Why a US soldier once had to use a payphone to call in artillery support

M102 howitzers during Operation Urgent Fury grenada
M102 howitzers during Operation Urgent Fury.

  • In October 1983, the US launched Operation Urgent Fury, an invasion of the island of Grenada.
  • The US force was made up of highly capable units, including the Army’s Delta Force and Navy SEALs.
  • Despite those units’ skills, they were plagued by planning, intelligence, communication, and coordination issues.
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In October 1983, the Caribbean nation of Grenada experienced a series of bloody coups over the course of a week, threatening US interests as well as US citizens on the island.

In a controversial move, President Ronald Reagan decided to launch Operation Urgent Fury, an invasion of the island nation (and the first real-world test of the all-volunteer force in combat).

The Grenadian forces were bolstered by Communist troops from the Soviet Union, North Korea, Cuba, and Bulgaria.

The US rapid deployment force was more or less an all-star team of the 1st and 2nd Ranger Battalions, the 82nd Airborne, US Marines, Delta Force, and Navy SEALs.

Grenada 82nd airborne paratrooper PASGT protective vest
82nd Airborne soldiers in Grenada.

Despite the strength of the invasion force, planning, intelligence, communication and coordination issues plagued their interoperability (and led to Congress reorganizing the entire Department of Defense).

Army helicopters couldn’t refuel on Navy ships. There was zero intelligence information coming from the CIA. Army Rangers were landed on the island in the middle of the day.

The list of Urgent Fury mistakes is a long one, but one snafu was so huge it became legend.

The basic story is that a unit on the island was pinned down by Communist forces.

Interoperability and communications were so bad, they were unable to call for support from anywhere. A member of the unit pulled out his credit card and made a long-distance call by commercial phone lines to their home base, which patched it through to the Urgent Fury command, who passed the order down to the requested support.

The devil is in the details. The Navy SEALs Museum says the caller was from a group of Navy SEALs in the governor’s mansion. He called Fort Bragg for support from an AC-130 gunship overhead. The gunship’s support allowed the SEALs to stay in position until relieved by a force of Recon Marines the next day.

Some on the ground with the SEALs in Grenada said it was for naval fire support from nearby ships.

AC-130
An AC-130 gunship.

The story is recounted in Mark Adkins’ “Urgent Fury: the Battle for Grenada.” Another report says it was a US Army “trooper” (presumably meaning “paratrooper”) who called his wife to request air support from the Navy.

Screenwriter and Vietnam veteran James Carabatsos incorporated the event into his script for “Heartbreak Ridge” after reading about an account from members of the 82nd Airborne. In that version, paratroopers used a payphone and calling card to call Fort Bragg to request fire support.

In his 2011 memoir, “In My Time: A Personal and Political Memoir,” former Vice President Dick Cheney recalls visiting the island as a congressman and listening to an Army officer tell the story.

“An army officer who had needed artillery support … could look out to sea and see naval vessels on the horizon, but he had no way to talk to them. So he used his personal credit card in a payphone, placed a call to Fort Bragg, asked Bragg to contact the Pentagon, had the Pentagon contact the Navy, who in turn told the commander off the coast to get this poor guy some artillery support. Clearly a new system was needed.”

The story has a happy ending from an American point of view.

These days, the US invasion is remembered by the Grenadian people as an overwhelmingly good thing, as bloody Communist revolutions ended with the elections following the invasion. Grenada marks the anniversary of the US intervention with a national holiday, its own Thanksgiving Day.

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The US Army only ever fired one nuclear artillery shell from its ‘Atomic Annie’ cannon, and this is what it looked like

Image of the May 25, 1953 test-firing of an M65 atomic cannon.
Image of the May 25, 1953 test-firing of an M65 atomic cannon.

  • The US Army fired its atomic cannon for the first and last time 68 years ago.
  • The cannon, initially named “Able Annie,” was later renamed “Atomic Annie.”
  • During the May 25, 1953 test, the cannon fired a nuclear shell that unleashed a 15-kiloton blast.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The US Army successfully test-fired an atomic cannon exactly 68 years ago Tuesday. It was the first and only time the US military ever fired a nuclear weapon from a conventional cannon, according to the Army.

During the Cold War, the US military developed many different ways to unleash nuclear destruction on an enemy, including a towed artillery piece built in the early 1950s that could fire a nuclear round packed with as much explosive power as the atomic bomb that devastated Hiroshima less than a decade earlier.

The Army’s M65 280 mm Motorized Heavy Gun, the largest mobile artillery piece the US ever built, was based on Nazi Germany’s Krupp K5 heavy railway gun, a devastating indirect-fire weapon Allied service members fighting in Italy during World War II named “Anzio Annie.”

The M65 "Atomic Annie," a 280mm nuclear-capable cannon, sits on a concrete slab at Fort Lee
The M65 “Atomic Annie,” a 280mm nuclear-capable cannon, sits on a concrete slab at Fort Lee, where it currently resides.

Weighing roughly 85 tons, the M65 cannon required two transporter trucks to move. In 1953, the US military moved two of these cannons by rail from Fort Sill, Oklahoma to a test site in Nevada, where crews used one to fire a nuclear artillery round in the first and last test of the cannon’s capabilities.

On May 25, 1953, just a few months after an M65 cannon made a very public debut in the inaugural parade for President Dwight D. Eisenhower, Army crews used a cannon named “Able Annie,” one of only 20 M65 guns ever made, to fire a nuclear artillery shell.

The atomic cannon test, codenamed Grable, was the tenth in the Operation Upshot-Knothole nuclear weapons test series but the only one involving nuclear artillery. The cannon, which cost $800,000, performed as expected.

About 19 seconds after the shell was fired at 8:31 am, it exploded just under 8 miles away at a low-burst height of about 520 feet.

“The shell that could wipe out an enemy division exploded on target with a roaring violence equal to 15,000 tons of TNT,” a historical marker at Fort Sill reads.

With that shot, “Able Annie” became “Atomic Annie.” Though the name applies to one gun, it has been used to refer to M65 cannons in general.

The other M65 cannon that was present for the testing in Nevada but never fired was a backup cannon named “Sad Sack,” a weapon that has had a rather uneventful history compared to Atomic Annie.

After the testing wrapped up, Sad Sack was supposed to be sent to an operational unit for overseas deployment while Atomic Annie was to return to Fort Sill, but during the transport process, the two cannons were accidentally switched.

This error was not discovered for 10 years. Soldiers preparing the big cannon for an event marking the tenth anniversary of the Grable test at Fort Sill realized that the serial numbers did not match that of Atomic Annie, the whereabouts of which were unknown to most at the time.

"Atomic Annie" at Fort Lee
“Atomic Annie” at Fort Lee

When the Army tried to find “Atomic Annie,” which was briefly renamed “AWOL Annie” during the search, it was a bit of challenge because the atomic artillery pieces had been deployed across Europe and Asia, and their specific locations were classified to the point that only a limited number of people actually knew exactly where they were.

The legendary atomic cannon was eventually found in Germany and retrieved. It returned to Fort Sill in 1964, and Sad Sack was given to the Smithsonian, according to the Army.

Due to the rapid pace of nuclear-weapons development during the Cold War, the M65 cannons like “Atomic Annie” were obsolete within a decade of their initial fielding. The M65, which was fielded to deliver a devastating nuclear strike behind enemy lines, was withdrawn from service in 1963, just 10 years after the first and only shot.

In 2017, the Atomic Annie cannon was moved to Fort Lee in Virginia, where it joined another “Annie,” one of the captured German K5 railway guns. The massive M65 cannon is part of an educational and historical display at the installation’s new Ordnance Training Support Facility.

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Watch US soldiers fire artillery through the Army’s cool new night-vision goggles

Screenshot of a US Army video showing artillery fire through the lenses of the service's newest night vision goggles
A still image from a US Army video showing artillery fire through the lenses of the service’s newest night-vision goggles.

  • The Army has put out several videos of training seen through its new ENVG-B night-vision goggles.
  • One wild-looking video shows soldiers firing M777 Howitzers.
  • An earlier video shows soldiers firing machine guns and mortars as seen through the goggles.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The US Army has put out several videos in recent weeks showing the field of battle through the service’s new night-vision goggles, including one showing artillery fire.

The most recent video shows soldiers from 2nd Battalion, 17th Field Artillery, which is assigned to the 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 7th Infantry Division, firing M777 Howitzers at Yakima Training Center in Washington state.

The scenes in the video, which look like something straight out of a video game, were shot through the Army’s new Enhanced Night Vision Goggles – Binocular (ENVG-B).

An earlier video showed, through the lenses of the ENVG-B system, soldiers from 4th Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment, 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 7th Infantry Division, conducting a platoon live-fire exercise including mortar and machine-gun fire.

The ENVG-B is an Elbit Systems of America product that the Army started fielding in fall 2019 at Fort Riley in Kansas as a replacement for the older monocular PVS-14 night vision devices.

Moving away from the traditional green of older night-vision systems, the newer ENVG-B offers a clearer picture of the battlespace.

ENVG-B
An ENVG-B device on display at Elbit Systems.

Insider recently had the opportunity to test-out the helmet-mounted binocular goggles equipped with image intensified white phosphor tubes and thermal imaging, among other improvements to legacy night-vision devices.

In addition to the I2 technology and thermal, the goggles also offer an outline mode, which can be seen in the recent videos, and an augmented-reality overlay for better situational awareness.

Some of the different view modes for the ENVG-B
Some of the different view modes for the ENVG-B.

In the heads-up display, soldiers can see a compass and other digital tools, such as force tracking.

Using the Android Tactical Assault Kit (ATAK) software application, troops can mark friendly forces with a blue marker, enemy forces with a red marker, and unidentifiable persons or objects with a question mark.

John Ennis, a member of the Elbit Systems product development team, told a handful of reporters recently that “if you saw something on the side of the road that you thought was an IED or something, you could actually mark it [and] broadcast it out to your team.”

The markers are visible to all soldiers connected to the network on a personal Nett Warrior device on their vest and in their advanced night-vision goggles in an augmented-reality space. US soldiers can customize how much or little they see.

Vest with Nett Warrior device equipped with ATAK at Elbit Systems
A vest with Nett Warrior device equipped with ATAK.

The goggles can connect wirelessly to a soldier’s rifle through the Family of Weapon Sights-Individual for rapid target acquisition and more accurate shooting, even from the hip and around corners.

With a picture-in-picture setup in the heads-up display, soldiers can simultaneously see what is in front of them and wherever their weapon is aiming.

ENVG-B and mock weapon equipped with FWS-I at Elbit Systems
An ENVG-B and mock weapon equipped with FWS-I at Elbit Systems.

Soldiers can also transmit live video from unmanned aerial systems directly into the heads-up display.

One soldier who had the opportunity to try out the ENVG-B a couple of years ago described it as an “insane game changer,” stating in a 2019 Army release that “nothing else offers these kinds of capabilities.”

Although this technology is impressive, higher-end threats posed by near-peer adversaries like China and Russia, such as electronic warfare threats, mean that US soldiers have to be ready to go back to the basics if necessary.

Artillery fire through the lenses of the ENVG-B
Artillery fire through the lenses of the ENVG-B

“All this technology is great,” Jeff Lee, a member of the Elbit Systems business development team with a background in special operations, said recently.

“We always want to be at the cutting edge all the time,” he continued, “but we always also have to remember our roots and be able to do things without all those capabilities in case it gets taken away.”

If the advanced ENVG-B features were ever suddenly not available on the battlefield, soldiers could still use the base night-vision capabilities.

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