When the US military kicked in the door on the small Caribbean island nation of Grenada in 1983, it was to rescue endangered American medical students. What they found was a stockpile of weapons large enough to outfit one a communist-trained military force that would be capable of taking control of the entire region if needed. Here is a historical look at what was found.
An overview of the invasion
The former British colony of Grenada had a non-violent past. That was until 1979 when a local Marxist named Maurice Bishop overthrew the government in a paramilitary coup. Bishop then got friendly with Communist led Moscow and Havana, built a giant airport capable of refueling intercontinental flights from the Soviet Union, and got to work building an army.
Called the People's Revolutionary Army (PRA), 1500 new members were required to swear an oath of loyalty to the party and swear that Marxist socialism was the ideal form of government-- both of which are a great harbinger for bad things to come. The former Grenadian government had made due with a force of 100 part-time soldiers and 300 full-time police. This was deemed just right for a country with a population of just 100,000 inhabitants whose primary export was nutmeg (the stuff used in eggnog).
Long story short, Bishop was overthrown by an even worse set of guys and in the ensuing struggle was executed. This led to a military-led government, run by the PRA. Swelling in size by the day the force was intended to grow to more than 6800 members, trained by 722 Cuban and 24 North Korean military advisers. Nearly a quarter of the island was to receive mandatory military training and the government's goal was to include one of every five inhabitants in the civilian militia, adding that "even 8-year old children" had been trained for this purpose.
(knocked out armored vehicles of the Grenadian Army)
(Here two disarmed and handcuffed Grenadians of the PRA, equipped with East German Army combat helmets and Cuban Army olive drab uniforms, are led away by a US soldier with a LAW over his shoulder)
(Many Cuban soldiers, wearing civilain clothes and posing as 'construction workers' were captured after sharp firefights.)
With some 800 American medical students located on the island, uniformed Cuban military types whispering in every corner, and the PRA shooting down demonstrators in the streets, the US took action. In a lightning stroke, involving 7300 US troops and 350 sent by neighboring Caribbean countries, this small and unstable country was invaded in October 1983 in Operation Urgent Fury. The fighting was over fast, with some 125 US casualties and the PRA/Cuban forces suffering some over 470. What the US troops found after the smoke cleared was amazing.
What was found?
The weapons recovered by the US and allied Caribbean forces included some 700 legacy arms that came from British and US sources before 1976 and a staggering 8000 military arms provided by the Warsaw Pact and Cuba. While the heaviest arms that the country possessed prior to 1980 was a pair of .303 caliber light machineguns, the Soviets gave the island boatloads of heavy anti-aircraft guns, recoilless rifles, and mortars. Below is a closer look.
(A good example of the odd combination of arms includes this Soviet RPG-2 held above a British made BREN light machinegun by a US Marine in 1983 Grenada)
The island has, since 1763, been a British territory then a dependency, and finally, on February 7, 1974 was granted complete independence. With such a history of close relation inside the British Empire, the commonwealth country had inherited a small but capable stock of weapons from dear old England. These included 61 WWII-era .303 caliber Short Magazine Lee Enfield Rifles, 17 STEN MkII 9mm submachine guns, 32 M3A1 .45ACP 'Grease Gun' submachine guns (originally given to the UK by the US back in WWII), a pair of .303 Bren light machineguns, and a further 7 Sterling 9mm subguns. These 100-odd military weapons were sufficient to equip the islands pre-Communist territorial defense force. This group of volunteers, akin to the National Guard in the US, was part-time soldiers to be called out in the case of disaster, civil unrest, or invasion.
On top of this were some 300 miscellaneous handguns that included S&W and Enfield 38s, as well as Canadian-made Browning Inglis Hi Powers in 9mm for the local police. Another 300 commercial Mossberg 500 and Remington 870 shotguns and a few AR-15s were obtained for the police for when things got bad. Looking at this, the island should have been pretty much set. That is, unless you are a new communist ally looking to beef up your local military into an offensive force.
Soviet supplied weapons
(The Vz52 was a humble and often forgotten arm of the Cold War that was found in great numbers stashed all over Grenada in 1983. Today some of these former PRA-guns are in US collections, brought back by Marines as trophies)
Sent by the Soviet Union through what was later to be found out as Cuban intermediaries, were some 8000 military weapons. These included:
In 1980, most of these weapons were seen as second-string even by the militaries of the Warsaw Pact. The 10-shot SKS rifles, Mosin-Nagant bolt action rifles, and PPS43 subguns dated as far back as 1945 vintage. However, the folding stock AKMS assault rifles were front line quality combat weapons for the time. Providing heavy weapons support was PKM general-purpose machineguns, mortars, RPGs, and machineguns.
- 55 Czech M23 Submachineguns 7.62x25mm Tokarev
- 180 PPS 43 Submachineguns in 7.62x25mm Tokarev
- 1,120 Czech Vz 52 Rifles in 7.62x39mm
- 4,074 SKS-45 rifles in 7.62x39mm
- 2,432 Mosin Nagant Rifles 7.62x54Rmm
- 1,626 AKMS 7.62x39mm
- 9 PKM Machineguns 7.62x39mm
- 8 SPG-9 Kopye (Spear) 73mm Recoilless Rifles plus 78 RPG-2 and RPG7 antitank grenade launchers.
- 10 82mm Mortars
- 12 ZU-23-2 Anti-Aircraft guns as well as an undetermined number of DShK 12.7mm heavy machine guns
- 4 Ex-Cuban ZiS-3 76.2mm Field guns
- 10 BTR-60/BRDM-2 armored vehicles. (No other Caribbean island nation had armored vehicles)
The 73mm SPG-9s were antitank rifles capable of firing a HEAT round with a 6,500-yard range that could burn through 500mm of rolled armor plate-- these were big medicine when you see that the M60 Patton, the standard US tank in 1980, had protection measured at just 155mm at the thickest facing.
Even more troublesome were the dozen The ZU-23-2 "Sergey" AAA guns. These 23mm twin/quad mounted cannon was designed to engage low-flying targets at a range of 2.5 km as well as armored vehicles at a range of 2 km and for direct defense of troops and strategic locations against air assault usually conducted by helicopters and low-flying airplanes. US helicopter pilots generally did not like the concept of flying against these things.
Warehouses and stockpiles of arms and ammunition were recovered throughout the island, most marked labels stating "Oficina Economica Cubana" (Cuban Economic Office). Besides the arms were found over 5.5-million rounds of 7.62mm ammunition, 1800 grenades, 8900 mortar rounds, and 1200 demolition charges. Post invasion analysis stated that this was enough munitions for two full battalions in 45 days of combat, or enough to equip one full division. The cost of these, given as free military aid, was more than $37 million in 1983 dollars.
I guess it paid to have friends in Moscow!
What happened to them?
Some munitions were destroyed, others used in testing and training by the US military and her allies. Some 800 non-select-fire guns (the Vz52s, SKSs, pistols, etc.) were distributed by lottery to the US Marines who participated in the invasion and are now part of private collections here in the US, some of the last captured 'bring homes' American veterans were allowed to keep.
Today the Royal Grenada Police Force and Coast Guard number some 960 members, armed with US, UK-supplied firearms..., and swagger sticks (see below)