The Bay of Pigs Invasion


U.S. policy in Latin American

U.S. policy in Latin America in the late 1950s and early 1960s was shaped as ever, by the U.S’s substantial economic interests and its perceived neo-imperialist “ownership” of the region.

American policy had several purposes, two of which as stated by George Kennan (a U.S. policy advisor) was “To protect the vital supplies of raw materials which Latin American countries export to the USA and to avert the psychological mobilisation of Latin America against us.” The U.S. had a vested interest that the governments in Latin America remained complicit, right-wing and pro-American, and was not reluctant to use assassination, subversion, coercion and open military force to ensure that was the way things remained.


In 1951 Jacobo Arbenz became president of Guatemala. His party had been progressing with a series of reforms, and the newly elected leader continued with these reforms. During land reforms a major American company, the United Fruit Company, lost its land and other holdings. When the Guatemalans refused to go to the International Court of Law, United Fruit began to lobby the government of the United States to take action. In the government they had some very powerful supporters. Among them were Foster Dulles, Secretary of State who had once been their lawyer, his brother Allen the Director of Central Intelligence who was a shareholder and former chairman, and Robert Cutler head of the National Security Council. In what was a clear conflict of interest, the security apparatus of the United States decided to take action against the Guatemalans.

From May 1st, 1954, to June 18th, the Central Intelligence Agency did everything in its power to overthrow the government of Arbenz climaxing on June 18th with an invasion of 450 men lead by a Colonel Carlos Castillo Armas. With the help of air support the men took control of the country and Arbenz fled to the Mexican Embassy. By June 27th, the country was firmly in control of the invading force. The CIA installed a new government under their own direction which had more “sympathetic” views towards U.S. industry. With its success in Guatemala the CIA was confident that it could now take on anyone who interfered with American interests.

Less than 10 years later when Castro began the process of progressive reform of Cuban society he was, at first unknowingly, drifting into conflict with same powerful American interests that Arbenz had in Guatemala, to many it looked like he might have a similar fate.

The Covert War

In the midst of the red scare the U.S. was suspicious of everyone. This included Fidel Castro who travelled to the United States on behalf of the new Cuban Republic, seeking to meet with U.S. President Eisenhower on April 15, 1959. He was refused as Eisenhower famously snubbed the Cuban leader to go play golf. Instead Castro was granted a meeting with the vice president, Richard M. Nixon. It was after this meeting that the wheels of the U.S. security machine began to turn, their objective was to topple Castro.

The U.S. began to bring to bear on the Revolutionaries all the economic, diplomatic and covert military pressure it could muster.

On June 5, Sen. George Smathers (Democrat of Florida) proposed an amendment to reduce the Cuban sugar quota. Six days later, the U.S. government officially protested the terms of compensation given to U.S. companies for the Cuban land they had occupied.

By July 1959 the CIA had put out a contract on Fidel Castro's life, his life expectancy did not exceed a year. While Castro was aware of the assassination being orchestrated from the United States, he did not plan nor attempt reprisals, but continued to make diplomatic attempts to find peace between Cuba and the United States.

On October 11-21, three covert raids by U.S. military aircraft bombed Cuban sugar mills in Pinar del Rio and Camaguey provinces. Cuba immediately began efforts to purchase aeroplanes for its defence, looking first to Britain, who agreed to enter negotiations for sales. However diplomatic intervention from the United States forces England not to sell military aircraft to Cuba, and England withdrawals before the negotiations.

On Oct. 21, an aircraft raid on Havana kills two people and wounds 45 civilians in the streets. The next day, in Las Villas province, a U.S. military aircraft strafes a train full of passengers. In response, Cubans form a popular militia.

Throughout late 1959 and early 1960 (particularly the month of January), U.S. military aeroplanes camouflaged as counterrevolutionary Cuban aircraft, drop napalm bombs on oil refineries and the sugar cane fields of Cuba, burning tens of thousands of acres of farmland.

On January 12, napalm bombs are dropped from covert U.S. aircraft and burn 10 tons of sugar cane in Havana Province.

On the 21st, four 100 pound bombs are dropped on Havana, causing extensive damage.

On the 28th through the 29th, U.S. military aircraft bomb and severely damage five sugar cane fields in Camaguey Province and three in Oriente Province.

On February 7, 1960, another air attack by covert U.S. military aircraft burns 30 tons of sugar cane and several sugar mills in Camaguey. Evidence that CIA operatives are co-ordinating sabotage operations of sugar production and bombings in urban areas emerges.

On February 18, U.S. pilot Robert Ellis Frost, is killed when his aircraft is shot down while attacking a sugar mill in Matanzas province. With an increasingly overt campaign of industrial sabotage being waged on the new revolutionary government by the CIA Castro meets with foreign minister Anasta Mikoyan to secure a $100 million loan from the Soviet Union. It was in this atmosphere that the American Intelligence and Foreign Relations communities decided that Castro was not only a threat to American interests in Latin America but also leaning towards alliance with the Soviet Union and had to be dealt with.

On the 23rd, several more air attacks are launched against sugar mills in Las Villas and Matanzas provinces. The Cuban government reaches out to the United States for peaceful negotiations on the 29th, with the condition that the United States cease the bombing campaigns which it continues to deny during negotiations.

U.S. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles (who owns land that has been confiscated as a result of the Agrarian Reform Law) refuses all attempts to negotiation.

In March, a $100 million loan, to be granted to Cuba by Western European banks, is cancelled in response to U.S. threats.

On March 4, the Coubre, a French freighter loaded with Belgian arms and ammunition, is blown up in Havana Harbour, killing over a hundred workers.

On March 8, an air attack burns more sugar cane in Pinar del Rio.

On March 17, 1960, President Eisenhower approves Operation Pluto, a covert action plan to actively overthrow the Cuban Republic. The plan calls for a termination of all sugar trade with Cuba, the end of all oil deliveries to Cuba, and a continuation of the arms embargo.

April 4, a U.S. military aircraft from the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo drops napalm bombs in the Oriente province.

On May 17, the CIA creates Radio Swan, a radio station broadcasting U.S. propaganda to the Cuban people to rise up and overthrow their government.

In June 7, when the first shipment of Soviet sold oil arrives, U.S. companies in Cuba (Shell, Esso, and Texaco) are ordered not to refine it by the U.S. government; while at the same time all U.S. oil sold to Cuba is terminated. These are the only oil refineries in Cuba, which in essence paralyses the Cuban economy, unable to generate energy.

On June 27, the U.S. Congress begins to push through an amended Sugar Act, which calls to eliminate Cuba's sugar quota. In response, Cuba nationalises the Texaco oil refinery on June 29, and the Esso and Shell oil refineries on July 1.

On July 3, 1960, the United States suspends trading sugar with Cuba through the Sugar Act, cutting off over 80 percent of Cuban exports to the United States, effectively crippling the economy.

On July 5, Cuba retaliates by nationalising all U.S. businesses and commercial property. On the following day President Eisenhower cancels the 700,000 tons of sugar remaining in Cuba's quota for 1960, and threatens that strategic action against Cuba is imminent.

On July 8, the Soviet Union announces that it will purchase the 700,000 tons of sugar cut-off by the U.S., while Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev explains that the Soviet Union will protect Cuba from a U.S. invasion force. At the U.N. General Assembly, Cuba replies that in the event of a U.S. invasion, Cuba "could have no other course than to accept this assistance with gratitude."

On July 23, China agrees to buy 500,000 tons of sugar from Cuba annually for five years, at the world market price.

In August 16, 1960, the CIA recruit members of the U.S. Mafia in an another unsuccessfully effort to assassinate Fidel Castro.

In September Cuban civilian militia mobilise for cleanup operations against the CIA funded counterrevolutionary groups. The CIA groups are crushed by the civilian militia.

On the 28, Castro addresses a mass rally at Revolution Plaza, when terrorists detonate four bombs intended for Castro. The attempt is unsuccessful, and Castro continues speaking.

On October 8-10, weapons caches dropped from a U.S. military aircraft are seized in Escambray and over 100 counter-revolutionaries are arrested.

On October 19, the United States imposes a full trade and economic embargo on Cuba (excepting food and medicine).

On October 31, President Eisenhower denies all knowledge of Operation Pluto or any planned U.S. attacks on Cuba. Four days previous, Eisenhower had ordered the beginning of U-2 flights over Cuba to map out invasion plans.

On the 18th, the soon-to-be President Kennedy is briefed on plans for the invasion of Cuba.

On January 2, 1961, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev lucidly tells a gathering at the Cuban embassy in Moscow: "Alarming news is coming from Cuba at present, news that the most aggressive American monopolists are preparing a direct attack on Cuba." A day later the United States severs diplomatic and consular relations with Cuba.

On January 7-9, weapon caches dropped by U.S. planes in Pinar del Rio and Ecambray are ceased. Days later, on the 14th, terrorists start a fire in the tobacco warehouses of Havana, causing severe damages.

On January 20, 1961, John F. Kennedy is inaugurated as the president of the United States, defeating Richard Nixon.

In February, the CIA makes yet another attempt to assassinate Castro, this time poisoning Castro's favourite Cuban cigars.

On March 11, terrorists destroy electrical plants in Havana, leaving a large part of Havana without electricity. Two days later, an oil refinery at the Santiago de Cuba port is attacked by terrorists.

On April 3rd, the U.S. State Department issues a White Paper on Cuba, explaining that Cuba is a Soviet satellite — dictating that if Cuba breaks off all ties with the Soviet Union the United States will aid such a "free" government; if Cuba chooses otherwise, the United States threatens that Cuba is "a clear and present danger to the authentic and autonomous evolution of the Americas."

On April 7, the New York Times reports that "experts" have been training paramilitary groups for an invasion of Cuba in Guatemala, Florida and Louisiana.

On April 12, 1961, Kennedy directly responds to allegations leaked by the New York Times, saying: “First, I want to say that there will not be, under any conditions, an intervention in Cuba by the United States Armed Forces.” Three days later that intervention began.

Operation Pluto

The Bay of Pigs invasion was christened Operation Pluto by the CIA and was conceived during the last days of the Eisenhower administration and that murky time period during the transition of power to the newly elected president John F. Kennedy.

In the spring of 1960, in addition to the covert war that the CIA was already waging through a campaign of industrial sabotage President Eisenhower decided to approved a plan to send small groups of American trained, Cuban exiles, to work in the underground as guerrillas to overthrow Castro.

By the autumn, the plan was changed to a full invasion with air support by exile Cubans in American supplied planes. The original group was to be trained in Panama, but with the growth of the operation and the quickening pace of the Revolution in Cuba, it was decided to move things to a base in Guatemala, from there the CIA planned and co-ordinated the training of the counterrevolutionary invasion force. Elements of the force also underwent training in the U.S. itself, namely Florida and Louisiana.

Although the U.S. invasion plan was top-secret, by April Cuban Foreign Minister Raul Roa Garcia learned that troops were being trained by the United States in Guatemala to invade Cuba. The Guatemalan government (which had been put into power by the CIA in 1954, after the overthrow of the elected government of Jacobo Arbenz) denied all knowledge of the operation before severing all diplomatic relations with Cuba.

By late autumn a new president had been elected, Kennedy could have stopped the invasion, but he embraced the plan having campaigned for some form of action against Cuba.

On November 13 operation Pluto suffered an unexpected shock when nearly half of the entire Guatemalan army, led by over 120 officers, rebelled against the government of Miguel Fuentes. The soldiers, partly in solidarity with Cuba's revolution, objected to the U.S. government using their country for an invasion of Cuba. The Guatemalan government unable to crush the soldier’s rebellion appealed to the United States for assistance. The U.S. government responded by bombing the soldiers with B-26’s piloted by Cuban exiles. To cover this action up, five days later President Eisenhower ordered the U.S. Navy to Nicaragua and Guatemala to protect these countries from "Cuban aggression".

The Bay of Pigs : First Offensive

The Bay of Pigs invasion of 1961, started on Saturday, April 15th at 6 a.m. in the morning when three Cuban military bases were bombed by B-26 bombers. The airfields at Camp Libertad, San Antonio de los Banos and Antonio Maceo airport at Santiago de Cuba were also fired upon. Seven people were killed at Libertad and forty-seven people were killed at other sites on the island. The attack failed to achieve it’s objective of wiping out the Cuban airforce. The majority of aircraft destroyed were civilian DC-3 planes, 5 military planes were destroyed but 8 survived. The Cuban airforce remained intact and alert.

The attacking planes came down in Miami later that morning, one landed at Key West Naval Air Station at 7:00 a.m. and the other at Miami International Airport at 8:20 a.m. Both planes were badly damaged and their fuel tanks were nearly empty.

On the front page of The New York Times the next day, a picture of one of the B-26s was shown along with a picture of one of the pilots cloaked in a baseball hat and hiding behind dark sunglasses, his name was withheld. A sense of conspiracy was even at this early stage beginning to envelop the events of that week.

The Americans claimed the pilots were defecting Cubans who had bombed their own bases before fleeing to the states, however in the photo of one of the planes published in newspapers, its nose cone was opaque whereas the model of the B-26 used by the Cuban airforce had a plexiglass nose.

The CIA had taken great pains to disguise the B-26 with Cuban Air Force markings but the agency had overlooked a crucial detail that was spotted immediately by the Cubans. It was obvious that the planes that had bombed them were not their own but American. The planes had in-fact begun their mission from a U.S. airbase in Nicaragua.

Additional airstrikes to completely wipe out the air capabilities of Cuba were denied by Kennedy in an increasingly desperate effort to ensure the U.S. connection to the attacks remained a secret. This decision was to prove vital to the outcome of the operation.

The Bay of Pigs : On The Beaches

In the early hours of April 17th the assault on the Bay of Pigs begins.

At 2 a.m. a team of frogmen comes ashore with orders to set up landing lights to indicate to the main assault force the precise location of their objectives, as well as to clear the area of anything that may impede the main landing teams when they arrived. The Brigade is commanded by CIA agent Grayston Lynch and CIA operative William Robertson.

At 2:30 a.m. and at 3:00 a.m. two battalions come ashore at Playa Girón and one battalion at Playa Larga beaches.

However coral reefs prove to be the Revolution’s first line of defence, delaying the further landing several hours until the boats can navigate around the coral.

The deployment suffers a more serious setback when two vessels sink 80 yards from the Cuban shore as a result of poor navigation, the crews are rescued but some heavy equipment (artillery, heavy munitions) is lost.

The troops at Playa Girón are given orders to move northwest up the coast and meet with the troops at Playa Larga in the middle of the bay.

A small group of men are then to be sent north to the town of Jaguey Grande to secure it as well.

Shortly before 3:00 a.m. on that Monday morning, a civilian member of the Committee for the Defence of the Revolution spots the U.S. warships, just yards off the Cuban shores. Less than 20 minutes later, the entire Cuban government is informed about the invasion, and their response is immediate. The civilian population is immediately alerted about the invasion.

The Cuban forces believing that the landings are part of a full scale U.S. invasion are quick to react and Castro orders his T-33 trainer jets, two Sea Furies, and two B-26s into the air to stop the invading forces.

Off the coast the invaders command and control ship and other vessels carrying supplies for the invading forces are unaware that their presence is known in Havana.

The Cuban air force makes quick work of the supply ships, sinking the command vessel the Marsopa and the supply ship the Houston as well as the supplies for the landing teams and eight other smaller vessels, blasting them to pieces with five-inch rockets.

With some of the invading forces' ships destroyed, and no command and control ship, the logistics of the invasion soon being to brake down as the other supply ships are kept at bay by the Cuban air force.

In the air, the Cubans have easily won superiority over the invading force. Their fast moving T-33s make short work of the slow moving B-26s of the invading force.

On Tuesday, two B-26s are shot out of the sky and by Wednesday the invaders had lost 10 of their 12 aircraft.

Inland, Cuban police hunt down and arrest CIA operatives before they can blow up any of their intended strategic targets such as roads and bridges to delay the arrival of the Cuban army at the landing site. Subsequently the Cuban civilian and military forces ferociously engage the invading Brigade.

Having mobilised and sped to the area the Cuban army quickly encircled the exiles. Over the next 72 hours the invading force of about 1500 men is pounded by the Cubans with 122mm. Howitzers, 22mm. cannon, and tank shells.

The entire situation spirals out of the CIA’s control as Kennedy receives a letter from Khrushchev in which he states “It is a secret to no one that the armed bands invading this country were trained, equipped and armed in the United States of America. The planes which are bombing Cuban cities belong to the United States of America, the bombs they are dropping are being supplied by the American Government.... It is still not late to avoid the irreparable. The government of the USA still has the possibility of not allowing the flame of war ignited by interventions in Cuba to grow into an incomparable conflagration. As far as the Soviet Union is concerned, there should be no mistake about our position: We will render the Cuban people and their government all necessary help to repel an armed attack on Cuba.”

Kennedy calls off all planned support by the U.S. Air Force, and the invading Brigade is left stranded to fend for itself in Cuba.

By Wednesday the invaders are pushed back to their landing zone at Playa Girón. Surrounded by Castro's forces some began to surrender while others flee into the hills. In total the invaders have lost 114 men, while thirty-six died later from their injuries and 1200 were taken prisoner. The Cuban army had lost 161 soldiers.

The Aftermath

Fidel ransoms more than 1000 captured exiles back to the United States for a payment of $60 million in food and medicine.

As Director of Central Intelligence, Allen Dulles is forced to resign and leaves the CIA in November of 1961.

The CIA continued with covert operations against Cuba, albeit on a reduced scale. According to a report of the Select Senate Committee on Intelligence, future operations are " to nourish a spirit of disaffection which could lead to significant defections and other by-products of unrest."

The ultimate indication of the invasion’s failure is that over 40 years later Castro is still in power. This not only indicates the failure of the Bay of Pigs invasion, but American policy towards Cuba in general. The American policy rather than undermining Castro's support, has probably contributed to it.

Cuba has started legal proceedings to reclaim over 11 billion in damages from Washington for deaths and injuries the island has suffered during 40 years of U.S. hostility.

The compensation claim demands damages for 3,478 Cubans killed and 2,099 disabled as a result of "sabotage, bombings and other hostile terrorist acts" caused by hostile U.S. government policy toward Cuba following the 1959 revolution.

Lawyers will present declassified U.S. intelligence documents from the period registering plans by the U.S. security services to destabilise the government and overthrow President Fidel Castro.

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