The Bay of Pigs: A Struggle For Freedom
SUBJECT AREA History
WAR SINCE 1945 SEMINAR
The Bay of Pigs:
A Struggle for Freedom
Major Joe R. English
2 April 1984
Marine Corps Command and Staff College
Marine Corps Development and Education Command
Quantico, Virginia 22134
Author: ENGLISH, Joe R., Major, U.S. Marine Corps
Title: THE BAY OF PIGS: A STRUGGLE FOR FREEDOM
Publisher: Marine Corps Command and Staff College
Date: 16 March, 1984
This paper presents a review of the invasion of Cuba in
April, 1961, by a group of Cuban exiles. This invasion
became known as the Bay of Pigs invasion because of the area
where the landing took place. The invasion force was
financed and trained by the CIA with the full knowledge and
approval of the Executive branch of our government.
The operation was conceived under the Eisenhower admin-
istration as a guerrilla insertion. It was passed on to the
Kennedy administration where it was expanded to the final
product of a fullscale invasion by the brigade of exiles.
Although the project was run by the CIA, it was so
compartmentalized that virtually no one had all of the
details of the operation. The Military was brought in very
late to review the plans and lend some covert support to the
A force of 1,443 landed on the Southern shores of Cuba
in the early morning hours of 17 April, 1961. They estab-
lished a beachhead and held it for three days against over-
whelming numbers of Cuban forces led by Fidel Castro. After
three days, they literally ran out of ammunition and the
vast majority of the invaders were captured and held
prisoner for over a year before being ransomed to the
Government of the United States.
This paper covers the Bay of Pigs Operation from
beginning to end with a view toward explaining what
happened. It does not deal in detail with why events
occurred and decisions were made. The reasons for the
failure of the operation are covered in an appendix which
sets forth the conclusions of the Taylor Commission which
was chartered by President Kennedy immediately after the
operation to analyze the results.
Aside from the description of the events leading up to
and during the Bay of Pigs operation, the paper deals with
an analysis of the invasion plan from the standpoint of
METT. It also looks at the performance of the Brigade in
light of the principles of war. The result is a look at a
bargin basement amphibious operation which presents an
opportunity to view both its successes and its failures.
The net result is a reinforcement of the Marine Corp's
TABLE OF CONTENTS
List of Figures ii
I. U.S. Political Considerations 3
II. Formation of Frente and Brigade Training 20
III. The Plan 30
IV. The Invasion 35
V. Ransom 87
VI. Conclusions and the Principles of War 95
A. Memorandum 2 & 3 from Taylor Commission
B. Cuban Project Time Line 119
C. Invasion Time Line 121
I. Cuban Project Organization 1959-1961 7
II. Trinidad Plan 14
III-1. Planned Disposition of Forces 38
III-2. General Disposition of Forces
at the End of D-Day 66
IV. General Disposition of Forces
at the End of D+1 78
This paper presents a review of the invasion of Cuba in
April 1961, by a group of Cuban exiles. This invasion
became known as the Bay of Pigs invasion because the landing
took place near the Bahia de Cochinos on the Southwestern
coast of Cuba. The invasion force was financed and trained
by the CIA with the knowledge and approval of the Executive
branch of the United States government.
The operation was conceived under the Eisenhower
administration as a guerrilla insertion. It was passed on
to the Kennedy administration where it was expanded to the
final product of a full scale invasion by the Brigade of
exiles. Although the project was run by the CIA it was so
compartmentalized that virtually no one individual had all
the details of the operation. The Military was brought in
very late to review the plans and lend some covert support
to the actual invasion.
A force of 1,443 landed on the shores in the early
morning hours of 17 April, 1961. They established a
beachhead and held it against a numerically superior enemy
for three days before they literally ran out of ammunition
and were captured, killed or escaped.
The examination of this operation provides the military
student a small scale model of an amphibious operation which
can provide a validation of U.S. Marine Corps Amphibious
doctrine. Closer study of Brigade performance also
demonstrates areas of battle study particularly valuable to
the small unit leader such as the effective use of the
reserve, tactical use of terrain, and the value of a viable
command and control system.
The story of Brigade 2506 is set forth in this paper
from beginning to end. The foundation for the operation is
laid from both the standpoint of the preparation of the
force and the political requirement for the mission. This
is followed by a detailed description of the invasion and
subsequent fighting. The capture and imprisonment of the
members of the Brigade and their subsequent release are
described. The analysis and conclusions are based primarily
on the actual combat performance of the Brigade in light of
the Principles of War as set forth in Marine Corps doctrine.
Appendices contain the results of the Taylor Committee which
was appointed by President Kennedy to investigate the
reasons for the failure of the operation.
The information in the following report was compiled
from a number of publications dealing with the subject to
include; books, magazine articles, newspaper reports,
speeches, and government documents. The result is a look at
a bargain basement amphibious operation which presents the
opportunity to view both its successes and its failures.
U.S. Political Considerations
The third week of April, 1961 was a fairly normal one
for most of the United States and the American people. The
eyes of the news media were focused on the war crimes trial
in Israel of Adolph Eickmann, former Nazi Chief of the
Gestapo's "Jewish Affairs" section. The Soviets were
grabbing global headlines by placing Major Yuri Alekseyvich
Gargarin into the first manned orbit of the Earth. There
was just beginning to be public awareness of the guerilla
tactics of the Pathet Lao fighting the pro-Western loyalists
in Southeast Asia. 1/
On Wednesday, April 12, 1961, President Kennedy held a
routine weekly press conference in the afternoon. The
American people and the world were watching the fledgling
administration closely to determine how effective it would
be. It is interesting to note that after brief introductory
remarks, the first question asked at the press conference
was: "Mr. President, has a decision been reached on how far
this country will be willing to go in helping an anti-Castro
uprising or invasion of Cuba? What could you say with
respect to recent developments as far as the anti-Castro
movements in Cuba are concerned?"
The President replied:
First, I want to say that there will not be, under
any conditions, an intervention in Cuba by the
United States Armed Forces. This government will
do everything it possibly can, and I think it can
meet its responsibilities, to make sure that there
are no Americans involved in any actions inside
Cuba ... The basic issue is not one between the
United States and Cuba. It is between the Cubans
themselves. I intend to see that we adhere to
that principle and as I understand it, this
administration's attitude is so understood and
shared by the anti-Castro exiles from Cuba in this
Over the past few months there had been numerous
indications that United States relations with Cuba were in
jeopardy. There had been reports of an unknown "force"
training at bases outside the United States. The reports
inferred that this "force" was training for an invasion of
In reality these rumors were very true. The force was
Brigade 2506, a unit made up of approximately 1500 Cuban
exiles intending to invade their Cuban homeland and outhrow
the government of Fidel Castro. On the day of the
President's press conference, the Brigade had moved from
their training camps in Guatemala to their embarkation port
at Puerto Cabeza, Nicaragua. At this point, it is necessary
to present some back-ground before describing the execution
and the results of Operation Pluto; the attack of a force of
Cuban exiles upon their Cuban homeland at the Bahia de
Cochinos (The Bay of Pigs).
On New Year's day 1959 Fidel Castro had ousted the
Batista government and seized control of the government of
Cuba. At first it looked as if Fidel Castro might establish
a regime favorable to United States policy in the Caribbean.
In the beginning, there was no clear indication of his
philosophy or intentions for ruling Cuba. Over the next few
months, however, it became increasingly apparent that he was
not going to be easy to deal with as a neighbor and his
policies demonstrated an increasingly socialist point of
By March of 1960 it was realized, by political world
leaders, that the policies of the government of Fidel Castro
were not compatable with the goals or interests of the
United States. Within the highest levels of the United
States government, a search began for a solution to the
situation. It was during this time that the seeds were
planted that would eventually bear the fruit that would be
Castro was rapidly becoming an irritant to the United
States. It was obvious to the Eisenhower administration
that no overt actions could be taken within the structure of
international law to remedy the Cuban situation. The
President chose to exercise the option of covert action to
depose or discredit the Cuban leadership. With the
concurrence of the Special Group, he asked Allen Dulles, the
head of the CIA, to put together a "program" for dealing
with Castro. 3/ (The Special Group consisted of a deputy
Under Secretary of State, the deputy Secretary of Defense,
the Director of the CIA, and the special assistant to the
President for National Security Affairs. It was authorized
by the National Security Council Directive NSC 5412/2 and
was the most secret operating unit of government at the
time.) Dulles called on the head of the CIA plans division,
Richard Bissell, to begin to put together a program for
covert action. Thus, the "Cuba Project" was born.
The CIA had proven to be quite capable in the overthrow
of Latin American governments and had staged an extremely
successful operation in Guatemala in 1954. Eisenhower had
been elated with the results of the operation and so the CIA
began making plans for a similar project for Cuba. Early in
the planning phase of the operation, it became obvious that
the operation would be expensive and could not be totally
concealed within the agency's budget. At a cabinet meeting
on August 18, 1960, the President approved $13 million and
the use of some Department of Defense personnel and
equipment. This money was programmed for the training of a
Cuban guerrilla force outside the U.S. It became apparent
at this time that no U.S. military personnel were to be used
in a combat status. 4/
The initial plan included a series of independent
operations which would come together as the government of
Cuba began to crumble. First, Howard Hunt and Gerry Droller
were sent to Miami to try to form a coalition of all he
splinter groups of Cuban exiles there; to form a
representative group to function as a government in exile
(See Figure I). 5/ The many groups were constantly fighting
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among themselves and no basis for trust could be established
among them. It became imperative that a group of leaders be
brought together before any other operations commenced.
This leadership would be the only way to lend an air of
legitimacy to the training and equipping of a revolutionary
Second came the job of recruiting, equipping, training
and delivering a group of guerilla fighters to undermine the
Cuban government. They would act as a nucleus for anti-
Castro citizens in Cuba to join, and later train and equip
the local populace as the uprising began. Toward this end,
the agency set up a recruiting network in Miami and soon had
enough Cuban volunteers to begin initial training. They
established training centers within the United States in
violation of their guidelines: in Florida, in Louisiana,
Texas, Virginia, and the Jungle Warfare Training Center in
The third function was to set up a propaganda network.
David Phillips, who had handled the propaganda program for
the Guatamala scenario, began to set up a similar program
for the Cuba Project. He put a radio transmitter in
operation on Swan Island off the coast of Honduras and began
broadcasting with a group of Cuban refugees, delivering anti-
Castro speeches between musical selections. The initial
estimate was that six months would be required to stimulate
the desired results.
The fourth and final area of the project still remains
highly classified, but most certainly existed. This
involved a plot to dispose of Castro by assassination. The
success of this endeavor would have made the rest of the
operation unnecessary. However, although there seems to
have been several attempts to poison Castro, none were
successful. There are strong indications that the agency
utilized members of the American underworld in their
efforts, and are somewhat embarrassed by the evidence that
has come to light since the operation. 6/
While Radio Swan continued to pour propaganda
broadcasts into the Cuban homeland, preparations for
training camps were established in Guatemala. An agreement
was reached with the government of Guatemala whereby a large
plantation, belonging to Roberto Alejos, was leased and
transformed into a large training camp for the Cuban
guerilla force. This camp became known as Base Trax and was
the primary training site for the ground forces for the Bay
of Pigs operation. The training of Cuban volunteers for
guerilla tactics continued through October 1960, with
approximately 300 Cubans receiving their training there.
In early November 1960, the administration decided to
scrap the guerilla operation for three reasons: (1) It
became apparent that supplying the guerillas by air drops
would be extremely difficult. (2) As Castro's regime became
more allied with the Communist block nations, he was
receiving more arms and ammunition, and thus beginning to
re-equip his military. (3) The Castro regime's control over
the civilian population was much tighter than had been
anticipated, making a long guerilla campaign undesirable.
On November 4, 1960, the C.I.A sent a cable to Base
Trax officially cancelling guerilla training for all but 60
of the Cubans. It specified how future training should be
handled and indicated that the force would now be trained
for conventional warfare with an emphasis upon amphibious
assault training. 7/ This cable indicated a major
change/escalation of the type operation to be mounted in
Cuba and occurred only four days prior to the Presidential
elections of 1960.
Simultaneously, an airfield at Ratalhuleu had become a
major construction project funded by the American
government. It became operational in September 1960 and
training began there for the Cuban pilots of the Brigade Air
Force. Their aircraft consisted of C-46 and C-54 transport
aircraft, and a few B-26 medium bombers. These aircraft
were not chosen at random. All had been sold widely on the
world market after World War II. They were all reliable,
generally well suited to the missions to be performed, and
all in service with Castro's Cuban air Force. Little or no
attention was paid to the fact that Castro's pilots were
flying a different model of B-26 than the ones flown by the
exiles. 8/ This fact will prove to be of great importance
The Cuban flyers were trained by a group of American
pilots recruited by Major General Reid Doster, head of the
Alabama National Guard. Most of the American aviators he
used were without current military ties but all had
extensive multi-engine experience and most had flown in
combat. They had a difficult task, since most of the Cuban
students had less than 100 hours of flying time and few had
any experience with the heavy, multi-engine aircraft they
would be flying; but a few had airline experience or had
been members of the air force under Batista. These men
quickly became the leaders of the fledgling Brigarde Air
As the training of the Cuban invasion forces continued,
events on the political scene changed. The 1960
presidential election was over and Kennedy was the victor.
It became apparent that the operation could not be executed
prior to the shift of power in the White House; because of
this on November 27, 1960 president-elect Kennedy was
briefed on the plan. He was disturbed only by the small
size of the Brigade and encouraged Allen Dulles to continue
with the development of the force. 9/
Over the course of the next few weeks there followed an
escalation of the operation. A plan was put before the
Special Group calling for a landing of 600-750 men, preceded
by air strikes. With the change from guerilla operation to
actual invasion, air power became a very important
consideration. For such a small force to gain a beachhead
they must have absolute air superiority to avoid being
picked apart by Castro's air force.
Up until this time the administration had directed the
Department of Defense to provide any assistance required by
the CIA. There had been no provision for an actual briefing
of the Defense Department as to exactly what was
occurring and what assistance the plan required. Some of
the requests for DOD assistance had been delayed to the
point that the CIA had gone up the chain of command to
expedite them. This understandably upset the military
leadership. Under Secretary of Defense James Douglas
learned that the CIA was planning an 'over the beach'
landing in Cuba. He requested and received a meeting with
the President and CIA director Dulles. He desired to
dissociate the Department of Defense with a plan that seemed
impractical. The knowledge of the existing plan remained at
the Secretary of Defense level and was not passed to the
Without knowledge of the CIA plan, the JCS appointed a
committee to study what could be done to unseat Castro. The
committee, headed by Brigadier General David Gray, produced
a report containing six alternatives: (1) economic warfare;
(2) blockade; (3) infiltration by a guerilla force; (4) a
guerilla force with U.S. backing; (5) U.S. air and naval
warfare with no invasion; or (6) all out invasion. The
committee suggested that nothing short of step 4 would work.
After a briefing on the report of the JCS committee,
President Kennedy, on January 28, 1961, ordered the JCS to
review the CIA plans. General Gray headed the committee to
review them. The committee soon learned that so
compartmentalized were the CIA operations that no actual
written plan existed. The committee was briefed orally for
two days by the principals involved in various phases of the
operation. They then compiled their notes and presented in
written form the plan that had been briefed to them.
They produced what became known as The Trinidad Plan.
The general scheme was to land the Brigade near Trinidad on
the southern shore of Cuba. This had been reported to be an
area where opposition to Castro flourished. Intelligence
indicated that a popular uprising would occur soon after the
landing of the Brigade; hence the Brigade was really
designed as a body around which forces could build. Each of
the unit leaders had been trained to lead a unit one step
larger, i.e., platoon leaders were company commander
capable. The plan assumed that the Brigade would flesh out
within a few days after landing. The guerilla forces
trained at Base Trax would be operating in the Escambray
Mountains nearby and would link up with the invasion force,
further adding to its size. (Sea Figure II). 10/
General Gray reported, on January 31, 1961 to the JCS,
the findings of his committee. He estimated the chances of
success as "fair" and re-emphasized the requirement for
absolute air superiority. On February 3, 1961, the Chiefs
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sent a report to the White House and the CIA. They advised
that the chances of achieving military success was
favorable, but advised that the ultimate success would
depend on political factors such as the actual popular
uprising and the ability to build a substantial force. They
also left themselves a loophole by saying that their
assessment of the combat worth of the forces was, of course,
based on 3rd and 4th hand reports on their condition,
training, and equipment.
President Kennedy received a briefing on the JCS views
of the CIA plan. At the meeting, the President did not seem
to be overly enthusiastic about the plan; he reminded
Bissell as the meeting ended that he reserved the right to
cancel the whole idea at any time up to the day before D-
day. 11/ Later, when the dissolution of the Brigade was
discussed, the President's advisors pointed out that the
release of the Cubans could cause serious political problems
as they spread across the U.S. and Latin America and began
telling people what they had been doing in Guatemala. The
President reflected that the simplest solution would be to
let them go to the destination of their choice: Cuba. 12/
As plans and training continued, Hunt and Droller had
still not been able to form an effective coalition
government-in-exile in Miami. The infighting of the Cuban
politicos seemed to intensify as the Brigade forces
increased their readiness. Equally important, intelligence
sources on conditions and social attitudes within Cuba were
offering conflicting information concerning how the Cuban
population would react to the effort to oust Castro. CIA
sources were almost unanimously optimistic about the
potential for popular uprising once the spark had been
ignited by the invasion forces. Media coverage and reports
of people who visited Cuba, however, dispelled the rumors of
poverty and discontent; such reports noted that Castro was
riding an increasing wave of popularity, his land reform
program and the nationalization of large U.S. corporate
assets within Cuba.
On March 11, 1961, President Kennedy held a meeting in
the cabinet room. This meeting probably influenced the
eventual outcome of the operation more than any other since
the conception of the "Cuba Project". Everyone expected the
President to make the "go-no, go" decision on the operation.
Richard Bissell presented a brief on the Trinidad Plan.
The Trinidad area had many significant advantages. It was
located a substantial distance from Havana, with troop and
aircraft concentrations. Only one main road existed which
would act as a military supply route and axis of advance for
Castro's forces. This road could be easily cut by
destroying one bridge. The population was fairly large and
had demonstrated support for the guerilla forces already
operating in the nearby Escambray Mountains. There were
port facilities and docks in Casilda which could be used for
unloading large amounts of ammunition and supplies quickly.
From a military standpoint, the area was extremely well
suited for the operation.
From a political standpoint a major drawback existed.
The small airfield there could not support operations of the
B-26 bombers. This would eliminate the facade that the air
strikes were originating within Cuba and would make the
knowledge of U.S. involvement a certainty.
President Kennedy rejected the plan as much too
spectacular; and he stated his preference for a more quiet
landing, preferably at night, with no basis for U.S.
intervention. He summed up the problem by stating that, the
greater the military risks, the smaller the political risks,
and vice versa. He adjourned the meeting by tasking the
agencies involved to find a compromise plan that would
reduce the divergence of risk of both political and military
A task force worked to find an option which would meet
the President's requirements. On March 15, 1961, the JCS
approved a plan calling for a landing on the north coast of
Oriente Province near Bahia de Cochinos (The Bay of Pigs).
The military aspects of the terrain were not as favorable as
those at Trinidad, but were deemed acceptable. The area was
bordered by the Zapata Swamps on the flanks, and there were
few access roads to allow Castro's forces to approach.
There ere no docks or port facilities, but the Bay allowed
the force to land well away from the sea. Most important,
the airfield at Giron was 4900' long and could ostensibly
support B-26 operations. (The CIA later learned that only
4100' were usable but this did not alter the plan.) By
changing to the Bay of Pigs area the Brigade lost the
ability to move into the mountains and revert to guerilla
warfare. The President was not told this and still thought
they had this option.
After receiving a briefing on the modified plan,
Kennedy advised the CIA to proceed with the operation.
Again, he reminded them that he reserved the option of
cancelling the operation within one day of its
execution. 14/ Military planning now began in earnest.
Time was considered a critical factor, since Soviet weapons
were daily pouring into Cuba by the shipload. The most
critical factor became the forecast date for Cuban pilots to
complete flight training in MIG aircraft. This training
which took place in Czechoslovakia, was thought to be near
completion. Once these pilots returned to Cuba, they would
eliminate any chance for the Brigade to obtain the required
1/ "Stopped in the Swamp", Time, 21 April 1961, p. 19.
2/ Public Papers of the President of the United States:
John F. Kennedy, (Jan 20 - Dec 31, 1961, Washington, D.C.:
GPO, 1962), p. 258.
3/ Peter Wyden, Bay of Pigs, (New York: Simon &
Schuster, 1979) p. 24.
4/ Maxwell D. Taylor, Memorandum 1 Taylor Commission
Report," Narrative of the Anti-Castro Cuban Operation
Zapata" (Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1961, sanitized version
declassified May 8, 1977), p. 8.
5/ Howard Hunt, Give US This Day, (New York: Arlington
House, 1973), p. 20.
6/ Warren Hinckle and William W. Turner, The Fish is
Red, (New York: Harper & Row, 1981), p. 29.
7/ Haynes Johnson, et al., Bay of Pigs, (New York: W.W.
Norton & Company, 1964), p. 54.
8/ Wyden, p. 176.
9/ Wyden, p. 68.
10/ Wyden, p. 91.
11/ Wyden, p. 92.
12/ Wyden, p. 100.
13/ Wyden, p. 100.
14/ Wyden, p. 102.
Formation of Frente and Brigade Training
Over the same time period that the U.S. political
decisions were being made, Howard Hunt was trying to
organize the Cuban exile leaders into some sort of
provisional government-in-exile. This had proven to be no
easy task because of all the fighting among the different
Cuban exile groups.
Hunt originally set up his organization in Mexico City,
in an effort to keep the perception of U.S. involvement to a
minimum. He began working there with representatives of
five major exile organizations. Sanchez Orango led the
Triple A; Tony Verona represented the Rescate; Justo
Carrillo the Montecristi Group; Manuel Artime the
Revolutionary Recovery Group (MMR); and Dr. Jose Rasco the
Christian Democratic Movement (MDC). After much
deliberation, these groups formed a coalition which was
called the Frente Revolucionavo Democratico (FRD or Frente
as they became known). 1/
The Mexican government was not happy to have a group of
revolutionaries operating within the country. They
initiated surveillances, searches, and general government
harassment, which made it clear, to all members of the
Frente, as well as, to Hunt and his organization, that their
presence was not desired. Finally, after approximately
three months of operations in Mexico, Hunt moved the
organization to Miami.
Although the Frente was by no means representative of
the entire Cuban community nor a tightly knit group, it did
serve to give a common cause to the Cuban exiles. The
Frente became instrumental in influencing young Cuban males
to flock to the CIA recruiting offices to join the Brigade.
Through the exile newspaper sponsored by the CIA the dreams
of contra-revolution were kept alive among the many exiles
in the Miami area.
The changes of membership and leadership over this time
period are too numerous to state, as are the squabbles and
political upheavals that occurred. However, a few points
are germane and should be made.
First, is the relationship that evolved between the
Cuban exile political leadership and the Brigade. All
members of the Frente knew that their ultimate goal was the
overthrow of the Castro regime by military force. They also
knew that this force was to be the Brigade, which was being
formed and trained in Guatemala. As the political heads of
the exile movement, they assumed that the Brigade was their
army and that they would control it. They believed that the
Brigade's objective would be to install them as the
governing body of Cuba after Castro's fall.
The leaders of the Brigade, however, did not share this
view. They were loyal to the individual representatives who
made up the Frente, but were not overwhelmed by allegiance
to the Frente itself. In general, they viewed the operation
as a military project and as long as the supplies,
equipment, and promises of landing on the Cuban shores kept
coming, they felt above the stormy world of the politicians.
They felt that once the government of Castro had toppled,
they would have a lot to say about who gained control of the
new government. This had become the Cuban way, and they
held the military might -- the real power.
These feelings were, no doubt, fostered by the
attitudes of the operatives within the U.S. organization.
Because of the compartmentalization of the operation, there
was little or no direct interface between the political and
military operations within the CIA organization. Any
decision affecting both, went up the chain and then back
down, with no coordination at lower levels authorized. The
only time Hunt and his military counterpart met face-to-face
was at meetings at Quarters Eye (CIA headquarters) in
Washington, D.C. On these rare occasions, they stated their
opinions, and decisions were made by higher authorities.
This lack of teamwork among the U.S. organizers could not
help but affect the Cubans that they worked with.
One major flare-up occurred which almost caused the
cancellation of the whole project. A few malcontents
created a division among the members of the Brigade, leading
to open hostility between the factions. The political
leaders found out about this and decided to visit the
training camp and speak to their men in order to smooth over
the problems. U.S. authorities denied them permission to
visit the camps. This sent the politicians into an uproar.
The military leaders at the camp in Guatemala gathered up
the malcontents and separated them from the Brigade. Since
they could not just turn them loose to tell the world of the
operation, they had to be detained. They were taken to a
prison camp in the Peten Jungles in northern Guatemala and
held until after the Cuban landings. 2/ This did not
totally quiet the friction among the Brigade's, but did
allow for training to continue.
Finally, approximately two months later, Hunt
finally persuaded his superiors to allow a committee from
the Frente to visit the camps. In the beginning, it looked
as though this junket would be a disaster because the Frente
discovered, for the first time, exactly what power was
exerted over the Brigade, as well as over their
organization, by their U.S. mentors. Then they came to
realize that without the U.S. organization to support and
hold them together, they really had no way of accomplishing
their goals. They gathered the Brigade together and spread
oil on troubled political waters. When they left Guatemala,
the Brigade was again a single unit and had rededicated
itself to the mission of overthrowing the Castro
Another incident which increased the awareness of the
Frente as to actual control of the operation, came when
Colonel Martin Elena resigned his post as nominal head of
the invasion forces. The Cuban colonel presented Hunt with
a long list of complaints about being kept in the dark on
military subjects and, in general, about his lack of
authority. He complained that he could not effect
satisfactory planning for the invasion without better
knowledge of the Brigade, their capabilities, and supplies.
He (and in effect the leaders of the Frente) was told that
his planning would not be necessary. The operation was much
too complicated and certainly, far too important, to be left
to Cuban tacticians. The entire invasion would be planned
and coordinated by U.S. planners. Colonel Elena was at that
point left with no alternative except to resign. 4/
These incidents, as well as numerous other indications,
some small and some large, revealed that the Cuban exiles
were not totally in charge of their own destiny. In spite
of this, neither the politicians nor the military leaders
lost the naive faith that whatever the U.S. was doing for
and with them was certainly in their best interest. They
fully realized that they had no hope of reaching their goal
without the full military, political, and, most important,
monetary support of their U.S. benifactors. Indeed, all
they had to do was observe the great accomplishments that
had been made in assembling and training the Brigade even
the foundation of the Frente.
Although not all inclusive, this background information
should bring the events leading up to the Bay of Pigs
invasion into a clearer focus. By March 1961, Radio Swan
had been operating for seven months, providing music and
propaganda to the residents of the Cuban mainland and to the
Cuban exiles in Florida and scattered throughout Mexico,
Central America, and the Caribbean Basin. The radio station
also served the function of passing messages in code to the
operatives working inside Cuba and to the guerrilla forces
fighting in the Escambray Mountains.
Both intelligence sources and the news media carried
conflicting reports of the political and socio-economic
situation in Cuba. A solid judgement on how the population
would react to an exile invasion and the possible overthrow
of the Castro government could not be made. The U.S.
decision makers tended to be somewhat optimistic in their
estimates and were ready to believe that at least a portion
of the population would join in an uprising against the
government. History had proven that the cuban people,
generally, were ready to back a counter-revolutionary power,
if they thought it had a chance for success.
The Frente, although a very fragile coalition, became a
viable political organization. Although made up of a
volatile membership, it had a sturdy framework and the
organization would stand up and present the image of a
government in exile. This fulfilled their mission as the
U.S. backers did not show their concern of who would provide
the future leadership of the Cuban nation once the Castro
regime had been ousted. Anything would be better than the
government that now existed. Actually, the more the power
was split among the various factions, the easier it would be
for the diplomats of the U.S. to make their choice and throw
their support behind their man after the invasion.
The Brigade had been formed and trained. Although they
were still involved in training exercises in Guatemala, they
were considered, by U.S. military experts who had inspected
them, to be combat ready. 5/ Even though they were
definitely a para military organization, the Brigade's
invasion force had grown to almost 1,500 men, all fairly
well trained and exceptionally motivated to accomplish the
amphibious operation at the Bay of Pigs and then move on to
Havana. The Brigade was made up of a true cross section of
the Cuban populace. Students comprised the largest group,
but there were representatives from most professions, as
well as, farmers, fisherman, and other workers. Many had
wives and children, some of whom were still in Cuba. The
majority were Catholic, but there were also protestants and
some Jews. The majority were white, but there were
approximately 50 negroes and some others with mixed blood.
Only about 140 had been professional soldiers, while most of
the rest had no previous military training. They were,
however, united by their democratic ideals, sense of duty,
and unanimous conviction that the invasion would be
The Brigade air force was operating from the American
built base at Retalhuleu, Guatemala. Their aircraft
consisted of 16 B-26 medium bombers, four 4-engine C-54
transports, and 5 twin engine transports. The B-26's had
been stripped of their tail and waist guns to allow them to
operate with enough fuel to make the round trip from Central
America and still deliver their bombs. Their only self-
protection was four cannon mounted in the nose. The
planners considered this adequate since they hoped to
eliminate Castro's miniscule air force on the ground.
Although many training missions were still being flown, some
combat exposure had been gained by the transport pilots who
had flown missions to drop supplies to the guerrilla forces
operating within Cuba.
Clandestine operations within the Cuban homeland had
not proven very successful. All attempts to assassinate
Castro had been foiled. 7/ Each attempt was thwarted by
either Castro's intuition or the failure of the operatives
involved. 8/ The guerrilla forces operating in the
Escambray Mountains were slowly being eliminated by Castro's
army and were quickly becoming totally ineffective. 9/ Many
of the radio operators who had been infiltrated into Cuba
were still available, but they had been given no orders
concerning what their part in the plan was or how to carry
it out. They were severely limited in their movement by the
Castro regime's mass search for subversives that resulted in
hundred of Cuban citizens being jailed.
On the U.S. political scene, there were beginning to be
doubts by many important people. The President's advisors
were reluctant to voice these doubts and an attitude was
developing which would later be often analyzed but seldom
understood. This would become known as the phenomenon of
"assumed consensus". Since virtually no one spoke of their
doubts, each began to think no one else had any. Thus, no
real, hard questions were voiced, and the common feeling
existed that everyone was in agreement. History shows that
this was not the case. As is so often the case within a
highly compartmentalized organization, the fact that no one
had brought a detail to anothers attention did not
necessarily mean that someone else was taking care of it.
From an operational standpoint, things were thought
to be ready to come together. The general planning was
complete. The Brigade forces (both ground and air) were
ready. The propaganda mission seemed to be on track and the
political organization had been brought together. All that
was necessary for Operation Pluto to commence was the
approval of the President.
1/ Hunt, p. 44.
2/ Johnson, p. 61.
3/ Hunt, p. 133.
4/ Hunt, p. 158.
5/ Johnson, p. 66.
6/ Peter Lazo, Dagger in the Heart (New York: Funk &
Wagnalls, 1968), p. 258.
7/ Hinckle & Turner, p. 37
8/ Wyden, p. 110.
9/ U.S. News and World Report, 1 May 1961, p. 39.
This is an excellent point to leave things while we
examine the situation from the military standpoint of METT
(mission, enemy, terrain and weather, and troops).
A. The mission of the operation was two-fold.
1. Political - The political mission: to over-
throw the Castro government in Cuba. This
would be followed, initially, by the
establishment of a coalition government made up
of the members of the Frente.
2. Military - The military mission: to conduct an
amphibious assault coordinated with an airborne
assault to seize and establish a beachhead in
the vicinity of Bahia de Cochinos. Initial
objectives were the beaches and existing port
facilities at Playa Larga and the airfield at
Giron. The Brigade should function as a Cadre
for the additional patriots who would come from
the common uprising against the Castro
government and then to break out of the
beachhead and press on to Havana to oust the
existing government through force of arms.
A. General - Fidel Castro knew that some form of
military action was imminent. He also knew that
his island nation, with some 2,000 miles of
coastline and enormous areas of sparse population,
presented an invader's paradise. He had done his
best to whip the populace into a frenzy of invasion
fever over the past few months. He had formed
local militias all over the island and had armed
them with the equipment which had been steadily
arriving from the Communist bloc nations. He was
also well aware that there were plans being made to
attempt to assassinate him; he therefore, tightened
his personal security. His major desire became
more and better intelligence. He knew about the
Guatemalan training camps and fully expected an
invasion at anytime. He only wished he could find
out the time and place that it would come. 1/
B. Air - Castro had a minimal air force. The air
assets were disorganized and the available pilots
lacked flying experience. The air force was not
organized into squadrons or any type of
conventional units. Each airport, and whatever
planes happened to be there, relied upon
instructions from headquarters in Havana. The
planes were old and the maintenance personnel
inexperienced and hampered by a lack of spare
parts. The small number of planes that were
considered operationally capable were not
considered to be combat capable. The force had a
limited capability for early warning against a
surface attack and could make raids against lightly
armed invaders. 2/ The Cuban air force consisted
of about fifteen B-26's inherited from Batista,
three T-33 jet trainers, and approximately six
British Sea Fury light bombers. There were an
undetermined number of transport aircraft which
would not be a factor in the invasion. Castro had
also received some MIG aircraft from the Soviet
bloc, but these had not been assembled. Currently
a group of 50-60 Cuban pilots being trained in
Czechoslovakia who were due to return sometime
around the end of April. 3/
C. Ground -
1. Castro's ground forces were formidable when
compared to the Brigade. His total force had
been built around some 250,000 militiamen,
armed mainly with "light, modern, submachine
guns made in Czechoslovakia". These were
augmented by "some 15,000 young men of an elite
corps, Communist and pro-Communist fanatics,
armed with new Belgian FN rifles, firing 20
round clips at a rate of 600 rounds per
minute." Along with this, the regular army of
Cuba totaled about 40,000 men armed with
Russian equipment. There was also a tank force
equipped with approximately 100 Russian T-34
tanks which were fast and highly mobile. 4/
2. All of these troops were well armed, well
trained, and highly motivated to the defense
of their homeland. They were deployed
throughout Cuba because they did not know
where the invasion would come. This wide
deployment constituted their only major
weakness, since it would take some time to
mass the forces in any given area.
III. Terrain and Weather
A. The beachhead was to be established at the head of
the Bay of Pigs. This bay is some 15 miles-long
and three to five miles wide on the southwest
coast of Cuba. The area encompassed by the
beachhead was sparsely populated by, generally
uneducated people. The major industry of the area
was the making of charcoal; although there were a
few makeshift docks, no major port facilities
existed. The area was surrounded by the Zapata
swamps, which are almost impenetrable. There was
one major road to the north which would provide
the most likely avenue of approach for the Castro
forces, and another to the northwest which could
provide a limited approach. The area was served
by limited electric power and had no telephone
facilities. The town of Giron, approximately 12-
14 miles southeast of the head of the Bay, had an
airfield with 4100 feet of usable runway (out of a
total length of 4,900 feet).
B. The area around Playa Larga at the head of the Bay
was the site of a major construction project.
Castro enjoyed fishing in the area and had begun
construction on a major resort. This construction
had brought jobs and prosperity to an otherwise
undeveloped part of Cuba and had made the local
populace fiercely loyal to the Castro regime.
C. Weather was not a factor.
A. Ground - Brigade 2506 consisted of 1443 well armed
and well trained Cuban exiles. Their training had
been mostly in small unit tactics and amphibious
assault. All small unit leaders had been trained
to move up one level as the ranks were expected to
swell with the anticipated influx of anti-Castro
Cubans, once the Brigade was ashore. The force
was well supplied and would land with 10 days of
supply for the initial landing force, plus enough
weapons and ammunition to equip those who were
expected to join them from within the civilian
population. The majority of the force was armed
with M-1 carbines and Browning Automatic Rifles
(BAR's). They had some anti-tank weapons and were
supported by light artillery.
B. Air - Air cover would be provided initially by
aircraft flying from bases in Nicaragua and, once
the airfield at Giron had been secured, the
Brigade air force would operate from there. 5/
The major weakness of the Brigade, was the
relatively small number of troops in respect to
both the numerically superior enemy, and in regard
to the scope of the mission. It is also
considered a weakness that the leaders were
executing a plan in which they had no role in the
1/ Wyden, p. 103.
2/ Johnson, p. 70.
3/ Lazo, p. 117.
4/ U.S. News and World Report, p. 38.
5/ Johnson, p. 85.
This was the situation when the base commander at Camp
Trax, Guatemala received the mobilization order on 9 April,
1961. The time had come to move the Brigade from Guatemala
to Base Trampoline, the spring board for the operation.
This would be Puerto Cabeza, Nicaragua. It took three days
to move the entire Brigade to Base Trampline. The majority
of the equipment was staged there already or had been moved
from Guatemala as early as April 2, 1961.
The CIA had chartered six freighters (slow, old, rusty,
and very unmilitary looking), all about 2400 tons, from the
Garcia Line. The shipping corporation had offices in both
New York and Havana, but it was not pro-Castro in any way.
These ships had proceeded to New Orleans, Mobile, and other
Gulf Coast ports, where they had been pre-loaded with the
majority of the Brigade's supplies, ammunition, aviation
gasoline, and other supplies. Then they were to proceed to
Puerto Cabezas. Upon arrival there, the crews of the ships
were told they were to deliver the Brigade to the shores of
Cuba and were given the opportunity to quit. One captain
and six crewmen did; they were replaced with no problems. 1/
In Puerto Cabezas, the ships were fitted with machine guns
for self protection, although this was considered to be a
formality since the Cuban air threat would be neutralized.
When the Brigade assembled at Base Trampoline, the
leaders met for a briefing of the operation. This was the
first time that the details of the plan for the landing had
been discussed with them. Operation Zapata called for
landings at three points -- Plays Larga, call Red Beach;
Giron, Blue Beach; and a point twenty miles east of Giron
cutting the road to Cienfuegos, Green Beach. Giron was the
center of invasion. There, at Blue Beach, Pepe San Ramon
would land his men and establish his command post. From Red
Beach to Green Beach, the Brigade would control 40 miles of
Cuban coastline. The First Battalion of paratroopers would
be dropped in three places -- along each road crossing the
swamps; at La Horquito, in front of Yaguaramas; at Jocuma,
in front of Covadonga; and along the road from Central
Australia to Playa Giron. Del Valle, their commander, would
establish his headquarters at San Blas. Thus, the Brigade's
initial holdings would extend inland for more than 20 miles.
Olivia would land at Playa Larga with the Second and
Fifth Battalions of infantry. Near Playa Larga, a paratroop
detachment would seize an airport and town called Sopillar.
San Roman would land at Giron with the Sixth Battalion of
infantry, the Fourth or armored Battalion, and the Heavy Gun
Battalion. The Fourth Battalion would send a reinforced
company with two tanks to support the paratroopers at San
Blas; the rest of the battalion would enter the Playa Giron
Airfield, a major objective, and be held in reserve until
needed The Heavy Gun Battalion Artillery was to give
general support to the paratroopers, and also the Third
Battalion of infantry which was to land at Green Beach.
(See Figure III-1 for Planned Disposition of Forces.)
The invasion plan carefully allocated supplies from D-
Day to D-Day + 10; then from the tenth day after the
invasion to the twenty-first day, and on to the thirtieth
day. On D-Day itself, seventy two tons of arms, ammunition,
and equipment, enough to support four thousand men, would be
unloaded. In the next ten days, 415 tons more were to be
unloaded, followed by 530 and then 607 tons. Everything was
worked out, ton by ton, day by day. The plan was superb. 2/
Throughout the briefing, questions were asked about the
capability of Castro's planes to interfere with the landing
and subsequent operations ashore. These questions were
always given the same reassuring answer: Castro's planes
would be destroyed on the ground before the landing was
commenced. This was said so often and so confidently that
the Cuban leaders did not question these assumptions or how
it would be done. The Brigade leaders were told, "there
will be a plane over all the major roads of Cuba every five
minutes. The Brigade ships are loaded with forth thousand
gallons of gasoline, so the air force will begin immediate
missions once the field at Giron is seized." 3/
It should be noted here that no mention of any
alternate plan was made. Such a plan had, in fact, been
made but not communicated to the Cubans. The CIA officials
Click here to view image
decided that if the alternate plan were to be briefed to the
Cubans, it might weaken their resolve when things got rough.
Instead, they were told that if things went seriously wrong
they should contact the base camp, via radio, for further
instructions. This decision sentenced the Brigade to be
committed to only one course of action, as it took away any
contingency except to hold the beachhead, at any costs. 4/
When the briefing was completed, the Cubans left the
building feeling confident. The plan they had heard sounded
complete, solid, and workable. They had full confidence in
the American planners and so they were full of optimism as
they walked to the pier around 1700, 14 April, 1961. There,
they said farewell to their American advisors, talked about
how they would see them all later in Cuba, and boarded the
ships which would sail them into the glorious invasion. The
Brigade was on its way.
In Washington, the moment of truth arrived. Although,
during subsequent investigation many people professed to
have doubts about the ability of the force or the plan, no
objections were raised when it mattered. Richard Bissell
had been pressing President Kennedy for days for a final
decision. The President had reserved the right to cancel
the operation until 24 hours before D-Day. That time was
approaching rapidly. Although Kennedy was still non-
committal, he had stressed again and again, in public and in
private, that American military personnel would not be
directly involved in the operation. He had, however,
approved the use of U.S. naval ships in a support and air
The U.S.S. Essex and her battle group of five escort
destroyers were ready to escort the five Garcia Line
freighters to a rendezvous point just outside the Bay of
Pigs. They had only one task: to ensure that the Cubans
got to the beaches, not to assist them once the landing was
made. The Essex had taken aboard a squadron of new A-4D
Skyhawks but their mission was yet undefined.
While the Brigade's invasion force steamed toward their
destiny, things were not entirely quiet. Nino Diaz and a
reconnaissance group of 160 men prepared to execute a
diversionary landing approximately 30 miles east of
Guantanamo in the early hours of Saturday morning April 14,
1961. As they neared the shore, they saw what they thought
were cigarettes being smoked by a number of militiamen along
the coast. They aborted the landing and returned to their
small cruiser off the coast. As dawn broke, they were well
over the horizon to wait and try again the next night. The
failure of this group to land was blamed on the weakness of
the Cuban leader. The failure of this diversionary raid had
a profound effect on the success of the real invasion, since
its mission was to draw Castro's forces to the east and
confuse his command. 5/
For the pilots at Puerto Cabezas, the morning brought
an air of excitement. Although some had flown supply drops
for guerrillas over Cuba, today would be the day that they
struck the first blow for the freedom of their homeland.
That morning they would attack Cuba. As they received their
mission briefings, they learned that two planes were to
attack Managua, two San Antonio de los Banos, two Santiago
de Cuba, four Ciudad Libertad (Castro's main air base), and
one plane to attack San Julian and Baracoa. Shortly after
the briefings, the attacks on Managua and San Julian were
cancelled, with no explanation given.
As the pilots at Puerto Cabezas finished their
briefing, they were asked for volunteers to fly special
missions. There were many volunteers, but only three pilots
were chosen. These men were taken away from the main group
and given special briefings. They were told that, under no
circumstances, were they to discuss the mission they were
about to fly with anyone for a period of five years. Their
mission was to provide the cover story for the rest of the
attack on Cuba. They were to fly to the U.S., where they
would land and say that they had defected from Castro's air
force. They were to take credit for the raids on Cuba and
were given a story to release to the press. Afterwards,
they were to "vanish" and would be returned to Puerto
Cabezas to resume their part in the operation. 6/
The pilots were assigned aircraft numbers FAR933 and
FAR915. 7/ Some of the panels were removed from the
aircraft and had bullets fired through them to give them a
battle worn appearance. The aircraft proceeded to the
United States where one landed at Miami International
Airport and the other at Boca Chica Naval Air Station at Key
West, Florida. Both aircraft landed with an engine
feathered. The pilots were whisked away by U.S. Customs and
Immigration officials and their identities were not released
to the press. Later, statements were released giving the
story provided for them by the CIA.
The statements, as printed in the major newspapers,
read that the pilots were three of a group of four who had
been planning for some three months to escape Cuba. They
said that the government did not trust its pilots and would
only allow the planes to be fueled enough for each mission,
but not enough for them to reach asylum in the U.S. On the
day before their escape, they had seen one of their group,
whom they mistrusted, talking to some Castro officials.
This had made them nervous and they had decided to leave the
next morning. After takeoff, they had bombed and strafed
military targets around their bases and then flown to
Florida where they asked for asylum. 8/
The real strikes against the Cuban bases took place at
dawn on April 15, 1961. The eight B-26's to be used were
loaded with two 500 pound demolition bombs, ten 200 pound
fragmentation bombs, and eight rockets. They also carried
eight machine guns in the nose with 2800 rounds of
ammunition. These B-26's were the A-26 Invader derivative
of the World War II Martin Marauder, but they differed from
those flown by Castro forces; the exile aircraft had an all
metal nose vice the plexiglass nose of the Cuban model.
Further, in order to easily identify them to the friendly
forces, they had a wide blue stripe painted on the fuselage.
This deception was to prove ineffective.
The Brigade aircraft departed Puerto Cabezas between
0230 and 0300 Sunday morning and proceeded to their
individual holding points off the coast of Cuba. Timing was
crucial, since the attacks on all targets were to begin
simultaneously. However, Castro was no fool.
Although his intelligence network left a lot to be
desired, he certainly had access to the U.S. news media.
The American press had been reporting for several days that
signs of an invasion were evident. He knew that his tiny
air force would be the primary target for any aggressive
action. He had taken what measures he could to ensure that
his operational aircraft were widely dispersed and well
camouflaged. He put the crews of the anti-aircraft
batteries on an increased readiness posture and waited for
the expected attack.
As dawn broke over Cuba, the airstrikes commenced. The
first taste of combat for the Brigade pilots was sweet.
They delivered their ordnance with determination and made
attack after attack through heavy anti-aircraft fire. The
damage they inflicted was heavy, but not crippling to the
Cuban air force which was their primary target.
Initial pilot reports put damage at 50% of the
offensive air capability of Camp Libertad, 75-80%
aircraft destruction at San Antonio de los Banos,
and the destruction at Santiago included two B-
26's, one DC-3, one Lodestar, and one T-33 or Sea
Fury. Subsequent photographic studies and
interpretation assessed a greatly reduced estimate
of the damage, amounting to five aircraft
definitely destroyed, and an indeterminate number
of other planes suffering some damage. The
attacking force lost one aircraft and crew to
enemy anti-aircraft fire." 9/
In the aftermath of the air strikes, Castro took his
accusations to the U.N. that the strikes were the work of
the Americans. He feverishly denied that the attacks had
been made by defecting Cuban pilots flying his own
airplanes, and challenged the U.S. to present the pilots at
the U.N. for questioning.
The news media in the U.S. were in a frenzy. Although
they were not allowed to meet with the pilots who had landed
at Miami and Key West, they interviewed virtually everyone
else. News releases came from the State Department denying
U.S. complicity in the raids, but statements from the
President's office and the Pentagon were conspicuously
absent. While the statement of the pilots were dutifully
printed, the media also hinted that there were many
discrepancies in them. The cover story could not be
sustained over a long period. On the day of the strikes,
the story fulfilled its purpose and lent credibility to the
U.S. position that the strikes were not sponsored by the
Dean Rusk, the U.S. representative to the U.N., was not
told of the deception and made an eloguent defense to
Castro's accusations on the floor of the General Assembly.
He was later very upset when he learned the truth, feeling
that he had been duped by the administration.
Although the story of the B-26's landing in Florida and
their crews defecting achieved the desired effect of casting
doubt on U.S. involvement, it was later to have a seriously
adverse effect on the operation. The political pressure put
on the administration, as result of the initial air
strikes caused the President to be extremely hesitant to
launch further strikes without first having the Brigade in
control of the airfield at Giron. This left the remnants of
Castro's air force free to operate against the Brigade on
the beaches. It negated the assumption of air superiority,
on which the plan was based, and very likely turned the tide
of the battle.
In the wake of the air attacks, it became even more
obvious to Fidel Castro that his island nation was on the
verge of being invaded. He had reports from his agents, as
well as, the American media reports that the Brigade had
left their training bases. He knew they must be on their
way. As Castro weighed the invader's options, he felt that
there were two major courses of action available. A series
of small, widely spaced landings, or a single major
amphibious assault. Several smaller landings would prevent
the invaders from suffering a single crushing defeat.
Numerous pockets of resistance along the coastline would
split his forces and severely test his command and control
network. This option also left choice of landing and then
operating as a network of guerrilla groups. He felt that if
the Brigade landed in one area, with all of their men it
would be to his benefit. In his opinion, a frontal assault
by the Brigade would allow his numerically superior forces
to liquidate the enemy rapidly. Castro's concluded that the
Americans would not allow the Brigade to risk everything on
a single beachhead. A total defeat would bring with it too
much discredit, both for the U.S. and for the counter-
Acting on his decision, Castro studied the coast for
probable landing sites. Then he sent small groups of 100-
500 men to these sites to keep watch and build defensive
positions. The area around Trinidad (the original site
chosen for the operation) was especially heavily fortified,
as were all approaches to the mountainous areas, to prevent
the forces from gaining access to the terrain which Castro
knew from experience would favor guerrilla operation. There
was nothing left to do but watch and wait. 11/
The offices of the CIA, State Department, Pentagon, and
the White House were buzzing with activity. Everything was
ready for the invasion, the wheels were turning and the
first blow had been struck; but still President Kennedy had
not given the authorization for the actual invasion to
commence. There had been numerous meetings, over the past
few weeks, all of them ending without a decision. The only
person who had aired any doubts about the operation had been
Senator Fulbright; but he had been very moderate in his
attack of the plan. Everyone felt the decision would be to
go with the operation, yet there was an air of hesitancy
until the formal approval was given.
The 24 hour deadline passed. Finally, about mid-day on
D-1, 16 April, 1961, President Kennedy phoned Richard
Bissell and gave him the go-ahead. 12/ The mood at CIA
headquarters immediately became one of jubilation. It was a
tremendous relief to finally know that the year's worth of
effort and millions of dollars spent on the operation would
not be scrapped at the last minute.
The decision of President Kennedy to continue had been
based on the following logic:
It offered what appeared to be a last chance to
overthrow Castro by Cubans before the weapons and
technicians acquired from the Communists and the
repressive internal measures which would make the
task too hard without overt U.S. intervention. It
was recognized as marginal and risky, but the
Cuban Brigade, if not used quickly, would become a
political liability, whereas used in a landing it
might achieve important success before Castro
became too strong. Even if unable to hold the
beachhead, something would have been accomplished
as the Brigade could turn guerrilla and provide a
strong reinforcement to the resistance movement on
the island. 13/
Upon notification, the extensive propaganda program
conceived by the CIA was executed as planned. Radio Swan
and 11 other CIA controlled stations began an intense
propaganda blitz. They also included in their broadcast
coded messages for operatives inside Cuba to execute
preplanned missions. Most of these were never carried out.
The only failure was the planned leaflet drop by the Brigade
air force planes. The tactical decision was made, that
bombs would be more necessary than the leaflets and so, the
drops were cancelled.
Late Sunday afternoon, a very significant event
occurred at CIA headquarters in Washington. The message
giving the order for the dawn airstrikes the following
morning was drafted and sent to the Deputy Director of the
CIA for release. He asked the operative who brought him the
message if the strike had been cleared. The operative, who
was aware that the strike had been an integral part of the
plan, replied that they had been cleared. As a precaution
the Deputy Director decided to check with Dean Rusk. After
a few minutes, McGeorge Bundy, the special assistant to the
President, telephoned the Deputy Director and informed him
that no strikes were to be flown in support of the operation
until the airstrip at Giron had been secured. If further
consultation on the matter was required, it should be
discussed with the Secretary of State. 14/
In reflection, this decision must have been made in
light of the political pressure brought to bear on the
United States at the U.N., as a result of the cover story
told by the pilots who had landed in Florida the previous
day. The administration was not willing to risk dropping
the final shreds of denial of complicity in the operation,
even for something as important as the chance to finish off
Castro's air force before the invasion began.
Richard Bissell was called in and appraised of the
situation. He knew at once that the strike was vital to the
operation; he and the Deputy Director then met with Rusk at
the State Department. Rusk listened to the two men's
objections of the cancellation of the air strikes and agreed
to call the President for a decision. They listened as he
told the President that they were in his office and were
urging reconsideration of the decision to cancel the
strikes. He reported their opinion that the strikes were
very important to the success of the landing, and then
stated, "I am still recommending, in view of what's going on
in New York, that we cancel." 15/ The president agreed.
What were probably the most important air strikes of the
invasion, were cancelled on political grounds.
A new message was drafted and sent to Puerto Cabezas,
cancelling the strikes. It arrived just after the engines
had been started on the strike aircraft. When the senior
American official read it, he immediately sent a protest
back to Washington. Fresh U-2 photographs indicated that
Castro had at least two T-33's and some Sea Furies
operational. It was vital that these aircraft be
destroyed. 16/ He received a reply quickly restating the
cancellation. No one in the Department of Defense or JCS
chain of command was questioned on the effect of the
cancellation, or for that matter even notified until the
To the average American, the reason for the failure of
the Bay of Pigs operation was the lack of air cover. The
strike that had just been cancelled had been designed to
decimate Castro's air force on the ground, thus eliminating
the need for defensive air cover for the Brigade. This
would allow the Brigade pilots to concentrate their efforts
on offensive air support for the ground operations. If
Castro was able to operate any tactical aircraft at all, the
Brigade would be at their mercy throughout the invasion.
The CIA immediately recognized the seriousness of the
cancellation of the air strike and took what action they
could. They immediately notified the Brigade leaders and
warned them that enemy air attacks would be likely during
the invasion. They ordered the ships to expedite unloading
and to withdraw from the beach before dawn. They set up a
schedule to give the ground force continuous B-26 cover
during daylight hours and had the JCS alert the naval forces
to the possibility of receiving the mission of providing air
cover. The deputy director of the CIA personally called on
the Secretary of State and requested that the U.S. Navy
provide air cover and early warning destroyers to protect
the now vulnerable ships of the Brigade. The request was
put to the President. He disapproved the air cover, on the
grounds of the President's original policy of no direct
involvement by the U.S. military. He did, however,
authorize the use of the early warning destroyers for ship
escort, with the proviso that they were restricted from
operating any closer than 30 nautical miles from the Cuban
The men of the Brigade were very crowded aboard the
freighters. The ships, which were not designed for troop
transport, were overloaded with supplies and equipment and
the men slept wherever they could find space. It did not
matter, as the voyage was short and spirits were soaring
because of the imminent action. During the trip, plans were
completed, last minute orders issued by small unit leaders,
and some training was conducted. Aboard the ATLANTICO, the
machine guns installed aboard the ship for protection were
being fired for training when the hastily welded deck plate
broke loose. There was a group of 20 men sleeping on the
deck below, and the barrel of the gun dropped and fired
through the deck. One man was killed and two wounded, one
very seriously. The captain broke radio silence and asked
for help. The U.S.S. Eaton, a destroyer, responded and took
the wounded men aboard for medical treatment. They were the
first casualties of the invasion.
Around noon on April 16, 1961, the officers of the
Frente met at the Statler Hilton in New York City and
drafted an announcement for later release of the
commencement of the invasion. They then left, via the
kitchen exit, to avoid reporters and drove to Philadelphia.
There, they boarded a small private plane and were flown to
Opa-Locka Airfield in Florida; there they remained under
guard in an old barracks to await their planned trip to Cuba
after the invasion force had secured a beachhead. 18/ These
men, the highest officials of the Cuban government-in-exile,
felt that they were being held prisoner by the Americans at
the very time when they should have been with their men.
They were not at all satisfied with their treatment over the
next two days.
Shortly after 2000 on the night of April 16, 1961, D-1,
the lead Brigade ship and four other freighters of the
Garcia line rendezvoused with the U.S.S. SAN MARCOS. The
SAN MARCOS was the landing ship dock (LSD) which had brought
the landing craft for the Brigade to use. The SAN MARCOS
transferred three landing craft utility (LCU) and four
landing craft vehicle and personnel (LCVP) to the Brigade,
exactly 30 nautical miles off the Cuban coast. These craft
were already loaded with trucks, jeeps, and some tanks.
Just as the transfer was complete, a landing craft
mechanized (LCM) arrived under its own power and was also
transferred to the Brigade. This was the final step for the
invasion, and now, the Brigade, in control of its landing
craft, was fully operational for the first time.
The Brigade fleet sailed into the mouth of the Bay of
Pigs and split their formation, proceeding to their assigned
areas -- Blue Beach at Giron and Red Beach at Playa Larga.
The landing at Blue Beach was designated the main attack and
the landings at Red Beach and Green Beach were the
The initial operation of the invasion was the landing
of the advance force of the Second Battalion. When the
advance force of frogmen disembarked from the BLAGAR they
were surprised to find that one of the CIA agents, who had
been their advisor, had decided to accompany them to the
beach. It was not his intention to land with them but only
to see them safely ashore.
The landing party would go ashore in an 18 foot
Catamaran with two 70 horsepower outboards. It would tow a
rubber raft which would be manned about 600 feet from the
beach and be used for the final approach. They planned to
land near a rock jetty on the extreme right of the beach and
then to place marker lights ashore to guide the landing
craft to the landing site. Intelligence sources indicated
that the area should be quiet, and that the bulk of the
population were construction workers who should be asleep at
the time of the landing.
As the Cuban exiles came in sight of the area, they
were totally surprised. The Cubans had installed bright arc-
type vapor lights at the construction sites along the beach
and there were small groups of Cubans scattered there
talking among themselves. To the landing party, the area
was lit up like an amusement park. The American advisor saw
immediately that the landing site had to be changed on the
spot. He knew that the change would cause confusion, but
made the decision to alter the location of Red Beach. He
also decided, that for the change to work, that he would
have to land himself and conduct the operation. 19/
The American advisor joined the Cubans in the rubber
raft and they proceeded toward the darker section in the
center of the beach. About 150 yards off shore, one of the
beach marker lights suddenly started blinking. Someone
covered it almost immediately, and found the switch to be in
the off position. A short circuit had caused it to come on.
About eighty yards off shore the engine bottomed out on a
sharp coral reef that ran almost the entire length of the
beach. This reef had shown up on the reconnaissance photos,
but had been interpreted as sea weed. This would prove to
be an extremely costly error.
The men got out of the raft into waist deep water and
waded toward the shore. They were about fifty yards off
shore, when they heard a jeep coming down the beach. It
stopped adjacent to them and swung its headlights around
onto them. The American fired on the jeep with a BAR and
was joined by the Cubans. They riddled the jeep with
machine gun fire and knocked out the headlights. They did
not take any return fire. These were the first shots fired
in the Bay of Pigs invasion. 20/
Immediately after the incident, the lights all over
the town went off. A truck loaded with militiamen started
down the beach toward them. The men of the advance force
radioed the BLAGAR and requested help. They were soon
engaged in an intense fire fight with the militiamen. San
Ramon decided to begin the landing of the Brigade. He was
in one of the lead landing craft and soon had enough men
ashore to establish a small beachhead.
The trouble really began when the first wave of the
main force headed ashore from the CARIBE. The reefs were
unknown to the invasion force until their boats struck them
at full speed. Many boats sank on the spot, and most were
at least delayed. The invasion schedule was delayed and the
advantage of surprise had been lost. The frogmen worked
throughout the night to find a safe path through the reef
for the invasion forces landing craft.
The Fourth Battalion was landed and given the mission
of securing the air strip. Intelligence had indicated that
it would require some engineering support to become usable.
Photos indicated piles of sand and gravel on the runway, and
that some trees would have to be cut down to allow for a
safe approach. But San Ramon was informed that the air
strip was secure and usable. The expected obstacles did not
exist. The Brigade aircraft now had a place from which to
operate on Cuban soil. 21/
As San Ramon set up his headquarters in Giron, the
orderly unloading of vehicles and supplies commenced.
Although the beachhead at Blue Beach was secure, Castro's
militiamen had been able to transmit the alarm to troop and
air force headquarters in Havana before the Brigade had
destroyed a microwave antenna in the area. San Ramon
evaluated the situation and made the decision to cancel the
landing at Green Beach and consolidate its troops,
equipment, and supplies at Blue Beach. 22/ In spite of
resistance, all vehicles and tanks were unloaded at Blue
Beach by 0730. All personnel were ashore by 0830. 23/
At Red Beach, the American advisor (a CIA man) who had
disobeyed his orders, and the Cuban frogmen were able to
place their marker lights, in spite of immediately coming
under fire from Castro's forces. They radioed back to the
BARBRA J and the HOUSTON to expedite the landing, and set up
a hasty defense of the beachhead against a rapidly
increasing militia force.
As the HOUSTON came within range, the machine guns on
the beach opened up on her. The attack was answered by her
gunners, catching the frogmen in a crossfire. She was able
to silence the guns from the shore, but in the process one
of the frogmen was killed. This was the first Brigade
casualty of the invasion.
Erneido Olivia, the commander of the Brigade forces at
Red Beach, also saw the need for his leadership ashore
earlier than expected. He changed the landing sequence and
came ashore in one of the first waves with his staff. 24/
The Second Battalion was very slow in coming ashore.
The navy landing craft were planned to be utilized for the
movement of the heavy vehicles and supplies. Personnel were
primarily to be transported in small fiberglass launches
with outboard engines. This caused a major problem, as the
outboard motors proved to be unreliable as numerous
failures occurred. The small launches did not have much
freeboard and were unable to withstand the heavy seas. Many
were swamped on their way to the beach. Although there were
only 185 men in the Second Battalion destined for Red Beach,
by 0530 all of the men were still not ashore. The Fifth
Battalion never did get ashore because of the boats and poor
Once ashore, Olivia ordered his men to seize and
destroy the microwave station in Playa Larga. When the
station was seized, the equipment was found to be warm and
all the transmit switches were in the "on" position. The
alarm had been broadcast from there, also.
At 0315, Fidel Castro received the news of the
invasion. He was informed of the landings at Playa Larga
and Giron and ascertained that his militiamen in the area
were resisting. Castro ordered confirmation of the
information, and quickly received it. Fidel then alerted
the forces that were in the area, consisting of several
platoons of militia stationed at the Central Australian
Sugar Mill and a battalion containing three mortar
batteries in Matanzas Province. The troops at Central
Australia were not able to mobilize until dawn and the
others a little while later. Castro also ordered three
battalions from Las Villas Province to Yaguaramas and
Covadonga to protect the other two major highways into the
Zapata Swamps. He issued orders to the air force to
commence its attack at dawn on the ships at Playa Larga and
Castro planned to crush the invasion at Playa Larga
first, since it was the furthest inland. Then his forces
would attack the beachhead at Giron, flanked by the swamps
with few cross roads. He knew that the landing of the
provisional government must be prevented at all costs.
After outlining his plan and issuing initial orders, Castro
departed for the Bay of Pigs.
The situation at 0400-0530 was fairly stable.
Beachheads had been established at both Red and Blue
Beaches. Men and equipment were pouring ashore (although
slower at Red Beach). Both San Ramon and Olivia
established their headquarters and command posts, but were
at that time unable to communicate with each other. The
Brigade had pushed inland in both areas and the airstrip had
been secured at Giron. Although considerable confusion
existed, the plan was generally being followed except for
the cancelled landing at Green Beach.
Then the Brigade received word that Castro still had
operational aircraft and that they should expect to be
attacked from the air at dawn. They were advised to have
the ships put back to sea before the attacks began, and
expect them to return the following night. There was no
time to coordinate such a change.
At 0600, the frogmen reported that they had charted a
path through the reefs. At 0625, as the landing craft from
the BLAGAR were moving the tanks and troops of the Heavy Gun
Battalion ashore, they were attacked by a B-26. The B-26
was soon joined by a T-33 and several Sea Furies. The
remainder of the Heavy Gun Battalion, as well as the Third
and Sixth Battalions, were forced to land while receiving
heavy fire from the air. 27/
At 0630 the HOUSTON was crippled by air attack. The
captain grounded her on the west shore of the Bay of Pigs,
about five miles from Red Beach. 28/ The Fifth Battalion
was aboard the HOUSTON when she was hit, along with
ammunition and fuel for the Brigade. The field hospital was
also aboard the HOUSTON. Most of the men of the Fifth
Battalion were able to get ashore, although they could not
get organized, and never became a viable unit throughout the
battle. At least twenty-eight men died in the sea.
The first air attack ended at 0700. The Brigade had
been able to bring down two of Castro's B-26's, but had
suffered great losses themselves. The doctors on the beachs
were overwhelmed with casualties, and many of their medical
supplies had been lost when the HOUSTON was sunk. Most of
the Radio equipment that had been brought ashore, had been
soaked with salt water, and was inoperable. In the
confusion of the landing and air attacks, units had been
separated, and command and control disintegrated and
adequate communications ceased. Despite these problems, the
beachhead was secure and Castro's ground forces in the area
were unable to gain ground against the Brigade.
At 0730, the men of the Brigade saw the five C-46's and
one C-54 pass overhead with paratroop units enroute to the
drop zones. In the drop zone north of Playa Larga, the
heavy equipment was dropped first, followed by the
paratroopers. The equipment landed in the swamps and was
never seen again. The advance force also landed there and
was ineffective for a considerable period of time. The
other units landed under fire and some fell behind enemy
lines. Several were killed while still in their parachutes.
The other paratroop units landed safely without
organized opposition and proceeded to their blocking
positions along the roads to Covadonga and Yaguaramas.
These blocking positions were each manned by almost 20 men;
their weapons consisted of a 57mm cannon, a .30 caliber
machine gun, a bazooka, and an automatic rifle squad.
Fortunately they were heavily equipped, since they came
under attack shortly after getting into position. They
performed well in the engagement on Eastern front.
The airborne drops secured two of the three main roads.
But the road to the north of Playa Larga to Central
Australia remained open. But this was where Castro's forces
concentrated and therefore posed the major threat to the
San Blas was the only area where any real support for
the Brigade was shown by the populace. A number of local
citizens offered assistance to the paratroopers, volunteered
to carry supplies and water, and worked as nurses. Five
civilians volunteered to fight; they were given uniforms and
weapons and integrated into the Brigade unit. 29/
Back at Red Beach, the air attacks were renewed. A Sea
Fury scored a direct hit on the RIO ESCONDIDO. She had two
hundred barrels of aviation fuel stored above decks and the
Sea Fury slammed a rocket directly into the middle of the
AVGAS. The fire extinguishers abroad were totally
inadequate for the gasoline fire and the captain saw
immediately that his ship was lost. He gave the order to
abandon ship and called the BLAGAR for assistance. The crew
abandoned ship and were all rescued, with only one man
sustaining any injuries. After the crew left, the ship was
totally destroyed by three tremendous explosions, the sound
of which were heard all the way to Giron. 30/
The loss of the RIO ESCONDIDO dealt a particularly
heavy blow to the Brigade. Her cargo was vital for the
fighting force. She had aboard the first 10 days mount out
of ammunition, fuel, food, and medical supplies for the
entire force. Equally important, however, she had the
communications van aboard, which was the heart of the
brigade radio communication system, and provided the only
means of communication with the Brigade aircraft.
Two of the Brigade's five ships had now been destroyed,
along with their valuable cargo. Another ship, the BARBARA
J had been damaged by machine gun fire and had lost two of
her engines, and was taking on water.
The leaders of the Brigade, hampered by extremely poor
communications, could not make an accurate evaluation of the
situation. San Ramon, the commander of the Brigade could
not contact any of the units outside the immediate area of
Blue Beach. He had never had any radio communications with
the paratroopers and he could not even talk to the ships
which had brought him to the beach and were to resupply him.
About 1000, San Ramon made radio contact with Olivia at
Red Beach. The news was not good. Olivia reported his
units all ashore and involved in heavy fighting, except for
the Fifth Battalion which was no where to be found (they had
abandoned the HOUSTON five miles from Red Beach and were
never to enter the battle). Olivia reported that he had no
communications with the paratroopers, who had dropped to the
north of him; but he felt that something had gone wrong,
since the enemy was still coming down the road that they-
were supposed to be blocking (the paratroopers in this zone
were either lost or retreating by this time). He asked San
Ramon to send a tank and a squad of infantry to reinforce
him. San Ramon agreed, and immediately dispatched the tank
and infantry. 31/
By noon of D-Day, San Ramon was beginning to put
together the situation. The Brigade was pinned down on the
beachhead. Their supply lines were temporarily cut when the
ships put back to sea. They had very limited
communications, with most messages being sent by messenger.
They had received only limited air support from the Brigade
aircraft, and were almost constantly under fire from
Castro's planes. Still, the Brigade had established itself
a shape and appeared capable of giving the Castro units a
full measure of battle.
The battle plan of the Castro forces was becoming
apparent and it surprised the Brigade leaders. They had
assumed that Castro's main thrust would be from the east
through San Blas to Giron road. They had deployed their
forces to defend against this expected attacks. It was now
becoming obvious that Castro was attacking with his main
force from the north down the road and railroad bed from
Central Australia; this would drive a spearhead into Playa
Larga and Red Beach. This was the more lightly defended
area of the Brigades forces and could certainly not
withstand a heavy sustained attack.
Meanwhile, the war in the air was not going well. One
of the C-46's, which had dropped its paratroopers, had been
shot down by a Sea Fury earlier in the day as it had turned
back out to sea. A B-26 had been shot down by a Castro T-33
as it made a bomb run in support of the Brigade, and another
was forced to ditch into the sea about halfway back to
Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua, after having one engine shot out
and additional heavy battle damage. One Brigade pilot
reported that he had been receiving fire from two Castro
aircraft when U.S. Navy jets had joined on them. The Castro
planes had broken off and fled, but the Navy jets had never
fired on them. 32/
A Brigade C-46 on a resupply mission tried to land at
the Giron airport. However, he turned back within sight of
the beachhead when informed over the radio by a B-26 pilot
that two T-33's were in the area. The Brigade now had full
control of an usable airfield but it could not be used
because Castro had been able to maintain air superiority.
The four remaining ships had left the coast and had
been ordered to proceed beyond the twelve mile limit. The
ATLANTICO and CARIBE had pulled out first, with the BLAGAR
escorting the crippled BARBARA J. Although under air
attack, none suffered significant damage and the BLAGAR even
managed to shoots down a B-26 which crashed so close that
wreckage ended up on fire on decks.
The ships planned to rendezvous about 50 miles out to
sea and then to move back to the twelve mile limit during
the night. They would then unload their cargo onto the
remaining landing craft and lighter it ashore. The men on
the ships knew that the Brigade was using so much
ammunition that they would need resupply after the first
The BARBARA J and BLAGAR reached the rendezvous point,
but were unable to communicate with the other two vessels.
The ATLANTICO and CARIBE had actually left the area and
headed south. Navy destroyers intercepted the ATLANTICO 110
nautical miles south of the beachhead and convinced her to
return; she would not arrive in the area again until 1830 on
D+1, 18 April, 1961. Another destroyer did not overtake the
CARIBE until she was 218 nautical miles south; she was never
again available for resupply to the Brigade before the
beachhead collapsed. 33/
As D-Day drew to an end, the Brigade held a tenuous
position. They maintained the beachhead around both Red and
Blue Beach, as well as the airfield at Giron. The forces at
Red Beach were bearing the brunt of the action; casualties
were high and ammunition and supplies were low. The Castro
forces were threatening to push down the road into Playa
Larga, while the Cuban Air Force controlled the skies.
Brigade air support had been weak and they had lost four
aircraft. Two ships supply the Brigade were sunk, and two
more had completely departed the area. Most of the medical
supplies had been lost with the field hospital aboard the
HOUSTON and medical treatment for the wounded was scarce.
Overall, the situation looked bleak but not hopeless. (See
Figure III-2 for actual deployment of forces at the end of D-
Meanwhile it had been an eventful day back in
Washington. The personnel manning the command post were
receiving only sketchy details of how the operation was
proceeding. Generally, with the poor communications, they
were operating about 12 hours behind events at the
beachhead. Much of their information was coming from what
the Brigade pilots saw and reported in their debriefings
back in Nicaragua. They were getting some details from the
men aboard the BLAGAR and the BARBARA J but, it too, was
second hand and not timely.
They knew that the supply of ammunition was getting low
and ordered air drops from the base in Nicaragua for the
night of the 17th. Missions were flown by four C-54's and
two C-46's. Of these, five of the drops were successful but
the cargo of the sixth was blown into the sea. 35/
Click here to view image
The BARBARA J and the BLAGAR were ordered to resume
resupply after nightfall. Some supplies were delivered
ashore, but the limited remaining landing craft were not
able to sustain the needs of the Brigade.
It had been a day filled with failure. One of the most
puzzling of these had been the failure of the CIA to notify
the network of infiltrators and Cuban underground of the
invasion, even after it had begun. One infiltrator later
reported that around noon of D-Day, he finally received a
message that the invasion had begun and to blow the bridges
between Playa Larga and Central Australia. He could not do
this because of the massive Cuban mobilization. It would
have made little difference anyway, since the militia had
crossed the bridges he was ordered to destroy six hours
earlier. The failure to use the covert forces available to
the CIA cost them the opportunity to divert Castro's forces
and allowed them to focus on the actual site of the
Brigade's invasion. 36/
Political turmoil reigned in New York and Washington.
The cover story, told by the "defecting pilots" who had
landed in Florida, had been broken by a reporter who had
inspected one of the planes and found it to be a different
model than those flown by Castro's air force. He had found
the bombay hinges covered with undisturbed dust and grease
and the guns uncocked and unfired. He also noticed that the
rocket mounts were disconnected and covered with
The disclosure of this information had unleashed chaos
within the United Nations. The Soviet Premier, Niketa
Khrushchev, had sent a strongly worded message to President
Kennedy in which he denounced the U.S. aggression and
accused Kennedy of threatening world peace. The Soviet
leader promised that the Soviets would support the Castro
regime, even if it meant armed intervention.
But some of the news media had bought the official
cover story put forth by the government: that there had
been no invasion, and the action in Cuba was attributed to a
small number of Cuban exiles (200-300) trying to land
supplies for the underground. However, others did not
In the United Nation, ambassador Stevenson was doing
his best to hold off the charges of the Cubans that the
attack had been launched by mercenaries paid, trained, and
supplied by the U.S. government. With a great deal of
showmanship, he read off a list of the more prominent
participants in the Brigade and the Frente. As he would
read a name, he would give the position the man held in Cuba
prior to leaving for the United States. The list was quite
impressive and included almost two thirds of Castro's
At the CIA, the situation was becoming all too obvious.
Even though the officials recognized the first signs of
failure, there was very little they could do little about
it. The CIA Command Post had already ordered the air drop
of resupply ammunition and given orders to the ships to
continue resupply operations after nightfall. Now, all they
could do was just wait and hope the Brigade could change the
situation through the application of its combat power.
The Joint Chiefs had taken all steps to ensure they
would be ready if called upon to intervene in the battle.
They were ready to offer any support ordered by the
President and had moved several aviation units within
striking distance to bases in the south. The Navy, which
was the closest service to being actually involved, was
ready to assist with air cover, escort, or naval gunfire, as
soon as the order was issued. Still, President Kennedy
clung to his policy that the U.S. military forces would not
be involved in the invasion of Cuba.
At Opa Locka airfield, just outside Miami, Florida, the
Cuban exile officials of the Frente were still waiting to be
transported to the beachhead. They still remained under
strict guard in the old barracks, but had been furnished
with a radio by their guards. They had it tuned to Radio
Swan and were receiving only reports that the invasion
forces were winning the battle. This made them even harder
to control. They were anxious to fly immediately to their
homeland and be part of the victory.
It looked like it was going to be a long night for the
men at Red Beach. They had caught a Cuban column in an
ambush late in the afternoon and efficiently annihilated it.
From the prisoners they had taken, the exiles learned that
Castro was massing his forces at Central Australia; this
meant there would be a major attack that night. Olivia had
the men of the Brigade prepare defensive positions astride
the main road and railway bed. 38/
At Blue Beach, San Ramon was also ordering his men into
the defense for the night. There had been periods of heavy
fighting along both roads into the area as Castro's forces
had probed his positions. Now, as nightfall came, the
advance post on the road to Covadonga had come under heavy
artillery fire; San Ramon interpreted this as the
preparation for an attack. San Ramon assessed the situation
well and sent the Fourth Battalion to Red Beach to reinforce
Olivia placed these reinforcements into his line. He
deployed six mortars, and all the shells he had, to support
his front and flanks, and sent three tanks to cover two
crossroads where they had excellent fields of fire. He kept
nothing in reserve as he prepared for what would become the
"fiercest battle of the Bay of Pigs".
Back in New York City, the CIA's public relations
office released what the press called the Cuban
Revolutionary Council's Bulletin Number 3. It read:
The Cuban Revolutionary Council wishes to announce
that the principle battle of the Cuban Revolt
against Castro will be fought in the next few
hours. Action today was largely of a supply and
support effort to forces which have been mobilized
and trained inside Cuba over the past several
months. The tremendous army of invincible soldier-
patriots has now received its instructions to
strike the vital blow for the liberation of their
beloved country. Our partisans in every town and
village in Cuba will receive, in a manner known
only to them, the message that will spark a
tremondous wave of internal conflict against the
What a contrast with the actual situation at the Bay of
Pigs. San Ramon expected the ships to begin unloading
sometime shortly after dark, and had a large work party
standing by. He was sorely dissappointed when no ships or
landing craft arrived. He sent a 25 foot launch with a
radio operator out to sea to try and locate the vessels.
They spent the entire night trying to establish radio
contact with their supply ships. But their efforts were in
vain. The Cuban crews aboard the BLAGAR and the BARBARA J
refused to return anywhere near the beaches.
The first attack of the night soon occured, but it did
not come from the expected direction. The advance guard
from San Blas made unexpected contact with a Cuban armored
column. They planned to hold for a long as possible then
fall back to another blocking position: but the Cuban forces
were overpowering and all resistance gave way. The Brigade
unit was lucky to have its remnants evacuated by trucks in
front of the advancing hostile column.
The unit fell back a safe distance and was joined by a
mortar unit. The observers saw the Castro forces coming
down the road, advancing in the light of their own trucks
and tanks. They held their fire until the enemy was well in
range and then thoroughly routed Castro's column. The
mortars halted any further advance toward San Blas for the
rest of the night.
Shortly after this advance was stopped, the paratroop
company established contact in a postion along the road to
Yaguaramas. They had intercepted enemy radio transmissions
and knew they were opposed by four infantry battalions and
two companies of tanks. They allowed the lead units to
close almost to their positions and then opened fire. The
Cubans were hit hard and went into the defense. 40/
At 2000, the Brigage forces at Playa Larga came under
fire from batteries of 122mm artillery. Olivia, fortunate
enough to gain access to the enemy radio frequency, learned
that the enemy was being reinforced with 40 tanks. He
immmediately deployed his bazookas to the front lines closest
to the road. At 2355 the shelling stopped. Castro's
artillery had fired more than 2000 rounds, but these had
had little effect because of the long narrow front and
entrenched positons of the Brigade. 41/
A tremendous difference in forces existed, but the
ideal defensive terrain made the difference. As the column
of tanks rolled through the crossroads, the first two were
knocked out by the Brigade tanks firing from a fixed
position. As a third Castro tank came around the two
disabled vehicles, a Brigade tank rammed into it, backed
away, and then fired point blank. He damaged the tread and
the Castro tank withdrew. By 0020 the narrow road was so
blocked with burned out tanks, that those behind them were
Then, came the infantry assaults. At 0100, Olivia
called in the mortar fire on the infantry with deadly
results. The battle continued through the night. At 0445,
the Brigade tanks pulled back, out of ammunition. The enemy
tanks kept coming, working their way past the wreckage and
toward the Brigade's lines. As one would be knocked out by
Brigade bazooka fire, another would take its place.
Just at dawn, when the situation was the most desperate
for the Brigade forces who were almost out of ammunition,
the tanks began to retreat. An hour later, a Castro tank
rolled into the crossroads. The driver got out,
surrendered, and stated he wanted to join the Brigade. He
explained to Olivia that over the night Olivia's 370 troops
had faced and defeated over 2100 men (300 regular soldiers,
1600 militia, and 200 policemen) and over 20 tanks. The
enemy had suffered over 500 killed and over 1000 wounded;
Olivia had lost twenty dead and fifty wounded. 42/
Olivia's forces were heartened by this information, but
had no ammunition with which to hold their position. At
0900, they mounted the remaining trucks and proceeded to
Giron where they thought resupply would be waiting. Not
only was resupply not waiting at Blue Beach, but San Ramon
had trouble of his own there.
His position had started receiving heavy artillery fire
around 0400. He had committed his reserve by splitting it
and putting the troops in blocking positions along the two
roads coming in from the east and northeast. He also had
established a blocking position along the road to Playa
Larga to the northwest. He knew that Olivia would be coming
to Blue Beach to consolidate the forces, but did not know
how many enemy troops would be following him.
During the night six B-26's had launched around 0230
from Puerto Cabezas and arrived over Cuba at dawn in an
attempt to catch Castro's aircraft on the ground and destroy
them. Luck was not with them however, for the targets were
obscured by heavy haze and low cloud cover. The mission was
When the men from Red Beach arrived at Giron, the only
fighting still continuing was in the area of San Blas, where
the Castro column was still stalled by the paratroopers and
mortar fire. Olivia and San Ramon met and studied their
situations. They had troops in contact along the road to
the northeast, and expected to come under attack by forces
coming down from the northwest from Playa Larga at any time.
All units were low on ammunition, and mortar shells had been
rationed since midnight. They felt that if the brigade
could hold out until nightfall, resupply would certainly
occur either from the ships or by air drop.
Olivia suggested that the Brigade strike to the east
through Cienfuegos and try to reach the Escambray Mountains
where they could conduct guerrilla operations. San Ramon
opposed this plan for several reasons. He considered the
mountains to be too far away. In order to reach them, they
would have to fight their way through Cienfuegos, which he
believed contained a large Castro troop concentration; also
they were very low on ammunition. There weren't enough
trucks available to transport everyone in the Brigade and,
if they were to stand any chance of resupply, the Brigade
would have to remain on the coast so the ships and planes
could find them. He made the decision to hold the
At 1030, radio contact was finally established with the
BLAGAR. San Ramon requested resupply of food, ammunition,
medical supplies, and communications equipment. He was
promised that it would be delivered that night by LCU and
air drop. This sealed his decision to remain at Giron. The
BLAGAR told him that if things really got bad they would
evacuate the Brigade from the beaches. San Ramon replied,
"I will not be evacuated. We will fight until the end here
if we have to." 45/
At 1100, the enemy began another push at San Blas. San
Ramon pulled the Third Battalion off the blocking positions
on the road to Cienfuegos to the east and moved them to San
Blas. They were fresh, and until this time had seen no
combat. He took the Sixth Battalion, who were from Red
Beach, and placed them in the blocking positions on the road
to Playa Larga. He called in the paratroopers who were in
the advanced positions north of San Blas. He only had one
artillery piece to support them as they broke contact and
returned to San Blas. For some reason, the Castro force of
over 20,000 men did not pursue them. If they had, the
Brigade would have been destroyed on the spot. 46/
That day the Brigade was under almost continuous air
attack. They were bombed and strafed by Castro's planes
throughout the beachhead. There were Brigade missions flown
that day, but many were flown by American CIA pilots. The
Brigade pilots had made the early launch, which had been
aborted, and many were too exhausted to fly the six hour
round trip again.
The American advisors filled in for them. They were
authorized to do so by CIA officials without the knowledge
of President Kennedy. Kennedy was not to find out for two
years that four American pilots had been shot down and
killed in the Bay of Pigs operation. 47/
Six B-26 sordies were flown in mid afternoon and
attacked a long column of vehicles and tanks approaching
Giron from Playa Larga. The air attack destroyed the column
by inflicting 1800 casualties and wiping out seven tanks.
The planes used bombs and rockets and also delivered napalm
for the first time during the operation. The men of the
Brigade knew nothing about these attacks, hence they felt
that they had received no air support at all. 48/
Only once did the members of the Brigade see any
friendly air support; that day two U.S. Navy A-4 Skyhawks
from the Carrier ESSEX flew over the beachhead on a
reconnaissance mission. The men of the Brigade were excited
when they first saw the planes, but were disheartened when
they did not deliver any support. 49/
The Brigade, somehow, made it through the rest of the
afternoon, D+1, Tuesday April 18, 1961, without any further
major action. Their ammunition supply was critical. The
Castro forces, although superior in number, had been
bloodied badly each time they had mounted a major attack.
They applied continuous pressure to the ever shrinking
perimeter of the beachhead, but were not anxious to mount a
major attack on any front. Their lack of major offensive
action reflects the respect they had gained for the Brigade
during the initial battles.
At 1800, on D+1, the disposition of Brigade forces was
as shown in Figure IV. 50/ Although food, ammunition, and
medical supplies were in short supply, the Brigade leaders
had still not given up hope. They retained the faith that
the U.S. would not allow them to fail and would step in with
assistance at any time. Once again, the Brigade looked
forward to a long night. The leaders had been told that
resupply would begin shortly after nightfall, and they
desperately needed it to hold on for another day.
Shortly after 1800, Castro's forces started pounding
the advance posts with artillery. A short time later the
Brigade blocking positions on both the East and West fronts
made contact with Castro's advance guards. A major push
began at San Blas, but was halted before it gained momentum
by sending two tanks to reinforce the positions.
About 1900, a Brigade C-54 made an air drop of supplies
over the Giron airfield. The wind blew all of the supplies
Click here to view image
into the swamp, where a work party labored all night but
only recovered a small percentage of the drop. Another C-54
arrived and made a second drop over the beaches. These
supplies were blown into the sea. A group of frogmen were
dispatched and were able to recover about half of these
At one point during the night, San Ramon thought the
Castro forces were massing for an attack on his Western
front. He committed his reserve, the Second Battalion, to
that position of the line but the attack never came. The
only action throughout the night were light skirmishes, as
the Castro forces probed the Brigade's line.
At sea, the BARBARA J and the BLAGAR knew the situation
was bad. They were about 50 nautical miles south of the
beaches. The crews worked against time, trying to manually
load supplies into three LCU's. They did not think they
could get to the beaches and out again before daylight.
They knew that if the ships were caught during daylight by
Castro's aircraft, they would all be destroyed. The ships
sent the following message to Puerto Cabezas: "BARBARA J,
BLAGAR, and LCU's cannot arrive Blue Beach, discharge and
leave by daylight. Request jet cover from U.S. in beachhead
area." Their next message read: "BLAGAR proceeding Blue
Beach with 3 LCU's. If low jet cover not furnished at first
light, believe we will lose all ships. Request immediate
There was only one man who could grant this request --
President Kennedy. He was dismayed by the news coming from
Giron. The President could not, however, view the invasion
in a fishbowl, but had to keep in mind the world situation.
He had answered Khrushchev's morning dispatch with stern
words of his own but Kennedy was still not ready to commit
American forces to save the Brigade. He did concede to
provided limited escort for the Brigade aircraft for one
hour on Wednesday morning, April 19, 1961, from 0630 to
Abroad the U.S.S. ESSEX, all markings were painted off
the carrier's A-4 Skyhawks. The crews were briefed, that
they would rendezvous with a flight of Brigade aircraft at
0630 and provide them air cover while they performed their
mission. The jets were not to attack ground targets, but
were supposed to keep the Castro planes from attacking the
The Brigade had only seven of its original sixteen B-
26's left. Again, American pilots had to be used to
substitute for the Cubans, who were too exhausted or who
refused to fly. Four B-26's, two manned by Americans and
two by Cubans, launched from Puerto Cabezas at around 0200,
Wednesday, D+2. One of the planes, crewed by Cubans
developed engine trouble and turned back shortly after take-
off. The other three proceeded toward Giron. They arrived
in the air an hour before the jets were to be launched, but
were unaware of this. They proceeded to their targets. The
results were disastrous.
One B-26 was shot down over land in the area of Central
Australia. Another was hit by ground fire and crashed into
the sea on fire. Both were piloted by the American crews.
The third hit targets in the San Blas area, but was damaged
by ground fire. He limped back to Puerto Cabezas with
thirty-nine rounds through the fuselage and one engine shot
out. This was the last bombing mission flown by the Brigade
air force. 52/
At the same time that they were striking their targets,
a C-46 landed at the Giron airstrip. He delivered 850
pounds of rockets, ammunition, maps and communication
equipment. Three aircraft had been launched, but two had
turned back. The C-46 picked up a wounded pilot who had
crashed in the area on Monday and left after being on the
ground for only about 10 minutes. This would be the only
aircraft to operate from the strip at Giron throughout the
After transferring her cargo to the LCU's and steaming
toward Blue Beach, the captain of the BLAGAR had sent a
request for a destroyer escort into the beach. He claimed
that without such an escort, His crew would mutiny. CIA
leaders felt that it would be hopeless to ask for a
destroyer escort in light of the political climate in
Washington; therefore, radioed orders to the BLAGAR to abort
and rendezvous at a point 60 miles south of Blue Beach.
This ended the last opportunity to resupply the Brigade. 53/
As the B-26 pulled off his last bombing run at San
Blas, the Brigade ground commander there sensed the
confusion among the Castro forces caused by the air attack.
He quickly organized the paratroop unit and the Third
Battalion there for a counterattack. He faced a vastly
superior number of forces, but moved forward to exploit the
success of the air attack. For some reason it worked. The
Castro front folded, broke and ran. After a few minutes,
however, the attack faltered. The Third Battalion was out
of ammunition, fell apart, and began a disorganized retreat.
At 1000, Castro's troops entered San Blas and pushed
through it toward Giron. There was virtually nothing to
stop them until they reached the blocking positions just
outside Giron. The Castro forces rolled up on these
positions about 1100. The men there, reinforced by two
tanks, held out until they too were out of ammunition. This
happened about 1400 and then they fell back into the town of
At around 1000, a tank battle developed on the
Northwest front. Olivia held the line there and poured
mortar fire onto the oncoming tanks. He was finally able to
force the Castro forces to retreat and regroup. The attack
was renewed around 1400, and just as the Brigade lines were
starting to fail, Olivia ordered a counterattack. This
desperate measure worked and the line held. Olivia pulled
his forces back into Giron to establish new fighting
San Ramon heard the tanks rumble into Giron from the
northeast. He realized the Brigade could not hold. He sent
a final message to the BLAGAR. It read: "Am destroying all
my equipment and communications. Tanks are in sight. I
have nothing left to fight with. Am taking to the woods. I
cannot wait for you." 56/ San Ramon destroyed his
headquarters and moved into the swamps.
As Olivia pulled his men back to Giron, he went to look
for San Ramon. He found tanks and machine guns abandoned
haphazardly out of ammunition. Men were wandering around
aimlessly with nowhere to go and no way out of the
beachhead. Many were trying to get out to sea in small
boats and rafts. Within right of the shore was the
Destroyer U.S.S. EATON. She had come in close enough to
make an evaluation of the situation on the beaches. San
Ramon was already gone and his headquarters destroyed.
Olivia formed a small unit of the men he could find and
marched them to the east toward Cienfuegos. A short
distance out of Giron, the column was strafed by two Sea
Furies and a T-33. The unit broke up and fled individually
into the swamps. This ended the last organized fighting of
the Bay of Pigs campaign. The Brigade was gone. The
beachhead had fallen. The invasion had failed. 57/
1/ Wyden, p. 133.
2/ Johnson, pp. 83-84.
3/ Johnson, p. 25.
4/ Johnson, p. 26.
5/ Taylor Report, Memo 1, p. 15.
6/ Wyden, pp. 174-175.
7/ New York Times, 16 April 1961, p. 4, col. 1.
8/ New York Times, 16 April 1961, p. 4, col. 1.
9/ Taylor Commission, Memo 1, p. 15.
10/ Wyden, p. 180.
11/ Johnson, p. 89.
12/ Taylor Report, Memo 1, p. 15.
13/ Taylor Report, Memo 1, p. 15.
14/ Taylor Report, Memo 1, p. 17.
15/ Johnson, p. 199.
16/ Wyden, p. 193.
17/ Taylor Report, Memo 1, p. 18.
18/ Wyden, p. 207.
19/ Wyden, p. 218.
20/ Wyden, p. 219.
21/ Taylor Report, Memo 1, p. 18.
22/ Taylor Report, Memo 1, p. 18.
23/ Johnson, p. 105.
24/ Johnson, p. 109.
25/ Taylor Report, Memo 1, p. 20.
26/ Johnson, p. 110.
27/ Johnson, p. 111.
28/ Taylor Report, Memo 1, p. 20.
29/ Johnson, p. 115.
30/ Wyden, p. 230.
31/ Johnson, p. 115.
32/ Wyden, p. 235.
33/ Taylor Report, Memo 1, p. 21.
34/ Taylor Report, Memo 1.
35/ Taylor Report, Memo 1, p. 21.
36/ Johnson, p. 121.
37/ Time, April 28, 1961, p. 19.
38/ Johnson, p. 126.
39/ Johnson, p. 129.
40/ Johnson, p. 132.
41/ Johnson, p. 134.
42/ Johnson, p. 138.
43/ Wyden, p. 270.
44/ Wyden, p. 274.
45/ Johnson, p. 143.
46/ Johnson, p. 145.
47/ Wyden, p. 278.
48/ Taylor Report, Memo 1, p. 23.
49/ Johnson, p. 144.
50/ Taylor Report, Memo 1.
51/ Johnson, p. 151.
52/ Johnson, p. 155.
53/ Taylor Report, Memo 1, p. 24.
54/ Johnson, p. 158.
55, Wyden, p. 282.
56/ Johnson, p. 167.
57/ Wyden, p. 286.
The next few days were a mass of confusion for the
survivors of the invasion. As the ammunition had run out,
various parts of the beachhead had broken down at different
times. As a unit would run out of ammunition, it would
break up into small groups and either make for the open sea
in the few small boats that remained or strike out through
For the men who escaped via the sea, a U.S. task force
patrolling the coast to pick them up. There is no accurate
count of how many members of the Brigade were rescued at
sea, but the number appears to be around 150. 1/ One group
of twenty-two men boarded a twenty-two foot sailboat and set
out to sea. They sailed for fifteen days before being
picked up by an American freighter, 178 miles south of the
Mississippi River. Ten of the twenty-two men had died at
For those who escaped into the swamps, being captured
was the least of their worries; mere survival was difficult.
Some lasted longer than others, but virtually all of them
were destined to either die in the swamps or to be captured
by Castro's forces. The swamps consisted of mire and thick
vegetation, but very little water. The swamps contained
little to eat except snakes, lizards and an occasional bird.
They were constantly harassed by helicopters flying overhead
and random shelling of the swamps by artillery. The troops
could not navigate through the thick swamps, and eventually
all were forced to return to the roads where the militia
patrols were waiting for them.
The prisoners were taken back to Giron where they were
kept under guard for several days. They were interrogated
by officers of Castro's army and questioned by reporters.
Castro thus achieved quite a propaganda coup from the round-
up of Brigade prisoners.
After the interrogations were complete, the prisoners
were transported to the Sports Palace in Havana for initial
detention. Although they were generally treated well, there
was one incident where 149 prisoners were loaded onto an
enclosed semi-trailer truck at Giron and transported to
Havana; unfortunately, nine men died of suffocation during
the transit. 3/
A total of 1,189 men of the Brigade became Castro's
prisoners. One hundred and fourteen had died in the
operation and around 150 had made their way back to safety
in one way or another. For the prisoners, the coming months
would be harder than the fighting during the invasion.
The entire group of over 1000 prisoners were held for
several days in the Sports Palace, where they were made to
sit on the hard seats for 21 hours a day. Then they were
called forth, one at a time, and interrogated. Several were
taken to a television station where, during a live
broadcast, they were questioned by a panel. Some of the
answers were more than Castro wanted the public to hear, so
the broadcasts were stopped after four days.
Fidel Castro himself appeared before the assembled
Brigade on the night of April 26, 1961. He delivered a
speech which lasted from 2330 until after 0300 the next
morning; in it the Brigade was berated for its criminal
activities and labeled as pawns of U.S. imperialism. Castro
ended the speech by telling the men that although he knew
they should all be shot, which was what they deserved, he
would not kill them, but would spare the lives of those not
guilty of committing war crimes. (This meant primarily war
crimes under the Batista regime, not during the invasion).
The leaders, San Ramon, Olivia, and several others,
were kept isolated from the Brigade and from each other.
They were interrogated thoroughly, and sometimes brutally,
about their training and about the invasion, with
speical emphasis on the American role in all phases of the
operation. Although they all felt betrayed by the United
States, none of the Brigade leaders told their interrogators
anything about the American participation and very little
about the actual invasion.
During the night of May 13, 1961, the Sports Palace was
emptied and the entire Brigade was transferred to the
unfinished five story Havana Naval Hospital. Here, the men
were treated much better. They were assigned twenty to a
room and allowed to bathe and sleep on mattresses.
In a speech to the National association of Small
farmers on May 12, 1961, Castro finally divulged his plan
for his prisoners. He told the farmers:
If imperialism does not want its worms to work,
let it exchange them against tractors and
agricultural machinery! Of course, those among
such blackguards that may have committed murder,
we cannot exchange against anything. Those that
have assassinated are not subject to exchange.
All others, all others, we will exchange with
imperialism, against five hundred bulldozers, if
it is interested in rescuing them." 4/
Castro had the prisoners elect a committee of ten men,
specifically excluding the leaders of the Brigade, to go to
Washington and carry his demands to the U.S. government.
They left Cuba for Miami on May 19, 1961. A committee
was formed in the United States at the request of President
Kennedy to meet with the delegation. The committee was not
officially sanctioned by the administration, who felt that
it could not deal with any representative of Castro since
diplomatic relations had been severed with Cuba in January
of 1961. Instead, it was a bipartisan committee of four
citizens, ostensibly operating as concerned individuals
forming a private organization. The committee became known
as the Tractor for Freedom Committee.
What had seemed a fairly simple and routine matter to
the President soon became a political hot potato. When the
Senate met on 22 May, many senators demanded that the
administration make its position clear, as to the government
with the committee. Many of the lawmakers felt that the
nation was being blackmailed by Castro into ransoming the
Brigade. Congress felt that the bulldozers would be used to
increase Castro's military power instead of for agriculture
and that was the last thing the United States wanted.
After much debate, The Tractors for Freedom committee
offered Castro 500 wheeled tractors with agricultural
attachments instead of the bulldozers, which could
ostensibly be used for military purposes. Castro refused
the offer by sending a fiery cable to the committee
restating his demands.
On June 13, 1961, a committee delegation went to Havana
to negotiate release terms with Castro. Fidel told them he
would accept 500 bulldozers or their equivalent in cash,
credit or other farm machinery, as long as any combination
of these added up to $28 million. When the Committee
returned to Washington with the demands, the administration
concluded that the demands were impossible in the light of
the current political situation, and disbanded the
On July 17, 1961, the Brigade prisoners were taken from
the Naval Hospital to the Castillo del Principe. This was
an old castle which now served as a prison. The men were
herded into the cells they would occupy for the next year
and the doors slammed shut. The men of the Brigade were
faced with months of despair but few gave up hope.
On Thursday morning, March 29, 1962, the largest mass
trial in Cuba's history began by assembling the Brigade in
the courtyard of the prison. A five man tribunal sat in
judgement of 1180 men (six had died during imprisonment and
three had escaped), all to be judged as one. The Brigade
turned down the services of a court appointed defense
counsel and told the tribunal that their actions needed no
defense. The trial lasted four days and left something to
be desired from a strictly legal standpoint. On the fourth
day of the trial, final summations were given and the
tribunal went into deliberation.
Before the verdict was announced, the Cuban Families
Committee sent a cable to Castro, saying that they had
pledges for the $28 million he had requested. They would
deliver the amount in foodstuffs shipped from the U.S. No
answer was immediately given by the Cuban leader.
On Sunday, April 8, 1962, Castro announced to the world
the sentence of the tribunal. The men of the Brigade were
sentenced to thirty years imprisonment. He then went on to
announce that he would ransom the prisoners for various
amounts. He wanted $500,000 each for Olivia and San Ramon,
while the remainder of the Brigade had been divided into
three groups. Their freedom could be purchased for $25,000
per man in the first group; $50,000 per man in the second
group; and $100,000 per man in the third group. The total
for the entire Brigade came to $62 million. 5/
Castro released 60 of the most seriously wounded
prisoners and was paid their ransom through the Royal
Canadian Bank. The money had been raised through the Cuban
Families Committee. Negotiations for the remainder of the
prisoners dragged on for months. Each time a solution was
almost reached, Castro would change the conditions, putting
the release of the prisoners just out of reach of the
Finally, an agreement was reached. This involved
complicated transfers of drugs, medicine, medical and
surgical supplies, and foodstuffs, to the Cuban government.
The items had been donated by private corporations in the
United States, induced by large tax incentives provided by
On the morning of December 23, 1962, the freighter,
AFRICAN PILOT docked in the Havana harbor, and commenced
unloading the first of many shipments of drugs and supplies.
At 1700, that afternoon, the first planeload of prisoners
took off for Florida. At 2145, on December 24, 1962, the
last planeload of prisoners arrived in Miami. As Pepe San
Ramon stepped down the boarding ladder, the assembled
members of the Brigade saluted him. 6/ Now the invasion was
1/ Wyden, p. 303.
2/ Johnson, p. 201.
3/ Johnson, p. 303.
4/ Johnson, p. 229.
5/ Johnson, p. 282.
6/ Johnson, p. 341.
Conclusions and the Principles of War
Immediately after the collapse of the beachhead in
Giron, President Kennedy appointed a committee to study the
operation. In a letter of April 22, 1961, he charged
General Maxwell Taylor, Robert Kennedy, admiral Arleigh
Burke, and Allen Dulles, to "study over governmental
practices and programs in the area of military and
paramilitary, guerrilla and anti-guerrilla activity, which
fall short of outright war with a view toward strengthening
our work in this area." 1/ He directed special attention to
the lessons which could be learned from the recent events in
Cuba (the Bay of Pigs invasion).
Although the committee began work immediately, it
was hamstrung by the fact that the leaders and participants
of the invasion were imprisoned in Cuba. Despite this it
set about interviewing everyone they could locate who had a
hand in the invasion. These included the decision makers;
the planners, both military and CIA; the advisors who had
trained the Brigade; and the operatives who had carried out
the political and propaganda portions of the operation.
They also questioned the few members of the Brigade who had
been able to escape and return to the U.S.
The results of the committee's investigations were not
designed to cover up anything or to place the blame on any
particular individual. It had only one goal; to find out
what happened, how and why it occurred, and how this type of
disaster could be prevented from repeating itself. 2/
The result was four memorandums from the committee to
President Kennedy. Memorandum Number I contained a
narrative of the events during Operation Zapata. Memorandum
Number II discussed the immediate causes of failure of the
operation. Memorandum Number III contained the conclusions
of the Cuban Study Group and Memorandum Number IV was the
recommendation of the Cuban Study Group. Initially, these
documents were so sensitive as to be classified "Eyes Only"
and were hand carried to designated individuals. A
sanitized version was declassified and released in March,
1977. (See appendix I for transcripts of Memorandums II &
The foregoing has been the story of the Bay of Pigs
invasion of 17-19 April, 1961, from conception to the return
of the Brigade to U.S. soil. Volumes have been written
concerning the operation, how and why it failed. However,
another way to make an interesting analysis would be to take
the operation out of its context as a political event, and
examine it as a conflict between opposing military forces.
To compare the battle, from the Brigade standpoint, to the
principles of war and see which were used effectively and
which were not.
The principles to be examined will be objective,
offensive, mass, economy of force, maneuver, unity of
command, security, surprise, and simplicity. Some of these
elements must be incorporated during the planning stage and
some during the execution phase. Both of these will be
discussed, although it must be remembered that the Brigade
leaders were not part of the planning evolution but were
presented with the completed plan and expected to execute
it. It should be noted that both Olivia and San Ramon were
products of U.S. Army formal schools and could be expected
to be aware of these principles.
The principle objective states that "every military
operation must be directed toward a clearly defined,
decisive and obtainable objective." 3/ In the case of the
Brigade's invasion, clear objectives were laid down for the,
initial stage (amphibious stage) of the operation. The
forces crossing Red Beach were to assault, seize, and defend
the town of Playa Larga, and control the road leading south
from Central Australia within the beachhead. The forces
landing across Blue Beach were to assault, seize, and defend
the town of Playa Giron, and the airfield and dock
facilities adjacent to it. They were to control the roads
leading into the beachhead from Cienfuegos, Yaguaramas, and
Covadonga. The paratroopers were to drop on the forward
edges of the beachhead and set up blocking positions along
the enemy avenues of approach in their zone.
These objectives were clean, concise, and attainable.
In fact, this portion of the plan was executed well, with
the exception of the paratroopers dropping out of their
planned drop zones.
The problems came after the initial objectives were
taken. There was no real plan for a breakout from the
beachhead to continue the operation to fulfill the ultimate
goal of liberating the country. The fact that problems in
unloading supplies prevented further movement inland aside,
there was no coordinated plan to do so in any event. For
the planners to deliver the Brigade to the beaches and then
not give them further guidance was, at very least, short
sighted. The lack of a plan limited the scope of the
operation to the establishment of the beachhead and then
"see what happens next".
The principles of offensive action states that
"offensive action is necessary to achieve decisive results
and maintain freedom of action. It permits the commander to
exercise initiative and impose his will upon the enemy, to
set the pace and determine the course of the battle, to
exploit enemy weaknesses and rapidly changing situations,
and to meet unexpected developments." 4/
The Brigade was forced into the defensive almost
immediately upon landing. They faced a force which was
numerically superior on terrain favorable to the defense.
They were never quite able to consolidate the beachhead as
planned, and the lack of communication handicapped them
severely. They were able to use the offense on a limited
basis by staging counterattacks to turn the momentum of
Castro's forces attacks. In general, their action was
almost entirely defensive, as could be expected without a
formal plan for action once their initial objectives were
The principle of mass states that "superior combat
power must be concentrated at the critical time and place
for a decisive purpose. Superiority is adjudged by relating
available force to that of the enemy's and results from the
proper combination of the elements of combat power." 5/
On initial examination, it would appear that the
Brigade never had a chance to employ the principle of mass
in the face of vastly superior numbers of forces. This is
not true. Although Castro had many times the number of men
and weapons than the Brigade possessed, he was forced to
employ them on very narrow fronts. The terrain canalized
his approach to the battle area, to the point that, only the
lead elements of the column were able to engage the Brigade.
The leaders of the Brigade chose sites of engagement where
they could bring all of their limited combat power to bear
on a lead element and therefore, in effect, maintain
superior force in the actual battle area. The Brigade
leaders proved to have an excellent ability to read the
situation and commit their tanks and supporting fires at the
moment that they would inflict the most damage, physical or
psychological, on the enemy.
There was, of course, no way that the Brigade positions
could be sustained for an indeterminate length of time in
the face of such overwhelming odds. Eventually, the sheer
number of Castro's forces was able to wear away the
Brigade's defenses. The Brigade was still holding its own
when they ran out of ammunition. Although the end result
was inevitable, victory would have cost Castro dearly had
the supplies held out.
The principles of economy of force states that,
"skillful and prudent use of combat power enables the
commander to accomplish the mission with a minimum
expenditure of resources." 6/ This principle implies that
the most efficient expenditure of resources will allow you
to have the combat power to commit at a decisive point in
If there is an area of weakness in the Brigade's
performance, it would have to be the violation of this
principle, especially during the first 24 hours of action.
The Brigade came ashore, established defensive positions,
and became engaged with the enemy almost immediately. For
the vast majority of the men, this was their first exposure
to combat. Although they had been well trained, they showed
very poor fire discipline in both individual weapons or
supporting arms. They fired constantly without using aimed
fire and consequently, consumed about three days of supply
in the initial 24 hours. This should have been expected
from green troops, and better controlled by small unit
leaders and gun crew supervisors.
In defense of the men of the Brigade, it should be
noted, that there was really little need for tight fire
discipline, in light of the planned logistical support.
They had landed with five days of supply and another ten
days of supply were to be offloaded from the HOUSTON. Not
only this, but there were to be enough arms and ammunition
to support all of the indigenous personnel who were expected
to join the ranks of the Brigade. There should have been an
ample supply of ammunition, even with the poor fire
In an effort to adhere to this principle the Fifth
Battalion was held in reserve and not committed. They were
staged aboard the HOUSTON, where they could be employed on
either front as required. Unfortunately, any advantage this
gave the Brigade was lost when the HOUSTON sank five miles
south of Red Beach. The Fifth Battalion broke up and never
became effective again throughout the invasion.
The principle of maneuver states, "the object of
maneuver is to dispose forces in such a manner as to place
the enemy at a disadvantage and thus achieve results which
would otherwise be more costly in men and material." 7/
Maneuver was never a major factor for either side. The
terrain positively dictated precise avenues of approach for
Castro's forces and restricted his ability to outflank or
maneuver against the Brigade forces. Once he had committed
a force down a narrow roadway or railway bed, there were but
two directions to proceed, attack or withdraw.
The Brigade was able to employ maneuver units on a
limited basis, especially in setting up blocking positions
and ambushes. The fact that they kept their front lines
fairly fluid meant that Castro's forces advanced at a very
slow pace to avoid ambush.
San Ramon was also able to move his tanks around the
battlefield to work along or to reinforce an area requiring
fire support. He was able to keep his lines from collapsing
on several occasions by sending tanks and infantry to
another part of the front. although they were holding
limited space, and were backed against the sea, the Brigade
forces actually had the advantage of better maneuverability
over the Castro forces.
The principle of unity of command states, "unity of
command obtains unity of effort by coordinated action of all
forces toward a common goal. While coordination may be
achieved by cooperation it is best achieved by vesting a
single commander with the requisite authority." 8/
Unity of command in Operation Zapata must be viewed
from several vantage points. From the standpoint of the
actual combat operation, San Ramon was in complete control
of his forces. He vested some of the combat leadership in
Olivia on Red Beach, but he retained control as the
commander of the Brigade forces. Although his efforts were
outstanding, he was operating in a vacuum. San Ramon was,
in effect, only the Commander Landing Forces (CLF), and the
Commander Amphibious Task Forces (CATF) was, in effect,
President Kennedy in Washington, D.C.
Although San Ramon did an outstanding job of employing
his force tacticly, he remained out of contact with the man
who was in full control of the operation. President Kennedy
and his staff were making decisions without adequate
knowledge of the situation (due, in part, to the loss of the
communications equipment aboard the HOUSTON). The chain of
command stretched from the oval office to the Zapata swamps.
When messages were sent either way, there was a built in
time lag, i.e., the order was given for the supply ships to
return to the beaches but by the time it was received, the
unloading would have been during daylight.
The decisions being made by President Kennedy were
being made in light of, not only the situation on the
beaches, but also the political environment. He weighed the
success of the mission against world opinion of the methods
and amount of U.S. involvement necessary to achieve that
The net result was that there were two commanders. One
tactical, committed to the goal of achieving his military
objectives, and one strategic, weighing the value of that
success against its cost in world opinion. The strategic
commander, President Kennedy, did not have the same resolve
to see the mission through as did the tactical commander,
San Ramon. Regardless, the key to the success of the
invasion lays not in the hands of San Ramon fighting on the
beaches of Cuba, but with President Kennedy in the political
world of Washington, D.C. Unfortunately, on his shoulders
also rests the responsibility for the failure of the
Another facet of the operation that must be brought out
under the subject of unity of command, is the lack of
concurrent and parallel planning. As stated earlier, the
Brigade was given the completed plan and expected to execute
it. They had no hand in the planning process and certainly,
no input in decisions which would normally be made by the
commander. This must have left Olivia and San Ramon
somewhat ignorant of many facets of the operation, no matter
how well it was briefed to them.
The next principle, that of security, states that
"security is essential to the preservation of combat power.
Security is achieved by measures taken to prevent surprise,
preserve freedom of action, and deny the enemy information
of friendly forces." 9/
On the ground, the Brigade performed in an excellent
manner placing forward positions to act as security posts.
They covered these small units with supporting arms and had
them dig in successive positions to allow for a defense in
depth. They were generally in contact with the leading edge
of Castro's forces throughout the battle and were generally
able to hold off large attacking forces with a very small
number of men, especially on the Eastern fronts.
Security of the Brigade forces from air attack,
conversely, was far from adequate and cost the Brigade
dearly. At no time were they able to protect themselves
from Castro's air assaults. The enemy aircraft did little
damage to the actual fighting forces and delivered very
little close air support. Instead, they concentrated on
destroying the Brigade's ships and supplies, thus defeating
their ability to sustain the operation. They also denied
the Brigade's aircraft access to the beachhead, thus
negating any capability for them to support the ground
forces as planned. The major effect, other than the
destruction of supplies and shipping, was the denial of the
Brigade air force the use of the airfield at Giron. Had the
airfield at Giron been available, the Brigade planes could
have quadrupled their sortie rate, improved coordination
with the ground forces, and in general provided the Brigade
ground forces with meaningful support; but the airfield was
unusable because Castro's planes would most certainly have
destroyed the Brigade's small air force on the ground.
Hence the almost seven hour round trip to Puerto Cabezas
almost did away with their usefulness.
The principle of surprise states that, "surprise can
decisively shift the balance of combat power. By surprise
success out of proportion to the effort expended may be
obtained. Surprise results from striking an enemy at a
time, place, and in a manner for which he is not
Although Fidel Castro was certainly aware that some
type of military action was forthcoming, he did not know
when, where, or most importantly, what type of force he
would face. The failure of the diversionary landing near
Guantanamo had a profound effect on the success of the main
invasion. Castro was poised and ready to react. Had the
diversionary landing gone as planned, he would have most
likely committed at least a portion of his forces to that
area, giving the Brigade more time to prepare their
San Ramon was able to use the element of surprise in
his small unit tactics and use of supporting arms as well.
He relied heavily on the ambush and could stop the movement
of Castro's column by pouncing on the flanks of the lead
elements with small groups. He would commit only a few
mortars to a fight and then, at a moment when the tide of
battle could be turned, he would unleash massed fire from
the other mortars, artillery, and tanks, forcing the Castro
forces back just as they sensed victory.
The final principle is that of simplicity. It states,
"simplicity contributes to successful operations. Direct,
simple plans and clear, concise orders minimize
misunderstanding and confusion." 11/
San Ramon had no choice but to keep his tactics simple.
He was out manned, out gunned, and surrounded on three sides
with his back to the sea. He had virtually no communication
equipment and relied heavily on messengers. This meant that
once he was committed to a course of action, it could be
changed only with extreme difficulty. He had to lay out a
concept for an operation and then rely on his subordinates
to implement it. However, if he had had radio
communications, it may have caused him to try more grandiose
schemes of maneuver, which may not have worked as well.
This look at how the Brigade operated with respect to
the principles of war, should indicate that they generally
adhered to good solid tactics which served them well. The
fact that the Brigade was able to hold on for three days, in
the face of such an overwhelming force, is testimony to
their training, motivation, tactics and leadership. They
proved themselves to be a formidable force, by inflicting
over a ten to one kill ratio on the Castro forces. The
Brigade lost only 114 men during the invasion, while the
Castro forces lost approximately 1250 men.
The debate will surely continue about the possible
outcome of the invasion if it had received air support,
along with any number of other "ifs". The invasion is long
since past, but should never be forgotten, if for no other
reason than its participants. This was the battle of 1,443
men in a desperate struggle to free their homeland. Their
failure to do so is our failure as a nation also for
sometime in the future, we may be forced to pay a much
dearer price to accomplish the same mission.
1/ Taylor Report, cover letter.
2/ Johnson, p. 220.
3/ FMFM 6-1, Marine Division (Washington, D.C.: GPO,
22 March 1978), p. 2.
4/ FMFM 6-1, p. 2.
5/ FMFM 6-1, p. 2.
6/ FMFM 6-1, p. 2.
7/ FMFM 6-1, p. 3.
8/ FMFM 6-1, p. 3.
9/ FMFM 6-1, p. 3.
10/ FMFM 6-1, p. 3.
11/ FMFM 6-1, p. 3.
13 June 1961
Memorandum No. 2
IMMEDIATE CAUSES OF FAILURE OF THE OPERATION ZAPATA
1. The proximate cause of the failure of the ZAPATA
Operation was a shortage of ammunition which developed from
the first day of the landing, April 17th, and became
increasingly critical until it resulted in the surrender of
the landing force about 1400 on April 19th.
2. There were three primary reasons for this shortage
of ammunition. The logistical plan for the landing made
ample provision for ammunition with the men and in floating
reserve. However, upon landing there is evidence that the
Cubans wasted their ammunition in excessive firing,
displaying the poor ammunition discipline which is common to
troops in their first combat.
3. Far more serious was the loss of the freighters RIO
ESCONDIDO and HOUSTON through air attack at about 0930 on
the morning of April 17th. The RIO was a particular loss as
it had ten days of reserve ammunition on board, as well as
other important supplies. The HOUSTON should have been able
to land most of its supplies before being hit, but the
unloading was delayed by trouble with the outboard motors of
the ships boats as well as by the apparent lethargy of the
Fifth Battalion charged with the unloading.
4. The air attack which sunk these ships caused all
others in the landing area to put out to sea, as the only
available protection in the absence of control of the air,
with the order to rendezvous 50 miles off the coast. The
freighters ATLANTICO and CARIBE headed south and never
stopped until intercepted by the U.S. Navy at points 110
miles and 218 miles, respectively, south of Cuba.
5. The CARIBE was so far away that its cargo,
principally aviation supplies, was never available for
movement to Blue Beach while the fight lasted. The
ATLANTICO, which had considerable ammunition on board, did
rejoin the other ships of the expedition at 1816, April
18th, at a point about 50 miles south of the beach and
transferred her supplies to the waiting two LCI's and three
LCU's for a night run to the beach.
6. By the time the supplies were transferred and the
convoy had started north it was too late to hope to resupply
the beach under cover of darkness. The convoy commander
asked CIA Operational Headquarters, Washington, for
destroyer excort and U. S. Navy jet cover without which he
believed that he would lose his ships to air attack the next
morning. He added that without U.S. Navy support the Cuban
crew would mutiny if sent back to the beach.
7. As a result of these messages, CIA Headquarters,
feeling that it would be futile to order these ammunition
craft to attempt a daylight unloading, called off the
mission and the attempt to get ammunition to the beach by
sea ended. The President was not requested for specific
authority to extend the air cover to protect the ammunition
8. These causes for the ammunition shortage rested in
turn on others which lay deeper in the plans and
organization of this operation and the attitude toward it on
the part of Government officials. The effectiveness of the
Castro Air Force over the beach resulted from a failure to
destroy the airplanes on the ground (particularly the T-33's
whose importance was not fully appreciated in advance)
before or concurrently with the landing. This failure was a
consequences of the restraints put on the anti-Castro Air
Force in planning and executing its strikes, primarily for
the purpose of protecting the covert character of the
operation. These restraints included: the decision to use
only the B-26 as a combat aircraft because it had been
distributed widely to foreign countries; the limitation of
pre-landing strikes to those which could be flown from non-
U.S. controlled airfields under the guise of coming from
Cuban strips, thus eliminating the possibility of using jet
fighters or even T-33 trainers; the inability to use any non-
Cuban base within short turn-around distance from the target
area (about nine hours were required to turn around a B-26
for a second mission over the target from Nicaragua);
prohibition of use of American contract pilots for tactical
air operations; restriction on munitions, notably napalm;
and the cancellation of the strikes planned at dawn on D-
Day. The last mentioned was probably the most serious as it
eliminated the last favorable opportunity to destroy the
Castro Air Force on the ground. The cancellation seems to
have resulted partly from the failure to make the air strike
plan entirely clear in advance to the President and the
Secretary of State, but, more importantly, by misgivings as
to the effect of the air strikes on the position of the
United States in the current UN debate on Cuba. Finally,
there was the failure to carry the issue to the President
when the opportunity was presented and explain to him with
proper force the probable military consequences of a last
9. The flight of the CARIBE and ATLANTICO might have
been prevented had more attention been paid in advance to
the control of the ships to include the placing of some
American aboard. The CIA officer responsible for all the
ships involved was a [ ] who was aboard the LCI
BLAGAR with no means to control the freighters, or, indeed,
to locate them after they disappeared. Only the initiative
of the U.S. Navy in the vicinity brought them back to the
scene of action. The absence of Americans on board these
vessels was an application of the general order to keep
Americans out of the combat area. This order had been
violated in a few cases, but it was apparently not
considered important to do so in the case of the freighters.
10. The lack of full appreciation of the ammunition
situation at the end of D+1 in the CIA Operational
Headquarters was largely the result of the difficulty of
keeping abreast of the situation on the beach, and the
location and movement of the ships at sea from the distance
of Washington. Also, there was a confidence in the supply
of the beach by air which turned out to be unjustified. Had
there been a command ship in the sea area with an advance
CIA command post on board, a more effective control would
have been possible.
11. The Executive Branch of the Government was not
organizationally prepared to cope with this kind of
paramilitary operation. There was no single authority short
of the President capable of coordinating the actions of the
CIA, State, Defense, and USIA. Top level direction was
given through ad hoc meetings of senior officials without
consideration of operational plans in writing and with no
arrangement for recording conclusions and decisions reached.
13 June 1961
Memorandum No. 3
CONCLUSIONS OF THE CUBAN STUDY GROUP
1. It is concluded that:
a. A paramilitary operation of the magnitude of
ZAPATA could not be prepared and conducted in such a
way that all U.S. support of it and connection with it
could be plausibly disclaimed. Accordingly, this
operation did not fit within the limited scope of NSC
5412/2. By about November 1960, the impossibility of
running ZAPATA as a covert operation under CIA should
have been recognized and the situation reviewed. The
subsequent decision might then have been made to limit
the efforts to attain covertness to the degree and
nature of U.S. participation, and to assign
responsibility for the amphibious operation to the
Department of Defense. In this case, the CIA would
have assisted in concealing the participation of
defense. Failing such a reorientation, the project
should have been abandoned.
b. Once the need for the operation was
established, its success should have had the primary
consideration of all agencies in the Government.
Operational restrictions designed to protect its covert
character should have been accepted only if they did
not impair the chance of success. As it was, the
leaders of the operation were obliged to fit their plan
inside changing ground rules laid down for non-military
considerations, which often had serious operational
c. The leaders of the operation did not always
present their case with sufficient force and clarity to
the senior officials of the Government to allow the
latter to appreciate the consequences of some of their
decisions. This remark applies in particular to the
circumstances surrounding the cancellation of the D-Day
d. There was a marginal character to the operation
which increased with each additional limitation and
cast a serious doubt over its ultimate success. The
landing force was small in relation to its 36-mile
beachhead and to the probable enemy reaction. The air
support was short of pilots if the beach was to require
cover for a long period. There were no fighters to
keep off such Castro airplanes as might escape the
initial air strikes. There were few Cuban replacements
for the battle losses which were certain to occur on
the ground and in the air. It is felt that the
approval of so marginal an operation by many officials
was influenced by the feeling that the Cuban Brigade
was a waning asset which had to be used quickly as time
was against us, and that this operation was the best
way to realize the most from it. Also, the
consequences of demobilizing the Brigade and the return
of the trainees to the U.S.A., with its implication
that the United States had lost interest in the fight
against Castro, played a part in the final decision.
e. The Cuban Expeditionary Force achieved tactical
surprise in its landing and, as we have said, fought
well and inflicted heavy casualties on the enemy.
Although there had been considerable evidence of strong
pockets of resistance against Castro throughout Cuba,
the short life of the beachhead was not sufficient to
trigger an immediate popular reaction, and Castro's
repressive measures following the landing made
coordinated uprisings of the populace impossible. The
effectiveness of the Castro military forces, as well as
that of his police measures, was not entirely
anticipated or foreseen.
f. In approving the operation, the President and
senior officials had been greatly influenced by the
understanding that the landing force could pass to
guerrilla status, if unable to hold the beachhead.
These officials were informed on many occasions that
the ZAPATA area was guerrilla territory, and that the
entire force, in an emergency, could operate as
guerrillas. With this alternative to fall back on, the
view was held that a sudden or disastrous defeat was
most improbable. As we have indicated before, the
guerrilla alternative as it had been described was not
in fact available to this force in the situation which
g. The operation suffered from being run from the
distance of Washington. At that range and with the
limited reporting which was inevitable on the part of
field commanders absorbed in combat, it was not
possible to have a clear understanding in Washington of
events taking place in the field. This was
particularly the case on the night of D+1 when an
appreciation of the ammunition situation would have
resulted in an appeal for U.S. air cover and an all-out
effort to supply the beach by all available means.
h. The Joint Chiefs of Staff had the important
responsibility of examining into the military
feasibility of this operation. By acquiescing in the
ZAPATA Plan, they gave the impression to others of
approving it although they had expressed their
preference for TRINIDAD at the outset, a point which
apparently never reached the senior civilian officials.
As a body they reviewed the successive changes of the
plan piecemeal and only within a limited context, a
procedure which was inadequate for a proper examination
of all the military ramifications. Individually, they
had differing understandings of important features of
the operation apparently arising from oral briefings in
the absence of written documents.
f. Although the intelligence was not perfect,
particularly as to the evaluation of the effectiveness
of the T-33's, we do not feel that any failure of
intelligence contributed significantly to the defeat.
j. The planning and conduct of the operation would
have been improved if there had been an initial
statement of governmental policy, assigning the mission
and setting the guidelines within which it was to
develop. Thereafter, there was a need for a formalized
procedure for interdepartmental coordination and follow-
up with adequate record-keeping of decisions.
2. In the light of the foregoing considerations, we
are of the opinion that the preparations and execution of
paramilitary operations such as ZAPATA are a form of Cold
War action in which the country must be prepared to engage.
If it does so, it must engage in it with a maximum chance of
success. Such operations should be planned and executed by
a governmental mechanism capable of bringing into play, in
addition to military and covert techniques, all other
forces, political, economic, ideological, and intelligence,
which can contribute to its success. No such mechanism
presently exists but should be created to plan, coordinate
and further a national Cold War strategy capable of
including paramilitary operations.
Click here to view image
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