Marxist History: Cuba: Subject: Missile Crisis (3)

Cuban History, Missile Crisis

"If we are attacked, we will defend ourselves."
      — October 8, 1962, President Dortico´s

"I now know how Tojo felt when he was planning Pearl Harbor."
      — October 14, 1962, Robert Kennedy

Part 3: The Missile Crisis

October 1, 1962, Secretary McNamara directs Admiral Robert Dennison, commander-in-chief of the U.S. Atlantic Command (CINCLANT), "to be prepared to institute a [military] blockade against Cuba." The commanders-in-chief of the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Air Force under the Atlantic Command are directed to position thier forces to execute the first stage of the airstrike, and ready themselves for a full-scale invasion of Cuba.

On October 8, 1962, Cuban President Dorticós, addressing the U.N. General Assembly, calls upon the United Nations to condemn the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba. Near the end of his address, Dortic´s declares, "If we are attacked, we will defend ourselves. I repeat, we have sufficient means with which to defend ourselves; we have indeed our inevitable weapons, the weapons which we would have preferred not to acquire and which we do not wish to employ." The speech is interrupted four times by U.S. diplomats.

In the early morning of October 14, 1962, A U-2 spy aircraft flies over western Cuba, revealing MRBM sites in Cuba. Two days later, Kennedy learns about the data collected on the missile deployments. The U.S. government discusses several options from a surgical airstrike on the missile bases to a full-scale invasion. As discussions continue on proposals to destroy the missiles by an all-out surprise air strike, Robert Kennedy passes a note to the president, "I now know how Tojo felt when he was planning Pearl Harbor."

On October 16, 1962, the U.S. Guided Missile and Astronautics Intelligence Committee (GMAIC) concludes that there is no evidence that nuclear warheads are present in Cuba and that the missile installations do not appear to be operational. On the same day the U.S. Ambassador to the Soviet Union Foy Kohler meets with Khrushchev, who insists that all Soviet activity in Cuba is defensive and counters with criticism of the U.S. nuclear missles already in Turkey (the full extent of U.S. nuclear proliferation around the world was unknown at the time). On the following day, U.S. spy agencies explain they've seen an advanced SS-5 IRBM site (a missile with a 2,200 nautical mile range, more than twice the range of the SS-4 MRBMs). In fact, no SS-5 missiles were ever shipped to or located in Cuba, although this is denied by U.S. officials during the crisis. Two days later a Defense Department spokesperson publicly states that the Pentagon has no information regarding nuclear missiles in Cuba and that no emergency military measures are being implemented. The president is briefed (SNIE 11-18-62) that should the United States aggressively attack Cuba, it would likely lead to World War III.

On October 20, 1962, President Kennedy directs implementing a military blockade on Cuba: a full "quarantine", preventing anything or anyone from going into or leaving Cuba. U.S. diplomat to the United Nations, Adlai Stevenson, aggresively protests to his boss that the blockade is invalid, citing analogies to a new Berlin wall, and point out the U.S. nuclear missiles already operational in Turkey and the U.S. naval base [storing nuclear capable bombs] already inside of the sovereign territory of Cuba. Stevenson's protest produces strong reprimand, and on the following day Kennedy and Robert Lovett decide that Adlai Stevenson is not capable of handling negotiations at the United Nations and "should be assisted" by John McCloy.

A nuclear warhead storage bunker is identified at one of the Cuban MRBM sites for the first time. U.S. spy agencies do not detect whether warheads are actually in Cuba at any time, however, the ExComm naturally believes it prudent to assume that they are. In fact twenty nuclear warheads were actually in Cuba, though none of the warheads were ever put into the missiles (unlike the U.S. nuclear missiles in Japan, Taiwan, Turkey, Italy, and &tc.; which were fully armed and ready to fire).

On the following day, the National Security Council proclaims to the International community what will happen to ships who do not abide by the U.S. military blockade of Cuba. The first stage is boarding and inspection. Any ships who refuse to be boarded will have a shot fired across their bow. If the ship does not surrender, it will be "crippled" by force.

On October 22, 1962, Soviet Colonel Oleg Penkovsky is arrested in the Soviet Union. From April 1961, Penkovsky has been a spy for British and U.S. intelligence services, providing them with material on Soviet military capabilities, including important technical information on Soviet MRBM and ICBM programs.


On the same day the U.S. State Department informs its NATO allies about the Cuban missile crisis, and the aggressive military options it has plans to pursue. SAC initiates a massive alert of its B-52 nuclear bomber force, ensuring that one-eighth of the force is airborne at all times. SAC also begins dispersing 183 B-47 nuclear bombers to thirty-three civilian and military airfields. The Air Defense Command (ADC) also disperses 161 aircraft to sixteen bases in nine hours. All aircraft, both on the ground and in-flight, are armed with nuclear weapons. By U.S. nuclear bombers alone, 17 times more nuclear weapons are ready to drop on Cuba than all of Cuba has, while the U.S. has nuclear missiles in Puerto Rico and nuclear capable bombs in Guantanamo Naval Base, Cuba, all ready for use against the island. At this time, the United States has a total arsenal of 27,100 nuclear weapons, while the Soviet Union has 3,100 nuclear weapons.

U.S. military forces worldwide go to DEFCON 3 and encourage all NATO forces to do the same. Supreme NATO Commander Norstad, however, refuses to do so. President Kennedy addresses the U.S. public for the first time about the crisis later in the day, in a televised seventeen-minute speech, stating that the United States will not permit any offensive military equipment in Cuba. Kennedy exclaims "any nuclear missile launched from Cuba against any nation in the Western Hemisphere is an attack by the Soviet Union on the United States, requiring a full retaliatory response against the Soviet Union."
    > Kennedy to Cuba & the Soviet Union (Public Address): Remove all offensive weapons from Cuba or be destroyed (October 22, 1962)
    > Kennedy to Khrushchev (Private letter): The Cuban threat must be removed (October 22, 1962)

On the following day, October 23, 1962, despite Kennedy's threats, Khrushchev writes to President Kennedy: "I must say frankly that the measures indicated in your statement constitute a serious threat to peace and to the security of nations...We reaffirm that the armaments which are in Cuba, regardless of the classification to which they may belong, are intended solely for defensive purposes in order to secure the Republic of Cuba against the attack of an aggressor. I hope that the United States Government will display wisdom and renounce the actions pursued by you, which may lead to catastrophic consequences for world peace."
    > Khrushchev to Kennedy: In Response to U.S. threats of war over Cuban armaments (October 23, 1962)

The Cuban government places its entire armed forces on their highest alert status. The entire civilian population is armed and ready to fight "to the last person" in defense of Cuba. The Armed Forces of the Warsaw Pact is also put on alert status.

In addition to its high-altitude U-2 breaches of Cuban airspace, the U.S. military begins new low-level intimidation and reconnaissance flights all over CubaF-8u (with the fighter attack aircraft F-8U, pictured to the right, and the spy plane RF-101). Some 158 low-altitude incursions are flown between October 23 and November 15. In an extraordinary further effort towards peace, Cuba and the Soviet Union hitherto refuse to make any attempt to forcibly prevent the flyovers, though it is well within their means.

In the early morning of October 24, 1962, Soviet ships en route to Cuba slow down, alter or have reversed their courses. Sixteen of the nineteen Soviet ships en route to Cuba when the U.S. military blockade was announced, reverse course and are returning to the Soviet Union. Only the oil tanker Bucharest continues toward the military blockade line.

President Kennedy has a brief conversation with his brother, Robert, during which the president is afraid that one Soviet ship appears ready to challenge the blockade: "It looks really mean, doesn't it? But then, really there was no other choice. If they get this mean in our part of the world, what will they do next?" "I just don't think there was any choice," Robert Kennedy replies, "and not only that, if you hadn't acted, you would have been impeached." The President thought for a moment and said, "That's what I think — I would have been impeached." At 8 a.m., the United States detonates a hydrogen bomb on Johnston Island.

Khrushchev responds to Kennedy's demands as aggressive and unreasonable. In his first communication with President Kennedy and Premier Khrushchev during the crisis, U.N. Acting Secretary General U Thant, at the request of more than forty non-aligned states, privately calls for the voluntary suspension of arms shipments to Cuba together with the voluntary suspension of the military blockade.
    > Khrushchev to Kennedy: U.S.: Pushing Mankind Toward the Abyss of a World Nuclear War (October 24, 1962)

The United States military increases its alert posture to DEFCON 2 for the first time in history.

On October 25, 1962, the aircraft carrier USS Essex and the destroyer USS Gearing hail attempt to intercept the Soviet oil tanker Bucharest. The Soviet vessel continues on course, refusing to be boarded. The U.S. naval ships are ordered not to cripple the ship.

Khrushchev responds to and agrees with the proposal of peace sent by the U.N. General Secretary, agreeing to suspend all arms shipments to Cuba. Kennedy, on the other hand, refuses to respond to the request of lifting the military blockade. After U.S. demands, the U.N. General Secretary sends another message solely to Khrushchev, supporting the U.S. military blockade and telling Khrushchev to keep his ships outside Cuba.

Meanwhile, a CIA sabotage team in Cuba whose aim is to destroy the Matahambre copper mine, is caught before its attack by the Cuban Committee for the Defense of the Revolution.

On the water, the Lebanese freighter Marucla is targeted by the U.S. Navy as the first ship to be boarded by the warship USS Kennedy. Further, President Kennedy issues the "National Security" Action Memorandum 199, authorizing the loading of multistage nuclear weapons on European/NATO aircraft.

On October 26, 1962, President Kennedy tells the ExComm that he believes the military blockade by itself will not force the Soviet government to remove the missiles from Cuba, and that only an invasion or a nuclear deployment "trade" will succeed. After discussing the airstrike option at some length, Kennedy agrees to apply further pressure by increasing the frequency of low-level incursions over Cuba from twice per day to once every two hours. Further, Kennedy orders the State Department to proceed with preparations for establishing a government in Cuba after an invasion of the country.

Aleksandr Fomin, Soviet Ambassador to the United States, desperately arranges a personal meeting with the State Department correspondent for ABC News, John Scali. Explaining that "war seems about to break out," he asks Scali to contact his "high-level friends" in the State Department to ascertain if the United States has any desire to solve the situation peacefully. According to Scali's notes, Fomin's proposal runs along the following lines: "[Soviet] bases would be dismantled under [U]nited [N]ations supervision and [C]astro would pledge not to accept offensive weapons of any kind, ever, in return for [a U.S.] pledge not to invade Cuba."

Later in the day, Khrushchev publicly reaches out again for peace, composing, in the words of Robert Kennedy, a "very long and emotional" letter. Khrushchev writes: "I propose: we, for our part, will declare that our ships bound for Cuba are not carrying any armaments. You will declare that the United States will not invade Cuba with its troops and will not support any other forces which might intend to invade Cuba. Then the necessity of the presence of our military specialists in Cuba will disappear."
    > Khrushchev to Kennedy: Be Sensible — We Want Peace (October 26, 1962)

John Scali tells Dean Rusk and Roger Hilsman of Aleksandr Fomin's proposal. U.S. officials assume that Fomin's personal message was initiated by the Soviet government [though it had not been] and interpret Khrushchev's letter in light of Fomin's offer that the Soviet Union remove its missiles under U.N. inspection in return for a U.S. non-invasion pledge.

Later that evening, unknown to any of the ExComm members, Anatoly Dobrynin and Robert Kennedy meet at the Soviet embassy. Dobrynin repeats that if Soviet nuclear missiles are intolerable in Cuba, then U.S. missiles are also intolerable in Turkey. Robert Kennedy phones the president, and returns explaining the President is willing to negotiate.

Meanwhile, fears continue to ride high in Cuba as U.S. naval vessels continue their military blockade and aircraft continue low-altitude flights all over the country. Finally, unable to bear the continued harassment, Fidel Castro orders Cuban anti-aircraft forces to open fire on all U.S. aircraft flying over the island. When Soviet Ambassador to Cuba Alekseyev asks Castro to stop being defensive, Castro tells him he is going to protect his country from the clearly imminent U.S. invasion. Meanwhile, the U.S. Air Force determines that 1,190 bombing sorties will be carried out in their first day of airstrikes against Cuba.

On October 27, 1962, The CIA reports that three of the four SS-4 MRBM sites at San Cristóbal and the two sites at Sagua la Grande appear to be fully operational. In the morning Khrushchev publicly announces that if the United States removes its nuclear missiles from Turkey, the Soviet Union will remove its missiles from Cuba: missile launch site "You are disturbed over Cuba. You say that this disturbs you because it is ninety miles by sea from the coast of the United States of America. have placed destructive missile weapons, which you call offensive, in Turkey, literally next to us [there is not even 90 miles of distance]...I therefore make this proposal: We are willing to remove from Cuba the means which you regard as offensive...[if you] will remove its analogous means from Turkey...And after that, persons entrusted by the United Nations Security Council could inspect on the spot the fulfillment of the pledges made."

U.S. spy agencies continue working around the clock, around the world. When a U-2 spy plane flies over the Eastern Soviet Union, in what the State Department would explain as a "routine air sampling mission", the U-2 pilot radios for F-102 fighter aircraft (armed with nuclear air to air missiles) to "escort" him. At the same time, Soviet MiGs takeoff in response to intercept the U-2, which immediately turns and flies out of the Soviet Union. This act was a direct violation of what Eisenhower had promised Khrushchev after the Soviet Union shot down a U-2 plane on May 5, 1960. When Secretary of Defense McNamara hears that a U-2 was in Soviet airspace, "he turned absolutely white, and yelled hysterically, `This means war with the Soviet Union!'" It should be noted that the Soviet Union never flew any of its military aircraft over the United States, while this military incursion was far from last U.S. incursion over the Soviet Union.

Over Cuba, the skies were not so forgiving. A U-2 plane flying over Cuban airspace (with the purpose of mapping targets to be destroyed in the invasion) is shot down, killing its pilot. After the success, the Soviet generals order the anti-aircraft batteries to desist. Their Cuban compatriots, however, are not so diplomatic. The next 4 F8U-1P's to fly at a low altitude over Cuba are shot at with anti-aircraft weapons and small arms. One aircraft is hit by a 37 mm anti-aircraft weapon, but manages to limp back to its base.

(Still October 27) Kennedy begins replying to Khrushchev's request for peace, sending out U Thant to talk to the Soviet government for him. In response to the downed U-2, while there had been definite plans to destroy any SAM site that shot at U.S. planes intruding over Cuban airspace, Kennedy says, not this time.

Most in ExComm abhore Khrushchev's peace proposal: McNamara argues that the Jupiters in Turkey should be removed, but only as a prelude to a full invasion of Cuba; Maxwell Taylor forwards the JCS recommendation simply to initiate the airstrike and invasion plans and plan for a nuclear war; and the State Department drafts a letter flatly rejecting the Soviet proposal of a nuclear deployment trade.

Kennedy agrees to ignore Khrushchev's proposals for removing U.S. missiles in Turkey, and to respond only to the October 26 letter. Kennedy publicly declares:

"As I read your letter, the key elements of your proposals--which seem generally acceptable as I understand them--are as follows: 1) You would agree to remove these weapon systems from Cuba under appropriate United Nations observation and supervision; and undertake, with suitable safe-guards, to halt the further introduction of such weapon systems into Cuba. 2) We, on our part, would agree--upon the establishment of adequate arrangements through the United Nations, to ensure the carrying out and continuation of these commitments (a) to remove promptly the quarantine measures now in effect and (b) to give assurances against the invasion of Cuba".

Further, Kennedy has Dobrynin told that if the Soviet Union does not remove its missiles, the United States will attack Cuba. The group secretly concedes that U.S. nuclear missiles must be removed from Turkey, but that this should not be made public to save face.

Fomin and Scali (who is completely unaware of Kennedy's decision) meet again, the latter of who is outraged by Khrushchev's demand that the United States remove its nuclear missiles from Turkey, on the border of the Soviet Union. Scali shouts at Fomin that the suggestion is a "stinking double cross." Scali outrageously threatens that a full invasion of Cuba is now "only a matter of hours away." Fomin urges restraint and caution, patiently assuring Scali that the Soviet Union is being completely forthright and honest.

Dobrynin and Robert Kennedy meet at the Justice Department. Kennedy tells Dobrynin that the Soviet Union must agree to remove the nuclear missiles from Cuba by tomorrow, and that if they did not, "we would remove them". When Dobrynin repeats the demand that the United States remove its nuclear missiles from Turkey, Kennedy responds that the United States would not make any deals. Despite this, Kennedy explains "our judgment that, within a short time after this crisis was over, those missiles would be gone...[but that] time was running out." Robert Kennedy later recalled the mood at the White House: "The expectation was a [U.S. initiated] military confrontation by Tuesday [October 29] and possibly tomorrow..." Robert McNamara turns to Robert Kennedy — the United States had better be "damned sure," McNamara states, that we "have two things ready, a government for Cuba, because we're going to need one...and secondly, plans for how to respond to the Soviet Union in Europe, because sure as hell they're going to do something there."

Fidel Castro agrees to the request of the United Nations to stop building Cuban missile sites, so long as United States also agrees to end its military blockade. Further, Castro extends an invitation to U Thant to visit Cuba. U Thant accepts the invitation on October 28 and travels to Havana on October 30. U Thant informs Adlai Stevenson that Soviet representative Zorin refuses to adhere to the U.S. military blockade. Fidel Castro meets with Soviet Ambassador Alekseyev for lengthy discussions in the Soviet embassy in Havana. Castro, Alekseyev later reports, had been briefed by him on each of the messages sent back and forth between Moscow and Washington during the crisis. Alekseyev recalls that despite Castro's "characteristic restraint, he also evaluated the situation as highly alarming."

On October 28, 1962, the United States sends instructions to its NATO allies that military actions to attack Cuba are imminent. The CIA learns that Soviet technicians had succeeded in the past day to make fully operational all 24 MRBM sites in Cuba, though no nuclear bunkers are in operation (i.e. the missiles are not armed).

A new message from Khrushchev, broadcast on Radio Moscow, effectively ends the missile crisis. "The Soviet government, in addition to previously issued instructions on the cessation of further work at the building sites for the weapons, has issued a new order on the dismantling of the weapons which you describe as 'offensive,' and their crating and return to the Soviet Union." Dismantling of the missiles begins at 5:00 PM. In Havana, Fidel Castro, who was not consulted or informed of the decision beforehand, is outraged. Khrushchev explains that not ending the crisis would have meant nuclear war, but that "the Soviet government under no circumstances would refuse to fulfill its international duty to defend Cuba." In order to assure safety from U.S. aggression, Castro sets forth a program of "five points": ending the military and economic blockade, ending all subversive and covert activities, ending all air attacks on Cuba, ending all flights over Cuban airspace, and the return of Guantanamo naval base to Cuba.
    > Khrushchev to Kennedy (Public Address): We Will Remove our Missiles from Cuba (October 27, 1962)

Admiral George Anderson reportedly complains, "we have been had," while General Curtis LeMay suggests that the United States ought to "go in and make a strike on Monday anyway." In the afternoon, the Joint Chiefs instruct military commanders not to relax their alert procedures, warning that the Soviet Union's offer to dismantle the missile sites could be an "insincere proposal meant to gain time." Kennedy orders that no further incursions over Cuban air space take place on this day, but moves for the removal of all IL-28 airplanes in Cuba. The Joint Chiefs of Staff update their plans of a military invasion of Cuba based on new reconnaissance, and determine whether tactical nuclear weapons should still be used though Cuba's nuclear weapons are being dismantled.

On October 29, 1962, Soviet First Deputy Premier Vasily V. Kuznetsov meets with U Thant explaining that Soviet missiles are being dismantled and shipped out of Cuba; when this has been completed a U.N. team could be sent to Cuba for "on-site" verification. The deal set by the United Nations was that if the Soviet Union stopped its arm shipments to Cuba, the United States must stop the blockade — the Soviet Union not only discontinued arms shipments to Cuba, but went a step further and removed its nuclear missiles from Cuba. Regardless, President Kennedy orders that the U.S. military blockade around Cuba stay in effect and further, he orders new low altitude reconnaissance flights over Cuban airspace. U Thant explains to U.S. representatives that they must fulfill their agreement and end the military blockade. The United States refuses, demanding that its blockade will end only after all missiles have been removed from Cuba. Meanwhile, the Joint Chiefs of Staff decide that if the U.S. attacks Cuba, they will employ tactical nuclear weapons.

The Soviet Union continues to strive for peace, Anatoly Dobrynin brings Robert Kennedy an unsigned letter from Premier Khrushchev explicitly spelling out the terms of the arrangement, including Robert Kennedy's former pledge that the Jupiter IRBMs will be removed from Turkey. Robert Kennedy refuses to respond immediately, and the next day entirely disagrees with any written agreement involving the Jupiter missiles in Turkey.

On October 30, 1962, Shortly after his arrival in Havana, U Thant and his aides meet with Fidel Castro, Cuban President Osvaldo Dorticós and Foreign Minister Raúl Roa. U Thant demands immediate verification of the missiles being dismantled, instead of what had been agreed (that once the missiles were removed, U.N. inspectors would verify). New demands for verification are on-site inspections by U.N. personnel, aerial inspections by U.N. reconnaissance planes, and verification by the International Committee of the Red Cross. Castro rejects these proposals, explaining that the United States and United Nations is trying to manipulate the situation.

Khrushchev insists that the United States comply with its agreements, and lift the military and economic blockade of Cuba, and asks that, in accordance with the requests of Cuba, the U.S. withdraw from its base in Guantanamo, Cuba. In regards to U.S. nuclear missiles in Turkey, Robert Kennedy tells Ambassador Dobrynin that day "You asked me about missile bases in Turkey. I told you we would be out of there--four to five months. That still holds...You have my word on this & that is sufficient. Take back your letter--Reconsider it & if you feel it is necessary to write letters then we will also write one which you cannot enjoy." Kennedy further tells the Soviet ambassador that should they make any of his public, "then the deal is off".

After almost a year of continual operation, Task Force W is told to temporarily halt its terrorism against the Cuban government. Despite this order to halt, a new mission is dispatched by William Harvey to CIA operatives in Cuba — the agents in Cuba are disgusted by counter-orders within the U.S. government, and they collectively send a message to Attorney General Robert Kennedy to verify that continued missions are in order. Kennedy, angered to learn that CIA missions are continuing, chastises Harvey and asks CIA Director McCone to terminate the operations. Despite this, three of ten sabotage teams of 6 terrorists each have already been dispatched to Cuba. On November 8, one of the teams successfully carries out its assigned sabotage mission, blowing up a Cuban factory.

On October 31, 1962, Fidel Castro, Dorticós and Roa meet with U Thant for the second time during his stay in Cuba. Castro explains that U.S. incursions into Cuban airspace, made to map attack plans against Cuba, will no longer be tolerated and that Cuba will "destroy any plane at any time, which intrudes into Cuban airspace." The next day U.N. officials would report to the U.S. that relations between Cuba and the Soviet Union are, in Rikhye's words, "unbelievably bad." Despite this perception, Castro publicly declares that while the Soviet Union did not always consult Cuba, "we have confidence in the leadership of the Soviet Union...more than ever, we should remember the generosity and friendship that the Soviets have shown us."