The Cuban Missile Crisis was a 13-day confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union over the placement of American ballistic missile in Italy and Turkey with consequent Soviet ballistic missile deployment in Cuba. This event which took place within October 16-28, 1962 during the Cold War nearly escalated into a full-blown nuclear war. In memory of this event, we will take on the Cuban Missile Crisis from the beginning until its peak, aftermath, and cultural references.
The Bay of Pigs Invasion
The Bay of Pigs Invasion led to the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. It was a failed military invasion by the U.S.-led government of John F. Kennedy to overthrow Cuban Prime Minister, Fidel Castro’s regime.
(Photo credit MIGUEL VINAS/AFP/Getty Images)
This would have been a catastrophe to Castro’s communist cause if it had been successful. The US imposed a ban on the introduction of offensive weapons into Cuba and continued secret operations against Castro’s government.
In 1962, the United States also had nuclear missiles deployed in Italy and Turkey against the Soviet Union, whose capital Moscow was within range. Cuba strengthened ties with the Soviet Union to prevent future invasion attempt. In the late summer of 1962, the Soviet Union began the deployment of ballistic missiles in Cuba. These developments contributed to the Cuban Missile Crisis.
About the Picture: This April 1961 file photo shows a group of Cuban counter-revolutionaries, members of Assault Brigade 2506, after their capture in the Bay of Pigs, Cuba. AFP PHOTO/FILES/PL/MIGUEL VINAS (Photo credit MIGUEL VINAS/AFP/Getty Images)
Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev and Fidel Castro agreed on the secret placement of nuclear missiles secretly in Cuba. The Soviet Union’s code name for the nuclear missiles placement was Operation Anadyr.
Nikita KHRUSHCHEV, USSR Soviet Union Communist Party’s General Secretary, in Havana, speaking through an interpreter to the Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro. (Photo by Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images)
The Soviets sneaked in thousands of troops wearing checkered shirts and tight quarters and posed as civilian agricultural advisers into Cuba. Many more troops were hidden and sent aboard a fleet of 85 ships loaded with Arctic equipment to Cuba. During this period, the two superpowers – the U.S. and the Soviet Union – were involved in a silent battle for supremacy, known as the Cold War. This followed a series of geopolitical clashes.
The Discovery of the Nuclear Missiles in Cuba
Worried that Cuba would, In September 1962, the U.S. placed restrictions on U-2 flights (US intelligence gathering aircraft) over Cuban airspace, which lasted for five weeks. This was in a bid to prevent Cuba from shooting down a CIA-operated U-2 that could have led to another international event.
October 1962: Aerial spy photos of a medium range ballistic missile base with medium-rangeling various parts of the base during the Cuban Missile Crisis, San Cristobal, Cuba. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
On October 14, American U-2 plane pilot Major Richard S. Heyser took aerial photographs while making a high-altitude pass over Cuba. The photos clearly showed evidence of medium-range and intermediate-range ballistic missiles being installed in Cuba. The images were processed and sent to the White House the following day.
Resolving the Crisis
On October 16, U.S. President John F. Kennedy was briefed about the crisis he called for a meeting of key advisers and officials on how to resolve the crisis. The President formally named the committee Executive Committee of the National Security Council (EXCOMM).
The Executive Committee of the National Security Council meets in the cabinet room during the Cuban Missile Crisis. (Photo by © CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)
The group deliberated on several options including air strike to destroy the missile bases, full force invasion of Cuba, and naval quarantine to prevent more missiles from gaining entry into Cuba. The President ordered the naval quarantine on October 22. This action was considered a limited military action which was not likely to incite a Soviet attack.
Threats by the US Governmnet to Invade Cuba
On the evening of October 22, President Kennedy announced on national television to inform the nation of the happenings in Cuba, the U.S. government’s plan of a naval quarantine around Cuba, and the possible consequences if the crisis escalated. On October 24, the Soviet Union’s leader Khrushchev reacted to President Kennedy’s statement, stating that the quarantine was an act of aggression and that Soviet ships would still proceed to Cuba.
John Fitzgerald Kennedy (1917 – 1963), American president announcing on television the strategic blockade of Cuba, and his warning to the Soviet Union about missile sanctions during the Cuban missile crisis, 22nd October 1962. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)
On October 24 and 25, some Soviet ships were not granted access from the quarantine line, others that did not contain offensive weapons were allowed to proceed. However, there was no military confrontation. Meanwhile, there were indications that the Soviet’s missile sites were near completion and they were not showing any inclination of backing down. On October 26, US started making preparations to invade Cuba and a nuclear strike to ward off any military retaliation by the Soviet Union.
After tense negotiations initiated by Khrushchev’s message to Kennedy on October 26, disaster was averted. Both parties made a compromise to put an end to the Cuban Missile Crisis on October 28, 1962. The Soviet Union agreed to remove their missiles from Cuba with an agreement that the United States would not invade Cuba. Also, the United States secretly agreed to dismantle and remove their nuclear missiles from Turkey and Italy without making it publicly known.
The Soviet freighter Anosov, rear, being escorted by a Navy plane and the destroyer USS Barry, while it leaves Cuba probably loaded with missiles under the canvas cover seen on deck, Cuba, 1962. (Photo by Underwood Archives/Getty Images)
The crisis ended but the naval quarantine was not discontinued until the removal of Soviet Union’s IL-28 bombers from Cuba. The quarantine was officially ended on November 20, 1962.
Combat Fatalities of the United States
On 27 October 1962, 12 naval warships of the U.S. located the Soviet submarine B-59 near Cuba. The naval officers started deploying explosives to force the submarine to come to the surface for identification not knowing that it was armed with a nuclear-tipped torpedo.
This newspaper map from the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis shows the distances from Cuba of various cities on the North American Continent.
On that day, a surface-to-air missile supplied by the Soviets downed an American U-2 plane, resulting in the death of its pilot; Major Rudolf Anderson Jr. President Kennedy posthumously awarded the pilot the Distinguished Service Medal. Four days before Pilot Anderson’s demise, a C-135 Air Force transport bringing supplies to Guantanamo Naval Air Station on Cuba crashed on landing, killing its crew of seven.
The 13 Days Cuban Missile Crisis
The Cuban Missile Crisis lasted for thirteen days from the time the President became aware of the situation Nikita Khrushchev’s announcement on Radio Moscow that the missiles would be removed. Although the whole world was relieved after the news on the 13th day, the tension did not suddenly fade away. The U.S. military remained very vigilant for three more weeks, monitoring the removal of the missiles from Cuba. Robert F.
Onlookers gather on George Smathers Beach in Key West, Florida to see the Army’s Hawk anti-aircraft missiles positioned there during Cuban Missile Crisis, Key West, Florida, 1962. (Photo by Underwood Archives/Getty Images)
Kennedy, brother of President Kennedy, also wrote the book Thirteen Days, which givesan account of the crisis. The book was also adapted into a 2000 motion picture with the same title. The Cuban Missile Crisis came very close to escalating the Cold War into a full-blown nuclear war. At the time, it was the primary focus of the media, with the world anxious over its outcome.