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The Naval Quarantine of Cuba, 1962: Stand Down and Conclusion

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

Related Resource: Cuban Missile Crisis, 1962

Stand down and Conclusion

On Wednesday, 14 November, the final week of the naval quarantine began and all major decisions and actions were being taken at the diplomatic level. The one remaining bar to success in obtaining the removal of Soviet offensive weapons in Cuba concerned the withdrawal of the IL-28 bombers. However, U. S. negotiators were confident that the USSR would acquiesce on this point.

For the next six days, quarantine forces continued to intercept, trail, and photograph ships of special interest approaching Cuba. Routine replacement and relief of surface units continued. However, there was no stand down of contingency forces, which had reached a peak of readiness for any eventuality. The first sign of relaxation came on the 14th, when the JCS removed the worldwide communication MINIMIZE order which had been issued on October 21. The restriction remained, however, within the 15th Naval District and most of the Western Atlantic. The Strategic Air Command, which had generated an awesome nuclear deterrent capability, was authorized to reduce its airborne alert to 1/8th, returning to a status held prior to October 21. At 2400R on October 23 the Strategic Integrated Operation Plan status was 844 aircraft and 337 missiles. At 1800R on November 14 the status was 1,613 aircraft and 355 missiles.

While the U.S. and USSR negotiators parried on the IL-28 question and tried to cope with Castro's intransigence, on Thursday, 15 November, five large-hatch Russian ships left Soviet ports and were believed en route to Cuba. A covert aerial inspection using a neutron sensor was ordered in an effort to detect the presence of nuclear cargo.

Soviet submarine activity was nil, with only two possible contacts reported on the morning of the 14th. Atkarsk was hailed and photographed by W. A. Lee, and an aircraft photographed Okhotsk. However, Theodor Korner had not been sighted. Eight ships of the 5th MEB group were scheduled for 24-hour visits to Jamaican ports from November 18-21.

By Friday, 15 November, Korner had not been sighted since departing the Baltic on October 30. CINCLANTFLT canceled a special aircraft search for her, but quarantine forces remained alert for this ship during their routine patrols.

Atkarsk was transiting Providence Channel with McCaffery trailing. No topside cargo was observed and air/surface photos had been taken. Sellers intercepted Okhotsk at 2030E and was trailing. She was expected to be inside the 500-mile quarantine line by daylight 17 November and Sellers was to close for hailing, visual observation, and photography when within the quarantine area.

Up to this point in the quarantine operation, naval aircraft had flown 30,000 flight hours in 9,000 sorties for a total distance of six million miles. Sixty-eight squadrons composed of 19,000 personnel, and eight aircraft carriers, whose combined crews totaled 25,000 personnel, had participated in the action.

The 90 COMCRUDESLANT ships which were involved had steamed for a total of 780,000 miles, and each of the carriers had covered a 10,000-mile track. COMSERVLANT had provided logistic support to an afloat population of 85,000 in 183 ships which were deployed over a 2,100-mile front.

On the 16th, the Joint Chiefs of Staff met with the President for a discus-ion on removal of the IL-28's and the military implications of negotiating a no-invasion policy towards Cuba. Their stand was that the IL-28's should be removed, preferably by negotiation, otherwise by blockade or direct military action, if required. They recommended that the removal of Soviet personnel from Cuba be made an immediate objective of negotiation with the USSR as a condition for granting a no-invasion pledge. Also in this regard, the JCS said that any such assurance to Castro should state U. S. obligations under the Rio Pact and link the assurance to Cuban good behavior and acceptance of aerial surveillance. The Chiefs opposed the seeking of a means for long-term verification and inspection against offensive weapons in Cuba in exchange for United Nations inspection of the Caribbean and a nuclear-free zone in Latin America.

Up to Saturday, 17 November, there had been no basic changes in force posture. Naval units were still at sea and ready. The Continental Air Defense Command's interceptor forces were at their wartime dispersal bases at 1/3rd alert and still were substantially augmented in the Southeast U.S., and particularly in Florida. SAC aircraft remained dispersed with 1/8th airborne and a total generated force of 1,456 planes and 355 missiles. Air forces committed to CINCLANT operations plans were ready for a daylight response for selective targets within Cuba within a two-to-twelve hour timetable. Contingency invasion forces were ready on a seven-day reaction basis, following an assault air strike. The commanders of these forces reported that they could maintain their current status of readiness for about 30 more days without adverse effects.

The position of Theodor Korner finally was established at 31-30N, 29-30W. Atkarsk entered Havana, and Okhotsk was being trailed by Sellers. A cargo of approximately 240 tons of steel was sighted and the ship was cooperative.

Three pilots reported a possible SAM missile launch from Cuba at 1100R. The object first was noticed by a white trail of flame at high altitude, described as extremely brilliant. The flame became shorter and seemed to burn out with several red flashes. The object was on a steady course and might have originated from the Matanzas SA-2 site which was 50 miles distant from the reporting aircraft. There had been no evidence of a deliberate attempt to shoot down U. S. aircraft, although several reconnaissance planes were over water in the vicinity at the time.

On Sunday, 18 November, the policy of canceling low-level reconnaissance flights remained in effect. Although there had been high-level flights since the 14th, the BLUE MOON sorties were being canceled on a day-to-day basis. There was concern that these cancellations were diplomatically unwise in view of Castro's publicly announced intentions to shoot down U. S. surveillance aircraft.

During the day, COMCARDIV 20 in Lake Champlain relieved COMCARDIV 14 in Wasp as CTG 136.2. CINCLANT reported that the Guatemalan frigate Burrunida, which was in overhaul at a Miami shipyard, had been formally placed at the disposition of the U.S. for quarantine use. Argentina also asked the U.S. to submit a request for two P2V aircraft to support the operation. These were the last two of many offers made by OAS nations prior to the lifting of the quarantine.

Meanwhile, the Defense Intelligence Agency reported that Havana radio had broadcast orders for all domestic aircraft to clear Cuban skies. Concurrently, a notice to airmen was published forbidding international flights into or over the island without 24-hour advance notice. No reason was given for the order; however, it was held likely that Castro intended to take action on his threat to shoot down reconnaissance planes.

Okhotsk was being trailed by Rhodes and was expected to arrive in Havana about 0800R the next day.

During the next two days, 19-20 November, quarantine operations remained in effect while the final curtain was slowly being drawn on the negotiations to secure removal of the IL-28's. On the 19th, Castro announced that if the Soviet Union wished to remove the aircraft he would not obstruct such a move. This was followed by the USSR's agreement to return the planes to Russia and affect the withdrawal within 30 days.

At 1800R, on the 20th, President Kennedy announced the accord during a press conference. At 1945R the JCS sent the following message:

"Lift quarantine effective immediately. Return LANTFLT ships to home ports and normal operating areas at your discretion. Maintain one CVA with air group in ready status in Mayport Caribbean area. Instructions will be furnished later as to future movements and disposition of PACFLT amphibious forces. Anticipate requirement for sighting and photographing Soviet ships departing Cuban ports with IL-28 aircraft.

As the order went out to dissolve the quarantine forces, more than 63 ships of the mighty force which had clearly demonstrated its capability to respond quickly to their country's needs had an opportunity to be home for Thanksgiving. other ships followed, many arriving during the following weekend.

Admiral Anderson pointed out that the entire operation had been a magnificent testimonial not only to the senior leaders of our Government, but also to those commandeers and commanding officers at lower levels who were so quickly able to move - - -large numbers of troops -- their ships -- many ships -- and their aircraft of many types in position to carry out lengthy, tedious, and often very sensitive operations with a high degree of leadership, professional competence, courage, and diplomatic skill.

As the Cuban quarantine came to an end, preparations to implement CINCLANT contingency plans were being partially relaxed with Atlantic Fleet units returning to home ports and normal operating areas. Admiral Anderson advised his Fleet Commanders to anticipate the photographic surveillance by surface ships and helicopters of Soviet merchant ships out loading IL-28's from Cuban ports.

He suggested that the tempo of operations in all areas be dropped to essential minimum levels, and offered, "My grateful appreciation to all for their fine work, long hours, patience, and perseverance. Well done."

One hundred and eighty-three ships had taken an active part in Cuban operations during the quarantine. The carriers Independence and Enterprise had remained at sea for 36 and 32 consecutive days, respectively, with their screening destroyers rotating for short-in-port periods -- some of only one-day's duration

Our hunter/killer ASW forces had averaged 23 days at sea and had processed submarine contacts for a total of 2,889 hours.

Participating Atlantic Fleet amphibious forces had spent from l- to 26 days at sea, and logistics units had averaged 20 days of steaming within a 30-day period.

This narrative can be most succinctly concluded by COMSECONDFLT's remarks in his first weekly summary to CINCLANT after the quarantine's end:

"Again the United States had turned to seapower to wield the iron fist in a velvet glove and again the Navy and ships of the Atlantic Fleet had shown this confidence was not misplaced."'       [ Back ]

Lessons Learned

Movement of forces which have organic lift capability was prompt and logistic coordination was handled in a timely fashion. However, where lift was not organic, there was approximately a 24 hour delay between the decision to preposition forces and the time when they actually began to move during the period 18-22 October. The reason for the delay was inadequate preparation on the part of J-4 transportation personnel to set up proper coordinating procedures with MATS. CNO discovered that, for example, the urgency was not recognized for the airlifting of ammunition and POL from Albany, Ga., to Guantanamo to support the Marine battalion being airlifted from the West Coast, even though the Marine Corps had made the request direct to MATS with the highest precedence. It was not until CNO intervened that MATS and other logistics support activities were made cognizant of the necessity for the closest coordination and assignment of appropriate priorities to MATS lift requirements in support of the Cuban operations.   [ Back ]

The choke in communications became readily apparent at the onset of the operation. Much of the problem was internal to the Pentagon in the Navy Communications Center. Even traffic of the highest precedence took as much as three hours for distribution and delivery to the action officer's desk (CNO) after receipt. The delay was partially overcome by having advance thermofax-reproduced copies made in the communications center and delivered directly to CNO.

Operational Immediate traffic required from 30 minutes to four hours between transmission by the sender and receipt by OPNAV, depending upon the circuits used. Priority traffic, in one glaring instance, was 26 hours en route.

In order to respond immediately to the civilian secretariat and the Department of Defense, it became necessary to install single sideband receivers in Flag Plot to provide on-the-scene read-out information.    [ Back ]

Identification of Ships from High Level Reconnaissance

Strategic Air Command reconnaissance aircraft sent FLASH messages of sightings of merchant vessels. These reports did not indicate the type of ship or its course and speed. It was frequently necessary to wait until the planes returned, their photographs were developed, and their pilots debriefed before it could be determined whether or not the reported sighting was of a ship of interest.

In another operation of this type, reconnaissance pilots should use the Recognition and Identification Guide for Shipping (RIG-1). By referring to this booklet, FLASH reports could be sent with proper ship identification information.       [ Back ]

IL-28 Outloading

With the Soviet agreement to remove the 11-28's and the lifting of the quarantine, the Joint Chiefs of Staff prepared to recommend relaxations in the readiness posture. On November 21, the JCS solicited CINCLANT's opinions in this regard, particularly as related to Cuban contingency reaction times and aerial reconnaissance. Although the U.S. did not set any deadline by which the bomber removal should be effected, Soviet negotiators said this would be accomplished in about 30 days.

During this period, readiness posture was to be maintained within reduced reaction times as a measure against Soviet reluctance or bad faith. It also was necessary to continue aerial surveillance to insure compliance with the agreement. Readiness to retaliate against attack on reconnaissance aircraft also wag required.

On November 23, the JCS approved certain rules of engagement for support of low-level BLUE MOON reconnaissance flights. The rules provided combat air patrols for the flights in the event of aerial interception, fighter strikes against surface anti-aircraft sites firing upon the reconnaissance planes; and flak-suppression flights along routes to be flown by the BLUE MOON aircraft. These
special rules were promulgated because it was anticipated that weather for the next 30 days would necessitate reliance on low-level reconnaissance missions and restrict intelligence collection by the high-altitude BRASS KNOB U-2 flights.

While the JCS awaited CINCLANT stand-own recommendations, relaxation began in other areas. On November 21 the Secretary of the Navy rescinded the October 23 order which involuntarily extended the periods of obligated service for naval personnel. The same day, the Air Force authorized the release by November 28 of reservists called into active service.

Although the quarantine had been lifted, CINCLANTFLT continued to maintain a plot of merchant shipping to and from Cuba. There had been no indication of a relaxation of Cuban military posture, and on November 24, CINCLANT recommended further reinforcement of Guantanamo. However, the JCS disapproved this recommendation, which was based on CINCLANT's personal inspection of the base. The Chiefs believed reinforcement was unnecessary, although they held out that further build-up could be required in the event Operations Plan 316-62 was ordered executed.

Also on the 24th, Cuba began to demobilize its alerted militia units, but the Castro regime was continuing its propaganda broadcasts against the governments of other Latin American countries. Top Cuban government leaders met to discuss a reply to the U.S. reconnaissance activity.

On November 28th, the JCS appraised the Cuban situation and forwarded their stand-down recommendations to the Secretary of Defense. These included termination of the l/8th airborne alert, the return of B-47 aircraft to home bases, except for those in Florida, authorization for the various commands concerned to return to DEFCON 5 status except where specific situations dictate otherwise, the release of the Air Force Reserve Troop Carrier units, and the authority for the return to normal operations of U. S. naval ships and air squadrons associated with the maritime quarantine.

All other forces, however, were being maintained at high readiness, and military forces were capable of reacting on a 12-hour basis for CINCLANT OpPlan 312-62 and on a 7-day basis for CINCLANT OpPlan 316-62, except that necessary shipping had not been accumulated.

In this new situation, the JCS saw the need for high and low-level aerial reconnaissance over Cuba and over Soviet shipping in order to ascertain whether the Soviet commitments were being ful filled. At the same time, they recognized the needs of our forces and the personnel hardships which high alert levels imposed.

In recognition of these facts, the Joint Chiefs of Staff considered the following alert posture criteria to be appropriate with further reduction to normal pre-Cuba posture prior to Christmas, contingent on actual Soviet withdrawal of IL-28 aircraft from Cuba:

a. Overflight reconnaissance.

(1) High-level: Alert posture which would permit an average of two U-2 flights per day cumulative from November 21 and not more than a maximum of five U-2 flights on any one day.

(2) Low-level: Four aircraft on 12-hour alert, and eight aircraft on 24-hour alert; similar readiness for all aircraft which were to support these reconnaissance missions.

b. Local reprisal strike aircraft: 24 hours following a decision to execute.

c. Reimposition of the quarantine of Cuba: 72 hours.

d. Attack on SAM sites, IL-28's, and/or all air defenses in Cuba: 48 hours.

e. Execution of CINCLANT OpPlan 312-62: 72 hours.

f. Execution of CINCLANT OpPlan 316-62: 18 days.

g. Air Defense: Resume normal posture except for those units needed to increase the air defense of the Southeastern United States on a permanent basis. Long-term air defense needs for this region were under study.

h. Strategic Forces: Maintenance of normal alert levels.

Relaxation of readiness posture to these levels was seen as permitting the following actions to be taken:

a. CINCLANT and component headquarters could maintain their activated communications net. CINCARLANT and CINCAFLANT headquarters elements could be returned to home stations except for reduced staffs maintained at Homestead AFB.

b. Air forces: The reaction times provided could permit the return of all units, less those required for conduct of and combat support to reconnaissance missions, to home bases and the resumption of normal training. War-reserve material and selected support and control personnel would remain at Florida bases.

c. Marine forces: All West Coast units less the 3rd LAAM Battalion could be returned to home station- at once. The FMF Atlantic units which presently were part of the recent Guantanamo defense augmentation would remain as deployed with a goal of returning to home stations by December 20. The 5th MEB shipping would be utilized insofar as practicable in returning Marines to the West Coast.

d. Army forces: All Army units could be returned to home stations except those required to support CINCLANT and component headquarters and the 159th Boat Battalion, which would remain temporarily at Fort Lauderdale pending completion of studies to determine a suitable location that would enable it to meet the required reaction time.

e. Navy forces: One CVA Group was being retained temporarily in the Guantanamo sea area to support the defense of Guantanamo until December 20. A Carrier Task Group was also retained in the Norfolk-Mayport area against the possible requirement for sighting Soviet ships departing Cuban ports with IL-28 aircraft and to support possible air-strikes under CINCLANT OpPlan 312-62.

The timely availability of shipping continued to be the critical factor in establishing an adequate force ashore within the 18 day reaction time for CINCLANT OpPlan 316-62. To assure that this reaction time could be met, the following actions were recommended:

a. COMSTS should be given authority to recall transports without completion of voyages in process when the decision is made to prepare for execution of CINCLANT OpPlan 316-62.

b. COMSTS should be given authority to requisition ships if the decision were made to prepare for execution of CINCLANT OpPlan 316-62.

c. The recommissioning of the 11 LST's should be continued.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff proposed to review the situation on a continuing basis in order to determine whether the criteria could be relaxed to permit a continuing phase-own to an approximately normal posture by about December 20. If the continued phase-down were warranted, the remaining units were to be returned to home stations, and dependents returned to Guantanamo prior to Christmas.

In summary, the Joint Chiefs of Staff recommended a reassessment of the situation on a continuing basis in order to ascertain whether the IL-28 withdrawal warranted continued relaxation to normal readiness levels prior to Christmas.

The Secretary of Defense approved the JCS proposals, and CINCLANT was requested to implement measures to accomplish the actions recommended.

Also on November 28, preliminary analysis of reconnaissance photographs taken three days before indicated that IL-28 and UIL-28 aircraft at San Julien airfield were being disassembled. Of the 13 planes which had been uncrated, six still were completely assembled, the remaining seven had no engines, and the wings had been removed from three.

For the next several days, reconnaissance photographs taken from high-altitudes by U-2 aircraft showed continued disassembly of the IL-28 bombers at San Julien. They also revealed that crated IL-28's at Holguin had been removed between November 25 and 27; their whereabouts were unknown. Also, during this period, CINCLANT began to implement JCS policy for a gradually relaxation of readiness posture. On November 30 elements of Amphibious Squadron Three with personnel and equipment of the Second Battalion, First Marines, were loading for departure from Guantanamo to arrive in Panama between December 1-5.

The first of the IL-28's were reported outbound from Cuba on December 1. The Soviet freighter Okhotsk was sighted underway in the Florida Straits with three fuselages on her weather deck. In addition, reconnaissance photographs for the past few days had revealed the outloading of missile erectors at Mariel.

From December 1 through December 3, operations were characterized by further deployment of forces in execution of stand-down policy. Analysis on December 3 of reconnaissance photographs taken three days before indicated that all 13 of the previously assembled I-28 aircraft at San Julien were being broken down and crated.

On December 5, the Soviet Union, through the Cuban negotiation team at the United Nations, provided a list of the ships which would be outloading the IL-28's and their shipping schedules.

The schedule listed 42 IL-28's to be shipped from Cuba on December 5, 6, and 7. Twelve were to be aboard the Okhotsk from Nuevitas on the 5th; 15 in the Kasimov from Mariel on the 6th or 7th; and 15 in the Krasnograd from Mariel, also on the 6th or 7th. Soviet negotiators said that the ship masters would cooperate in close air and surface inspection as they had during the removal of the missiles. However, the schedule not withstanding, the Okhotsk had left Mariel on the 1st and the Kasimov left at 1530R on the 5th from the same port. A reconnaissance aircraft reported visual evidence of 15 IL-28's aboard the second ship. The Okhotsk proceeded to Nuevitas where she loaded II-28 crates and departed on the 5th. Photographs showed four crates had been loaded aboard on the 3rd. An underway surveillance report said that in addition to the previously reported three fuselages on her deck, there were now 16 large crates. The destroyers Blandy and Robertswere closing for further alongside inspection. Eleven of the crates aboard the Kasimov were open at the port end, revealing aircraft fuselages; four canvas-covered fuselages also were visible on deck.

From December 2-5 reconnaissance photography revealed the crating of IL-28's at San Julien airfield and crated aircraft at Mariel port, plus fuselages. These photos were taken by U-2 high-level sorties because low-level missions had been suspended for several days. These BLUE MOON flights were not to be resumed without JCS authority and would not be reinstituted unless the BRASS KNOB missions were unable to satisfy intelligence needs.

CINCLANT reported that as of the 5th, during the past three months, there had been a significant decline in shipping to Cuba. The decline was most marked in Soviet flag vessels, which had dropped from 66 in September to 31 in November. The number of Soviet satellite ships calling at Cuban ports had declined from 55 in September to 39 in November. On the 5th, the day of the CINCLANT report, there were 30 Bloc ships in Cuban ports - 18 of them Russian - 18 ships en route to Cuba, and 16 on their way out.

At 0900R on December 6, the CINCLANTFLT duty officer reported to CNO Flag Plot that the third Soviet ship scheduled for outloading the IL-28's had left port. The Krasnograd was underway from Mariel at 0830R. At 0825R, an aircraft sighted 15 crates aboard which could accommodate IL-28 fuselages. Apparently, the last of the bombers were on their way home. However, alongside inspection was yet to confirm this fact.

At 0930R on December 7, CINCLANTFLT reported a total of 42 IL-28 fuselages had been sighted and photographed aboard the Soviet merchant ships Kasimov, Krasnograd, and Okhotsk. The Okhotsk had been the last of the three to submit to alongside inspection, during which the crew removed the ends of nine crates on deck to reveal their contents.

Interpretation of high-level BRASS KNOB reconnaissance photographs taken on December 5 and 6 revealed that there were no longer any weapons classified as offensive by the President remaining on Cuban soil. The naval quarantine had apparently accomplished U.S. political objective and once again the U. S. Navy had proven itself an effective instrument of national power.        [Back ]

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12 January 2001