Bay of Pigs invasion, Cuba

Bay of Pigs invasion, Cuba.

On April 17, 1961, 1400 Cuban exiles launched what became a botched invasion at the Bay of Pigs on the south coast of Cuba.

During the period between the election and his inauguration, JFK was briefed on a CIA plan developed within the Eisenhower Administration to train Cuban exiles for an invasion of their homeland. The United States was distrustful of Fidel Castro, the leader of Cuba, and wary of his relationship with Nikita Khrushchev, the Soviet premier. The plan anticipated that support from the Cuban people and perhaps even from elements of the Cuban military would lead to the overthrow of Castro and the establishment of a non-communist government friendly to the United States.

Invasion preparations had begun in March of 1960, when President Eisenhower approved a CIA plan to train Cuban exiles. Camps in Guatemala were established, and by November the operation had trained a small army in guerrilla tactics and conventional assault landing procedures.

In Miami, Jose Miro Cardona, leader of the anti-Castro Cuban exiles in the United States, became head of the United Revolutionary Front, poised to take over the provisional presidency of Cuba upon the successful invasion. Despite efforts of the government to keep the invasion plans covert, it became common knowledge in Miami. The press reported widely on events as they unfolded, and Castro soon learned of the guerrilla training camps in Guatemala.

Shortly after his inauguration, in February of 1961, Kennedy authorized the Cuban invasion plans on the condition that US support be sufficiently disguised. As a result of this decision, the landing point for the invasion was moved to the Bay of Pigs, an obscure area on the southern coast of Cuba, more than 80 miles from possible refuge in Cuba's Escambray mountains.
The Plan

The original invasion plan called for two air strikes against Cuban air bases. A 1400-man invasion force would disembark under cover of darkness and launch a surprise attack. Paratroopers would drop to advance positions in order to cut off transportation and to repel Cuban forces. Simultaneously, diversionary troops would land on the east coast of Cuba to create confusion. The main force would advance to Matanzas and establish a defensive land perimeter. The United Revolutionary Front would send leaders over and establish a provisional government. The success of the plan depended on the presumption that the Cuban population would join the invaders.
What Went Wrong

The first major error occurred on April 15, 1961, when eight B-26 bombers left Nicaragua to bomb Cuban airfields. The operation failed to destroy the entire arsenal of planes, leaving most of Castro's air force intact. The CIA had used obsolete World War II B-26 bombers, and painted them to look like Cuban air force planes. As news broke of the attack and American complicity became apparent after photos of the repainted planes became public, President Kennedy canceled the second air strike.

On April 17, the Cuban-exile invasion force, or Brigade 2506, landed at beaches along the Bay of Pigs and immediately came under heavy fire. The planes left unharmed in the earlier air attack strafed the invaders, sank two escort ships, and destroyed half of the exile's air support. Bad weather hampered the ground force, which had to work with soggy equipment and low stores of ammunition.

During the next 24 hours, Castro had 20,000 troops advancing on the beach and the Cuban Air Force continued to control the skies. As the situation grew increasingly grim, President Kennedy authorized an ?air-umbrella? at dawn on April 19, which called for six unmarked American fighter planes to help defend the Brigade's B-26 aircraft flying from Nicaragua. But the B-26s arrived an hour late (most likely due to time zone confusion) and were shot down by the Cubans. The invasion was crushed later that day. Some exiles escaped to the sea, while the rest were killed or rounded up and imprisoned by Castro?s forces. Almost 1200 Brigade members had surrendered and more than 100 had been killed.
The Aftermath

The Brigade prisoners remained in captivity for 20 months, as the United States negotiated a deal with Fidel Castro. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy made personal pleas to pharmaceutical companies and baby food manufacturers, and Castro eventually settled on 53 million dollars worth of baby food and drugs. On December 23, 1962, just two months after the resolution of the Cuban Missile Crisis, a plane containing the first group of freed prisoners landed in the US. A week later, on Saturday, December 29, surviving Brigade members gathered for a ceremony in Miami?s Orange Bowl, where the Brigade?s flag was handed over to President Kennedy. ?I can assure you that this flag will be returned to this Brigade in a free Havana,? the president promised. The failure at the Bay of Pigs had a lasting impact on the Kennedy administration. The commitment to erase this blot from the historical record contributed to the November 1961 decision to establish Operation Mongoose--a plan to sabotage and destabilize the Cuban government and economy, including the possible assassination of Castro himself. More than 40 years later, relations between Castro's Cuba and the United States remain tense and tenuous at best.