The story of the failed invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs, which is located on the south coast of Cuba about 97 miles southeast of Havanna, was one of mismanagement, poor judgment, and stupidity (“Bay of Pigs” 378). The blame for the failed invasion falls directly on the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) and a young president by the name of John F. Kennedy. The whole intention of the invasion was to assault communist Cuba and put an end to Fidel Castro. Ironically, thirty-nine years after the Bay of Pigs, Fidel Castro is still in power.
First, it is necessary to look at why the invasion happened and then why it did not work. From the end of World War II until the mid-eighties, most Americans could agree that communism was the enemy. Communism wanted to destroy our way of life and corrupt the freest country in the world. Communism is an economic system in which one person or a group of people are in control. The main purpose of communism is to make the social and economic status of all individuals the same. It abolishes the inequalities in possession of property and distributes wealth equally to all.
The main problem with this is that one person who is very wealthy can be stripped of most of his wealth so that another person can have more material goods and be his equal. The main reason for the Bay of Pigs attack on Cuba was the change to communism. On January 1, 1959, Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista fled the country for the safety of the Dominican Republic (Goode, Stephen 75). Fidel Castro and his guerrilla warriors overthrew the old government dictated by Batista. During the next couple of weeks, Castro established a new government and on February 16, he was officially declared premier (Finkelstein, Norman H. 7).
The United States accepted this new regime as a relief from the harsh, corrupt, and unpopular government of Batista. Soon after everything settled down, Castro and his men made a rapid move to change their political course. He announced his transformation to Marxism-Leninism and avowed his friendship with the Soviet Union (Goode, Stephen 75). These events upset the United States and there were concerns about Castro becoming too powerful. One reason was the friendship with the Soviet Union because Cuba was receiving armed forces to expand and improve its army.
Cuba received 30,000 tons of arms a year, which included Soviet JS-2 51-ton tanks, SU-100 assault guns, T-34 35-ton tanks, 76-mm field guns, 85-mm field guns, and 122-mm field guns (Goode, Stephen 75&76). Fidel Castro took great pride in the armed forces. He expanded the ground forces from 250,000 to 400,000 troops. These figures put one out of every thirty Cubans in the armed forces, compared to one out of every sixty Americans (Goode, Stephen 76). Castro and communist Cuba was generating a military establishment ten times larger than that of Batista’s.
Castro put together the best army any Latin American country had ever had (Goode, Stephen 76). Analysts in Washington were frightened by this news. They were getting scared that Cuba might try to attack the United States with Soviet missiles and missile launchers. Also, they were afraid that Castro might attack other Latin American countries. Both scenarios were not welcome in the United States, and the downfall of Castro and the Cuban government became the top priority of the CIA (Goode, Stephen 76). There were many Cubans that did not like Castro. They flocked to the United States in order to escape communism.
These people were known as Cuban exiles (Goode, Stephen 76). On March 17, 1960, the CIA and President Eisenhower got together and discussed the situation going on in Cuba. They decided to arm and train these Cuban exiles for guerrilla warfare against Cuba (Goode, Stephen 76&77). In November 1960, John F. Kennedy was elected president. Upon his election, he was informed of the Cuban crisis and after being presented with the facts, he approved the invasion. Many plans for the invasion were recognized, but the best one came from Richard Bissel. He describes his plan in a book entitled, CIA.
The plan that was finally accepted was a more complex and larger version of the operation seven years earlier in Guatemala. A force of Cuban exiles was to secure a beachhead on Cuba’s coastline while a fleet of B-26’s, the most powerful war fighting plane, was to put Castro’s air force out of commission and disrupt transportation and communication lines (Fursenko, Aleksandr, and Timothy Naftali 95). Once the beachhead had been secured and a portion of Cuban territory liberated, a group of Cuban exile leaders would be flown to Cuba to form a provisional government.
The United States would then officially recognize the provisional government as the one true government of Cuba” (Goode, Stephen 77). The invasion started on April 16, 1961. It lasted for about three days. At the beginning, the CIA purchased several farms in Florida where the Cuban exiles could begin training (Goode, Stephen 77&78). Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua helped the invasion because they gave their approval for CIA camps to be located in these regions (Goode, Stephen 78). The Nicaraguan’s dictator, Anastasio Somoca, disliked Castro tremendously.
He said, “Bring me back a couple of hairs from Castro’s beard” (Robinson, Linda 53). The invasion, which was code-named Operation Zapata, consisted of around 1,400 to 1,500 exiles (Bay of Pigs Revisited, The 3). The CIA chose Manuel Artime Buesa as the leader of the troops (Goode, Stephen 79). He was a former Castro soldier and his leadership abilities were said to be excellent. His first move as leader was to get rid of all he suspected disloyal or unqualified. Next, he replaced many of the officials that had been training with the soldiers in Latin American countries with officers who had served in Fulgencio Batista’s army.
These officers were said to be “thugs” who had been part of the former dictator’s brutal government (Goode, Stephen 79). President Kennedy ordered that there be none of Batista’s men in the Liberation Army, which was the army making the invasion, but these orders seemed to be ignored. About 200 of the exiles did not like Artime’s move to appoint Batista’s men as heads of the Army. These men were given a choice either to accept the officials or not accept it and be flown to Guatemala to stay there until the invasion was completed (Goode, Stephen 79).
Six months before the invasion, the United States did a foolish thing. Raul Roa, the Cuban foreign minister, stated in an interview at the United Nations, “I have accurate knowledge of the invasion”. He told them that he knew about the exiles and their training in Guatemala, and he knew that the CIA was in charge of the attack. Roa claimed that he got the information from LIFE magazine, the New York Daily News, and CBS (Goode, Stephen 79 & 80). Besides Roa, Castro also acquired accurate and useful information. He was very prepared for the invasion.
Castro camouflaged the small Cuban air force, and he constantly patrolled possible invasion sites he heard were going to be targeted, including the Bay of Pigs. The morning before the invasion, April 15, 1961, he ordered a nationwide alert (Goode, Stephen 80). On April 14, 1961, the Liberation Army set sail on six ships from Nicaragua. The Army consisted of about 1,500 troops and they had approximately five tanks, eighteen mortars, fifteen recoilless rifles, four flame-throwers, twelve rocket launchers, twelve landing crafts, and five freighters to do battle with (Robinson, Linda 54).
The next day, the first strike was made on Cuba. The strike was good for the Army because it destroyed at least half of Castro’s planes, including B-26’s, Sea Furies, and T-33 jet trainers (Goode, Stephen 80). This was an early attack on Cuba, and Castro was not ready for this assault; therefore, resulting in the destruction of half of Castro’s planes. On April 16, the provisional government members received word that the invasion was near. They flew to Miami where they would hide out, and be ready to be taken to Cuba if the invasion was successful (Goode, Stephen 80 & 81).
The next thing the president did was very pivotal to the success of the attack. President Kennedy canceled a second scheduled air strike against Cuba. No one really knew why he canceled the strike; however, he could have believed the first strike did adequate damage to the Cuban air force and a second would not be needed (Bay of Pigs Revisited, The 4). In any case, the cancellation was considered by the CIA to harm the operation and maybe condemn it to failure (Nelson, Craig 1). At midnight on April 16, the invasion began (Goode, Stephen 81).
Things got off to a bad start. The coral reefs delayed several landing crafts and others experienced engine trouble. Some of the exiles chose a ground invasion. These troops penetrated about twenty miles into Cuba until they ran into Castro’s militia. The militia had heavy reinforcements which meant a quicker surrender for these exiles (Goode, Stephen 81). On Monday, April 17, the remaining planes of Castro’s air force were able to impose great damage on the ships and their invaders (Bay of Pigs Revisited, The 4).
Two of the Liberation Army’s ships were sunk, The Houston and The Rio Candido, which sank with most of the Army’s ammunition, oil, communications equipment, and men. Three of the B-26’s that the Liberation Army had were shot down by Cuba’s 20-mm cannons (Goode, Stephen 81). Later on that dreadful Monday, President Kennedy approved a second air strike, but it came too late. The exile force had been thoroughly defeated. When the planes arrived, they were an hour late because of the difference in time zones (Goode, Stephen 81 & 82).
Of the 1,500 troops the army had at first, only 1,297 made it to Cuba. The others were killed at sea or deserted. After the Liberation Army surrendered, 1,180 of the 1,297 were captured and taken as prisoners to Havanna (Fursenko, Aleksandr, and Timothy Naftali 95). Most of the captured exiles confessed their connection with the CIA and spoke of support from the United States (Goode, Stephen 82). Castro was very angry with the United States and he told other nations the dangers that existed with the United States. Representatives spoke with Castro and came to a compromise.
The United States wanted the prisoners back, and Castro needed medical supplies. They negotiated and Castro released the prisoners to return to Florida in time for Christmas, 1962 (Goode, Stephen 82). On April 19, one day after the failure of the invasion, Castro announced over the radio, “The invaders have been annihilated. The Revolution has emerged victorious. It destroyed in less than seventy-two hours the army organized during many months by the imperialist government of the United States” (Goode, Stephen 82).
Many people believed that Kennedy was the cause of the failure. CIA officials and Cuban exiles believed Kennedy’s failure to approve air strikes to back up the seaborne invaders doomed the plan (Nelson, Craig 1). President Kennedy publicly shouldered the responsibility, but privately he blamed the CIA and his military advisers. He also said that the agency needed reorganization (Goode, Stephen 82). Although some CIA officials blamed the president, numerous others blamed the agency as well. The CIA director, Allen Dulles, resigned several months after the invasion.
He was replaced by John McCone, a prominent businessman (Finkelstein, Norman H. 134). Many other CIA officials either quit or were fired by President Kennedy. Lyman Kirkpatrick, the CIA inspector general, wrote a report. He is said to be one of the harshest critiques of the invasion (Nelson, Craig 1). Kirkpatrick laid most of the blame directly on the CIA. Allen Dulles, Richard Bissell, and others resented the report and said that he had betrayed the CIA (Goode, Stephen 83). The 150-page report was finally released after sitting in the CIA director’s safe for over thirty years.
Some excerpts of the report were released on February 21, 1998 to the Associated Press. It said, “The CIA’s ignorance, incompetence, as well as its arrogance toward the 1,400 Cuban exiles it trained and equipped to mount the invasion, was responsible for the fiasco. The choice was between retreat without honor and a gamble between ignominious defeat and dubious victory. The agency choose to gamble at rapidly decreasing odds, misinforming presidential officials, planning poorly, using faulty intelligence, and conducting an overt military operation beyond their capability.
The CIA project went forward under the pathetic illusion of deniability. Officials had failed to advise the president at an appropriate time, that success had become dubious and to recommend that the operation therefore be canceled” (Nelson,Craig 1). Other factors he criticized were the absence of adequate air cover, the problems in maintaining secrecy and security, press leaks, and the political infighting among the exiles who seemed more suspicious of one another than Castro (Goode, Stephen 84).
In conclusion, did the government really believe that a force of 1,500 men were any match for Castro’s army of 400,000? Did they believe that their plan to attack was foolproof? Did they take time to plan the attack, or were they too anxious to oust Castro that they left out important details? If they had stopped to ask themselves these questions, it is likely that they would have called off the whole thing.