THE CUBAN MISSILE CRISIS
Por Pedro V Roig, Esq.
The defeat of the heroic Cuban Brigade at The Bay of Pigs was a monumental failure for the John Kennedy Administration, especially in the context of the Cold War confrontation. In Moscow, Nikita Khrushchev saw in the Bay of Pigs disaster a confused superpower, led by a weak and indecisive president who could cave in under pressure. Anatoly Dobrynin, the Soviet Ambassador to the United States, believed Khrushchev’s perception of Kennedy was shaped by the lack of resolve shown by the President during those crucial days in Cuba. The Soviet Ambassador, regarding Khrushchev’s view of Kennedy, wrote: «That after the failure of the American backed invasion of Cuba by exile forces, the American president would yield to his pressure.” *(Anatoly Dobrynin,” In Confidence”. New York: Random House,1995, p. 44.)
On July 3-4, 1961, the leaders of the two superpowers met in Vienna. At the summit, according to Ambassador Dobrynin, Khrushchev displayed “an aggressive almost threatening tone…” (Dobrynin, op.cit,pag 45). Kennedy said afterwards to the journalist James Reston: “I think [ Khrushchev in Vienna] did it because of the Bay of Pigs. I think he thought anyone who was so young and inexperienced as to get in that mess could be taken, and anyone that got into it and didn’t see it through had no guts. So, he just beat the hell out of me”. (Christopher Andrew, “For the President’s Eyes Only: Secret Intelligence and the American Presidency from Washington to Bush (London HarperCollins,1995)
Kennedy was shocked by Khrushchev’s behavior. For Professor Graham T. Allison: “Kennedy had worried both after the Bay of Pigs and after the Vienna meeting with Khrushchev, that the Chairman might have misjudged his mettle”. *(Graham T Allison,”Essence of Decision”. Harvard University, Boston, 1971 p.194).
From then on, he believed that the threats were serious and a military confrontation with Russia was possible, but the Kremlin’s leadership was not seeking a war with the U.S. they knew they could not win. Khrushchev was counting on Kennedy’s indecisiveness under pressure as shown during the Bay of Pigs crisis. The Soviet leader was simply “bluffing” (Ibid), the most dangerous game which brought the world to the brink of a nuclear catastrophe.
In Washington, Robert Kennedy was acutely aware of the dangerous consequences to the U.S.-Soviet relations, inherited from the Bay of Pigs disaster. On April 19, as the Brigade fought their last desperate hours, in San Blas, Playa Larga and Giron, Robert Kennedy sent a memo to his brother, warning that: “if we don’t want Russia to set missile bases in Cuba, we better decide now what we are willing to do to stop it… the time has come for a showdown, for in a year or two years the situation will be vastly worse.” *(Arthur Schlesinger,” Memorandum from the President’s Special Assistant to President Kennedy” 2-11-61). Robert Kennedy, Secretary of Justice, understood the dangers posed by a Soviet miscalculation of their strategic options and saw the threat of the deployment of nuclear missiles in Castro’s Cuba – remarkable foresight.
THE SOVIET MILITARY PRESENCE IN CUBA BECAME A NATIONAL SECURITY THREAT
On December 1, 1962, barely seven months after the defeat of the invasion, Castro announced to the World the defining ideology of his revolution. Glowing in his victory over John Kennedy the Cuban dictator stated: “I am a Marxist-Leninist and shall remain a Marxist-Leninist until the day I die.” ( Revolución, December 2, 1962). Castro himself made it official. Cuba was a communist state. Marx was the ideological inspiration and Lenin the messenger of a brutal repression.
With his statement “I am a Marxist”, Castro confirmed Washington’s fears that the Island, ninety miles from the U.S. shores, was moving into the Soviet military orbit and that the deployment of nuclear missiles could be in the Kremlin’s secret agenda. The Kennedy Administration was facing a larger strategic threat than the one which had led to the Bay of Pigs. The Soviets Military were in Cuba. It was a real and present danger to National Security.
In February 1962, the Joint Chiefs of Staff established a priority plan for completion of military options, including a massive air offensive and amphibious landings in the island. Robert Kennedy was involved in the operational planning. Cubans were to be at the forefront in the covert missions, (including Rolando Cubelas’ attempts to assassinate the communist dictator). President Kennedy was briefed on the projected guidelines.
There was a sense of urgency from the White House to get rid of Castro’s communist regime. “We cannot overemphasize the extent to which responsible Agency officers felt themselves subject to the Kennedy administration’s severe pressure to do something about Castro and his regime.” * (1967 CIA Inspector General’s Report, by Jack Earman.) On January 19, 1962 at a meeting in Robert Kennedy’s office, the President’s brother forcefully stated:” no time, money, effort or manpower is to be spared” and that the President had told him the day before: “the final chapter had not been written, it has to be done and will be done”. (Document G. Guidelines of operation Mongoose,03-14-62). The Bay of Pigs disaster signaled the moment when Fidel Castro ceased to be an enemy inherited from General Eisenhower presidency and became the enemy of the Kenethy brothers.
From 1962 to 1965 Ted Shackley, a highly respected CIA officer, became the chief of Miami’s Cuban clandestine operations. Under his leadership it expanded into the U.S. largest intelligence undertaking in the World. (Second only to Langley, Virginia) “It included six hundred case offices and over three thousand contract agents”. *[Howard Hunt. “Give Us this Day” (Arlington House, 1972) pag 195]
In his autobiography, Richard Bissell, CIA Deputy Director for planning added his perspective, writing. “To understand the Kennedy administration’s obsession with Cuba, it is important to understand the Kennedys, especially Robert. From their perspective, Castro won the first round at the Bay of Pigs . . . He had defeated the Kennedy team; they were bitter and could not tolerate his getting away with it. The president and his brother were ready to avenge their personal embarrassment by overthrowing their enemy at any cost.”(Richard Bissel, “Reflections of a Cold Warrior”,New Heavens: Yale University Press, 1996, p 201)
From the very beginning, Fidel Castro had been receiving Soviet military advisors. In July 1959, Fidel Castro’s intelligence chief, Comandante Ramiro Valdez was sent by Castro to Mexico City, to meet the KGB Station officers. It was a successful meeting. The Soviets agreed to secretely send over 100 intelligence experts to forge a disciplined and higly efficient repressive force.(Timothy Ashby, The Bear in the Backyard: Moscow CaribbeanStrategy. Lexington,Mass. 1987 pp 22-6). On January 4, 1960, Aleksander Alexseev, a veteran KGB agent operating as a journalist of the communist newspaper Tass, met with Fidel Castro, his brother Raul, “Che” Guevara and Nunez Jimenez. According to the declassified KGB documents, Fidel Castro insisted that only those present were to know, at that time, that the ideological model of the Cuban revolution was communism. (Aleksander Alekseev, KGB, January 4, 1960. Folio 3, Tomo 5, Lista 65 Archive SVR, KGB.) The reign of terror was dawning.
During the New Year’s Day parade in 1962, Cuba provided U.S. intelligence with the first reliable information on the extent of Soviet defense arms deliveries to Cuba. U.S. intelligence estimates by the planes on display that the aircraft in the possession of the Cuban Revolutionary Air Force includes around sixty Soviet jet fighters, primarily MiG-15 and MiG-17 aircraft with a small number of MiG-19 planes.
The centerpiece of the procession presided by Fidel Castro and his entourage, was an oversized casket bearing an effigy of President Kennedy with the words “MR. KENNEDY LIES HERE. THE CUBAN REVOLUTION KILLED HIM” painted in bold white letters in English. (Bohemia Magazine, January 2,1962). Yes, the Kennedy’s and Fidel Castro were in a fight to death!
The idea of placing nuclear missiles in Cuba dawned on Khrushchev while vacationing in the Crimea, across the Black Sea from Turkey, where the U.S. had deployed the “Jupiter” missiles! Turkey occupies the Asia Minor region known in antiquity as “Anatolia” and a European enclave where Constantinople, present day Istanbul, is located just across the Dardanelle Strait.
In 1953, during The Cold War, Turkey became a close U.S. ally and joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). It also deployed the “Jupiter” nuclear missiles right next to the Soviet Union. By 1961, according to Robert Kennedy: “The President had asked the State Department to reach an agreement with Turkey for the withdrawal of the “Jupiter” missiles in that country. They were clearly obsolete and the “Polaris” submarines in the Mediterranean would give Turkey far greater protection”. (U.S. CONARC, Participation in the Cuban Crisis,October 1963. pag 17).
Nikita Khrushchev was an irritable, volatile, reckless bully with a fierce ambition for power and at times a formidable Politburo manipulator, especially after Josef Stalin death, March 5, 1953. In his autobiography, Khrushchev wrote: “My thinking went like this: if we installed the missiles secretly and then if the U.S. discovered the missiles after they were already poised and ready to strike, the Ameriçans would think twice before trying to liquidate our installations by military means. (George Anne Geyer ”Guerrilla Prince”, Little,Brown and Company,1991, p288). Initially, Anastas Mikoyan and Andrei Gromyko; two important politburo members, were hesitant but eventually they went along with deploying the nuclear missiles in Cuba. (Yury Pavlov,”Soviet-Cuban Alliance,1959-1991.” North-South Center,University of Miami. 1994.p32)
The Soviet leadership decided to use the island in order to bring a substantial part of the United States within range of Soviet Medium Range Ballistic Missiles (MRBM) and the Intermediate Range Ballistic Missiles (IRBM), armed with nuclear warheads. They believed that it would help to address the imbalance (in) strategic nuclear force. Moreover, in the early 1960’s the delivery time from the launching site to the target was a crucial factor. It took approximately 30 minutes for the Intercontinental Range Ballistic Missiles deployed in Russia, to reach the United States. This was enough time for the Americans to retaliate with a devastating counter strike.
From Cuba, the Soviet missiles would have been able to destroy most of the U.S. military and mainland urban centers in 7-10 minutes. Another important factor was that the missile accuracy significantly increased with the proximity of the target, making the Marxist island of Cuba the perfect choice to greatly improve Soviet nuclear capacity! When operational the MRBM and the IRBM in Cuba would have double the nuclear striking power of the Soviets. It was obviously a hostile challenge to the U.S. national security.
In May 1962, the newly appointed Soviet Ambassador Alexander Alexeyev, the former KGB Station Chief in Havana, presented the plans to Fidel Castro, who welcomed the idea. The Marxist dictator stated:”That is a very risky move….but if making such a decision is indispensable for the socialist bloc, I am in favor of placing the missiles on our island”(Dobrynin op cit p 73).With Castro decisive endorsement the secret and quasi-suicidal operation was on.
On July 2, Raúl Castro and Ernesto “Che” Guevara arrived in Moscow. They were received at the airport by Marshal Rodion Malinovsky and Politburo member Anastas Mikoyan. Next day, Raúl Castro and Guevara met with Khrushchev and arranged the details of the Soviet missiles’ deployment in Cuba, which was to be always under the direct control of the Soviet military command. Raul Castro spent two week consulting with Soviet officials before returning to Havana on July 17. (National Security Archives, Alekseyev p. 9 )
After the Bay of Pigs, the Cuban underground remained in the forefront of the heroic struggle for freedom and was able to provide crucial information as they became suspicious of Soviet shipping activities in northwestern Cuba. By late July / early August, John McCone, Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) was receiving disturbing intelligence reports from members of the Cuban Resistance. The Directorio Revolucionario Estudiantil (DRE) was among the first freedom figther organizations that gave the CIA precise information of large containers being transported from Mariel to the Rosario mountains in Pinar del Rio. In the two weeks between July 26 and August 18, 1962, eight soviet ships docked in the north western ports of Cuba.
On August 10, 1962, after analyzing the reports sent by the Cubans underground, McCone dictated a memorandum for President John Kennedy expressing his belief that Soviet missiles were arriving in Cuba. On August 17, based on additional information from the Cuban Resistance organizations, CIA Director McCone presented to a high-level administration leadership the circumstantial evidence indicating that the Soviet were constructing missile sites in Cuba.
Secretary of State Dean Rusk (controversial for his ill-advised input during the Bay of Pigs) and Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara disagreed with McCone’s assessment, arguing that the Russian build up was purely defensive. On August 23, president Kennedy called a meeting of the National Security Council (NSC) to discuss John McCone’s concern that the Soviet were constructing a site platform for nuclear missiles on the island.(Chronology of John McCone’s Suspicions of the Military Build-up in Cuba Prior to Kennedy’s October 22 Speech, 11/30/ 62)
Although Dean Rusk and McNamara argued against McCone’s evidence, Kennedy ordered that a contingency plan to deal with the possibility of Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba should be drawn up, including the military option that might be exercised by the U.S. to eliminate such a threat. On September 7, the U.S. Tactical Air Command established a task group to begin developing plans for air attacks to be carried out before an airborne and amphibious landing in the island.
Finally on 14 October a SAC U-2 spy-aircraft brought in the first photographic evidence of Soviet medium-range ballistic missiles (MRBM) sites in Cuba.” Other Air Force reconnaissance flights confirmed this discovery, and revealed the presence of Soviet II-28 jet bombers on the island. The Soviet crucial need for absolute and total secrecy for the missile’s deployment was gone. The most dramatic event of the Cold War began to unfold.
On October 15, few Kennedy administration officials were tracked down in Washington and briefed about the discovery of the missiles. National Security Advisor McGeorge Bundy decided to wait until morning to alert President Kennedy. Bundy later stated that he chose to wait because it was not possible to prepare a detailed presentation until morning and because he feared that a hastily summoned meeting at night would jeopardize the needed secrecy that the U.S. has factual knowledge of the Soviet building and deploying nuclear missiles sites in communist Cuba.At this time Khrushchev was not aware of the sudden collapse of his huge unwise operation that was an almost childish enterprise for security secrecy.
October 16. At 8.45 a.m. McGeorge Bundy informed President Kennedy that “Hard photographic evidence” had been obtained showing Soviet nuclear sites and missiles in Cuba. Kennedy immediately called an 11:45 a.m. meeting and dictated the names of the fourteen or so advisers he wanted to be present. this is the group that became known as the “ExComm”- the Executive Committee of the National Security council. Later that morning, President Kennedy briefed his trusted and dear brother Robert.
At 11:50 a.m.: The first meeting of the ExComm convened. Photographic evidence was presented to the group, including pictures of missile sites under construction with canvas-covered missile trailers. For the next five days, in absolute secrecy, the president and close advisors analyzed the available options. At the end, it was decided to confront, head-on, the Soviet challenge.
On Friday, October 19 at 9:45 a.m. in a cabinet room meeting at the White House, the analysts confirmed that there were increasingly certain that two sites near Guanajay in Pinar del Rio,were intended for the 2,200 mile-range (MRBM) nuclear missiles. Seeing new evidence of a nuclear warhead storage site in the area, the analysts predicted that the missiles could be operational in 2-6 weeks. The Joint Chief of Staff (JCS) recommended a massive air strike against all military targets in Cuba before the missile sites became fully operational. This was the adequate response to the Soviet Union’s aggressive and destabilizing bullying.
The next day the Secretary of Defense met with the JCS, to brief the Army, Navy and Marines Commanders on the initial air attacks. There were also instructions on positioning aircraft, equipment and personnel at MacDill, Homestead, McCoy AFB and at Key West Naval-Air Station. It became a massive preparation for a powerfull military offensive.The Armed Forces were ready to eliminate the Soviet nuclear threat.
October 21: Despite White House secrecy precautions, several newspapers had, by this time, pieced together most of the details of the crisis. Pierre Salinger White House Press Secretary, notified President Kennedy in four separate calls during the day that security was crumbling. To keep the story from breaking, Kennedy phoned Max Frankel at the New York Times and Philip Graham at the Washington Post and asked Robert McNamara to call John Hay Whitney, the publisher of the New York Herald Tribune. All three agreed to hold their stories.It was clearly evident that the crisis had reached a point where the U.S. government had to openly confront the Soviet Union threat to its national security.
On October 22, Kennedy addressed the nation in a landmark speech, warning unequivocally that his government would not allow the presence of Russian missiles on the island and setting an exclusion zone of 500 miles around Cuba for any Soviet ship that transported military equipment.
“Good evening,my fellow citizens:
This Government, as promised, has maintained the closest surveillance of the Soviet military buildup on the island of Cuba. Within the past week, unmistakable evidence has established the fact that a series of offensive missile sites is now in preparation on that imprisoned island. …
The characteristics of these new missile sites indicate two distinct types of installations. Several of them include medium range ballistic missiles, capable of carrying a nuclear warhead for a distance of more than 1,000 nautical miles. Each of these missiles, in short, is capable of striking Washington, D. C., the Panama Canal, Cape Canaveral, Mexico City, or any other city in the southeastern part of the United States, in Central America, or in the Caribbean area…
Finally, I want to say a few words to the captive people or Cuba, to whom this speech is being directly carried by special radio facilities. I speak to you as a friend, as one who knows of your deep attachment to your fatherland, as one who shares your aspirations for liberty and justice for all. And I have watched and the American people have watched with deep sorrow how your nationalist revolution was betrayed. The cost of freedom is always high, but Americans have always paid for it. And one path we shall never choose, and that is the path of surrender or submission.Our goal is not the victory of might, but the vindication of right; not peace at the expense of freedom, but both peace and freedom, here in this hemisphere, and, we hope, around the world. God willing, that goal will be achieved. Thank you and good night”
The Soviet Ambassador Dobrynin believed that the Kremlin was surprised and confused by the forceful American reaction. In his memoirs Dobrynin said: “The miscalculation was made by Khrushchev himself. He did not anticipate that his adventurous thrust would be discovered in time for Kennedy to organize a sharp reaction, including a direct confrontation”. The Soviet Politburo did not consider going to war as an option. They knew that the U.S. nuclear arsenal was infinitely superior.
Khrushchev and the Cuban Marxist dictator had provoked an offensive and threatening collision with the United State. The Kremlin was conscious that the Soviet Union was at a huge nuclear disadvantage. For Kennedy it was a historical time for a decisive response to the aggressive challenge. Churchill’s legendary leadership action was knocking at his Presidency. ? Does John Kennedy have the needed strategic vision and moral courage to gain the upper hand, remove the missiles and dismantle the communist threat from Castro’s Cuba? Time will tell.
President Kennedy’s address to the nation (October 22, 1962) had the unmistakable message of an unavoidable confrontation. The Russian missiles had to be removed immediately from Cuba and returned to the Soviet Union. In addition, the President announced a strict 500 miles shipping quarantine zone around the island.
Kennedy further warned the Soviet government that the United States would “regard any nuclear missile launched from Cuba against any nation in the Western Hemisphere as an attack by the Soviet Union on the United States, requiring a full retaliatory response against the Soviet Union.” In preparation for action the U.S. Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles were placed in full alert and the Polaris nuclear submarines in port were dispatched to preassigned stations at sea. During the president’s speech, twenty-two interceptor aircraft went airborne in the event the Cuban government reacted militarily. (Department of Defense Operations during the Cuban Missile Crisis, 2/12/63, p. 11)
In the evening of October 22, 1962, President Kennedy held a cabinet meeting and met with congressional leaders. Forty-five minutes before the President addressed the nation, NATO ambassadors received a background briefing at the State Department, while friendly military attaché were briefed at the Pentagon.
During the day, British Prime Minister Harold MacMillan was briefed by U.S, Ambassador Bruce, French President Charles de Gaulle by Dean Acheson, and West German Chancellor Conrad Adenauer by Ambassador Dowling. Mr. Acheson also briefed the NATO Council in Europe. They provided their full support to the U.S. confrontation with the Soviets.
At the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962, the United States had decisive nuclear superiority over the Soviet Union. The American Nation had more than 400 Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles ICBMs compared to 78 ICBMs in the Soviet arsenals. The huge strategic advantage also included the sophisticated Polaris submarines with a devastating nuclear punch and the overwhelming striking power of some 1,300 bombers with nuclear ordinance, as opposed to less than 200 belonging to the Soviets.
THE PENKOSKY INTELLIGENCE REPORT
On October 22, 1962, Colonel Oleg Penkosky, the highest-ranking Soviet official to provide top quality missile intelligence information for the British and the U.S. including the Russian deployment of missiles in Cuba, was arrested in Moscow and later executed.
In all, Penkosky had provided the CIA and the British MI6 agencies with over 10,000 pages of intelligence reports, about 140 hours of interviews and 111 rolls of film. An artillery officer in WWII, Penkosky attended the Frunze Military Academy and in 1958 the Dzerzhinsky espionage school where he was trained as an intelligence agent and missile engineering expert.
Penkosky gave a large amount of information on the Soviet military, including photocopies of the construction plans for missile sites in Cuba, with precise technical details on their range, components and capabilities. The Penkovsky intelligence report was among the most productive clandestine operations conducted by the CIA or the British MI6 against the Soviets. The Penkovsky report gave Kennedy vital information on the Russian limited nuclear offensive capabilities. From the beginning of the confrontation the President knew the immense strategic advantage of the United States.
KHRUSHCHEV’S FALSE PRETENSE OF NUCLEAR SUPERIORITY
The Soviet Premier knew that his boisterous claim of nuclear superiority was not based on facts. During the missile crisis, Khrushchev stated that Russia was producing nuclear rockets like sausages. On this point, his son Sergei, working at a rocket design project, later told this amusing story: He said that he asked his father
“How can you say we are producing rockets like sausages… we don’t have any rockets.” To which his father answered: “That’s all right. We don’t have any sausages either.” (Thomas C. Reed, “At the Abyss.”, Ballantine Books NewYork, 2004, pp. 95).
By the time of Kennedy’s speech to the nation, Russian ships bound to Cuba were a few days away from reaching the quarantine zone. On October 23, 1962, Khrushchev received a message from the American president requesting that those ships should not cross into that zone in order to avoid a direct confrontation. Khrushchev replied: “any violations of freedom of the sea were to be considered as an act of aggression which would push mankind towards the abyss of nuclear missile war.”
It was dangerous. As Soviet ships began approaching the quarantine zone, which was 500 miles around the Cuban Island. The American Navy had specific orders not to allow the Russians ships to reach Cuba.
On the morning of October 23, 1962, an aggressive and enraged Fidel Castro announced a combat alarm, placing the Cuban armed forces on their highest alert. (Statement by Castro Rejecting the possibility of Inspection and Noting That Cuba Has Taken Measures to Repel a United States Attack, 10/23/62).
In the evening, the communist dictator, a compulsive liar, denies the presence of offensive missiles on Cuban soil and declares: “We will acquire the arms we feel like acquiring and we don’t have to give an account to the imperialists.” Castro also categorically refuses to allow inspection of Cuban territory, warning that potential inspectors “must come in battle array.” (Statement by Castro Rejecting the Possibility of Inspection and Noting That Cuba Has Taken Measures to Repel a United States Attack, 10/23/62)
In Washington, CIA Director John McCone Informed the President that Soviet submarines have unexpectedly been found moving into the Caribbean. According to Robert Kennedy, the president ordered the navy to give “the highest priority to tracking the submarines and to put into effect the greatest possible safety measures to protect our own aircraft carriers and other vessels.” (Document 32, McGeorge Bundy, Executive Committee Record of Action, October 24. 1062, 6:00 P.M).
The CIA also noted a statement by the president of TASS warning that U.S. ships would be sunk if any Soviet ships were attacked. (The Soviet Bloc Armed Forces and the Cuban Crisis: A Chronology July-November 1962, 6/18/63. p.50)
Late on Tuesday, October 23, 1962, as the Soviet ships continued to approach the quarantine zone, Robert Kennedy met with the Russian Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin. Kennedy was direct and to the point. The U.S. was ready to go into a major conflict on the issue of the deployment of nuclear missiles in Cuba. According to his memoirs, Dobrynin “conveyed all of Robert Kennedy’s harsh statements to Moscow.” Initially there was no reply from the Kremlin. The Soviet leadership was paralyzed and deeply confused. The Americans had called the bluff. The Soviet Ambassador described Kremlin’s leadership as being enveloped in “total bewilderment” (Dobrynin op cit p.73)
Next day, October 24, 1962, the Cuban Missile Crisis reached a direct confrontation stage. The Russian ships were about to enter the quarantine zone and naval intelligence reported that a Soviet submarine had joined the ships. The aircraft carrier U.S.S. Essex, a veteran of the Bay of Pigs, was ordered to make the first interception. The showdown was fast approaching. We know today that the Soviets were not going to war over Cuba, but at the time the outlook for a nuclear conflict seemed very real.
According to dissident Soviet historian Roy Medvedev, Khrushchev responded to Kennedy by “issuing orders to the captains of Soviet ships… approaching the blockade zone to ignore it and to hold course for the Cuban ports.” Khrushchev’s order was reversed at the prompting of Politburo member Anastas Mikoyan as the Soviet ships approached the quarantine line on the morning of October 24, 1962. (Document 28, Text of President Kennedy’s Radio/TV Address to the Nation, October 22, 1962). The first sign that the Russian leadership was caving in began to appear by midmorning on Wednesday, October 24, 1962. It came to the White House in an urgent intelligence message indicating that several Russian ships near the quarantine line had stopped. At 5:15 p.m., a Defense Department spokesperson announced publicly that some of the Russian ships proceeding toward Cuba were changing their course and turning back. But still a negotiated settlement had not yet been resolved. The Russian missiles were still on Cuban 90 miles from the U.S.
On Thursday, October 25, 1962 in a briefing at the White House, the CIA indicated that some of the missiles deployed in Cuba were operational. Khushchev was attempting to gain time for full deployment of the Soviet Missiles but Kennedy immediately ordered the U.S. Armed Forces to be ready for action. Also, military targets were identified in Cuba that included three massive air strikes per day, until Castro’s air capability was destroyed.” (The Air Force Response to the Cuban Crisis, 14 October-24 November 1962. ca.1-63, 27-9.) In the morning of October 26, 1962, President Kennedy gave instructions for a provisional Cuban government to be prepared with José Miró Cardona as leader of a free Cuba, following the massive air attack and invasion of the communist Island. (CINCLANT Historical Account of Cuban Crisis, 4/29/63, P. 56; Kennedy, p. 85)
There was no room for negotiating the Soviet missile deployment in Cuba. The armed forces of the United States were ready for a fight. As a precaution, Kennedy issued the National Security action memorandum 199 authorizing the loading of nuclear weapons on aircrafts in Europe. (The Air Force Response to the Cuban Crisis 14 October-24 November 1962, ca.1/63, p. 27)
October 26, 1962 at 6:00 am, The CIA memorandum noted that construction of IRBM and MRBM bases in Cuba were proceeding without interruption. (The Crisis USSR/ Cuba: Information as of 0600, 10/26/62) At 10:00 am, President Kennedy told the ExCom that he believed the quarantine by itself would not cause the Soviet government to remove the missiles from Cuba, and that only an invasion or a trade of some sort would succeed.
The roles had been reversed. Declassified Soviet documents indicate that it was the Russian leaders who were surprised and hesitant at the firmness of the United States to wipe out the Russian missile in Cuba.
“I PROPOSE THE IMMEDIATE NUCLEAR STRIKE ON THE UNITED STATES” Fidel Castro (Oct 26,1962.)
In the evening of October 26, 1962 fearing a U.S. invasion, Fidel Castro went to the Soviet Embassy, in Havana and dictated a letter to Soviet Ambassador Alekseyev addressed to Krushchev. In his apocalyptic message Fidel Castro said: “I propose the immediate launching of a nuclear strike on the United States. The Cuban people are prepared to sacrifice themselves for the cause of destruction of imperialism and the victory of world revolution” [The New York times, Fedor Burlatsky, Oct. 23,1992]
In 1989, during a conference convened with Americans and Soviets to learn the lessons of the Cuban Missile Crisis, Sergei Khrushchev, son of the Soviet leader, who has transcribed his father’s uncensored memoirs, stated Nikita’s reaction on Fidel Castro’s message: “Is he proposing that we start a nuclear war? This is insane”. (Cuban Missile Crisis, “the Christian Science Monitor”, Anna Mulrine, October 16, 2012.) The Crisis was getting out of control. The Soviets were not ready for war. They had to get the missiles out of Castro’s insane Armageddon compulsion.
A DIRECT “CASUS BELLI” (Provoking War)
The same day that Castro sent his apocalyptic message to Krushchev (Oct 26, 1962), The Cuban communist dictator ordered his anti aircraft forces to open fire on all U.S. aircraft flying over Cuba. When the Soviet Ambassador Alekseyev requested Castro to cancel the order, it was rejected. *[Sergo Mikoyam on the Soviet views on the Missile crisis, 10/13/1987]
Then the crisis reached a breaking point when around 12 noon October 27, 1962 a U.S. reconnaissance U-2 plane was shot down over Cuba and its pilot Major Rudolf Andersson was killed. -Who gave the order to attack and destroy the U-2? The information that a Soviet general gave the order was revealed years later (1987) but in Washington it was perceived as a “Casus belli”, (Chronology of the Cuban Crisis October 15-28, 1962).
Later in the afternoon at a meeting in the White House, general Maxwell Taylor presented the U.S. Armed Forces, Joint Chief of Staff recommendation to put in effect the airstrikes and invasion of the island, but President Kennedy, immersed in his recurrent indecisiveness vacillated, stating that if an attack would happen again, he would order the destruction of the Russian missile sites and eliminate once and for all, the Castro’s totalitarian regimen.
Late that night, Robert Kennedy went to see Dobrynin. It turned out to be the decisive meeting. With the urgency of preventing a war, the Americans and the Russians worked out a formula for a negotiation of the crisis. The Soviet leadership was looking for a face-saving settlement. Under pressure of an imminent U.S. invasion of Cuba, Khrushchev told Politburo members: “Comrades, now we have to look for a dignified way out of this conflict ” (Dobrynin opcit p.85)
Robert Kennedy put forward his brother President John Kennedy’s formula that proved to be the final solution. He proposed the gradual removal of American missiles in Turkey for the immediate withdrawal of all Russian missiles and bombers in Cuba. Dobrynin immediately informed Khrushchev. In his memoirs, the Soviet Premier stated that Robert Kennedy’s offer was the turning point of the crisis [ibid 89]
Dobrynin, a highly respected diplomat, wrote: “At 4 p.m. on Sunday, October 28, I received an urgent cable from Gromyko. It read: ‘Get in touch with Robert Kennedy at once and tell him that you have couriered the content of your conversation with him to N.S. Khrushchev, who herewith gives the following urgent reply: the suggestion made by Robert Kennedy on the President’s instructions are appreciated in Moscow. The President’s message of October 27 will be answered on the radio today, and the answer will be highly positive” Robert Kennedy insisted that Turkey’s missile exchange was to remain secret for several years. He also pledged not to invade Cuba. Obviously Kennedy, supported at the time by the huge nuclear might of the U.S. failed to eliminate Fidel Castro’s regime, a brutal and aggressive Soviet ally 90 miles from continental U.S.A..
It was evident that Nikita’s bluff had failed and the nuclear missiles were removed from Cuba without consulting Fidel Castro. The Cuban Marxist dictator was publicly humiliated and his reaction against the Russian leader was violent and full of eschatological remarks. He cursed Khrushchev as a traitor and coward. The editor of Revolution, Carlos Franqui, recalled Castro screaming widely: “Son of a bitch, homosexual fagot” He was out of control. The two superpowers had relegated him to the marginal role of a disposable pawn, but in the end, he would survive in power much longer than the two world leaders. Kennedy would be assassinated a year later by Castro’s insane fanatic and Khrushchev was booted out as Prime Minister by the Soviet Politburo. But the great losers were the Cuban people, especially the younger generation forced to live in the obsolete, dysfunctional, hopeless and evil communist totalitarian dogma.