Sunday 27 October 2013

Secret History: Invasion - Grenada 1983

History Corner British Island Outposts (3)   As signalled in posts from earlier in the year featuring Cyprus and The Falklands, there is a significant island anniversary this year.  It is exactly 30 years since the USA invaded Grenada, and I have been watching out for revelations under the 30-year rule.  But the disclosures have not added much to the sum total of human knowledge, so I'm going to tell you the tale.

Grenada, a Caribbean island, is (and was) an independent Commonwealth country whose head of state is the Queen, so the British link remains strong.  It had been a hot-bed of leftist activity for several years and in '83 the prime minister Maurice Bishop, himself the beneficiary of a coup in '79, was toppled by the deputy PM and topped shortly after.  America saw the hands of Cuba and N.Korea at work, and on 25th October invaded with overwhelming force.  The Governor-General assumed power and things more-or-less settled down thereafter - see Wiki for more detail (Clint Eastwood's Heartbreak Ridge is not what might be called a source of factual information).

The aspect most people hereabouts know is that Ronald Reagan's temerity in invading a Commonwealth country sent Margaret Thatcher into a fearful bate.  On Monday 24th, the day before the invasion, Parliament had been told by Foreign Secretary Geoffrey Howe that stories of an imminent US incursion were not correct.  The documents tell of her considerable displeasure, and Reagan's 'embarrassment'.  But that's about as far as it goes.

There's more to know.  The outstanding British Falklands operation of 1982 (with the rather attractive political dividend we've discussed before) had been carefully noted by Reagan and his people.  The USA had been slowly recovering from the Vietnam debacle, building up volunteer armed forces and generally trying to rehabilitate its wounded military pride.  There had been no significant operations since 'Nam; and an opportunity to have a crack at some plausible bad guys was too good to pass up.  So they didn't.

By the same bellicose logic, however, Thatcher herself was quite taken by the Falklands experience (as was the whole of British politics - how could they not be - most famously including one ACL Blair) and had every intention of replicating it.  Bishop was topped on 19th Oct, and Britain was not terribly well placed to mount Caribbean operations on the necessary scale within the week.  But of the course the USA was.

Urgent British planning had commenced at the weekend (22nd/23rd) but of course nothing was remotely ready by the Monday when the statement in Parliament was made.  The USA, in it's back yard, was always going to beat the UK to the punch, whatever the niceties of the Commonwealth connection.

So Thatcher was left a spectator, and great was her fury.  But it was not simply because of failure on the part of Reagan to observe some kind of protocol vis-à-vis the Commonwealth; it was because she was denied her Falklands II.

The government, of course, doesn't publish the documents it ought to by law.  It never has - see this recent Grauniad article.  There is just the merest hint of the real Grenada story in the public domain.  When after the invasion Howe addressed the Commons again, he stated: "We were given no indication that [the USA] favoured encouraging or joining in any military intervention"  (my emphasis).  But that's about as far as it goes.

So now you know.



Demetrius said...

Well, now we might manage Lundy, but I think the Isle of Dogs would be an island too far.

DJK said...

It has the ring of truth.

Unfortunately, what Blair, Cameron, etc forget (or choose to ignore) about the Falklands was that it was a very special case. Firstly, British forces were acting alone (I know that eventually there was some behind-the-scenes help --- mainly from the French); and secondly, and crucially, the Falklands action was in defence of clear British interests: British territory and British people.

Blue Eyes said...

It might be a good thing that Thatcher wasn't given an opportunity for Falklands II. She pretty well out of Falklands I and given a second go she might have got a bit too cocky for the electorate's liking. See ACL Blair for details.

SumoKing said...

The US nearly made a pig's knuckle of this, check out the Navy SEALs history for their debacle.

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