Bay of Pigs

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The Bay of Pigs was the failed liberation landing on Cuba in April 1961. Under control of the American CIA, a group of over 1,500 Cuban patriots landed in the Bay of Pigs[1] in the island of Cuba to liberate the nation from Castro's communist government. The idea was to repeat the same landing that Castro had done in the past. The result was a triumph for Communism and a worldwide humiliation for the United States, which had planned, organized and financed the invasion but gave it too little support for success.

The planning for this liberation landing started during the Eisenhower presidency, but his term ended before it was put into action. President Kennedy inherited the project and ordered it into operation, while withdrawing critically essential American air support. The landing occurred three months after Kennedy's inauguration.

In Miami, the CIA was organizing the new government comprised of already existing exile organizations. The training for the freedom fighters took place in Guatemala.

The landing was hurried, a second pre-attack air strike was withheld. The idea was that the people in Cuba would join the fight against Castro once they learned about the liberation forces landing. The resistance in the Escambray mountains and elsewhere was blocked by massive militia encirclement (see War Against the Bandits); mass arrests on the order of 300,000 disrupted anti-Castro urban resistance.

While militia and police were sacrificed in bloody charges, and died by the hundreds in burning buses along the swamp causeways, Castro quickly moved artillery and tanks (supplied by the Soviet Union) and planes (inherited from the previous regime) to the landing site. Although the Cuban patriots fought heroically and far more skillfully than the communist Cubans, the far greater numbers of Castro government troops and loss of air cover to protect supply lines brought an end to the invasion. Kennedy, and his advisers lost confidence and forbade direct American intervention by US Navy carriers already in the area. Within two days, over 100 of the anti-Castro Cubans were killed and over a thousand were captured. Castro government troops had far greater losses a matter still veiled by the present Cuban government (see below).

This incident led to the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Contents

Details

Time: April 15 - April 19, 1961

Place: Bay of Pigs, South of Matanzas Province Cuba

Result: Victory for the Castro leadership of Cuba

Castro government commanders: [Fidel Castro]], Jose Ramon Fernandez, and Hispano Soviet Francisco Ciutat de Miguel

Invader leadership CIA: Grayston Lynch]]; Cuban exile: Pepe San Roman Erneido Oliva

Strength Castro forces: 51,000 Strength invading forces: 1,500

Casualties Castro forces various estimates; over 1,600 dead (Triay p. 81) to 5,000 total estimated (Grayston)

Casualties Invading forces 115 dead and 1,189 captured


Failure of the operation emboldened the Soviet Union to send nuclear missiles to Cuba in 1962 in the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Background and Preparation

Tensions between the United States and Cuba had increased steadily since the Cuban Revolution of 1959. Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy judged that Castro's policies, including the expropriation of US assets on the island and Cuba's increasing ties with the Soviet Union, could not be tolerated.

On March 17, 1960, Eisenhower agreed to a recommendation from the CIA to equip and drill Cuban exiles for action against the new Castro government.[2] Eisenhower stated that it was the policy of the U.S. government to aid anti-Castro guerrilla forces. The CIA began to recruit and train anti-Castro forces in the Sierra Madre mountains on the Pacific coast of Guatemala.[2]

The CIA was initially confident that it was capable of overthrowing Castro, having experience assisting in the overthrow of other foreign governments such as Iranian prime minister Mohammed Mossadegh in 1953 and Guatemalan president Jacobo Arbenz Guzmán in 1954. Richard Mervin Bissell Jr., one of Allen Dulles's three aides, was made director of "Operation Zapata."

The original plan called for landing the exile brigade in the vicinity of the old colonial city of Trinidad in the central province of Sancti Spiritus approximately 400 km southeast of Havana at the foothills of the Escambray mountains. The selection of the Trinidad site provided a number of options that the exile brigade could exploit during the invasion. The population of Trinidad was generally opposed to Castro and the rugged mountains outside the city provided an area into which the invasion force could retreat and establish a guerrilla campaign were the landing to falter. Throughout 1960, the growing ranks of Brigade 2506 trained at locations throughout southern Florida and in Guatemala for the beach landing and possible mountain retreat.

On February 17, 1961, Kennedy, the new U.S. president, asked his advisors whether the toppling of Castro might be related to weapon shipments and if it was possible to claim the real targets were modern fighter aircraft and rockets which endangered America's security. At the time, Cuba's army possessed Soviet tanks, artillery and small arms, and its air force consisted of B-26 medium bombers, Hawker Sea Furies (a fast and effective, though obsolete, propeller driven fighter-bomber) and T-33 jets left over from the Batista Air Force.[3]

As Washington's plans evolved, critical details were changed that were to hamper chances of a successful mission without direct U.S. help. These revised details included changing the landing area for Brigade 2506 to two points in Matanzas Province, 202 km southeast of Havana on the eastern edge of the Zapata peninsula at the Bahía de Cochinos (Bay of Pigs). The landings would now take place on the Girón and Playa Larga beaches. This change effectively cut off contact with the rebels in the Escambray "War Against the Bandits". The Castro government also had been warned by senior KGB agents Osvaldo Sánchez Cabrera and "Aragon", who respectively died violently before and after the invasion.

Soviet Advisers to Cuban Government Forces

Cuban militia, artillery, and intelligence are necessary to field a regular army. Foreign advisors were brought from "Eastern Block" countries; the most senior of these were Francisco Ciutat de Miguel, Enrique Lister, and Alberto Bayo[4]. Ciutat de Miguel (Masonic name: Algazel; Russian name: Pavel Pablovich Stepanov; Cuban alias: Ángel Martínez Riosola, commonly referred to as Angelito) is said to have arrived the same day as La Coubre explosion; he was wounded in the foot during the War Against the Bandits, the type of wound that is common to senior officers observing combat at the edge of effective rifle range. Date of wound is not given in references cited [2], [3].

Invasion

On the morning of April 15, 1961, three flights of Douglas Aircraft Company|Douglas B-26B Invader light bomber aircraft displaying Cuban Fuerza Aerea Revolucionaria (FAR - Revolutionary Air Force) markings bombed and strafed the Cuban airfields of San Antonio de Los Baños, Antonio Maceo International Airport, and the airfield at Ciudad Libertad. Operation Puma, the code name given to the offensive counter air attacks against the Cuban Revolutionary Armed Forces, called for 48 hours of air strikes across the island to effectively eliminate the Cuban air force, ensuring Brigade 2506 complete air superiority over the island prior to the actual landing at the Bay of Pigs. This failed because the air strikes were not continued, as was originally planned - limited by decisions at the highest level of US government. Castro also had prior knowledge of the invasion and had moved the airplanes out of harm's way.

Of the Brigade 2506 aircraft, one was tasked with establishing a CIA cover story for the invasion. The slightly modified two-seat B-26B used for this mission was piloted by Captain Mario Zuniga. Prior to departure, the engine cowling from one of the aircraft's two engines was removed by maintenance personnel, fired upon, then re-installed to give the appearance that the aircraft had taken ground fire at some point during its flight. Captain Zuniga departed from the exile base in Nicaragua on a solo, low-level mission that would take him over the westernmost province of Pinar del Río, Cuba, and then northeast toward Key West, Florida. Once across the island, Captain Zuniga climbed steeply away from the waves of the Florida Straits to an altitude where he would be detected by US radar installations to the north of Cuba. At altitude and a safe distance north of the island, Captain Zuniga feathered the engine with the pre-installed bullet holes in the engine cowling, radioed a mayday call, and requested immediate permission to land at Boca Chica Naval Air Station a few kilometers northeast of Key West, Florida. This account is at apparent variance with Cuban government reports that Sea Fury, B-26 fighter bombers and T-33 trainers flown by the few Cuban (notable Rafael del Pino, (Lagas, 1964)) and some left-wing Chilean and Nicaraguan pilots (Lagas, 1964; Somoza-Debayle and Jack Cox, 1980), loyal to Castro attacked the older slower B-26s flown by the invading force.[5]

By the time of Captain Zuniga's announcement to the world mid-morning on the 15th, all but one of the Brigade's Douglas bombers were back over the Caribbean on the three and a half hour return leg to their base in Nicaragua to re-arm and refuel. Upon landing, however, the flight crews were met with a cable from Washington ordering the indefinite stand-down of all further combat operations over Cuba.

On April 17, four 2,400-ton chartered transports (named the Houston, Río Escondido, Caribe, and Atlántico) transported 1,511 Cuban exiles to the Bay of Pigs on the Southern coast of Cuba. They were accompanied by two CIA-owned infantry landing crafts (LCI's), called the Blagar and Barbara J, containing supplies, ordnance, and equipment. The small army hoped to find support from the local population, intending to cross the island to Havana. The CIA assumed that the invasion would spark a popular uprising against Castro. However, the Escambray rebels had been contained by Cuban militia directed by Francisco Ciutat de Miguel (see Soviet Advisers to Cuban government forces above). By the time the Invasion began, Castro had already executed some who were suspected of colluding with the American campaign (notably two former "Comandantes" Humberto Sorí Marin and William Alexander Morgan[6][7] Others executed included Alberto Tapia Ruano a catholic youth leader. April was a bloody month for the resistance. Several hundreds of thousands were imprisoned the others before, during and after the invasion (Priestland, 2003).

After landing, it soon became evident that the exiles were not going to receive effective support at the site of the invasion and were likely to lose. Reports from both sides describe tank battles (see much detail in printed references section below) involving heavy USSR equipment.[8] Kennedy decided against giving the faltering invasion US air support (though four US pilots were killed in Cuba during the invasion) because of his opposition to overt intervention. Kennedy also canceled several sorties of bombings (only two took place) on the grounded Cuban Air force, which might have crippled the Cuban Air force and given air superiority to the invaders. U.S. Marines were not sent in.

Air action

Aviation is commonly considered the deciding factor during the Bay of Pigs Invasion. The first airplane of the Cuban Armed forces was obtained in 1913; Cuban pilots, such as Francisco Terry Sánchez and Santiago Campuzano fought combat missions as early as WW I [4]. The 1931 Gibara landing against Machado was defeated in great part by Cuban Aviation [5]. However, by the end of January 1959 most Cuban pilots and support technicians from the Batista era were in jail [6] or in exile.

During the Bay of Pigs invasion, the first Cuban exile attack with B-26 left Cuban forces with "two B-26s, two Sea Furies, and two T-33As at San Antonio de los Baños Airbase, and only one Sea Fury at the Antonio Maceo Airport" and two of the attacking bombers were damaged [7] April 17 Cuban exile pilots and copilots/navigators: Matias Farias, Eddy Gonzalez, Osvaldo Piedra, Jose Fernandez, Raul Vianello, Jose, A. Crespo, Lorenzo Perez Lorenzo, Crispin Garcia, and Juan Mata Gonzalez are killed. April 19 US aviators Riley Shamburger, Wade Gray, Thomas W. Ray and Leo Baker, replacing exhausted Cuban exile fliers, die in action.

Cuban pilots Alvaro Galo and Willy Figueroa were jailed for cowardice, for not flying B-26; Captain Evans was accused of poisoning crews and also jailed.

Cuban Air Force pilots included Carlos Ulloa Rauz who was Nicaraguan; Jaques Lagas who flew a B-26 and survived is from Chile' Alfredo Noa died in battle in a plane piloted by Luis A. Silva Tablada also killed. Rafael del Pino. de Varens died in a B-26 accident in Camaguey. Laga lists dead Castro fliers as: Noa, Silva, Ulloa, Martin Torres, Reinaldo Gonzalez Calainada, and Orestes Acosta. On page 81 Lagas mentions Enrique Carrera Rola and Gustavo Borzac.

On page 82 Lagas mentions 16 exile planes in first attack, presumable B-26 bombers. Kraus mentions eight B-26 piloted by Cuban exiles [8]. Lagas mentions Cuban pilot Alberto Fernandez. Juan Suarez Plaza Ernesto Carrera is mentioned as flying a Seafury, and another Nicaraguan; Seafuries were also flown by Cuban pilots including Douglas Rood and Sanchez de Mola. Lagas states he was the only B-26 pilot left on the 19th of April. By April 21 ten of twelve exile B-26B had been destroyed [9]. Eight Cuban pilots survived, only one from the B-26.

Land action

The land action was very bloody. Carlos Franqui writes: “We lost a lot of men. This frontal attack of men against machines (the enemy tanks) had nothing to do with guerrilla war; in fact it was a Russian tactic, probably the idea of the two Soviet generals, both of Spanish origin (they fought for the Republic in the Spanish Civil War and fled to the Soviet Union to later fight in World War II. One of them was a veteran, a fox named Ciutah. He (Ciutah) was sent by the Red Army and the Party as an advisor and was the father of the new Cuban army. He was the only person who could have taken charge of the Girón campaign. The other Hispano-Russian general was an expert in anti-guerrilla war who ran the Escambray cleanup. But the real factor in our favor at Girón was the militias: Almejeira’s column embarked on a suicide mission, they were massacred but they reached the beach.”

Casualties

By the time fighting ended on April 21, 68 exiles were dead and the rest were captured. Estimates of Cuban forces killed vary with the source, but were generally far higher.

The 1,209 captured exiles were quickly put on trial. A few were executed and the rest sentenced to thirty years in prison for treason. After 20 months of negotiation with the United States, Cuba released the exiles in exchange for $53 million in food and medicine.

It is generally assumed by some that during the Bay of Pigs Invasion Cuba's losses were high. Triay (2001 p. 110) mentions 4,000 casualties; Lynch (p. 148) 50X or about 5,000. Other sources indicate over 2,200 casualties. Unofficial reports list that seven Cuban army infantry battalions suffered significant losses during the fighting.

In one air attack alone, Cuban forces suffered an estimated 1,800 casualties when a mixture of army troops, militia, and civilians were caught on an open causeway riding in civilian buses towards the battle scene in which several buses were hit by napalm.[9][10][11]

The Cuban government initially reported their army losses as 87 dead with many more wounded. The number of those killed in action in Cuba's army during the battle eventually ran to 140, and then finally to 161. Thus in the most accepted calculations, a total of around 2,000 (perhaps as many as 5,000, see above) Cuban militia fighting for the Republic of Cuba may have been killed, wounded or missing in action.

The total casualties for the brigade were 104 members killed, and a few hundred more were wounded. Of those killed, ten died trying to escape Cuba in a boat (Celia), nine asphyxiated in a sealed truck on the way to Havana,[12] five were executed after the invasion, five were executed after being captured infiltrating Cuba, five died in training at their base and two died in a Cuban prison camp.

In 1979 the body of Alabama National Guard Captain {Pilot} Thomas Willard Ray who was executed after capture was returned to his family from Cuba; the CIA eventually ("in the late 90's") admitted to his links to the agency and awarded him their highest award the Intelligence Star.[13]

Release of most captive prisoners

In May 1961 Castro proposed an exchange of the surviving members of the assault for five hundred bulldozers. The trade soon rose to $28 million United States dollars.[2] Negotiations were non-productive until after the Cuban Missile Crisis. On December 21, 1962 Castro and James B. Donovan, a U.S. lawyer signed an agreement to exchange the 1,113 prisoners for $53 million U.S. dollars in food and medicine, the money being raised by private donations.[14] On December 29, 1962 Kennedy met with the returning brigade at Palm Beach, Florida.[2]

Aftermath, Reaction, and Re-Evaluation

The failed Bay of Pigs invasion severely embarrassed the Kennedy administration, and made Castro wary of future US intervention in Cuba. As a result of the failure, CIA director Allen Dulles, deputy CIA director Charles Cabell, and Deputy Director of Operations Richard Mervin Bissell were all forced to resign. All three were held responsible for the planning of the operation at the CIA. Responsibility of the Kennedy Administration and the US State Department for modifications of the plans were not apparent until later.

The Kennedy administration continued covert operations against Castro, later launching the Cuban Project to "help Cuba overthrow the Communist regime". Tensions would again peak in the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962.

The CIA, apparently under a Presidential directive, wrote a detailed internal report that laid blame for the failure squarely on internal incompetence. No blame was placed where it probably belonged, President Kennedy's most trusted advisers. Thus the report only mentions a number of grave errors by the CIA and other American analysts contributed to the debacle:

  • The administration believed that the troops could retreat to the mountains to lead a guerrilla war if they lost in open battle. The mountains were too far to reach on foot, and the troops were deployed in swamp land, where they were easily surrounded.
  • They believed that the involvement of the US in the incident could be denied.
  • They believed that Cubans would be grateful to be liberated from Fidel Castro and would quickly join the battle. This support failed to materialize; many hundreds of thousands of others were arrested, and some executed, prior to the landings. (see also Priestland 2003; Grayston, 2000).

The CIA's near certainty that the Cuban people would rise up and join them was based on the agency's extremely weak presence on the ground in Cuba. Castro's counterintelligence, trained by Soviet Bloc specialists including Enrique Lister,[8] had infiltrated most resistance groups. Because of this, almost all the information that came from exiles and defectors was "contaminated." CIA operative E. Howard Hunt had interviewed Cubans in Havana prior to the invasion; in a future interview with CNN, he said, "...all I could find was a lot of enthusiasm for Fidel Castro."[15] Grayston Lynch among others, also points to Castro's rounding up of hundreds thousands of anti-Castro and potentially anti-Castro Cubans across the island prior and during the invasion (e.g. Priestland, 2003) to destroying any chances for a general uprising against the Castro regime. Thus the million voices that had cried "Cuba si, comunismo NO!" on November 28 1959,[10] were gone or silent.

Many military leaders almost certainly expected the invasion to fail but thought that Kennedy would send in Marines to save the exiles. Kennedy, however, did not want a full scale war and abandoned the exiles.

An April 29, 2000, Washington Post article, "Soviets Knew Date of Cuba Attack", reported that the CIA had information indicating that the Soviet Union knew the invasion was going to take place and did not inform Kennedy. Radio Moscow actually broadcast an English-language newscast on April 13, 1961, predicting the invasion "in a plot hatched by the CIA" using paid "criminals" within a week. The invasion took place four days later. According to British minister David Ormsby-Gore, British intelligence estimates, which had been made available to the CIA, showed that the Cuban people were predominantly behind Castro and that there was no likelihood of mass defections or insurrections following the invasion.[2]

The invasion is often criticized as making Castro even more popular, adding nationalistic sentiments to the support for his economic policies. Following the initial B-26 bombings, he declared the revolution "Marxist-Leninist". After the invasion, he pursued closer relations with the Soviet Union, partly for protection, which helped pave the way for the Cuban Missile Crisis a year and a half later.

There are still yearly nation-wide drills in Cuba during the 'Dia de la Defensa' (defense day) to prepare the entire population for an invasion.

An appendix to the Enrique Ros book pp. 287-298 gives the names of Bay of Pigs veterans who became officers in the US Army in Vietnam, these names include 6 Colonels, 19 Lt Colonels, 9 Majors, and 29 Captains.

Notes

Bibliography

  • Anderson, Jon L. 1998 Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life. Grove/Atlantic ISBN 0-8021-3558-7
  • Corzo, Pedro 2003 Cuba Cronología de la lucha contra el totalitarismo. Ediciones Memorias, Miami. ISBN 1890829242
  • Franqui, Carlos 1984 (foreword by G. Cabrera Infante and translated by Alfred MacAdam from Spanish 1981 version) Family portrait with Fidel. 1985 edition Random House First Vintage Books, New York. ISBN 0394726200 pp. 111-128
  • Grayston, Lynch L. 2000 Decision for Disaster: Betrayal at the Bay of Pigs. Potomac Books Dulles Virginia ISBN 1-57488-237-6
  • Hunt, E. Howard 1973 Give us this day. Arlington House, New Rochelle, N.Y. ISBN-10 0870002287 ISBN-13: 978-0870002281
  • Johnson, Haynes 1964 The Bay of Pigs: The Leaders' Story of Brigade 2506. W. W. Norton & Co Inc. New York. 1974 edition ISBN 0-393-04263-4
  • Lagas, Jacques 1964 Memorias de un capitán rebelde. Editorial del Pácifico. Santiago, Chile.
  • Lazo, Mario 1968, 1970 Dagger in the heart: American policy failures in Cuba. Twin Circle. New York. I968 edition Library of Congress number 6831632, 1970 edition, ASIN B0007DPNJS
  • Lynch L. Grayston (see Grayston, Lynch L)
  • de Paz-Sánchez, Manuel 2001 Zona de Guerra, España y la revolución Cubana (1960-1962), Taller de Historia, Tenerife Gran Canaria ISBN 8479263644
  • Priestland, Jane (editor) 2003 British Archives on Cuba: Cuba under Castro 1959-1962. Archival Publications International Limited, 2003, London ISBN 1-903008-20-4
  • Jean Edward Smith, "Bay of Pigs: The Unanswered Questions," The Nation, (Apr. 13, 1964), p. 360-363.
  • Somoza-Debayle, Anastasio and Jack Cox 1980 Nicaragua Betrayed Western Islands Publishers, pp. 169-180 ISBN 088279235
  • Ros, Enrique 1994 (1998) Giron la verdadera historia. Ediciones Universales (Colección Cuba y sus jueces) third edition Miami ISBN 0-89729-738-5
  • Thomas, Hugh 1998 Cuba or The Pursuit of Freedom. Da Capo Press, New York Updated Ed. ISBN 0-306-80827-7
  • Triay, Victor 2001 Andres Bay of Pigs. University Press of Florida, Gainesville ISBN 0-8130-2090-5
  • Welch, David A and James G Blight (editors) 1998 Intelligence and the Cuban Missile Crisis. Frank Cass Publishers, London and Portland Oregon ISBN 0-7146-4883-3 ISBN 0-7146-4435-8
  • Wyden, Peter 1979 Bay of Pigs Simon. and Schuster New York ISBN 0-671-24006-40


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