The History of The Bay of Pigs Invasion
The Bay of Pigs Invasion is a famous battle between the U.S. and Cuba that showcased pride, power, and strategy against the oppressors and defenders. This invasion was also one of the most profound operations on behalf of the Cubans, and a lesson learned for the United States. An unpopular U.S. act was also created due to this battle... can you guess what it is? Check out the gallery and find out why the Bay of Pigs invasion is so prominent in U.S. and Cuban history!
Before the main event, you should know the foundation of the invasion. Cuba had entered into three main wars from 1868 to 1898 with the help of their ally, the United States government. Yet, after the Spanish-American War, the U.S. invaded Cuba to force the Spaniards out, successfully. After the victory, Governor Leonard Wood handed control to President Tomas Estrada Palma (featured), a Cuban-born U.S. citizen.
By 1905, 60% of rural land was owned by U.S. settlers, and 5,000 U.S. marines were stationed in Cuba to help intervene with foreign affairs by the order of the Cuban government.
The onset of the invasion started with general and politician Fulgencio Batista (featured). In March 1952, he discredited and overthrew president Carlos Prio Socarras and deemed himself president of the Republic of Cuba under his new system described as "disciplined democracy." However, many saw this move as a dictatorship, which set the stage for rebellion, leading to the Cuban Revolution.
There were two militant organizations that fought the power: the National Revolutionary Movement and the "26th of July Movement" known better as "MR-26-7", which was founded by none other than Fidel Castro, a known anti-Batista revolutionary.
26th of July Movement
The 26th of July Movement (MR-26-7) was a Cuban revolutionary turned political party led by Fidel Castro (featured). The name comes from the attack on the Cuban army barracks on Santiago de Cuba as the group's first attempt to overthrow Batista on July 26, 1953.
Fidel was a smart regime leader. Instead of a full-force attack, Fidel organized the soldiers using the clandestine cell system. Each cell (or group) had ten members in it, and to protect themselves from the enemy interrogation, the groups did not know the whereabouts of the other cells.
3 Year Battle
From December 1956 to February 1959, Castro led his guerilla army against the forces of Batista. After being forced into unfamiliar areas and having many of his soldiers killed, Batista ordered the remainder of his army into retreat. On December 31, 1958, Batista resigned, took $300,000,000, and fled to Miami, Florida to live in exile.
Fidel used it to appoint the next president, a lawyer named Manuel Lleo, and many of the MR-26-7 were placed in cabinet positions. In 1959, Fidel appointed himself Prime Minister and established "direct democracy" which allowed Cuban citizens to express their democratic will.
Following the Cuban Revolution, many opposing forces including exiled Cubans in the U.S., the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and the Rafael Trujillo (featured) regime in the Dominican Republic decided to fight back as resistance to Castro's stealthy power and influence. Small battles were formed, coups were developed, airlines were stolen and foreign resources were used to fund the resistors.
As a result, Castro's government began a crackdown on every party involved. This ended in hundreds of arrests, psychological torture, starvation, confinement, hostile behaviors, and the beginning of press censorship in Cuba.
After the uproar across Cuba occurred, many important figures from the old regime were sent to trial for their actions. Of course, many of them were executed in the name of the new regime. This caused the U.S. government to comment and argue that the punishments did not meet the quality of a fair trial.
Castro responded with "revolutionary justice is not based on legal precepts, but on moral conviction." After the statement, Castro had a former featured Cuban figure and an American former Castro-ally executed after trials were reconvened.
After the smoke cleared from the punishment of opposing regimes, Castro used his power to order the country's oil refineries to produce crude oil from the Soviet Union (now Russia). However, those refineries were controlled by the U.S. government, and they were ordered to refuse Castro's demand. To retaliate, Castro nationalized the refineries under state control.
It continued with the U.S. canceling its import of Cuban sugar, which made Castro nationalize more Cuban-based U.S. assets. As a final blow, the U.S. government prohibited major exports to Cuba, which was the beginning of an economic embargo.
The Embargo Act
The United States embargo against Cuba prevented American businesses from conducting trade with Cuban interests. First, it imposed the refusal of arms to regimes. Additionally, by 1962, the embargo was extended to include almost all exports except for food and medicine. Modernly, the embargo is enforced through six main U.S. laws dating from 1917 to 2000.
It should be noted that there is an annual vote to disband the embargo act against Cuba. Yet, each year, the United States and Israel vote against utilizing resolutions, which keeps the embargo intact.
During a meeting of the Organization of American States (OAS), U.S. officials publicly spoke ill of how Castro and his administration were operating with the Cubans by initiating only a single-party political system and taking governmental control of trade unions and civil liberties. It was said that Cuba was the headquarters of "international communism" throughout the western hemisphere.
To retaliate, Castro publicly exposed the U.S. for their mistreatment of African American people with civil rights leader, Malcolm X (right). Although the U.S. attempted to mend disagreements, their ultimate goal was to have Cuba not engage with the Soviet Union, which Castro's administration showed resistance towards.
Initially, the plan was to simply push Fidel Castro out of Cuba. Why? Because Castro nationalized U.S. property in Cuba totaling $1.5 billion, became stronger with Russia, and verbally back-lashed the U.S. government for their persecution over the previous 60 years.
This is why President Eisenhower (featured) approved the training of paramilitary forces. These units were trained to seek out their number one target (Castro) and restore U.S. power in Cuba. These forces are the precursor to the Bay of Pigs invasion and their training consisted of various ways to take the leader's life.
When President Eisenhower realized that Castro and his parliament had become openly against the U.S., the Cuban citizens - and some of the Cuban community in the U.S. - began following in his footsteps. Eisenhower was convinced to start devising plans to take Castro out of power in favor of U.S. interest.
Eisenhower then directed the CIA to begin preparations of invading Cuba and overthrowing the Castro regime and placed Richard M. Bissell Jr. (featured) in charge. Bissell was smart and gathered key agents from the 1954 Guatemalan coup to help him plot the Cuban leader's demise.
In an attempt to re-establish their place in Cuba, the CIA reached out to Cosa Nostra, an Italian-American organized crime unit - specifically undercover CIA agent Rolando Cubela, (featured) - with one goal in mind: assassination. The initial plan was to "relieve" Fidel Castro from his post because he was not willing to cooperate with the U.S. continuing in Cuban affairs.
If the mission was to be successful, in return, the CIA promised that the Mafia would get their "monopoly" on gaming, drugs, and prostitution. The CIA also tried poison pills, exploding seashells, and diving suits laced with toxins to assassinate Castro.
In March 1960, President Eisenhower (1st right) brought the idea of invasion and assassination to the U.S. National Security Council and approved a $13 billion budget for exploring the most effective means of removing Castro from power and restoring it back to the U.S. businesses and interest.
The U.S. used four major tactics to begin its attack. One was propaganda that offended the regime, while another focused on creating a covert intelligence regime in Cuba. There was also the development of paramilitary forces, as well as gaining logistical support from key Cubans themselves.
John F. Kennedy
The Bay of Pigs invasion planning took place during the transition of power from Dwight Eisenhower to President-elect John F. Kennedy, who was prepped on the earlier plans. After the update, because Kennedy was about to be in power, the plans began to be rushed while Kennedy slightly struggled to keep up.
Kennedy demanded no support from former leader Batista or his followers due to a conflict of interests. Bissell briefed him on plans that had been devised and wanted to focus 750 men at an undisclosed site in Cuba to get started.
John Kennedy won the election and he met with the heads of all the major U.S. departments and was briefed on the plan, Operation Pluto. It required 1,000 men to invade Cuba through Trinidad because the country had good port facilities and was closer to many other counter-revolutionary activities that were already in effect.
Yet, the plan was rejected because the State Department wanted to use B-26 bombers in the invasion, and the Trinidadian airfields were not large enough for the bombs. Kennedy rejected Trinidad altogether because he preferred a more central location.
The goal was to use Bahia de Cochinos (Bay of Pigs) located in Las Villas Province, as the landing area. Other landings included code names Blue Beach, Red Beach, and Green Beach, which were also located in Cuba.
April 1960 was when the CIA began recruiting covert operatives for the invasion. The organization focused on anti-Castro Cuban exiles in Miami, Florida, and would train them at various facilities throughout South Florida, including Useppa Island, Florida, and Homestead Air Force Base. Guerilla training also took place at Fort Gulick and Fort Clayton in Panama (featured).
The key leader in the recruitment and training of the exiles was Jose "Pepe" Perez San Roman, who was a former Cuban Army officer who was imprisoned under both Batista and Fidel Castro.
Cuban defectors - self nicknamed Brigade 2506 - practiced parachute drops and engaged in infantry training via code name JMTrax, on a base located in the Helvetian coffee plantation. Training for boat handling and water landings took place in Puerto Rico, along with tank training in Fort Knox Kentucky, and Fort Benning in Georgia.
To cover their tracks, the CIA was granted 26 B-26s to "sanitize" their training and obscure their origins at the locations. The CIA also purchased five cargo ships from Cuban-owned companies for plausible deniability.
By early 1961, the Cuban-defector army had tripled in size and obtained some effective arms to continue settling the score by removing Castro from power. The army obtained Russian-designed T-34 medium tanks, SU-100 tank destroyers, and IS-2 heavy tanks, along with 105mm and 122mm howitzers.
The Cuban air force inventory was just as grand. They were suited with B-26 Invader light bombers (featured), Lockheed T-33 jets, and Hawker Sea Fury fighter planes. These were easier to obtain due to them being used during battles while Batista was in command.
In addition to Cuban exiles, American rebels under the Democratic Revolutionary Front were placed in Useppa Island and greeted by U.S. Army special forces groups, along with personnel from the U.S. Air Force, Air National Guard, and the CIA. The Cuban-American rebels also focused on amphibious assault tactics, weapons training, unit tactics, and land navigation.
Operation 40 Group (featured) was developed without Kennedy's awareness and they were a CIA operation death squad with the sole mission of "relieving" Castro. Joaquin Perdomo (featured), the former Cuban police chief, was the head of the death squad.
The Warning Signs
Cuban citizens and government officials were aware of an invasion being imminent because of loose talk from members of the brigades in Havana and in Miami. U.S. newspapers were also a great source of warning for the Cuban government. Additionally, multiple acts of sabotage were carried out such as arson attacks, Russian KGB deaths, CIA-funded propaganda, and placing public communication means in the control of the citizens.
The Soviets were also informed of the impending attacks that were going to happen in Cuba via CIA informants. Yet, via propaganda, the CIA denied all and indicated that nothing was going to happen.
With planning and military-grade arms acquired, the first deployments of the Bay of Pigs invasion were underway on April 14, 1961. Aquatic fleets were one of the first assets to be released. They set sail from Nicaragua and headed towards the Bay of Pigs, Cuba. Following the naval deployment, attack planes, food, and supplies sufficient for months were also packed for the secret mission on hand.
Fake money was given to combatants as a cover and the USS Essex aircraft carrier was released. The carrier also had nuclear weapons on board as a final ploy against the Cuban regimes.
Air Strike Attempt
Diversions were the prelude to the invasion and continued with an airstrike that happened on April 14, 1961, with about 164 Cuban exiles commanded by commander Higinio "Nino" Diaz. Due to unforeseen activity by the Cuban military that night, local ships headed back to the carrier to reconvene for a new plan.
The next plan included launching a FAR Lockheed T-33 plane to fly over and investigate. Yet, the plane crashed and the oversight failed miserably. The pilot - although American - was labeled as a Cuban defector to cover U.S. involvement.
Air Strike Success
The next day on April 15, the U.S. deployed eight B-26B Invader bombers in three different groups which all attacked three Cuban airfields and an airport at Santiago de Cuba near Havana. The bomber planes were strapped with bombs, machine guns, and rockets and were crewed by exiled Cuban pilots for insurance purposes.
To further confuse the Cuban military, false markings were placed on the bombers (featured). The goal was to destroy most-to-all of the armed aircraft that the Cuban military could use to retaliate. This plan was successful and was known as Operation Puma.
To cause more deceit and confusion, the U.S. forces purposely shot one of the engines of a B-26 bomber and flew it over Cuba towards South Florida. When the bomber reached northern Cuba, the pilot feathered the engine and initiated a mayday call stating the engine had been damaged while flying over Cuba.
Along with the false FAR markings, through the media, much of the world believed that the Cuban military and anti-communist factions attacked the plane, making the U.S. seem like the victims of a coup. It's safe to say that this deception operation was a success.
After the success of the deceptive air attack, there was an uproar of confusion and anger. Cuban Foreign Minister Raul Roa accused the U.S. of aggressive air attacks against Cuba. It was challenging for him to convince others due to him being blackballed by U.S. personnel and allies after denying the offer from the U.S. to defect as Cuba's Foreign Minister.
The U.S. blamed the attack on Cuban defectors and showcased a wire photo of the plane being flown by the Cuban exile pilot. Believed at the time, Stevenson later found it to be a lie.
Keep in mind that while these diversions were happening, President Kennedy was not informed and was completely unaware of the CIA's handling s of the invasion. In support, Kennedy supported Stevenson by stating "I have emphasized before that this was a struggle of Cuban patriots against a Cuban dictator... we made it very clear that the armed forces of the U.S. would not intervene in any way."
As a result of the statement, the Cuban national police started arresting thousands of suspected anti-revolutionary citizens. On average, 50,000 people were arrested in light of the CIA's deception.
Between the diversions, lack of success with second and third attempted landings, and staged uprisings killing numerous people, many questions were asked by civilians - both Cuban and American - and the United States was becoming disappointed in their lack of success and embarrassment.
To ensure that no further damage was done to the country's reputation, Kennedy (right) ordered the cancellation of further airfield strikes to attempt a denial of direct involvement. The U.S. also covered their tracks by renaming many of their covert operations and housing their arms in freighter ships in new, various locations.
April 17, 1961, was the day of the Bay of Pigs Invasion. It took place at midnight and another mock diversion landing was implemented. It projected the sounds of ship-borne invasions that forced the Cuban military to lure Fidel Castro away from the Bay of Pigs battlefront area. CIA operations officers and Underwater Demolition Teams entered the Bay of Pigs via the southern coast of Cuba.
Four transport ships carried 1,400 Cuban exile ground troops, plus the M41 tanks (featured) and other landing crafts to start the invasion. By 1 am, operation Blue Beach was located, along with the deployment of the Caribe ship and troops with aluminum getaway boats.
As prepared as the United States was to invade the Bay of Pigs, they were not fully aware of what the Cubans had on their side as precautions. The unloading of troops was delayed because of engine failure and damages done to the boats by coral reefs. Also, floodlights were on the beach and the location of the landings had to be sporadically changed.
Cuban militias (featured) found naval personnel on the beach and gunfights ensued. The militias were successful in warning the Cuban armed forces via radio of the landing of the U.S. forces.
State of Alert
Around 3 am, Fidel Castro was awakened by the Cuban military and informed of the upcoming battle, which he was prepared for. He then put all militias and paramilitary troopers on a state of alert and began to order airstrikes on U.S. bomber planes.
The Cuban's initial plan was to strike the brigades at the Playa Larga site since they were already on land. Following the air and ground strikes, Castro launched attacks on the brigades at sea. Castro himself also departed his security and led his forces into battle against the brigades.
A few hours later when daybreak occurred around 6:30 am, three FAR ships, a B-26 bomber, and two T-33s began attacking Cuban ships that were unloading troops. Airships and cargo were destroyed by several bombs and rockets from other military arms. To add, Cuban Captain Luis Morse (featured) bleached the beach to cause skin irritation to the oncoming U.S. brigades.
Of the 270 U.S. troops that were released, 180 of them made it inland. However, because of the loss of the transport ship, Houston, medical supplies were destroyed and wounded soldiers were left to fend for themselves.
After Cuban Navy Patrol Escort ships were sunk by B-26s (featured), U.S. troops attacked Cuban ground troops and proceeded to distract air cover for the paratroopers. It was going well until the U.S. brigade realized they couldn't communicate with each other between beaches because all of the radios had been soaked in water during the landings.
Later, under the code name Operation Falcon, six transport aircraft deployed 177 paratroopers from the parachute battalion. Men were dropped amongst different beaches to block the roads that allowed access to and from Cuban resources.
The Cuban Calvary
After encountering more ground strikes and troops, more Cuban troops and militia from outside the confines had started arriving at the location with the most gunfire, Covadonga and Yaguarams. Throughout the day, more troops with flat-bed trucks and T-34 tanks arrived and reinforced the militiamen.
Rockets from T-34 plans were delivered and sank another U.S. transport ship which was loaded with aviation fuel. Soldiers abandoned ship which was destroyed along with ammunition, food, and medical supplies to last 10 days.
By the late morning, Fidel Castro issued a statement over the Cuban nationwide airwaves stating that the invaders were exiled Cubans that came back to "destroy the revolution and take away the dignity and rights of men." In a heat of rage, Cuban soldiers used their air support to shoot down B-26 plans piloted by the exiled Cubans.
Retreat started to happen as the U.S. only had two remaining freighters left, little communication resources, and lots of death on their side. They sailed into international waters, but before they reached it, another B-26 plane was shot down and three pilots were lost.
Castro (center) had made it to a post located at the Central Australia sugar mill and joined his commanders by the late afternoon. Later, a night airstrike by three FAL B-26s failed to complete their mission due to bad weather and overall incompetence of the instructions given.
Other groups aborted the mission while carrier ships pulled away into the sea. Destroyers from the U.S. Navy intercepted the ships and were told to head back to Cuba, but because of how far out the ships were from Cuba, they couldn't return until it was too late to save the remaining paramilitary.
By 12 pm, much of the U.S. soldiers and exiled Cuban pilots had either died or retreated to the water boundaries of the U.S. Hundreds of Cuban militia cadets had secured the roads that were occupied by the adversary, although many of them suffered attacks from the remaining B-26 planes that were still in action.
The Cuban ground forces strategically advanced to the remaining areas of the U.S. carriers without armor. As a result, an entire Battalion became under attack by M41 tanks and inflicted death on the Cubans; this random attack is remembered as the "Slaughter of the Lost Battalion".
The Day After the Invasion
After the retreat occurred from the Bay of Pigs invasion, the fight continued on the Cuban's side. The force at Red Beach came under repeated and constant siege from the Cuban Army and militia. As they fought, covert U.S. operative casualties piled up and ammunition became depleted, which further forced the U.S. brigades to fall back.
That night, by the order of Officer San Roman (center), M41 tanks from the U.S. side created a tank fight with the Cuban's T-34 tanks. However, the Cubans showed no resistance and forced the U.S. brigades back.
Invasion Day + 2
After a horrible loss on the U.S. brigade side, FAL C-46 planes appeared and were able to deliver arms and equipment to the brigade ground forces. The planes were also able to evacuate wounded pilots and other key militiamen that had not received medical treatment. More supplies could have been delivered, but it was too dangerous to operate off the coast of Cuba by daylight.
Yet, with the supplies and equipment that was dropped, the U.S. brigades were able to heal some of the militia and devise a new plan to strike a final blow to Fidel Castro and his armed forces.
Mad Dog Flight
Code name Mad Dog Flight was the final air attack mission following the Bay of Pigs invasion. It used five B-26s to launch a strike on the Cubans, yet, they were prepared as well. Two of the B-26s were shot down by the Cuban's FAR T-33 planes and four CIA contract pilots died.
Combat air patrols were flown by Douglas A4D-2N Skyhawk jets with national markings removed. These plans were to investigate and reassure U.S. brigade soldiers and pilots and to intimidate Cuban government forces without directly engaging with them.
Later, Cuban T-34 tanks advanced towards the brigade's locations and were heard by the commanding officer. With no more mortar rounds or bazooka rounds, the officer had no way of slowing down the Cuban's advancement and ordered his men to fall back to the beaches.
In fear of death, the brigade forces all headed towards international waters and deep into the jungle and swamps. The brigade ground forces were in the face of an onslaught from the Cuban government's prepared artillery, infantry, and tanks. A withdrawal order was initiated to excavate the final brigade members before the Cubans arrived.
From April 19th to the 22nd, U.S. contracted planes did reconnaissance flights to search for lost or missing brigade militiamen and obtain visual intelligence over the remainder of the combat areas. To not get too close, aircraft carriers were posted off the coast of the Cayman Islands and waited for the arrival of the survivors.
Other destroyers including the USS Conway and USS Cony (featured), along with submarines USS Threadfin, and a Catalina flying boat continued to search coastal reefs and the edge of the islands for scattered men. After four days of searching, an average of 27 men were rescued.
In the aftermath of the Bay of Pigs invasion, the U.S. lost the cat-and-mouse battle with Cuba and suffered many losses. When it comes to Brigade 2506, 67 Cuban exiles were killed in action, with an additional 10 due to being placed in front of a firing squad. 10 were trapped on the Cuban ships, 9 were shipped to Havana, 4 were killed on accident, 2 were imprisoned and several American aviators died.
A total of 106 members lost their lives due to the battle. Let's also add that 6 aircrewmen were killed in action by the Cuban air forces.
On the Cuban side, a total of 176 militiamen were killed in action. It is estimated that about 2,000 more militiamen were killed or wounded during the fighting with many of the survivors not being able to recover, thus, skewing the truth of their ultimate death toll.
The airfield attacks from April 15-16 left 53 Cubans wounded and 7 dead. Other Cuban forces causalities included almost an additional 3,000 men that were unaccounted for that were presumed captured, dead, or wounded-till-death. To this day, the legitimate number is still unknown.
National Security Archive
Under the direct order of the Freedom of Information Act, the National Security Archive released more than 1,200 pages that described the battle and massacre that occurred during the Bay of Pigs invasion. It describes how the U.S. disguised their bombers as Cuban aircraft to stay disconnected from the acts, as well as illustrations of both sides' firepower.
It was also admitted by CIA operative Grayston Lynch that it was hard to tell the difference between the U.S. and Cuban planes. Because of that, the U.S. brigades sometimes shot down their own aircraft.
For those that did not die or retreat in battle, they were captured and kept as prisoners of war. Approximately seven Cuban and two CIA-hired U.S. citizens were executed after fighting their cases in a two-day trial. More prominent, Humberto Sori Marin (featured) was noted for invading Cuba with 14 tons of explosives, which led to his incarceration and ultimate death.
Other conspirators were brought to stand trial by the Cuban government. However, it was done as a legal formality and six more exiled Cubans were also executed.
After thousands of captures and hundreds of executions on Cuban soil, Fidel Castro was willing to make a deal with the U.S. He proposed to exchange the surviving brigade prisoners for 500 large farm tractors, or $28,000,000. The deal did not go through and Castro continued his crusade of justice and victory.
14 brigade members were convicted due to torture before the invasion. Five were executed and nine others were delivered a sentence of 30 years or more on Cuban soil. However, 60 wounded and sick prisoners were freed and transported back to the U.S.
The failed invasion was a total embarrassment to the United States government and brought shame to president Kennedy and his administration. It additionally caused extreme tension between Cuba and the U.S., along with any future intervention for reconciliation. Yet, Kennedy was mature about his defeat and took responsibility for the actions of the government.
Kennedy's statement (featured) described the inefficiency of the airstrikes, lack of comprehension from the brigade members, along with denials from U.N. Ambassador Adlai Stevenson. Cuba and Neutrality Laws are also found in his statement.
The fatal and shameful loss to Cuba and its armed forces put President John F. Kennedy into a deep state of depression during part of his tenure in the White House. Many government officials and citizens believed that he would be as strategic as his predecessor, Eisenhower, yet he did not live up to the status and was angered with failure.
Following his death, the New York Times published one of Kennedy's statements relaying how he wanted to "splinter the CIA into a thousand pieces and scatter it to the winds."
In haste, shame, and frustration, five months before his tenure as President was over, John F. Kennedy and his administration decided to place a full embargo on Cuba, which is still in effect to this very day. It is reported that John F. Kennedy became obsessed with overthrowing Castro and many of his national decisions were in connection to Castro and his fall.
From the Latin American's perspective, the Bay of Pigs invasion was proof that the U.S. could not be trusted, as well as the certainty that the U.S. could be defeated. Currently, there are annual conferences about the invasion and the victory that Cuba obtained against the U.S.