Talking Proud Archives --- Military

Soviet Foxtrot Submarines: The Cuban Missile Crisis

May 3, 2017

A chronology of events in Washington

There is an enormous amount of information about the Cuban Missile crisis in bookstores, the library, and on-line. My purpose here is to outline what was happening in Washington, DC as the crisis unfolded and matured. I have covered some of it in preceding sections. It is interesting however to view it in chronologic order. It's not all inclusive but gives you a good idea about the decision making processes at work.


President John F. Kennedy (JFK) (left) had a huge chip on his shoulder with regard to Fidel Castro and Cuba. An even bigger chip was carved out of Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy's (RFK) (right) shoulder. Just days after the abortive JFK approved CIA-led Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba on April 17, 1961, conducted mostly by Cuban exiles, RFK, JFK's brother, told the president in an April 19, 1961 memo:

"If we don't want Russia to set up missile bases in Cuba, we had better decide now what we're willing to do to stop it."

RFK suggested the US send troops into Cuba, set up a blockade around Cuba, and/or call on the Organization of American States (OAS) to prohibit shipment of arms to Cuba. RFK advocated a "showdown." He was an avid hawk.


Tied up in US-Soviet relations at the time was the status of West Berlin. Khrushchev wanted a whole Berlin, under Soviet rule. In August 1961, the East Germans directed by the Soviets erected the Berlin Wall, as shown here. To the left, East Berlin, to the right, West Berlin.

National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) 11-8/1-61 of September 21, 1961 informed the president that the US had a substantial lead over the USSR in Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM). Nonetheless, JFK stuck with his campaign rhetoric that the USSR had the lead. Insisting on that was a grievous inaccuracy.

In November 1961 President Kennedy approved a plan to stimulate rebellion in Cuba and the overthrow of the Castro government.


CIA set up Task Force W for Operation Mongoose. The Special Group Augmented (SGA) led by retired Ary General Maxwell Taylor provided guidance. CIA established a station called "JM WAVE" in southern Florida on the South Campus of the University of Miami, formerly Richmond Naval Air Station (NAS). The photo shows a few of its buildings. It's cover name was Zenith Technological Enterprises. It had about 200 American operatives who deployed about 2,200 Cuban exiles in various front operations and safe houses throughout the area.

In January 1962 the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) listed out top priorities for completion of contingency plans against Cuba.


The US Jupiter ballistic missiles deployed to Turkey became operational in April 1962. This map depicts why this was a thorn in Khrushchev's side, one which he wished to counter-balance in Cuba.

Furthermore, in April 1962 the US began planning a group of military exercises to test contingency plans for Cuba.

Midshipman First Class Robert M. Beer, USN, Class of 1990, US Naval Academy, wrote a Trident Scholar Project report entitled, "The US Navy and the Cuban Missile Crisis." To establish his credentials, the US Naval Academy has said, "The Trident Scholar Program provides an opportunity for a select group of exceptionally capable midshipmen to engage in independent study and research during their senior year. Naval Academy faculty and other area specialists mentor the Trident Scholars helping them expand their knowledge and contribute to their fields of study."

In this paper, Beer wrote:

"Sometime in early July (1962), intelligence reached the president (Kennedy) that indicated a significant change in the ongoing Soviet-Cuban negotiations. According to Commander Gerry McCabe (shown here), the president's assistant naval aide, intelligence originating from Raul's (Castro) visit (to Moscow) concurrently alerted Kennedy to Khrushchev's plan to base nuclear-capable ballistic missiles in Cuba. The president 'became aware of the planned introduction of Russian nuclear missiles into Cuba sometime in early July (1962),' recalled McCabe … Based on information gleaned from code word intelligence sources, the very existence of which is known to only a very select few, President Kennedy 'learned that Raul Castro had agreed with Khrushchev that the Russians could install nuclear missiles in Cuba and that they could start doing it …in the fall … (Kennedy) did not share this knowledge with most of his closest advisers, and moved forcefully to restrict its use by the American intelligence community."

I'll let this brew for a while and press on.


The USS Oxford (AG 159) departed Norfolk, Virginia on July 16, 1962 for a scheduled four month patrol off South America. She was officially called a Technical Research Ship. On July 19, NSA notified the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) that the Secretary of Defense had tasked it to "establish a SIGINT (Signals Intelligence) collection capability in the vicinity of Havana, Cuba as a matter of the highest intelligence priority and to initially divert the USS Oxford for this purpose." The Oxford arrived on staton off-shore Havana on July 23, 1962 and remained there for six months. One officer commented aboard the ship said, "I seldom had a full night's sleep. Nothing waited for the next day to be acted upon. Collection assignments as well as reporting assignments were taken care of as soon as possible." Enlisted operators did the collection, analysis and reporting while the officers managed the effort and in certain situations had to sign off on critical reporting. The Oxford's SIGINT was often used to tip-off U-2 photo reconnaissance tasking.

Operation Mongoose started as a covert clandestine action involving mostly Cubans. The mission was to create volatility in Cuba such that Cubans would be able to overthrow him. However, General Maxwell Taylor, shown here in uniform, had other views. He served as a civilian adviser to Kennedy on "what to do about Cuba" after the failed Bay of Pigs invasion, then was recalled to active duty to be the military adviser to Kennedy, and then on October 1, 1962 was appointed as the chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff (CJCS). Taylor's perspective was that the requirement for a military invasion by US forces to overthrow Castro was inevitable if anything were to be done at all.

As a result, it can be hard to distinguish when Mongoose became an invasion. As far as I can see, covert Mongoose actions occurred inside Cuba while significant military planning and force movements for a full invasion were in train, the former directed by CIA, the latter directed by the military.

US covert planning to intervene militarily in Cuba took form under “Operation Mongoose” in November 1961. Edward Lansdale was a well-known name in clandestine operations from WWII onward. During the early 1960s he was chiefly involved in clandestine efforts to topple the government of Cuba, including proposals to assassinate Fidel Castro. Then an USAF major general, JFK recalled him from Vietnam to work on this effort.

In November 1961 President Kennedy approved a plan to stimulate rebellion in Cuba and the overthrow of the Castro government. Lansdale was in charge of the operation, but RFK was to oversee his work. RFK did much more than oversee — he was intimately involved with the project. The SGA was created to oversee the operation. It was established only to work the Cuba issue. General Maxwell Taylor, USA (Ret.), at the time a civilian, was the chairman of the SGA and was tasked to oversee Mongoose.

On July 25, 1962 Major General Edward Lansdale, USAF, planning Operation Mongoose, a counterinsurgency operation directed at Cuba, reported 11 CIA guerrilla teams had been inserted into Cuba. Lansdale pressed for some high level decisions on the overall plan of action against Cuba.

Also in July, NSA intercepts revealed Soviet vessels calling on Cuban ports were making false port declarations and declaring less than the known cargo-carrying capacity.

In August 1962, more reports started flowing to the US leadership that Soviet missiles, most likely SAMs and cruise missiles, had arrived in Cuba. NSA reported there were already 57 voyages in a little over a month, and some ships were on their second voyage during that period of time. But the US considered the aircraft, SAM and cruise missile systems reportedly coming into Cuba to be defensive, and the Soviets and Cubans said the same. US decision-makers, except for a very few, therefore did not want to worry themselves too much over these. After all, the fighters and SAMs would be used to defend Cuban airspace while the cruise missiles and some of the fighters would be used for coastal defense against an invasion.

However, there was a fly in the ointment. His name was John A. McCone. McCone in the 1940s was president of California Shipbuilding. He then expanded it into Pacific Ocean shipping. He served in multiple posts in the Truman and Eisenhower administrations but maintained his ties to the shipping company throughout. So he knew something of shipping on the open seas. Second, McCone served as undersecretary of the Air Force and became a leading proponent of the US strategic missile program and strategic airpower. So he knew something of strategic missiles. And finally, he served as the chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission (AWC). So he knew something of nuclear warheads.

JFK asked McCone to serve as his Director of Central Intelligence (DCI), who at the time was dual hatted as Director CIA. JFK did this after the failed Bay of Pigs invasion attempt. Many viewed McCone as an unlikely selection for this job. But he had unrestricted access to the president.

While the introduction to Cuba of what many considered defensive systems was surely occurring, McCone studied reports of shipping from the Black and Baltic Seas.
Harry Kreisler of UC Berkeley interviewed McCone in 1987 and 1988. During that interview McCone said:

“There was no explanation for the shipping that was going on in the Baltic and the North Sea to Cuba other than the fact that they in all probability were carrying missiles. Nobody had seen the missiles because they weren't there. They were still on the water, and there were a dozen ships or so on the way in order to give them the surface-to-air missiles. Fifteen or sixteen thousand men had been delivered with all their ordnance guns and tanks, and so forth so there was no compelling reason to send shiploads of material duplicating what was already there. It seemed to me that judgment alone would dictate the fact that there was something more that was coming ... and what could it be? This was the position I took, and I preached it to everybody, but nobody listened.”

In August 1962 McCone told Kennedy that Khrushchev was capable of putting missiles in Cuba, and he meant surface-to-surface nuclear ballistic missiles. On August 10 he voiced concerns about Cuba and repeated those in August 20. On August 21 he told the Special Group (SG) he thought the Soviets were delivering and would install Medium Range Ballistic Missiles (MRBMs) in Cuba. McCone reckoned this was a way for Khrushchev to counter the American nuclear superiority.

McCone sent a memo to the president saying he believed Soviet MRBMs were on their way to Cuba. He had no hard evidence, just intuition, something he picked up from business. McCone kept repeating his views. He was on a crusade. Other officials such as Secretary of State Dean Rusk and Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara disagreed and disregarded his views.

McCone commented, “The president and his advisors never changed until they saw the pictures. That's what changed them.”

McCone felt alone but he was not really alone in his views. Midshipman Beer, USN said Admiral George Anderson, the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) and Admiral Dennison, Commander-in-Chief Atlantic (CINCLANT) both were concerned that the shipping effort was aimed at installing ballistic missiles in Cuba. Staff members were worried about this as early as July 1962.


By August 23, 1962, however, President Kennedy grew anxious about McCone’s views. He called together the National Security Council (NSC). Secretary of State Dean Rusk (left) and Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara (right) continued arguing against McCone’s analyses. Kennedy directed preparation of a contingency plan just in case.

On August 23 his instructions were formalized by National Security Advisor McGeorge Bundy in National Security Action Memorandum (NSAM) 181, sent to the Secretaries of State and Defense, Attorney General, Acting Director CIA and General Taylor.

NSAM 181 reflected Kennedy’s interest in removing the Jupiter nuclear ballistic missiles from Turkey. They had by this time already become obsolete.

NSAM 181 also urged Operation Mongoose be developed “with all possible speed,” and asked, among other things, for opinions on a naval blockade or invasion beyond the Mongoose counter-insurgency.

Then the first shoe dropped in Washington. An U-2C launched from Edwards AFB overflew Cuba on August 29, 1962 and took numerous photos of Soviet SA-2 SAMs for anti-aircraft defense. Furthermore, it photographed a cruise missile on a launcher at Banes. It also photographed the area around San Cristobal and at Guanajay, locations which would emerge later as ballistic missile sites. However, the photography from this mission showed no construction at either location.

President Kennedy was informed two days later of the U-2’s results, on August 31.

On September 3, Walter Rostow, shown here, chairman of the State Department's policy planning council, presented his assessment of the situation in Cuba which said, in part, "A line should be drawn at the installation in Cuba or in Cuban waters of nuclear weapons or delivery vehicles." He recommended Operation Mongoose be intensified, though he favored using independent anti-Castro groups.

JFK understood the Soviets were sending military forces to Cuba, and he knew Khrushchev had a plan to install ballistic missiles. Nonetheless, on September 4 he said, "There is no evidence of any organized combat forces in Cuba from any Soviet bloc country nor evidence of other significant offensive capabilities." We now know Soviet troops began arriving in Cuba during the first week of September 1962. They were aboard many of those dry cargo and passenger ships coming to Cuba. The Soviets would deploy some 40,000 troops, perhaps more.

On September 5 the next U-2 overflight confirmed the SA-2s, showing three more sites. Furthermore, it photographed MiG-21 Fishbed fighter interceptor aircraft at Santa Clara airfield. These were not trivial systems.

The USAF's Tactical Air Command (TAC) set up a working groups to develop plans for a coordinated attack against Cuba to precede any amphibious or airborne landings.


Given all the intercepts associated with increased shipping and Cuban technicians talking, NSA analysts grew suspicious the Cubans were getting a Soviet-style air defense system. In American minds, this was huge because it would mean Cuba was getting systems similar to those deployed to North Vietnam, systems that greatly challenged USAF and USN aircraft flying over that country. That in turn impacted thinking about an invasion of Cuba. This photo shows the USAF Security Service (USAFSS) signals intelligence (SIGINT) station at Cudjoe Key, Cuba during the crisis. It was one busy operation.

There were plenty of rumblings in the intelligence community that the Soviets were up to something big in Cuba, and speculation built up they intended to install ballistic missiles.

CIA director John A. McCone was even more suspicious now. Sending antiaircraft missiles and state-of-the-art fighter interceptors into Cuba, he reasoned, "made sense only if Moscow intended to use them to shield a base for ballistic missiles aimed at the United States.”

But McCone still stood largely alone. Secretary Rusk, Secretary McNamara, and National Security Advisor Bundy did not agree. On September 10, 1962 Secretary Rusk objected to CIA’s plans for more U-2 flights. He preferred conducting peripheral airborne and seaborne reconnaissance. He feared the loss of an aircraft. Kennedy decided to curtail future U-2 flights over Cuba all together. Easier said than done. Kennedy was worried.

USIB 1963, chaired by CIA Director McCone (far end)

On September 19 the US Intelligence Board (USIB) prepared Special National Intelligence Estimate (SNIE) 85-3-62 which said deploying nuclear missiles to Cuba was possible, but … The USIB said the Soviets were doing as much as they could to:

"… strengthen the Communist regime there against what the Cubans and the Soviets conceive to be a danger that the US may attempt to overthrow it … At the same time, they evidently recognize that the development of an offensive military base in Cuba might provoke US military intervention and thus defeat their present purpose … The USSR could derive considerable military advantage from the establishment of Soviet medium and intermediate range ballistic missiles in Cuba, or from the establishment of a Soviet submarine base there. As between the two, the establishment of a submarine base would be the more likely. Either development, however, would be incompatible with Soviet practice to date and with Soviet policy as we presently estimate it."

On September 20, 1962 the US Senate passed a resolution authorizing the use of force against Cuba to prevent "Cuban aggression." It specifically highlighted using force to stop the creation of offensive military capabilities that could threaten the US.
Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko loudly objected before the UN General Assembly, charging the US with creating a "war hysteria," asserting there was no way the Cubans could invade the US.

Two more U-2 missions over Cuba were flown in September, both rush jobs, in and out. The mission on September 26, however, spotted more SAM sites and cruise missile crates at three sites other than what was seen at Banes on August 29. The mission on September 29, 1962 saw yet another cruise missile site. Two more U-2s flew along Cuba’s periphery in October.

On September 27, 2017 General Curtis Lemay, chief of staff, USAF (CSAF), approved a plan for coordinated air attacks in advance of an airborne assault and amphibious landing in Cuba. All forces were to be in place and ready to go by October 20. This was part of "Operation Mongoose."

On October 1 McNamara met with the JCS. Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) analysts told the group they believed it was possible that MRBMs were being positioned in Pinar del Rio Province, in the southwest of the island. Recall McNamara did not believe McCone’s perspectives about this possibility.

I want to back up a bit to address how the DIA analysts might have come to this conclusion.

Colonel John R. Wright, Jr., USA, was assigned to Office of Estimates, DIA. He kept a diary. He was selected by General Wheeler to represent DIA in a special group led by Brigadier General William H. Craig that would work a “very high priority, sensitive project.” It was working on Cuba. Wright was at the time the most knowledgeable person at DIA on Cuba.

Up until now, the US had been relying heavily on SIGINT and photo intelligence (PHOTINT), both thought to be more reliable than human intelligence (HUMINT). However Colonel Wright said he was convinced as early as August 1962 the Soviets were introducing modern sophisticated weapons into Cuba. He was in complete synch with CIA Director McCone.

Cuban refugees had been reporting a large group of Soviet ships arriving the week of July 29 - August 5, 1962. Five of the ships were passenger ships and the refugees said they brought Soviet soldiers and missiles along with “vans, cranes, trucks, long trailers, tracked prime movers, tanks, armored personnel carriers,” all being handled at night in great secrecy.

Wright thought some of the equipment might be SA-2s. Imagery from an August 5 reconnaissance mission showed “convoys of equipment at two of the three spots” Wright had figured might be ballistic missile deployment locations. The August 29 U-2 mission confirmed the SA-2s.

Then on September 21 Wright received a report from a refugee, “a mature former accountant.” This refugee said he saw a series of 20 long objects measuring 65-75 feet in length being transported to the airfield at Camp Liberdad in Havana. During interrogation, he picked out the SS-4 (Shyster) MRBM from a Soviet manual held by the interrogator. He thought the Soviet ship had docked in Havana on September 10 or 11.


Wright also asked his people to plot out the locations of the SA-2 sites already confirmed by overflight reconnaissance. They also had reports of many Soviet camps. Pinar del Rio Province seemed to have an inordinate number of camps and SA-2 missile sites. His people then plotted an area bound by 700-1100 nm from the areas being explored, and Washington, DC was in the coverage area. The conclusion was they were going to set up MRBM and maybe Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile (IRBM) sites.

Wright was present at the October 1, 1962 JCS briefing with McNamara. The thesis was presented. In turn, DIA established a requirement for an U-2 flight over this area.

After the meeting, McNamara ordered Admiral Robert Dennison, Commander-in-Chief US Atlantic Command (CINCLANT) to prepare to blockade Cuba. The Air Force and Navy were also alerted to prepare to attack Cuba. Mongoose was back on the table. Actually it had never left the table except to be expanded and refined.

On October 2, the next day, McNamara sent a memo to the JCS outlining scenarios that could demand US military intervention. He also asked that emphasis be placed on removing Castro from power.

On October 3, 1962, orders went out to increase surveillance of the approaches to Cuba. The likelihood the Foxtrot submarines would be detected increased. The Soviet skippers knew that because their crews were monitoring Norwegian, British and American maritime patrol aircraft and their home bases. It is arguable when the US knew the Foxtrots were on their way.

As events turned, on October 4, 1962, the first Soviet ballistic missiles arrived at Mariel, Cuba aboard the ship Indigirka. It carried 36 warheads for R-12 MRBM, 36 warheads for "Frontline Combat Rocket missiles" which I believe were the S-2 Sopka the cruise missile, 12 warheads for Luna short range artillery rocket systems, and six nuclear bombs for Il-28s.

On October 6, 1962 CINCLANT issued the order to increase readiness to execute Plan 312, the airstrike on Cuba. Dennison also ordered his forces to increase their readiness to invade. Prepositioning of troops, aircraft, ships and supplies were directed to full readiness. CINCLANT had two plans for the invasion of Cuba, Plan 314 or Plan 316. Dennison wanted both to be employed.

Throughout there were a series of meetings with Soviet officials in Washington. US officials argued that they had some evidence there were nuclear missiles in Cuba. The Soviets consistently denied that.

On October 7, 1962, Soviet armed forces were placed on strategic alert. US forces on the east coast began moving and deploying in reaction to direction from CINCLANT and the chief of staff, USAF (CSAF).

On October 14, 1962 a USAF U-2C reconnaissance overflight mission flown by Major Richard Heyser, USAF, photographed the San Cristobal area where the speculation was that a MRBM missile unit might be deployed. Indeed the MRBMs were there. This was the first USAF SAC U-2 mission after authority was passed from the CIA.

Heyser’s cameras also photographed all but one of the remaining 24 SAM sites in Cuba, and photos of the San Julian airfield show the IL-28s being taken out of their crates.

Recall that the August 29 mission that spotted the SA-2s also photographed the San Cristobal area and the analysts looking at the photos saw no construction there. However, Heyser took some 928 photos on this October 14 mission. This was the first confirmation the Soviets were deploying offensive missiles in Cuba. Recall what McCone said: they want to see the photos. Well they saw them. But the photos stimulated many unanswered questions.

The day after the photos were viewed by analysts, October 15, the CIA asked for other photo interpreters from other agencies to take a hard look to confirm. They did and they confirmed. Bundy decided to withhold briefing top officials including the president until October 16. It was evening and he did not want to alert the Soviets that something big was happening in Washington.

The SGA ordered the acceleration of covert operations against Cuba on October 15, asking for "considerably more sabotage."

In addition, PHIBRIGLEX-62, a major US military exercise, was scheduled to begin in Puerto Rico to overthrow an imaginary tyrant, named "Ortsac," which was Castro spelled backwards. The plan was changed and the military used the exercise to begin deploying the equipment and forces needed to invade Cuba.


Kennedy was informed of the U-2’s MRBM photography on October 16. He identified a list of advisers he wanted to meet that morning in a group that would become known as ExComm, the Executive Committee of the National Security Council. This is a photo of the ExComm meeting on October 29, to give you an idea.

The ExCom convened in late morning. Analysts told it they did not believe the missiles were yet ready to fire. They were initially identified as SS-3s and corrected later to SS-4 MRBMs. The order went out to fly more U-2 flights that day, and six were sent up.

Secretary Rusk acknowledged the MRBMs were in Cuba. He said, "Mr. President, this is a, of course, a widely serious development. It's one that we, all of us, had not really believed the Soviets could, uh, carry this far." CIA Director McCone must not have been in the room!

Secretary McNamara, who also did not believe the Soviets would do this, immediately switched gears and went to the military options which ranged from single strikes on the missile bases to a blockade to an invasion.

Later meetings on the 16th concluded no nuclear warheads had been seen, it would take about two weeks to get them missiles operationally ready, to wit, late October. McNamara briefed some military options, one of which was a naval blockade. He and the JCS concluded any military option against the island would have to lead to an invasion. Attorney General Kennedy voiced the president's dissatisfaction with the counterinsurgency plan, Operation Mongoose.

In his book
One Minute to Midnight, Michael Dobbs wrote that Kennedy was furious Khrushchev was deploying these ballistic missiles and could not understand why he would do that. He even said that doing so would be like the US deploying the Jupiter missiles to Turkey. He was reminded that the US had done that, and Kennedy brushed it off. Dobbs also pointed out that Kennedy said the US was deploying the Jupiters because the Soviets had deployed the R-12 MRBM to Cuba in 1957.

Frankly I do not understand how Kennedy would say that. The Soviets just began testing the R-12 in 1957 and throughout 1958. It was not even publicly displayed until 1960.

There was some debate about the importance of the MRBMs in Cuba. The JCS felt it meant the Soviets would have a first strike capability, but Kennedy agreed with McNamara that it didn't matter whether the US was destroyed by ICBMs from the USSR or MRBMs from Cuba. It seems at this point Kennedy started viewing the entire affair as a political maneuver more than a military one. There was concern if the US gave in, the Soviets would try something similar in Berlin.


Left to right: San Julian Air Base, location of the IL-28 crates. San Cristobal location of MRBM site. Mariel seaport through which many weapons came. And Santa Cruz del Norte where nuclear warheads were stockpiled for the Luna cruise missiles.

I want to insert some information about the nuclear warheads described by Huchthausen. He wrote that six nuclear bombs for the IL-28s were stored at the Cuban air base at San Julian, He said “the remainder of the atomic warheads were deployed with coastal defense Luna missiles.” He commented that in the event of an invasion, the nuclear warhead capable Lunas could be fired without prior authority. He said, “These nuclear warheads were stockpiled at Santa Cruz del Norte.”

I pointed out in the
Detection sub-section that the Soviets admitted in 1989 they had deployed nuclear warheads to Bejucal and Managua, Cuba. So far as I can tell, the US decision-makers did not think they had made such a deployment, even though low altitude reconnaissance photos showed such storage areas being set up at both locations.

No decisions had yet been made in Washington about implementing a naval blockade of Cuba. Nonetheless, on October 16, Robert Kennedy warned the US may have to sink Soviet ships and submarines to maintain a blockade.

Then, an SS-5 IRBM site was detected on October 17 at Guanajay, Cuba. This missile had a 2,200 mile range. The Guided Missile and Astronautics Intelligence Committee (GMAIC) concluded 24 to 32 MRBMs could be operational in a week, not two weeks, and the IRBMs probably could not be operational until December 1962. It was later learned that no SS-5s actually made it to Cuba.

The JCS now recommended air attacks against the missile sites. Moral arguments were presented and seemed to sway the decision-makers. That is, would the world see an attack as a “Pearl Harbor in reverse.” As a result, the blockade seemed to rise up to the top.

Mongoose had evolved mainly into a sabotage kind of operation, whereas the JCS had for months wanted to invade. With the exception of the Marine Corps, the JCS felt it could invade and avoid a general war. The Marines felt three divisions would be needed to take the island and that it would take a long time to get a new government in place.

ExCommOctober 18

Debate over what to do continued on October 18, 19 and 20. Huchthausen noted the Soviets had intended to complete their shipments by October 20, with final arrivals scheduled prior to November 5, 1962. This photo shows the ExCom meeting of October 18, 1962. JFK is seated mid-way on the right side of the table. His brother, Robert Kennedy, is at the front-right of the picture. Along the wall are the easels which intelligence analysts used to display U-2 photos of Soviet missile-building sites in Cuba.

The October 18 meeting is instructive. Secretary Rusk preferred the limited air strike option. Secretary McNamara liked the larger air strike option. Most at the meeting saw a naval blockade as a second choice. However, Charles Bohlen, who had served as the US ambassador to the USSR, liked the blockade the most. CIA's McCone favored invasion. There was a consensus that JFK should send a letter of Warning to Khrushchev if a blockade is invasion were selected. Some felt such a letter appropriate if the US were to execute an air strike, while others opposed that, specifically McCone and McNamara. If I am reading the notes correctly, at the October 18 meeting there were two options that seemed most acceptable Rusk's limited air strikes and Bohlen's blockade.

However, by October 20 it looks like the air strike option had expanded significantly. JFK did not see it as surgical, but instead viewed it as a massive commitment that could result in sizable casualties. Indeed one member of the ICS urged employment of nuclear weapons during the air strike. The president leaned toward the blockade.

During the afternoon of October 20, Kennedy instructed that he wanted attention focused on a blockade as he did not want to start a nuclear war. A Special National Intelligence Estimate (SNIE), SNIE 11-19-62 was prepared on October 20. It estimated 16 SS-4 MRBMs were already operational and could be fired within eight hours of a decision. It also listed the other weapons now in Cuba. So let’s go back to that October 16 date originally briefed: none of the ballistic missile sites were operational. Four days later Kennedy was told 16 MRBMs are operational.

I. Sidorov, writing,
"Cuban missile crisis: missing details," noted, "The first missile unit led by I. Sidorov was declared operational on October 20, with two hours 30 minutes required before firing the missile … As many as three Soviet missile units were declared operational (on October 23), even though at two of them the technical work was still ongoing …The entire missile division deployed in Cuba was declared operational on October 27, or three days earlier than originally planned."

So the October 20 operational date contained in SNIE 11-19-62 was on the mark.

Apparently a nuclear warhead storage bunker was identified at one of the MRBM sites for the first time on October 20, but no one could prove actual warheads are there.

NSA stations had been listening to Cuban pilots practicing timed scrambles and border patrols when American naval aircraft approached. These intercepts could be made because the Russian Ground Controlled Intercept (GCI) controllers directed the Cuban pilots’ ever move by radio transmission, and the pilots responded using the same media. Further intercepts by NSA stations revealed the upgrade of the Cuban air defense system had been completed. On October 20, NSA reported this conclusion.

On October 20, CIA warned that Soviet submarines might be transporting the nuclear warheads into Cuba. We now know the submarines were not doing that. But they did carry one nuclear tipped torpedo each for their own use, about which the US government did not know.

The US had various embargoes against Cuba since 1958. However, given the confirmations of missile deployments, the National Security Council (NSC) decided on October 21, 1962 to impose a naval blockade of Cuba. However, General Taylor informed JFK an invasion could be launched seven days after a decision. McNamara agreed, but said some decisions which are irreversible would have to be taken right away if an invasion is to go forward. McNamara aid 25,000 men would be put ashore on invasion say, and there would be 90,000 ashore within 11 days thereafter. Kennedy pressed Taylor to reduce the time between decision and invasion.

President Kennedy gave final approval to a quarantine plan on October 21, most of us know as a naval blockade. He told the ExComm members, “What we are doing is throwing down a card on the table in a game which we don’t know the ending of.”

He also received a briefing from General Walter Sweeney, USAF, the commander Tactical Air Command. Kennedy directed him to be prepared to conduct the air attacks against SAM sites and MiG airfields anytime after the morning of October 22. Kennedy also asked McNamara when he would be ready to invade. The response was seven days, October 29.


Kennedy announced the US naval blockade on October 22, 1962 to the American public. The purpose of the blockade was to enforce a “strict quarantine on all offensive military equipment under shipment to Cuba.” Publicly, the word “quarantine” was used instead of blockade. Kennedy warned the Soviets that the US would retaliate if there were a nuclear attack launched from Cuba, and he placed US military forces in the Western Hemisphere on heightened alert. The Cuban Missile Crisis was now officially in the public domain.

Kennedy’s proclamation was formally known as “Interdiction of the delivery of offensive weapons to Cuba.” It authorized US naval, military and air power to block arms deliveries to Cuba. American units were to order any vessel or craft proceeding to Cuba to "stop, lie to and submit to search." If the vessels were found to have material banned by the order, they were to be directed to another destination.

Furthermore, planning sped up for a potential invasion of Cuba to, among other things, dismantle the missiles.

The blockade units were organized under Task Force 136 (TF 136), Vice Admiral Alfred Ward, shown here, in command. TF136 was made up of major naval surface and submarine units, plus aircraft based on the East and Gulf coasts.

The US would later learn Khrushchev’s response to the quarantine speech was to issue “orders to the captains of the Soviet ships…approaching the blockade zone to ignore it and to hold course for the Cuban ports.”

The Soviets still had about 25 ships moving toward Cuba. So, their orders were to refuse to be stopped or searched, remain on course, and if sunk, so be it. On the other side, Kennedy’s orders were to “stop or be sunk.”

That noted, there were also plenty of Soviet ships leaving Cuban ports headed back to the USSR. That presented some problems for the US. IN short, what to do about them. I believe the US let them through and out.

Kennedy was also briefed on October 21 about the regimen to be employed when a ship approaches the blockade line. This procedure would change on October 24:

  • Signal the ship to stop for boarding and inspection.
  • If no response, fire a warning shot across the bow.
  • If still no response, fire a shot at the rudder to cripple the vessel

Events now start moving at break-neck speed.

A host of military actions ensued on October 22.:

  • USAF B-52 were put on alert. The requirement was for one-eighth of the B-52 force to be in the air at any given time. This goal was to be achieved by October 23.
  • SAC dispersed 183 B-47 nuclear bombers to 33 civilian and military airfields.
  • The Air Defense Command (ADC) dispersed 161 aircraft to 16 bases in nine hours. All ADC aircraft were armed with nuclear weapons, a first.
  • JCS set DEFCON 3 at 7 pm. All military forces went to DEFCON 3 except US Air Forces Europe (USAFE). ICBM crews were alerted. Polaris nuclear submarines in port were dispatched to preassigned stations at sea.
  • The Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) at the time, General Lauris Norstad, USA, was directed to ask other NATO members to increase their alert status. British PM Harold MacMillan urged Norstad not to take this action, and Norstad complied.
  • Secretary of State Rusk briefed Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin and provided him a copy of the impending Kennedy speech about the blockade. A copy of the speech was also provided to the Kremlin.

By October 22 CIA Director John McCone told President Kennedy that four Soviet Foxtrot submarines would probably make it to Cuba within a week (October 27).

As a result, on October 22 Admiral Anderson, CNO, shown here, warned fleet commanders to prepare for possible submarine attacks, saying: “I cannot emphasize too strongly how smart we must be to keep our heavy ships, particularly carriers, from being hit by surprise attack [sic] from Soviet Submarines. Use all available intelligence, deceptive tactics, and evasion during forthcoming days. Good luck.” Admiral Anderson had been worried about the submarine menace from the beginning. He had directed special intelligence collection measures and was briefed three times per day. He asked the UK and Canada for intelligence support.

For his part, on October 22 General John Gerhart, USAF, shown here, commander North American Air Defense Command (NORAD), ordered his commanders to install nuclear weapons onto their fighter-interceptors and deploy them to remote locations. The aircraft were F-106s. This was a single seat fighter, which meant that a nuclear missile could be fired at the will of only one, not two officers. Their weapon would be the MB-1 air-to-air missile with a 1.5 kiloton warhead. one tenth that used at Hiroshima. The missile was unguided and would explode in the air, destroying anything in its vicinity. The pilots had to take their weapons with them, which meant they would overfly populated areas and go to airfields with no secure nuclear storage. One of the F-106's landing chute failed to deploy in Wisconsin and the aircraft ran the barrier and stopped in the mud, with a nuclear weapon in the bay. The aircraft was only slightly damaged.

October 23, 1962 was yet another huge “action-packed.”

On October 23, 1962, USAF RF-101A and C “Voodoos” and Navy RF-8A “Crusader” low altitude high speed aircraft began low-level reconnaissance of targets in Cuba for the first time. The RF-101As were from the 363rd Tactical Reconnaissance Wing while the RF-8As were from Light Photographic Squadron 62. These aircraft were chosen for the sophistication and quality of their cameras, and the speeds at which they could conduct low level reconnaissance in the midst of an array of SA-2 SAMs and MiG-21 fighters. They produced superior imagery, clear, large-scale, detailed.

On October 23 President Kennedy and his ExComm discuss what to do if a U-2 is shot down. The ExComm decided to attack the SAM site that shot it down if “evidence of hostile Cuban action” has been established.

Fidel Castro placed all Cuban armed forces on their highest alert. Moscow also put Warsaw Pact forces on alert and raises battle readiness at home.

Also on October 23, CIA’s McCone told Kennedy Soviet submarines have unexpectedly been found moving into the Caribbean.

There seemed to be some confusion over where the blockade line was. The British ambassador, Ormsby-Gore thought it was set at 800 miles from Cuba. He felt it should be closer to give the Soviets time to think this all over. Kennedy agreed and told McNamara to set it at 500 miles. However, Admiral Alfred Ward, the blockade commander, thought the 500 mile line was “excessive,” the implication being he wanted it set closer to Cuba.

The Pentagon on October 23 ordered USN units to track the submarines and “induce” them to surface and identify themselves. The inducement would be through employment of small depth charges, which I will expand on in a moment.

During the very early morning hours of October 24, 1962, the CNO set forth the “submarine surfacing and identification procedures when in contact with US quarantine forces in the general vicinity of Cuba." These were different than the regimen described to Kennedy earlier. But I should note that CNO was transmitting what the State Department was telling other governments, so I think it is incomplete with regard to what happens if the submarine does not surface:

  • “Drop four or five harmless explosive sound signals which may be accompanied by the international code signal quote I D K C A unquote meaning quote rise to the surface unquote. “This sonar signal is made on underwater communication equipment in the 8 KC frequency range.
  • “Submerged submarines, on hearing this signal, should surface on Easterly course.
  • “Signals and procedures employed are harmless and are to guarantee the safety of the submerged submarines at sea in emergencies.”


On October 23, 1962, low level reconnaissance took superb photography of a MRBM site under construction at San Cristobal. A photo is shown here.

On October 23, 1962, NSA SIGINT direction finding was locating Soviet cargo ships and intercepting messages sent back forth to Moscow. The conclusion was the ships had stopped dead in the water.

During the early morning of October 24, there were more reports that the Soviet ships headed toward Cuba capable of carrying military cargo had slowed down, altered or reversed course. Apparently some 16 of the 19 ships on their way to Cuba, including five large-hatch vessels, had reversed course and were returning to the USSR. A tanker, the Bucharest, however continued toward the line.

That said, Khrushchev had ordered the
Kimovsk and Poltava, both loaded with R-14 IRBMs and the Gargarin, carrying equipment for one of the R-12 regiments to turn around.

However, on October 24 On October 24 McNamara briefed the ExComm that the freighters Komiles (shown here) and Gargarin were approaching the blockade line. Dobbs reported that a Foxtrot submarine was between the two, and he said it was B-130 Shumkov. Dobbs wrote that B-130 had been traveling with these two freighters in the Sargasso Sea, keeping an eye on them. However, they did turn back and as a result left B-130 out there all alone. McNamara had a plan to intercept them. Kennedy asked that the USN not intercept any ships for at least an hour while getting clarification. The Navy decided not to do any intercepts that day.

The blockade officially went into effect at 1000 EST, October 24, 1962.

The JCS directed SAC to DEFCON 2 on October 24, with 1,400 bombers, 145 ICBMs and 916 tankers at readiness, one step short of nuclear war:

  • Battle staffs were on 24 hour alert duty.
  • All leaves were cancelled and personnel recalled.
  • 183 B-47 bombers were dispersed to 33 preselected civilian and military airfields. orly nine B-52 with 182nuclear weapons on board were on airborne alert.
  • 96 tankers were at readiness
  • Additional B-52 and B-47 bombers and tankers are place on enhanced ground runway alert.

General Thomas Power, USAF, the Commander-in-Chief SAC (CINCSAC), on October 24, 1962 raised SAC’s alert posture to DEFCON 2 for the first time in history. DEFCON 2 means the forces are one step away from nuclear war. All SAC's resources were to be ready to deploy and engage the enemy within six hours.

Power wanted to be sure the Soviets understood what was happening, so he transmitted uncoded messages to SAC commanders advising them that the alert process was going smoothly. He hoped the Soviets would intercept that message. It was later learned Secretary of Defense McNamara and National Security Advisor McGeorge Bundy did not know of these actions as Power did not clear it with Washington. National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 75, "U.S. and Soviet

On October 24, 1962, between 1000-1115 hours EST Secretary of Defense (SecDef) Robert McNamara briefed Kennedy that the US was planning to intercept two Soviet cargo ships, the
Gagarin and Komiles, both of which were a few miles from the line, 500 miles from Cuba and sailing in that direction. The priority target was the Komiles because it had seven foot hatches.

The book
Naval Blockades and Seapower: Strategies and Counter-Strategies, 1805-2005, edited by Bruce A. Ellen and S.C.M. Paine, said at the time the blockade went into effect, there were “16 Soviet dry cargo vessels and six tankers in the Atlantic en route to Cuba. Nine of these twenty-two ships were estimated to be close enough to the island to allow them to reach Cuba by the end of October.”

McNamara said he believed each had a Soviet submarine very close by, both of which were expected to arrive at the Blockade barrier on the night of October 24.


The plan was for a destroyer to intercept the Komiles, and employ the USS Enterprise aircraft carrier’s anti-submarine equipped helicopters to divert the submarine form the intercept point. The plan was for these helicopters to harass the submarine and force her away, employing weapons and devices that could conceivably damage the submarine.

During this briefing, CIA's McCone was handed a note saying six Soviet ships “in Cuban waters" had either stopped or reversed course. Kennedy was also handed a note saying the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) saying the same thing. Kennedy had some difficulty understanding what was meant by “Cuban waters,” but they pressed on.

Kennedy was concerned that a Soviet submarine might attempt to sink or actually sink a USN destroyer. A discussion ensued about identification procedures for the submarine. Alexis Johnson, shown here, at the time the Deputy Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs, and a man in constant touch with CIA and the Pentagon, said he had sent identification procedures to Moscow and provided them to the Soviet Embassy Washington on October 23. The Soviets did not respond.

McNamara chimed in to say they were “practice depth charges,” in other words small depth charges that can hit a submarine but not damage it would be dropped as a warning. The procedure when an unidentified submarine is detected is to drop a depth charge and use sonar signals to warn the submarine and cause it to surface. The sonar signal approach was not thought to be reliable, so the depth charge would be the main warning signal.

Kennedy then turned his attention to, “what if” the submarine does not surface? Kennedy wanted to know specifically at what point the US would attack the submarine. He did not like the idea of attacking the submarine first, but preferred attack the merchant ship first.

General Maxwell Taylor said the Navy would not attack the submarine unless it were in a position to attack the US destroyer. McNamara did not quite agree with that approach. He had low confidence that an attempt to push the submarine away would work, and therefore was concerned the submarine would attack the destroyer. Nonetheless, McNamara repeated the plan was to try to force the submarine away “by the pressure of potential destruction, and then make the intercept” of the merchant ship. He acknowledged there were many uncertainties.

After some debate, Kennedy said the US should proceed with the blockade.

Naval Encounters During the Cuban Missile Crisis," edited by William Burr and Thomas S. Blanton talks about the submarine issue at some length:

"During the missile crisis, U.S. naval officers did not know about Soviet plans for a submarine base or that the Foxtrot submarines were nuclear-armed. Nevertheless, the Navy high command worried that the submarines, which had already been detected in the north Atlantic, could endanger enforcement of the blockade. Therefore, under orders from the Pentagon, U.S. Naval forces carried out systematic efforts to track Soviet submarines in tandem with the plans to blockade, and possibly invade, Cuba. While ordered not to attack the submarines, the Navy received instructions on 23 October from Secretary of Defense McNamara to signal Soviet submarines in order to induce them to surface and identify themselves. Soon messages conveying "Submarine Surfacing and Identification Procedures" were transmitted to Moscow and other governments around the world.

"The next morning, on 24 October, President Kennedy and the National Security Council's Executive Committee (ExCom) discussed the submarine threat and the dangers of an incident. According to Attorney General Robert Kennedy, when Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara reviewed the use of practice depth charges (PDCs), the size of hand grenades, to signal the submarines, "those few minutes were the time of greatest worry to the President. His hand went up to his face & he closed his fist." Within a few days, U.S. navy task groups in the Caribbean had identified Soviet submarines in the approaches to Cuba and were tracking them with all of the detection technology that they had at their disposal.

"The U.S. effort to surface the Soviet submarines involved considerable risk; exhausted by weeks undersea in difficult circumstances and worried that the U.S. Navy's practice depth charges were dangerous explosives, senior officers on several of the submarines, notably B-59 and B-130, were rattled enough to talk about firing nuclear torpedoes, whose 15 kiloton explosive yields approximated the bomb that devastated Hiroshima in August 1945."

George Ball, the Under Secretary of State for Economic and Agricultural Affairs drafted a cable that was transmitted to the US ambassadors to Turkey and NATO telling the US was considering a “Turkey-for-Cuba missile trade.” Please recall that the US considered the Jupiter to be obsolete, while the MRBMs and IRBMS being installed in Cuba were anything but obsolete.

Khrushchev sent a telegram to Kennedy that was released by TASS on October 24, 1962. He said the blockade was an act of aggression and he has told Soviet ships not to observe the blockade.

Intelligence reports kept coming in gradually late in the night of the 24th that ships had stopped or were reversing course. There were concerns about being deceived. What's important to note here is that it took some 30 hours from the Khrushchev order to reverse course for the positive confirmation of that to reach the White House. McNamara cautiously informed the public later that some of the ships were turning back.

It is worth noting that SAC aircraft were airborne. The Army was on the move preparing to invade. Florida was packed with aircraft, GIs and their equipment. Orders were also going out in Cuba to practice their targeting with the R-12s and prepare for battle. However their warheads were dummies. The nuclear warheads were at the small towns of Bejucal and Managua.

On October 25 Kennedy responded to Khrushchev’s warnings by telling him that the Soviets had reneged on their promise not to install offensive missiles in Cuba and therefore Kennedy was doing what had to be done.

It’s only day two of the blockade, but President Kennedy now directed the Navy not to intercept or board a Communist bloc ship. He did not want a US-Soviet confrontation. So much for the blockade!

Another Soviet oiler, the
Vinnitsa was on her way to Havana and I believe was also be allowed to pass through the barrier. The focus was on the merchant ships. Some other ships were permitted to pass through.

By 0700 EST October 25 the Navy was manning nine of the 12 quarantine stations.

Three PHIBRONS were proceeding to Eleuthera Island in the Bahamas. Phibrons are amphibious assault shipping to transport troops and their equipment for an amphibious assault operation. Each PHIBRON has one Marine Battalion Landing Team (BLT) embarked. These BLTs were earmarked for an amphibious assault of western Cuba.

At 1700 EST October 25, CIA’s McCone informed the ExComm that some of the Soviet missiles are operational. Kennedy later issued NSAM 199 authorizing the loading of nuclear weapons in aircraft under the command of the SACEUR.

As a result of Kennedy’s order not to intercept or board a Communist bloc ship, the USN was told to look for non-communist bloc ships.

The JCS directed CINCLANT to prepare to strike SA-2 sites within 12 hours should a U-2 be shot down. Flights over Cuba intensified, six USN submarines sailed to the area on October 25 and four more were scheduled for October 26, estimating arrival between October 29-31, 1962. P2V aircraft from Naval Air Station (NAS) Patuxent were alerted to surge flights over the area.

At 0600 EST October 26 CIA produced a memo saying construction of the MRBM and IRBM sites was proceeding without interruption. ExComm had considered activating civil defense programs but decided against that.

Also during the morning of October 26, Mongoose remained on Kennedy’s mind. He tasked the State Department to develop a crash program to set up a new civil government in Cuba after the invasion and occupation. However, McNamara informed the president to expect heavy casualties. CINCLANT projected losing over 18,000 during the first ten days of fighting.

During October 26 a great deal of diplomatic activity was in train. Among these activities, a good deal of private efforts were made by the US to cut a deal with the Soviets to remove the Jupiter missiles from Turkey. However, and the US did not know this was happening, Castro told Khrushchev that an American invasion was likely to occur within a few days, though Khrushchev’s memoirs said that he understood Castro to say the next few hours. Castro recommended a first strike. In turn, Castro ordered Cuban air defense weapons to fire at all US aircraft overflying the island.

US low level reconnaissance flights had identified additional targets so the airstrike plan was revised. It now called for three massive strikes per day until Cuba’s air capabilities were destroyed —- by massive, some 1,190 bonging sorties were planned for the first day.

On October 27, Radio Moscow broadcast a message from Khrushchev saying the removal of US missile bases in Turkey must occur in return for removal of Soviet missiles in Cuba. Khrushchev’s message about Turkey came as a formal message to Washington and arrived at 1103 October 27, 1962. Khrushchev proposes the Turkey-for-Cuba deal. The expectation is the Turks will be very angry that such a deal was made.

Almost at the same time this message was received, a U-2 mission from a SAC base in Alaska strayed over Soviet territory and the pilot called for help. USAF F-102s were scrambled as were MiGs. It is believed the F-102s were armed with nuclear missiles. The U-2 pilot was able to get his aircraft out of Soviet airspace without any hostile action.

As though this were a harbinger of events to come, at about noon October 27 the Soviets in Cuba fired two SAMs at a U-2 piloted by Major Rudolph Anderson, USAF, designated “target number 33.” Lt. General Leonid Garbuz ordered the shoot-down. The aircraft was destroyed and Anderson killed. Grechko issued the order on his own, without approval from his commanding officer who could not be contacted, and, the US would later lean, without Khrushchev’s approval since Garbuz concluded there was not enough time. Garbuz made the decision knowing the Soviet defense minister had rejected earlier requests to shoot down a U-2.

Apparently the Soviets feared the U-2 was going to photograph a cruise missile site 15 miles from the USN base at Guantanamo, Cuba. The SA-2 were fired from the Banes missile site. Anderson actually had begun a flight path that would take him out of Cuba air space when he was attacked. He was hit as he approached the Cuban shoreline.

An USAF RB-47 was in the air circling Cuba and intercepted fire control radars with indicated the Soviets were about to shoot. The RB-47 notified Washington but had no way to notify Anderson. Marshal Malinovsky mildly reprimanded the officers and ordered that no other U-2 be attacked.

It should be noted, however, that Seymour Hersh, writing
"Was Castro Out of Control in 1962?," suggested, based on information not available until 1964, the Cubans were more independent from the Soviets than most thought. He added the Soviets may not have been in complete control when Anderson's U-2 was shot down. Kennedy at the time had assumed the Soviets were in charge.

Later in the day two F8U-1P low level reconnaissance aircraft flew overSan Cristobal and Sagua la Grande and Cuban troops opened fire with anti-aircraft artillery (AAA). One US aircraft was hit but both safely returned to base. Hersh also suggested it may have been the Cubans who fired on these aircraft as well.

The ExComm members wanted to attack right away on October 27, even though air attacks were not scheduled to take place until October 29. The Pentagon had a plan FIRE HOSE to attack three SA-2 sites near Havana. The JCS however preferred to wait and attack them all at once.

The October 27 ExComm meeting worried greatly about Berlin. Allied conventional forces would be overwhelmed if the Soviets moved against West Berlin. A decision would then have to be made as to whether to respond with nuclear weapons. To the extent practicable, reinforcement were sent to Europe.

Again, I’ll report that intense meetings and negotiations were underway throughout all this. On October 28, 1962, CIA reported that all 24 MRBM sites in Cuba were fully operational. Construction of one nuclear bunker had been completed, but again, no evidence nuclear warheads were placed in the bunker.

CJCS Memorandum 844-62 of October 27, 1962 signed by General Taylor, to the president through the Secretary of Defense. It said:

  • CINCLANT Oplan 312, "Operation Rock Pile," was to be executed no later than morning, October 29. There would three attack waves each day for seven days, with a planned 1,190 sorties the first day. They were to destroy the missile sites, air defenses and airfields.
  • Execution of CINCLANT Plan 316, "Operation Scabbards" would follow on November 6,1962. Two U.S. Army airborne divisions, the 101st and 82nd, would parachute into Cuba with 23,000 troops. They were to capture four airports in the Havana are including the international airport in Havana. The First Marine Division and 1st Armored Division would land and go around Havana in a pincer movement cutting off the capital from the missile sites. All together 120,000 troops would invade across a 40 miles demo from Mariel to Tarara Beach. Three aircraft carrier battle groups, including the nuclear-powered carrier, USS Enterprise, would provide air support.

President Kennedy reportedly by this time was concentrating on diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis and showed little interest in the invasion plan.

On October 28, 1962, a message was received from Khrushchev. It told Kennedy the missiles in Cuba will be dismantled and returned to the USSR. ExComm members seemed relieved, but not the JCS. Admiral George Anderson remarked, “We have been had.” General Curtis Lemay suggested the US “go in and strike on Monday anyway.” Lemay also said, "It's the greatest defeat inner history. We should invade today." The JCS instructed its commanders not to relax alert procedures, worried that the Soviet message was an “insincere proposal meant to gain time.”

The JCS asked CINCLANT on October 28 to reevaluate the invasion plan and determine whether modifications are required. JCS directed CINCLANT to consider whether tactical nuclear weapons, air and ground, should be added.

On October 29 Kennedy ordered ships maintain their blockade positions and low-level reconnaissance flights continue. No U-2 missions were authorized.

I. Sidorov said the commander of the 51st Rocket Division was informed by the commander Soviet Forces Cuba that the Ministry of Defense had decided to "dismantle Soviet missile positions in Cuba and remove them to the USSR." He said they were all dismantled between October 29-31."

In response to JCS direction, CINCLANT on October 29 ordered US forces engaged in operations against Cuba will be armed tactical nuclear weapons but they will not be employed unless Cuban or Soviet forces employ nuclear weapons first.

On October 30, 1962 Operation Mongoose was terminated. The Soviet missiles were removed by the end of December 1962.

SAC stood down from its DEFCON 2 status to DEFCON 3 on November 15. NORAD returned to normal alert status on November 27, 1962.

When all offensive missiles and Ilyushin Il-28 light bombers had been withdrawn from Cuba, the blockade was formally ended on November 21, 1962. On November 28, 1962, the JCS sent a memorandum to McNamara which asked:

  • Terminate the 1/8 airborne alert.
  • Return B-47s to home base.
  • Return all commands to DEFCON 5 (lowest readiness) except where certain situations dictated otherwise.
  • Release Air Force Reserve Troop Carrier Units.
  • Grant authority for the return to normal operations of US naval ships and air squadrons associated wth the blockade.

It appears that Soviet nuclear warheads remained on Cuban territory for 59 days, from the arrival of the Soviet ship Indigirka on October 4 to the departure of the Arkhangelsk on December 1, 1962.

A paper for the National Security Archive,
"Last Nuclear Weapons Left Cuba in December 1962," edited by Svetlana Savranskaya and Thomas Blanton With Anna Melyakova, said:

"Previously declassified U.S. documents published by the National Security Archive show that U.S. intelligence did not detect any of the nuclear warheads in Cuba during the crisis — either for the strategic missiles or for the tactical delivery systems — and close examination of U.S. overhead photography by author Michael Dobbs established that U.S. intelligence never located the actual storage bunkers for the warheads. U.S. planners assumed the missile warheads were present in Cuba, but discounted the possibility — even after seeing the dual-capable Luna/Frog in reconnaissance photographs as early as October 25 — that tactical warheads were on the island or might ever be used."

AS we now know, the warheads were at Bejucal and Managua.

I'm going to stop here. I commend two books to you. Read these two and you will get the "Full Monty" of what happened, and you will confirm I have only brushed the surface:


The roots of the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962

Soviet “Operation Anadyr” - The plan

Soviet transport ships on the move and the US Naval Blockade

Detecting key Soviet weapons systems in Cuba

Operation Mongoose and the planned US forces invasion of Cuba

A chronology of events in Washington