Monday Apr 17, 1961 to Thursday Apr 20, 1961
CubaThe Bay of Pigs Invasion was a failed military invasion of Cuba undertaken by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)-sponsored rebel group Brigade 2506 on 17 April 1961. A counter-revolutionary military group (made up of mostly Cuban exiles who had traveled to the United States after Castro's takeover, but also some US military personnel), trained and funded by the CIA, Brigade 2506 fronted the armed wing of the Democratic Revolutionary Front (DRF) and intended to overthrow the increasingly communist government of Fidel Castro. Launched from Guatemala and Nicaragua, the invading force was defeated within three days by the Cuban Revolutionary Armed Forces, under the direct command of Castro.
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.
The best known of these anti-Batista groups was the "26th of July Movement" (MR-26-7), founded by a lawyer named Fidel Castro. With Castro as the MR-26-7's head, the organization was based upon a clandestine cell system, with each cell containing ten members, none of whom knew the whereabouts or activities of the other cells.
Between December 1956 and 1959, Castro led a guerrilla army against the forces of Batista from his base camp in the Sierra Maestra mountains. Batista's repression of revolutionaries had earned him widespread unpopularity, and by 1958 his armies were in retreat. On 31 December 1958, Batista resigned and fled into exile, taking with him an amassed fortune of more than US$300,000,000.
The presidency fell to Castro's chosen candidate, the lawyer Manuel Urrutia Lleó, while members of the MR-26-7 took control of most positions in the cabinet. On 16 February 1959, Castro himself took on the role of Prime Minister. Dismissing the need for elections, Castro proclaimed the new administration an example of direct democracy, in which the Cuban populace could assemble en masse at demonstrations and express their democratic will to him personally. Critics instead condemned the new regime as un-democratic.
On 17 March 1960, the CIA put forward their plan for the overthrow of Castro's administration to the U.S. National Security Council (NSC) where US President Dwight D. Eisenhower lended his support. The first stated objective of the plan was to "bring about the replacement of the Castro regime with one more devoted to the true interests of the Cuban people and more acceptable to the US in such a manner to avoid any appearance of US intervention."
In April 1960, FRD (Frente Revolucionario Democratico – Democratic Revolutionary Front) rebels were taken to Useppa Island, a private island off the coast of Florida, which was covertly leased by the CIA at the time. Once the rebels had arrived, they were greeted by instructors from U.S. Army special forces groups, members from the U.S. Air Force and Air National Guard and members of the CIA. The rebels were trained in amphibious assault tactics, guerrilla warfare, infantry and weapons training, unit tactics and land navigation.
In April 1960, the CIA began to recruit anti-Castro Cuban exiles in the Miami area. Until July 1960. For the increasing ranks of recruits, infantry training was carried out at a CIA-run base (code-named JMTrax) near Retalhuleu in the Sierra Madre on the Pacific coast of Guatemala. The exiled group named themselves Brigade 2506 (Brigada Asalto 2506).
In retaliation, the Cuban National Institute for Agrarian Reform took control of 383 private-run businesses on 14 October, and on 25 October a further 166 US companies operating in Cuba had their premises seized and nationalized, including Coca-Cola and Sears Roebuck.
By 31 October 1960, most guerrilla infiltrations and supply drops directed by the CIA into Cuba had failed, and developments of further guerrilla strategies were replaced by plans to mount an initial amphibious assault, with a minimum of 1,500 men. The election of John Kennedy as US President sped up preparations for the invasion; Kennedy reached out to Cuban exiles who supported Batista and hinted he was willing to bring Batista back to power in order to overthrow Castro.
On 18 November 1960, Allen Dulles and Richard Bissell first briefed President-elect John Kennedy on the outline plans. Having experience in actions such as the 1954 Guatemalan coup d'état, Dulles was confident that the CIA was capable of overthrowing the Cuban government.
On 29 November 1960, President Eisenhower met with the chiefs of the CIA, Defense, State, and Treasury departments to discuss the new concept. None expressed any objections, and Eisenhower approved the plans with the intention of persuading John Kennedy of their merit. On 8 December 1960, Bissell presented outline plans to the "Special Group" while declining to commit details to written records.
On 28 January 1961, President Kennedy was briefed, together with all the major departments, on the latest plan (code-named Operation Pluto).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.
In March 1961, the CIA helped Cuban exiles in Miami to create the Cuban Revolutionary Council (CRC), chaired by José Miró Cardona, former Prime Minister of Cuba in January 1959. Cardona became the de facto leader-in-waiting of the intended post-invasion Cuban government.
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. On 3 April 1961, a bomb attack on militia barracks in Bayamo killed four militia, and wounded eight more.
On 4 April 1961, President Kennedy then approved the Bay of Pigs plan (also known as Operation Zapata), because it had a sufficiently long airfield, it was farther away from large groups of civilians than the Trinidad plan, and it was less "noisy" militarily, which would make denial of direct US involvement more plausible. The invasion landing area was changed to beaches bordering the Bahía de Cochinos (Bay of Pigs) in Las Villas Province.
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.
The Cuban security apparatus knew the invasion was coming, via their extensive secret intelligence network. 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.
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.The reconnaissance boats turned back to the ship after their crews detected activities by Cuban militia forces along the coastline. As a result of those activities, at daybreak, a reconnaissance sortie over the Baracoa area was launched from Santiago de Cuba. That was a FAR (Fuerza Aérea Revolucionaria) (Cuban Air Force) T-33, piloted by Lt Orestes Acosta, and it crashed fatally into the sea.
On April 15,The Cuban national police, led by Efigenio Ameijeiras, started the process of arresting thousands of suspected anti-revolutionary individuals, and detaining them in provisional locations such as the Karl Marx Theatre, the moat of Fortaleza de la Cabana and the Principe Castle all in Havana, and the baseball park in Matanzas.
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.
On 15 April 1961, at about 06:00 am Cuban local time, eight Douglas B-26B Invader bombers in three groups simultaneously attacked three Cuban airfields at San Antonio de los Baños and at Ciudad Libertad (formerly named Campo Columbia), both near Havana, plus the Antonio Maceo International Airport at Santiago de Cuba.
At 10:30 am on 15 April at the United Nations, the Cuban Foreign Minister Raúl Roa accused the US of aggressive air attacks against Cuba, and that afternoon formally tabled a motion to the Political (First) Committee of the UN General Assembly. Only days earlier, the CIA had unsuccessfully attempted to entice Raúl Roa into defecting.
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.
At about 06:50, south of Playa Larga, Houston was damaged by several bombs and rockets from a Sea Fury and a T-33, and about two hours later captain Luis Morse intentionally beached it on the western side of the bay. About 270 troops had been unloaded, but about 180 survivors who struggled ashore were incapable of taking part in further action because of the loss of most of their weapons and equipment. The loss of Houston was a great blow to the brigadistas as that ship was carrying much of the Brigade 2506's medical supplies, which meant that wounded brigadistas had to make do with inadequate medical care.
At about 07:00, two invading FAL B-26s attacked and sank the Cuban Navy Patrol Escort ship El Baire at Nueva Gerona on the Isle of Pines. They then proceeded to Girón to join two other B-26s to attack Cuban ground troops and provide distraction air cover for the paratroop C-46s and the CEF ships under air attack.
At about 07:30, five C-46 and one C-54 transport aircraft dropped 177 paratroops from the parachute battalion of Brigade 2506 in an action code-named Operation Falcon. About 30 men, plus heavy equipment, were dropped south of the Central Australia sugar mill on the road to Palpite and Playa Larga, but the equipment was lost in the swamps, and the troops failed to block the road. Other troops were dropped at San Blas, at Jocuma between Covadonga and San Blas, and at Horquitas between Yaguaramas and San Blas. Those positions to block the roads were maintained for two days, reinforced by ground troops from Playa Girón and tanks.
By 09:00, Cuban troops and militia from outside the area had started arriving at the Central Australia sugar mill, Covadonga and Yaguaramas. Throughout the day they were reinforced by more troops, heavy armour and T-34 tanks typically carried on flat-bed trucks.
At about 09:30, FAR Sea Furies and T-33s fired rockets at Rio Escondido, which then 'blew up' and sank about 3 kilometres (1.9 mi) south of Girón. Rio Escondido was loaded with aviation fuel and as the ship started to burn, the captain gave the order to abandon ship with the ship being destroyed in three explosions shortly afterwards. Rio Escondido carried not only fuel, but also enough ammunition, food and medical supplies to last ten days and the radio that allowed the Brigade to communicate with the Liberation Air Force. The loss of the communications ship Rio Escondido meant that San Román was only able to issue orders to the forces at Blue Beach, and he had no idea of what was happening at Red Beach or with the paratroopers.
A messenger from Red Beach arrived at about 10:00 am asking San Román to send tank and infantry to block the road from the Central Australia sugar mill, a request that he agreed to. It was not expected that government forces would be counter-attacking from this direction.
By about 11:00, the two remaining freighters Caribe and Atlántico, and the CIA LCIs and LCUs, started retreating south to international waters, but still pursued by FAR aircraft. At about noon, a FAR B-26 exploded due to heavy anti-aircraft fire from Blagar, and pilot Luis Silva Tablada (on his second sortie) and his crew of three were lost.
At 2:30 pm a group of militiamen from the 339th Battalion set up a position, which came under attack from the brigadista M41 Walker Bulldog tanks, who inflicted heavy losses on the defenders. This action is remembered in Cuba as the "Slaughter of the Lost Battalion" as most of the militiamen perished.
At about 21:00 on 17 April 1961, a night air strike by three FAL B-26s on San Antonio de Los Baños airfield failed, reportedly due to incompetence and bad weather. Two other B-26s had aborted the mission after take-off. Other sources allege that heavy anti-aircraft fire scared the aircrews As night fell, Atlantico and Caribe pulled away from Cuba to be followed by Blagar and Barbara J.
During the night of 16/17 April, a mock diversionary landing was organized by CIA operatives near Bahía Honda, Pinar del Río Province. A flotilla containing equipment that broadcast sounds and other effects of a shipborne invasion landing provided the source of Cuban reports that briefly lured Fidel Castro away from the Bay of Pigs battlefront area.
At about 00:00 on 17 April 1961, the two CIA LCIs Blagar and Barbara J, each with a CIA 'operations officer' and an Underwater Demolition Team (UDT) of five frogmen, entered the Bay of Pigs (Bahía de Cochinos) on the southern coast of Cuba. They headed a force of four transport ships (Houston, Río Escondido, Caribe and Atlántico) carrying about 1,400 Cuban exile ground troops of Brigade 2506, plus the Brigade's M41 Walker Bulldog tanks, and other vehicles in the landing craft.
At about 01:00, Blagar, as the battlefield command ship, directed the principal landing at Playa Girón (code-named Blue Beach), led by the frogmen in rubber boats followed by troops from Caribe in small aluminium boats, then LCVPs and LCUs with the M41 Walker Bulldog tanks. Barbara J, leading Houston, similarly landed troops 35 km further northwest at Playa Larga (code-named Red Beach), using small fiberglass boats. The unloading of troops at night was delayed, due to engine failures and boats damaged by unforeseen coral reefs; the CIA had originally believed that the coral reef was seaweed. As the frogmen came in, they were shocked to discover that the Red Beach was lit with floodlights, which led to the location of the landing being hastily changed. As the frogmen landed, a firefight broke out when a jeep carrying Cuban militia happened by. The few militias in the area succeeded in warning Cuban armed forces via radio soon after the first landing, before the invaders overcame their token resistance.
Brigade 2506's M41 Walker Bulldog tanks had all landed by 7:30 am at Blue Beach and all of the troops by 8:30 am. Neither San Román at Blue Beach nor Erneido Oliva at Red Beach could communicate as all of the radios had been soaked in the water during the landings.
At about 11:00 am, the Cuban government began an offensive to take San Blas. San Román ordered all of the paratroopers back in order to hold San Blas, and they halted the offensive. During the afternoon, Castro kept the brigadistas under steady air attack and artillery fire, but did not order any new major attacks.
At 14:00, President Kennedy received a telegram from Nikita Khrushchev in Moscow, stating the Russians would not allow the US to enter Cuba, and implied swift nuclear retribution to the United States heartland if their warnings were not heeded.
As the men from Red Beach arrived at Girón, San Román and Oliva met to discuss the situation. With ammunition running low, Oliva suggested that the Brigade 2506 retreat into the Escambray mountains to wage guerilla warfare, but San Román decided to hold the beachhead.
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.
At 1:00 am, Cuban Army infantrymen and militiamen started an offensive. Despite heavy losses on the part of the Communist forces, the shortage of ammunition forced the brigadistas back and the T-34 tanks continued to force their way past the wreckage of the battlefield to press on the assault.
At about 17:00 on 18 April, FAL B-26s attacked a Cuban column of 12 private buses leading trucks carrying tanks and other armor, moving southeast between Playa Larga and Punta Perdiz. The vehicles, loaded with civilians, militia, police, and soldiers, were attacked with bombs, napalm, and rockets, suffering heavy casualties.
By about 10:30 am on 18 April, Cuban troops and militia, supported by the T-34 tanks and 122mm artillery, took Playa Larga after Brigade forces had fled towards Girón in the early hours. During the day, Brigade forces retreated to San Blas along the two roads from Covadonga and Yaguaramas. By then, both Fidel Castro and José Ramón Fernández had re-located to that battlefront area.
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.
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.
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.
On 20 April, Humberto Sorí Marin was executed at Fortaleza de la Cabaña, having been arrested on 18 March following infiltration into Cuba with 14 tons of explosives. His fellow conspirators Rogelio González Corzo (alias "Francisco Gutierrez"), Rafael Diaz Hanscom, Eufemio Fernandez, Arturo Hernandez Tellaheche and Manuel Lorenzo Puig Miyar were also executed.
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.
On 21 December 1962, Cuban Prime Minister Fidel Castro and James B. Donovan, a US lawyer aided by Milan C. Miskovsky, a CIA legal officer, signed an agreement to exchange 1,113 prisoners for US$53 million in food and medicine, sourced from private donations and from companies expecting tax concessions.