Talking Proud Archives --- Military

Soviet Foxtrot Submarines: The Cuban Missile Crisis

May 3, 2017

The roots of the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962

The Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, as you might suspect, did not occur overnight.

The Cuban Revolution began in 1956 and Fidel Castro, shown here, overthrew the Government of Cuba and took power over Cuba in January 1, 1959. In May 1960, he established diplomatic relations with the USSR. On December 19, 1960 he openly aligned Cuba with the Soviet Union and its policies. The first large Soviet bloc arms shipment arrived in Cuba on August 28, 1960.

Tension between the US and Cuba began almost right after the Castro takeover. His rhetoric was anti-American. He said he intended to nationalize foreign properties.


He came to the US in April 1959. President Eisenhower refused to meet with him. He did meet privately with Vice President Nixon, shown here. Relations deteriorated rapidly. Eisenhower directed the CIA begin arming and training Cuban exiles to attack Cuba.


President Kennedy opposed communism as much as anyone else. On November 18, 1960, CIA Director Allen Dulles briefed Kennedy on Eisenhower’s plan to overthrow Castro. On January 3, 1961 the US terminated diplomatic relations with Cuba. Despite overwhelming opposition within Kennedy’s circle to an invasion, CIA-supplied B-26s attacked Cuban airfields on April 15, 1961 and a CIA-sponsored paramilitary group “Brigade 2506” invaded Cuba at the beach at Playa Giron in the Bay of Pigs on April 17. The invasion failed. JFK tried to make it look like it was Cuba vs Cuba, but that never sold. The photo shows members of Brigade 2506 after their capture.

I’ll insert two brief, relevant points here. Overall, keep in mind the Cold War between the US and USSR was in full stride.


First, Berlin was still divided in 1961. Soviet Premier Khrushchev liked the idea of supporting movements of national liberation around the world. That was obvious to JFK. Khrushchev said he “would never, under any conditions, accept US rights in West Berlin … force will be met by force.” This photo is of the Brandenburg Gate, to the left East Berlin, to the right West Berlin. IN short, he wanted all Berlin to become whole under East German rule.


Second, in 1959 the US and Turkey agreed to deploy one squadron of 15 nuclear tipped Jupiter medium range ballistic missiles (MRBM) missiles in Turkey. They also deployed them to Italy. The deployment to Turkey began in June 1961. They became operational in April 1962. This photo shows one of the five "flights" (3 missiles each) of Jupiter MBRMs deployed at Cigli Air Base, Turkey during 1962 and early 1963.


The Jupiters were armed with 1.1 megaton W49 nuclear warheads. You can see from this map why the Soviets did not appreciate these missiles in Turkey. The sites in Turkey were largely in western Turkey. Even though the Jupiter was a MRBM with a nuclear warhead, it could hit Moscow. That certainly stuck in Khrushchev’s craw.

Furthermore, the Jupiters really were very vulnerable. They had to stand in a vertical position, it took a long time to prepare them for launch, and they had little to no value as a deterrent. Instead, if anything, they would motivate the Soviets to attack them first, preemptively.

Additionally, the US had Thor IRBM deployed to Britain between 1958 and 1963.

The point here is the US had deployed albeit nearly obsolete nuclear ballistic missiles to Europe that could hit the USSR. As a result, an argument can be made that the Kennedy administration bore great responsibility for creating the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Furthermore, as you will learn, JFK tried to sell the idea to the American people that the US was seriously behind the USSR in ICBMs. That was not true. The Soviets were far behind the US, and JFK knew it, and so did Khrushchev. JFK was told this during his campaign against Nixon, but chose to ignore it.

There is also the question, which was argued throughout the crisis, about whether the weapons being sent to Cuba were offensive or defensive. One of the great fears held by the Soviets and Castro in Cuba was that the US was going to invade. The US tried and failed once with the Bay of Pigs. The US had also been advocating subversive activities inside Cuba to weaken the Castro government. The fighters, short range cruise missiles, surface-to-air missiles could easily be defined as defensive. Even the bombers could be defined as defensive — they were outmoded IL-28s. The short range cruise missiles could be said to thwart a invasion forces on the beaches. Even the MRBMs and IRBMs could be described as a deterrent, in effect a defense against a preemptive US attack, either against the USSR or Cuba or both.

Finally JFK, and his right hand man, Robert F.Kennedy, viewed communism with great contempt, and they showed it.

Frankly, Kennedy did not care about the clearly defensive systems, and as time went on, he didn't even care about the ballistic missiles. The issue that evolved was political, between him and Khrushchev.

Soviet “Operation Anadyr”

Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev was well aware of the Jupiter deployment to Turkey. He was also well aware that the Soviets were far behind the US on inter-continental ballistic missiles (ICBM) development and deployment. Frankly, he had no ballistic nuclear missile capable of reaching the US. That is, until he thought of Cuba.

This however was not the US view at the top. President Kennedy had used what he called the missile gap during his 1960 presidential campaign, asserting Eisenhower was weak on defense and the Soviets as a result were far ahead of the US in ballistic missile arsenals. Kennedy was incorrect and he was told so during the campaign. Nonetheless he stuck to it.

For their part, the Soviets had focused on a European war. They had emphasized MRBM and IRBM missiles intended for use in Europe. But these missiles could not hit the contiguous US from the USSR.


Khrushchev of course understood well that the US employed a significant triad of nuclear weapons including ICBMs, long range bombers carrying nuclear payloads, and submarine launched ballistic missiles (SLBM). The Soviets lagged behind in these areas too.


In May 1962 Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, while in Bulgaria, became keen on the idea of deploying Soviet intermediate-range nuclear ballistic missiles (IRBM) to Cuba. Such missiles in Cuba could hit the US. Such a deployment he thought might also dissuade the US from invading Cuba. Furthermore, he felt the US would have a hard time complaining because it had deployed missiles to Turkey. And finally, Khrushchev wanted to bring West Berlin into the Soviet sphere and use this Cuba deployment as leverage.

Khrushchev once commented:

“The Americans had surrounded our country with military bases and threatened us with nuclear weapons … and now (with a nuclear ballistic base in Cuba) they would learn just what it feels like to have enemy missiles pointing at you; we’d be doing nothing more than given them a little of their own medicine.”

Khrushchev apparently concluded that if he deployed IRBMs to Cuba and the US did nothing, then he could be more aggressive against West Berlin. He had already built the Berlin Wall and closed off the Soviet sector of Berlin.


On May 12, 1962, Khrushchev decided to deploy strategic weapons to Cuba. The cover would be a massive aid program. He briefed the Central Committee on his idea on May 20. On May 24 the Committee supported the idea unanimously. By June Khrushchev’s thinking had expanded from just missiles to building a powerful Soviet base in Cuba.

With that, the Soviets prepared a plan to install and operate MRBMs and IRBMs in Cuba. The plan was named
“Operation Anadyr.” A separate sub-section has been set up to address this operation in more detail. Khrushchev approved it on July 7, 1962. Work began under a cloak of secrecy and deception, top to bottom. Only a handful of officers on the Soviet General Staff were involved in the planning. That group would expand as planning firmed up, but it all remained highly secret. Extreme efforts were made to conceal the plan from the the US, NATO, and the Soviet people.

The Soviets approached Cuban leader Fidel Castro who embraced the idea. Raul Castro, Fidel's brother and others went to Moscow to plan the arrangements for the missile deployment. The deal was sealed. The missiles were to be under Soviet jurisdiction and military command.

Svetlana V. Savranskaya, writing
"New Sources on the Role of Soviet Submarines in the Cuban Missile Crisis," wrote:

"At the end of summer 1962, when Che Guevara (shown here) and Emilio Aragones came to Moscow to renegotiate Cuba’s mutual security agreement with the Soviet Union, Minister of Defense Rodion Malinovsky told them: 'There will be no big reaction from the U.S. side. And if there is a problem, we will send the Baltic Fleet.' Indeed, this was exactly what the Soviet Navy intended to do."