It’s once again the anniversary of one of the most abject failures of American covert action – and yes I did state that correctly, under President Kennedy’s directives the insertion of an anti-Castro force into Cuba was to be extraordinarily covert. His orders were that the fighters be landed, but that if the initial effort at the Bay of Pigs met military opposition the the force was to be inserted elsewhere. His overall guideline was the same as that of the initial sponsor of the Cuba project – President Eisenhower – had demanded, the hand of the United States was not to be seen in the effort. JFK also ordered that the leaders of the force be specifically briefed that there would be no direct American military action in support of the landing or their moved to topple the Castro regime.

Kennedy met with the senior Cuba Project officers as well as personally with the Navy Admiral in charge of providing security for the Cuban Brigades transport across the Carribbian. He made the rules of engagement quite clear, defined the Navy security role, stressed absolute “deniablity”, and ordered that back up plans were prepared in the event the insertion was opposed.

The sad thing is that you likely will not read any of that in the routine anniversary stories of the landings. To a large part that is true because the full story of the entire Cuba Project and the disaster at the Bay of Pigs has really only emerged during the past two decades and the new documents and the real history of the full Cuba Project has not made its way into either the mainstream history books or the mainstream press.

Which means the general public – or at least the section of it interested in history – has little idea of the initial regime change effort pursued by the Eisenhower Administration, its total failure or its conversion to something entirely different in the first months of the Kennedy Administration. Shockingly, even the CIA field commanders involved in the Bay of Pigs had no idea how badly they and the President were misled by the actual project chief, Richard Bissell during that period.

The CIA Inspector who evaluated and wrote a devastating critique of the effort certainly did, however his report was suppressed and Bissell was allowed to substitute is own rebuttal, ensuring the depth of his mistakes became thoroughly obfuscated – even from his subordinates. Decades later, when shown the actual documents and records relating to the landings they could only register shock and disdain, openly calling project chief Bissell a liar -clearly misleading both them and the President.

But the real history goes much further than that tragedy of leadership, the records and oral histories we have now suggest that Bissell and the senior Navy officer on the project were talking a number of actions not communicated to the President. Actions which placed a squadron of armed ground strike aircraft on the carrier Essex, the command ship intended only to escort the transports and landing craft to Cuba. Nothing in JFK’s plan called for that type of American air strike capability. Nor did it call for the super-carrier group the Admiral also dispatched off the Cuba shores – a force with the capability of sufficient direct military action to destroy Cuban armed forces across the island.

In addition JFK was not briefed on a number of things we now know about, but which still don’t make it into the official histories – such as a number of efforts to insert rifle teams to assassinate Fidel Castro during the weeks before the landing. Or the effort run out of the Navy base at Guantanamo which placed a key group of exile fighters directly outside that facility, with a huge store of explosives and no obvious target or mission other than a false flag attack on the base itself. Something which could have triggered a massive Navy retaliation strike from the carrier groups off Cuba.

Its taken decades of work by very good historians to reveal the sort of information you will not find in the anniversary articles on the Bay of Pigs. Fortunately I was able to take advantage of their work, and of some of my own new research, to tell a much fuller story of both the Cuba Project and the Bay of Pigs – its part of my book In Denial / Secret Wars with Air Strikes and Tanks.

If you are interested, my publisher has even gone so far as to extend a special offer during the anniversary of the Bay of Pigs landings. You can find the book and the offer on Amazon at:

10 responses »

  1. This looks definitely worth reading AND buying ….Good luck Larry. Ty Newcomb

  2. larryjoe2 says:

    Thanks Tyler, my goal with the book was really to examine the decision making process and command and control of America’s deniable warfare – plus the question of why it continued for decades with so many obvious failures, As it turned out, so much new information proved to be available – much based in actual documents – that the Cuba Project proved to be the major case study in the book.

    Beyond that it also offered me the opportunity to look at new practices and approaches that are emerging – ranging from the Ukraine and Crimea, across Africa, into the Gulf States and most definitely int he South China Sea. Little Green men, Little Blue Men, Russian military contractors, Chinese maritime reserve units disguised as fishing fleets. It all very contemporary and clearly tempting to nations wishing to pursue new spheres of influence.

    Unfortunately our timing in issuing the book was such (with the pandemic last year) that we were unable to get the normal reviews for the book, and its not made it into libraries nor gotten the type of attention as my earlier works like Shadow Warfare or Surprise Attack. That’s frustrating, especially because of all the new information related to the Cuban chapters that’s just not gotten the visibility I think it deserves – or for that matter changed the view of JFK’s involvement, something which needs to be addressed.

  3. John F. Davies says:

    In Warren Kozak’s Biography of Air Force Chief of Staff Curtis Lemay, there is an account of Lemay’s first sitting in on a briefing covering support for upcoming the Bay of Pigs operation in March, 1961 when he was still Vice Chief. He was there to fill in for then Air Force Chief of Staff Thomas White, and contrary to popular mythology, General Lemay had no previous knowledge of the operation. When questioned by the CIA staff who were conducting the briefing, Lemay replied that he had no prior knowledge of the operation, and therefore could not offer a valid reply. When Lemay asked some basic questions about the plan, he was told that the landing force would consist of only 700 troops.
    Lemay, who had himself participated in the planning of Operation Overlord, replied that the landing could never succeed with that small a number. The CIA briefing officer reportedly cut him off saying- “That doesn’t concern you.”

    In the days before the operation, Lemay was quite concerned about its success, and in the meetings where he sat in, consistently voiced his misgivings, even complaining to Undersecretary of Defense Roswell Gilpatric, who simply shrugged it off.

    The subsequent disaster indeed helped contribute to Lemay’s contempt for those whom he described as the “Defense Intellectuals”.

  4. larryjoe2 says:

    Amazingly even the Navy, with a role vital for equipment sourcing, communications and security for the force being sent to Cuba was not brought into what was essentially a brand new project as of January/February 1961. The project as conceived and authorized by Eisenhower) had failed as of October/November 1960, The amphibious advisor assigned by the Navy for a full fledged amphibious landing was brought into the project only some two months before the landing and the Navy’s recommendations on rules of engagement were almost totally rejected.

    The Joint Chiefs and their staff were asked to comment on the project but given that there was no written plan, they were only given verbal briefings and complained about being asked to assess something which was described to them only in general terms. Their assessment was that a force could likely be landed, but that unless their was an immediate island wide revolt the landing area could not be held. They seriously questioned the supply and logistics for the landing and perhaps worst of all the air staff report made it clear that if a single Cuba military aircraft was operational over the landing it could well take out one or more of the Brigade’s ships and jeopardize any possible resupply.

    Of course that was what actually happened – however the story of how and why the force was landed even though the senior leadership was aware that a third to half of the Cuban air force was still operational is tragic. Perhaps even more so because we now know it in full detail.

    LeMay was right and so was the project’s Marine military advisor who decades later – when given the full story – responded that if he had only known the full story he would have gone directly to the Marine Commandant (who had assigned him simply to support the covert insertion of small groups of exile fighters) and recommended that the JCS go to Kennedy and push for cancelling the entire thing, even at the last minute.

  5. John F. Davies says:

    In May 1963, Life Magazine published a special issue on the Bay of Pigs Invasion.
    The amazing illustrations for the piece were done by artist Sandy Kossin.

  6. larryjoe2 says:

    One of the things that has to be noted is that as a unit, the Brigade fought extremely well and to a large extent as the JCS review had assumed. That is especially noteworthy given that the CIA had arranged for no experienced “beachmaster” to oversee and coordinate the landing of units and equipment including tanks and heavy trucks (landings were actually at three beaches, a relatively complex task). The CIA had also allowed no field reconnaissance and the Brigade ended up having to move its landing craft across a nasty series of reefs.

    Other planning problems included the lack of any trained forward air controllers to coordinate Brigade air strikes and the lack of interoperable radio communications between the Brigade force and the Navy ships. It was only because the command landing craft had two CIA military advisors (who were not actually supposed to be there) that even partial communications was maintained between the Navy ships and the landing force or between the landing force and the Brigade air command in Nicaragua or CIA HQ. There was literally no direct communications between the Brigade commanders and any of the support groups, everything had to be relayed.

    There is no question of the bravery or performance of the Brigade, but a rolling series of command and control failures as well as a disregard for the prior warnings essentially doomed the operation. I’m afraid little of that shows up in the LIFE article.

  7. John F. Davies says:

    Speaking as a former Marine myself, to conduct an amphibious landing without a trained beach party is a disaster waiting to happen. No wonder the operation was one great big FUBAR. And the reason why the Brigade fought so well is that their military training was conducted by Marine Corps Officers on loan from HQUSMC. Who also put into the Brigade a sense of Esprit which motivated them to do so well in combat.

  8. larryjoe2 says:

    Its a reflection of the disconnect in the command and control that the field military chief of the project (Hawkins) certified the Brigade as being well equipped and trained for the landing….however that assessment was totally isolated from all logistics and support concerns as well as the issue of a major uprising being critical to a relief of the Brigade. That shows up clearly when in all the final meetings about the landing the uprising was repeatedly stated as a requirement by the senior military participants – while the CIA participants simply remained silent on the point.

    Later the CIA’s IG report and finally the CIA’s own historian noted that there was zero intelligence in hand to indicate such an uprising and for that matter the CIA had not brought up their own intelligence that the major network of on island revolutionary military groups had been crushed weeks before the landing with its leaders either dead or in prison.

  9. John F. Davies says:

    Link to an outstanding video on Air Operations during the Bay of Pigs.
    Done chronologically and in great detail, with never before seen photos and film footage.
    The role of the Alabama Air Guard in training and air operations is also revealed, along with covert U.S. Navy flights.

  10. larryjoe2 says:

    The images and diagrams in this piece are excellent and its a good but just a bit incomplete record of the overall air action. It is also more than a little incomplete on the iterative planning for the air element and the decision process in cancelling the air strikes the day of the landings.

    It also fails to note that the direct orders from the President were that the landings were to be done totally under darkness and all ships were to be out at sea in international waters by daylight. Obviously if that had been done as ordered things would have gone quite differently – what JFK was not told was that given the landing involved not only heavy armored trucks, but front line U.S. Army tanks that order was never going to be possible – nor did the CIA paramilitary advisors receive those orders.

    In regard to the cancellation of the day 1 landing strikes, the CIA Brigade military chiefs were not told that the damage assessment was tragically wrong nor that the strikes had been cancelled – perhaps the most dramatic thing missing from his piece is that project leaders Bissell and Cabell were given a change to demand that the strikes be restored or the landings had to be cancelled – and chose not to do so, later admitting they did not feel the strikes were essential.

    The piece also does not mention that the JCS air staff had warned that if a single Cuban air force fighter was operational it would be a grave risk to the landing given the risks to the ships. In addition, later inquiries also revealed that the air staff did indeed know the Cuban T-33’s were armed.

    Bottom line, its a sad film (at least from the anti-Castro perspective) but it becomes far worse when you dig into the details which are now available and covered in In Denial.

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