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BAy of Pigs
Meeting Eisenhower during the crisis
The US - supported invasion of Cuba was a total failure. The invasion, which began on April 17th, was supported by the C.I.A., but rebels were wiped out almost immediately by Fidel Castro's troops. President Kennedy took full responsibility for the debacle, even though the plans had been put in place during the Eisenhower administration.
On January 1st, 1959, Fidel Castro successfully overthrew the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista. The United States initially recognized the new government, but quickly became concerned that it was becoming a Soviet satellite. In March 1960, President Eisenhower ordered the C.I.A. to begin to equip Cuban exiles to return and overthrow Castro. Upon assuming office, Kennedy continued to support the plan for overthrowing Castro. He limited its scope, however, severely minimizing the amount of air-support that the rebels were to receive.
On April 17th, 1961, 1400 anti-Castro Cubans landed at the Bay of Pigs. Contrary to their expectations, no uprising against Castro developed and, within 72 hours the invading force was wiped out. President Kennedy took responsibility for the failed attempt.
JFK Speaking about the invasion
Bay Of Pigs Invasion History
The Bay of Pigs invasion was initially planned with the idea of provoking popularity for a revolt against Fidel Castro who overthrew Fulgencio Batista, an American-backed dictator. It was a very tricky situation as the plan was to overthrow the Cuban government with whom the US was not at war then.
Castro promoted communist governance during his regime and the urge to topple his leadership grew at this time. Ultimately, Castro enjoyed a military victory and the invasion created a permanent mark in the history and symbolized the resistance of Cubans against American aggression.
The planning for the Bay Of Pigs Invasion commenced during the year 1960 before the diplomatic alliance with Cuba was broken. Military strategies and propaganda were also detailed in the plan. However, in spite of the efforts taken by the US to &lsquoappear&rsquo not being involved in this strategy, the Cubans already informed the UN about the role played by the US in hiring and training mercenaries.
Though the planning was done during the administration of Dwight D. Eisenhower, the actual invasion was carried out during John F. Kennedy's tenure. Kennedy, during his campaign for Presidential elections, accused Eisenhower about not taking enough efforts in this matter and was strongly inclined to execute the invasion as planned.
Though Richard Nixon, the former Vice President, Robert F. Kennedy, John F. Kennedy&rsquos brother, and Robert S. McNamara, the Secretary of Defense, were in favor of the plan, J. William Fulbright, the senator, and also Chester Bowles, Under Secretary of State, were not in agreement.
The invasion finally took place five days after Kennedy declared at a press conference that the US does not have any intention of intervening in the affairs of Cuba.
The Bay Of Pigs invasion refers to the CIA sponsored American attack of the Cuban government in order to overthrow Fidel Castro, the then Prime Minister of Cuba. It was a tricky plan to execute as US was not in war with Cuba then. Though the US planned to appear &ldquonot being involved&rdquo in this attack and declared about their non-intention to intervene in Cuban affairs, Cuba had already approached the UN with the facts about the US training mercenaries for this planned invasion. More..
The Troops – The 2506 Brigade
Initially, the CIA began to transfer university students and young officers of the Cuban Army to the United States. These groups were made up of people who had been opposed to the Batista dictatorship but did not agree with the communist course that the Cuban revolution was taking.
When the group of fighters was completed in the middle of 1960, the 2506 Brigade was created.
The group was divided into two, one group would receive training as radio operators (the university students) and the other group would work as military instructors for the future fighters.
The original plan consisted of guerrilla warfare, but later a political decision transformed it into a combat brigade.
On July 4, 1960, the group of radio operators was transported to Guatemala, specifically to the Helvetia farm, owned by Roberto Alejo, brother of the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Guatemala, under the Government of President Miguel Ydígoras Fuentes.
The members of the radio operator group were accompanied by Colonel Napoleón Valeriano, who had great experience in the guerrilla struggle in his homeland, the Philippines, defeating the communist guerrilla group, Hukbalahap.
The Brigade counted on support of the elite soldiers of the air forces of Cuba, composed for former pilots of the Navy, Air Force and Army.
Douglas A-4 Skyhawks from the USS Essex flying sorties over combat areas during the invasion.
In the civil part of the Fuerza Aérea de Liberación FAL (Air Force of Liberation), the pilots of the transport planes came from Cuban commercial airlines, each pilot had an average of 20,000 flight hours. They would fly obsolete twin-engine C-46 and four-engine C-54 aircraft from after the Second World War.
The military equipment that the US government supplied to the Brigade was composed of a variety of weapons including Colt M1911A1 pistols, Garand rifles, M1 and M2 carbines, Thompson submachine guns, Browning automatic rifles, and Mk 2 grenades.
Additionally, heavy weapons such as 60 mm, 81 mm and 4.2″ mortars, as well as 57 mm and 75 mm recoilless rifles were supplied.
They were also equipped with C-3 and C-4 for demolitions. Their radio equipment was the PR-6 and PR-10.
To handle the logistics of the operation and support, the force was allocated:
- 8 C-46 Transport Aircraft.
- 6 C-54 Transport Aircraft.
- 16 Bombers B-26.
- 5 Tanks M41.
- 8 Ships and 7 boats for the landings.
New President Enters the ScenarioOutgoing President Dwight D. Eisenhower meets with President-elect John F. Kennedy
With the end of eight years of government under the Republican Party, the new administration of Democratic President John Kennedy would not continue the same level of support for the operation against Cuba that the Trinidad Plan needed.
Kennedy was informed about the final version of the Trinidad Plan on Saturday, January 28, 1961. The Plan needed to be activated by March, no later than April, due to the arrival of Cuban pilots trained in Czechoslovakia and flying MiGs. Additionally, the rainy weather in April, which would hinder military activities not only in Cuba, but in Guatemala and Nicaragua as well, where the Brigade and its air support would depart.
A beachhead, established on Cuban soil and maintained for two weeks to a month, was needed.
The final meeting to decide on how to proceed with the operation was held on March 15, 1961 at the White House. Kennedy decided not to approve the Trinidad Plan and ordered the creation of an alternative, one that was not so “spectacular” as Trinidad. In a few words, a much more discreet plan.
New Plan – Zapata
In just three days, the CIA produced the new plan, named Zapata. The landing site was changed to Bahía de Cochinos, 90 miles west of Trinidad. According to the CIA, this was the only other possible place on the south coast of Cuba for the assault. Sierra Maestra was excluded because it was very far from the Central American camps from where the 2506 Brigade would depart.
Bahia de Cochinos 1961. By PeterWD / CC BY-SA 3.0
The Zapata Plan had a series of crucial differences with respect to the Trinidad Plan:
- First, the geography. La Ciénaga de Zapata and its swamps made it easier to keep the beach head. Additionally, in the area there was an aviation track ready to be used.
- On Kennedy’s orders, the landing would take place at night.
- In the new plan, the Escambray Mountains were far away, thus, in case of a failure, the Brigade could not reach to the mountains. This was something that always distinguished the Trinidad Plan because it provided an escape valve in case of a failure. In the Bay of Pigs, there was no escape. The 2506 Brigade wins or dies in the attempt.
- An internal insurrection to accompany the invasion was no longer contemplated. The CIA decided not inform to clandestine organizations against Castro about when the operation would take place in order to avoid revealing any operation details.
The Zapata Plan is Approved
On April 17, 1961 when the 2506 Brigade disembarked at Playa Girón, Kennedy, mainly motivated by his advisers in the State Department, ordered a series of additional changes in the plan that all but guaranteed the invasion’s failure before it began.
An Overview of the Bay of Pigs and its Relevance for Today
Once again we find ourselves in a situation of crisis, where the entire world holds its breath all at once and can only wait to see whether this volatile black cloud floating amongst us will breakout into a thunderstorm of nuclear war or harmlessly pass us by. The majority in the world seem to have the impression that this destructive fate totters back and forth at the whim of one man. It is only normal then, that during such times of crisis, we find ourselves trying to analyze and predict the thoughts and motives of just this one person.
However, in order to assess such situations, we cannot lose sight of the whole picture, and righteous indignation unfortunately causes the opposite to occur. Our focus becomes narrower and narrower to the point where we can only see or react moment to moment with what is right in front of our face. We are reduced to an obsession of twitter feeds, news blips and the doublespeak of ‘official government statements’.
Thus, before we may find firm ground to stand on regarding the situation of today, we must first have an understanding as to what caused the United States to enter into an endless campaign of regime-change warfare after WWII, or as former Chief of Special Operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff Col. Prouty stated, three decades of the Indochina war.
An Internal Shifting of Chess Pieces in the Shadows
It is interesting timing that on Sept 2, 1945, the very day that WWII ended, Ho Chi Minh would announce the independence of Indochina. That on the very day that one of the most destructive wars to ever occur in history ended, another long war was declared at its doorstep. Churchill would announce his “Iron Curtain” against communism on March 5 th , 1946, and there was no turning back at that point. The world had a mere 6 months to recover before it would be embroiled in another terrible war, except for the French, who would go to war against the Viet Minh opponents in French Indochina only days after WWII was over.
In a previous paper I wrote titled “On Churchill’s Sinews of Peace”, I went over a major re-organisation of the American government and its foreign intelligence bureau on the onset of Truman’s de facto presidency. Recall that there was an attempted military coup d’état, which was exposed by General Butler in a public address in 1933, against the Presidency of FDR who was only inaugurated that year. One could say that there was a very marked disapproval from shadowy corners for how Roosevelt would organise the government.
One key element to this reorganisation under Truman was the dismantling of the previously existing foreign intelligence bureau that was formed by FDR, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) on Sept 20, 1945 only two weeks after WWII was officially declared over. The OSS would be replaced by the CIA officially on Sept 18, 1947, with two years of an American intelligence purge and the internal shifting of chess pieces in the shadows. In addition, de-facto President Truman would also found the United States National Security Council on Sept 18, 1947, the same day he founded the CIA. The NSC was a council whose intended function was to serve as the President’s principal arm for coordinating national security, foreign policies and policies among various government agencies.
In Col. Prouty’s book he states,
“In 1955, I was designated to establish an office of special operations in compliance with National Security Council (NSC) Directive #5412 of March 15, 1954. This NSC Directive for the first time in the history of the United States defined covert operations and assigned that role to the Central Intelligence Agency to perform such missions, provided they had been directed to do so by the NSC, and further ordered active-duty Armed Forces personnel to avoid such operations. At the same time, the Armed Forces were directed to “provide the military support of the clandestine operations of the CIA” as an official function.”
What this meant, was that there was to be an intermarriage of the foreign intelligence bureau with the military, and that the foreign intelligence bureau would act as top dog in the relationship, only taking orders from the NSC. Though the NSC includes the President, as we will see, the President is very far from being in the position of determining the NSC’s policies.
An Inheritance of Secret Wars
“There is no instance of a nation benefitting from prolonged warfare.” – Sun Tzu
On January 20 th , 1961, John F. Kennedy was inaugurated as President of the United States. Along with inheriting the responsibility of the welfare of the country and its people, he was to also inherit a secret war with communist Cuba run by the CIA.
JFK was disliked from the onset by the CIA and certain corridors of the Pentagon as they knew where he stood on foreign matters and that it would be in direct conflict for what they had been working towards for nearly 15 years. Kennedy would inherit the CIA secret operation against Cuba, which Prouty confirms in his book, was quietly upgraded by the CIA from the Eisenhower administration’s March 1960 approval of a modest Cuban-exile support program (which included small air drop and over-the-beach operations) to a 3,000 man invasion brigade just before Kennedy entered office.
This was a massive change in plans that was determined by neither President Eisenhower, who warned at the end of his term of the military industrial complex as a loose cannon, nor President Kennedy, but rather the foreign intelligence bureau who has never been subject to election or judgement by the people. It shows the level of hostility that Kennedy encountered as soon as he entered office, and the limitations of a President’s power when he does not hold support from these intelligence and military quarters.
Within three months into JFK’s term, Operation Bay of Pigs (April 17 th to 20 th 1961) was scheduled. As the popular revisionist history goes JFK refused to provide air cover for the exiled Cuban brigade and the land invasion was a calamitous failure and a decisive victory for Castro’s Cuba. It was indeed an embarrassment for President Kennedy who had to take public responsibility for the failure, however, it was not an embarrassment because of his questionable competence as a leader. It was an embarrassment because, had he not taken public responsibility, he would have had to explain the real reason why it failed. That the CIA and military were against him and that he did not have control over them. If Kennedy were to admit such a thing, he would have lost all credibility as a President in his own country and internationally, and would have put the people of the United States in immediate danger amidst a Cold War.
What really occurred was that there was a cancellation of the essential pre-dawn airstrike, by the Cuban Exile Brigade bombers from Nicaragua, to destroy Castro’s last three combat jets. This airstrike was ordered by Kennedy himself. Kennedy was always against an American invasion of Cuba, and striking Castro’s last jets by the Cuban Exile Brigade would have limited Castro’s threat, without the U.S. directly supporting a regime change operation within Cuba. This went fully against the CIA’s plan for Cuba.
Kennedy’s order for the airstrike on Castro’s jets would be cancelled by Special Assistant for National Security Affairs McGeorge Bundy, four hours before the Exile Brigade’s B-26s were to take off from Nicaragua, Kennedy was not brought into this decision. In addition, the Director of Central Intelligence Allen Dulles, the man in charge of the Bay of Pigs operation was unbelievably out of the country on the day of the landings.
Col. Prouty, who was Chief of Special Operations during this time, elaborates on this situation:
“Everyone connected with the planning of the Bay of Pigs invasion knew that the policy dictated by NSC 5412, positively prohibited the utilization of active-duty military personnel in covert operations. At no time was an “air cover” position written into the official invasion plan…The “air cover” story that has been created is incorrect.”
As a result, JFK who well understood the source of this fiasco, set up a Cuban Study Group the day after and charged it with the responsibility of determining the cause for the failure of the operation. The study group, consisting of Allen Dulles, Gen. Maxwell Taylor, Adm. Arleigh Burke and Attorney General Robert Kennedy (the only member JFK could trust), concluded that the failure was due to Bundy’s telephone call to General Cabell (who was also CIA Deputy Director) that cancelled the President’s air strike order.
Humiliatingly, CIA Director Allen Dulles was part of formulating the conclusion that the Bay of Pigs op was a failure because of the CIA’s intervention into the President’s orders. This allowed for Kennedy to issue the National Security Action Memorandum #55 on June 28 th , 1961, which began the process of changing the responsibility from the CIA to the Joint Chiefs of Staff. As Prouty states, “When fully implemented, as Kennedy had planned, after his reelection in 1964, it would have taken the CIA out of the covert operation business. This proved to be one of the first nails in John F. Kennedy’s coffin.”
If this was not enough of a slap in the face to the CIA, Kennedy forced the resignation of CIA Director Allen Dulles, CIA Deputy Director for Plans Richard M. Bissell Jr. and CIA Deputy Director Charles Cabell.
In Oct 1962, Kennedy was informed that Cuba had offensive Soviet missiles 90 miles from American shores. Soviet ships with more missiles were on their way towards Cuba but ended up turning around last minute. Rumours started to abound that JFK had cut a secret deal with Russian Premier Khrushchev, which was that the U.S. would not invade Cuba if the Soviets withdrew their missiles. Criticisms of JFK being soft on communism began to stir.
NSAM #263, closely overseen by Kennedy, was released on Oct 11 th , 1963, and outlined a policy decision “to withdraw 1,000 military personnel [from Vietnam] by the end of 1963” and further stated that “It should be possible to withdraw the bulk of U.S. personnel [including the CIA and military] by 1965.” The Armed Forces newspaper Stars and Stripes had the headline U.S. TROOPS SEEN OUT OF VIET BY ’65. Kennedy was winning the game and the American people.
This was to be the final nail in Kennedy’s coffin.
Kennedy was brutally shot down only one month later, on Nov, 22 nd 1963. His death should not just be seen as a tragic loss but, more importantly, it should be recognised for the successful military coup d’état that it was and is. The CIA showed what lengths it was ready to go to if a President stood in its way. (For more information on this coup refer to District Attorney of New Orleans at the time, Jim Garrison’s book. And the excellently researched Oliver Stone movie “JFK”)
Through the Looking Glass
On Nov. 26 th 1963, a full four days after Kennedy’s murder, de facto President Johnson signed NSAM #273 to begin the change of Kennedy’s policy under #263. And on March 4 th , 1964, Johnson signed NSAM #288 that marked the full escalation of the Vietnam War and involved 2,709,918 Americans directly serving in Vietnam, with 9,087,000 serving with the U.S. Armed Forces during this period.
The Vietnam War, or more accurately the Indochina War, would continue for another 12 years after Kennedy’s death, lasting a total of 20 years for Americans.
Scattered black ops wars continued, but the next large scale-never ending war that would involve the world would begin full force on Sept 11, 2001 under the laughable title War on Terror, which is basically another Iron Curtain, a continuation of a 74 year Cold War. A war that is not meant to end until the ultimate regime changes are accomplished and the world sees the toppling of Russia and China. Iraq was destined for invasion long before the vague Gulf War of 1990 and even before Saddam Hussein was being backed by the Americans in the Iraq-Iran war in the 1980s. Iran already suffered a CIA backed regime change in 1953 and 1979.
It had been understood far in advance by the CIA and US military that the toppling of sovereignty in Iraq, Libya, Syria and Iran needed to occur before Russia and China could be taken over. Such war tactics were formulaic after 3 decades of counterinsurgency against the CIA fueled “communist-insurgency” of Indochina. This is how today’s terrorist-inspired insurgency functions, as a perfect CIA formula for an endless bloodbath.
What is the relevance for today? That nothing has changed.
Former CIA Director (2017-2018) Mike Pompeo recently participated in a discussion at the Texas A&M University, on April 15, 2019, where he voluntarily offered the admission that though West Points’ cadet motto is “You will not lie, cheat, or steal, or tolerate those who do.”, his training under the CIA was the very opposite, stating
“I was the CIA Director. We lied, we cheated, we stole. It was like we had entire training courses. (long pause) It reminds you of the glory of the American experiment”.
Thus, it should be no surprise to anyone in the world at this point in history, that the CIA holds no allegiance to any country. And it can be hardly expected that a President, within such a set-up, is in a position to hold the CIA accountable for its past and future crimes.
This is article is a redacted form of the original that was published by Strategic Culture Foundation.
Summary of the Bay of Pigs Invasion
Cuba had been US-aligned under the reign of Fulgencio Batista. But after Batista was overthrown in the Cuban Revolution in 1959, Fidel Castro-led Cuba became increasingly socialistic. This soured relations between the USA and Cuba, and the US started funding various Cuban guerrilla forces fighting Castro’s regime.
The first major spark in the US-Cuba conflict came when Castro ordered US-based oil companies to process Russian petroleum in their Cuban oil refineries. The US government prohibited the companies from going ahead with that, to which Castro retorted by nationalizing Cuba’s oil refineries. The US then imposed an embargo on Cuba, banning the export of all but essential commodities, and stopped import of Cuban sugar. The sugar industry as well as other important industries such as mining, had been brought under US control under Fulgencio Batista’s reign. Castro nationalized most American companies in Cuba, including giants such as Coca-Cola, and started selling the sugar, Cuba’s prime source of revenue, to the USSR.
The tensions between the two countries had now reached irreparable levels. At a 1960 meeting of the Organization of American States, an organization of the countries in North and South America, the US representative accused Castro of promoting communism and committing human rights violations. Castro responded by pointing out the racial segregation in the US.
The purpose of the Bay of Pigs invasion was to accomplish a coup d’etat and overthrow the Castro government without revealing US involvement in it. The plan was first formulated in the Eisenhower era, who supplied USD 13 million to the CIA to recruit and train the Cuban guerrilla squad, Brigade 2506. The recruitment was carried on by two CIA officers, E. Howard Hunt and Gerry Droller.
After Kennedy was sworn in, in 1961, he was informed of the CIA plan. He was determined to make an example out of Cuba in his efforts to prevent the spread of communism and consequent Soviet influence. The most important aspect was to mask US involvement, because if the US had gone to war openly, the USSR would have retaliated. Kennedy supported the plan, as long as it could succeed in showing that the invasion was purely an internal matter of Cuba, and was not linked to the US.
The CIA initially intended to launch the invasion at the Cuban town of Trinidad, southeast of the Bay of Pigs. This plan was rejected by the US State Dept., because it was too close to civilian population, even though it offered an easy escape route in the form of the Escambray Mountains.
The invasion was to be preceded by an air attack on Cuba’s meager air force, limiting Castro’s ability to defend against the terrestrial invasion with planes. The attack was carried out on April 15 by American B-26 bombers, colored to look like stolen Cuban planes. However, the Cubans had already received information of the impending attack, and had moved their air force to safety. The B-26 bombers only succeeded in destroying about 10 military aircraft, but destroyed numerous civilian ones. Having been foiled in the preliminary stage of the plan, and at risk of being exposed as the orchestrator, the US were now left in too deep, and proceeded with the invasion as planned.
The air attack incited strong reactions from Cuba, who openly accused the US of carrying out the attacks. The US representative to the UN, having been kept in the dark about the plan, submitted an honest denial. His denial was backed by President Kennedy, who claimed that although the US were fervently opposed to Castro’s rule, they would never involve their own army. Cuba, meanwhile, prepared up to 20 military aircraft in the immediate aftermath of the air attacks, and were now ready to repel any future incursions.
On April 16, President Kennedy discovered that the B-26 pilots involved in the previous day’s attack had grossly overestimated the amount of damage they had caused. They had in fact missed many of their targets. The US had planned another aerial attack on April 17, but this realization forced President Kennedy to cancel that planned attack.
On April 16, the naval fleet gathered at the planned rendezvous point, 40 miles south of Cuba.
A mock landing was staged off the northern coast of Cuba on the night of April 16. This diverted Castro’s attention, but wasn’t entirely successful.
On April 17, Brigade 2506 landed in Playa Girón and Playa Larga, in the Bay of Pigs. The landing was fraught with unforeseen complications some ships were damaged by coral reefs, and some suffered from engine issues. Furthermore, far from their initial aim of sneaking into Cuba under the radar, the Brigade’s arrival immediately became national knowledge after local militia spread the news as fast as they could. At 11 am, Fidel Castro announced via a nationwide radio announcement that Cuba was being attacked by their exiles.
On the morning of the 18th, Cuban forces took Playa Larga. The following night, Brigade 2506 forces in Playa Girón were supplied with more ammo by a C-46 plane.
The Brigade had planned an air mission with five B-26 planes, four of them to be piloted by Americans. But this plan was nipped in the bud, when the Cubans destroyed two of the five planes. Later on the 19th, two US ships moved into the Bay of Pigs, but were forced to retreat due to heavy fire from the Cuban army. The remaining Brigade infantry was captured by Cuba.
The US failed spectacularly in both its immediate and long-term goal in funding the Cuban counter-revolution. Not only was the offensive effectively swatted away by Cuba, but it also gave rise to a belief in Latin America that the US was not invincible. It raised Fidel Castro’s popularity by a great degree, and, as Che Guevara conveyed to President Kennedy in a 1961 conference, only served to further strengthen the Castro-Guevara administration in Cuba.
The invasion further worsened the rocky relations between the US and Cuba, and made Castro wary and suspicious about the US. This convinced him to allow the USSR to carry their nuclear missiles to Cuba, giving rise to the Cuban Missile Crisis.
"Nobody was fooled"
Brigade 2506 Veterans Association president Johnny Lopez, a paratrooper, is showing me around the Bay of Pigs museum and library in Miami’s Little Havana. We stop before an exhibit honoring the battle’s pilots.
“Originally, we had 17 B-26s, but they had other plans for one of them,” he says.
On April 15, two days before the invasion, 16 of the exiles’ planes roared over Cuba, bombing Castro’s air fields. But the 17th plane peeled off to fly directly to Miami International Airport. “The pilot climbed out,” says Lopez, “and announced he was a defecting Cuban Air Force pilot who was part of a rebellion to overthrow Castro.”
The CIA thought the ruse would convince everyone that the bombings and coming invasion were, indeed, completely from within Cuba. But while Castro did have a small force of B-26s, his were of a strikingly different design. “It was not a good fake,” says Lopez with a chuckle that is at once amused and sad. “Nobody was fooled.”
Quite the opposite: Castro now knew something big was coming. And the threat wasn’t from his own men.
On the morning of April 17, things went sideways from the start. Upon entering the bay, a troop ship ran aground on a sand bar after taking fire from quick-responding Cuban troops. An entire battalion swam for their lives, abandoning their heavy guns and ammunition. An unexpected coral reef—misidentified from aerial photos as seaweed—slowed troop landing to a crawl.
But the battalion didn’t know of the greatest peril of all. At the last minute, bowing to political pressure, Kennedy had cancelled the second and third air strikes meant to wipe out Castro’s air force. That decision doomed the entire operation.
Eduardo Zayas-Bazan was a frogman who’d come ashore ahead of the invasion. As the brigade’s troops lurched onto the sand, he recalls, a B-26 flew overhead.
“We assumed it was one of ours," he says. "It even dipped its wing. But then it opened fire on us.” And then came another B-26. And then a T-33 jet, and a Sea Fury—all of them Castro’s planes. “We couldn’t believe it. We’d been told Castro’s air force had been destroyed.”
In moments, an explosion erupted at sea. The planes were destroying the Rio Escondido, a merchant ship carrying fuel and supplies. Desperate to avoid a similar fate, the remaining supply ships headed out to sea.
Now the invasion force, including five light tanks, had only the ammo they could carry. For two days, their resources dwindling, the vastly outnumbered brigade heroically held off Castro’s soldiers, artillery, and tanks—always with one eye toward the sea, desperately hoping to glimpse American ships on the horizon.
Former frogman Zayas-Bazan sighs as he sits in the sunlit office of his Miami home, where today he authors collegiate Spanish text books.
“I’ll tell you the moment I knew we’d lost,” he says softly. “It was the second night. I was sitting on the beach with another frogman. He turned to me and he said, ‘Eddie, the Americans have abandoned us. We’re going to die here.’”
The Bay of Pigs invasion ended not with a bang but with a flurry of final shots as the exiles ran out of ammunition. The brigade lost 118 men. They had killed more than 2,000 of Castro’s defenders, their countrymen.
Demoralized and defeated, brigade survivors were rounded up and trucked to two notorious old prisons. Knowing the brigade felt betrayed by the United States, Castro soon made an extraordinary jailhouse visit for a bizarre town hall-type session.
“It was surreal,” recalls Zayas-Bazan. “He came into our galley and said, ‘Hi, guys! How are you being treated? Any complaints?’”
If Castro thought he was going to win over this crowd, however, he was mistaken. At the Bay of Pigs Museum, Lopez points to a fuzzy news photo of that meeting. A black Cuban exile named Tomas Cruz Cruz is standing among his comrades and speaking.
Castro had looked at him and asked in Spanish, “Hey, negro, why are you here?” Unlike in America, he boasted, “In Cuba, you are free to go to the beach.”
But the prisoner wasn’t having it. “Commandante,” he said, “I didn’t come here to go to the beach. I came to defeat communism!”
No one knows why, but Cruz got away with his impertinence. Another young man, an Asian Cuban named Jorge Kim, was less fortunate. A photo on the same wall shows him in intense conversation with Castro. No one knows what the two talked about, but the next day Kim was executed.
Of all the tales of courage that unfolded in those Cuban prisons, perhaps none is more remarkable than that of 10 men, elected by their fellow captives, who were sent to the United States to negotiate a ransom. There they were, safe and comfortable in a swank Washington, D.C., hotel, only to voluntarily return to the squalor of their Cuban prison—not once, but twice.
“Those men,” Lopez says, nodding toward their photo, “had balls.”
Since the middle of the 18th century, Cuba had been part 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). In 1898, the United States government proclaimed war on the Spanish Empire, resulting in the Spanish–American War. The U.S. 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. On 20 May 1902, a new independent government proclaimed the foundation of the Republic of Cuba, with U.S. Military Governor Leonard Wood handing over control to President Tomás Estrada Palma, a Cuban-born U.S. citizen.  Subsequently, large numbers of U.S. 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 U.S. 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 Edit
— Earl E. T. Smith, former American Ambassador to Cuba, during 1960 testimony to the US Senate 
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), 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, which had been founded by the Federation of University Students President José Antonio Echevarría.    However, the best known of these anti-Batista groups was the "26th of July Movement" (MR-26-7), founded by 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 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. 
The counter-revolution Edit
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 U.S. 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 in Villa Clara Province, 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.  [ page needed ] 
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 leftward 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, Jesús Carreras Zayas [es] and American William Alexander Morgan (a former Castro ally) were executed after a trial.  [ page needed ] 
Tensions with the United States Edit
Castro's Cuban government ordered the country's oil refineries – then controlled by U.S. corporations Esso, Standard Oil and Shell – to process crude oil purchased from the Soviet Union, but under pressure from the U.S. government, these companies refused. Castro responded by expropriating the refineries and nationalizing them under state control. In retaliation, the U.S. canceled its import of Cuban sugar, provoking Castro to nationalize most U.S.-owned assets, including banks and sugar mills.    Relations between Cuba and the U.S. 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 U.S. government was guilty of sabotage.    On 13 October 1960, the U.S. 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 U.S. companies operating in Cuba had their premises seized and nationalized, including Coca-Cola and Sears Roebuck.   On 16 December, the U.S. ended its import quota of Cuban sugar. 
The U.S. 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, U.S. 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 City, which he ridiculed as that "superfree, superdemocratic, superhumane, and supercivilized city." Proclaiming that the U.S. poor were living "in the bowels of the imperialist monster," he attacked the mainstream U.S. media and accused it of being controlled by big business.  Superficially the U.S. was trying to improve its relationship with Cuba. Several negotiations between representatives from Cuba and the U.S. 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 U.S. stated that they would not interfere with Cuba's domestic affairs but that the island should limit its 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-U.S. 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. Efforts to murder Castro officially commenced in 1960,  though the general public did not become aware of them until 1975, when the Senate Church Committee, set up to investigate CIA abuses, released a report entitled "Alleged Assassination Plots Involving Foreign Leaders".  Some methods that the CIA undertook to murder Castro were creative, for example: "poison pills, an exploding seashell, 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, Cuban revolutionary and undercover CIA agent Rolando Cubela was tasked with killing Castro by CIA official Desmond Fitzgerald, who portrayed himself as a personal representative of Robert F. Kennedy. 
The U.S. had initially recognized Castro’s government following the success of the Cuban Revolution in ousting Batista,  but the relationship quickly soured as Castro repeatedly condemned the U.S. in his speeches for its misdeeds in Cuba over the previous 60 years.  Many U.S. officials began to view Castro as a threat to national security as he legalized the Communist Party,  nationalized property owned by U.S. citizens totaling $1.5 billion,  and strengthened ties with the Soviet Union.  By early 1960, President Eisenhower had begun contemplating ways to remove Castro, in the hopes that he might be replaced by a Cuban government-in-exile, though none existed at the time.  In accordance with this goal, he approved Richard Bissell’s plan which included training the paramilitary force that would later be used in the Bay of Pigs Invasion. 
Cuba became a focal point in the 1960 U.S. presidential election, with both candidates promising to “get tough with the Communists”.  Kennedy in particular attacked Nixon and the Eisenhower administration for allowing communism to flourish so close to the U.S.  In response, Nixon revealed plans for an embargo against Cuba, but the Democrats criticized it as ineffective.  Ultimately, Nixon lost the election, convinced that Cuba had brought him down,  and Kennedy inherited the thorny issue near the height of its prominence.
Despite the focus on Cuba in the elections and deteriorating relations between Cuba and the U.S.—exacerbated when Castro accused most of the U.S. State Department personnel in Havana of being spies and subsequently ordering them to leave the country, to which Eisenhower responded by withdrawing recognition of Castro’s government  —Kennedy hesitated to commit to the CIA’s plans. Under Dulles and Bissell's insistence of the increasingly urgent need to do something with the troops being trained in Guatemala, Kennedy eventually agreed, although to avoid the appearance of American involvement, he requested the operation be moved from the city of Trinidad, Cuba to a less conspicuous location.  Thus, the final plan was for an invasion at the Bay of Pigs.
Early plans Edit
The idea of overthrowing Castro's government first emerged within the CIA 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 U.S. interests.  CIA Director Allen Dulles was responsible for overseeing covert operations across the world, and although widely considered an ineffectual administrator, he was 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, Eisenhower directed the CIA to begin preparations of invading Cuba and overthrow the Castro regime.  Richard M. Bissell Jr. was charged with overseeing plans for the Bay of Pigs Invasion. He assembled 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, where he spoke with Cubans from various backgrounds and discovered a brothel through the Mercedes-Benz agency.  Returning to the U.S., 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 U.S. soil. Although unhappy with the news, they conceded to the order. 
President Eisenhower had meetings with President-elect Kennedy at the White House on 6 December 1960 and 19 January 1961.  In one conversation, Eisenhower stated that since March 1960, the U.S. government had trained "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. 
Eisenhower's planning Edit
On 17 March 1960, the CIA put forward their plan for the overthrow of Castro's administration to the U.S. National Security Council, where President Eisenhower lent his support,  approving a CIA budget of $13,000,000 to explore options to remove Castro from power.  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 U.S. in such a manner to avoid any appearance of U.S. 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, perfecting 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 the Eisenhower Library revealed that Eisenhower had not ordered or approved plans for an amphibious assault on Cuba. 
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 U.S. 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, Dulles and Bissell first briefed President-elect 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 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 favored. 
Kennedy's operational approval Edit
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 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 U.S. involvement more plausible.  The invasion landing area was changed to beaches bordering the Bahía de Cochinos (Bay of Pigs) in Las Villas Province, 150 km 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).  [ page needed ]  [ page needed ]   [ page needed ]
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.  [ page needed ] 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, chaired by José Miró Cardona, former Prime Minister of Cuba. Cardona became the de facto leader-in-waiting of the intended post-invasion Cuban government.  [ page needed ]
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 Air Force Base. Specialist guerrilla training took place at Fort Gulick and Fort Clayton in Panama.  [ page needed ]  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 number of recruits, infantry training was carried out at a CIA-run base code-named JMTrax. The base was on the Pacific coast of Guatemala between Quetzaltenango and Retalhuleu, in the Helvetia coffee plantation.  The exiled group named themselves Brigade 2506 (Brigada Asalto 2506).  [ page needed ] 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 Air National Guard under General Reid Doster, using at least six Douglas B-26 Invaders in the markings of the Guatemalan Air Force.  An additional 26 B-26s were obtained from U.S. 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.   [ page needed ] 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, [ citation needed ] took place at Fort Knox, Kentucky and Fort Benning, Georgia. Underwater demolition and infiltration training took place at Belle Chasse near New Orleans.  [ page needed ] To create a navy, the CIA purchased five cargo ships from the Cuban-owned, Miami-based Garcia Line, thereby giving "plausible deniability" as the State Department had insisted no U.S. 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 U.S. 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.  [ page needed ]  [ page needed ] 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 B-26 Invader light bombers, Hawker Sea Fury fighters and Lockheed T-33 jets, all remaining from the Fuerza Aérea del Ejército de Cuba, the Cuban air force of the Batista government.  [ page needed ] 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". 
U.S. Government personnel Edit
In April 1960, FRD (Frente Revolucionario Democratico – Democratic Revolutionary Front) rebels were taken to Useppa Island, 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.  Allen Dulles was in Puerto Rico to embark with the Operation 40 group,  conceived by the CIA and kept secret from Kennedy,  [ citation needed ] which included a group of CIA operatives who had the task of mowing down the Cuban communist political cadres. At the head of the death squad was Joaquin Sanjenis Perdomo, former police chief in Cuba, intelligence officer Rafael De Jesus Gutierrez. The group included David Atlee Philips, Howard Hunt and David Sánchez Morales.  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, Rafael De Jesus Gutierrez and Colonel Stanley W. Beerli under the direction of Richard Bissell and his deputy Tracy Barnes.  [ page needed ]
Cuban government personnel Edit
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 Cuban 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.  [ page needed ]   [ page needed ]  
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.  [ page needed ]  [ page needed ] 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.  [ non-primary source needed ] 
The Cuban security apparatus knew the invasion was coming, in part due to indiscreet talk by members of the brigade, some of which was heard in Miami and repeated in U.S. 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.  [ page needed ]  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 of intelligence matters, which the US sought to exploit with propaganda through CIA-funded Radio Swan.  As of May 1960, almost all means of public communication were under public ownership.  
On 29 April 2000, a 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, the British ambassador to the U.S., stated that British intelligence analysis made available to the CIA indicated that the Cuban people were overwhelmingly behind Castro and that there was no likelihood of mass defections or insurrections. 
Acquisition of aircraft Edit
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 Curtiss C-46 Commando and Douglas C-54 Skymaster were to be used for airdrops and bomb drops as well as for 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 Douglas AD-5 Skyraider or the Air Force's light bomber, the Douglas B-26 Invader. 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 upon. 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 Edit
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. Combatants were supplied with forged Cuban local currency, in the form of 20 Peso bills, identifiable by the serial numbers F69 and F70. The aircraft carrier group of the USS Essex had been at sea for nearly a month before the invasion its crew was well aware of the impending battle. En route, Essex had made a night time stop at a Navy arms depot in Charleston, South Carolina, 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.  [ citation needed ]
Air attacks on airfields Edit
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 U.S. 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.  [ page needed ]  [ page needed ]  [ page needed ]    [ non-primary source needed ] As a result of those activities, at daybreak, a reconnaissance sortie over the Baracoa area was launched from Santiago de Cuba by an FAR Lockheed 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.  [ page needed ]
The CIA, with the backing of the Pentagon, had originally requested permission to produce sonic booms over Havana on 14 April to create 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 6:00 am Cuban local time, eight 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. 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 Douglas DC-3 plus various other civilian aircraft. At San Antonio, the three attackers destroyed three FAR B-26s, one Hawker Sea Fury and one T-33, and one attacker diverted to Grand Cayman because of low fuel. Aircraft that diverted to the Caymans were seized by the United Kingdom 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 Republic P-47 Thunderbolts. One of those attackers was damaged by anti-aircraft fire and ditched about 50 km (31 mi) 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, 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.  [ page needed ] 
Deception flight Edit
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.  [ page needed ]  [ page needed ]  This deception operation was successful at the time in convincing much of the world media that the attacks on the FAR bases were the work of an internal anti-Communist faction and did not involve outside actors. 
At 10:30 am on 15 April at the United Nations, Cuban Foreign Minister Raúl Roa accused the U.S. 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, United States Ambassador to the United Nations Adlai Stevenson stated that U.S. armed forces would not "under any conditions" intervene in Cuba and that the U.S. would do everything in its power to ensure that no U.S. 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 15 April, 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.  [ page needed ] In total, between 20,000 and 100,000 people would be arrested. 
Phony war Edit
On the night of 15/16 April, the Nino Diaz group failed in a second attempted diversionary landing at a different location near Baracoa.  [ page needed ] 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. 
Following the airstrikes on the Cuban airfields on 15 April, the FAR prepared for action with its surviving aircraft which numbered at least four T-33 jet trainers, four Sea Fury fighters and five or six B-26 medium bombers. All three types were armed with machine guns (except the Sea Furies which had 20mm cannon) for air-to-air combat and for strafing of ships and ground targets. CIA planners had failed to discover that the U.S.-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 airstrikes 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 the cancellation of further airfield strikes planned for dawn on 17 April, to attempt plausible deniability of direct U.S. involvement.  [ page needed ]
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 U.S. Navy operation was code-named Bumpy Road, having been changed from Crosspatch.  [ page needed ] 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 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 Landing Craft Utility (LCUs) which could accommodate the Brigades M41 Walker Bulldog tanks and four Landing Craft, Vehicles, Personnel (LCVPs). 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.  [ page needed ]   [ non-primary source needed ]
Invasion day (17 April) Edit
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.  [ page needed ]  [ page needed ] 
At about 00:00 on 17 April 1961, the two LCIs Blagar and Barbara J, each with a CIA 'operations officer' and an Underwater Demolition Team 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 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 aluminum boats, then the LCVPs and LCUs with the M41 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, because of engine failures and boats damaged by unseen 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.  [ page needed ]  Castro was awakened 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 6:30 am, three FAR Sea Furies, one B-26 bomber and two T-33s started attacking those CEF ships still unloading troops. At about 6:50, 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 medical supplies, which meant that wounded brigadistas had to make do with inadequate medical care.  At about 7:00, two FAL B-26s attacked and sank the Cuban Navy Patrol Escort ship El Baire at Nueva Gerona on the Isle of Pines.  [ page needed ]  [ page needed ] 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. The M41 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 7:30, five C-46 and one C-54 transport aircraft dropped 177 paratroops from the parachute battalion 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 sugar mill down to Playa Larga, which allowed the government to continue to send troops down to resist the invasion. 
At about 8:30, a FAR Sea Fury piloted by Carlos Ulloa Arauz crashed in the bay after encountering a FAL C-46 returning south after dropping paratroops. By 9:00, Cuban troops and militia from outside the area had started arriving at the 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 9:30, 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.  [ page needed ]  [ page needed ] 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 afterward .  Rio Escondido carried fuel along with enough ammunition, food, and medical supplies to last ten days and the radio that allowed the brigade to communicate with the FAL.  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 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, 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 LCIs and LCUs, started retreating south to international waters, but still pursued by FAR aircraft. At about noon, a FAR B-26 exploded from heavy anti-aircraft fire from Blagar, and pilot Luis Silva Tablada (on his second sortie) and his crew of three were lost.  [ page needed ]  [ page needed ]
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.  [ page needed ] At 2:30 pm a group of militiamen from the 339th Battalion set up a position, which came under attack from the brigadista M41 tanks, which 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.  [ page needed ]  One FAL B-26 diverted to Grand Cayman with engine failure. By 4:00, Castro had arrived at the Central Australia sugar mill, joining José Ramón Fernández whom he had appointed as battlefield commander before dawn that day. 
Osvaldo Ramírez (leader of the rural resistance to Castro) was captured by Castro's forces in Aromas de Velázquez, and immediately executed.  At about 5:00, a night air strike by three FAL B-26s on San Antonio de Los Baños airfield failed, reportedly because of incompetence and bad weather. Two other B-26s had aborted the mission after take-off.  [ page needed ]  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 U.S. Navy intercepted Atlantico about 110 miles (180 km) south of Cuba and persuaded the captain to return, but Caribe was not intercepted until she was 218 miles (351 km) away from Cuba, and she was not to return until it was too late. 
Invasion day plus one (D+1) 18 April Edit
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 to assist in the defense.  During the night fighting, a tank battle broke out when the brigadista M41 tanks clashed with the T-34 tanks of the Cuban Army. This sharp action forced back the brigadistas.  At 10:00 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 Cuban 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 Cuban 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, 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 Castro and Fernández had relocated 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 retreat into the Escambray Mountains to wage guerilla warfare, but San Román decided to hold the beachhead.  At about 11:00 am, the Cuban Army 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 2:00 pm, President Kennedy received a telegram from Nikita Khrushchev in Moscow, stating the Russians would not allow the U.S. to enter Cuba and implied swift nuclear retribution to the United States heartland if their warnings were not heeded. 
At about 5:00, 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 the FAL.  [ page needed ]  [ page needed ] The column later re-formed and advanced to Punta Perdiz, about 11 km northwest of Girón. 
Invasion day plus two (D+2) 19 April Edit
During the night of 18 April, a FAL C-46 delivered arms and equipment to the Girón airstrip occupied by brigade ground forces and took off before daybreak on 19 April.  [ non-primary source needed ] 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.  [ page needed ] 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 the onslaught from Cuban government artillery, tanks and infantry.  [ page needed ]   [ page needed ]
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.  [ page needed ]
Invasion day plus three (D+3) 20 April Edit
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 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.  [ page needed ]  [ page needed ]
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 10 on the firing squad [ clarification needed ] , 10 on the boat Celia trying to escape, 9 captured exiles in the sealed truck container on the way to Havana, 4 by accident, 2 in prison, and 4 American aviators, for a total of 106 casualties. [E] Aircrews killed in action totaled 6 from the Cuban air force, 10 Cuban exiles and 4 American airmen.  [ page needed ] 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.  [ page needed ] 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 for 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.  [ page needed ]
In 2011, the National Security Archive, under the Freedom of Information Act, released over 1,200 pages of documents. Included within these documents were descriptions of 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, at least seven Cubans plus two CIA-hired U.S. 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 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.   [ page needed ]   
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 their transfer to Havana in an airtight truck container. In May 1961, Castro proposed to exchange the surviving brigade prisoners for 500 large farm tractors, later changed to 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.  [ page needed ] Three confirmed as executed were Ramon Calvino, Emilio Soler Puig ("El Muerte") and Jorge King Yun ("El Chino").  [ page needed ]  [ page needed ] 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 U.S.  [ page needed ]
On 21 December 1962, Castro and James B. Donovan, a U.S. 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.  [ page needed ] 
Political reaction Edit
The failed invasion severely embarrassed the Kennedy administration and made Castro wary of future U.S. intervention in Cuba. On 21 April, in a State Department press conference, 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. Adlai Stevenson denied any involvement in the first wave of airstrikes, 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 OAS 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.  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 U.S. to feel threatened by its neighbor. Prior to the events at Playa Girón, the U.S. government imposed sanctions 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 U.S. reduced the import quota of Cuban sugar, leaving the U.S. to increase its sugar supply using other sources.  Immediately following the Bay of Pigs invasion, the Kennedy Administration considered a complete embargo.  Five months later, the president was authorized to do so.
According to author Jim Rasenberger, the Kennedy administration became very aggressive in regards to overthrowing Castro following the failure of the Bay of Pigs Invasion, reportedly doubling its efforts. 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. [ citation needed ]
Maxwell Taylor survey Edit
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 F. Kennedy the President's brother, 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." 
CIA report Edit
In November 1961, CIA Inspector-General Lyman B Kirkpatrick authored a report, "Survey of the Cuban Operation", that remained classified until 1998. Conclusions were: 
- The CIA 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 objections by CIA management to 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.  [ page needed ] In later years, the CIA's behavior in the event became the prime example cited for the psychology paradigm known as groupthink syndrome.  [ page needed ] 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 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 CIA 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. [ citation needed ]
In mid-1960, CIA operative E. Howard Hunt had interviewed Cubans in Havana in a 1997 interview with CNN, he said, ". all I could find was a lot of enthusiasm for Fidel Castro." 
Invasion legacy in Cuba Edit
For many Latin Americans, the Bay of Pigs Invasion served to reinforce the already widely held belief that the U.S. could not be trusted. The invasion also illustrated that the U.S. could be defeated, and thus the failed invasion encouraged political groups across the Latin American region to find ways to undermine U.S. 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. [ citation needed ] Castro was then increasingly wary of further U.S. intervention and more open to Soviet suggestions of placing nuclear weapons on Cuba to ensure its security. [ citation needed ]
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.  The conference was co-sponsored by the 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 U.S.-based National Security Archive. It commenced on Thursday 22 March 2001 at the Hotel Palco, Palacio de las Convenciones [es] , 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 Edit
Many who fought for the CIA in the conflict remained loyal after the event some Bay of Pigs veterans became officers in the U.S. 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. 
American public reaction Edit
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. 
READ THE DOCUMENTS
Volume V - New Release
Document 01: CIA History Staff, Cover letter, David S. Robarge, CIA Chief Historian, “Context for Readers of the Attached CIA Draft Volume,” September 2016, Non-classified
Document 02: CIA History Staff, Official History of the Bay of Pigs Operation, Draft Volume V: “CIA’s Internal Investigation of the Bay of Pigs,” Jack B. Pfeiffer, April 18, 1984, Secret (with undated, unsigned cover sheet from J.K. McDonald, Chief, CIA History Staff, and three Top Secret appendices)
Volumes I, II, III, IV - Previously Released
Document 03: CIA History Staff, Official History of the Bay of Pigs Operation, Volume I: “Air Operations, March 1960 - April 1961," Jack B. Pfeiffer, September 1979, Top Secret
Document 04: CIA History Staff, Official History of the Bay of Pigs Operation, Volume II: “Participation in the Conduct of Foreign Policy,” Jack B. Pfeiffer, October 1979, Top Secret
Document 05: CIA History Staff, Official History of the Bay of Pigs Operation, Volume III: "Evolution of CIA's Anti-Castro Policies, 1951- January 1961,” Jack B. Pfeiffer, December 1979, Top Secret
Document 06: CIA History Staff, Official History of the Bay of Pigs Operation, Volume IV: “The Taylor Committee Investigation of the Bay of Pigs,” Jack B. Pfeiffer, November 9, 1984, Unclassified
A 50-Year Perspective—JFK, Richard Bissell, and the Bay of Pigs
As we mark the fiftieth anniversary of the Bay of Pigs, most observers continue to blame President John F. Kennedy for the debacle. Had he not changed the landing site from Trinidad to the Bay of Pigs, reduced the pre-invasion air strikes on Castro's air force, prohibited air cover on D-Day, and banned U.S. military force, the outcome, so these observers argue, might have been considerably different.
The president acted on the advice furnished by the chief architect of the Cuban project —Richard Bissell, the CIA’s Deputy Director of Operations. Widely known as "the most brilliant man in Washington," he had amassed an impressive string of achievements, most notably his development of the U-2 reconnaissance plane—a feat that so impressed CIA director Allen Dulles that he put the young man in charge of covert operations. Indeed, Bissell appeared to be Dulles’ heir apparent.
Bissell upgraded the original covert action plan to an amphibious invasion and, on the recommendation of two veterans of World War II, CIA operative Jacob Esterline and his chief paramilitary officer, Marine Colonel Jack Hawkins, selected Trinidad has the site. The coastal city had a population of 18,000 and was a well-known center of anti-Castro activity whose supporters could provide the nucleus of a popular uprising. It had excellent landing beaches along with first-rate docks, all in close proximity to the Escambray Mountains, which furnished a safe haven for the invasion force and was home of a thousand anti-Castro guerrillas and a potential base for future operations. The Trinidad plan also stipulated D-2 and D-1 airstrikes on Castro's small air force, along with air cover on D-Day. Unknown to Esterline and Hawkins, Bissell secretly incorporated an assassination plan reliant on cooperation with the Mafia. “Assassination was intended to reinforce the plan,” Bissell later insisted.
The CIA thus took charge of a military operation for which it had no expertise, and it no longer had any chance of hiding the American hand by plausible deniability.
President Kennedy objected to Trinidad because of the "noise" factor—comparable to the D-Day invasion at Normandy in World War II and therefore so "spectacular" that the United States could not claim plausible deniability. JFK inexplicably insisted that the brigade’s landing be nocturnal and quiet to assure surprise.
Rushed by the ongoing Soviet buildup on the island, Bissell searched for an alternate invasion site in a less populated area and that contained an airstrip capable of accommodating B-26s. Only then could the White House contend that the pre-invasion air assaults had come from Cuban defectors flying B-26s pirated from Castro.
Bissell recommended the Bay of Pigs, an isolated spot west of Trinidad and much closer to Havana. It had the desired airstrip at Playa Girón but no port facilities, and its waters were shark infested, too deep in some places to anchor, and ribbed with razor-edged coral reefs that ran along the entire beachhead and could rip the bottoms of boats as well as the legs of men.
But the chief problem was its location on the Zapata Peninsula—a virtually uninhabitable and impenetrable wilderness spanning miles of hot tropical swampland situated eighty miles from the Escambrays. The mountains no longer provided refuge, and the sparse population eliminated the possibility of a mass insurrection.
Most striking, Bissell kept these problems from the president. Robert F. Kennedy later declared that Bissell’s “greatest mistake” was his failure to warn JFK of Zapata’s liabilities.
As D-Day approached, President Kennedy remained deeply concerned about hiding the American hand and took other actions that further undermined the plan: He cut the number of planes in the initial D-2 strikes from sixteen to eight, and then canceled the D-1 operation along with the D-Day cover.
The president remained confident that the assassination of Castro would set off an insurrection. But the potential assassin had feared exposure and sought sanctuary in the Mexican embassy.
Why did Bissell lead JFK to believe the plan was sound? And why did the president ignore his best instincts and approve it?
Both Bissell and JFK believed they had fail-safe mechanisms that would save the project. Bissell feared that the president would kill the plan once knowing its flaws, believed it would work with Castro dead, and felt certain that Kennedy would resort to U.S. military force if necessary. The president likewise counted on Castro's assassination, along with a popular insurrection and a place of refuge in the mountains. But he had never suggested the possibility of using American military force.
Failure was not conceivable to either man, nor was cancellation of the invasion. Either outcome would jettison Bissell's CIA ambitions while denying JFK his last chance to bring down Castro before the full Soviet military arsenal arrived in Cuba.
Historian Theodore Draper once called the Bay of Pigs episode the "perfect failure," and if any event in history comes close to that status, it occurred on those three days in April 1961 when Castro crushed the brigade and soon afterward declared himself a Marxist-Leninist.
In analyzing this fiasco, it is fair to repeat that the president acted on information provided by Bissell, who headed the operation and was responsible for keeping him well-informed. Bissell did not do so. Hubris, an ambition that reached for the CIA directorship, and a poorly thought out decision not to alert the president of the many problems with the plan—these factors led him to deceive and ultimately fail the president.
The result was an embarrassment for the young president, who appeared to lack courage and wisdom. Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev proceeded to test his young adversary’s resolve in Berlin and again in Cuba in the missile crisis. JFK became convinced after his poor showing with Khrushchev at the Vienna meeting of June 1961 that he had to make a stand and that Vietnam was “the place.” Despite the outcome at the Bay of Pigs a half-century ago, the Kennedy administration (and others afterward) did not lose faith in covert operations, pre-emptive strikes, and perhaps even assassination in bringing about regime change.
Nixon’s Bay of Pigs Secrets
In the dark, early hours of June 17, 1972, from inside the offices of the Democratic National Committee at the Watergate office building in Washington, DC, burglar James McCord radioed an alarm to his two supervisors. Monitoring the operation from their command post in the Watergate Hotel, E. Howard Hunt and G. Gordon Liddy heard McCord’s electronic whisper that he and the other four burglars might have been detected.
“Scratch it,” Hunt advised. But Liddy commanded to McCord: “Let’s go! Everybody’s here [meaning the four burglars from Miami] . . . Go!”
“So they went . . . filed off into history,” Hunt later recalled.
Minutes after heeding Liddy’s order, DC police nabbed McCord and the other unusually dressed burglars—who were all wearing suits and ties as well as surgical gloves. Hunt and Liddy hastily fled the scene, but were eventually tied to the crime.
These men would become the first known participants in the nation’s biggest political scandal. Two summers later, “Watergate” forced President Richard Nixon to resign in dishonor.
Aside from their attire, this was no ordinary burglary team: ex-CIA agent Hunt was Nixon’s chief White House spy ex-CIA agent McCord and ex-FBI agent Liddy were top officials of the president’s 1972 campaign committee. The Miamians had CIA ties and—with Hunt as their supervisor—had been involved in planning the failed CIA- backed Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba eleven years earlier. All of the men had been involved in previous clandestine Nixon White House operations against the president’s enemies.
Hunt and Liddy had even participated in a particularly sordid aff air—the planned assassination of newspaper columnist Jack Anderson, Nixon’s archfoe in the media. The plot against Anderson only came to light in 1975 when the Washington Post reported that—“according to reliable sources”—Hunt told associates after the Watergate break-in that he was ordered to kill the columnist in December 1971 or January 1972.
President Nixon chose to be out of the country the day of the Watergate break-in. He was visiting a private island in the Bahamas owned by his old drinking buddy Robert Abplanalp, a wealthy businessman. Accompanied by Bebe Rebozo, Nixon had choppered to the tiny island from his Key Biscayne, Florida home.
Hot-tempered even under normal conditions, the chief executive went ballistic when aide Chuck Colson told him by phone that his men had been arrested at Watergate. Nixon grew so enraged he threw an ashtray against one of the walls in Abplanalp’s luxurious Caribbean retreat.
Knowing his presidency was seriously threatened, Nixon moved quickly to save himself. His major weapons were lies, cover- ups and blackmail.
First, he instructed his press secretary, Ron Ziegler, to inform reporters back in Florida that it was beneath the White House to even comment on a “third-rate burglary attempt.”
On June 22, after returning to the White House, Nixon made his first public comment on the burglary. He flatly asserted that “the White House has had no involvement whatever” in the break- in. And he declared, with a straight face, that such an event “has no place in our electoral process or in our governmental process.”
On the twenty-third, in an effort to get the CIA to stop the FBI’s initial Watergate probe, Nixon tried to blackmail CIA Director Richard Helms, apparently by using his knowledge of major CIA secrets to keep the lid on Watergate.
The president wanted to scare Helms with the prospect that, under pressure, an apprehended Hunt might start blabbing to authorities about “the Bay of Pigs.” That phrase, to Bob Haldeman— Nixon’s most trusted aide—was secret Nixon- CIA code for one of the darkest events in our history, an event with tenuous ties to the disastrous 1961 Cuban invasion.
In a post-Watergate book, Haldeman disclosed, “It seems that in all those Nixon references to the Bay of Pigs, he was actually referring to the Kennedy assassination. (Interestingly, an investigation of the Kennedy assassination was a project I suggested when I first entered the White House. Now I felt we would be in a position to get all the facts. But Nixon turned me down.)”
Watergate expert and National Public Radio correspondent Daniel Schorr independently concurs with Haldeman that Nixon’s Watergate threat to the CIA about “the Bay of Pigs” was “about some deeply hidden scandal . . . an assassination or something on that order. It was supposed to involve the CIA and President Kennedy.” Schorr also says that, to this day, “Helms vows that he has no idea what dark secret Nixon was alluding to. But, whatever it was, it led Nixon into trying to enlist the CIA in an attempted obstruction of justice that became his final undoing.” Speculating separately, JFK assassination expert Jim
Marrs— without knowing about Haldeman’s revelation—asks two perceptive questions about taped “Bay of Pigs” conversations between Nixon and his most trusted adviser: Could they have been circuitously referring to the interlocking connections between CIA agents, anti- Castro Cubans, and mobsters that likely resulted in the Kennedy assassination? Did they themselves have some sort of insider knowledge of this event?
Another possibility, of course, is that the “Bay of Pigs” referred to the CIA assassination plots against Fidel Castro, which were not public knowledge at the time. Both Vice President Nixon and President Kennedy backed those plans. And the CIA’s Howard Hunt was an early advocate of Castro’s murder and a key player in all aspects of the Bay of Pigs invasion planning. Whatever the term meant, the usually unflappable Helms came unglued when Haldeman brought it up in the wake of the Watergate burglary.
But, first, Nixon had to tutor Haldeman on just how to make the threat to Helms. During a June 23 rehearsal of Haldeman for the critical meeting with Helms later that day, the president carefully instructed his No. 1 aide on what to tell the CIA chief: “Hunt knows too damned much . . . If this gets out that this is all involved . . . it would make the CIA look bad, it’s going to make Hunt look bad, and it’s likely to blow the whole Bay of Pigs thing . . . which we think would be very unfortunate for both the CIA and the country . . . and for American foreign policy.”
At his meeting with Helms, when Nixon’s emissary brought up the Bay of Pigs, according to Haldeman, the CIA chief gripped the arms of his chair, leaned forward and shouted: “The Bay of Pigs has nothing to do with this! I have no concern about the Bay of Pigs.” Haldeman said he was “absolutely shocked by Helms’s violent reaction” when he delivered Nixon’s message. Helms “yelled like a scalded cat,” said Nixon aide John Ehrlichman when Haldeman mentioned the Watergate trail might lead to “the Bay of Pigs.” Ehrlichman sat in on the meeting.
In his book, Haldeman added that the CIA pulled off a “fantastic cover- up” that “literally erased any connection between the Kennedy assassination and the CIA.” Haldeman never revealed his source, but evidence points to Nixon. “Virtually nothing Nixon did was done without Haldeman’s knowledge,” said John Ehrlichman. “That is not to say that Haldeman approved everything Nixon said or did but it was essential that he know, and have a chance to object, before it happened.”
Ehrlichman went to his grave without spilling any “Bay of Pigs” secrets, but he did write a novel about a president and a CIA chief trying to blackmail each other over a previous assassination plot that involved both men.
If Haldeman knew about the CIA’s alleged involvement in the Kennedy murder, Nixon certainly did. The president would have had to tell his top aide what was truly behind his “Bay of Pigs” threat against the agency. That conclusion gains solid support from a recently released Watergate tape—from May 18, 1973—in which Nixon and Haldeman recall the “Bay of Pigs” warning Haldeman delivered to Helms the previous June.
Haldeman reminds the president that Helms said, “Oh, we have no problem with the Bay of Pigs, of anything . . . And that surprised me, because I had gotten the impression from you [author’s emphasis] that the CIA did have some concern about the Bay of Pigs.” On the tape, Nixon raises no objections to the accuracy of Haldeman’s memory.
Audiotapes ran on all Nixon’s office and telephone conversations, so the president would not want to refer to John F. Kennedy murder secrets as “Dallas” or “the whole JFK thing.” Why, logically, could the JFK assassination become known to Nixon and Helms and a few others as “the Bay of Pigs”? Perhaps because the cast of characters employed in the 1960 plan to invade Cuba at the Bay of Pigs and kill Fidel Castro and the cast of characters employed in the plan to assassinate Kennedy in 1963 were the same.
When Nixon was vice president, he and then CIA agent Hunt were principal secret planners of the invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs that failed so miserably when later ordered by President Kennedy. Nixon and Hunt were key leaders of an associated— and also ill- fated—plot to assassinate Castro. For that mission, potential assassins were recruited from Mob ranks, so that if any of their activities were disclosed, organized crime could be blamed.
Helms as then director of the CIA’s covert operations was a key participant in the Castro assassination plots. The plotters also enlisted the support of billionaire Howard Hughes. Like Nixon, Hughes despised the Kennedys and had strong links to both the CIA and the Mob. The mysterious and reclusive Hughes had made large, secret payoff s to Nixon and his brother Donald over most of Nixon’s political career.
Fronting for Hughes, Robert Maheu approached mobsters Johnny Roselli, Sam “Mooney” Giancana and Santos Trafficante. One report says fifteen professional killers ultimately made up the “ultra- black” Castro assassination team, consistent with a typical Mafia hit, as summarized by author David Scheim: “A mob murder is usually a methodical job, performed by a coordinated team of specialists. Up to 15 gunmen, drivers, spotters, and other backup personnel, plus several cars, are used on some jobs.”
Maheu, a former FBI agent employed by both the CIA and Hughes, had many links with Nixon. To mention just two: In 1956, Maheu ran a Howard Hughes–bankrolled spying operation to protect Nixon against Republican “Dump Nixon” forces trying to block Nixon’s renomination as Dwight Eisenhower’s vice president. Also while Nixon was veep, Maheu worked for Nixon on a “dirty tricks” operation against Greek oil tycoon Aristotle Onassis.
Maheu helped the U.S. government sabotage a deal that had given Onassis a monopoly on shipping Saudi Arabian oil. As part of his mission, Maheu was reportedly even given a license—if necessary—to kill the Greek tycoon. After a meeting with Maheu about Onassis, Vice President Nixon shook Maheu’s hand and whispered, “And just remember, if it turns out we have to kill the bastard don’t do it on American soil.”
President Kennedy’s former press secretary, Pierre Salinger, said Maheu told him the CIA-Mafia plots against Castro were authorized by Nixon:
I knew Maheu well. He told me [in 1968, when Salinger was soliciting Maheu’s boss, Howard Hughes, for a campaign contribution to Robert Kennedy’s White House bid] about his meetings with the Mafia. He said he had been in contact with the CIA, that the CIA had been in touch with Nixon, who had asked them to go forward with this project . . . It was Nixon who had him [Maheu] do a deal with the Mafia in Florida to kill Castro.”
Nixon White House counsel John Dean confirms that Maheu was “the point of contact for the CIA’s effort to have the Mafi a assassinate Fidel Castro in the early 1960s.” Dean said he was told by fellow Nixon aide Jack Caufield that the Hughes empire “was embroiled in an internal war, with two billion dollars at stake, private eyes swarming, nerve- jangling power plays going on, and Mafia figures lurking in the wings.”
Longtime Mob lawyer Frank Ragano disclosed in the 1990s that the assassination plot against Castro was hatched in the summer of 1960. He reported that “Maheu’s search for mob killers began with John Roselli who brought in Sam Giancana, the Chicago boss, and Santo [Trafficante] . . . The CIA operatives told Maheu he could offer $150,000 to the assassins, and that Castro’s murder was a phase of a larger plan to invade Cuba and oust the Communist government.” Ragano also claimed he was the unwitting messenger in a July 1963 order from Teamsters boss Jimmy Hoffa to Trafficante and Marcello for President Kennedy’s murder.
Sam Giancana confided to his brother, Chuck, in 1966, that the CIA had offered him $150,000 to hit Castro. “I told ’em I couldn’t care less about the money. We’ll take care of Castro. One way or another. I think it’s my patriotic duty.”
Giancana said CIA Director Allen Dulles had come up with the idea, and that two top CIA officials— Richard Bissell and Sheffield Edwards—were chosen to make the arrangements. And he said the agency made contact with him through Maheu. Giancana designated Roselli as the plan’s Mafi a-CIA go-between.
Of that conversation with his brother, Chuck also mentioned a number of other conspirators in the plot on Castro’s life: “Mooney said he put Jack Ruby back in action supplying arms, aircraft , and munitions to exiles in Florida and Louisiana, while the former Castro Minister of Games, Frank Fiorini [also known as Frank Sturgis], joined Ruby in the smuggling venture along with a [Guy] Banister CIA associate, David Ferrie.”
President Kennedy was elected to office before Nixon and the other planners had time to pull off the Bay of Pigs invasion. The invasion took place on April 17, 1961 on Kennedy’s watch and was a resounding failure, one for which Kennedy publicly accepted full responsibility. Fifteen hundred Cuban exiles were quickly overwhelmed by some 20,000 Cuban troops. But, convinced the CIA had set him up, Kennedy fired CIA chief Allen Dulles—an old Nixon friend—and swore he’d dismantle the agency.
Nixon, Hunt, and many CIA and exile leaders privately pinned blame for the military catastrophe on Kennedy for not providing adequate air cover. Later, Hunt publicly accused the president of “a failure of nerves.”
Mafia bosses, already enraged by Kennedy’s anticrime crusade in this country, were upset that their lucrative gambling casinos—shut down by Castro— would not be returning to Cuba.
It is quite possible top elements of the Mob and the CIA decided to send their hired guns against Kennedy instead of Castro. Would Nixon know? After all, he and Hunt had come up with the original ideas they thought JFK later bungled. And Nixon’s tight CIA and Mob contacts undoubtedly kept him completely
up-to-date on major related developments. Fletcher Prouty, a former Air Force officer who regularly worked with the CIA on covert operations, has said Nixon “may very well have realized” that such a killing team “was involved” in the Kennedy murder.
Though Helms reportedly exploded when Haldeman brought up the “Bay of Pigs” in connection with Watergate, he later denied knowing what Haldeman was talking about. But Helms’s immediate response was to direct his deputy, Vernon Waters, to tell acting FBI Director Pat Gray the FBI investigation jeopardized covert CIA operations. Gray “dutifully carried out the order to cut back the investigation.” Helms’s action lends weight to the probability that the subject Nixon raised with him, through Haldeman, actually dealt with something other than the 1961 CIA- backed invasion of Cuba.
Indeed, the CIA’s own top- secret postmortem on the invasion—when it was finally declassified in 1998—disclosed major agency blunders and criticized the failure to inform President Kennedy that the potential for “success had been dubious.” But the report contains absolutely nothing that could be interpreted as sensitive to national security.
Several days before the invasion, the Miami correspondent for the New York Times, Tad Szulc, wrote a story about the planned landing. But, after a personal appeal from President Kennedy, senior Times editors toned it down. Two months later, Szulc told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that information about the supposedly secret invasion had been available in Miami in March to any interested reporter. Kennedy later told Times editors, “If you had printed more about the operation, you would have saved us from a colossal mistake.”
Nixon’s Watergate warning to Helms about the dangerous CIA secrets Hunt could tell—and the events leading up to it—deserve a closer look.
As far back in his presidency as September 18, 1971, Nixon contemplated an order to the CIA to turn over to him its complete files on the Bay of Pigs. This happened at a White House meeting of Nixon, Attorney General John Mitchell and Nixon aides Haldeman, Ehrlichman and Egil Krogh. Ehrlichman’s handwritten notes have Ehrlichman telling the group: “Bay of Pigs—order to CIA—President is to have the FULL file or else—nothing withheld. President was involved in Bay of Pigs—must have the file—theory—deeply involved—must know all.”
The president personally followed up at a meeting with Helms on October 8, 1971. Ehrlichman sat in. His notes quote Nixon as saying, “Purpose of request for documents: must be fully advised in order to know what to duck won’t hurt Agency, nor attack predecessor.”
Helms answers, “Only one president at a time I only work for you.”
Nixon then said, “Ehrlichman is my lawyer—deal with him on all this as you would me.”
After Ehrlichman tells Helms he’ll be making requests for more material, Helms responds: “OK, anything.”
Helms initially went along with the Watergate cover- up. Haldeman was able to tell the president he informed Helms that the Watergate investigation “tracks back to the Bay of Pigs . . . At that point, he got the picture. He said we’ll be very happy to be helpful.” Helms, however, had second thoughts and was soon refusing to cooperate with Nixon’s gambit. For that insubordination, he was eventually banished to be the ambassador to Iran.
That the CIA failed to obey Nixon’s order is also established in a newly released Watergate tape of a May 18, 1973 conversation in which Haldeman tells Nixon: “[Helms says the CIA] has nothing to hide in the Bay of Pigs. Well, now, Ehrlichman tells me in just the last few days that isn’t true. CIA was very concerned about the Bay of Pigs, and in the investigation apparently he was doing on the Bay of Pigs stuff. At some point, there is a key memo missing that the CIA or somebody has caused to disappear that impeded the effort to find out what really did happen on the Bay of Pigs.”
In The Ends of Power, Haldeman claimed the CIA cover- up of the JFK assassination included failing to tell the Warren Commission about agency assassination attempts against Fidel Castro. And he disclosed that the CIA’s counterintelligence chief James Angleton phoned the FBI’s Bill Sullivan to rehearse their answers to possible commission questions. Haldeman gave these samples:
Q. Was Oswald an agent of the CIA?
Q. Does the CIA have any evidence showing that a conspiracy existed to assassinate Kennedy?
Haldeman pointed out that Sullivan was Nixon’s “highest-ranking loyal friend” at the FBI. In the early days of the Watergate cover- up, according to Ehrlichman, Nixon “knew a great many things about Hunt that I didn’t know.” He quotes the president as saying: “His lawyer is Bittman . . . Do you think we could enlist him to be sure Hunt doesn’t blow national secrets?” As late as March 21, 1973, Nixon was still deeply concerned about keeping Hunt quiet. He told aide John Dean that Hunt’s demands for an additional $120,000 in hush money must be met. And the two men then had this exchange:
Nixon: Well, your major guy to keep under control is Hunt.
Dean: That’s right.
Nixon: I think. Because, he knows . . .
Dean: He knows so much.
Nixon: . . . about a lot of other things.
Nixon’s blackmailing efforts even extended to former president Lyndon Johnson. A 1994 book based on Haldeman’s personal diaries shows that, in January 1973, Nixon tried to coerce LBJ into using his influence with Senate Democrats to derail the Watergate investigation. Haldeman said Nixon threatened to go public with information that LBJ bugged the Nixon campaign in 1968. When Johnson heard of the threat “he got very hot and called Deke [De Loach, No. 3 man at the FBI] and said to him that if the Nixon people are going to play with this, he would release information” that would be even more damaging to Nixon.
The information that President Johnson was going to release was deleted from Haldeman’s dairy by the National Security Council during the Carter administration, which scrutinized it for sensitive national security material. It is the only such deletion in the entire book.
Newly declassifi ed tapes and documents reveal, however, that LBJ was, indeed, ready to play a huge national security card—the treason card—against Nixon’s desperate Watergate gamble. The ex-president was prepared to disclose that, in 1968, for purely political reasons, presidential candidate Nixon had undermined U.S. efforts to end the Vietnam War. President Nixon dropped the blackmail plan after LBJ’s counterthreat.
Nixon never publicly voiced any suspicions that CIA/Mafia assassins recruited to kill Cuban leader Fidel Castro might have murdered President John Kennedy. In fact, Nixon never admitted that as vice president he was in charge of the early Bay of Pigs invasion plan and associated CIA-Mafia plots to kill Castro. Rather, he was on record as a strong supporter of the Warren Commission’s finding that the crime of the twentieth century was the work of a lone Communist nut, Lee Harvey Oswald—and that this nut was silenced by another lone nut, Jack Ruby, acting out of patriotism.
Robert Kennedy’s first thoughts about who might be responsible were entirely different. In the immediate wake of his brother’s assassination in Dallas, the attorney general suspected CIA- Mob involvement.
Kennedy learned the identity of Howard Hughes operative—and onetime Nixon dirty trickster— Robert Maheu when he was told about the Maheu-arranged CIA-Mafia murder conspiracy against Castro. Hughes expert Michael Drosin reports that RFK was “shocked. Not about the failed attempt to kill Castro, which he and his brother almost certainly approved in advance, but about the CIA’s choice of hit men. Especially Giancana.” RFK knew that if the mob was involved in a political plot, it was likely with the CIA’s endorsement.
Jack Newfield, producer of the 1998 Discovery Channel documentary Robert F. Kennedy: A Memoir, said Robert Kennedy had a firm idea about who killed his brother: “Bobby told [JFK adviser] Arthur Schlesinger he blamed ‘that guy in New Orleans’—which meant [Mob boss] Carlos Marcello. Bobby was intense about prosecuting Marcello as attorney general. He deported him in 1961, indicted him when he returned, and tried him in 1963.”
“Th e Bay of Pigs” gets frequent mention on the Nixon tapes. And the term is usually employed in ways that suggest reference to the assassination. These tapes are also studded with deletions—segments deemed by government censors as too sensitive for public scrutiny. “National Security” is usually cited. Not surprisingly, such deletions often occur during discussions involving E. Howard Hunt, the Bay of Pigs and John F. Kennedy. Isn’t it long past time when these censored sections of the tapes are declassifi ed? Meantime, more than one million JFK assassination-related CIA documents remain secret, but are supposed to be released in 2017. Let’s hope that, as a result, we finally find out who killed JFK and why. And maybe these declassified records will also throw some new light on the befuddling “Bay of Pigs” code that Richard Nixon used in his very first effort to cover up the Watergate burglary.