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A New Look at the Cuban Missile Crisis

Colloquium on Contemporary History June 18, 1992 No. 7

Opening Remarks - Dr. Edward J. Marolda [none foujnd for this session]
Intentions, Assessments, Actions, and Reactions of the Soviet Leadership - Dr. Raymond L. Garthoff
How Well Did the Joint Chiefs of Staff Work? - Dr. Walter S. Poole
Some Aspects of the U.S. Navy's Participation in the Cuban Missile Crisis - Dr. Jeffrey G. Barlow

Soviet Actions and Reactions in the Cuban Missile Crisis
Raymond L. Garthoff
Brookings Institution

In the last few years we have learned a great deal about what happened during the missile crisis, especially from a series of encounters with former Soviet officials. Some questions that used to perplex us have now been answered, or at least clarified, such as who was responsible for shooting down the U-2 and why. We now know much more about the Soviet military deployment in Cuba, including the fact that it comprised a Soviet conventional force much larger than we estimated at the time, and that it had tactical nuclear weapons-with predelegation to the four-star Soviet commander of forces in Cuba to use them against an American invasion force.

There remain, however, some key questions on which we shall probably never know the answer. One is the relative weight of several motivations in Khrushchev's mind in deciding to send nuclear-armed medium-range missiles to Cuba-was it primarily to deter an American attack on Cuba, as the Soviets have insisted? Or was it a desire to shore up their very weak position in the strategic balance between the Soviet Union and the United States in 1962? And if, or rather to the extent it was the latter, was it principally seen as a defensive imperative in view of the fact that the Soviet Union was so strategically vulnerable, or to buttress the Soviet hand for a new offensive round of confrontation over Berlin? Another set of questions concerns contingency decisions which we will never know because they never had to be made-above all, what would the Soviet leadership have done if the United States had launched an air attack and/or an invasion of Cuba? I do have my answers to those questions, but there are divided views today, as in 1962, among American participants and students of the crisis, and among Russians as well. I'll touch on some of them. For the most part, however, I shall note some of the new information on Soviet intentions, assessments, actions and reactions in the crisis.

One other caveat: while we do have some new and important documentary material, such as the full Khrushchev-Kennedy and Khrushchev-Castro correspondence, most of the Soviet disclosures (like American sources for the first two decades after the crisis) are memoir material, or in some cases statements by people who have been able to consult some archives (especially those of the Foreign Ministry and the General Staff), but not the actual archival data. Russian memoirs, not unlike our own, can be very useful, but they are also at best selective and sometimes misleading or in error and must be used with care and caution.

The Soviet decision to place the missiles in Cuba was made over the period from late April to mid-June 1962. It was Khrushchev's idea, and it included three considerations: First, the Soviet Union faced a problem in the emergence, and American public exposure, of a reverse "missile gap" of growing U.S. strategic superiority, which the Soviet Union could not match with intercontinental delivery systems for a number of years. Second, the Cubans most keenly, but also the Soviets, believed the United States was likely to invade Cuba after the failure of the Bay of Pigs proxy invasion. The United States had launched in 1961-62 a multifaceted offensive against Cuba: an economic embargo, political isolation and suspension of Cuba from the OAS, the "Mongoose" sabotage and subversion program in Cuba, and even assassination plots against Fidel Castro. Moreover, military contingency plans were being exercised. Third, the United States was drawing even tighter the encirclement of the Soviet Union itself with air and now missile forces, including IRBMs in Turkey, in the Soviet backyard, so to speak. This rankled politically, and psychologically, at least as much as it was a strategic concern.

Why not, thought Khrushchev, kill three birds with one stone by placing Soviet medium- and intermediate-range ballistic missiles, of which they had plenty, in Cuba. This would emulate the United States and rub its nose in a like situation, while bolstering Castro and deterring an American attack on Cuba. At the same time, these "ersatz ICBMS" targeted on the United States would tide the Soviet Union over until the third generation SS-9 and SS-11 missiles were ready to deploy later in the decade. Finally, the success of such a deployment secretly undertaken and suddenly disclosed would face the United States with a fait accompli, and put it on the defensive psychologically, contributing to a favorable climate again to press for a resolution of the anomalous Berlin "bone in their throat," as he had called it.

Anastas Mikoyan, the veteran Politburo member and first deputy prime minister, a close colleague, was the first member of the leadership on whom Khrushchev tried out the idea. He didn't like it. But he objected mainly on two counts: Castro wouldn't agree, and it couldn't be done secretly. In a somewhat larger group of the leadership, Khrushchev dealt with these objections by saying they would find out Castro's view by asking, and they would ask the military to determine feasibility and ability to carry out the deployment surreptitiously. (Incidentally, the new ambassador-designate to Havana, Alexander Alexeyev, the former KGB station chief in Cuba who was closer to Castro than anyone else, also thought Fidel would say no.) Khrushchev had privately sounded out Andrei Gromyko, Foreign Minister but not then yet a member of the political leadership, and Gromyko had argued that the American reaction would be very negative. But Gromyko didn't say it couldn't be handled, and he didn't speak up in the meetings of leaders. Khrushchev's foreign policy aide, Alexander Troyanovsky, with experience in the United States, learning of the decision only after it had been made, also privately tried to warn Khrushchev of the American reaction, but his warnings too were brushed aside.

Castro readily accepted, but on the understanding that the deployment was not to defend Cuba, but to contribute to the socialist camp in the overall correlation of forces-in other words, to bolster the strategic position of the Soviet bloc vis-a-vis the imperialists.

The military were positively inclined, especially Marshal Biriuzov, the recently named head of the Strategic Rocket Forces, and the man chosen to make the pitch to Castro and to evaluate feasibility and secrecy. He said it could be done, and secretly.

When told in May 1962 to work up an appropriate deployment, the Soviet General Staff settled on a three-part force: First, a composite division of strategic missile forces, 3 regiments with 24 R-12 (SS-4) MRBM launchers, and 2 regiments with 16 R-14 (SS-5) IRBM launchers, each to have 150% complement of combat missiles and nuclear warheads, in all 36 SS-4s and 24 SS-5s (plus 6 training SS-4s and 4 training SS-5s). Second, ground, air, air defense, and coastal defense components of a substantial conventional force to reinforce both deterrence and capability for defense. Third, at a later time, it was planned that a Soviet naval contingent (both surface ships and submarines) would also be based in Cuba.

By the time that the United States had discovered missiles in Cuba and imposed the quarantine on October 23, the entire SS-4 force was already in Cuba, including its 36 nuclear warheads. None of the SS-5 force was yet there, except for some of the equipment and the construction materials for the launching sites. All the SS-5 missiles were still en route, and turned back without ever reaching Cuba. Some of the nuclear warheads for the SS-5s, we are told, had arrived and remained throughout in the ship that had brought them.

That account is consistent with what we saw at the time, although some details are new (such as the 150% complement of combat missiles and warheads).

The air defense forces had all been sent to Cuba relatively early in the summer buildup. They comprised one regiment of 40 MiG-21s, two regiments of 24 SA-2 (Soviet: S-75) surface-to-air missile launchers with 144 launchers, and appropriate radars. Those were all observed in 1962.

The ground force component comprised four reinforced motorized rifle regiments, in effect brigades, of about 3,500 men each, each with one battalion of 35 tanks, APCS, antitank missiles, etc. Each of three of these regiments also had one battery of 2 Luna (FROG) launchers for tactical rockets with a range of up to 60km. The normal loading was eight conventionally armed rockets per launcher. But they were also nuclear-capable, and we are now told the six launchers in Cuba had a 150% complement of tactical nuclear warheads, three with each of the three batteries, 9 tactical nuclear warheads in all. In addition, support for the ground forces included two regiments with 18 conventionally armed tactical long-range (150km) cruise missile (FKR) launchers and 80 cruise missiles (never identified by U.S. intelligence in 1962, although supported by evidence). The air force support element included a regiment of 33 IL-28 light bombers with conventional bombs, a regiment of Mi-8 transport helicopters, and a squadron of LI-2 light transport aircraft.

The coastal defense forces included 4 fixed "Sopka" S-2 (Samlet) coast defense cruise missile sites, each with a battery of two launchers, and in all 32 missiles with an 80km range. In addition to the Air Force IL-28 regiment, a separate Naval squadron of 9 IL-28s was also provided for attacks at sea against landing forces. Finally, 12 Komar patrol boats, each with two rocket launchers for missiles with a 40km range were provided to assist in coastal defense, including actions against small ships landing covert infiltrators.

In all, the force would number some 45,000 men, of whom about 42,000 were there when the quarantine descended. This was over four times as many Soviet military personnel as were estimated by U.S. intelligence in mid-October, three times as many as were estimated at the peak of the crisis in November, and nearly twice as many as the 22,000 retroactively estimated even in 1963 after the crisis. Moreover they constituted a Soviet "Group of Forces," an expeditionary force, not advisors and technicians.

The Naval component planned for possible later introduction would have comprised one surface squadron of two cruisers, two destroyers, and smaller supporting ships, and a submarine squadron of eleven general purpose subs. But none of this force was ever sent.

Incidentally, one of the four regimental commanders in Cuba during the crisis was Colonel Dmitri Yazov, much later the Minister of Defense, who joined the coup attempt against Gorbachev in August 1991. His regiment was the one selected to remain when the others were withdrawn in 1963 and Castro pressed the Soviets to leave at least one thin "plate glass" unit. Redesignated a brigade, it remained only to be "rediscovered" with excessive eclat in 1979. It is at present being withdrawn by Russia over strong Cuban objections.

The Soviet forces in Cuba were under strict orders not to engage in combat except under American attack. The medium-range, nuclear-armed missiles were not to be fired under any circumstances without specific authorization from Commander-in-Chief Nikita Khrushchev. The air, air defense, and coastal defense forces were only to engage if the United States attacked Cuba. Nonetheless, on October 27, after Castro had ordered his own antiaircraft artillery to begin firing at low-flying U.S. reconnaissance aircraft, the Soviet command activated its air defense radars, and when a U-2 came into range, the local Soviet air defense commanders ordered a SAM unit to shoot it down. Khrushchev, not having authorized the action, at first even assumed that the Cubans must have shot the plane down. Marshal Malinovsky chided the Soviet Cuban command and ordered no more combat action, but he did not even reprimand the local commanders for exceeding instructions.

A formal Soviet-Cuban agreement covering the deployment of Soviet forces had been drawn up in early July, revised, and initialled in September, but Khrushchev never signed it. Castro had from the outset argued for making the general agreement, if not specific reference to missiles, public. But Khrushchev wanted to keep the missile deployment secret until November when it would be a fait accompli, and he feared Castro would make some kind of public statement if the agreement were signed, so he held back.

Castro was, of course, infuriated by Khrushchev's secret negotiation and agreement with the Americans on withdrawal of the missiles. The gap between their thinking was best illustrated by the fact that at the very time Khrushchev was agreeing to remove the missiles, Castro was advising him (in a cable sent early on the 27th) in the event of a U.S. invasion of Cuba to strike the United States first with Soviet nuclear force rather than concede the initiative to the United States. For Castro, an invasion to wipe out Communism in Cuba would be the start of a global war between Socialism and Imperialism. For Khrushchev, it would be no such thing, and the Soviet Union must be kept from being drawn into a war in Cuba.

As I mentioned earlier, there remain divided views on what Khrushchev and the Soviet leadership would have done if the United States had attacked Cuba. I have no doubt that they would not have escalated by a Soviet military countermove anywhere-not in Berlin, not attacking the missiles in Turkey, not at sea. And I believe the actions taken during the crisis, while not conclusive, support that judgment. No Soviet participant in the 1962 crisis has produced any direct evidence of a decision one way or the other on such a contingency decision. Based on what we know so far, there were apparently no contingencyplans for such escalation, and that argues against the likelihood. But even if there were such plans that would be no certain indication that they would have been activated. Soviet participants are divided in their own (usually privately expressed) opinions.

The conflict in Cuba, however, could have escalated drastically. Soviet forces in Cuba would, of course, have fought. And apparently they would have used tactical nuclear weapons against the U.S. landing force in Cuba. I assume that the United States would then have used nuclear weapons against all suspected nuclear delivery systems in Cuba. But I believe the conflict would have remained limited to Cuba. The Soviet Union would have absorbed the loss and sought to portray the United States as responsible for the war.

We do know that Khrushchev sharply cut off the one suggestion at the outset of the crisis (by acting Foreign Minister Vasily Kuznetsov) that the Soviet Union mount a counter-quarantine or other action against Berlin to place pressure on the United States. He also rejected suggestions to attempt to run the blockade. While Khrushchev apparently believed for the first two or three days (October 22-24) that the United States would come around to accepting at least the limited missile deployment already in Cuba, by the middle of the week he realized that it would not, and began bargaining for the best deal on the withdrawal of the missiles.

The key element in the settlement deal for Khrushchev was the American pledge not to invade Cuba, which he could use as justification for withdrawing the missiles by claiming that the only purpose of the deployment had been to deter such an invasion. And that remained the Soviet interpretation ever after. In fact, the negotiations over a U.S. pledge bogged down and by early January the Soviets gave up on the attempt to get one. The United States insisted that no commitment could diminish our rights and obligations under other treaties, including the Rio Treaty and Article 51 of the UN Charter on self-defense. We were prepared to restate (as President Kennedy did publicly and privately) our intention not to invade, but we were determined not to give a blank check that would tie our hands no matter what Castro or the Soviet Union were to do.

The unpublicized U.S. statement of its intention to withdraw the Jupiter missiles from Turkey and Italy in five months was a "sweetner," and despite our disclaimers it was a consideration in the deal, but it was not a direct part of the reciprocal obligations, and was subject to NATO decision on the withdrawal and replacement with a Polaris missile commitment. Castro, incidentally, was angered by Khrushchev's proposal for a tradeoff of Cuban for Turkish missile withdrawals, since it reduced the missiles in Cuba to being a pawn in a great power deal.

The withdrawal of the Soviet missiles from Cuba, whatever its dividend in ending the likelihood of a U.S. invasion, did not in any way help the Soviet problem of weakness in the strategic balance. Indeed, the impression of Soviet retreat bolstered the world's awareness of the weakness of the Soviet strategic position.

Despite the tremendous U.S. strategic superiority, President Kennedy was not prepared to attack Cuba or press Khrushchev to the wall, if he could get the missiles out with no U.S. commitment going beyond what he intended in any case: not to invade Cuba without provocation, and to withdraw the vulnerable and obsolescent IRBM missiles from Turkey and Italy. We now know that he was more inclined to make further concessions in this direction than to order an attack if Khrushchev had not on October 28 accepted his demand and offer. "Mutual deterrence" and the fear of nuclear war was more important than the strategic balance of power.

The Cuban Missile Crisis: How Well Did the Joint Chiefs of Staff Work?
Walter S. Poole
Historical Office, Joint Chiefs of Staff

My paper is based largely upon a source that no longer exists. Until the early 1970s, verbatim transcripts were made of all meetings of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. In the aftermath of Watergate, that practice stopped and all such records were burned-but not before I was given a chance to read the transcripts concerning the missile crisis and to take fairly extensive notes. So I am now the sole authority on this subject.

I want to start by discussing a question that recently has spurred a fair amount of debate: Before U-2s discovered the missile sites in mid-October, was the Kennedy administration considering military action against Cuba? I will begin with a paper sent to the JCS on 19 September 1962 by the Joint Strategic Survey Council, a body that consisted of three two-star officers. The Council recommended that Cuba be blockaded. At that time, U-2 photos had revealed only surface-to-air missile (SAM) sites and torpedo boats with surface-to-surface missiles (SSM). If any offensive weapons were detected, the Council advocated carrying out an immediate invasion before the weapons could become operational. On 26 September, the JCS simply "noted" the Council's study. They decided, instead, that they would recommend at the appropriate time a basic decision "to supplant Castro-communism in Cuba as soon as possible." The Council promptly submitted a revised report stating that only an invasion could accomplish that end.

On 1 October, the day General Maxwell Taylor became Chairman and General Earle Wheeler became Army Chief of Staff, Secretary Robert McNamara and the JCS launched a review of contingency plans for Cuba. These were: OPLAN 312, which covered air attacks alone; OPLAN 314, which dealt with a large-scale invasion after 18 days of preparation; and OPLAN 316, a quick-reaction version of OPLAN 314, featuring an air assault after only five days of preparation and an amphibious landing three days later. During the afternoon of 15 October, just as photo analysts were finding the crucial evidence of medium range ballistic missile (MRBM) sites, McNamara and the Chiefs held another planning review. McNamara began the meeting by saying that President Kennedy wanted to avoid military action within the next three months. He and the Chiefs discussed but did not resolve whether landings should take place near Havana, where defenses were strongest, or near the eastern end of Cuba, which would mean a three-week delay in capturing Havana. Only hours later, they learned what the U-2s had found.

Next day, 16 October, the first crisis meetings took place. The JCS met at 1000. Admiral George W. Anderson was the Chief of Naval Operations and General David M. Shoup was Commandant of the Marine Corps. General Seth McKee represented General Curtis LeMay, Chief of Staff of the Air Force, who did not return from a European trip until 18 October. They quickly agreed upon a preliminary recommendation: First, acquire more intelligence about the number and location of MRBMs. Then launch a surprise air attack against missile sites, airfields, SAMs, torpedo boats, and tank parks. Reinforce the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo, Cuba, and make preparations for invasion. Two hours later, General Taylor presented this recommendation at a White House meeting. As to carrying out an invasion, though, Taylor said that he wanted to look "very closely before we get our feet in that deep mud in Cuba." President Kennedy asked how much time would have to be spent preparing for an invasion. Would it be one or two months? Taylor replied that if air strikes began on 21 October, five days hence, troops could start landing on 28 October-a total of only 12 days. The President's ignorance on such a basic point strongly suggests that he had not been considering military action until he saw photos of the MRBM sites.

During 16 and 17 October, the choice seemed to lie between an attack on all significant military targets in Cuba and a surgical strike against MRBMs alone. McNamara, at the outset, favored an immediate surgical strike against whatever MRBM sites had been located. The JCS countered that no action at all would be better than a surgical strike that would leave enemy air power unharmed. On the morning of 18 October, the Chiefs were shown photos indicating permanent facilities for intermediate-range ballistic missiles (IRBM). General Taylor reacted by saying that invasion and occupation of these sites was the only answer. By this time, the Chiefs had settled upon the quick-reaction plan, OPLAN 316, although they lengthened from five days to seven the interval between beginning air attacks and launching an invasion. But McNamara, later that day, concluded that a blockade plus diplomatic initiatives should be the first step.

At a JCS meeting on the morning of 19 October, Taylor asked the Chiefs whether they were willing to advocate what he called an American Pearl Harbor-an air strike without warning to friends or foes. LeMay was, but Taylor and Anderson feared it would severely strain the Atlantic alliance. Reluctantly, LeMay agreed. The Chiefs all endorsed a surprise attack, after informing British and West German leaders two hours beforehand. The service Chiefs favored invasion; Taylor endorsed preparations alone at his point. Later that day, the Chiefs as a body held their only missile crisis meeting with the President. It lasted 45 minutes. Taylor said little, allowing the service Chiefs to show their personalities and inclinations. Not surprisingly, LeMay was the most outspoken in advocating prompt forceful action.

When President Kennedy convened the National Security Council (NSC) on 20 October to render a decision, General Taylor presented the JCS recommendation for attacking all offensive weapons and supporting defenses on 23 October. That, he said, would be the last day before some missile sites became operational. (Actually, photos would show that four MRBM sites became fully operational on the 22nd). Kennedy, of course, chose to begin with a quarantine of offensive weapons. Afterwards, back at the Pentagon, Taylor began his debrief by telling the service Chiefs, "This was not one of our better days." Taylor said he believed the decisive votes for quarantine had been cast by McNamara, Secretary of State Dean Rusk, and United Nations Ambassador Adlai Stevenson. (I wonder why Taylor named Stevenson, who clearly was the odd man out, and not Attorney General Robert Kennedy. Also, McNamara had suggested that a blockade and withdrawal negotiations might last two or three months; the President did not appear willing to let matters drag on nearly that long. There is testimony that Rusk cut a somewhat weak, reticent figure during the deliberations. So Taylor's appraisal might raise questions about his acuity in judging individuals) Taylor then went on to tell the Chiefs, "The President said to me, 'I know that you and your colleagues are unhappy with the decision, but I trust that you will support me. I assured him that, while we were against the decision, we would back him completely." I suspect Taylor was looking at LeMay when he said this.

I will cover only highlights of what happened during the next week. At a White House meeting on 21 October, General Walter Sweeney, Commanding General Tactical Air Command, supported by Taylor and McNamara, persuaded the President to drop the idea of a surgical strike on missile sites alone. But this seems to have been an administration where decisions were always open to reconsideration. On 26 October, McNamara asked the Chiefs to calculate requirements for several variations of a surgical strike, such as hitting only six missile sites plus the 11-28 bombers. The Chiefs, replying next day, repeated their unalterable opposition to anything except an attack upon all offensive weapons. This issue, it would appear, was never really settled.

Moving to the Anderson-McNamara confrontation on 24 October, there are two totally irreconcilable versions of what took place. According to Anderson, when McNamara, Deputy Secretary of Defense Roswell Gilpatric, and two public affairs officials came to the Navy's Flag Plot command center, McNamara persisted in asking why a destroyer had left the quarantine line. Anderson took him to a secure area, explained that the destroyer was shadowing a submarine through use of intelligence for which the public affairs men were not cleared, and then said in what he thought was a jocular manner, "Why don't you go back to your quarters and let us handle this?" According to Gilpatric, McNamara asked what would happen if a Soviet ship refused to stop or resisted boarding. Anderson answered angrily, "This is none of your goddamn business. We've been doing this since the days of John Paul Jones, and if you'll go back to your quarters, Mr. Secretary, we'll handle this." Anyone who has interviewed Admiral Anderson knows how vehemently he rejected this account, particularly the part about John Paul Jones. It may even be that John Paul Jones was invoked during another set-to with McNamara three days later.

The grimmest day of the crisis was Saturday, 27 October. In the "tank" early that afternoon, the JCS and McNamara began drafting a recommendation about when to strike. McNamara asked, "Would you agree upon an attack at first light?" General Shoup would not. General Taylor suggested recommending an attack after a reasonable period of time; McNamara concurred. At 1403, conferees learned that a U-2 was 30-40 minutes overdue. Taylor and McNamara then left for a White House meeting. The service Chiefs, who remained at the Pentagon, quickly approved a memorandum recommending that, unless there was irrefutable evidence that offensive weapons were being dismantled, air strikes should be carried out no later than Monday morning, 29 October; an invasion should follow seven days later. That paper was sent immediately to the White House, where General Taylor read it to members of the NSC Executive Committee.

At 1800, the JCS received definite word that the U-2 had been downed and its pilot killed. General Taylor, back from the White House, asked the service Chiefs whether they favored taking out a SAM site. Four days earlier, the President had approved a contingency plan stating that the probable response would be retaliation against the SAM site involved. Now, however, LeMay and Wheeler opposed doing so. Gentlemen, said General Taylor, if retaliation was wise on the 23rd it should be just as wise on the 27th. His colleagues disagreed, on grounds that (1) SAMs were in clusters, making an attack against a single site impracticable, and (2) the dangers of nuclear retaliation made a single strike seem like a poor risk. The outcome was cancellation of U-2 flights next day: only low-level missions were to be flown.

There is a story that LeMay had a retaliatory strike ready to go, but it was cancelled at the last minute. Nothing in the JCS transcript supports this. LeMay's first reaction was to recommend running low-level reconnaissance flights, instructing the pilots to abort if they encountered opposition. When I read the transcript, in fact, I was surprised at how quickly the Chiefs seemed to opt for caution and delay. In good part, I presume, this flowed from their opposition to piecemeal attacks.

Finally, the possibility of trading missiles in Cuba for Jupiter IRBMs in Turkey was becoming quite real. Back at the NSC meeting on 20 October, Kennedy had said that he was willing to withdraw the Jupiters at a later time. On Saturday morning, 27 October, Khrushchev formally proposed a Cuba-Turkey trade. Early that afternoon, McNamara asked the Joint Staff to prepare plans for (1) putting a Polaris ballistic missile submarine (SSBN) off Turkey's coast prior to an attack on Cuba and (2) dealing with a Soviet retaliatory attack that knocked out the Jupiters. That evening, McNamara's office of International Security Affairs prepared and he approved a draft letter from Kennedy to the president of Turkey proposing that warheads be removed from the Jupiters prior to an attack on Cuba; Polaris submarines could be deployed in the eastern Mediterranean to cover targets currently assigned to the Jupiters. This draft letter is in the Chairman's file but, in 1975, Taylor told me that he knew nothing about it. Interestingly, when Taylor debriefed the service Chiefs at 1830 hours, 27 October, about the latest White House meeting, he said that the President had been seized with the idea of a Cuba-Turkey trade but added that the President seemed to be the only one in favor of it. A few hours later, though, Robert Kennedy gave Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin a 24-hour ultimatum about agreeing to remove missiles from Cuba. Kennedy told Dobrynin he was sure the Jupiters then could be removed in four or five months-which they were. So I believe, but cannot be certain, that the Chiefs were bypassed on this issue.

At 0930 on Sunday, while the JCS were discussing the day's reconnaissance plan, Moscow Radio broadcast Khrushchev's decision to remove the missiles in return for a no-invasion pledge. Anderson and LeMay were distinctly disappointed. They wanted to remove Castro, not just the missiles. During a JCS meeting about two weeks later, LeMay said he was convinced that air attacks alone would cause Castro's popular support to collapse and make the invasion a "walk-in." This leads to my final thought. Benjamin Bradlee in his book, Conversations With Kennedy, tells of hearing from the President, shortly after the crisis ended, "an explosion . . . about his forceful, positive lack of admiration for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, except for Maxwell Taylor, whom he calls 'absolutely first class'." Yet Kennedy had rejected Taylor's argument for an air strike rather than a blockade, and apparently left Taylor out of the loop in the critical part of the Cuba-Turkey dealing. Perhaps what Kennedy really appreciated was the fact that Taylor had kept the chafing service Chiefs in line. In 1963, during the Senate debate over ratification of the Limited Test Ban Treaty, Taylor would perform the same function. This Chairman seems to have been more a politician than he was a soldier.

Some Aspects of the U.S. Navy's Participation in the Cuban Missile Crisis
Jeffrey G. Barlow
Naval Historical Center

Before providing details on the Navy's participation in the missile crisis, I believe it is useful to provide some information on the backgrounds of several of the senior naval officers who were involved in these momentous events. Each had a vital role to play during the crisis.

Admiral George W. Anderson, Jr., had served as the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) since August 1961, having relieved the highly successful Admiral Arleigh Burke following his unprecedented six-year tour of duty as the Navy's senior uniformed leader. Anderson, a naval aviator, was known throughout the service as an outstanding planner, having served a number of important planning tours since the early days of World War II. He had been on General Eisenhower's Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) staff in the early days of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). During the mid-1950s, he had served as the Principal Assistant to Admiral Arthur Radford, the second Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Later, he went out to Hawa'ii as the Chief of Staff for the newly-reorganized Pacific Command. At the time of his selection as CNO, Anderson had been serving in the Mediterranean as Commander Sixth Fleet.

Admiral Robert L. Dennison, Commander in Chief, Atlantic and Atlantic Fleet and Supreme Allied Commander, Atlantic (CINCLANT/CINCLANTFLT/SACLANT) was a seasoned submariner who had assumed his current duties in February 1960. He was known as a "politically savvy" officer, in large part because of a lengthy tour he had served as President Truman's Naval Aide. Dennison also had served tours in the Office of the Chief of Naval operations as Director of the Strategic Plans Division and later as Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Plans and Policy.

Vice Admiral Alfred G. "Corky" Ward, Commander Second Fleet, was an experienced surface warfare officer. An electrical engineering postgraduate (PG), he had served for much of World War II in the Pacific as gunnery officer on the new battleship North Carolina. His postwar tours in command of destroyer and cruiser divisions and an amphibious squadron had suited him ably for his duty as Commander Amphibious Force, Atlantic Fleet (COMPHIBLANT)-the job which he was holding down in October 1962 when tapped for command of the Second Fleet.

Vice Admiral Horatio Rivero, Jr., Corky Ward's replacement as Commander Amphibious Force, Atlantic Fleet, was another highly-trained surface warfare officer. Like Ward, he was an electrical engineering PG. He fought through most of the Pacific war as gunnery officer in the light cruiser San Juan and then as gunnery officer and later executive officer in the new heavy cruiser Pittsburgh. His postwar career, which included several important nuclear weapons-related tours, culminated in his December 1960 assignment as Deputy Chief of Staff and Deputy Chief of Staff for Plans and Operations to the Commander in Chief, Atlantic Fleet. It was from this job that he moved to command the fleet's amphibious force, when Admiral Ward left to take over the Second Fleet.

The Atlantic Command, headquartered in Norfolk, Virginia, was a unified command reporting through the Joint Chiefs of Staff to the National Command Authorities. During 1962 its staff was integrated with the staff of the Atlantic Fleet, which was also commanded by Admiral Robert Dennison. On 1 October of that year, only its naval component-the Atlantic Fleet-was activated. Its Army and Air Force components remained inactive-their units being under the operational control of U.S. Strike Command (STRICOM) for training purposes.

At the time the crisis erupted, CINCLANT had three current contingency plans for operations against Cuba: operation plans (OPLANS) 312, 314, and 316. CINCLANT Contingency Operation Plan No. 312-62 was an air strike plan, providing for the rapid response of U.S. air power against Cuba from a no-warning condition if the need arose. It provided a variety of responses ranging from air strikes against a single Cuban target, such as a surface-to-air missile (SAM) site, to widespread air attacks throughout Cuba. As eventually modified during the missile crisis, the 312 plan was divided into three different categories of attack. Category I, code named FIRE HOSE, provided for the selective destruction of a SAM site (or sites) as directed by CINCLANT. CINCAFLANT-CINCLANT's Air Force component commander (General Walter C. "Cam" Sweeney, Jr., Commander Tactical Air Command (COMTAC)-was the target coordinator and would conduct operations using his own forces when directed. Category II, designated SHOE BLACK, provided for a wider selection of targets under limited operations prescribed by CINCLANT. Strike missions under SHOE BLACK were grouped by type, such as airfields, SAM sites, and missile complexes. Again CINCAFLANT was the target coordinator, but his forces for this enhanced level of effort included naval aircraft from the naval task force. The final category, code named SCABBARDS 312, was for the conduct of large-scale air strikes against Cuba.

CINCLANT Contingency Operation Plan No. 314-62 provided for joint military operations in Cuba by combined Navy, Air Force, and Army forces. The plan called for a simultaneous amphibious and airborne assault in the Havana area by a joint task force within eighteen days after receipt of the order to execute.

CINCLANT Contingency Operation Plan No. 316-62 was developed as a short-reaction version of plan 314, employing the same eventual forces envisaged for the other plan but set to commence five days after a decision to initiate was made. As finally modified on 17 October 1962, it was changed to a seven-day plan. It should be noted, however, that both OPLANS 314 and 316 were to be executed following the completion of plan 312's air strikes.

CINCLANT's actions related to the worsening strategic situation in the Caribbean in light of the continuing Soviet weapons buildup in Cuba began on 1 October 1962. Following a meeting that day between Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara and the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS), Admiral Dennison notified the Commander in Chief, Atlantic Fleet and Commander in Chief, Air Forces, Atlantic that he desired responsible commanders "to take all feasible measures necessary to assure maximum readiness to execute CINCLANT OPLAN 312 by 20 October." The 312 plan was to be modified to incorporate many features of CINCAFLANT's plan designated ROCKPILE. Five days later, he directed increased readiness to execute the 314 and 316 plans, as well.

While this was occurring in Norfolk, Admiral George Anderson, the Chief of Naval Operations, was busily engaged in Washington with matters at the JCS level. Nonetheless, he continued to retain an active interest in all naval aspects of events in the Atlantic Command. For some time he had been less than overwhelmed by the ability of Vice Admiral John McNay Taylor, the Commander Second Fleet, and with events in Cuba shaping up as they were, Anderson decided to act. On 13 October, Taylor was ordered detached. Vice Admiral Alfred Ward, the Atlantic Fleet's amphibious force commander, was chosen to be his relief, but the press of events precluded giving him any warning of the impending change. As Admiral Ward later recalled:

I had an odd phone call from a staff captain on the staff of Admiral Dennison . . . This captain told me that I was to be relieved of my command the next day and I said, to whom am I talking, and he identified himself and I knew him. I said, well, what have I done wrong? And he said, "I don't know that." I said, "Who will relieve me?" and he said, "I don't know that." I said, "Well, I want to talk to Admiral Dennison." He said, "He's too busy, he can't talk to you."

An understandably concerned Corky Ward finally got through to Vice Admiral Wallace M. Beakley, Dennison's Deputy and Chief of Staff, who in several hurried phone conversations eventually let Ward know that he was not being relieved "for cause" but rather would be taking over the Second Fleet from Admiral Taylor. On 15 October, Vice Admiral Horacio Rivero, Jr., CINCLANTFLT's Deputy Chief of Staff, relieved Admiral Ward as COMPHIBFORLANT. Five days later, Ward, in turn, relieved Taylor as Commander Second Fleet (COMSECONDFLT).

On 16 October, Admiral Dennison designated General Herbert B. Powell, Commanding General Continental Army Command (CONARC) as the interim Army Component Commander, Atlantic (COMARLANT) in place of Lieutenant General Hamilton Howze, Commanding General XVIII Airborne Corps. Two days later, CINCLANT's Army and Air Force component commands were declared fully active. On 19 October, Dennison decided to create a Cuban Contingency staff under Army Lieutenant General Louis H. Truman, the commander of Joint Task Force 4. Upon relief from his existing assignment, Truman reported in the next day as CINCLANT's Chief of Staff for Cuban Contingency Operations. The special staff set up under Truman's control eventually reached a strength of 113 officers and 69 enlisted personnel.

In Washington on 20 October, Secretary McNamara directed Admiral Anderson to prepare the position and policy papers, scenario, and implementing instructions for a limited blockade of Cuba. In a similar fashion, he assigned Air Force Chief of Staff Curtis E. LeMay oversight responsibilities over the air strike option. As Admiral Anderson recalled, "McNamara called me up and said, 'The President wants you to run the blockade-the quarantine-(and) he wants LeMay to run the [aerial] reconnaissance'."

In furtherance of his newly-augmented responsibilities, Anderson set up a round-the-clock watch in his office, utilizing Admiral Claude V. Ricketts, the Vice Chief of Naval Operations, Vice Admiral Charles D. Griffin, Deputy Chief of Staff for Fleet Operations and Readiness, and (initially) Vice Admiral U.S. Grant Sharp, Jr., Deputy Chief of Operations for Plans and Policy, to act in his absence while he was busy with his JCS responsibilities in connection with the Cuban crisis. He remarked:

I then put [the] three senior, most experienced officers I had on a . . . heel-and-toe watch basis in my office, to supervise everything that went on-with two objectives: first, to make sure that the President and the Secretary of Defense were informed-kept fully informed on all particulars of . . . anything we should have; and secondly, to prevent any civilian encroachment on military operations-[to] maintain the military chain of command. Because prior to that, I'd had a small, annoying situation where the Deputy- Secretary of Defense had ordered a squadron of our carrier fighters, which we needed-our best F-4 fighters-from one of the carriers, down to Key West for air defense purposes. Which I objected to, and I objected to it in principle and I objected to it in the way it was being done-by him giving the directive rather than going through the [Joint] Chiefs of Staff and the Chief of [Naval Operations].

On the evening of 21 October, in anticipation of the blockade of Cuba, CINCLANTFLT issued OP Order 45-62 designating Commander Second Fleet as the Quarantine Force Commander and Commander Task Force (CTF) 136. Commander Antisubmarine Warfare Force, Atlantic (COMASWFORLANT)-Vice Admiral Edmund B. "Whitey" Taylor-in his capacity as CTF 81-83, was directed to conduct air surveillance as requested by the Commander Quarantine Force. The following day, COMSECONDFLT issued OP Order 1-62 establishing Task Force 136 with himself as task force commander.

Quarantine Forces

As established, CTF 136 consisted of three task groups: CTG 136.1, CTG 136.2, and CTG 136.3. CTG 136.1-commanded by Commander Cruiser-Destroyer Flotilla 6 (Rear Admiral John W. Ailes, III)-was composed of two cruisers (Newport News and Canberra), two guided missile destroyer leaders, two guided missile destroyers, two radar picket destroyers, one antisubmarine destroyer, and nine destroyers. CTG 136.2-commanded by Commander Carrier Division 18 (Rear Admiral Ernest E. Christensen)-was composed of one antisubmarine aircraft carrier (Essex) and four destroyers. CTG 136.3, the Mobile Logistic Support Group-commanded by the Commanding Officer of Elokomin, Captain W. O. Spears, Jr.,-consisted of two oilers, an ammunition ship, and two destroyers. In addition to the naval forces assigned to the task groups, a few destroyer-type ships assigned to the Commander Key West Force and Commander Caribbean Sea Frontier participated in quarantine operations on an intermittent basis, due to their relative proximity to the geographic areas of interest.

The ships of TG 136.1 initially were given stations on an arc of 5,00 miles from Cape Maisi (the easternmost point of Cuba) extending from latitude 27-30N, longitude 70-00W to latitude 20- 00N, longitude 65-00W. Each sector was separated by 47 miles. These stations were assigned the prefix code name WALNUT. The line was situated to cover the probable approaches from Europe to Cuba and the routes regularly used by Communist Bloc shipping.

As established on 24 October, the quarantine line was backed up on its northern end by Canberra (Rear Admiral John W. Ailes, III, Surface Group Commander, embarked) and two destroyers and on its southern end by Newport News (Admiral Ward's flagship) and two destroyers. TG 136.2-Rear Admiral Christensen's ASW Hunter Killer (HUK) group-was stationed west of the general center of the line. Its aircraft were able to provide air surveillance north and west of the line, including the open area between the line's northern terminus and the coast of Florida. TG 136.3-Spears' Mobile Logistic Support Group-operated as necessary to replenish the ships on station.

Additional air surveillance for the quarantine was provided by Navy patrol aircraft operating from such widely separated points as Argentia, Nova Scotia, Patuxent River, Maryland, Norfolk, Virginia, Jacksonville, Florida, Bermuda, Roosevelt Roads, Puerto Rico, Guantanamo Naval Base, Cuba, and the Azores. The Air Force also furnished aircraft to augment the Navy's efforts. Six Air Force RB-47s and four RB-50s participated in the air surveillance during the first week of the search efforts. Thereafter, the four RB-50s continued operating from the Azores in support of the quarantine.

During the first days of crisis operations, U.S. air surveillance revealed that the Cuban Air Force was in a poor state of readiness to launch an attack against the ships on the quarantine line. Accordingly, in order to improve the quarantine's effectiveness while reducing ship requirements, on 30-31 October the line was readjusted closer to Cuba but seaward of the Bahamas chain. The smaller number of stations involved were designated with the new prefix code named CHESTNUT.

Overall, the quarantine was divided into three phases. During the first phase, lasting from the initiation of the quarantine on 24 October through 4 November, merchant ships inbound to and outbound from Cuba were located, identified, intercepted, trailed, and, in one instance, stopped and boarded. In the period up through 28 October, five merchant ships inbound for Cuba were designated suspect ships. However, only one of these-the Lebanese-flag freighter Marucla-was eventually boarded (on 26 October).

During the second phase of the quarantine, which lasted from 5 to 11 November and covered the withdrawal of the Soviet offensive missiles from Cuba, CINCLANTFLT promulgated the prefix code name SCOTCH TAPE to designate merchant ships thought to be carrying the outgoing offensive weapon systems. During this phase, eleven SCOTCH TAPE ships were observed outbound from Cuba. Aerial and surface surveillance identified and provided verification of the cargoes of the nine Soviet ships that took the medium and intermediate range missiles back to the Soviet Union.

The third and final phase of the quarantine lasted from 11 November until 21 November, when Task Force 136 was dissolved. Although during this period some additional ships were trailed and six of these ships were designated as being of special interest, no further offensive weapons were detected on the ships which were intercepted or photographed.

Overall, the quarantine proved a major task. An average of 46 ships, 240 aircraft, and some 30,000 personnel were involved directly in the effort to locate ships inbound for and outbound from Cuba during the crisis. The search aircraft involved provided over 200 ship sightings of interest to the personnel of Quarantine Plot in Norfolk. This is in contrast to only 50 sightings provided by ships employed in the quarantine. Indeed, the majority of merchant ships intercepted were first sighted by aircraft. Task Force 136 ships were then vectored for a surface interception.

Attack Carrier Striking Force

The first component of the force which was to become Task Force 135 deployed from Norfolk on 11 October to operate in or south of the Mayport, Florida, area to reduce reaction time in the event of operations in the Caribbean. When it sailed that day, the carrier Independence, with Commander Carrier Division (COMCARDIV) 6 (Rear Admiral Robert J. Stroh) embarked, was accompanied by four destroyers. On 19 October the carrier Enterprise was directed to get underway and proceed south as well. Having just returned a few days before from a European deployment, Enterprise, with COMCARDIV 2 (Rear Admiral John T. Hayward) embarked, hurriedly put to sea. Destroyers were directed to rendezvous with the carrier at sea.

As eventually formed, TF 135 consisted of Independence with Carrier Air Group 7, Enterprise with Carrier Air Group 6, two destroyer squadrons, an oiler, an ammunition ship, and a Marine air group (consisting of 2 attack squadrons and a fighter squadron) shore-based at Roosevelt Roads. Rear Admiral Stroh was initially designated the task force commander.

On 20 October, CINCLANT issued OP Order 43-62. This provided the basis for naval actions in support of OPLAN 312-the air strike plan. Upon execution of the plan, TF 135 was to strike assigned targets in Cuba and to provide air defense and close air support for the Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay. Later that day CINCLANT directed COMCARDIVs 2 and 6 to move into position as soon as possible for execution of plan 312 and to advise him of their estimated time of arrival at aircraft launch points.

On 21 October, TF 135 arrived in the best position for possible launch of air strikes against Cuba. It was then operating in waters north of the island. The following day CTF 135 reported that he was capable of striking all assigned targets and that he was maintaining position to have his first aircraft on target within three hours after the order to execute had been given. Later that day, Task Force 135 moved to waters located to the south of Cuba in order to afford better ASW protection for itself.

On 24 October, CINCLANTFLT directed the CHOP (turnover of operational control) to CTF 135 of the forces provided in his OP Order 43-62. At this time, COMCARDIV 2, Rear Admiral Hayward, became CTF 135. Two days later, because of a possible submarine contact, TF 135 moved to waters south of Jamaica. The operating area was later moved again, in light of increasing submarine activity, to the shallow waters south and southwest of Jamaica.

Although the task force was not called upon to conduct the anticipated air strikes on Cuba, it remained ready to respond rapidly to changes in the existing situation throughout November 1962 and into December. By the time Task Force 135 was finally dissolved in mid-December, its ships and aircraft had accumulated many hours at sea in readiness for its missions.

ASW Force Operations

As early as 13 October 1962, the Atlantic Fleet had been alerted to the strong possibility of Soviet submarine activity in the Western Atlantic, when the Military Sea Transportation Service (MSTS) tankerYerkon reported sighting a surfaced submarine 130 miles north of Caracas, Venezuela. Following this sighting, the Soviet electronics intelligence (ELINT) trawler Shkval, which was operating in the Western Atlantic, was located by patrol aircraft and kept under surveillance to observe any Soviet submarine attempting to replenish from her. The sudden appearance in the Western Atlantic of the Soviet oiler Terekon 18 October similarly took on importance because of the likelihood that she would be used to replenish Soviet submarines as necessary. Accordingly, she was kept under very careful surveillance during the crisis.

On 20 October, Navy patrol aircraft were dispatched to Lajes in the Azores to provide open-ocean surveillance for Communist Bloc shipping and submarines. The following day, Terek was observed northwest of the Azores dead in the water. On 22 October, patrol aircraft operating from Lajes discovered a Soviet Zulu-class submarine being refueling from the stern of Terek. At 2300 that night, Defense Condition (DEFCON) 3 was set by the National Command Authorities. In connection with this increased level of alert, Vice Admiral Taylor, COMASWFORLANT, began preparations for more active military measures, including possible activation of the Greenland-Iceland-United Kingdom (G-I-UK) ASW barrier.

On 24 October, COMASWFORLANT established the Argentia Sub-Air Barrier to detect submarine activity as far forward as possible. Seventeen patrol aircraft and ten submarines, assisted by Canadian forces, participated in the barrier operation that followed. That same day, CINCLANTFLT advised that at least three known Soviet submarines were operating in the North Atlantic. These, and perhaps others, could reach the quarantine line within a few days and could pose a substantial threat to the quarantine force. Accordingly, ASW patrolling was stepped up.

Because of increases in requirements for open ocean surveillance and ASW in support of the quarantine line, on 27 October, Admiral Taylor requested that the Canadian Commander Maritime Atlantic (CANCOMARLANT) take the Quonset ASW area under surveillance. During the following days of the crisis, the infusion of additional air strength provided by Canadian Argus aircraft allowed adequate coverage of the Western Atlantic, despite the heavy ASW commitments in the Caribbean.

In all during the missile crisis, U.S. Navy ASW forces prosecuted 29 submarine contacts. Of these, six were determined to be positive submarines. The most exhausting ASW prosecution of the period ended on 31 October, when a submerged Soviet Foxtrot-class submarine was forced to surface following 35 hours of continuous sonar contact by ASW units. The Argentia Sub-Air Barrier was finally disestablished on 13 November.

Amphibious Force Operations

On 15 October 1962, the Amphibious Force Atlantic was preparing to take part in Amphibious Brigade Landing Exercise 1962 (PHIBRIGLEX 62)-a three Battalion Landing Team (BLT) exercise by the 4th Marine Expeditionary Brigade (MEB) scheduled to take place from 22 to 25 October at Vieques Island, Puerto Rico. The next day, Vice Admiral Rivero, COMPHIBLANT, sailed for the Caribbean in the command ship Mount McKinley, as Commander Task Force 144 for the exercise. One amphibious squadron (PHIBRON 8) with Marine BLT BLT 2/2 embarked was already in the Caribbean at this time.

By 20 October, the readiness posture of PHIBLANT had been oriented toward combat preparedness, and scheduled training exercises had been cancelled. Admiral Rivero assumed direct operational control of PHIBRON 8 and ordered it to proceed at best speed to the Guantanamo operating area.

On 22 October, COMPHIBLANT was in position in the Caribbean, even as the bulk of his forces were being loaded out. That day, PHIBRON 8 was offloading BLT 2/2 at Guantanamo and preparing to evacuate dependents; PHIBRON 6 with a BLT embarked was enroute south; PHIBRON 10 was beginning to outload BLT 3/8; the Sandoval unit, serving as PHIBRON 2 and providing lift for another BLT, was ready to sail when loading ports were clear; and PHIBGRU (Amphibious Group) 4 with Movement Unit Alfa (4th MEB) and PHIBRON 12 were in position in the Caribbean. Two days later, virtually all PHIBLANT ships were either combat loaded or en route to loading ports. That same day, the Joint Chiefs of Staff ordered the 5th MEB (to be composed of four BLT) from the Fleet Marine Force, Pacific (FMFPAC) to be loaded out and sailed as soon as possible for the Atlantic. This was accomplished under Rear Admiral Nels C. Johnson, COMPHIBGRU 3.

On 23 October, following the setting of DEFCON 3, Lieutenant General Robert B. Luckey, the Commanding General Fleet Marine Force, Atlantic (FMFLANT) was directed to embark the remainder of the 2d Marine Division as shipping became available. Having done this, he activated the II Marine Expeditionary Force (II MEF) and reported to COMPHIBLANT for embarkation as its commanding general.

A week later, on 30 October, CINCLANTFLT partially approved Admiral Rivero's request to activate Amphibious Task Force 128, which was the organization called for in CINCLANT's OPLAN 316-62. That same day, PHIBGRU 3, with the 5th MEB embarked, was en route to the Panama Canal. By 2 November, all PHIBLANT units assigned to the Cuban operation were loaded and had been formed into the Task Force 44 organization. On 5 November, PHIBGRU 3 began transiting the Panama Canal. Three days later, its transit was complete, and the nearly 11,000 Marines and Navy personnel of the 5th Marine Expeditionary Brigade were ready for employment by COMPHIBLANT. The following day, 9 November, COMPHIBLANT activated Task Force 128.

Admiral Rivero authorized COMPHIBGRU 4 to conduct a full-scale landing exercise at Onslow Beach, North Carolina on 16 November 1962. That day marked the high point of amphibious force participation in the Cuban crisis. In the largest amphibious landing exercise conducted in almost twenty years, PHIBGRU 4 landed six Marine BLTs at Onslow-four by boat and two by helicopter-with almost split-second timing. This remarkably successful exercise provided a demonstration of PHIBLANT's readiness to carry out its assigned missions under OPLAN 316-62.


With the crisis winding down, on 28 November, CINCLANTFLT set DEFCON 5 in the fleet, with the exception of Guantanamo Naval Base and Task Force 135 (the carrier striking force). Within a few hours, COMPHIBGRU 3 was ordered to sail for the Pacific upon completion of loading, and COMPHIBLANT was directed to return the II MEF to home stations. On 6 December, DEFCON 5 was set for all LANTFLT forces. That same day, Task Force 128, the largest amphibious force the Atlantic Fleet had seen in a generation-86 ships (58 amphibious ships) and over 40,000 personnel-was dissolved, and all of its ships reverted to normal operational control.

The Navy's role in the Cuban Missile Crisis was a substantial one. It provided the most visible portion of the U.S. conventional forces which served to underscore the firmness of the United States' decision that the Soviet offensive missiles would be withdrawn from Cuban territory, one way or another. If the United States had been forced to attack the missile sites and invade Cuba, there is little doubt that the Navy, Marine, Army, and Air Force units employed by CINCLANT would have accomplished the job with thorough professionalism and dispatch.

A Note About Sources

The materials used for this paper included sanitized or declassified reports by CINCLANT and CINCLANTFLT of operations during the Cuban Missile Crisis, the author's 1977 taped interviews with Admiral Anderson and Admiral Dennison, and the U.S. Naval Institute's oral histories of Admirals Anderson, Dennison, Ward, and Rivero (the last of which was used with the admiral's specific permission).


Note: The views or opinions expressed or implied are those of the speakers alone and not those of the Department of the Navy or any other agency of the U.S. Government.


Published: Mon Apr 27 08:56:53 EDT 2020