Talking Proud Archives --- Military

Soviet Foxtrot Submarines: The Cuban Missile Crisis

May 3, 2017

Detecting key Soviet weapons systems in Cuba: A massive intelligence effort

I have already talked quite a bit about detecting the submarines and surface vessels at sea. Now let's take a look at detecting what was being delivered to Cuba and getting installed. I want to start by underscoring a very important point. There was a confluence of the US wanting to know what systems were being delivered to and installed in Cuba centered on concern over ballistic missiles, and the planning to invade Cuba with massive US forces. One attempt at an invasion was known as the Bay of Pigs, a failure. Disregard that.

I will address the follow-on counterinsurgency operations and invasion planning in the
"Operation Mongoose-Invasion Plans," subsection.

This subsection will focus on detecting what was being delivered and installed in Cuba by the Soviets. Knowing that drove American decision-making throughout the crisis.

National Security Agency (NSA)


Let's start with the National Security Agency (NSA). NSA is an intelligence organization of the federal government responsible for global monitoring, collection, and processing of signals intelligence (SIGINT). The photo shows the newly completed NSA Headquarters at Ft. Meade, Maryland in the 1960s.

In early 1961 the National Security Agency (NSA) intercepted Cubans talking about unloading tanks from the
Nikolay Burdenko at Mariel, Cuba. NSA noted the Soviets were very good at secrecy, while the Cubans helping them were not. Most intercepts were of the Cubans. In May 1961 NSA intercepted Cubans talking about "highly unusual aircraft" and impending training on unspecified "Russian equipment" as well as providing references to shipborne radars and radars associated with antiaircraft guns.

In May 1962, NSA reported the first indication of airborne fire control radars on MiG-17 “Fresco” (NATO term) and MiG-19 "Farmer" (NATO term) aircraft in Cuba. I think the NSA report might have been in error, as the MiG-17 did not arrive in Cuba until 1964. In fairness, the MiG-15 "Fagot (NATO term) and MiG-17 were very much alike, and could be confused. My guess is NSA intercepted the MiG-15. NSA said ground radar activity had also increased across the country. These intercepts meant the aircraft were up and flying out of Cuban bases. The first MiG-15s were delivered to Cuba in late May 1961and the MiG-19 was first delivered in November 1961. Soviet pilots came to Cuba to help train its pilots. The MiG-19 was second generation, comparable to the USAF F-100. The MiG-19 was used a lot in the Vietnam War, and despite its short range was effective against the US F-4 Phantom.


The MiG-15 was very effective in air-to-air combat during the Korean War. The USAF F-86 was its main competitor. The MiG-15 was transonic, meaning it could fly close to the speed of sound.


The MiG-19 "Farmer" was a supersonic fighter effective in air-to-air dog fights.

Both aircraft were seen as a defensive systems against US aircraft supporting an amphibious and ground invasion.


However, the delivery of most concern to the US was the MiG-21s coming as part of Soviet Operation Anadyr. The MiG-21 was supersonic, initially seen as a second generation air intercept fighter, but later as a third generation fighter. In Vietnam, it was seen as a very short range, ground-controlled intercept (GCI) fighter and was a challenging adversary for US pilots.

U-2 "Dragon Lady"


The U-2 "Dragon Lady" played a huge role in providing intelligence that nailed down the fact that the the USSR had created a situation for the US in Cuba that the US did not want to see develop.


The U-2 is a single-jet engine, ultra-high altitude (70,000 ft. or more) reconnaissance aircraft. It was day-night, all weather capable. It was built much like a glider, with ultralight construction and long, narrow wings, longer than the plane itself. The configuration of these wings provided high lift, necessary at 70,000 ft. because the atmosphere is so thin. The U-2's cruising altitude takes it close to outer space. This photo was shot from inside the cockpit at or near altitude.

A camera package termed the A-2 was installed in the aircraft's belly; it contained three still cameras, one pointing straight down and the other two pointing to the left and right of the aircraft's direction of travel, as well as a tracking camera that filmed a continuous record of the plane's mission. These Hycon model 732 (also known as Hycon Model B) cameras created much more detailed images than earlier cameras. Their lenses could "see" and record objects as small as two feet across from a height of more than 12 miles.

Following the Soviet shoot-down of Francis Gary Powers’ U-2 over the USSR, overflights of that country were stopped. U-2 operations from Turkey and Japan were shut down. There was still great interest in using the U-2 to overfly countries that did not have significant air defense capabilities. Given the animosity between Castro and the US, and their proximity, Cuba rose to the top of the pile.


Both the U-2 units in Turkey and Japan formed Detachment G, 4th Weather Reconnaissance Squadron at Groom Lake Test Facility, which is known as Area 51 in the Nevada Test and Training Range. The mission was to overfly Cuba. This photo shows an U-2 in her testing phase parked after landing on the Dry Lake at Groom Lake.


Detachment G had to move out of Groom Lake because of nuclear bomb testing planned for that location. It went to Edwards AFB in southern California, about 20 miles northeast of Lancaster, in June 1960. This photo shows an U-2 over Edwards AFB.

Frederick J. Ferrer spent a career in military and national intelligence. He wrote “
The Impact of US Aerial Reconnaissance during the Early Cold War (1947-1962): Service and Sacrifice of the Cold Warriors.” He noted:

“By the summer of 1960, the USSR started sending advanced weapons systems to Cuba and the CIA requested the use of the U-2 to fly over the island and collect intelligence on these weapons deliveries. The approved U-2 missions were soon expanded to include collecting images that would support selection of a proposed invasion site.

CIA controlled U-2s began reconnaissance overflights of Cuba in October 26 and 27, 1960, close to the end of the Eisenhower administration. These flights were known as "Operation KICKOFF" and initially were to support a counterrevolutionary invasion of Cuba planned for 1961.



Two missions were flown. Both missions were flown by Detachment G pilots and staged out of Laughlin AFB, Texas (shown by the marker on the map). Capt. Richard Heyser, USAF, flew a mission on October 26, 1960. He is shown here wearing the MC-3 capstan-type partial-pressure suit for protection at high altitudes. The flights were very long, nine hours, 3,500 miles. Cloud cover inhibited these first two missions.

More were flown on November 27, December 5 and December 11, 1960, codenamed "Operation GREEN EYES." The November 27 mission was the first "successful" one: it obtained superb photography, as did the next two. They continued under the Kennedy administration with two overflights on March 19 and 21, 1961, codename "Operation LONG GREEN."

Beginning on April 6, 1961 Detachment G made 15 more overflights, codenamed "Operation FLIP TOP." These flights covered the ill-fated Bay of Pigs invasion and its aftermath.

Soon thereafter Detachment G began flying monthly missions over Cuba, condemned "Operation NIMBUS." Most of these flew from Laughlin.

The Strategic Air Command’s (SAC) 4080th Strategic Wing (SW) handled the U-2s flying over Cuba from Laughlin. CIA still controlled these missions. The 4080th’s job was to support CIA requirements. Both CIA civilian and Air Force pilots flew the missions. Overflights were increased to two per month staring in May 1962 because of increasing reports of Soviet activity in Cuba.

It is my understanding that CIA civilians flew most of the early missions over Cuba, while USAF pilots flew the later ones. It would be the latter missions that detected new offensive weapons coming to Cuba.

Kennedy decided the USAF must take control of the missions over Cuba. National Security Advisor McGeorge Bundy, shown here, sent a memo on October 12, 1962 to CIA Director John McCone saying the Department of Defense (DoD) would have “responsibility, to include command and control and operational decisions with regard to the U-2 reconnaissance flights of Cuba."

Kennedy felt more at ease with military pilots flying, should they have to bail out and then be caught. He felt Cuba would be obliged to treat them as POWs. CIA pilots could be considered spies.

The USAF took the aircraft being used by the CIA and quickly painted USAF insignia on them. The USAF had its own U-2s, but the CIA U-2C aircraft had better electronic countermeasures (ECM) equipment, were more powerful and could attain a higher maximum altitude than the USAF U-2s.

Throughout this section, I will show US photos of weapons sites detected in Cuba. I should
point you to a web site that argues many of the photos I am about to show you are fakes. The analyst's name is not provided but he mockingly argues his points. For those of you who are photo interpreters or wanna-be's, see for yourself. For my purposes, I will accept the US analyses of these photos.


With regard to the situation in Cuba becoming a crisis for the US and the USSR, 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. This is one of the photos. Soviet SA-2 sites normally reflected a Star of David pattern.This mission spotted eight SAM sites under construction.


Furthermore, it photographed a FKR-1 coastal defense cruise missile on a launcher at Banes.

SancristobalNoConstruction copy GuanajayNOConstruction

It also photographed the area around San Cristobal (left) and at Guanajay (right), 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 5 the next U-2 overflight, flown by Major Richard Heyser, confirmed the SA-2s, showing three more sites. Furthermore, it photographed MiG-21 Fishbed fighter interceptor aircraft at Santa Clara airfield. This is the U-2 photo, showing a total of 39 MiG-21 "Fishbeds" (NATO term) at Santa Clara along with 18 MiG-15 "Fagots" (NATO term).

Both the SA-2 and MiG-21 systems caused the USAF and USN significant problems attacking North Vietnam. These were not trivial systems.

Heyser’s mission recovered at McCoy AFB, south of Orlando, Florida. Michael Dobbs, writing
“Into Thin Air” published by the Washington Post, said Heyser knew his camera had spotted the SA-2s, so he flew to nearby McCoy AFB in Florida. Thereafter, the 4080th SW set up an U-2 operating location (OL) at McCoy. Most missions were then flown out of McCoy.

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 fliers flying over that country. That in turn impacted thinking about US invasion planning.

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.


Furthermore, USAF RB-47 electronic intelligence (ELINT) reconnaissance aircraft were also observing that the SA-2 radars in the tracking mode were illuminating them. It also became obvious the SA-2s had height finders in play, which would threaten the U-2.

So there was no question but that Cuba was getting a very sophisticated air defense systems.

From a Washington perspective, except for a few, these were all considered defensive systems. Yes, they would make an invasion more difficult, but they could not threaten the US mainland.

And the Soviet beat went on. Soviet ships continued arriving in the region.


Then the hammer fell. The other shoe dropped. On October 14, 1962 an USAF U-2C reconnaissance overflight mission flown by Major Heyser photographed the San Cristobal area where the speculation was that a Medium Range Ballistic Missile (MRBM) 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. This is what the American policy-makers feared the most, and now it was true, the ballistic missiles were there. Now there was a threat to the mainland US.



Heyser’s cameras also photographed all but one of the remaining 24 SAM sites in Cuba, and photos of the San Julian airfield showed the IL-28s being taken out of their crates. You can see there are 21 crates lined up (yellow oval applies), and apparently a fuselage of one IL-28 in the upper right (yellow arrow). This bomber cold hit the US and could carry nuclear weapons.

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.

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.


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. I will get into details about all this in the Chronology section.

Again referring to NSA, its intercept stations and aircraft 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’ every move by radio transmission, and the pilots responded using the same media. None of this chatter was encrypted.

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 17, 1962, a U-2 photographed the first IRBM site found under construction at Guanajay, Cuba. Getting ahead of myself, to my knowledge no IRBM missiles actually reached Cuba, but the site was under construction.

High speed low fliers

Once the U-2 made multiple key discoveries, USAF RF-101A and C “Voodoos” and Navy RF-8A “Crusader” high speed aircraft began low-level reconnaissance of targets in Cuba for the first time. All these platforms specialized in photo reconnaissance. U-2 photography was very good, but the low level photography provided substantially more detail.

RF8 RF101C

The CIA said Navy RF-8A “Crusader” (Left) and USAF RF-101A and C “Voodoos” (Right) low altitude, high speed aircraft began low-level reconnaissance of targets in Cuba for the first time on October 23, 1962, two years after the U-2 began overflying Cuba. There is some disagreement on the start date; Soviet military officers say they began much earlier. I have seen a report that said earlier RF-8A flights over Cuba did begin on October 15, 1962, but I assume at a higher altitude.

The RF-8As and RF-101As would fly as low, from 200 - 500 ft.over their targets, at 400-600 mph. This improved the photo quality and reduced the risk of getting shot down.

The U-2s were the first to spot the ballistic missiles in Cuba. The problem with U-2 photography in those days was the images, taken from such a high altitude were not granular enough to accurately determine operational details. The net result was the U-2's evidence was very good, but thought by some to be contestable. Fast moving, low flying photo reconnaissance aircraft were needed 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 surface-to-air-missiles (SAMs) and MiG-21 fighters. They produced superior imagery, clear, large-scale, detailed.


The RF-8As from Navy Light Photographic Squadron 62 (VFP-62) and the Marine composite reconnaissance squadron for the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing (VMCJ-2) were alerted on October 13, 1962 to stand-by at NAS Cecil, Florida near Jacksonville. Normally the RF-8A shot about four frames per second, one frame for every 70 yards traveled.

web site Steel Jaw wrote:

"(On October 17, 1962) Project “BLUE MOON,” a Commander-in-chief Atlantic Fleet (CINCLANTFLT) operations order to obtain low-level photographic reconnaissance of Cuban military buildup areas, became operational at Naval Air Station, Jacksonville, Fla., utilizing F8U-1P aircraft."

The first low-level RF-8 flights were from VFP-62 and left out of NAS Key West to begin reconnaissance operations over Cuba on October 23, 1962. Commander William B. Ecker, USN, the commander, VFP-62, shown here, and his wing man, Lt. Bruce Wilhelmy, flew this mission and obtained the first close-up photos of the Soviet ballistic missiles in Cuba, some 3,000 ft. of film. These two aircraft were part of a six aircraft formation, flying at about 400 mph and 350 ft. above the water. Ecker was flight lead. Once over land, they popped up to 500 ft. and dispersed. They got off course a bit and came in over Havana, which was not the plan. They received hostile fire but escape unscathed.


This is the low level reconnaissance photo of the MRBM site at San Cristobal taken by Ecker on October 23. This event has an interesting ending. Instead of landing at Key West, Ecker flew to NAS Jacksonville. Photo interpreters were waiting for the film and processed it. Ecker was still in his RF-8 when he was ordered to fly to Washington immediately. He arrived at Andrews AFB in Maryland and a helicopter flew him to the Pentagon. He was taken inside to the JCS "tank" and he briefed the JCS on what he had seen. He cautioned they should wait for the photography.


The JCS "Tank" was nothing more than a conference room, But only a very special few could get in.

Steel Jaw, writing
"October's Missile Crisis and BLUE MOON," wrote:




"The lower half of the forward fuselage of the RF-8 was squared off to accommodate the installation of cameras (three CAX-12 trimetrogen cameras and two K-17 vertical cameras) … The imagery configuration was pretty complex and originally consisted of three trimetrogen cameras, which gave horizon-to-horizon coverage at Station 2, actually the aft-most bay. Eventually, the definitive camera arrangement was two cameras giving vertical and oblique coverage in stations 3 and 4, while station 1, located below and forward of the cockpit, mounted a forward-looking oblique camera. Station 1 could also carry a 16-mm movie camera. Although the cameras at Stations 3 and 4 could give several degrees of obliquity, those most commonly used were 5 degrees, 15 degrees, and 30 degrees. The cameras were manufactured by Chicago Aerial and were designated KA-66 (station 2), KA-51, KA-53 or KA-62 (stations 3 and 4) and KA-45 or KA-51 (station 1)."

VFP-62 flew a mission on October 25 that confirmed the presence in Cuba of Soviet Free Rocket Over Ground (FROG) tactical rockets, a short range system that could carry a nuclear warhead.


The USAF RF-101Cs from the 363rd Tactical Reconnaissance Wing were also used. Their first missions were also on October 23, 1962, flown out of Shaw AFB, South Carolina.


This is a photo taken by an USAF RF-101C over the Banes SAM site On October 26, 1962. You can see the missiles are in launching position.


A RF-101C mission flown on October 29, 1962 brought home photos that showed the Soviets were dismantling their nuclear missile bases in Cuba. A RF-101C "Long Bird" took this photo on November 6, 1962. It shows a Soviet freighter at Casilda Port, Cuba with deck cargo that included six tarpaulin-covered missiles being taken back to the USSR. You can see the RF-101's shadow in the photo. I present it to show the detail of the low level photos that could be taken.


The RF-101A employed six cameras in its nose. Two Fairchild KA-1s were aimed downward, with four KA-2s facing forward, down and to each side..



The Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force units received awards from President Kennedy: the Presidential Unit Citation and Navy Unit Commendation for VFP-62 and VMCJ-2 (top) and the USAF Outstanding Unit Award for the 363rd (bottom).

Soviet Diaries

Sergey Isaac, who I believe was with the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies, wrote Pages of History of the 32nd Guards Vilensky Air Fighter Regiment awarded with Lenin and Kutuzov orders. He reported on events from diaries kept by some of the officers. Several are instructive about US reconnaissance flights.


He wrote about the Soviet 32nd Guards Air Fighter Regiment (GIAP) in Cuba, 1962-1963, Colonel Nikolay Shibanov in command. The regiment, home based at Kubinka outside Moscow, was told in July 1962 to prepare for deployment overseas, and to do so with great secrecy. A small advance party of officers went to Cuba in mid-July 1962. Most of the regiment was transferred to Cuba from August 2 - September 22, 1962. The photo shows four 32nd GIAP pilots in 1961 in the USSR against a background of a MiG-21F-13.


Part of the regiment was transported to Cuba aboard the passenger ship Nikolayevsk (shown here) in the beginning of September, all dressed as civilians. They left Baltiysk on September 8, 1962 and arrived on in Cuba on September 22. .


A USN P-2 Neptune patrol aircraft overflew the Nikolayevsk on September 8. He said the ship was surveilled by USN P-2 Neptunes, flying very low, "near the masts." Women aboard the ship waved to the American pilots. Women may well have had air force duties, but I think they were brought and put aboard a passenger ship to give the impression they were all on a cruise.


From reading the diaries presented by Isaac, the regiment's aircraft were put aboard the Vogoles timber carrying ship and the Divnogorsk dry-cargo ship. The Vogoles left port on August 17 and arrived in Cuba on September 1, within 15 days. MiG-15 and MiG-21F aircraft were placed in the holds of the Vogoles. However, some 16 of the MiG-21s in containers had to be placed on top the covers of the holds, stacked up. There were concerns they would slide off the deck in foul weather, but that was that. The Vogoles is shown here escorted by an American ship (part of it in lower left corner) as she headed back home in November 1962. In this case she carried ballistic missiles.

32ndGIAP Staff

This photo shows the 32nd GIAP staff in Cuba in 1962, I believe at Santa Clara AFB.


This photo shows the Regiment Headquarters at Santa Clara Airfield, Cuba, in October 1962.

As I mentioned, the aircraft arrived in containers that were placed on special platforms. Once opened, work began to assemble them. Major Nikolay Pakhomov, shown here, was deputy chief of staff of the regiment. He wrote that in Cuba the regiment was renamed the 213th IAP (Interceptor Air Fighter Regiment) and became part of the Air Defense division. He then wrote:

"The USAF planes appeared above our air base daily on a regular basis. They were a pair of McDonnell F-101 Voodoo aircraft, with the USAF identification, the leading was a two seat "photographer" and the single seat was conducted airplane, flew over above our air base, increased their speed and left off leaving a black smoky loop behind. And we were powerless to do something."

All my sources except these Soviet diaries said the RF-101s began overflights of Cuba on October 23, 1962. However, the Soviet diaries say two USAF RF-101 Voodoo aircraft overflew Santa Clara sometime during the first half of September. I also believe this was the flight to which Major Pakhomov referred earlier. The RF-101 flights noted by the Soviets could have been at higher altitudes, or they could have been F-101 fighters.

Whatever the case, the regimental commander Colonel Nikolay Shibanov, shown here, decided he had to put his pilots and aircraft in the air, as he felt defenseless against the Voodoos. Captain Vickot Sharkov, in charge of the maintenance technicians, thought the move risky, perhaps fearing detection. While flying, the pilots attempted to speak in Spanish. The first MiG-21 took off on September 18. More flights followed and by the end of September all pilots were combat ready.


I will note the 32nd GIAP was a MiG-21F-13 regiment. This is a photo of a 32nd GIAP MiG-21F-13 at San Antonio AFB in 1963. A crew is parking it after a solo flight. They are hard to see, but note the Cuban markings on the vertical stabilizer. They had 40 MiG-21F-13 aircraft. They saw many US aircraft over Cuba, but never engaged and the Americans never provoked an engagement.

During autumn 1962, a MiG-19 pilot saw a U-2 over Cuba but was unable to compensate for the difference in altitude. A MiG-19S was outfitted with a liquid-fuel booster and could reach the U-2’s altitude, but there would have been problems flaming out in thin air. About all it could do is hit a zoom climb, fire a missile and hope he hit it. To my knowledge the Soviets did not try this.

Major Dmitry Bobrov, chief of reconnaissance for the regiment at the time, was with the 2nd Squadron which had by that time been moved from Santa Clara to San Antonio AFB, near Havana. He wrote about an encounter with the USAF while he was flying:

"I saw visually (about 1 to 1.5 km away) two USAF F-101 'Voodoos' planes which were on an reconnaissance mission over Cuba, meeting no counteraction. Perovsky (deputy regiment commander) reported of the US planes to the CP (Command Post) and requested permission to attack them, but the CP’s reply was brief and categorical: 'Forbidden.' Therefore, it was our first meeting with the American pilots in the air."

He said such USAF flights over the airfield occurred daily, and the Cubans became irritated that the Soviets would not use their MiG-21s to go after them. Bobrov simply responded he had no such orders to do so.

Pakhomov remarked, "The USAF tactical fighters F-100 and F-101 appeared in the sky above Cuba regularly from 10.00 a.m. to 11.00 a.m. carrying out reconnaissance missions."

U-2 shot down

I want to mention, as a reminder, that the reconnaissance of Cuba and surrounding waters was intended for two major purposes. First, see what was coming into Cuba and getting set up. Second, prepare for an all out invasion of Cuba,
which I will address in a separate section. US low level reconnaissance flights had identified additional targets so the airstrike plan was revised.

At about noon October 27 the Soviets in Cuba fired two SAMs at an U-2 piloted by Major Rudolph Anderson, USAF, designated “target number 33.” Lt. General Leonid Garbuz ordered the shoot-down attempt. One SA-2 exploded behind Anderson and sent shrapnel into the cockpit, puncturing his pressure suit. His U-2 broke apart, plummeted at least 60,000 feet, and crashed on Cuban soil. 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 learn, without Khrushchev’s approval. For the latter, 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.


The SA-2s were fired from the Banes missile site. Anderson 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 which indicated the Soviets were about to shoot. The RB-47 notified Washington but had no way to notify Anderson.


The photo shows the wreckage of Anderson's U-2.


A Swiss Air aircraft came to Havana, Cuba to pick up Major Anderson's remains on November 6, 1962.

Marshal Malinovsky mildly reprimanded the officers and ordered that no other U-2 be attacked.

Apparently the Soviets feared the U-2 was going to photograph a cruise missile site 15 miles from the USN base at Guantanamo, Cuba. In his book One Minute to Midnight, Michael Dobbs wrote "The Soviet preparations to destroy the Guantanamo Naval Base would remain a secret for nearly five decades."

As an aside, in 1987 Soviet Major General Igor Statsenko claimed responsibility for the shoot-down decision. However other Soviet sources say Lt. General Stepan Grechko and General Leonid Garbuz authorized the firing.

Later in the day two RF8U-1P low level reconnaissance aircraft flew over San 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.

On November 2, 1962, President Kennedy told a US audience that US surveillance would continue until effective international inspection were arranged. I have not yet found the exact date when the US terminated reconnaissance flights ver Cuba, but I do know such flights extended well into November as a way to check on whether the Soviets were withdrawing the missiles from Cuba. I know one such flight was made by a Navy RF-8A on November 10, 1962, for example. I have also found an indication such flights were flown on November 15, I believe among the last.

The mystery of the nuclear warheads - "Undetected"

Norman Polmar and John Bessette, in their book
Spyplanes: The Illustrated Guide to Manned Reconnaissance and Surveillance, commented on whether nuclear weapons had actually arrived in Cuba. They said:

"Neither the U-2 high altitude flight nor the low-level flights by the RF-8 Crusaders and RF-101 Voodoos had revealed any indication that the Soviets had secretly placed 134 nuclear weapons in the island nation (Cuba), with another 24 offshore aboard a Soviet merchant ship."

However, Bill Keller, writing "
Soviets Say Nuclear Warheads Were Deployed in Cuba in '62," said:

"Soviet officials disclosed today (January 28, 1989) for the first time that in the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, Soviet nuclear warheads had already been deployed in Cuba and could have been launched at American cities within a few hours. The revelation by a senior Soviet military expert came in a conference that brought together for the first time the top-level Soviet, American and Cuban officials involved in the Caribbean showdown. One of the participants, Sergei N. Khrushchev, (shown here) son of the late Soviet leader Nikita S. Khrushchev, told reporters tonight that the 20 warheads in Cuba were never attached to the missiles, but that that could have been done very quickly."

Svetlana Savranskaya, writing
"Cuba Almost Became a Nuclear Power in 1962," citing a book by the son of the Soviet deputy prime minister at the time, said:

"Unknown to the Americans, the Soviets had brought some 100 tactical nuclear weapons to Cuba — 80 nuclear-armed front cruise missiles (FKRs), 12 nuclear warheads for dual-use Luna short-range rockets, and 6 nuclear bombs for IL-28 bombers. Even with the pullout of the strategic missiles, the tacticals would stay, and Soviet documentation reveals the intention of training the Cubans to use them."

Alex Wallenstein, writing
"About those nukes in Cuba…", said:

"Well, according to Stan (Norris, frequent contributor to the
Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists' Nuclear Notebook), the total number of Soviet nuclear warheads on Cuba was... wait for it... 158. One hundred and fifty eight nukes. On Cuba. During the Cuban Missile Crisis. Manned by scared Soviet troops and a whole lot of Cubans. Yeah. Let that one sink in. Now, to be fair, most of them were tactical nuclear warheads to be used against U.S. forces in case of invasion (which, by American estimates, would have cost 18,500 American casualties, even if nukes didn't go flying), and 'only' 95 to 100 of those were ready to be used."

But six to eight SS-4 medium-range ballistic missiles were also there, and also at "operational" status. Those SS-4s could have reached as far north as Washington, D.C., with explosive yields of a little over a megaton each.


We now know the nuclear warheads were stored at Bejucal, Cuba, south of Havana. Dobbs said, "The entire fenced-in complex covered about thirty acres and was easily visible from the air."

He further wrote:


"(Colonel Sergei) Romanov had been put in charge of the central nuclear storage depot, where the (36 live) warheads for the R-12 missile (MRBM) were stored in shockproof bunkers. The site was hidden in a wooded hillside just north of Bejucal … some 20 miles from Havana. A drive-through bunker had been dug into the hillside, covered with reinforced concrete, and backfilled with earth. It had two wings to form an L … A circular access road permitted nuclear warheads vans to drive into the bunker from the north entrance and exit from the south exit. The entire fenced in complex covered about thirty acres and was easily visible from the air … The Bejucal bunker was protected by a single fence and several antiaircraft guns."


General Issa Pliyev, the commander of Soviet Forces on Cuba, knew that the MRBM site at Sagua la Grande in central Cuba had the best chance of delivering a nuclear strike against the US, and that it was the best prepared, but it was the most distant from Bejucal, some 250 miles. So Pliyev determined this site had the number one priority. As a result, on October 26, thirteen (of the 36) R-12 missile nose cones were loaded into trucks and driven in a 44-truck convoy at night to Sagua la Grande. Soviet troops lined the way to keep traffic away.

Dobbs added there was another storage site:


"The warheads for the tactical Luna/FROG missiles were stored at another underground facility, near Managua, five miles to the northeast of Bejucal. U.S. intelligence planes also took photographs of this site." This is a photo of the Managua nuclear storage site.

US intelligence agencies concluded there was no way to know for sure whether such warheads were introduced. Secretary of Defense McNamara believed they were.

Dobbs said:

"The CIA had been scouring Cuba for nuclear warheads ever since the discovery of the missiles. In fact, they were hidden in plain view all along. American intelligence analysts had been observing the underground excavations at Bejucal for over a year through U-2 imagery, and had carefully logged the construction of bunkers, loop roads, and fences. By the fall of 1962 they had tagged a pair of Bejucal bunkers as a possible 'nuclear weapon storage site.'"

CIA informed Kennedy on October 16 that Bejucal was unusual and CIA said it had noticed similarity and dissimilarity with other Soviet storage sites. General Marshall Carter, USA, the Deputy Director CIA, told the ExComm,"It's the best (nuclear storage) candidate. We have it marked for further surveillance."

More flights were conducted, U-2 and low level, and bits and pieces to the puzzle were collected, but the dots were never connected. The main obstacle to connecting the dots was people could not believe the Soviets would afford a nuclear warhead site in Cuba such little security, single security fences at both Bajucal and Managua.

Dobbs called that "the tyranny of conventional wisdom."

Frankly, at the end of the day, President Kennedy was not all that worried about all the weapons that had come into Cuba, not even the nuclear warheads or ballistic missiles. He understood that even if the missiles were fired at the US, the US would retaliate with an ICBM-Bomber-Submarine nuclear attack against the USSR and the USR would in turn retaliate with what it had. He at one point saw the whole event as a political one. Neither Khrushchev or Kennedy wanted war. If Kennedy had a fear, it was that some small event would trigger a massive catastrophe.

Dobbs wrote this:

"The real danger (now) would no longer arise from a clash of wills between Kennedy and Khrushchev but over whether the two of them jointly could gain control of the war machine that they themselves had unleashed … The Crisis had gained a momentum of its own."

Much of the equipment was re-loaded onto ships and sent back to the USSR, and many ships had already turned around to go home. On November 10, 1962, CIA informed the ExComm:

"First Deputy Foreign Minister Kuznetsov yesterday (November 9, 1962) protested … over 'very unpleasant events' which had taken place with respect to Soviet ships sailing from Cuba to the USSR. The masters of three ships — the
Alexandrovsk, Divnogorsk, and Vogoles — had reported to Moscow that they had ben asked by US destroyers to open their hatches under threat of force if they did not comply with this 'illegitimate demand.' "

The US apologized.

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