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The Bay of Pigs invasion took place from 17 April to 19 April 1961 in Cuba. The USA’s aim was to invade Cuba and overthrow the government who were under the leadership of Fidel Castro, in addition to keeping the entire operation covert. The Central Intelligence Agency in the USA was responsible for the planning of this military operation, with authorisation from both the Dwight D. Eisenhower and then the John F. Kennedy Administration. The invasion was carried out by Brigade 2506, which was made up of Cuban exiles, rather than US military personals. This invasion proved to be a great military success for Cuba, while for the USA, it was a complete failure, with very few, minor successes.
According to various sources, the USA failed in terms of the co-ordination of its air force, an essential aspect in order for the invasion to be a success. The air force sent eight B-26 bombers on April 14 to 15 1961, prior to the actual invasion, by land from Nicaragua, a country in South America in which the USA was training their brigade, with the aim of destroying Cuba’s military planes of its air force in order to “soften up Cuba’s defences”. This military strategy was not a complete success because the US air force was unable to destroy all of the Cuban air planes. This left the US invading force to deal with a tough opposing Cuban force and these bombers then abandoned their cause and fled back to Florida in the USA. In visual K, a plane has crashed and the aircraft is labelled as FAR 935, but is in fact a US plane. This destroyed aircraft was shot down directly by Cuban forces, despite the USA’s attempt to completely destroy the Cuban air force planes.
The following day, 16 April 1961, President Kennedy cancelled the second series of aerial bombings as a result of confusion of its necessity in the invasion. The plan had a chance to succeed until these air strikes were cancelled as it exposed the landing to Castro, allowing his air force to attack with no opposition. This triggered many other events that ultimately led to the collapse of the beachhead. Curtis LeMay was the Chief of the US Air Force and he informed the leaders of the invasion that air cover would be essential. However, under Kennedy’s order, Dean Rusk, the secretary of state, had cancelled this air cover, ignoring the recommendations of an experienced leader. As LeMay states, “without air support, the landing forces were doomed”.
On 19 April 1961, the invading forces by land were beginning to fail, and Kennedy made the decision to send six US jets that were unmarked for a limit of one hour in order provide extra support for the B-26 planes that were initially sent. This proved to be a failure because the CIA and the Pentagon did not plan effectively for the difference in time zones between Nicaragua and Cuba. This resulted in the B-26 planes not receiving the necessary support, with nine B-26 bombers being shot down. The USA had no reinforcements, with limited supplies, as a result. In addition in terms of the air force, the USA planned to take control of a Cuban airstrip within close distance of Playa Giron, a village and beach on the east of the Bahia de Cochinos (Bay of Pigs). The airplanes used included fifteen B-26 bombers that were instructed to land, carrying out attacks on military installations across the island. The airstrip was captured, however the supplies lost from the sunken boats meant that this airstrip could not be put to use. In agreement, three C-46 airplanes had been sent to land at this airstrip, with only one of them landing. This was the only airplane to operate on this airstrip for the entire time period of the operation, proving the USA’s lack of planning for reinforcements.
The final chosen location also proved to be a failed military strategy for the US. The site of landing that was chosen by the USA was the Bay of Pigs, also known as the Bahia de Los Cochinos, on the south end of Cuba. This part of the island had a low population density and it was not within a close distance of any Cuban military installations. This decision was said to be a poor one as the area was “swampy and difficult to cross” resulting in the US troops landing with difficulty. This area also proved to be problematic because it was a location that was well-known by Castro as it was one of his favourite areas to go fishing. This meant that Castro was well aware of his surroundings during the invasion which was to his advantage.
Castro frequently visited the area on holiday and had invested in Cuban peasants in areas surrounding the bay, leading to him to developing relationships with the people living there. He was able to gain their trust, support and loyalty. In addition, the USA planned for their troops to escape via the Escambray Mountains which was said to be “50 miles through hostile territory”. The USA planned to have ordinary Cuban civilians, who were against Castro, to instigate an uprising. However, this did not go according to plan because the bay was surrounded by the largest swamp in Cuba, the Zapata Swamp. This prevented the Cuban civilians wanting to join the attempted revolution on the USA’s side from doing so. Furthermore, the CIA had changed the initially planned location just a month before the invasion was to take place. Initially the USA planned to invade Trinidad, but it was then requested by Kennedy to replace the chosen site with the Bay of Pigs in order to conceal American involvement because this area was more sparsely populated. This last minute change comprised their military success because they only had a short period of time, one month, to plan for the invasion after the request to change the location.
Fidel Castro proved to be an exceptional leader for Cuba in the Bay of Pigs invasion. Although he was President of Cuba and had various other responsibilities, he personally took charge of commanding his troops during this invasion, leading his country to victory. This is not the strategy that the USA followed, and as a result, they failed in this invasion.
As soon as Castro heard of the attack, he took matters into his own hands, ordering his troops to respond. On the 17 April 1961, Fidel Castro arrived on the scene where fighting was taking place just after his troops had fought the invaders so that it was impossible for them to take further action.Not only did Castro command his troops on land, but he also gave instructions and coordinated his air force, allowing the remaining, undamaged aircrafts to attack the invaders. The visual in source E justifies this because it shows Castro sitting in a tank in the area of Playa Giron on 17 April 1961 during the invasion. He is looking on at his troops with a distinct concerned facial expression. Although Castro was the president of Cuba, he is dressed in identical attire to his soldiers. This suggests that he did not consider himself any more important than those fighting his battle and this is an exceptional quality of his leadership style, contributing to Cuban success in the operation.
Prior to the invasion, by mid-March, the joint chiefs of staff that were Kennedy’s top military advisers, including Curtis LeMay, approved the plan. LeMay represented the air force for the USA and he was not given the required information to prepare the air force as he states that he was “completely in the dark.” In LeMay’s opinion, the plan relied on perfection in each step. A military strategy cannot rely on perfection as unforeseen problems also need to be dealt with. Additionally, there was no main leader for the USA, but rather many leaders controlling different aspects of the plan, resulting in a lack of communication between them. The Secretary of Defence at the time, Robert McNamara hired a group of statisticians to aid the operation. This group of “Defence Intellectuals” had no military expertise, which led to the USA paying a high price after the failed invasion. LeMay as well as the other joint chiefs all felt that Kennedy and those in positions below them had gone ahead and planned for the invasion, ignoring recommendations from experienced and qualified military officers. This also suggests a lack of communication.
Moreover, 1200 members of brigade 2506 landed at Playa Giron and Playa Larga in Cuba. This decision to send their troops as one large force proved to be unsuccessful. Castro had ordered the remaining, undamaged aircraft that the US fleet was unable to destroy, to attack the invaders coming from sea in different ships. This resulted in the Cuban force sinking ships and “driving off the rest”. Although the US succeeded in getting all troops to shore safely, “two 5000-ton boats” were destroyed by Cuban bombers. Castro’s forces were also able to destroy all three landing craft and a communication boat. Namely, the ships Houston and Rio Escondido were completely destroyed. The USA failed to plan for this attack, and as a result essential supplies and weaponry were lost on these two sunken ships. The visual in source J shows the Houston ship with a thick, black cloud of smoke consuming the ship while it is sinking, resulting in a loss of the necessary supplies needed.
By the 19 April 1961, the USA surrendered to Cuban forces led by Castro. Although there were a few prisoners that were successful in escaping the Cuban beach, over 1100 people from the US forces were captured. An estimate of 1197 prisoners were said to be transported to various prisons around Cuba and 89 pronounced dead after the invasion.
Once Castro had arrested the prisoners, he decided that the execution of these men would only “lesson their great victory”, yet again proving he was an exceptional leader. Instead, he decided to appeal to the USA to exchange members of Brigade 2506 for 52 million dollars’ worth of food and medicine for Cuba. This indicates a failed military strategy because the USA was meant to gain control and therefore gain money, however, they ended up losing a large sum of money. This is backed up when it mentions that the Cuban economy was based on a ten percent increase annually, while the USA’s economy was only a two percent increase each year. This meant that the USA failed to clearly see that Cuba had more financial stability to support the invasion, a factor that they did not consider. Additionally, this is implied by the words of Fidel Castro, that Cuba would “resist regardless of cost, in all ways.”
Kennedy became increasingly concerned about keeping the US involvement a secret from the world. In order to maintain plausible deniability, he gave the CIA a limited time span of just four days to find a new location in order for the mission to remain covert. Kennedy’s main focus, both before and during the invasion, was that the operation remain covert, rather than being concerned about the military strategy and the co-ordination of his troops. In agreement with this is the fact that the Cuba was well aware of the training of Brigade 2506 as well as the date that they were going to be attacked. Castro was able to uncover the US involvement in the invasion by the interrogation of prisoners, newspaper accounts and reports.
As Castro states in his speech in 1961, Cuba was aware prior to the invasion that they were being targeted. Furthermore, four members of the US military piloted the B-26’s, and this was not approved by Kennedy who claimed that no US personnel were allowed to directly participate in the invasion, only the Cuban exiles. These four men were killed as their planes were shot down, providing further evidence of the US government involvement in the invasion when both their planes, and bodies were found. Additionally, part of the US strategy was to paint the US planes to look identical to Cuban planes in order to remain plausible deniability so that it would be understood that Cuban pilots had gone against their own leader, Castro. However, the US had made a prominent mistake because the original FAR planes were B-26’s and had a glazed nose with “machine-gun turrets”. As seen in the visual, a group of Cubans are inspecting the disguised plane, with the man on the left inspecting the plastic nose. It appears as if he has suspected that it is a US plane, and not a Cuban FAR plane. There was an abundance of evidence that proved that the US had been involved in the invasion, with no acknowledgement from the government. It was brought to the world’s attention that Kennedy had lied before, during, and after the invasion. The USA faced the consequences from the Soviet Union and the United Nations.
President Kennedy was informed of the plan in January 1961. He had just begun his presidency on 20 January 1961. Consequently, Kennedy was not only inexperienced a President, but he also lacked the time frame necessary to plan an effective and successful operation of that magnitude. The CIA had already begun training Cuban exiles in Guatemala without the consent of Eisenhower or Kennedy. This lack of communication described, had extreme consequences as proved by the failed invasion. Furthermore, Cuba did not believe that Kennedy would continue with the mistakes made by the Eisenhower administration, however, in Castro’s opinion, he did. He made the same errors with even more aggression than Eisenhower, according to Fidel Castro.
Moreover, there was confusion amongst the Kennedy and Eisenhower administrations when Kennedy became President of the USA after Eisenhower. Kennedy’s main focus when becoming president, was not to plan the Bay of Pigs invasion, but rather focus on his campaign. This invasion had been planned during Eisenhower’s last year as President, and was passed on for the Kennedy administration to execute. President Eisenhower also “did not see Cuba as a national priority.” This meant that he left the CIA to plan the invasion, but he did not endorse the idea of invading Cuba. Eisenhower also left “intense analysis” for Kennedy when he came into power. This transitional ambiguity resulted in neither Kennedy, nor Eisenhower wanting to take responsibility for the mission.
Another issue dealt with was the number of soldiers sent to invade Cuba. The air force chief, Curtis LeMay asked how many troops would be sent to Cuba. The answer was 700 and this response shocked him as “there was no way an operation would succeed with so few troops”. In agreement with this is the fact that officially there were only 1511 men that were involved in the operation for the USA which was said to be too few to succeed. On the other hand, the Cubans had the numbers, as well as supplies and the “morale that comes from defending their home”. There are many advantages that come from defending your home when being invaded such as that Cuba didn’t have to face logistical problems and was familiar with the terrain, as Castro was. Cuba also had most of its population on its side, including those around the Bay of Pigs. Castro makes use of propaganda in his speech of 1961 and states that if US aggression appears, it will meet the “total resistance of our people”.
The USA leaders had decided to send their troops as one, large force when invading Cuba. Fidel Castro states that according to rumours in the press of USA, it was proven to be a risky decision because it would “expose them to a crushing defeat and strengthening the revolution” of Cuba. In Castro’s opinion, it would be to Cuba’s advantage for the US to send their troops as one large force, but he believed that they would not be so ignorant to make that error when planning for the invasion. Cuba also succeeded because they were ready for both manners in which the US could invade; if they came together, or separated their forces. A theme that occurred repeatedly was the poor performance of various troops of the US Brigade 2506. This allows one to question the level of training received and the selection process of these Cuban-exiles for the USA.
Eisenhower was unaware regarding the decision by the CIA to use military forces rather than guerrilla tactics. Both Eisenhower and Kennedy were also unaware that the CIA had been training Cuban exiles in Guatemala. Success in this operation, as well as succeeding in maintaining plausible deniability, would have almost been guaranteed if the US used their armed forces rather than Cuban exiles. The recruitment of members of Brigade 2506 was done openly by the CIA, resulting in Cubans discovering their intentions to invade. The CIA also failed to plan for the language barrier between these Cuban-exiles and American leaders, making it difficult to communicate.
However, the counter argument is that the USA did succeed in certain aspects of their strategy, both during and after the invasion. From April 14 to April 15, bombers had targeted air fields in Cuba to destroy military installations. These bombers did succeed in terms of their strategy to “destroy or damage” Cuban aircrafts. In addition, official reports indicate that the forces used during the invasion included “fifteen B-26 bombers, ten C-54 transports, five Landing, Craft, Vehicle, Personnel; seven chartered commercial freighters; and one 165-foot Cuban coastal steamer”. This suggests that the US did plan effectively in terms of the amount of weaponry and transportation required prior to the invasion, a successful part of their strategy.
The Cuban troops were also said to face “heavy mortar fire and anti-tank guns”, again suggesting that the USA was adequately equipped with weaponry. Additionally, one of the three C-46 planes sent succeeded in landing at the Playa Giron airstrip and was able to successfully deliver 850 pounds (386kg) worth of “rockets, ammunition, maps and communication equipment”. Although this may seem a trivial success, the very same C-46 was able to pick up an injured US pilot and return to the USA safely. The USA also succeeded to a certain extent in keeping the manner in which the USA would invade covert. Although the truth was uncovered in the end, the USA was able to confuse Cuban authority regarding the location and manner in which the US would invade. Cuban authority was not aware how the troops would invade, whether it be as one, large force, or split its force into various groups. The USA was also able to throw Cuban’s off track as they initially believed that the USA aimed to take control of the Isle of Pines and release the criminals of war, in addition to taking a piece of territory.
This is also backed up in source I which states that the “location was unknown” to Cuba. Part of the US strategy was to paint the US planes to look identical to Cuban planes in order to remain plausible deniability so that it would be understood that Cuban pilots had gone against their own leader, Castro. The USA did reasonably well in disguising their US planes to appear as FAR airplanes, however this source does have the limitation of being slightly biased towards the USA.
Additionally, Cubans also “paid a high price in lives” because they were constantly defending themselves from US invaders. It was estimated that 87 Cubans died, with 250 wounded. Although Castro believes that these values indicate the heroism of the Cubans, it does suggest a small failed military strategy for Cuba too. Source G is also biased towards Cuba and includes propaganda techniques because it is the direct words of Fidel Castro therefore these estimated numbers may be higher in reality as Castro would want to defend Cuban reputation by lowering these values in his speech.
It can therefore be concluded that the Bay of Pigs Invasion was a failure of military strategy to a very large extent for the USA, and a great success for Cuba. The USA failed in terms of the coordination of its air force, providing reinforcements, the chosen location, the selection of leaders and troops, maintaining plausible deniability as well as many other mishaps that contributed to the failure. On the other hand, Cuba succeeded in almost all aspects of defending their country, with only minor failures.
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