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The Naval Quarantine of Cuba, 1962: Quarantine, 27-30 October

[Source: Chief of Naval Operations, Report on the Naval Quarantine of Cuba, Operational Archives Branch, Post 46 Command File, Box 10, Washington, DC.]

 27 October  28 October  29 October  30 October  Glossary
     


Saturday, 27 October

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 assistance.

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 of comment.

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 degree.

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.       
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Sunday, 28 October

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 History Division].

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 to CINCLANTFLT.

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 toward Cuba.

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. was:
NAS Norfolk 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.          [
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Monday, 29 October

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 for 1230R.

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 1047R.

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.            [ Back ]

Tuesday, 30 October

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:
STATION POSITION Unit
1 20N, 66.4W 1 destroyer
2 20.5N, 67.3W 1 destroyer
3 21N, 68W 1 destroyer
4 22.5N, 70.3W 1 destroyer
5 23.7N, 73W 1 cruiser, 2 DD's
6 26N, 76W 2 destroyers
7 28.8N, 78W 2 destroyers
8 25N, 70W 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 ship.

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 room.

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 Soviet Union.

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 ships:
Eldorado (AGC-11) Washburn (AKA-108)
Iwo Jima (LPH-2) Belle Grove (LSD-2)
Henrico (APA-45) Carter Hall (LSD-3)
Bexar (APA-237) Cabildo (LSD-16)
Bayfield (APA-33) Colonial (LSD-18)
Noble (APA-218) Gunston Hall (LSD-5)
Okanogan (APA-220) Point Defiance (LSD-31)
Renville (APA-227) Thomastone (LSD-28)
Mathews (AKA-96) Whetstone (LSD-27)
Merrick (AKA-97) Page County (LST-1075)
Union (AKA-106)

Other amphibious forces involved in the Cuban operation to date were:
Amphibious Group 4 Amphibious Squadron 2
1 Marine Battalion Landing Team 1 Marine BLT
3 Amphibious ships 6 Amphibious ships
Amphibious Squadron 6 Amphibious Squadron 8
1 Marine BLT 1 Marine BLT
5 Amphibious ships 4 Amphibious ships
Amphibious Squadron 10 Amphibious Squadron 12
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 crisis:

"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 processes.

"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."           [
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12 January 2001