|Bay of Pigs Invasion|
|Part of the Cold War|
Cuban soldiers supported by T-34 tanks attacking near Playa Giron. April 19, 1961
|Commanders and leaders|
José Ramón Fernández
Juan Almeida Bosque
John F. Kennedy|
Pepe San Román
Cuban Revolutionary Armed Forces|
National Revolutionary Militia
U.S. Air Force
25,000 Cuban Army|
9,000 armed police[A]
1,500 ground forces[B]|
8 American B-26 bombers
5 supply ships
|Casualties and losses|
2,000 killed and wounded
2 B-26 bombers shot down
2 supply ships lost
The Bay of Pigs Invasion (Spanish: Invasión de Playa Girón or Invasión de Bahía de Cochinos or Batalla de Girón) was a failed military invasion of Cuba undertaken by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)-sponsored rebel group Brigade 2506 on 17 April 1961. A counter-revolutionary military group (made up of mostly Cuban exiles who had traveled to the United States after Castro's takeover, but also some US military personnel), trained and funded by the CIA, Brigade 2506 fronted the armed wing of the Democratic Revolutionary Front (DRF) and intended to overthrow the increasingly communist government of Fidel Castro. Launched from Guatemala and Nicaragua, the invading force was defeated within three days by the Cuban Revolutionary Armed Forces, under the direct command of Castro.
The coup of 1952 led by General Fulgencio Batista, an ally of the United States, against President Carlos Prio, forced Prio into exile to Miami, Florida. Prio's exile was the reason for the 26th July Movement led by Castro. The movement, which did not succeed until after the Cuban Revolution of 31 December 1958, severed the country's formerly strong links with the US after nationalizing American industrial assets (banks, oil refineries, sugar and coffee plantations) along with other American owned businesses.
It was after the Cuban Revolution of 1959 that Castro forged strong economic links with the Soviet Union whom the United States primarily engaged in the Cold War. US President Dwight D. Eisenhower was very concerned at the direction Castro's government was taking, and in March 1960 he allocated $13.1 million to the CIA to plan Castro's overthrow. The CIA proceeded to organize the operation with the aid of various Cuban counter-revolutionary forces, training Brigade 2506 in Guatemala. Eisenhower's successor, John F. Kennedy, approved the final invasion plan on 4 April 1961.
Over 1,400 paramilitaries, divided into five infantry battalions and one paratrooper battalion, assembled in Guatemala before setting out for Cuba by boat on 13 April 1961. Two days later, on 15 April, eight CIA-supplied B-26 bombers attacked Cuban airfields and then returned to the US. On the night of 16 April, the main invasion landed at a beach named Playa Girón in the Bay of Pigs. It initially overwhelmed a local revolutionary militia. The Cuban Army's counter-offensive was led by José Ramón Fernández before Castro decided to take personal control of the operation. As the US involvement became apparent to the world, and with the initiative turning against the invasion, Kennedy decided against providing further air cover. As a result, the operation only had half the forces the CIA had deemed necessary. The original plan devised during Eisenhower's presidency had required both air and naval support. On 20 April, the invaders surrendered after only three days, with the majority being publicly interrogated and put into Cuban prisons.
The failed invasion helped to strengthen the position of Castro's leadership, made him a national hero, and entrenched the rocky relationship between the former allies. It also reinforced the relations between Cuba and the Soviet Union. Strengthened Soviet-Cuban relations eventually led to the events of the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. The invasion was a significant failure for Kennedy's US foreign policy.
Since the middle of the 18th century, Cuba had been the crown jewel of the Spanish colonial empire. In the late 19th century, Cuban nationalist revolutionaries rebelled against Spanish dominance, resulting in three liberation wars: the Ten Years' War (1868–1878), the Little War (1879–1880) and the Cuban War of Independence (1895–1898). The United States government proclaimed war on the Spanish Empire, resulting in the Spanish–American War (1898). The US subsequently invaded the island and forced the Spanish army out. Of note, a special operations attempt to land a group of at least 375 Cuban soldiers on the island succeeded in the Battle of Tayacoba of the Spanish–American War. On 20 May 1902, a new independent government proclaimed the foundation of the Republic of Cuba, with US Military governor Leonard Wood handing over control to President Tomás Estrada Palma, a Cuban-born US citizen. Subsequently, large numbers of US settlers and businessmen arrived in Cuba, and by 1905, 60% of rural properties were owned by non-Cuban North Americans. Between 1906 and 1909, 5,000 US Marines were stationed across the island, and returned in 1912, 1917 and 1921 to intervene in internal affairs, sometimes at the behest of the Cuban government.
Fidel Castro and the Cuban Revolution
In March 1952, a Cuban general and politician, Fulgencio Batista, seized power on the island, proclaimed himself president and deposed the discredited president Carlos Prío Socarrás of the Partido Auténtico. Batista canceled the planned presidential elections, and described his new system as "disciplined democracy." Although Batista gained some popular support, many Cubans saw it as the establishment of a one-man dictatorship. Many opponents of the Batista regime took to armed rebellion in an attempt to oust the government, sparking the Cuban Revolution. One of these groups was the National Revolutionary Movement (Movimiento Nacional Revolucionario – MNR), a militant organization containing largely middle-class members that had been founded by the Professor of Philosophy Rafael García Bárcena. Another was the Directorio Revolucionario Estudantil (DRE), which had been founded by the Federation of University Students (FEU) President José Antonio Echevarría (1932–1957). However, the best known of these anti-Batista groups was the "26th of July Movement" (MR-26-7), founded by a lawyer named Fidel Castro. With Castro as the MR-26-7's head, the organization was based upon a clandestine cell system, with each cell containing ten members, none of whom knew the whereabouts or activities of the other cells.
Between December 1956 and 1959, Castro led a guerrilla army against the forces of Batista from his base camp in the Sierra Maestra mountains. Batista's repression of revolutionaries had earned him widespread unpopularity, and by 1958 his armies were in retreat. On 31 December 1958, Batista resigned and fled into exile, taking with him an amassed fortune of more than US$300,000,000. The presidency fell to Castro's chosen candidate, the lawyer Manuel Urrutia Lleó, while members of the MR-26-7 took control of most positions in the cabinet. On 16 February 1959, Castro himself took on the role of Prime Minister. Dismissing the need for elections, Castro proclaimed the new administration an example of direct democracy, in which the Cuban populace could assemble en masse at demonstrations and express their democratic will to him personally. Critics instead condemned the new regime as un-democratic.
Soon after the success of the Cuban Revolution, militant counter-revolutionary groups developed in an attempt to overthrow the new regime. Undertaking armed attacks against government forces, some set up guerrilla bases in Cuba's mountainous regions, leading to the six-year Escambray Rebellion. These dissidents were funded and armed by various foreign sources, including the exiled Cuban community, the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and Rafael Trujillo's regime in the Dominican Republic. No quarter was given during the suppression of the resistance in the Escambray Mountains, where former rebels from the war against Batista took different sides. On 3 April 1961, a bomb attack on militia barracks in Bayamo killed four militia, and wounded eight more. On 6 April, the Hershey Sugar factory in Matanzas was destroyed by sabotage. On 14 April 1961, guerrillas led by Agapito Rivera fought Cuban government forces near Las Cruces, Montembo, Las Villas, where several government troops were killed and others wounded. Also on 14 April 1961, a Cubana airliner was hijacked and flown to Jacksonville, Florida; resultant confusion then helped the staged 'defection' of a B-26 and pilot at Miami on 15 April.
Castro's government began a crackdown on this opposition movement, arresting hundreds of dissidents. Though it rejected the physical torture Batista's regime had used, Castro's government-sanctioned psychological torture, subjecting some prisoners to solitary confinement, rough treatment, hunger, and threatening behavior. After conservative editors and journalists began expressing hostility towards the government following its left-ward turn, the pro-Castro printers' trade union began to harass and disrupt editorial staff actions. In January 1960, the government proclaimed that each newspaper was obliged to publish a "clarification" by the printers' union at the end of every article that criticized the government. These "clarifications" signaled the start of press censorship in Castro's Cuba.
Popular uproar across Cuba demanded that those figures who had been complicit in the widespread torture and killing of civilians be brought to justice. Although he remained a moderating force and tried to prevent the mass reprisal killings of Batistanos advocated by many Cubans, Castro helped to set up trials of many figures involved in the old regime across the country, resulting in hundreds of executions. Critics, in particular from the U.S. press, argued that many of these did not meet the standards of a fair trial, and condemned Cuba's new government as being more interested in vengeance than justice. Castro retaliated strongly against such accusations, proclaiming that "revolutionary justice is not based on legal precepts, but on moral conviction." In a show of support for this "revolutionary justice," he organized the first Havana trial to take place before a mass audience of 17,000 at the Sports Palace stadium. When a group of aviators accused of bombing a village was found not guilty, he ordered a retrial, in which they were instead found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment. On 11 March 1961, Jesus Carreras and American William Alexander Morgan (a former Castro ally) were executed after a trial.
Tensions with the United States
Castro's Cuban government ordered the country's oil refineries – then controlled by US corporations Esso and Standard Oil and Anglo-Dutch Shell – to process crude oil purchased from the Soviet Union, but under pressure from the US government, these companies refused. Castro responded by expropriating the refineries and nationalizing them under state control. In retaliation, the US canceled its import of Cuban sugar, provoking Castro to nationalize most US-owned assets, including banks and sugar mills. Relations between Cuba and the US were further strained following the explosion and sinking of a French vessel, the Le Coubre, in Havana harbor in March 1960. The cause of the explosion was never determined, but Castro publicly mentioned that the US government were guilty of sabotage. On 13 October 1960, the US government then prohibited the majority of exports to Cuba – the exceptions being medicines and certain foodstuffs – marking the start of an economic embargo. In retaliation, the Cuban National Institute for Agrarian Reform took control of 383 private-run businesses on 14 October, and on 25 October a further 166 US companies operating in Cuba had their premises seized and nationalized, including Coca-Cola and Sears Roebuck. On 16 December, the US then ended its import quota of Cuban sugar.
The US government was becoming increasingly critical of Castro's revolutionary government. At an August 1960 meeting of the Organization of American States (OAS) held in Costa Rica, the US Secretary of State, Christian Herter, publicly proclaimed that Castro's administration was "following faithfully the Bolshevik pattern" by instituting a single-party political system, taking governmental control of trade unions, suppressing civil liberties, and removing both the freedom of speech and freedom of the press. He furthermore asserted that international communism was using Cuba as an "operational base" for spreading revolution in the western hemisphere, and called on other OAS members to condemn the Cuban government for its breach of human rights. In turn, Castro lambasted the treatment of black people and the working classes he had witnessed in New York, which he ridiculed as that "superfree, superdemocratic, superhumane, and supercivilized city." Proclaiming that the US poor were living "in the bowels of the imperialist monster," he attacked the mainstream US media and accused it of being controlled by big business. It must be noted that, on the surface, the US was trying to improve its relationship with Cuba. Several negotiations between representatives from Cuba and the US took place around this time. Repairing international financial relations was the focal point of these discussions. Political relations were another hot topic of these conferences. The US stated that they would not interfere with Cuba's choice of government or its domestic structure; however, the US also ordered the Cubans to sever all ties with the Soviet Union.
In August 1960, the CIA contacted the Cosa Nostra in Chicago with the intention to draft a simultaneous assassination of Fidel Castro, Raúl Castro and Che Guevara. In exchange, if the operation were a success and a pro-US government were restored in Cuba, the CIA agreed that the Mafia would get their "monopoly on gaming, prostitution and drugs."
Tensions percolated when the CIA began to act on its desires to snuff out Castro. The general public became aware of the attempts to assassinate Castro in 1975 when a report entitled "Alleged Assassination Plots Involving Foreign Leaders" was released by the Senate Church Committee set up to investigate CIA abuses. Efforts to murder Castro officially commenced in 1960. Some methods that the CIA undertook to murder Castro were creative, for example: "poison pills, an exploding sea shell, and a planned gift of a diving suit contaminated with toxins." More traditional ways of assassinating Castro were also planned, such as elimination via high-powered rifles with telescopic sights. In 1963, at the same time the Kennedy administration initiated secret peace overtures to Castro, the Cuban revolutionary and undercover CIA agent, Rolando Cubela, was tasked with killing Castro by the CIA official, Desmond Fitzgerald, who portrayed himself as a personal representative of Robert Kennedy.
The idea of overthrowing Castro's dictatorship first emerged within the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), an independent civilian intelligence agency of the United States government, in early 1960. Founded in 1947 by the National Security Act, the CIA was "a product of the Cold War", having been designed to counter the espionage activities of the Soviet Union's own national security agency, the KGB. As the perceived threat of international communism grew larger, the CIA expanded its activities to undertake covert economic, political, and military activities that would advance causes favourable to U.S. interests, often resulting in brutal dictatorships that favored US interests. The CIA's Director at the time, Allen Dulles, was responsible for overseeing covert operations across the world, and although widely considered an ineffectual administrator, he was immensely popular among his employees, whom he had protected from the accusations of McCarthyism. Recognizing that Castro and his government were becoming increasingly hostile and openly opposed to the United States, President Dwight D. Eisenhower directed the Central Intelligence Agency to begin preparations of invading Cuba and overthrowing the Castro regime. The man overseeing plans for the Bay of Pigs Invasion was Richard M. Bissell Jr., the CIA's Deputy Director for Plans (DDP). He assembled a number of other agents to aid him in the plot, many of whom had worked on the 1954 Guatemalan coup six years before; these included David Philips, Gerry Droller and E. Howard Hunt.
Bissell placed Droller in charge of liaising with anti-Castro segments of the Cuban-American community living in the United States, and asked Hunt to fashion a government-in-exile, which the CIA would effectively control. Hunt proceeded to travel to Havana, the capital city of Cuba, where he spoke with Cubans from various backgrounds and discovered a brothel through the Mercedes-Benz agency. Returning to the US, he informed the Cuban-Americans with whom he was liaising that they would have to move their base of operations from Florida to Mexico City, because the State Department refused to permit the training of a militia on US soil. Although unhappy with the news, they conceded to the order.
President had meetings with Kennedy at the White House on December 6, 1960, and January 19, 1961. In one conversation, Eisenhower stated that since March 1960, the US government had training “in small units, but we had done nothing else”: “some hundreds of refugees” in Guatemala, “a few in Panama, and some in Florida.” However, Eisenhower also expressed disapproval of the idea of Batista returning to power and was waiting for the exiles to agree on a leader who was opposed to both Castro and Batista.
On 17 March 1960, the CIA put forward their plan for the overthrow of Castro's administration to the U.S. National Security Council (NSC) where US President Dwight D. Eisenhower lended his support. The first stated objective of the plan was to "bring about the replacement of the Castro regime with one more devoted to the true interests of the Cuban people and more acceptable to the US in such a manner to avoid any appearance of US intervention." Four major forms of action were to be taken to aid anti-communist opposition in Cuba at the time. These included providing a powerful propaganda offensive against the regime, perfect a covert intelligence network within Cuba, developing paramilitary forces outside of Cuba, and acquiring the necessary logistical support for covert military operations on the island. At this stage, however, it was still not clear that an invasion would take place. Contrary to popular belief, however, documents obtained from Eisenhower Library revealed that Eisenhower never ordered, or approved plans, for an amphibious assault on Cuba.
On 18 August 1960, Eisenhower approved a budget of $13,000,000 for the operation. By 31 October 1960, most guerrilla infiltrations and supply drops directed by the CIA into Cuba had failed, and developments of further guerrilla strategies were replaced by plans to mount an initial amphibious assault, with a minimum of 1,500 men. The election of John Kennedy as US President sped up preparations for the invasion; Kennedy reached out to Cuban exiles who supported Batista and hinted he was willing to bring Batista back to power in order to overthrow Castro. On 18 November 1960, Allen Dulles and Richard Bissell first briefed President-elect John Kennedy on the outline plans. Having experience in actions such as the 1954 Guatemalan coup d'état, Dulles was confident that the CIA was capable of overthrowing the Cuban government. On 29 November 1960, President Eisenhower met with the chiefs of the CIA, Defense, State, and Treasury departments to discuss the new concept. None expressed any objections, and Eisenhower approved the plans with the intention of persuading John Kennedy of their merit. On 8 December 1960, Bissell presented outline plans to the "Special Group" while declining to commit details to written records. Further development of the plans continued, and on 4 January 1961 they consisted of an intention to establish a "lodgement" by 750 men at an undisclosed site in Cuba, supported by considerable air power.
Meanwhile, in the 1960 presidential election, both main candidates, Richard Nixon of the Republican Party and John F. Kennedy of the Democratic Party, campaigned on the issue of Cuba, with both candidates taking a hardline stance on Castro. Nixon – who was then Vice President – insisted that Kennedy should not be informed of the military plans, to which Dulles conceded. To Nixon's chagrin, the Kennedy campaign released a scathing statement on the Eisenhower administration's Cuba policy on 20 October 1960 which said that "we must attempt to strengthen the non-Batista democratic anti-Castro forces [...] who offer eventual hope of overthrowing Castro", claiming that "Thus far these fighters for freedom have had virtually no support from our Government." At the last election debate the next day, Nixon called Kennedy's proposed course of action "dangerously irresponsible" and even lectured Kennedy on international law, in effect denigrating the policy Nixon himself favored.
Kennedy's operational approval
On 28 January 1961, President Kennedy was briefed, together with all the major departments, on the latest plan (code-named Operation Pluto), which involved 1,000 men landed in a ship-borne invasion at Trinidad, Cuba, about 270 km (170 mi) south-east of Havana, at the foothills of the Escambray Mountains in Sancti Spiritus province. Kennedy authorized the active departments to continue, and to report progress. Trinidad had good port facilities, it was closer to many existing counter-revolutionary activities, and it offered an escape route into the Escambray Mountains. That scheme was subsequently rejected by the State Department because the airfield there was not large enough for B-26 bombers and, since B-26s were to play a prominent role in the invasion, this would destroy the façade that the invasion was just an uprising with no American involvement. Secretary of State Dean Rusk raised some eyebrows by contemplating airdropping a bulldozer to extend the airfield. Kennedy rejected Trinidad, preferring a more low-key locale. On 4 April 1961, President Kennedy then approved the Bay of Pigs plan (also known as Operation Zapata), because it had a sufficiently long airfield, it was farther away from large groups of civilians than the Trinidad plan, and it was less "noisy" militarily, which would make denial of direct US involvement more plausible. The invasion landing area was changed to beaches bordering the Bahía de Cochinos (Bay of Pigs) in Las Villas Province, 150km southeast of Havana, and east of the Zapata Peninsula. The landings were to take place at Playa Girón (code-named Blue Beach), Playa Larga (code-named Red Beach), and Caleta Buena Inlet (code-named Green Beach).
Top aides to Kennedy, such as Dean Rusk and both Joint Chiefs of staff, later said that they had hesitations about the plans but muted their thoughts. Some leaders blamed these problems on the "Cold War mindset" or the determination of the Kennedy brothers to oust Castro and fulfill campaign promises. Military advisers were skeptical of its potential for success as well. Despite these hesitations, Kennedy still ordered the attack to take place.
In March 1961, the CIA helped Cuban exiles in Miami to create the Cuban Revolutionary Council (CRC), chaired by José Miró Cardona, former Prime Minister of Cuba in January 1959. Cardona became the de facto leader-in-waiting of the intended post-invasion Cuban government.
In April 1960, the CIA began to recruit anti-Castro Cuban exiles in the Miami area. Until July 1960, assessment and training was carried out on Useppa Island and at various other facilities in South Florida, such as Homestead AFB. Specialist guerrilla training took place at Fort Gulick, Panama and at Fort Clayton, Panama. The force that became Brigade 2506 started with 28 men, who initially were told that their training was being paid for by an anonymous Cuban millionaire émigré, but the recruits soon guessed who was paying the bills, calling their supposed anonymous benefactor "Uncle Sam", and the pretense was dropped. The overall leader was Dr. Manuel Artime while the military leader was José "Pepe" Peréz San Román, a former Cuban Army officer imprisoned under both Batista and Castro.
For the increasing ranks of recruits, infantry training was carried out at a CIA-run base (code-named JMTrax) near Retalhuleu in the Sierra Madre on the Pacific coast of Guatemala. The exiled group named themselves Brigade 2506 (Brigada Asalto 2506). In summer 1960, an airfield (code-named JMadd, aka Rayo Base) was constructed near Retalhuleu, Guatemala. Gunnery and flight training of Brigade 2506 aircrews was carried out by personnel from Alabama ANG (Air National Guard) under General Reid Doster, using at least six Douglas B-26 Invaders in the markings of Fuerza Aérea Guatemalteca, legitimate delivery of those being delayed by about six months. An additional 26 B-26s were obtained from US military stocks, 'sanitized' at 'Field Three' to obscure their origins, and about 20 of them were converted for offensive operations by removal of defensive armament, standardization of the 'eight-gun nose', addition of underwing drop tanks and rocket racks. Paratroop training was at a base nicknamed Garrapatenango, near Quetzaltenango, Guatemala. Training for boat handling and amphibious landings took place at Vieques Island, Puerto Rico. Tank training for the Brigade 2506 M41 Walker Bulldog tanks,took place at Fort Knox, Kentucky, and Fort Benning, Georgia. Underwater demolition and infiltration training took place at Belle Chase near New Orleans. To create a navy, the CIA purchased five cargo ships from the Cuban-owned, but Miami-based Garcia Line, thereby giving "plausible deniability" as the State Department had insisted no US ships could be involved in the invasion. The first four of the five ships, namely the Atlantico, the Caribe, the Houston and Río Escondido were to carry enough supplies and weapons to last thirty days while the Lake Charles had 15 days of supplies and was intended to land the provisional government of Cuba. The ships were loaded with supplies at New Orleans and sailed to Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua. Additionally, the invasion force had two old Landing Craft Infantry (LCI) ships, the Blagar and Barbara J from World War II that were part of the CIA's "ghost ship" fleet and served as command ships for the invasion. The crews of the supply ships were Cuban while the crews of the LCIs were Americans, borrowed by the CIA from the Military Sea Transportation Service (MSTS) One CIA officer wrote that MSTS sailors were all professional and experienced, but not trained for combat.
In November 1960, the Retalhuleu recruits took part in quelling an officers' rebellion in Guatemala, in addition to the intervention of the US Navy.
The CIA transported people, supplies, and arms from Florida to all the bases at night, using Douglas C-54 transports. On 9 April 1961, Brigade 2506 personnel, ships, and aircraft started transferring from Guatemala to Puerto Cabezas. Curtiss C-46s were also used for transport between Retalhuleu and a CIA base (code-named JMTide, aka Happy Valley) at Puerto Cabezas.
Facilities and limited logistical assistance were provided by the governments of General Miguel Ydígoras Fuentes in Guatemala, and General Luis Somoza Debayle in Nicaragua, but no military personnel or equipment of those nations was directly employed in the conflict. Both governments later received military training and equipment, including some of the CIA's remaining B-26s.
In early 1961, Cuba's army possessed Soviet-designed T-34 medium tanks, IS-2 heavy tanks, SU-100 tank destroyers, 122mm howitzers, other artillery and small arms plus Italian 105mm howitzers. The Cuban air force armed inventory included Douglas B-26 Invader light bombers, Hawker Sea Fury fighters, and Lockheed T-33 jets, all remaining from the Fuerza Aérea del Ejército de Cuba (FAEC), the Cuban air force of the Batista government.
Anticipating an invasion, Che Guevara stressed the importance of an armed civilian populace, stating: "all of the Cuban people must become a guerrilla army; each and every Cuban must learn to handle and if necessary use firearms in defense of the nation".
US Government personnel
In April 1960, FRD (Frente Revolucionario Democratico – Democratic Revolutionary Front) rebels were taken to Useppa Island, a private island off the coast of Florida, which was covertly leased by the CIA at the time. Once the rebels had arrived, they were greeted by instructors from U.S. Army special forces groups, members from the U.S. Air Force and Air National Guard and members of the CIA. The rebels were trained in amphibious assault tactics, guerrilla warfare, infantry and weapons training, unit tactics and land navigation. 
The recruiting of Cuban exiles in Miami was organized by CIA staff officers E. Howard Hunt and Gerry Droller. Detailed planning, training and military operations were conducted by Jacob Esterline, Colonel Jack Hawkins, Félix Rodríguez and Colonel Stanley W. Beerli under the direction of Richard Bissell and his deputy Tracy Barnes.
Cuban government personnel
Already, Fidel Castro was known as, and addressed as, the commander-in-chief of Cuban armed forces, with a nominal base at 'Point One' in Havana. In early April 1961, his brother Raúl Castro was assigned command of forces in the east, based in Santiago de Cuba. Che Guevara commanded western forces, based in Pinar del Río. Major Juan Almeida Bosque commanded forces in the central provinces, based in Santa Clara. Raúl Curbelo Morales was head of the air force. Sergio del Valle Jiménez was Director of Headquarters Operations at Point One. Efigenio Ameijeiras was the Head of the Revolutionary National Police. Ramiro Valdés Menéndez was Minister of the Interior and head of G-2 (Seguridad del Estado, or state security). His deputy was Comandante Manuel Piñeiro Losada, also known as 'Barba Roja'. Captain José Ramón Fernández was head of the School of Militia Leaders (Cadets) at Matanzas.
Other commanders of units during the conflict included Major Raúl Menéndez Tomassevich, Major Filiberto Olivera Moya, Major René de los Santos, Major Augusto Martínez Sanchez, Major Félix Duque, Major Pedro Miret, Major Flavio Bravo, Major Antonio Lussón, Captain Orlando Pupo Pena, Captain Victor Dreke, Captain Emilio Aragonés, Captain Angel Fernández Vila, Arnaldo Ochoa, and Orlando Rodriguez Puerta.
Soviet-trained Spanish advisors were brought to Cuba from Eastern Bloc countries. These advisors had held high staff positions in the Soviet armies during World War II and became known as "Hispano-Soviets," having long resided in the Soviet Union. The most senior of these was the Spanish communist veterans of the Spanish Civil War, Francisco Ciutat de Miguel, Enrique Líster, and Cuban-born Alberto Bayo. Ciutat de Miguel (Cuban alias: Ángel Martínez Riosola, commonly referred to as "Angelito"), was an advisor to forces in the central provinces. The role of other Soviet agents at the time is uncertain, but some of them acquired greater fame later. For example, two KGB colonels, Vadim Kochergin and Victor Simanov were first sighted in Cuba in about September 1959.
Prior warnings of invasion
The Cuban security apparatus knew the invasion was coming, via their extensive secret intelligence network, as well as the loose talk by members of the brigade, some of which was heard in Miami, and was repeated in US and foreign newspaper reports. Nevertheless, days before the invasion, multiple acts of sabotage were carried out, such as the El Encanto fire, an arson attack in a department store in Havana on 13 April that killed one shop worker. The Cuban government also had been warned by senior KGB agents Osvaldo Sánchez Cabrera and 'Aragon', who died violently before and after the invasion, respectively. The general Cuban population was not well informed, except for CIA-funded Radio Swan. As of May 1960, almost all means of public communication were in the government's hands.
On 29 April 2000, a The Washington Post article, "Soviets Knew Date of Cuba Attack", reported that the CIA had information indicating that the Soviet Union knew the invasion was going to take place, and did not inform Kennedy. On 13 April 1961, Radio Moscow broadcast an English-language newscast, predicting the invasion "in a plot hatched by the CIA" using paid "criminals" within a week. The invasion took place four days later.
David Ormsby-Gore, British Ambassador to the US, stated that British intelligence analysis, as made available to the CIA, indicated that the Cuban people were predominantly behind Castro, and that there was no likelihood of mass defections or insurrections.
Prelude to invasion
Acquisition of aircraft
From June to September 1960, the most time consuming task was the acquisition of the aircraft to be used in the invasion. The anti-Castro effort depended on the success of these aircraft. Although models such as the C-46 and C-54 were to be used for airdrops and bomb drops as well as infiltration and exfiltration, they were looking for an aircraft that could perform tactical strikes. The two models that were going to be decided on were the Navy's AD-5 Skyraider or the Air Force's light bomber, the B-26. The AD-5 was readily available and ready for the Navy to train pilots, and in a meeting among a special group in the office of the Deputy Director of the CIA, the AD-5 was approved and decided on. After a cost benefit analysis, word was sent that the AD-5 plan would be abandoned and the B-26 would take its place.
Fleet sets sail (14 April)
Under cover of darkness, the invasion fleet set sail from Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua and headed towards the Bay of Pigs on the night of 14 April. After on-loading the attack planes in Norfolk Naval Base, and taking on prodigious quantities of food and supplies sufficient for the seven weeks at-sea to come, the crew knew from the hasty camouflage of the ship's and aircraft identifying numbers that a secret mission was on hand. The Essex Group had been at sea for nearly a month before the invasion; its crew was well aware of the impending battle. On route, Essex had made a night time stop at a Navy arms depot in Charleston, SC to load tactical nuclear weapons to be held ready during the cruise. The afternoon of the invasion, one accompanying destroyer rendezvoused with Essex to have a gun mount repaired and put back into action; the ship displayed numerous shell casings on deck from its shore bombardment actions. On 16 April Essex was at General Quarters for most of a day; Soviet MiG-15s made feints and close range fly overs that night, with Soviet Red Stars prominent.
Air attacks on airfields (15 April)
During the night of 14/15 April, a diversionary landing was planned near Baracoa, Oriente Province, by about 164 Cuban exiles commanded by Higinio 'Nino' Diaz. Their mother ship, named La Playa or Santa Ana, had sailed from Key West under a Costa Rican ensign. Several US Navy destroyers were stationed offshore near Guantánamo Bay to give the appearance of an impending invasion fleet. The reconnaissance boats turned back to the ship after their crews detected activities by Cuban militia forces along the coastline.
As a result of those activities, at daybreak, a reconnaissance sortie over the Baracoa area was launched from Santiago de Cuba. That was a FAR (Fuerza Aérea Revolucionaria) (Cuban Air Force) T-33, piloted by Lt Orestes Acosta, and it crashed fatally into the sea. On 17 April, his name was falsely quoted as a defector among the disinformation circulating in Miami.
The CIA, with the backing of the Pentagon, had originally requested permission to produce sonic booms over Havana on 14 April to create an air of confusion. The request was a form of psychological warfare that had proven successful in the overthrow of Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala in 1954. The point was to create confusion in Havana and have it be a distraction to Castro if they could "break all the windows in town." The request was denied, however, since officials thought such would be too obvious a sign of involvement by the United States.
On 15 April 1961, at about 06:00 am Cuban local time, eight Douglas B-26B Invader bombers in three groups simultaneously attacked three Cuban airfields at San Antonio de los Baños and at Ciudad Libertad (formerly named Campo Columbia), both near Havana, plus the Antonio Maceo International Airport at Santiago de Cuba. The B-26s had been prepared by the CIA on behalf of Brigade 2506, and had been painted with the false flag markings of the FAR, the air force of the Cuban government. Each came armed with bombs, rockets, and machine guns. They had flown from Puerto Cabezas in Nicaragua, and were crewed by exiled Cuban pilots and navigators of the self-styled Fuerza Aérea de Liberación (FAL). The purpose of the action (code-named Operation Puma) was reportedly to destroy most or all of the armed aircraft of the FAR in preparation for the main invasion. At Santiago, the two attackers destroyed a C-47 transport, a PBY Catalina flying boat, two B-26s and a civilian DC-3 plus various other civilian aircraft. At San Antonio, the three attackers destroyed three FAR B-26s, one Sea Fury and one T-33, and one attacker diverted to Grand Cayman due to low usable fuel. Aircraft that diverted to the Caymans was aggressively seized by Great Britain since they were suspicious that the Cayman Islands might be perceived as a launch site for the invasion. At Ciudad Libertad, the three attackers destroyed only non-operational aircraft such as two P-47 Thunderbolts. One of those attackers was damaged by anti-aircraft fire, and ditched about 50 km north of Cuba, with the loss of its crew Daniel Fernández Mon and Gaston Pérez. Its companion B-26, also damaged, continued north and landed at Boca Chica field (Naval Air Station Key West), Florida. The crew, José Crespo and Lorenzo Pérez-Lorenzo, were granted political asylum, and made their way back to Nicaragua the next day via Miami and the daily CIA C-54 flight from Opa-locka Airport to Puerto Cabezas Airport. Their B-26, purposely numbered 933, the same as at least two other B-26s that day for disinformation reasons, was held until late on 17 April.
Deception flight (Saturday, 15 April)
About 90 minutes after the eight B-26s had taken off from Puerto Cabezas to attack Cuban airfields, another B-26 departed on a deception flight that took it close to Cuba but headed north towards Florida. Like the bomber groups, it carried false FAR markings and the same number 933 as painted on at least two of the others. Before departure, the cowling from one of the aircraft's two engines was removed by CIA personnel, fired upon, then re-installed to give the false appearance that the aircraft had taken ground fire at some point during its flight. At a safe distance north of Cuba, the pilot feathered the engine with the pre-installed bullet holes in the cowling, radioed a mayday call, and requested immediate permission to land at Miami International airport. He landed and taxied to the military area of the airport near an Air Force C-47 and was met by several government cars. The pilot was Mario Zúñiga, formerly of the FAEC (Cuban Air Force under Batista), and after landing, he masqueraded as 'Juan Garcia' and publicly claimed that three colleagues had also defected from the FAR. The next day he was granted political asylum, and that night he returned to Puerto Cabezas via Opa-Locka. This deception operation was successful at the time in convincing much of the world media that the attacks on the Cuban Air Force bases were the work of an internal anti-Communist faction, and did not involve outside actors.
Reactions (15 April)
At 10:30 am on 15 April at the United Nations, the Cuban Foreign Minister Raúl Roa accused the US of aggressive air attacks against Cuba, and that afternoon formally tabled a motion to the Political (First) Committee of the UN General Assembly. Only days earlier, the CIA had unsuccessfully attempted to entice Raúl Roa into defecting. In response to Roa's accusations before the UN, US ambassador to the UN Adlai Stevenson stated that US armed forces would not "under any conditions" intervene in Cuba, and that the US would do everything in its power to ensure that no US citizens would participate in actions against Cuba. He also stated that Cuban defectors had carried out the attacks that day, and he presented a UPI wire photo of Zúñiga's B-26 in Cuban markings at Miami airport. Stevenson was later embarrassed to realize that the CIA had lied to him.
President Kennedy supported the statement made by Stevenson: "I have emphasized before that this was a struggle of Cuban patriots against a Cuban dictator. While we could not be expected to hide our sympathies, we made it repeatedly clear that the armed forces of this country would not intervene in any way".
On April 15, the Cuban national police, led by Efigenio Ameijeiras, started the process of arresting thousands of suspected anti-revolutionary individuals, and detaining them in provisional locations such as the Karl Marx Theatre, the moat of Fortaleza de la Cabana and the Principe Castle all in Havana, and the baseball park in Matanzas.
Phony war (16 April)
On the night of 15/16 April, the Nino Diaz group failed in a second attempted diversionary landing at a different location near Baracoa.
On 16 April, Merardo Leon, Jose Leon, and 14 others staged an armed uprising at Las Delicias Estate in Las Villas, with only four surviving. Leonel Martinez and three others took to the countryside.[clarification needed]
Following the air strikes on the Cuban airfields on 15 April 1961, the FAR managed to prepare for armed action with its surviving air force which numbered at least four T-33s jet trainers, four Sea Furies fighters and five or six B-26 medium bombers. All three types were armed with machine guns (a 20mm cannon, in the case of the Sea Furies) for air-to-air combat and for strafing of ships and ground targets. CIA planners had failed to discover that the US-supplied T-33 trainer jets had long been armed with M-3 machine guns. The three types could also carry bombs and rocket pods for attacks against ships and tanks.
No additional air strikes against Cuban airfields and aircraft were specifically planned before 17 April, because B-26 pilots' exaggerated claims gave the CIA false confidence in the success of 15 April attacks, until U-2 reconnaissance photos taken on 16 April showed otherwise. Late on 16 April, President Kennedy ordered cancellation of further airfield strikes planned for dawn on 17 April, to attempt plausible deniability of US direct involvement.
Late on 16 April, the CIA/Brigade 2506 invasion fleet converged on 'Rendezvous Point Zulu', about 65 kilometres (40 mi) south of Cuba, having sailed from Puerto Cabezas in Nicaragua where they had been loaded with troops and other materiel, after loading arms and supplies at New Orleans. The US Navy operation was code-named Bumpy Road, having been changed from Crosspatch on 1 April 1961. The fleet, labeled the 'Cuban Expeditionary Force' (CEF), included five 2,400-ton (empty weight) freighter ships chartered by the CIA from the Garcia Line, and subsequently outfitted with anti-aircraft guns. Four of the freighters, Houston (code name Aguja), Río Escondido (code name Ballena), Caribe (code name Sardina), and Atlántico (code-name Tiburón), were planned to transport about 1,400 troops in seven battalions of troops and armaments near to the invasion beaches. The fifth freighter, Lake Charles, was loaded with follow-up supplies and some Operation 40 infiltration personnel. The freighters sailed under Liberian ensigns. Accompanying them were two LCIs (Landing Craft Infantry) outfitted with heavy armament at Key West. The LCIs were Blagar (code-name Marsopa) and Barbara J (code-name Barracuda), sailing under Nicaraguan ensigns. After exercises and training at Vieques Island, the CEF ships were individually escorted (outside visual range) to Point Zulu by US Navy destroyers USS Bache, USS Beale, USS Conway, USS Cony, USS Eaton, USS Murray, and USS Waller. US Navy Task Group 81.8 had already assembled off the Cayman Islands, commanded by Rear Admiral John E. Clark onboard aircraft carrier USS Essex, plus helicopter assault carrier USS Boxer, destroyers USS Hank, USS John W. Weeks, USS Purdy, USS Wren, and submarines USS Cobbler and USS Threadfin. Command and control ship USS Northampton and carrier USS Shangri-La were also reportedly active in the Caribbean at the time. USS San Marcos was a Landing Ship Dock that carried three LCUs (Landing Craft Utility) which could accommodate the Brigades M41 Walker Bulldog tanks and four LCVPs (Landing Craft, Vehicles, Personnel). San Marcos had sailed from Vieques Island. At Point Zulu, the seven CEF ships sailed north without the USN escorts, except for San Marcos that continued until the seven landing craft were unloaded when just outside the 5 kilometres (3 mi) Cuban territorial limit.
Invasion day (17 April)
During the night of 16/17 April, a mock diversionary landing was organized by CIA operatives near Bahía Honda, Pinar del Río Province. A flotilla containing equipment that broadcast sounds and other effects of a shipborne invasion landing provided the source of Cuban reports that briefly lured Fidel Castro away from the Bay of Pigs battlefront area.
At about 00:00 on 17 April 1961, the two CIA LCIs Blagar and Barbara J, each with a CIA 'operations officer' and an Underwater Demolition Team (UDT) of five frogmen, entered the Bay of Pigs (Bahía de Cochinos) on the southern coast of Cuba. They headed a force of four transport ships (Houston, Río Escondido, Caribe and Atlántico) carrying about 1,400 Cuban exile ground troops of Brigade 2506, plus the Brigade's M41 Walker Bulldog tanks, and other vehicles in the landing craft. At about 01:00, Blagar, as the battlefield command ship, directed the principal landing at Playa Girón (code-named Blue Beach), led by the frogmen in rubber boats followed by troops from Caribe in small aluminium boats, then LCVPs and LCUs with the M41 Walker Bulldog tanks. Barbara J, leading Houston, similarly landed troops 35 km further northwest at Playa Larga (code-named Red Beach), using small fiberglass boats. The unloading of troops at night was delayed, due to engine failures and boats damaged by unforeseen coral reefs; the CIA had originally believed that the coral reef was seaweed. As the frogmen came in, they were shocked to discover that the Red Beach was lit with floodlights, which led to the location of the landing being hastily changed. As the frogmen landed, a firefight broke out when a jeep carrying Cuban militia happened by. The few militias in the area succeeded in warning Cuban armed forces via radio soon after the first landing, before the invaders overcame their token resistance. Castro was woken up at about 3:15 am to be informed of the landings, which led him to put all militia units in the area on the highest state of alert and to order airstrikes. The Cuban regime planned to strike the brigadistas at Playa Larga first as they were inland before turning on the brigadistas at Girón at sea. El Comandante departed personally to lead his forces into battle against the brigadistas.
At daybreak around 06:30 am, three FAR Sea Furies, one B-26 bomber and two Lockheed T-33 fighter jets started attacking those CEF ships still unloading troops. At about 06:50, south of Playa Larga, Houston was damaged by several bombs and rockets from a Sea Fury and a T-33, and about two hours later captain Luis Morse intentionally beached it on the western side of the bay. About 270 troops had been unloaded, but about 180 survivors who struggled ashore were incapable of taking part in further action because of the loss of most of their weapons and equipment. The loss of Houston was a great blow to the brigadistas as that ship was carrying much of the Brigade 2506's medical supplies, which meant that wounded brigadistas had to make do with inadequate medical care. At about 07:00, two invading FAL B-26s attacked and sank the Cuban Navy Patrol Escort ship El Baire at Nueva Gerona on the Isle of Pines. They then proceeded to Girón to join two other B-26s to attack Cuban ground troops and provide distraction air cover for the paratroop C-46s and the CEF ships under air attack. Brigade 2506's M41 Walker Bulldog tanks had all landed by 7:30 am at Blue Beach and all of the troops by 8:30 am. Neither San Román at Blue Beach nor Erneido Oliva at Red Beach could communicate as all of the radios had been soaked in the water during the landings.
At about 07:30, five C-46 and one C-54 transport aircraft dropped 177 paratroops from the parachute battalion of Brigade 2506 in an action code-named Operation Falcon. About 30 men, plus heavy equipment, were dropped south of the Central Australia sugar mill on the road to Palpite and Playa Larga, but the equipment was lost in the swamps, and the troops failed to block the road. Other troops were dropped at San Blas, at Jocuma between Covadonga and San Blas, and at Horquitas between Yaguaramas and San Blas. Those positions to block the roads were maintained for two days, reinforced by ground troops from Playa Girón and tanks. The paratroopers had landed amid a collection of militia, but their training allowed them to hold their own against the ill-trained militiamen. However, the dispersal of the paratroopers as they landed meant they were unable to take the road from the Central Australia sugar mill down to Playa Larga, which allowed the government to continue to send troops down to resist the invasion.
At about 08:30, a FAR Sea Fury piloted by Carlos Ulloa Arauz crashed in the bay, due to stalling or anti-aircraft fire, after encountering a FAL C-46 returning south after dropping paratroops. By 09:00, Cuban troops and militia from outside the area had started arriving at the Central Australia sugar mill, Covadonga and Yaguaramas. Throughout the day they were reinforced by more troops, heavy armour and T-34 tanks typically carried on flat-bed trucks. At about 09:30, FAR Sea Furies and T-33s fired rockets at Rio Escondido, which then 'blew up' and sank about 3 kilometres (1.9 mi) south of Girón. Rio Escondido was loaded with aviation fuel and as the ship started to burn, the captain gave the order to abandon ship with the ship being destroyed in three explosions shortly afterwards. Rio Escondido carried not only fuel, but also enough ammunition, food and medical supplies to last ten days and the radio that allowed the Brigade to communicate with the Liberation Air Force. The loss of the communications ship Rio Escondido meant that San Román was only able to issue orders to the forces at Blue Beach, and he had no idea of what was happening at Red Beach or with the paratroopers. A messenger from Red Beach arrived at about 10:00 am asking San Román to send tank and infantry to block the road from the Central Australia sugar mill, a request that he agreed to. It was not expected that government forces would be counter-attacking from this direction.
At about 11:00, Premier Fidel Castro issued a statement over Cuba's nationwide network saying that the invaders, members of the exiled Cuban revolutionary front, have come to destroy the revolution and take away the dignity and rights of men.
At about 11:00, a FAR T-33 attacked and shot down a FAL B-26 (serial number 935) piloted by Matias Farias, who then survived a crash landing on the Girón airfield, his navigator Eduardo González already killed by gunfire. His companion B-26 suffered damage and diverted to Grand Cayman Island; pilot Mario Zúñiga (the 'defector') and navigator Oscar Vega returned to Puerto Cabezas via CIA C-54 on 18 April. By about 11:00, the two remaining freighters Caribe and Atlántico, and the CIA LCIs and LCUs, started retreating south to international waters, but still pursued by FAR aircraft. At about noon, a FAR B-26 exploded due to heavy anti-aircraft fire from Blagar, and pilot Luis Silva Tablada (on his second sortie) and his crew of three were lost.
By noon, hundreds of Cuban militia cadets from Matanzas had secured Palpite and cautiously advanced on foot south towards Playa Larga, suffering many casualties during attacks by FAL B-26s. By dusk, other Cuban ground forces gradually advanced southward from Covadonga, southwest from Yaguaramas toward San Blas, and westward along coastal tracks from Cienfuegos towards Girón all without heavy weapons or armour. At 2:30 pm a group of militiamen from the 339th Battalion set up a position, which came under attack from the brigadista M41 Walker Bulldog tanks, who inflicted heavy losses on the defenders. This action is remembered in Cuba as the "Slaughter of the Lost Battalion" as most of the militiamen perished.
Three FAL B-26s were shot down by FAR T-33s, with the loss of pilots Raúl Vianello, José Crespo, Osvaldo Piedra and navigators Lorenzo Pérez-Lorenzo and José Fernández. Vianello's navigator Demetrio Pérez bailed out and was picked up by USS Murray. Pilot Crispín García Fernández and navigator Juan González Romero, in B-26 serial 940, diverted to Boca Chica, but late that night they attempted to fly back to Puerto Cabezas in B-26 serial 933 that Crespo had flown to Boca Chica on 15 April. In October 1961, the remains of the B-26 and its two crew were found in the dense jungle in Nicaragua. One FAL B-26 diverted to Grand Cayman with engine failure. By 16:00, Fidel Castro had arrived at the Central Australia sugar mill, joining José Ramón Fernández whom he had appointed as battlefield commander before dawn that day.
At about 21:00 on 17 April 1961, a night air strike by three FAL B-26s on San Antonio de Los Baños airfield failed, reportedly due to incompetence and bad weather. Two other B-26s had aborted the mission after take-off. Other sources allege that heavy anti-aircraft fire scared the aircrews As night fell, Atlantico and Caribe pulled away from Cuba to be followed by Blagar and Barbara J.. The ships were to return to the Bay of Pigs the following day to unload more ammunition, however the captains of the Atlantico and Caribe decided to abandon the invasion and head out to open sea fearing further air attacks by the FAR. Destroyers from the US Navy intercepted Atlantico about 110 miles south of Cuba, and persuaded the captain to return, but Caribe was not intercepted until she was 218 miles away from Cuba, and she was not to return until it was too late.
Invasion day plus one (D+1) 18 April
During the night of 17–18 April, the force at Red Beach came under repeated counter-attacks from the Cuban Army and militia. As casualties mounted and ammunition was used up, the brigadistas steadily gave way. Airdrops from four C-54s and 2 C-46s had only limited success in landing more ammunition. Both the Blagar and Barbara J returned at midnight to land more ammunition, which proved insufficient for the brigadistas. Following desperate appeals for help from Oliva, San Román ordered all of his M41 tanks' six mortars to assist in the defense. During the night fighting, a tank battle broke out when the brigadista M41 Walker Bulldog tanks clashed with the T-34 tanks of the Cuban Army. This sharp action drop back the brigadistas. At 8:00 pm, the Cuban Army opened fire with its 76.2mm and 122mm artillery guns on the brigadista forces at Playa Larga, which was followed by an attack by T-34 tanks at about midnight. The 2,000 artillery rounds fired by the Cuban Army had mostly missed the brigadista defense positions, and the T-34 tanks rode into an ambush when they came under fire from the brigadista M41 tanks and mortar fire, and a number of T-34 tanks were destroyed or knocked out. At 1:00 am, Cuban Army infantrymen and militiamen started an offensive. Despite heavy losses on the part of the Communist forces, the shortage of ammunition forced the brigadistas back and the T-34 tanks continued to force their way past the wreckage of the battlefield to press on the assault. The Communist forces numbered about 2,100 consisting of about 300 FAR soldiers, 1,600 militiamen and 200 policemen supported by 20 T-34s who were faced by 370 brigadistas. By 5:00 am, Oliva started to order his men to retreat as he had almost no ammunition or mortar rounds left. By about 10:30 am on 18 April, Cuban troops and militia, supported by the T-34 tanks and 122mm artillery, took Playa Larga after Brigade forces had fled towards Girón in the early hours. During the day, Brigade forces retreated to San Blas along the two roads from Covadonga and Yaguaramas. By then, both Fidel Castro and José Ramón Fernández had re-located to that battlefront area.
As the men from Red Beach arrived at Girón, San Román and Oliva met to discuss the situation. With ammunition running low, Oliva suggested that the Brigade 2506 retreat into the Escambray mountains to wage guerilla warfare, but San Román decided to hold the beachhead. At about 11:00 am, the Cuban government began an offensive to take San Blas. San Román ordered all of the paratroopers back in order to hold San Blas, and they halted the offensive. During the afternoon, Castro kept the brigadistas under steady air attack and artillery fire, but did not order any new major attacks.
At 14:00, President Kennedy received a telegram from Nikita Khrushchev in Moscow, stating the Russians would not allow the US to enter Cuba, and implied swift nuclear retribution to the United States heartland if their warnings were not heeded.
At about 17:00 on 18 April, FAL B-26s attacked a Cuban column of 12 private buses leading trucks carrying tanks and other armor, moving southeast between Playa Larga and Punta Perdiz. The vehicles, loaded with civilians, militia, police, and soldiers, were attacked with bombs, napalm, and rockets, suffering heavy casualties. The six B-26s were piloted by two CIA contract pilots plus four pilots and six navigators from Brigade 2506 air force. The column later re-formed and advanced to Punta Perdiz, about 11 km northwest of Girón.
Invasion day plus two (D+2) 19 April
During the night of 18 April, a FAL C-46 delivered arms and equipment to the Girón airstrip occupied by Brigade 2506 ground forces and took off before daybreak on 19 April. The C-46 also evacuated Matias Farias, the pilot of B-26 serial '935' (code-named Chico Two) that had been shot down and crash-landed at Girón on 17 April. The crews of the Barbara J and Blagar had done their best to land what ammunition they had left onto the beachhead, but without air support the captains of both ships reported that it was too dangerous to be operating off the Cuban coast by day.
The final air attack mission (code-named Mad Dog Flight) comprised five B-26s, four of which were manned by American CIA contract aircrews and volunteer pilots from the Alabama Air Guard. One FAR Sea Fury (piloted by Douglas Rudd) and two FAR T-33s (piloted by Rafael del Pino and Alvaro Prendes) shot down two of these B-26s, killing four American airmen. Combat air patrols were flown by Douglas A4D-2N Skyhawk jets of VA-34 squadron operating from USS Essex, with nationality and other markings removed. Sorties were flown to reassure Brigade soldiers and pilots, and to intimidate Cuban government forces without directly engaging in acts of war. At 10 am, a tank battle had broken out, with the brigadista holding their line until about 2:00 pm, which led Olvia to order a retreat into Girón. Following the last air attacks, San Román ordered his paratroopers and the men of the 3rd Battalion to launch a surprise attack, which was initially successful, but soon failed. With the brigadistas in disorganized retreat, the Cuban Army and militiamen started to advance rapidly, taking San Blas only to be stopped outside of Girón at about 11 am. Later that afternoon, San Román heard the rumbling of the advancing T-34s and reported that with no more mortar rounds and bazooka rounds, he could not stop the tanks and ordered his men to fall back to the beach. Oliva arrived afterward to find that the brigadistas were all heading out to the beach or retreating into the jungle or swamps. Without direct air support, and short of ammunition, Brigade 2506 ground forces retreated to the beaches in the face of a considerable onslaught from Cuban government artillery, tanks and infantry.
Late on 19 April, destroyers USS Eaton (code-named Santiago) and USS Murray (code-named Tampico) moved into Cochinos Bay to evacuate retreating Brigade soldiers from beaches, before fire from Cuban army tanks caused Commodore Crutchfield to order a withdrawal.
Invasion day plus three (D+3) 20 April
From 19 April until about 22 April, sorties were flown by A4D-2Ns to obtain visual intelligence over combat areas. Reconnaissance flights are also reported of Douglas AD-5Ws of VFP-62 and/or VAW-12 squadron from USS Essex or another carrier, such as USS Shangri-La that was part of the task force assembled off the Cayman Islands.
On 21 April, Eaton and Murray, joined on 22 April by destroyers USS Conway and USS Cony, plus submarine USS Threadfin and a CIA PBY-5A Catalina flying boat, continued to search the coastline, reefs, and islands for scattered Brigade survivors, about 24–30 being rescued.
67 Cuban exiles from Brigade 2506 were killed in action plus ten on the firing squad, ten on the boat Celia trying to escape, 9 in the sealed container on the way to Havana, four by accident, 2 in prison, 4 Americans aviators for a total of 106 casualties.[E] Aircrews killed in action totaled six from the Cuban air force, 10 Cuban exiles and 4 American airmen. Paratrooper Eugene Herman Koch was killed in action, and the American airmen shot down were Thomas W. Ray, Leo F. Baker, Riley W. Shamburger, and Wade C. Gray. In 1979, the body of Thomas 'Pete' Ray was repatriated from Cuba. In the 1990s, the CIA admitted he was linked to the agency, and awarded him the Intelligence Star.
The final toll in Cuban armed forces during the conflict was 176 killed in action.[B] This figure includes only the Cuban Army and it is estimated that about 2,000 militiamen were killed or wounded during the fighting. Other Cuban forces casualties were between 500 and 4,000 (killed, wounded or missing).[C] The airfield attacks on 15 April left 7 Cubans dead and 53 wounded.
In 2011, the National Security Archive, under the Freedom of Information Act, released over 1200 pages of documents. One detail within these documents was incidents of friendly fire. The CIA had outfitted some B-26 bombers to appear as Cuban aircraft, having ordered them to remain inland to avoid being fired upon by American-backed forces. Some of the planes, not heeding the warning, came under fire. According to CIA operative Grayston Lynch, "we couldn't tell them from the Castro planes. We ended up shooting at two or three of them. We hit some of them there because when they came at us…it was a silhouette, that was all you could see."
On 19 April 1961, at least seven Cubans plus two CIA-hired US citizens (Angus K. McNair and Howard F. Anderson) were executed in Pinar del Rio province, after a two-day trial. On 20 April, Humberto Sorí Marin was executed at Fortaleza de la Cabaña, having been arrested on 18 March following infiltration into Cuba with 14 tons of explosives. His fellow conspirators Rogelio González Corzo (alias "Francisco Gutierrez"), Rafael Diaz Hanscom, Eufemio Fernandez, Arturo Hernandez Tellaheche and Manuel Lorenzo Puig Miyar were also executed.
Between April and October 1961, hundreds of executions took place in response to the invasion. They took place at various prisons, including the Fortaleza de la Cabaña and Morro Castle. Infiltration team leaders Antonio Diaz Pou and Raimundo E. Lopez, as well as underground students Virgilio Campaneria, Alberto Tapia Ruano, and more than one hundred other insurgents were executed.
About 1,202 members of Brigade 2506 were captured, of whom nine died from asphyxiation during transfer to Havana in a closed truck. In May 1961, Fidel Castro proposed to exchange the surviving Brigade prisoners for 500 large farm tractors, valued at US$28,000,000. On 8 September 1961, 14 Brigade prisoners were convicted of torture, murder and other major crimes committed in Cuba before the invasion. Five were executed and nine others imprisoned for 30 years. Three confirmed as executed were Ramon Calvino, Emilio Soler Puig ("El Muerte") and Jorge King Yun ("El Chino"). On 29 March 1962, 1,179 men were put on trial for treason. On 7 April 1962, all were convicted and sentenced to 30 years in prison. On 14 April 1962, 60 wounded and sick prisoners were freed and transported to the US.
On 21 December 1962, Cuban Prime Minister Fidel Castro and James B. Donovan, a US lawyer aided by Milan C. Miskovsky, a CIA legal officer, signed an agreement to exchange 1,113 prisoners for US$53 million in food and medicine, sourced from private donations and from companies expecting tax concessions. On 24 December 1962, some prisoners were flown to Miami, others following on the ship African Pilot, plus about 1,000 family members also allowed to leave Cuba. On 29 December 1962, President Kennedy and his wife Jacqueline attended a "welcome back" ceremony for Brigade 2506 veterans at the Orange Bowl in Miami, Florida.
The failed invasion severely embarrassed the Kennedy administration, and made Castro wary of future US intervention in Cuba. On 21 April, in a State Department press conference, President Kennedy said: "There's an old saying that victory has a hundred fathers and defeat is an orphan... Further statements, detailed discussions, are not to conceal responsibility because I'm the responsible officer of the Government..."
The initial U.S. response concerning the first air attacks was of a dismissive quality. U.S. Ambassador Adlai Stevenson denied any involvement in the first wave of air strikes, stating before the United Nations, "These charges are totally false and I deny them categorically." Stevenson continued to promote a story of two Cuban planes that had reportedly defected to the United States, apparently unaware that they were in fact U.S. planes piloted by U.S.-backed Cuban pilots to promote a false story of defection.
In August 1961, during an economic conference of the Organization of American States in Punta del Este, Uruguay, Che Guevara sent a note to Kennedy via Richard N. Goodwin, a secretary of the White House. It read: "Thanks for Playa Girón. Before the invasion, the revolution was weak. Now it's stronger than ever".
Additionally, Guevara answered a set of questions from Leo Huberman of Monthly Review following the invasion. In one reply, Guevara was asked to explain the growing number of Cuban counter-revolutionaries and defectors from the regime, to which he replied that the repelled invasion was the climax of counter-revolution, and that afterward such actions "fell drastically to zero." Regarding the defections of some prominent figures within the Cuban government, Guevara remarked that this was because "the socialist revolution left the opportunists, the ambitious, and the fearful far behind and now advances toward a new regime free of this class of vermin."
As Allen Dulles later stated, CIA planners believed that once the troops were on the ground, Kennedy would authorize any action required to prevent failure – as Eisenhower had done in Guatemala in 1954 after that invasion looked as if it would collapse. President Kennedy was deeply depressed and angered with the failure. Several years after his death, The New York Times reported that he told an unspecified high administration official of wanting "to splinter the CIA in a thousand pieces and scatter it to the winds." However, following a "rigorous inquiry into the agency's affairs, methods, and problems... [Kennedy] did not 'splinter' it after all and did not recommend Congressional supervision." Kennedy commented to his journalist friend Ben Bradlee, "The first advice I'm going to give my successor is to watch the generals and to avoid feeling that because they were military men their opinions on military matters were worth a damn."
The aftermath of the Bay of Pigs invasion and events involving Cuba that followed caused the US to feel threatened by their neighbor. Previous to the events at Playa Girón the US government imposed embargoes that limited trade with Cuba. An article appearing in The New York Times dated 6 January 1960 called trade with Cuba "too risky." About six months later in July 1960, the US reduced the import quota of Cuban sugar, leaving the US to increase its sugar supply using other sources. Immediately following the Bay of Pigs invasion, the Kennedy Administration considered complete trade restrictions with Cuba. Five months later the president was authorized to do so. After Cuba's declaration of Marxism, the Kennedy administration imposed a complete trade embargo against Cuba. After the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 the Kennedy Administration imposed strict travel restrictions for U.S. citizens.
According to author Jim Rasenberger, the Kennedy administration became very aggressive in regards to overthrowing Fidel Castro following the failure of the Bay of Pigs Invasion, reportedly doubling its efforts against Castro. Rasenberger elaborated on the fact that almost every decision that was made by Kennedy following the Bay of Pigs had some correlation with the destruction of the Castro administration. Shortly after the invasion ended, Kennedy ordered the Pentagon to design secret operations to overthrow the Castro regime. Also, President Kennedy persuaded his brother Robert to set up a covert action against Castro which was known as "Operation Mongoose." This clandestine operation included sabotage and assassination plots.
Maxwell Taylor survey
On 22 April 1961, President Kennedy asked General Maxwell D. Taylor, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, Admiral Arleigh Burke and CIA Director Allen Dulles to form the Cuba Study Group, to report on lessons to learn from the failed operation. General Taylor submitted the Board of Inquiry's report to President Kennedy on 13 June. It attributed the defeat to lack of early realization of the impossibility of success by covert means, to inadequate aircraft, to limitations on armaments, pilots, and air attacks set to attempt plausible deniability – and, ultimately, to loss of important ships and lack of ammunition.
The Taylor Commission was criticized, and bias implied. Attorney General Robert Kennedy was included in the group, and the commission collectively was seen to be more preoccupied with deflecting blame from the White House than concerned with realizing the real depth of mistakes that promoted the failure in Cuba.
Jack Pfeiffer, who worked as a historian for the CIA until the mid-1980s, simplified his own view of the failed Bay of Pigs effort by quoting a statement which Raúl Castro, Fidel's brother, had made to a Mexican journalist in 1975: "Kennedy vacillated," Raúl Castro said. "If at that moment he had decided to invade us, he could have suffocated the island in a sea of blood, but he could have destroyed the revolution. Lucky for us, he vacillated."
- The C.I.A. exceeded its capabilities in developing the project from guerrilla support to overt armed action without any plausible deniability.
- Failure to realistically assess risks and to adequately communicate information and decisions internally and with other government principals.
- Insufficient involvement of leaders of the exiles.
- Failure to sufficiently organize internal resistance in Cuba.
- Failure to competently collect and analyze intelligence about Cuban forces.
- Poor internal management of communications and staff.
- Insufficient employment of high-quality staff.
- Insufficient Spanish-speakers, training facilities, and material resources.
- Lack of stable policies and/or contingency plans.
In spite of vigorous rebuttals by CIA management of the findings, CIA Director Allen Dulles, CIA Deputy Director Charles Cabell, and Deputy Director for Plans Richard Bissell were all forced to resign by early 1962.
Further study shows that among various components of groupthink analyzed by Irving Janis, The Bay of Pigs Invasion followed the structural characteristics that led to an irrational decision making in foreign policy pushed by deficiency in impartial leadership. An account on the process of invasion decision reads,
At each meeting, instead of opening up the agenda to permit a full airing of the opposing considerations, [President Kennedy] allowed the CIA representatives to dominate the entire discussion. The president permitted them to refute each tentative doubt immediately that one of the others might express, instead of asking whether anyone else had the same doubt or wanted to pursue the implications of the new worrisome issue that had been raised.
Looking at both the Survey of the Cuban Operation and Groupthink: Psychological Studies of Policy Decisions and Fiascoes by Irving Janis, it identifies the lack of communication and the mere assumption of concurrence to be the main causes behind the C.I.A and the president's collective failure to efficiently evaluate the facts before them. A considerable amount of information presented before President Kennedy proved to be false in reality, such as the support of the Cuban people for Fidel Castro, making it difficult to assess the actual situation and the future of the operation. The absence of the initiative to explore other options of the debate led the participants to remain optimistic and rigid in their belief that the mission would succeed, being unknowingly biased in the group psychology of wishful thinking as well.
Invasion legacy in Cuba
For many Latin Americans, the Bay of Pigs Invasion served to reinforce the already widely held belief that the US could not be trusted. The invasion also illustrated that the US could be defeated, and thus, the failed invasion encouraged political groups across the Latin American region to find ways to undermine US influence.
Historians often attest the Bay of Pigs fiasco made Castro even more popular, adding nationalistic sentiments in support of his economic policies. Following the air attacks on Cuban airfields on 15 April, he declared the revolution "Marxist-Leninist". After the invasion, he pursued closer relations with the Soviet Union, partly for protection, that helped pave the way for the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. Castro was then increasingly wary of further US intervention, and more open to Soviet suggestions of placing nuclear weapons on Cuba to ensure its security.
In March 2001, shortly before the 40th anniversary of the invasion, a conference took place in Havana, attended by about 60 American delegates. The conference was titled Bay of Pigs: 40 Years After, co-sponsored by the University of Havana and the US-based National Security Archive. The conference was co-sponsored by Universidad de La Habana (University of Havana), Centro de Estudios Sobre Estados Unidos, Instituto de Historia de Cuba, Centro de Investigaciones Históricas de la Seguridad del Estado; Centro de Estudios Sobre America, and the US-based National Security Archive. It commenced on Thursday 22 March 2001 at the Hotel Palco, Palacio de las Convenciones, La Habana. On 24 March, following the formal conference, many of the delegates and observers travelled by road to Australia sugar mill, Playa Larga, and Playa Girón, the site of the initial landing in the invasion. A documentary film was made of that trip, titled Cuba: The 40 Years War, released on DVD in 2002. A Cuban FAR combatant at the Bay of Pigs, José Ramón Fernández, attended the conference, as did four members of Brigade 2506, Roberto Carballo, Mario Cabello, Alfredo Duran, and Luis Tornes.
There are still yearly nationwide drills in Cuba during the 'Dia de la Defensa' (Defense Day), to prepare the population for an invasion.
Invasion legacy for Cuban exiles
Many who fought for the CIA in the conflict remained loyal after the event; some Bay of Pigs veterans became officers in the US Army in the Vietnam War, including 6 colonels, 19 lieutenant colonels, 9 majors, and 29 captains. By March 2007, about half of the Brigade had died.
In April 2010, the Cuban Pilot's Association unveiled a monument at the Kendall-Tamiami Executive Airport in memory of the 16 aviators for the exile side killed during the battle. The memorial consists of an obelisk and a restored B-26 replica aircraft atop a large Cuban flag.
Spanish term for the event
The name for the invasion in Spanish faces political contestations. The Cuban government generally calls it "Playa Girón," while Cuban Americans and ordinary Hispanic Americans generally call it "Bahía de Cochinos".
American public reaction
Only 3 percent of Americans supported military action in 1960. According to Gallup, 72% of people had a negative view of Fidel Castro in 1960. After the conflict, 61% of Americans approved of the action, while 15% disapproved and 24% were unsure. This poll was taken by Gallup in late April 1966. A week after the invasion of Cuba, Gallup took another series of polls to sample three possible ways of opposing Castro. The policy that most resembled the Bay of Pigs (if the US "should aid the anti-Castro forces with money and war materials") was still favored by a narrow margin, 44% approval to 41% rejecting this policy.
Kennedy's general approval rating actually increased in the first survey after the invasion, rising from 78 percent in mid-April to 83 percent in late April and early May. Dr. Gallup's headline for this poll read, "Public Rallies Behind Kennedy in Aftermath of Cuban Crisis." In 1963 a public opinion poll showed 60 percent of Americans believed that Cuba is "a serious threat to world peace," yet, 63 percent of Americans did not want the US to remove Castro.
Notable surviving veterans of the Bay of Pigs Invasion
- José Basulto (b. 1940)
- Ricardo Montero Duque (b. 1925)
- Alfredo Duran (b. 1936)
- Francisco Jose Hernandez (b. 1936)
- Jose Antonio Llama (b. 1941)
- Erneido Oliva (b. 1932)
- Félix Rodríguez (b. 1941)
- Cuban Missile Crisis (1962)
- Cuba–United States relations
- Cuban Project (Operation Mongoose, 1961–1965)
- Cuban Revolution (1959)
- Guantánamo Bay
- Operation Northwoods (1962)
- Operation Ortsac (1962)
- Special Activities Division
- Swan Islands
- United States embargo against Cuba
- Escambray Rebellion (1959–1965)
- Félix Rodríguez CIA Paramilitary Officer
- José Miguel Battle
- Latin America–United States relations
- United States involvement in regime change
- Foreign interventions by the United States
- Across the country
- 1,500 ground forces (including 177 paratroops) – c. 1,300 landed. Also Cuban exile aircrews, American aircrews, CIA operatives
- 176 Cuban government forces killed
- 500 Cuban forces wounded, or 4,000 killed, missing or wounded (includes militias and armed civilians)
- 118 invaders killed (114 Cuban exiles plus 4 American aircrew)
- 1,202 Brigade members captured (1,179 tried; 14 tried previously for pre-invasion crimes; 9 died in transit)
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- Somoza Debayle, Anastasio and Jack Cox. 1980. Nicaragua Betrayed. Western Islands Publishers, pp. 169–80 ISBN 0-88279-235-0, 978-0-88279-235-4
- Szulc, Tad, and Karl E. Meyer. 1962. The Cuban Invasion. The chronicle of a disaster. Praegar ASIN B0018DMAV0
- Szulc, Tad. 1986. Fidel – A Critical Portrait. Hutchinson ISBN 0-09-172602-6
- Thomas, Hugh. 1971, 1986. The Cuban Revolution. Weidenfeld and Nicolson (Shortened version of Cuba: The Pursuit of Freedom, includes all history 1952–1970) ISBN 0-297-78954-6
- Thomas, Hugh. 1998. Cuba: The Pursuit of Freedom. Da Capo Press ISBN 0-306-80827-7
- Thompson, Scott. 2002. Douglas A-26 and B-26 Invader. Crowood Press ISBN 1-86126-503-4
- Trest, Warren A. and Dodd, Donald B. 2001. Wings of Denial: The Alabama Air National Guard's Covert Role at the Bay of Pigs. NewSouth Books ISBN 1-58838-021-1, 978-1-58838-021-0
- Triay, Victor Andres. 2001. Bay of Pigs: An Oral History of Brigade 2506. University Press of Florida ISBN 0-8130-2090-5, 978-0-8130-2090-7
- Vivés, Juan (Pseudonym, of a former veteran and Castro Intelligence Official; Translated to Spanish from 1981 Les Maîtres de Cuba. Opera Mundi, Paris by Zoraida Valcarcel) 1982 Los Amos de Cuba. EMCÉ Editores, Buenos Aires. ISBN 950-04-0075-8
- Von Tunzelmann, Alex (2011). Red Heat: Conspiracy, Murder, and the Cold War in the Caribbean. New York City: Henry Holt and Company. ISBN 978-0-8050-9067-3.
- Wyden, Peter. 1979. Bay of Pigs – The Untold Story. Simon and Schuster ISBN 0-671-24006-4, 0-224-01754-3, 978-0-671-24006-6
- Bay of Pigs: Invasion and Aftermath – slideshow by Life magazine
- A film clip "Cuba Invaded. Foes of Castro Open Offensive, 1961/04/19 (1961)" is available at the Internet Archive