Bay of Pigs Invasion - US vs Cuba - Cold War DOCUMENTARY
Without a doubt, Cuba is an integral and key part of Cold War history. Cuba, in a very short period of time, went from a close American ally to a close ally of a sworn enemy and Havana and Fidel was not afraid to poke the bear…eagle? In the months and years after the Revolution, Washington hoped to remove Fidel from power and bring Cuba back into its orbit. I’m your host David and this week, we are going to look at the culmination of the American campaign to remove Fidel, the failure that was the Bay of Pigs Invasion. This is…the Cold War. Now, before we start talking about terrible national security operations, if you are looking for a stylish way to keep your money and cards safe, then you need the sponsor of today’s video, Ridge Wallet. These wallets from Ridge come with RFID blocking technology to prevent digital pickpockets from scooping up your information. But the best part is how great they look while protecting your information! Ridge wallets don’t fold or bulge and their have a light and sleek modern design. Ridge can hold up to 12 cards and still has room for cash. It’s available in
30 different colours and styles; my favorite is definitely the burnt titanium. But don’t just take my word for it – Ridge has over 40,000 5-star reviews and with holidays fast approaching, a new wallet from Ridge makes the perfect gift! Each wallet comes with a lifetime warranty and The Ridge team is so confident you’ll like it, that they’ll let you try it for 45 days. If you don’t love it, just send it back for a full refund! Look great, support our channel and get 10% off today by going to https://ridge.com/tcw and use the code “TCW”! On the 16th of February 1961, Fidel Castro assumed the title of Prime Minister, an action which ultimately marked the successful conclusion to the Cuban Revolution, ending more than 5 years of fighting for control of the island. But it wasn’t really the end of the fighting; no sooner was
his government established then it was met with counterinsurgencies aiming to unravel everything he had achieved to that point. No less than 117 militant counter-revolutionary groups were formed, most of which took refuge in the Escambray Mountains, from where they fought a 6 year long, bloody struggle against Castro's forces. Now, the Escambray Rebellion as the conflict between government troops and the insurgents became known is a story for another day, but if you are interested in, please let us know in the comments. However, there are a couple of things we need to take note of regarding the rebellion. First of all, the animosity with which the war between the government and the rebels was fought forced many of the rebels to seek refuge in the United States, from where they planned to launch an invasion, increasing the anti-Castro vehemence of the Cuban diaspora. It also created reactions from the US press, who accused Castro and his government
of being undemocratic and bloodthirsty. Castro certainly didn’t take these press comments well but they weren’t the reason for the continued souring of US-Cuban relations. It was things like the Cuban government nationalizing the Cuba’s oil refineries. This action was taken in response to US corporations who controlled the refineries refusing to process oil purchased from the Soviet Union. In retaliation for the refineries being nationalized, the US banned the import of Cuban sugar. This in turn prompted Castro to seize more American owned assets and for the United States to then impose a strict economic embargo on the 13th of October 1960.
In addition, incidents such as the sinking of the French vessel "Le Coubre", which Fidel blamed the US for as well as the fact that Cuba was starting to be used as a stepping stone for many revolutionaries trying to stage communist uprisings in South America placed further strains on the relationship between the two nations. These increasingly heightened tensions drove the CIA to create and execute a multitude of different plans to assassinate Fidel Castro,as well as other important revolutionaries, like Fidel’s brother Raul and Che Guevara. Parallel to the numerous, and admittedly creative, assassination attempts, by early 1960 the CIA had formulated a plan for an armed invasion of the island using Cuban exiles opposed Castro's regime. President Eisenhower, recognizing the increasing hostility and possible threat that a Communist Cuba could pose to the United States, tasked the CIA with creating an invasion plan to topple Castro's government. Preparatory work began with CIA's director Allen Dulles assembling
a team of agents, many of whom were veterans of the successful 1954 coup in Guatemala, which of course you know all about since you watched our episode covering it. Now, in March of 1961, Langley received a whopping 13 million dollars allowance in order to “deal” with Castro and covert operations began shortly afterwards. These included, but were not limited to, the build.-up of an intelligence network inside Cuba, the training and equipping of paramilitary forces outside the island, as well as the acquisition of logistical support for these units, and of course the Agency's old time favorite, a propaganda campaign to be carried out on the island itself. And yet, despite this mandate, for the 6 months that followed, these covert operations, mainly focused on supporting and reinforcing the already present anti-Castro insurgents in the Escambray, were met time and time again with failure. With little progress being made, Langley explored plans for an all-out amphibious invasion, a process that was sped-up when John F. Kennedy won the presidential elections.
So, as just mentioned, the CIA was recruiting Cuban exiles living in the United States to stage what was supposed to look like a local uprising and not a US backed intervention. Though initially consisting of only 28 men, the small group of Cubans that had gathered around the political leadership of Manuel Francisco Artime Buesa, it would grow to become Assault Brigade 2506, numbering roughly one and a half thousand soldiers. As Artime was a politician and therefore not well suited to command the brigade, military command of the Brigade was given to Pepe San Roman. His men were then trained in secret bases that had been set up by the CIA in Guatemala, Puerto Rico and, ignoring the State Department's guidelines, even the United States itself. Naturally for an operation of this size, air and naval forces would need to be included. Eight C-46 and six C-54 transport planes, as well as 16 B-26 Invaders would be used to bomb Cuban forces and support the invading forces. Like the ground
troops, the pilots were trained from disguised bases in Guatemala, with Langley employing various tricks to camouflage these aircraft to appear as part of the Guatemalan Air Force. Similar lengths were taken to disguise the creation of the naval force which would carry troops, ammunition and other supplies to the landing point. Under no circumstances could the vessels be American, out of fear of exposing direct US involvement, so the CIA procured 5 ships from a Cuban owned shipline; the Atlantico, the Caribe, the Houston, the Lake Charles and the Rio Escondido. Also part of the naval force were two large landing crafts, Blagar and Barbara J as well as eight smaller crafts that would carry personnel as well as the five M41 Bulldog tanks and the trucks, jeeps and other support vehicles to be used in the landing. As to the success of disguising this force, saying that it had mixed results would be a generous statement. Not only was this a large collection of men and equipment, but operational security was lax at best. It was no secret to the Cubans that an
invasion force was being assembled or that it was a fully US-backed plan. Of course, gathering the war material and training the men was only half of the necessary preparations. The other half was choosing the landing site and forming a tactical plan. Langley's original plan called for a landing in the Trinidad area, southeast of Cienfuegos, a location distant from Havana and Castro's forces concentrated in the capital. In addition, the area had access to facilities vital for the successful outcome of the operation, primarily docks, but it was also quite easily defendable, as Cuban troops coming from Havana would have to cross a bridge, which could be blown up to further bolster the defensive capabilities of the invading force.
Yet, despite the numerous advantages this location offered, President Kennedy took a completely different decision, which perhaps forever changed the course of history. On March the 11th, during a meeting with senior CIA officials, Kennedy rejected the Trinidad plan, calling it overly spectacular, and pointing out that the lack of a large local runway to be used by the bombers would potentially reveal America's involvement. So Langley went back to the drawing board, this time choosing a quieter place for the landing, this time to the southwest of Cienfuegos, the Bahia de Cochinos, The Bay of Pigs. According to the CIA's plans for Operation "Zapata", as it was named, landings would take place at three locations codenamed Red, Blue and Green beaches. Blue beach, or Playa Giron was to be the center of the operation where San Roman would establish his HQ, while paratroopers of the 1st Battalion would drop at three points further inland at La Horquito, at Covadonga and at Central Australia Sugar Mill, with the task of securing the roads leading towards Playa Giron, while a second detachment would secure an airstrip and the town of Sopillar . Paratroop command, under Alejandro de Valle would establish its own HQ at San Blas. Following them would be the 2nd and 5th Infantry Battalions
which would land at Red Beach, while the 6th, 3rd, and 4th would land at Blue Beach. Finally the 7th Infantry would make its landing at Green Beach. After the beachead was secured the 3rd Battalion, which had been assigned the few tanks that took part in the operation,would move to seize control of the local airfield which would provide a first-class base for the bombers to operate from.
This was the plan the CIA and Assault Brigade 2506 would work with. While it was a solid one in theory, there were some worries that it was overly complicated with too many moving parts. These worries however, were never really voiced, drown out by the overconfidence and hubris that past successes in Guatemala and Iran had created. In reality though, everything that could possibly go wrong with the plan, did. The main invasion was planned for the 17th
of April, 1961. On the night of the 14th of April, days before the main attack would begin, a diversionary landing was to take place roughly 30 miles east of Guantanamo, near Baracoa. However, as Nino Diaz and his 160 men were approaching the beach they discovered that a group of Cuban militiamen, who had possibly been notified in detail about the American plans, was already waiting for them and so the diversionary landing was canceled.
While the failed attempt to draw Castro's attention to the east undeniably negatively affected the outcome of the mission, so did the overly successful air operations conducted the following day. Let me explain. Dutifully following the CIA's plan, on the early hours of the 15th of April, the exiled Cuban pilots, took to the skies in their B-26s with the task of destroying the Cuban air force on the ground, deemed a determining factor for the outcome of the operation, since the landing force had no Anti-Aircraft guns and would otherwise be at mercy of Castro's planes. The bombing runs were extremely successful and by nightfall, half of the Cuban airforce had been destroyed on the ground.
However, this mission included a propaganda portion. Two of the bombers were to fly to the US, where their pilots would claim to be Cuban defectors and they would assume responsibility for the destruction that had been caused, thereby drawing away any suspicion of US involvement. When they reached US soil their fake story quickly became widely known and served its intended purpose, but it would soon backfire. As a result of media attention, and immense political pressure, the pilots could not risk launching a second bombing run, without first capturing the airfield at Giron, as it would reveal the origin of the aircraft. So it was decided that the air force would no longer intervene, and the Brigade was left to its fate, to fend off the remaining half of the Cuban aircraft. Without anti- air weapons.
At the same time as the B-26 were inadvertently grounded, the CIA suffered another setback as Fidel launched a major counterinsurgency campaign across the island, arresting almost half a million Cubans, including many rebels and operatives working for the agency. Adding to this catastrophe was the CIA's failure to even contact and organize members of the anti- Castro movement that still remained in Cuba and would have been willing to help the landing force. In addition, one of Langley's chief weapons, the massive radio and leaflet propaganda campaign that had effectively won them the 1954 coup in Guatemala, proved unsuccessful this time, failing to create the uprising the CIA was hoping for. As a result, the landings would begin with major setbacks; an alerted enemy with control of the air and they would also be cut-off from any potential reinforcements and allies on the ground.
On the 16th of April, just after the sun had set, the first elements of the invasion force composed of a team of frogmen approached the coast near Red Beach where they exchanged fire with a Cuban patrol in a Jeep. Despite finding out that the area was guarded, the landings proceeded as planned. Despite a few mishaps the beachhead at point Blue was secured. However, the defenders of the radio station at Playa Larga had managed to alert Havana of the landing and Fidel ordered three mortar batteries and three infantry battalions stationed in the surrounding area to intercept the invaders. He also commanded the Revolutionary Air Force to attack the ships starting at dawn. At 6:30 am on the 17th, Castro's pilots managed to inflict a major blow on the attackers when they crippled the Houston, which was carrying the entire 5th Battalion. The Houston was beached, allowing the majority of the men to safely disembark but use of the Houston was lost in the event a withdrawal was needed.
An hour later, the brigade's airborne assault began. Despite some mishaps, like some paratroopers landing in the swamp, as well as the heavy fire they came under, the paratroopers were able to achieve two of their main objectives. But they failed to close off the road from Central Australia Sugar Mill, which would allow Castro's forces to launch a counterattack. By 8:30am, all the men and vehicles were ashore, and the 3rd Battalion had managed to secure the airstrip, but the Brigade had paid a price in both lives and equipment, losing all of its radio equipment, making communications and therefore coordination between units almost impossible.
The run of disasters for the Brigade continued during the second wave of air attacks when the Cuban planes scored a direct hit on the Rio Escondido. The ship was carrying a large supply of fuel, ammunition, and other war material and was completely destroyed by three explosions when its cargo caught fire. The situation for the Brigade was now dire as San Roman's men were still stuck on the beaches and almost out of supplies. As fighting continued into midday, the men of the 2506th managed to score a small victory when a group of militiamen approached Oliva's position. The Cubans, who were not aware of the enemy's presence in the area, suffered terrible losses as the brigadistas opened fire with everything they had and even two B-26s joined the fray. Within
minutes only a handful of militiamen remained, with some of them running away in the nearby marshes, while those less fortunate were captured by the brigadistas. Under interrogation, they revealed that Castro was concentrating his forces on the main road to launch a counteroffensive. So San Roman's men dug in and prepared for the upcoming attack. The end of the first day found the Brigade holding the beacheads both at Red and Blue, as well as the airfield, but they had suffered severe casualties and were without hope of being resupplied as two of the remaining ships, the Atlantico and Caribe had left the area and were heading south, afraid of joining the Rio Escondido. Their captains would eventually be convinced to turn back, but they would
be too late by the time they arrived back. For the men on the beaches, there would be no rest. as by 8pm the Cubans began an artillery bombardment against the now strongly entrenched brigadistas at Playa Larga. The bombardment was followed by infantry assaults supported by tanks and while the men of the 2506 inflicted great casualties on the attackers, the lack of ammunition proved detrimental. After holding on the entire night, Oliva and his men abandoned their positions in the morning and headed to Giron.
During the night, the Brigade's air force, realizing the critical mistake of letting Castro's planes control the skies, made another attempt at destroying Cuban aircraft on the ground. However, they were unable to successfully carry out their strikes due to poor weather conditions. As the sun rose in the morning of April 18th, San Roman and Oliva met and discussed plans, with Oliva suggesting heading to the Escambray mountains and engaging in guerrilla warfare, but this idea was quickly dismissed by San Roman. Upon contacting Blagar to request a resupply, San Roman also dismissed the idea of evacuating from the beaches, thus sealing the fate of his men. The Cubans resumed their ground assault at San Blas at 11am, with support from the Cuban Air Force.
Unlike the previous day, the Brigade used its aircraft to great success, as the B-26s managed to destroy a column heading to Giron from Playa Larga, inflicting around 1800 casualties. Despite being pushed on all sides as well as almost being out of ammunition, the Brigade was able to hold out another day. This included repelling another attempt made from the Cuban Revolutionary forces to recover San Blas in the afternoon. As we have mentioned several times the 2506 was
by this time in dire need of ammunition. At dawn on the 19th, a last ditch effort at resupply was made. A C-46 was able to land at the aistrip in Giron and deliver some much needed ammo, however, the majority of supplies were supposed to arrive by sea onboard Blagar. The captain of the ship, knowing full well the danger of sailing under a hostile sky, had requested air cover and then for an American destroyer to escort his ship all the way to the beach. He got neither from a very hesitant President Kennedy, who still didn’t want to commit American forces to save the Brigade. The Captain of the Blagar was instead ordered by the CIA to abort the mission. While that was happening at sea, the brigadistas on the beach were committed to a final Hail Mary and after a final B-26 bombing run, they attacked the Cuban positions at San Blas. The offensive was
extremely successful, at least in the beginning, as the Cuban FAR soldiers were disorganized by the bombing and their resistance quickly collapsed. But, the brigadistas were unable to capitalize on their success as their ammunition finally ran out. This forced the 3rd Battalion to retreat. It was now time for Castro’s counterattack and the Cubans were able to dislodge San Roman’s defenders from their positions by about 2pm on the 19th. The situation was fairly similar at the western end of
the battlefield where Oliva was in command. He too had to abandon his position and fallback to Giron at about the same time. There he found, well, nothing except San Roman’s final message. “I am destroying all my equipment and communications. Tanks are in sight. I have nothing left to fight with. I am taking to the woods. I cannot wait for you”. Oliva still tried to hold out,
forming a small unit of men, but they too fled after they were strafed by a pair of Sea Furies and a T-33A. This marked the end for Brigade 2506 and for the invasion at the Bay of Pigs. Over the weeks that followed, Castro's forces killed or captured many of the brigadistas that had fled and hid in the surrounding area. The majority of the captives, some 1,113 men, were exchanged for a ransom of 53 million US dollars on the 22nd of December 1962. A ceremony was organized in which the repatriating brigadistas presented the unit's flag to President Kennedy and Brigade 2506 officially ceased to exist. Its disbandment however, couldn't wash away the
catastrophic consequences of the failure at the Bay of Pigs. The Kennedy administration and the United States lost prestige and credibility among their allies and, if rumours are to be believed, JFK came close to shutting down Langley entirely. At the same time Castro became much more wary of future US attempts at overthrowing his regime, while the Revolutionary movement in Cuba was, in the words of Comandante Che, stronger than ever. And yet, the failure at the Bay of Pigs was not
the end of US involvement over Cuba. Far from it in fact. The United States would redouble their efforts to overthrow the neighboring communist regime. New plans for covert actions including sabotage, assassinations and terrorist attacks were drawn up; they would later become known as “Operation Mongoose". But in the following months the incident at Playa Giron would be overshadowed by what is recognized as the single most dangerous deliberate incident of the Cold War, where the world skated on the razor's edge of nuclear armageddon, the Cuban Missile Crisis.
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