OPERATION ZAPATA (Bay of Pigs, Cuba, 1961)
The United States launched the invasion three months into Kennedy's administration. Between 15 and 19 April 1961 the administration supported the abortive Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba designed to overthrow Castro. The operation began with airstrikes against Cuban airfields. Two days later, the "Cuban brigade" established a beachhead at theBay of Pigs. Over 1,400 Cuban exiles, trained and equipped by the CIA, landed on Cuba's coast without air cover. It did not go smoothly. Without air cover, which the administration declined to provide because it still sought to protect the fact that the United States was involved in the operation, the exiles remained pinned down on the beach.
The success of the invasion depended on a large uprising against Fidel Castro. However, the CIA had underestimated Castro's military strength and his popular support. The invasion was a debacle almost from the beginning. It was predicated on an assumption that the Cuban people would rise up to welcome the invaders and when that proved to be false, the attack could not succeed.
A B-26 bomber crew crashed in Nicaragua in 1961. The two-man civilian crew was supporting Bay of Pigs-related operations. The bomber pilot and navigator died when they crashed April 19 in a remote area near the Bocay River in Nicaragua. The 27-year-old exiles were identified as pilot Crispin Garcia Fernandez of Havana and navigator Juan de Mata "Nabel" Gonzalez Romero of Las Vallas, Cuba.
The exiles were defeated by Castro's forces after President John F. Kennedy declined to provide air cover or military backup. As the actual invasion grew into a political and military fiasco, Shannon and three other Americans were given permission to fly, but it was too late. Early in the morning of 19 April 1961, 2506 Brigade troops, having landed with CIA support, were in a desperate situation. Pleas for help finally persuaded the CIA to allow American "advisors" to fly a combat mission. Joe Shannon and three other members of the Alabama ANG took off in two Cuban-marked B-26s and headed for the island's south coast. Making landfall at dawn after a 3-hour flight, between Giron and Cienfuegos, they turned west along the coast at full throttle and 200 feet above the sand. Suddenly, a Cuban Lockheed T-33 fighter attacked them. As his wingman crashed into the sea, Shannon instinctively pushed the throttles and prop controls full forward, heading downward until his propellers were nearly "dipping into the water."
All of the exiles were captured or killed by the Cuban armed forces within three days. Castro's forces killed 114 of the exiles andtook 1,189 prisoners. They had sparked no uprising inside the country.
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