It was the most dangerous moment of the Cold War. At about 5 p.m. on Oct. 27, 1962, a Soviet submarine armed with a nuclear warhead found itself trapped and being bombarded by a US warship patrolling off Cuba. One of the Soviet captains gave the order to prepare to fire. But a cooler-headed officer persuaded him to wait for instructions from Moscow before unleashing a nuclear attack.
”We thought – that’s it – the end,” Vadim Orlov, a Soviet intelligence officer, was quoted as saying in recently declassified documents from the Cuban missile crisis. The details on just how close the United States and the Soviet Union came to nuclear war emerged during a three-day conference sponsored by the private National Security Archive, Brown University, and the Cuban government marking the 40th anniversary of the crisis. Although the discovery that Soviet submarines were armed with nuclear weapons was revealed about a year ago, this was the first time key players in the 13-day crisis had sat down to analyze the implications of the Oct. 27 incident.
“The modern nuclear powered ballistic missile submarine is one of the most complex, and without doubt the single most destructive machine man has ever created. Capable of remaining submersed and invisible for up to six months, then within minutes able to shower any landmass on the planet with multiple independently targetable thermonuclear warheads. Marrying a nearly undetectable launch platform and virtually unstoppable miniaturised warheads reentering the atmosphere at 12,000 mph, each submarine can deliver enough explosive force to destroy an entire continent.”
Each nuclear sub is not only a disaster waiting to happen, it is a disaster in the making, because they not only have accidents, they also get into sticky situations that may end up causing a global nuclear war.
According to Wikipedia; “The Cuban Missile Crisis — known as the October crisis in Cuba and theCaribbean crisis (Russian: Kарибский кризис, tr. Karibskiy krizis) in the USSR — was a 13-day confrontation between the Soviet Union and Cuba on one side, and the United States on the other, in October 1962.
It was one of the major confrontations of the Cold War, and is generally regarded as the moment in which the Cold War came closest to turning into a nuclear conflict. It is also the first documented instance of the threat of mutual assured destruction (MAD) being discussed as a determining factor in a major international arms agreement.
After provocative political moves and the failed US attempt to overthrow the Cuban regime (Bay of Pigs, Operation Mongoose), in May 1962 Nikita Khrushchev proposed the idea of placing Soviet nuclear missiles on Cuba to deter any future invasion attempt.
During a meeting between Khrushchev and Fidel Castro that July, a secret agreement was reached and construction of several missile sites began in the late summer. These preparations were noticed and on 14 October, a US U-2aircraft took several pictures clearly showing sites for medium-range and intermediate-range ballistic nuclear missiles (MRBMs and IRBMs) under construction. These images were processed and presented on October 15, which marks the beginning of the 13-day crisis from the US perspective.
The United States considered attacking Cuba via air and sea, but decided on a military blockade instead, calling it a “quarantine” for legal and other reasons.
The US announced that it would not permit offensive weapons to be delivered to Cuba, demanded that the Soviets dismantle the missile bases already under construction or completed, and return all offensive weapons to the USSR. The Kennedy administration held only a slim hope that the Kremlin would agree to their demands, and expected a military confrontation.
On the Soviet side, Premier Nikita Khrushchev wrote in a letter from October 24, 1962 to President John F. Kennedy that his blockade of “navigation in international waters and air space” constituted “an act of aggression propelling human kind into the abyss of a world nuclear-missile war”.
However, in secret back-channel communications the President and Premier initiated a proposal to resolve the crisis. While this was taking place, several Soviet ships attempted to run the blockade, increasing tensions to the point that orders were sent out to US Navy ships to fire warning shots and then open fire.
On 27 October, a U-2 plane was shot down by a Soviet missile crew, an action that could have resulted in immediate retaliation from the Kennedy crisis cabinet, according to Secretary of Defense McNamara’s later testimony. Kennedy stayed his hand and the negotiations continued.
The confrontation ended on October 28, 1962, when Kennedy and United Nations Secretary-General U Thant reached an agreement with Khrushchev. Publicly, the Soviets would dismantle their offensive weapons in Cuba and return them to the Soviet Union, subject to United Nations verification, in exchange for a US public declaration and agreement never to invade Cuba.
Secretly, the US also agreed that it would dismantle all US-built Jupiter IRBMs, armed with nuclear warheads, which were deployed in Turkey and Italy against the Soviet Union.
(This was one reason why the Soviets put the nuclear missiles into Cuba, as a tit for tat exchange of nuclear missiles on the ‘border’.. This same buildup and belligerent action is happening again under President Obama, who is placing nuclear weapons as close as possible to the borders of China and Russia, as a ‘containment’ strategy, which is doomed to fail, and may start World War III, just as it almost happened in Cuba.)
How President Obama Has Moved Us Closer To Global Nuclear War (MAD); via @AGreenRoadhttp://agreenroad.blogspot.com/2013/08/how-president-obama-has-moved-us-closer.html
After the removal of the missiles and Ilyushin Il-28 light bombers from Cuba, the blockade was formally ended at 6:45 pm EDT on November 20, 1962.
The tense negotiations between the United States and the Soviet Union, during which the use of nuclear weapons was not ruled out, pointed out the necessity of a quick, clear and direct communication between Washington and Moscow. As a result, a direct telephone link between the leaders of the two countries was established.
Earlier actions by the United States
The United States was concerned about the expansion of Communism, and a Latin American country allying openly with the USSR was regarded as unacceptable, given the US-Soviet enmity since the end of World War II.
Such an involvement would also directly defy the Monroe Doctrine, a United States policy which, while limiting the United States’ involvement with European colonies and European affairs, held that European powers ought not to have involvement with states in the Western Hemisphere.
The United States had been embarrassed publicly by the failed Bay of Pigs Invasion in April 1961, which had been launched under President John F. Kennedy by CIA-trained forces of Cuban exiles. Afterward, former President Eisenhower told Kennedy that “the failure of the Bay of Pigs will embolden the Soviets to do something that they would otherwise not do.”:
The half-hearted invasion left Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev and his advisers with the impression that Kennedy was indecisive and, as one Soviet adviser wrote, “too young, intellectual, not prepared well for decision making in crisis situations … too intelligent and too weak.” US covert operations continued in 1961 with the unsuccessful Operation Mongoose.
In addition, Khrushchev’s impression of Kennedy’s weakness was confirmed by the President’s soft response during the Berlin Crisis of 1961, particularly the building of the Berlin Wall. Speaking to Soviet officials in the aftermath of the crisis, Khrushchev asserted, “I know for certain that Kennedy doesn’t have a strong background, nor, generally speaking, does he have the courage to stand up to a serious challenge.” He also told his son Sergei that on Cuba, Kennedy “would make a fuss, make more of a fuss, and then agree”.
In January 1962, General Edward Lansdale described plans to overthrow the Cuban Government in a top-secret report (partially declassified 1989), addressed to President Kennedy and officials involved with Operation Mongoose. CIA agents or “pathfinders” from the Special Activities Division were to be infiltrated into Cuba to carry out sabotage and organization, including radio broadcasts.
In February 1962, the United States launched an embargo against Cuba, and Lansdale presented a 26-page, top-secret timetable for implementation of the overthrow of the Cuban Government, mandating that guerrilla operations begin in August and September, and in the first two weeks of October: “Open revolt and overthrow of the Communist regime”.
Balance of power
When Kennedy ran for president in 1960, one of his key election issues was an alleged “missile gap“, with the Soviets leading. In fact, the United States led the Soviets. In 1961, the Soviets had only four intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). By October 1962, they may have had a few dozen, although some intelligence estimates were as high as 75.
Khrushchev increased the perception of a missile gap when he loudly boasted to the world that the USSR was building missiles “like sausages” whose numbers and capabilities actually were nowhere close to his assertions. The Soviet Union did have medium-range ballistic missiles in quantity, about 700 of them, however, these were very unreliable and inaccurate.
Overall, the United States had a very considerable advantage in total number of nuclear warheads (27,000 against 3,600) at the time and, more importantly, in all the technologies needed to deliver them accurately.
The United States also led in missile defensive capabilities, Naval and Air power; but the USSR enjoyed a two-to-one advantage in conventional ground forces, more pronounced in field guns and tanks.
Soviet deployment of missiles in Cuba
In May 1962, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev was persuaded by the idea of countering the United States’ growing lead in developing and deploying strategic missiles by placing Soviet intermediate-range nuclear missiles in Cuba. He faced a strategic situation where the US was perceived to have a “splendid first strike” capability against the Soviet Union.
In 1962, the Soviets had only 20 ICBMs capable of delivering nuclear warheads to the United States from inside the Soviet Union. The poor accuracy and reliability of these missiles raised serious doubts about their effectiveness. A newer, more reliable generation of ICBMs would only become operational after 1965.
Therefore, Soviet nuclear capability in 1962 placed less emphasis on ICBMs than on medium and intermediate-range ballistic missiles (MRBMs andIRBMs). These missiles could hit American allies from Soviet territory and most of Alaska, but not the contiguous 48 States (of the United States). Graham Allison, the director of Harvard University‘s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, points out, “The Soviet Union could right the nuclear imbalance by deploying new ICBMs on its own soil. But to meet the threat it faced in 1962, 1963, and 1964, it had very few options. Moving existing nuclear weapons to locations from which they could reach American targets was one.”
A second reason Soviet missiles were deployed to Cuba was because Khrushchev wanted to bring West Berlin—the American/British/French-controlled democratic zone within Communist East Germany—into the Soviet orbit.
The East Germans and Soviets considered western control over a portion of Berlin a grave threat to East Germany. For this reason, among others, Khrushchev made West Berlin the central battlefield of the Cold War. Khrushchev believed that if the Americans did nothing over the missile deployments in Cuba, he could muscle the West out of Berlin using said missiles as a deterrent to western counter-measures in Berlin.
If the Americans tried to bargain with the Soviets after becoming aware of the missiles, Khrushchev could demand trading the missiles for West Berlin. Since Berlin was strategically more important than Cuba, the trade would be a win for Khrushchev. President Kennedy recognized this: “The advantage is, from Khrushchev’s point of view, he takes a great chance but there are quite some rewards to it.”
Finally, Khrushchev was also reacting in part to the nuclear threat of obsolescent Jupiter intermediate-range ballistic missiles which the United States had installed in Turkey during April 1962.
From the very beginning, the Soviets’ operation entailed elaborate denial and deception, known in the USSR as maskirovka. All of the planning and preparation for transporting and deploying the missiles were carried out in the utmost secrecy, with only a very few told the exact nature of the mission.
Even the troops detailed for the mission were given misdirection, told they were headed for a cold region and outfitted with ski boots, fleece-lined parkas, and other winter equipment. The Soviet code name, Operation Anadyr, was also the name of a river flowing into the Bering Sea, the name of the capital of Chukotsky District, and a bomber base in the far eastern region. All these were meant to conceal the program from both internal and external audiences.
In early 1962, a group of Soviet military and missile construction specialists accompanied an agricultural delegation to Havana. They obtained a meeting with Cuban leader Fidel Castro. The Cuban leadership had a strong expectation that the US would invade Cuba again and they enthusiastically approved the idea of installing nuclear missiles in Cuba. However, according to another source, Fidel Castro objected to the missiles deployment that would have made him look like a Soviet puppet, but was persuaded that missiles in Cuba would be in the interests of the entire socialist camp.
Specialists in missile construction under the guise of “machine operators”, “irrigation specialists” and “agricultural specialists” arrived in July. Marshal Sergei Biryuzov, chief of the Soviet Rocket Forces, led a survey team that visited Cuba. He told Khrushchev that the missiles would be concealed and camouflaged by the palm trees.
The Cuban leadership was further upset when in September the United States Congress approved US Joint Resolution 230, which expressed Congress’s resolve to prevent the creation of an externally supported military establishment. On the same day, the US announced a major military exercise in the Caribbean, PHIBRIGLEX-62, which Cuba denounced as a deliberate provocation and proof that the US planned to invade Cuba.
Khrushchev and Castro agreed to place strategic nuclear missiles secretly in Cuba. Like Castro, Khrushchev felt that a US invasion of Cuba was imminent, and that to lose Cuba would do great harm to the communist cause, especially in Latin America. He said he wanted to confront the Americans “with more than words… the logical answer was missiles”.:29 The Soviets maintained their tight secrecy, writing their plans longhand, which were approved by Rodion Malinovsky on July 4 and Khrushchev on July 7.
The Soviet leadership believed, based on their perception of Kennedy’s lack of confidence during the Bay of Pigs Invasion, that he would avoid confrontation and accept the missiles as a fait accompli.:1 On September 11, the Soviet Union publicly warned that a US attack on Cuba or on Soviet ships carrying supplies to the island would mean war. The Soviets continued their Maskirovka program to conceal their actions in Cuba.
On October 13, Dobrynin was questioned by former Undersecretary of State Chester Bowles about whether the Soviets plan to put offensive weapons in Cuba. He denied any such plans. And again on October 17, Soviet embassy official Georgy Bolshakov brought President Kennedy a “personal message” from Khrushchev reassuring him that “under no circumstances would surface-to-surface missiles be sent to Cuba.”:494
As early as August 1962, the United States suspected the Soviets of building missile facilities in Cuba. During that month, its intelligence services gathered information about sightings by ground observers of Russian-built MiG-21 fighters and Il-28 light bombers. U-2 spyplanes found S-75 Dvina (NATO designation SA-2) surface-to-air missile sites at eight different locations.
CIA director John A. McCone was suspicious. Sending antiaircraft missiles into Cuba, he reasoned, “made sense only if Moscow intended to use them to shield a base for ballistic missiles aimed at the United States.”  On August 10, he wrote a memo to President Kennedy in which he guessed that the Soviets were preparing to introduce ballistic missiles into Cuba.
On August 31, Senator Kenneth Keating (R-New York), who probably received his information from Cuban exiles in Florida, warned on the Senate floor that the Soviet Union may be constructing a missile base in Cuba.
Air Force General Curtis LeMay presented a pre-invasion bombing plan to Kennedy in September, while spy flights and minor military harassment from US forces at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base were the subject of continual Cuban diplomatic complaints to the US government.
The first consignment of R-12 missiles arrived on the night of September 8, followed by a second on September 16. The R-12 was an intermediate-range ballistic missile, capable of carrying a thermonuclear warhead. It was a single-stage, road-transportables, surface-launched, storable liquid propellant fueled missile that could deliver a megaton-class nuclear weapon.
The Soviets were building nine sites—six for R-12 medium-range missiles (NATO designation SS-4 Sandal) with an effective range of 2,000 kilometres (1,200 mi) and three forR-14 intermediate-range ballistic missiles (NATO designation SS-5 Skean) with a maximum range of 4,500 kilometres (2,800 mi).
On October 7, Cuban President Osvaldo Dorticós spoke at the UN General Assembly: “If … we are attacked, we will defend ourselves. I repeat, we have sufficient means with which to defend ourselves; we have indeed our inevitable weapons, the weapons, which we would have preferred not to acquire, and which we do not wish to employ.”
The missiles in Cuba allowed the Soviets to effectively target almost the entire continental United States. The planned arsenal was forty launchers. The Cuban populace readily noticed the arrival and deployment of the missiles and hundreds of reports reached Miami.
US intelligence received countless reports, many of dubious quality or even laughable, and most of which could be dismissed as describing defensive missiles. Only five reports bothered the analysts. They described large trucks passing through towns at night carrying very long canvas-covered cylindrical objects that could not make turns through towns without backing up and maneuvering. Defensive missiles could make these turns. These reports could not be satisfactorily dismissed.
U-2 reconnaissance photograph of Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba. Missile transports and tents for fueling and maintenance are visible. Photo taken by the CIA
Corona satellite and U-2 flights find missiles
Despite the increasing evidence of a military build-up on Cuba, no U-2 flights were made over Cuba from September 5 until October 14. The first problem that caused the pause in reconnaissance flights took place on August 30, an Air Force Strategic Air Command (SAC) U-2 flew over Sakhalin Island in the Far East by mistake.
The Soviets lodged a protest and the US apologized. Nine days later, a Taiwanese-operated U-2 was lost over western China, probably to a SAM. US officials were worried that one of the Cuban or Soviet SAMs in Cuba might shoot down a CIA U-2, initiating another international incident.
Therefore, the Kennedy administration decided to try the new Corona (satellite) KH series in an attempt to obtain sufficient evidence. Preparations for an emergency launch proceeded at fever pitch and led to the NRO’s institution of “R7” status, that is, keeping a Corona spy satellite ready for launch on 7 days’ notice in case of an emergency. At the end of September, Navy reconnaissance aircraft photographed the Soviet ship Kasimov with large crates on its deck the size and shape of Il-28 light bombers.
With evidence in hand from both the Corona satellite and Navy Reconnaissance aircraft, at the beginning of October the administration decided it was now worth risking U-2 flights over Cuba. They decided to transfer the Cuban U-2 reconnaissance missions to the Air Force; if another U-2 was shot down, they thought a cover story involving Air Force flights would be easier to explain than CIA flights.
There was also some evidence that the Department of Defense and the Air Force lobbied to get responsibility for the Cuban flights. When the reconnaissance missions were re-authorized on October 8, weather kept the planes from flying.
On October 15, the CIA’s National Photographic Interpretation Center reviewed the U-2 photographs and identified objects that they interpreted as medium range ballistic missiles. That evening, the CIA notified the Department of State and at 8:30 pm EDT, National Security Adviser McGeorge Bundy elected to wait until morning to tell the President.
The US had no plan in place because US intelligence had been convinced that the Soviets would never install nuclear missiles in Cuba. The EXCOMM quickly discussed several possible courses of action, including:
Do nothing: American vulnerability to Soviet missiles was not new. Newly placed missiles in Cuba made little strategic difference in the military balance of power.
Diplomacy: Use diplomatic pressure to get the Soviet Union to remove the missiles.
Warning: Send a message to Castro to warn him of the grave danger he, and Cuba were in.
Blockade: Use the US Navy to block any missiles from arriving in Cuba.
Air strike: Use the US Air Force to attack all known missile sites.
Invasion: Full force invasion of Cuba and overthrow of Castro.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff unanimously agreed that a full-scale attack and invasion was the only solution. They believed that the Soviets would not attempt to stop the US from conquering Cuba. Kennedy was skeptical.
They, no more than we, can let these things go by without doing something. They can’t, after all their statements, permit us to take out their missiles, kill a lot of Russians, and then do nothing. If they don’t take action in Cuba, they certainly will in Berlin.
Kennedy concluded that attacking Cuba by air would signal the Soviets to presume “a clear line” to conquer Berlin. Kennedy also believed that United States’ allies would think of the US as “trigger-happy cowboys” who lost Berlin because they could not peacefully resolve the Cuban situation.:332
President Kennedy and Secretary of Defense McNamara in an EXCOMM meeting.
The EXCOMM then discussed the effect on the strategic balance of power, both political and military. The Joint Chiefs of Staff believed that the missiles would seriously alter the military balance, but Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara disagreed.
He was convinced that the missiles would not affect the strategic balance at all. An extra forty, he reasoned, would make little difference to the overall strategic balance. The US already had approximately 5,000 strategic warheads,:261 while the Soviet Union had only 300. He concluded that the Soviets having 340 would not therefore substantially alter the strategic balance. In 1990, he reiterated that “it madeno difference…The military balance wasn’t changed. I didn’t believe it then, and I don’t believe it now.”
The EXCOMM agreed that the missiles would affect the political balance. First, Kennedy had explicitly promised the American people less than a month before the crisis that “if Cuba should possess a capacity to carry out offensive actions against the United States…the United States would act.”:674–681 Second, US credibility among their allies, and among the American people, would be damaged if they allowed the Soviet Union to appear to redress the strategic balance by placing missiles in Cuba. Kennedy explained after the crisis that “it would have politically changed the balance of power. It would have appeared to, and appearances contribute to reality.”
President Kennedy meets with Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko in the Oval Office (October 18, 1962)
On October 18, President Kennedy met with Soviet Minister of Foreign Affairs, Andrei Gromyko, who claimed the weapons were for defensive purposes only. Not wanting to expose what he already knew, and wanting to avoid panicking the American public, the President did not reveal that he was already aware of the missile build-up.
Two Operational Plans (OPLAN) were considered. OPLAN 316 envisioned a full invasion of Cuba by Army and Marine units supported by the Navy following Air Force and naval airstrikes. However, Army units in the United States would have had trouble fielding mechanized and logistical assets, while the US Navy could not supply sufficient amphibious shipping to transport even a modest armored contingent from the Army.
OPLAN 312, primarily an Air Force and Navy carrier operation, was designed with enough flexibility to do anything from engaging individual missile sites to providing air support for OPLAN 316’s ground forces.
Kennedy addressing the nation on October 22, 1962 about the buildup of arms on Cuba
A US Navy P-2H Neptune of VP-18 flying over a Soviet cargo ship with crated Il-28son deck during the Cuban Crisis.
Kennedy met with members of EXCOMM and other top advisers throughout October 21, considering two remaining options: an air strike primarily against the Cuban missile bases, or a naval blockade of Cuba.
A full-scale invasion was not the administration’s first option. Robert McNamara supported the naval blockade as a strong but limited military action that left the US in control. However, the term “blockade” was problematic. According to international law a blockade is an act of war, but the Kennedy administration did not think that the USSR would be provoked to attack by a mere blockade.
Admiral Anderson, Chief of Naval Operations wrote a position paper that helped Kennedy to differentiate between what they termed a “quarantine” of offensive weapons and a blockade of all materials, claiming that a classic blockade was not the original intention. Since it would take place in international waters, Kennedy obtained the approval of the OAS for military action under the hemispheric defense provisions of the Rio Treaty.
Latin American participation in the quarantine now involved two Argentine destroyers which were to report to the US Commander South Atlantic [COMSOLANT] at Trinidad on November 9. An Argentine submarine and a Marine battalion with lift were available if required. In addition, two Venezuelan destroyers (Destroyers ARV D-11 Nueva Esparta” and “ARV D-21 Zulia”) and one submarine (Caribe) had reported to COMSOLANT, ready for sea by November 2.
The Government of Trinidad and Tobago offered the use of Chaguaramas Naval Base to warships of any OAS nation for the duration of the “quarantine”. The Dominican Republic had made available one escort ship. Colombia was reported ready to furnish units and had sent military officers to the US to discuss this assistance. The Argentine Air Force informally offered three SA-16 aircraft in addition to forces already committed to the “quarantine” operation.
This initially was to involve a naval blockade against offensive weapons within the framework of the Organization of American States and the Rio Treaty. Such a blockade might be expanded to cover all types of goods and air transport. The action was to be backed up by surveillance of Cuba. The CNO’s scenario was followed closely in later implementing the “quarantine”.
On October 19, the EXCOMM formed separate working groups to examine the air strike and blockade options, and by the afternoon most support in the EXCOMM shifted to the blockade option. Reservations about the plan continued to be voiced as late as the twenty-first, however, the paramount one being that once the blockade was put into effect, the Soviets would rush to complete some of the missiles. Consequently, the United States could find itself bombing operational missiles were the blockade to fail to force Khrushchev to remove the missiles already on the island.
President Kennedy signs the Proclamation for Interdiction of the Delivery of Offensive Weapons to Cuba at the Oval Office on October 23, 1962.
At 3:00 pm EDT on October 22, President Kennedy formally established the Executive Committee (EXCOMM) with National Security Action Memorandum (NSAM) 196. At 5:00 pm, he met with Congressional leaders who contentiously opposed a blockade and demanded a stronger response. In Moscow, Ambassador Kohler briefed Chairman Khrushchev on the pending blockade and Kennedy’s speech to the nation. Ambassadors around the world gave advance notice to non-Eastern Bloc leaders.
On October 22 at 7:00 pm EDT, President Kennedy delivered a nation-wide televised address on all of the major networks announcing the discovery of the missiles.
It shall be the policy of this nation to regard any nuclear missile launched from Cuba against any nation in the Western Hemisphere as an attack by the Soviet Union on the United States, requiring a full retaliatory response upon the Soviet Union.
Kennedy described the administration’s plan:
To halt this offensive buildup, a strict quarantine on all offensive military equipment under shipment to Cuba is being initiated. All ships of any kind bound for Cuba, from whatever nation or port, will, if found to contain cargoes of offensive weapons, be turned back. This quarantine will be extended, if needed, to other types of cargo and carriers. We are not at this time, however, denying the necessities of life as the Soviets attempted to do in their Berlin blockade of 1948.
Khrushchev’s October 24, 1962 letter to President Kennedy stating that the Cuban missile crisis blockade “constitute[s] an act of aggression…”
On October 23 at 11:24 am EDT a cable drafted by George Ball to the US Ambassador in Turkey and the US Ambassador to NATO notified them that they were considering making an offer to withdraw what the US knew to be nearly obsolete missiles from Italy and Turkey in exchange for the Soviet withdrawal from Cuba.
Turkish officials replied that they would “deeply resent” any trade for the US missile’s presence in their country. Two days later, on the morning of October 25, journalist Walter Lippmann proposed the same thing in his syndicated column. Castro reaffirmed Cuba’s right to self-defense and said that all of its weapons were defensive and Cuba would not allow an inspection.
Three days after Kennedy’s speech, the Chinese People’s Daily announced that “650,000,000 Chinese men and women were standing by the Cuban people”. In West Germany, newspapers supported the United States’ response, contrasting it with the weak American actions in the region during the preceding months.
They also expressed some fear that the Soviets might retaliate in Berlin. In France on October 23, the crisis made the front page of all the daily newspapers. The next day, an editorial in Le Monde expressed doubt about the authenticity of the CIA’s photographic evidence. Two days later, after a visit by a high-ranking CIA agent, they accepted the validity of the photographs. Also in France, in the October 29 issue of Le Figaro, Raymond Aron wrote in support of the American response.
At the time, the crisis continued unabated, and on the evening of October 24, the Soviet news agency TASS broadcast a telegram from Khrushchev to President Kennedy, in which Khrushchev warned that the United States’ “pirate action” would lead to war. However, this was followed at 9:24 pm by a telegram from Khrushchev to Kennedy which was received at 10:52 pm EDT, in which Khrushchev stated, “If you coolly weigh the situation which has developed, not giving way to passions, you will understand that the Soviet Union cannot fail to reject the arbitrary demands of the United States” and that the Soviet Union views the blockade as “an act of aggression” and their ships will be instructed to ignore it.
US alert level raised
Adlai Stevenson shows aerial photos of Cuban missiles to the United Nations. (October 25, 1962)
The United States requested an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council on October 25. US Ambassador to the United Nations Adlai Stevenson confronted Soviet Ambassador Valerian Zorin in an emergency meeting of the SC challenging him to admit the existence of the missiles. Ambassador Zorin refused to answer.
The next day at 10:00 pm EDT, the United States raised the readiness level of SAC forces to DEFCON 2. For the only confirmed time in US history, while the B-52 bombers went on continuous airborne alert, the B-47 medium bombers were dispersed to various military and civilian airfields, and made ready to take off, fully equipped, on 15 minutes’ notice.
One-eighth of SAC’s 1,436 bombers were on airborne alert, some 145 intercontinental ballistic missiles stood on ready alert, while Air Defense Command (ADC) redeployed 161 nuclear-armed interceptors to 16 dispersal fields within nine hours with one-third maintaining 15-minute alert status.
Twenty-three nuclear-armed B-52 were sent to orbit points within striking distance of the Soviet Union so that the latter might observe that the US was serious. Jack J. Catton later estimated that about 80% of SAC’s planes were ready for launch during the crisis; David A. Burchinal recalled that, by contrast,
the Russians were so thoroughly stood down, and we knew it. They didn’t make any move. They did not increase their alert; they did not increase any flights, or their air defense posture. They didn’t do a thing, they froze in place. We were never further from nuclear war than at the time of Cuba, never further.
“By October 22, Tactical Air Command (TAC) had 511 fighters plus supporting tankers and reconnaissance aircraft deployed to face Cuba on one-hour alert status. However, TAC and the Military Air Transport Service had problems. The concentration of aircraft in Florida strained command and support echelons; which faced critical undermanning in security, armaments, and communications; the absence of initial authorization for war-reserve stocks of conventional munitions forced TAC to scrounge; and the lack of airlift assets to support a major airborne drop necessitated the call-up of 24 Reserve squadrons.”
On October 25 at 1:45 am EDT, Kennedy responded to Khrushchev’s telegram, stating that the United States was forced into action after receiving repeated assurances that no offensive missiles were being placed in Cuba, and that when these assurances proved to be false, the deployment “required the responses I have announced… I hope that your government will take necessary action to permit a restoration of the earlier situation.”
A declassified map used by the US Navy’s Atlantic Fleet showing the position of American and Soviet ships at the height of the crisis.
At 7:15 am EDT on October 25, the USS Essex and USS Gearing attempted to intercept theBucharest but failed to do so. Fairly certain the tanker did not contain any military material, they allowed it through the blockade.
Later that day, at 5:43 pm, the commander of the blockade effort ordered the USS Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr to intercept and board the Lebanese freighter Marucla. This took place the next day, and the Marucla was cleared through the blockade after its cargo was checked.
At 5:00 pm EDT on October 25, William Clements announced that the missiles in Cuba were still actively being worked on. This report was later verified by a CIA report that suggested there had been no slow-down at all. In response, Kennedy issued Security Action Memorandum 199, authorizing the loading of nuclear weapons onto aircraft under the command of SACEUR (which had the duty of carrying out first air strikes on the Soviet Union). During the day, the Soviets responded to the blockade by turning back 14 ships presumably carrying offensive weapons.
The next morning, October 26, Kennedy informed the EXCOMM that he believed only an invasion would remove the missiles from Cuba. However, he was persuaded to give the matter time and continue with both military and diplomatic pressure. He agreed and ordered the low-level flights over the island to be increased from two per day to once every two hours. He also ordered a crash program to institute a new civil government in Cuba if an invasion went ahead.
At this point, the crisis was ostensibly at a stalemate. The USSR had shown no indication that they would back down and had made several comments to the contrary. The US had no reason to believe otherwise and was in the early stages of preparing for an invasion, along with a nuclear strike on the Soviet Union in case it responded militarily, which was assumed.
At 1:00 pm EDT on October 26, John A. Scali of ABC News had lunch with Aleksandr Fomin (alias of spy Alexander Feklisov) at Fomin’s request. Fomin noted, “War seems about to break out” and asked Scali to use his contacts to talk to his “high-level friends” at the State Department to see if the US would be interested in a diplomatic solution.
He suggested that the language of the deal would contain an assurance from the Soviet Union to remove the weapons under UN supervision and that Castro would publicly announce that he would not accept such weapons in the future, in exchange for a public statement by the US that it would never invade Cuba. The US responded by asking the Brazilian government to pass a message to Castro that the US would be “unlikely to invade” if the missiles were removed.
Mr. President, we and you ought not now to pull on the ends of the rope in which you have tied the knot of war, because the more the two of us pull, the tighter that knot will be tied. And a moment may come when that knot will be tied so tight that even he who tied it will not have the strength to untie it, and then it will be necessary to cut that knot, and what that would mean is not for me to explain to you, because you yourself understand perfectly of what terrible forces our countries dispose.
Consequently, if there is no intention to tighten that knot and thereby to doom the world to the catastrophe of thermonuclear war, then let us not only relax the forces pulling on the ends of the rope, let us take measures to untie that knot. We are ready for this.
Letter From Chairman Khrushchev to President Kennedy, October 26, 1962
On October 26 at 6:00 pm EDT, the State Department started receiving a message that appeared to be written personally by Khrushchev. It was Saturday at 2:00 am in Moscow. The long letter took several minutes to arrive, and it took translators additional time to translate and transcribe it.
Robert Kennedy described the letter as “very long and emotional”. Khrushchev reiterated the basic outline that had been stated to John Scali earlier in the day, “I propose: we, for our part, will declare that our ships bound for Cuba are not carrying any armaments.
You will declare that the United States will not invade Cuba with its troops and will not support any other forces which might intend to invade Cuba. Then the necessity of the presence of our military specialists in Cuba will disappear.” At 6:45 pm EDT, news of Fomin’s offer to Scali was finally heard and was interpreted as a “set up” for the arrival of Khrushchev’s letter.
The letter was then considered official and accurate, although it was later learned that Fomin was almost certainly operating of his own accord without official backing. Additional study of the letter was ordered and continued into the night.
Direct aggression against Cuba would mean nuclear war. The Americans speak about such aggression as if they did not know or did not want to accept this fact. I have no doubt they would lose such a war. —Ernesto “Che” Guevara, October 1962
S-75 Dvina with V-750V 1D missile (NATO SA-2 Guideline) on a launcher. An installation similar to this one shot down Major Anderson’s U-2 over Cuba.
Castro, on the other hand, was convinced that an invasion of Cuba was soon at hand, and on October 26, he sent a telegram to Khrushchev that appeared to call for a pre-emptive nuclear strike on the USA. However, in a 2010 interview, Castro said of his recommendation for the Soviets to attack America before they made any move against Cuba: “After I’ve seen what I’ve seen, and knowing what I know now, it wasn’t worth it at all.”
Castro also ordered all anti-aircraft weapons in Cuba to fire on any US aircraft, whereas in the past they had been ordered only to fire on groups of two or more. At 6:00 am EDT on October 27, the CIA delivered a memo reporting that three of the four missile sites at San Cristobal and the two sites at Sagua la Grande appeared to be fully operational. They also noted that the Cuban military continued to organize for action, although they were under order not to initiate action unless attacked.
At 9:00 am EDT on October 27, Radio Moscow began broadcasting a message from Khrushchev. Contrary to the letter of the night before, the message offered a new trade, that the missiles on Cuba would be removed in exchange for the removal of the Jupiter missiles from Italy and Turkey.
At 10:00 am EDT, the executive committee met again to discuss the situation and came to the conclusion that the change in the message was due to internal debate between Khrushchev and other party officials in the Kremlin.:300 McNamara noted that another tanker, the Grozny, was about 600 miles (970 km) out and should be intercepted. He also noted that they had not made the USSR aware of the blockade line and suggested relaying this information to them via U Thant at the United Nations.
A Lockheed U-2F, the high altitude reconnaissance type shot down over Cuba, being refueled by a Boeing KC-135Q. The aircraft in 1962 was painted overall gray and carried USAF military markings and national insignia.
While the meeting progressed, at 11:03 am EDT a new message began to arrive from Khrushchev. The message stated, in part,
You are disturbed over Cuba. You say that this disturbs you because it is ninety-nine miles by sea from the coast of the United States of America. But… you have placed destructive missile weapons, which you call offensive, in Italy and Turkey, literally next to us…
I therefore make this proposal: We are willing to remove from Cuba the means which you regard as offensive… Your representatives will make a declaration to the effect that the United States … will remove its analogous means from Turkey … and after that, persons entrusted by the United Nations Security Council could inspect on the spot the fulfillment of the pledges made.
The executive committee continued to meet through the day.
Throughout the crisis, Turkey had repeatedly stated that it would be upset if the Jupiter missiles were removed. Italy’s Prime Minister Fanfani, who was also Foreign Minister ad interim, offered to allow withdrawal of the missiles deployed in Apulia as a bargaining chip.
He gave the message to one of his most trusted friends, Ettore Bernabei, the general manager of RAI-TV, to convey to Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.. Bernabei was in New York to attend an international conference on satellite TV broadcasting. Unknown to the Soviets, the US regarded the Jupiter missiles as obsolescent and already supplanted by the Polaris nuclear ballistic submarine missiles.
On the morning of October 27, a U-2F (the third CIA U-2A, modified for air-to-air refueling) piloted by USAF Major Rudolf Anderson, departed its forward operating location at McCoy AFB, Florida. At approximately 12:00 pm EDT, the aircraft was struck by a S-75 Dvina (NATOdesignation SA-2 Guideline) SAM missile launched from Cuba.
The aircraft was shot down and Anderson was killed. The stress in negotiations between the USSR and the US intensified, and only much later was it learned that the decision to fire the missile was made locally by an undetermined Soviet commander acting on his own authority. Later that day, at about 3:41 pm EDT, several US Navy RF-8A Crusader aircraft on low-level photoreconnaissance missions were fired upon.
At 4:00 pm EDT, Kennedy recalled members of EXCOMM to the White House and ordered that a message immediately be sent to U Thant asking the Soviets to “suspend” work on the missiles while negotiations were carried out. During this meeting, General Maxwell Taylor delivered the news that the U-2 had been shot down. Kennedy had earlier claimed he would order an attack on such sites if fired upon, but he decided to not act unless another attack was made. In an interview 40 years later, McNamara said:
We had to send a U-2 over to gain reconnaissance information on whether the Soviet missiles were becoming operational. We believed that if the U-2 was shot down that—the Cubans didn’t have capabilities to shoot it down, the Soviets did—we believed if it was shot down, it would be shot down by a Soviet surface-to-air-missile unit, and that it would represent a decision by the Soviets to escalate the conflict.
And therefore, before we sent the U-2 out, we agreed that if it was shot down we wouldn’t meet, we’d simply attack. It was shot down on Friday […]. Fortunately, we changed our mind, we thought “Well, it might have been an accident, we won’t attack.”
Later we learned that Khrushchev had reasoned just as we did: we send over the U-2, if it was shot down, he reasoned we would believe it was an intentional escalation. And therefore, he issued orders to Pliyev, the Soviet commander in Cuba, to instruct all of his batteries not to shoot down the U-2.[note 1]
Drafting the response
Emissaries sent by both Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev agreed to meet at the Yenching Palace Chinese restaurant in the Cleveland Parkneighborhood of Washington D.C. on the evening of October 27. Kennedy suggested that they take Khrushchev’s offer to trade away the missiles. Unknown to most members of the EXCOMM, Robert Kennedy had been meeting with the Soviet Ambassador in Washington to discover whether these intentions were genuine. The EXCOMM was generally against the proposal because it would undermine NATO‘s authority, and the Turkish government had repeatedly stated it was against any such trade.
As the meeting progressed, a new plan emerged and Kennedy was slowly persuaded. The new plan called for the President to ignore the latest message and instead to return to Khrushchev’s earlier one. Kennedy was initially hesitant, feeling that Khrushchev would no longer accept the deal because a new one had been offered, but Llewellyn Thompson argued that he might accept it anyway. White House Special Counsel and Adviser Ted Sorensen and Robert Kennedy left the meeting and returned 45 minutes later with a draft letter to this effect. The President made several changes, had it typed, and sent it.
After the EXCOMM meeting, a smaller meeting continued in the Oval Office. The group argued that the letter should be underscored with an oral message to Ambassador Dobrynin stating that if the missiles were not withdrawn, military action would be used to remove them. Dean Rusk added one proviso, that no part of the language of the deal would mention Turkey, but there would be an understanding that the missiles would be removed “voluntarily” in the immediate aftermath. The President agreed, and the message was sent.
An EXCOMM meeting on October 29, 1962 held in the White House Cabinet Room during the Cuban missile crisis. President Kennedy is to the left of the American flag; on his left is Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara and his right is Secretary of State Dean Rusk.
At Juan Brito[specify]’s request, Fomin and Scali met again. Scali asked why the two letters from Khrushchev were so different, and Fomin claimed it was because of “poor communications”. Scali replied that the claim was not credible and shouted that he thought it was a “stinking double cross”. He went on to claim that an invasion was only hours away, at which point Fomin stated that a response to the US message was expected from Khrushchev shortly, and he urged Scali to tell the State Department that no treachery was intended. Scali said that he did not think anyone would believe him, but he agreed to deliver the message. The two went their separate ways, and Scali immediately typed out a memo for the EXCOMM.
Within the US establishment, it was well understood that ignoring the second offer and returning to the first put Khrushchev in a terrible position. Military preparations continued, and all active duty Air Force personnel were recalled to their bases for possible action. Robert Kennedy later recalled the mood, “We had not abandoned all hope, but what hope there was now rested with Khrushchev’s revising his course within the next few hours. It was a hope, not an expectation. The expectation was military confrontation by Tuesday, and possibly tomorrow…”.
At 8:05 pm EDT, the letter drafted earlier in the day was delivered. The message read, “As I read your letter, the key elements of your proposals—which seem generally acceptable as I understand them—are as follows: 1) You would agree to remove these weapons systems from Cuba under appropriate United Nations observation and supervision; and undertake, with suitable safe-guards, to halt the further introduction of such weapon systems into Cuba. 2) We, on our part, would agree—upon the establishment of adequate arrangements through the United Nations, to ensure the carrying out and continuation of these commitments (a) to remove promptly the quarantine measures now in effect and (b) to give assurances against the invasion of Cuba.” The letter was also released directly to the press to ensure it could not be “delayed”.
With the letter delivered, a deal was on the table. However, as Robert Kennedy noted, there was little expectation it would be accepted. At 9:00 pm EDT, the EXCOMM met again to review the actions for the following day. Plans were drawn up for air strikes on the missile sites as well as other economic targets, notably petroleum storage. McNamara stated that they had to “have two things ready: a government for Cuba, because we’re going to need one; and secondly, plans for how to respond to the Soviet Union in Europe, because sure as hell they’re going to do something there”.
At 12:12 am EDT, on October 27, the US informed its NATO allies that “the situation is growing shorter… the United States may find it necessary within a very short time in its interest and that of its fellow nations in the Western Hemisphere to take whatever military action may be necessary.” To add to the concern, at 6 am the CIA reported that all missiles in Cuba were ready for action.
Later on that same day, what the White House later called “Black Saturday”, the US Navy dropped a series of “signaling depth charges” (practice depth charges the size of hand grenades) on a Soviet submarine (B-59) at the blockade line, unaware that it was armed with a nuclear-tipped torpedo with orders that allowed it to be used if the submarine was “hulled” (a hole in the hull from depth charges or surface fire). The decision to launch these required agreement from all three officers on board, but one of them, Vasili Arkhipov, objected and so the launch was narrowly averted.
On the same day a US U-2 spy plane made an accidental, unauthorized ninety-minute overflight of the Soviet Union’s far eastern coast.The Soviets responded by scrambling MiG fighters from Wrangel Island; in turn the Americans launched F-102 fighters armed with nuclear air-to-air missiles over the Bering Sea.
On October 27, Khrushchev also received a letter from Castro – what is now known as the Armageddon Letter (dated Oct. 26) – interpreted as urging the use of nuclear force in the event of an attack on Cuba. “I believe the imperialists’ aggressiveness is extremely dangerous and if they actually carry out the brutal act of invading Cuba in violation of international law and morality, that would be the moment to eliminate such danger forever through an act of clear legitimate defense, however harsh and terrible the solution would be,” Castro wrote.
A US Navy HSS-1 Seabat helicopter hovers over Soviet submarine B-59, forced to the surface by US Naval forces in the Caribbean near Cuba (October 28–29, 1962)
On October 27, after much deliberation between the Soviet Union and Kennedy’s cabinet, Kennedy secretly agreed to remove all missiles set in southern Italy and in Turkey, the latter on the border of the Soviet Union, in exchange for Khrushchev removing all missiles in Cuba.
At 9:00 am EDT, on October 28, a new message from Khrushchev was broadcast on Radio Moscow. Khrushchev stated that, “the Soviet government, in addition to previously issued instructions on the cessation of further work at the building sites for the weapons, has issued a new order on the dismantling of the weapons which you describe as ‘offensive’ and their crating and return to the Soviet Union.”
Kennedy immediately responded, issuing a statement calling the letter “an important and constructive contribution to peace”. He continued this with a formal letter:
I consider my letter to you of October twenty-seventh and your reply of today as firm undertakings on the part of both our governments which should be promptly carried out… The US will make a statement in the framework of the Security Council in reference to Cuba as follows: it will declare that the United States of America will respect the inviolability of Cuban borders, its sovereignty, that it take the pledge not to interfere in internal affairs, not to intrude themselves and not to permit our territory to be used as a bridgehead for the invasion of Cuba, and will restrain those who would plan to carry an aggression against Cuba, either from US territory or from the territory of other countries neighboring to Cuba.:103
Kennedy’s planned statement would also contain suggestions he had received from his adviser, Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., in a “Memorandum for the President” describing the “Post Mortem on Cuba.”
The US continued the blockade, and in the following days, aerial reconnaissance proved that the Soviets were making progress in removing the missile systems. The 42 missiles and their support equipment were loaded onto eight Soviet ships. The ships left Cuba from November 5–9. The US made a final visual check as each of the ships passed the blockade line. Further diplomatic efforts were required to remove the Soviet IL-28 bombers, and they were loaded on three Soviet ships on December 5 and 6. Concurrent with the Soviet commitment on the IL-28’s, the US Government announced the end of the blockade effective at 6:45 pm EDT on November 20, 1962.
At the time when the Kennedy administration thought that the Cuban Missile Crisis was resolved, nuclear tactical rockets stayed in Cuba since they were not part of the Kennedy-Khrushchev understandings. However, the Soviets changed their minds, fearing possible future Cuban militant steps, and at November 22, 1962 the Soviet Deputy Prime Minister Anastas Mikoyan told Castro that those rockets with the nuclear warheads, were being removed too.
In his negotiations with the Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin, US Attorney General Robert Kennedy informally proposed that the Jupitermissiles in Turkey would be removed “within a short time after this crisis was over.”:222 The last US missiles were disassembled by April 24, 1963, and were flown out of Turkey soon after.
The practical effect of this Kennedy-Khrushchev Pact was that it effectively strengthened Castro’s position in Cuba, guaranteeing that the US would not invade Cuba. It is possible that Khrushchev only placed the missiles in Cuba to get Kennedy to remove the missiles from Italy and Turkey and that the Soviets had no intention of resorting to nuclear war if they were out-gunned by the Americans. Because the withdrawal of the Jupiter missiles from NATO bases in Southern Italy and Turkey was not made public at the time, Khrushchev appeared to have lost the conflict and become weakened. The perception was that Kennedy had won the contest between the superpowers and Khrushchev had been humiliated. This is not entirely the case as both Kennedy and Khrushchev took every step to avoid full conflict despite the pressures of their governments. Khrushchev held power for another two years.:102–105
The nuclear-armed Jupiter intermediate-range ballistic missile. The US secretly agreed to withdraw these missiles from Italy and Turkey.
The compromise embarrassed Khrushchev and the Soviet Union because the withdrawal of US missiles from Italy and Turkey was a secret deal between Kennedy and Khrushchev. The Soviets were seen as retreating from circumstances that they had started. Khrushchev’s fall from power two years later was in part because of the Politburo embarrassment at both Khrushchev’s eventual concessions to the US and his ineptitude in precipitating the crisis in the first place. According to Dobrynin, the top Soviet leadership took the Cuban outcome as “a blow to its prestige bordering on humiliation”.
Cuba perceived the outcome as a partial betrayal by the Soviets, given that decisions on how to resolve the crisis had been made exclusively by Kennedy and Khrushchev. Castro was especially upset that certain issues of interest to Cuba, such as the status of the US Naval Base in Guantánamo, were not addressed. This caused Cuban-Soviet relations to deteriorate for years to come.:278 On the other hand, Cuba continued to be protected from invasion.
Although General Curtis LeMay told the President that he considered the resolution of the Cuban missile crisis the “greatest defeat in our history”, his was a minority position.:335 He had pressed for an immediate invasion of Cuba as soon as the crisis began, and still favored invading Cuba even after the Soviets had withdrawn their missiles. 25 years later, LeMay still believed that “We could have gotten not only the missiles out of Cuba, we could have gotten the Communists out of Cuba at that time”.
After the crisis the United States and the Soviet Union created the Moscow–Washington hotline, a direct communications link between Moscow and Washington, D.C. The purpose was to have a way that the leaders of the two Cold War countries could communicate directly to solve such a crisis. The world-wide US Forces DEFCON 3 status was returned to DEFCON 4 on November 20, 1962. U-2 pilot Major Anderson’s body was returned to the United States and he was buried with full military honors in South Carolina. He was the first recipient of the newly created Air Force Cross, which was awarded posthumously.
Although Anderson was the only combatant fatality during the crisis, 11 crew members of three reconnaissance Boeing RB-47 Stratojets of the 55th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing were also killed in crashes during the period between September 27 and November 11, 1962.Further, seven crew died when a MATS Boeing C-135B Stratolifter delivering ammunition to Guantanamo Bay Naval Base stalled and crashed on approach on October 23.
Critics including Seymour Melman and Seymour Hersh suggested that the Cuban missile crisis encouraged US use of military means, such as in the Vietnam War. This Soviet-American confrontation was synchronous with the Sino-Indian War, dating from the US’s military blockade of Cuba; historians[who?] speculate that the Chinese attack against India for disputed land was meant to coincide with the Cuban missile crisis.
Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., a historian and adviser to John F. Kennedy, told National Public Radio in an interview on October 16, 2002 that Castro did not want the missiles, but that Khrushchev had pressured Castro to accept them. Castro was not completely happy with the idea but the Cuban National Directorate of the Revolution accepted them to protect Cuba against US attack, and to aid its ally, the Soviet Union.:272 Schlesinger believed that when the missiles were withdrawn, Castro was angrier with Khrushchev than he was with Kennedy because Khrushchev had not consulted Castro before deciding to remove them.[note 2]
In early 1992, it was confirmed that Soviet forces in Cuba had, by the time the crisis broke, received tactical nuclear warheads for their artillery rockets and Il-28 bombers. Castro stated that he would have recommended their use if the US invaded despite knowing Cuba would be destroyed.
Arguably the most dangerous moment in the crisis was only recognized during the Cuban Missile Crisis Havana conference in October 2002. Attended by many of the veterans of the crisis, they all learned that on October 27, 1962 the USS Beale had tracked and dropped signaling depth charges (the size of hand grenades) on the B-59, a Soviet Project 641 (NATO designation Foxtrot) submarine which, unknown to the US, was armed with a 15 kiloton nuclear torpedo.
Running out of air, the Soviet submarine was surrounded by American warships and desperately needed to surface. An argument broke out among three officers on the B-59, including submarine captain Valentin Savitsky, political officer Ivan Semonovich Maslennikov, and Deputy brigade commander Captain 2nd rank (US Navy Commander rank equivalent)Vasili Arkhipov.
An exhausted Savitsky became furious and ordered that the nuclear torpedo on board be made combat ready. Accounts differ about whether Commander Arkhipov convinced Savitsky not to make the attack, or whether Savitsky himself finally concluded that the only reasonable choice left open to him was to come to the surface.:
During the conference Robert McNamara stated that nuclear war had come much closer than people had thought. Thomas Blanton, director of the National Security Archive, said, “A guy called Vasili Arkhipov saved the world.”
Fifty years ago, the Cuban missile crisis brought the world to the brink of nuclear disaster. During the standoff, U.S. President John F. Kennedy thought the chance of escalation to war was “between 1 in 3 and even,” and what we have learned in later decades has done nothing to lengthen those odds. We now know, for example, that in addition to nuclear-armed ballistic missiles, the Soviet Union had deployed 100 tactical nuclear weapons to Cuba, and the local Soviet commander there could have launched these weapons without additional codes or commands from Moscow.
The U.S. air strike and invasion that were scheduled for the third week of the confrontation would likely have triggered a nuclear response against American ships and troops, and perhaps even Miami. The resulting war might have led to the deaths of 100 million Americans and over 100 million Russians.
BBC journalist Joe Matthews published on October 13, 2012 the story behind the 100 tactical nuclear warheads mentioned by Graham Allison in the excerpt above. Khrushchev feared that Castro’s hurt pride and widespread Cuban indignation over the concessions he had made to Kennedy might lead to a breakdown of the agreement between the Soviet Union and the United States. In order to prevent this Khrushchev decided to make Cuba a special offer.
The offer was to give Cuba more than 100 tactical nuclear weapons that had been shipped to Cuba along with the long-range missiles, but which crucially had passed completely under the radar of US intelligence. Khrushchev concluded that because the Americans hadn’t listed the missiles on their list of demands, the Soviet Union’s interests would be well served by keeping them in Cuba.
Anastas Mikoyan was tasked with the negotiations with Castro over the missile transfer deal designed to prevent a breakdown in the relations between Cuba and the Soviet Union. While in Havana, Mikoyan witnessed the mood swings and paranoia of Castro, who was convinced that Moscow had made the agreement with the United States at the expense of Cuba’s defense.
Mikoyan, on his own initiative, decided that Castro and his military not be given control of weapons with an explosive force equal to 100 Hiroshima-sized bombs under any circumstances. He defused the seemingly intractable situation, which risked re-escalating the crisis, on November 22, 1962.
During a tense, four-hour meeting, Mikoyan convinced Castro that despite Moscow’s desire to help, it would be in breach of an unpublished Soviet law (which didn’t actually exist) to transfer the missiles permanently into Cuban hands and provide them with an independent nuclear deterrent. Castro was forced to give way and – much to the relief of Khrushchev and the whole Soviet government – the tactical nuclear weapons were crated and returned by sea to the Soviet Union during December 1962.“