It is only relatively recently that we have come to know that much of the most often repeated news stories (and the more formal histories) which treat President Kennedy and the Bay of Pigs are either woefully incomplete, or in some cases simply wrong. In terms of being incomplete they lack the information that we have come to know the President was not given about the effort when finally authorizing it. In terms of being wrong, they fail to note the extent to which he allowed deniability to be sacrificed by allowing military action which had originally been specifically forbidden.
My newest book, In Denial; Secret Wars with Air Strikes and Tanks, covers the Cuba Project and Bay of Pigs in great detail (as well deniable warfare following the Bay of Pigs and in contemporary times). In doing so it examines the information JFK was not given – and the real time waivers which were given for American involvement in virtually everything short of open engagement of Cuban forces by the American Navy (which would have been an act of war since the Cubans themselves had not attacked the American forces):
What President Kennedy was not told:
The project presented to JFK was not what President Eisenhower had approved in March 1960 – the first project had failed by the before the November elections of that year.
The project presented to JFK had not been reviewed or approved by President Eisenhower.
The project presented by the CIA to JFK received only conditional endorsement by the American military, with written concerns about it being exposed to air attack, not logistically sustainable, and almost certain to fail unless an island wide uprising against the Castro regime immediately occurred to support it.
JFK was not told that the major anti-Castro resistance network inside Cuba had been compromised, its senior leaders captured and executed, and the majority of its members arrested and imprisoned weeks before the scheduled landings at the Bay of Pigs.
JFK was not told that there had been a series of efforts to assassinate Fidel Castro prior to the landings – and that they had all failed.
JFK was not told that the CIA had deployed none of its Cuban volunteers to the area of the landings in advance, and was in no communication with any resistance groups there.
The president had directed that all landing activity should be conducted at night with all transport ships and craft at sea outside Cuban waters by dawn – he was not advised that the operations plan, which included landing American Army tanks, armored trucks and massive amounts of ammunition and fuel, could not possibly have been executed prior to sunrise.
The president was not advised that the advance airstrikes had destroyed only half the Cuban air force, and that the failure to destroy the rest placed the landing in extreme jeopardy from air attack.
JFK had ordered plans to be made to extract the Cuban volunteers if the landing faced strong opposition and was told that in that event the force could proceed into the mountains and conduct themselves as guerillas. He was not told that the force had received only standard infantry training, that its equipment – including heavy weapons – and its supplies were not appropriate for guerilla action and that the unit’s leaders had not been briefed (or agreed to) guerilla action on evacuation plans (there were none).
When JFK ordered a follow on air strike the morning of the landing canceled over – concern for deniability – senior CIA officers did not advise JFK that the Brigade ships and landing were at major risk from the surviving Cuban combat aircraft.
Military actions which were authorized as the Brigade came under increasing attack (and no uprising or significant resistance activity occurred):
Following the landings Cuban pilots flew a series of night strikes against Cuban airfields (unsuccessful)
American pilots were authorized to fly Brigade aircraft in ground attacks against Cuban troops attacking the landing beaches (successful)
Cuban pilots flew supply drops over the beachhead on the first night after the landing (successful)
A major resupply by Brigade ships was ordered for the first night (unsuccessful)
American Air Force transports and Brigade transports were ordered to fly a major aerial resupply mission the second night of the landings (unsuccessful)
American Navy jets were ordered to provide air cover over the beachhead in support of ground strikes by Brigade fighter bombers flown by American pilots (unsuccessful)
The Navy was ordered to evacuate the Brigade from the beachhead and American destroyers were deployed off the beaches (unsuccessful)
If you have read In Denial I’d love to chat with you about these gaps in the histories regarding JFK and the Bay of Pigs, either here or by email. Beyond that, the publisher and I have a problem – unlike most of my earlier works of military history and national security, In Denial did not get reviewed by the Library Journal or Publishers Weekly (yes, poor timing with it appearing the middle of a global pandemic…sigh).
That means the book is simply not going to make it into many libraries, at present its not showing up on the global library catalog (Worldcat) at all. So, if you read it and like it please try to persuade your local library or your University library to carry it – or offer to purchase a copy and donate it (we did try to keep the price down). If you can help with a library effort it would be most appreciated!