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The Naval Quarantine of Cuba, 1962:
Quarantine, 27-30 October
Chief of Naval Operations, Report on the Naval Quarantine of Cuba,
Operational Archives Branch, Post 46 Command File, Box 10, Washington,
During a morning meeting of the Executive Committee of the National
Security Council, a letter from Premier Khrushchev was delivered
to the President which offered to remove the Soviet missiles in
Cuba provided the U.S. withdraw its Jupiter missiles from Turkey.
The same statement had been published by Tass and broadcast
over Radio Moscow.
Meanwhile, work was progressing rapidly on Cuban missile sites.
Six medium-range sites were considered operational and three IRBM
sites were under construction. There were hurried efforts underway
to conceal them under camouflage. The President issued a public
statement in response to the unacceptable Khrushchev message and
replied to Khrushchev's letter of the previous evening. At 1635Q,
the President issued a press release stating that the "inconsistent
and conflicting" proposals of the USSR called for the necessity
of dealing immediately with the Soviet missile threat in Cuba,
"under which no sensible negotiation can proceed."
More nations throughout the world were lending support to the
U.S. quarantine, both verbally and positively. Several African
countries indicated that overflight restrictions would be placed
against Soviet aircraft, if such were requested. Costa Rica, Dominican
Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Haiti, and Pan-- made offers of
The geographic area bounded by the two 5-mile circles was adopted
officially as the interception area. However, this did not preclude
surveillance outside this area. Two more positions were added
to the quarantine line and ten A4D-4N arrived aboard the Enterprise
the preceding night to increase the carrier's attack capability.
The diplomatic impasse concerning the Cuban situation was evident
in a somewhat reduced tempo of routine in CNO's office. Admiral
Anderson, after attending the daily briefing and the morning JCS
meeting, flew to Norfolk to attend the Navy-Pitt game. While he
was there, a special phone was in his box at the stadium with
a direct line to CINCLANTFLT, which could be patched directly
to the Pentagon. He took advantage of this and other special communications
networks to check on events in his office on several occasions.
Diplomatic maneuvering and announcements by Khrushchev in the
morning and President Kennedy in the evening caused a good deal
The tenseness of the crisis heightened at about 1445Q with a news
report that the Cuban Defense Minister said anti-aircraft guns
had fired on what he termed "hostile aircraft." Coincidentally
in this regard, a U-2, on a morning reconnaissance flight, was
at that time about an hour overdue. There was no confirmation
that the two incidents were related.
At 1636Q an afternoon flight of low-level reconnaissance aircraft
reported they were fired on by what appeared to be a 30 mm cannon.
Since JCS had issued the order to strike surface-to-air sites
if a reconnaissance plane was shot down, this flight received
cautious evaluation. Two of the eight-plane flight returned with
engine trouble at 1604Q.
Following the firing incident, Vice Admiral Griffin, acting in
CNO's absence, called for contingency plan 312 for discriminatory
retaliation in the event reconnaissance aircraft were fired upon.
The JCS had promulgated during the day a scenario of reaction
to cope with Cuban contingencies. It called for reprisal strikes
against single or all SA-2 sites within two hours if a reconnaissance
aircraft was shot down, followed by a full air strike against
Cuba within 12 hours if the military situation escalated to that
The Military Air Transportation Service's "General War imminent"
dispersal plan was approved by the Air Force. The plan provided
for positioning 131 aircraft in nine squadrons at Navy and Marine
Corps Air Stations in Nevada, California, Arizona, Tennessee,
and Georgia. MATS requested Navy concurrence and assistance in
prepositioning spare aircraft.
In other contingency actions, CINCLANTFLT promulgated Operations
Order 49-62 for a limited air quarantine of Cuba. As CTF 84, Commander,
Caribbean Sea Frontier, was tasked with eastern Cuba, using forces
at Roosevelt Roads and the Puerto Rican air national guard when
activated. Commander Carrier Division Two was designated CTF 132
and was made responsible for Southern and Western Cuba. CINCONAD
was to assist in the air defense identification zone and areas
within range of the CONAD air defense system.
During the day, the Fifth Marine Expeditionary Brigade completed
loading at West Coast ports and sailed at 1300Q under the operational
control of Commander, Amphibious Group Three. The force was expected
to arrive at Balboa, Canal Zone, on 5 November.
At 1535Q, the Pentagon announced that the Jupiter missiles were
made available to Turkey pursuant to a NATO Council Resolution
of December, 1957, and could not be withdrawn. A statement also
was issued that a reconnaissance plane on flight over Cuba was
missing and presumed lost.
At 1600Q, the Executive Committee met again with the President.
Secretary McNamara reported that two, low-level reconnaissance
planes flying over Cuba had been fired on by light anti-aircraft
and small arms. The President approved a reply to Mr. Khrushchev's
private letter of the previous evening, which was transmitted
at 2005Q and released to the press. At 2100Q, a note was received
from the Secretary General that Soviet Representative Zorin had
refused to receive information about the "interception area."
About 20 minutes later, the State Department received a copy of
Premier Castro's reply to Mr. U. Thant, which flatly rejected
a proposal that missile bases in Cuba be dismantled and demanded
an immediate halt of the naval blockade.
Before the night ended, the Executive Committee discussed additional
steps to be taken the following day, including the mobilization
of U.S. merchant ships and the addition of petroleum, oil, and
lubricants to the prohibited list.
CNO returned to his office at 2000Q from Norfolk and brought himself
up to date on the current situation and incidents which occurred
during his absence. General LeMay visited him shortly after 2200Q
following Secretary McNamara's announcement that he had ordered
activation of 24 Air Reserve Transport Squadrons and recall of
14,215 air reservists. The recall was directed by the President
to take effect at 0900Q on the 28th and ordered to active military
service, in place eight wings of three squadrons with 16 aircraft
per squadron and two wing headquarters and support units, which
included 21 squadrons of C-119's and three squadrons of C-123's.
At 2255Q, CNO left for home after being treated by Dr. (LT) Frank
Rykiel for a cold.
The day ended on a note of concern over the grounding of all HSS-2
helicopters because of an investigation of two fatal accidents
involving control malfunction. This action put all of the ASW
helos out of commission aboard Essex and Admiral Ricketts,
who was duty CNO, discussed this development with Rear Admiral
Paul D. Stroop, Chief of the Bureau of Naval Weapons, before retiring.
When Admiral Anderson arrived at 0835R,
after attending the regular morning briefing, there was a sudden
interest in pre-World War II neutrality zones in the Atlantic
and Caribbean. CNO wanted to know exact dimensions and sizes and
the wording of proclamations relating to the Neutrality Act. The
best reference was found in Atlantic Fleet operations Plan 7-41
and Atlantic Operating Squadron Operations Order 24-39 from the
Operational Historic Section [Operational Archives Branch, Naval
At 0920Q, a messenger delivered a Russian domestic news report
that Khrushchev had ordered the missile sites in Cuba dismantled
and returned to Russia. Fifteen minutes later, another news report
from the same source said that Khrushchev had sent a letter to
President Kennedy on the subject.
About 1000R, the Khrushchev message was broadcast over Radio Moscow,
and the full text was available at 1100Q to the Executive Committee
of the National Security Council. The essence of the letter was
that the Soviet Premier had ordered the dismantling of the Russian
missile sites in Cuba and the return to Russia of all missiles
and other weapons considered offensive by the U.S., under UN inspection
and supervision. The Executive Committee discussed and formulated
a reply to Mr. Khrushchev which was approved, sent, and released,
without waiting for the official text to be received.
The President's stand was discussed later by a State Department
official at 1300R background press briefing. The position was
that, while the U.S. welcomed Mr. Khrushchev's proposal, it remained
to be implemented and many serious problems "will be encountered
in the withdrawal of Soviet weapons from Cuba. This is not a time
for gloating, nor can one reach any general conclusions about
the future course of Soviet conduct in other areas."
In spite of the encouraging turn of events, however, there was
no slackening of quarantine operational matters. The Joint Staff
approved a proposal that the line of destroyers be withdrawn to
a new, closer-in position for more efficient search and utilization
of ships. Belovodsk was reported en route and approaching
the quarantine zone with a deck load of crated helicopters.
The first operational response to the new diplomatic developments
came at 1110R when CNO returned from the morning JCS meeting.
He drafted a message which went out from the JCS that no further
vessels were to be boarded and that patrolling ships should challenge
visually only. This word had been passed earlier by telephone
When this very critical day began, there was little indication
in CNO's office that the crisis was reaching a climax which might
result in a relaxation of tension.
In Cuba there was an increase in the movement of military vehicles,
although there were no serious military preparations evident.
Castro had signaled for a campaign of general terrorist agitation
in Latin America. The Venezuelan Government said that it had intercepted
a radio broadcast from Cuba ordering raids On Venezuelan oil fields,
and it was believed that similar orders had gone out to Communist
groups in other Latin American countries. A later report was received
that saboteurs had blown up four oil-company power stations in
the Lake Maracaibo district, knocking out one-sixth of Venezuela's
oil production. The field could not regain its daily production
quota for at least three months.
Radio Havana continued to urge Hondurans to overthrow their government,
and Honduran authorities ordered increased security measures.
The JCS interpreted Khrushchev's objective in ordering the dismantling
of Soviet missile bases as an attempt to ward off any unilateral
action of the U.S. to destroy them. The Chiefs saw many pitfalls
in the proposal which might interfere with the dismantling process
and guarantees for verification.
Operational developments during the day insofar as the quarantine
was concerned included appraisal of Operation Plan FIRE HOSE,
which placed 16 Homestead AFB aircraft on a 30-minute alert to
attack selected surface-to-air missile sites in retaliation for
hostile acts against our reconnaissance aircraft. The planes were
armed with napalm, 2.75 rocket pods, and 20mm cannon. The Air
Force's proposal that the selective retaliation should be by drop
bombing was rejected in favor of the Navy-sponsored low-level
techniques which would provide for a minimum area of damage.
An ASW summary showed two positive and one highly probable "F"
class Soviet submarines in an area 300 miles south of Bermuda,
two positive contacts along the Windward Island chain, two possible
contacts in the Windward Passage, and one "Z" class
positive and one possible contact north of the Azores.
Cur patrol ships were trailing merchantmen heading for Cuba, but
the word had gone out from the JCS at 1320R to take no forceful
action, not to board until further notice, and to challenge visually
only. The Soviet tanker Groznyy still was dead in the water,
the Soviet elint trawler Shkval was being shadowed by Beale,
Pella had been cleared to proceed, the Maritza had
passed through the quarantine line and was not being trailed,
the Belovodsk, Karl Marx, and Mir were proceeding
By the end of the day, aircraft relocation had been completed
and additional naval and Marine Corps Air Stations were included
in providing direct support to the Cuban operation in the Caribbean.
The Navy/Marine Corps aircraft status in the Southeastern U.S.
MCAS Cherry Point N.C.
18 antisubmarine aircraft
50 fighter aircraft
11 patrol aircraft
7 attack aircraft
22 transport aircraft
At 1700R, the Secretary of State briefed Latin American Ambassadors
on latest developments. Forty minutes later, U. Thant communicated
with President Kennedy stating his understanding of the agreement
that had been reached in the exchange of U.S.-Soviet correspondence.
At 1830R, the President replied to Mr. U. Thant's communication,
confirming the lines On which a satisfactory settlement of the
Cuban situation could be reached. Mr. U. Thant, in turn, wrote
Premier Castro accepting his invitation to go to Cuba with aides
to work out a solution to the problem of inspection and verification
of removal of the missiles and other offensive weapons.
Secretary McNamara called in the afternoon and requested that
CNO direct CINCLANT to keep a careful lookout for ALFA 66 units
and to take such measures as necessary in order to prevent them
from taking action against Cuba at this time. Admiral Griffin
informed CINCLANT by telephone and prepared a dispatch for JCS
to send to CINCLANT. The CIA Liaison Officer, Mr. Hitchcock, also
was told to get his Agency moving on this same subject.
Throughout the night, surveillance and position reports continued
to flow immediately to plotting boards maintained for quick reference
by CNO, or his duty representative. Most of this information was
or a routine nature. However, at 0430R, one or the approaching
Russian ships, the Groznyy, had reached the quarantine
line and stopped. She remained dead in the water all day and did
not proceed into the area where she would be subject to challenge.
There were also submarine surveillance reports which included
another surfacing of one of the submarines northeast of the line.
[ Back ]
CNO arrived at 0738R, attended the morning briefing, and left
for the JCS meeting which convened at 0900R. The President's Naval
Aide called at 0847R and said that the President wanted to see
Admiral Anderson and General Shoup, Marine Corps Commandant, at
a time to be specified later. The meeting finally was scheduled
Throughout the morning there was more activity relative to the
World War II neutrality zones and acts, particularly when Mr.
Hitchcock of CIA brought in some information on the subject. Captain
Kidd put the data together and sent it down to the Admiral at
Following CNO's return to the office at 1125R, a report was received
at 1200R that the temporarily lost Belovodsk had been resighted
and was being trailed by the destroyer 'AWE. This meant that every
incoming ship approaching Cuba was now under firm surveillance.
Three hours later, the Belovodsk reached the quarantine
line and went dead in the water.
When Admiral Anderson returned from the White House at 1300R,
he said that the President was very complimentary and highly pleased.
At 1330R, Captain Kidd noted that we had had our first indications
of sabotage and that considerable activity had been noted in the
Soviet air arm. The report was from an Air Force source which
reported there were indications that attempts had been made to
imitate and frustrate our electronic transmissions.
Our Cuban photo reconnaissance flight took off as scheduled. General
Taylor advised U Thant of the flight by message.
In late afternoon, our aerial surveillance patrols reported two
Turkish vessels were en route to Cuba with suspicious cargo. CNO
informed the Secretary of Defense of this after the JCS meeting
broke up at 1811R and Mr. McNamara notified the President, who
put out the word that there would be no intercepts until after
Mr. Thant's visit to Cuba tomorrow.
During the day, an earlier stand-down of Cuban military preparedness
apparently had ended, and Castro announced publicly he had ordered
his forces to fire on all planes violating Cuban airspace. There
also were indications that U.S. aircraft were being tracked by
Cuban radar at all times.
CINCLANTFLT instructed CTF 136 that as of first light in the morning
quarantine units were not to intercept or challenge foreign merchant
ships for the duration of U Thant's visit to Cuba.
At 1300R, Lawe intercepted Belovodsk. The ship was
hailed and responded.
Commander in Chief, Air Force Atlantic, reported that he was prepared
to provide planes for aerial photo reconnaissance of Cuba with
UN observers aboard, if directed to do so.
At 1800R, Admiral Dennison called Admiral Ricketts and informed
him that the BLUE MOON low-level photo reconnaissance mission
flown during the day all were successfully completed. However,
he said one plane had been fired on by a 37mm weapon as the pilot
was on his way out near San Julian. Admiral Dennison also reported
that the Belovodsk had reached the quarantine line and
was lying to. [
During the morning, surface quarantine forces were moving to new
barrier positions. The flew line, proposed by CINCLANT and approved
by the JCS, would permit for more efficient use of the surface
forces and make them available for other duties without seriously
affecting quarantine enforcement. The number of stations was reduced
from 12 to 8 and the line oriented on a NW-SE axis from 28.2N,
78W to 20N, 66.4W. Instead of these stations being manned by single
destroyers, the new line was composed as follows:
1 cruiser, 2 DD's
1 hunter-killer group
In addition to the repositioning, CTF 136 was given greater flexibility
to establish random search The new line was to be established
by 1200R and was ordered executed at 1905R.
CINCLANT informed the Joint Chiefs that he intended to assume
direct command of Latin American forces made available for Cuban
quarantine operations. CINCLANT was to chop from CINCLANTFLT to
the direct operational control of CINCLANT as Commander of a combined
L.A.-U.S. Task Force, with headquarters at Trinidad or on an assigned
CNO noted that the "Soviets are providing excellent submarine
services" for exercising our ASW capability. Seventeen contacts
had been made in the Western Atlantic and Caribbean during the
past eight days. Six were being actively worked and the remainder
were under surveillance.
With a temporary suspension of the quarantine in effect, there
was an opportunity to review and revise policy. Activity in CNO's
office reflected this procedure.
At 0918R there was indication that some good submarine photos
had been received; these were sent down to CNO at the JCS conference
There was some discussion concerning the repositioning of the
destroyers to the new line which indicated not everyone realized
that this move did not change any policy regarding interdiction
and surveillance. The new line merely permitted more efficient
search and economical utilization of ships.
CNO ordered that a ship should be on the tail of each ship of
interest during the next few days while the suspension was in
effect. He wanted to be informed of any significant developments
in the movements of these ships.
In the morning, Admiral Dennison called and told Vice Admiral
Griffin that he had taken the trailing ships off Groznyy
and Belovodsk. Vice Admiral Griffin said that there was
continuing high level interest in the positions of these ships
and that CINCLANT should maintain the capability of fixing their
positions several times during the day and in particular we should
be prepared to determine within a short time interval whether
these ships were going to continue on to Cuba or return to the
Two public information problems cropped up during the day. The
first involved the President's concern over a revealing article
by Max Frankel in the New York Times. The President stated that
no one would say anything regarding the Cuban situation except
Messrs. Salinger, Sylvester, Manning, Bundy, and Sorensen.
The second problem involved Newport News' trip to port
and a message from COMSECONDFLT requesting press guidance. Admiral
Griffin telephoned Admiral Dennison and informed him -hat a decision
of the highest level had been reached, and that officers aboard
ships entering port were to hold no news conferences and make
no statements concerning the blockade operations. Admiral Dennison
said he would get this to all ships.
Units of the Fifth Marine Expeditionary Brigade embarked in amphibious
ships of Commandeer Amphibious Group Three began arriving in Panama
during the day for canal transit. After clearing the canal, the
units were to shift operational control from the Pacific Fleet
to the Atlantic Fleet.
The forces involved four Marine Battalion Landing Teams corn-posed
of 8,000 officers and men. They were embarked in the following
Iwo Jima (LPH-2)
Belle Grove (LSD-2)
Carter Hall (LSD-3)
Gunston Hall (LSD-5)
Point Defiance (LSD-31)
Page County (LST-1075)
Other amphibious forces involved in the Cuban operation to date
1 Marine Battalion Landing
1 Marine BLT
3 Amphibious ships
6 Amphibious ships
1 Marine BLT
1 Marine BLT
5 Amphibious ships
4 Amphibious ships
1 Marine BLT
1 Marine BLT
6 Amphibious ships
2 Amphibious ships,
including 1 Landing Platform Helicopter, Thetis Bay
In his daily situation summary to the Fleet Commanders, Admiral
Anderson summed up his appraisal of the current negotiations for
removal of the Cuban missiles and the possible outcome of the
"UN discussions prior to U Thant's departure for Cuba revealed
that the Soviets would agree to International Red Cross (exclusively
Swiss as distinct from the League of Red Cross Societies) inspectors
seaborne in neutral ships. The Soviets are unwilling to have UN
teams inspect Soviet ships. Furthermore, Kuznetzov said dismantling
of missiles would take only about two weeks and that Soviets would
report completion to the Security Council after which the UN could
inspect the sites -- but not during the dismantling and shipping
"U Thant's military adviser, Indian Brigadier Rikhye, reported
after the first session with Castro that the Cubans refused any
form of inspection or any foreign presence in their territory.
"Khrushchev and Castro are obviously stalling and would wrangle
for weeks in the UN over the procedures for inspection. Soviet
propaganda returned on October 30 to pushing the quid pro quo
-- that the U.S. remove nuclear missiles from Turkey in reciprocation
for Russian removal in Cuba. Continued work on the Cuban sites
lends validity to the thought that Khrushchev will push this point
if he can get enough operational to back his argument. I do not
believe he will risk general war.
"The Soviets equate world domination goals in terms of practical
achievements gained through peaceful measures, during a current
era. Cuba is not vital enough for such a risk. Khrushchev will,
however, exploit every advantage of indecisiveness, divisiveness,
or weakness presented by the West during this situation as is
the usual pattern.
"Khrushchev's minimum goal in Soviet embroilment in Cuban
affairs is political control of the island. From this stronghold
the Communists will branch out in all directions in the Western
Hemisphere. If they can achieve an almost economically self-sufficient
Cuba to exhibit as a model of progress beyond that known to the
people of the area, they will have realized a firm foothold in
their drive into the Western Hemisphere.
"The negotiations now underway will give Khrushchev the political
control with which to attempt this if the negotiators are not
careful. What is needed is the removal of not just the offensive
weapons, but everything Russian and Bloc imported including most
importantly the politically trained agrarian and military advisers
and workers." [
12 January 2001