, what happened at Point Salines is that they couldn’t land the aircraft because the runway was obstructed. While they were trying to drop troops by parachute the navigation equipment malfunctioned and the enemy spotted the MC-130. Only one group of Rangers was dropped off before the landing had to be delayed until an AC-130 could take care of antiaircraft fire. By the times the transports came back around the element of surprise had been lost and they had to literally fly under enemy fire and drop the Rangers off from as low as 500 feet. Eventually they had to hotwire a bulldozer to clear the runway.


The Seal Team that was lost was dropped in rough seas. The bodies were not recovered.

No, I was referring to the landing force at the initial point of contact.

That same SEAL team - twelve men split into two groups, down from sixteen - was the only force I could find that was pinned overnight. ETA: They were also in St. George’s parish.


Here’s my score card:

Korean War (1950-1953)
Our goal: Turn back the North Korean invasion of South Korea
Did we win: Yes

Vietnam War (1960-1975)
Our goal: Preserve South Vietnam as an independent non-communist country
Did we win: No

Grenada (1983)
Our goal: Change the regime in Grenada
Did we win: Yes

Panama (1989)
Our goal: Change the regime in Panama
Did we win: Yes

Gulf War (1990-1991)
Our goal: Turn back the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait
Did we win: Yes

Afghanistan War (2001-Present)
Our goal: Change the regime in Afghanistan
Did we win: No. We changed the regime but it changed back.

Iraq War (2003-Present)
Our goal: Change the regime in Iraq
Did we win: No. We changed the regime but it changed back.

So I’m calling it was seven wars since 1945, of which we won four and lost three.

I would disagree with your last two, in that our main strategic goal was regime change, which actually did happen, and in the case of Afghanistan to eliminate AQ and other groups training camps and support from the government, which, again, did happen. The trouble is that our goals in both cases were fairly nebulous, so it’s definitely debatable wrt ‘win’ in those cases. The others I’d agree with. Certainly, it’s complete hyperbole to say we lost every war since 1945, and probably hinges on what ‘lost’ and ‘war’ one is using the definition for. You can see that the person the OP was referring too was talking about battles or even skirmishes as ‘war’ and using ‘lost’ pretty loosely wrt the overall tactical and strategic situation.

It took all of four days and the “Grenada Police forces” were heavily backed by some 100-1000 Cuban “advisors”

As you say, our goals in these countries was (and is) nebulous. You can validly make the argument that our goals were to eliminate the regimes that were in power and we achieved that. Say what you want about our actions in Iraq; we can definitely say Saddam Hussein will not return to power.

But I feel our goal was a little broader than just taking out the current regime. I feel we also had an implicit goal of seeing a stable and non-hostile regime established in its place. If all we did was replace Al Qaeda with ISIS, I feel that should count as a failure.