On April 17, 1961, 1,400 CIA-trained Cuban exiles, known as Brigade 2506, stormed the beach at the Bay of Pigs in hopes of causing an uprising against Cuban President Fidel Castro’s communist government. The exiles came under heavy fire from Castro’s forces, and were forced to surrender after the American government failed to provide air support. More than 100 members of Brigade 2506 were killed and over 1,200 were captured by the Cuban military.
Following the failed Bay of Pigs invasion, relations between the United States and Cuba worsened. Suffering from the political fallout surrounding the failed mission, the Kennedy administration sought to overturn Castro’s government covertly. The plan became known as “Operation Mongoose.” The operation worked to destabilize the Castro government through economic sabotage and political assassination.
Air Force Brigadier General Edward Lansdale and Attorney General Robert Kennedy led the project meant to destroy Castro’s infrastructure, including a railway bridge and a power plant, from inside the country. According to King’s College London Professor of War Studies Sir Lawrence Freedman, the program managed to get three out of 10 teams on the ground in Cuba, but the operation was cut short by the beginning of the Cuban Missile Crisis.
An offshoot of “Operation Mongoose,” “Operation Northwoods” was a series of plans for the CIA to strike at American mainland targets and blame Cuba for the attack. The American government was so stung by the failure of Bay of Pigs that it considered “Operation Northwoods” a viable option. However, President Kennedy rejected the operation, ending any possibility of an invasion of Cuba prior to the Cuban Missile Crisis. Both operations were direct responses by the United States government to the Bay of Pigs failure, and both operations were failures themselves.
Though the two operations failed, in 1962 President Kennedy did choose to extend sanctions against Cuba to include all trade except for non-subsidized food and medicine. These sanctions were later extended to include financial transactions and travel into Cuba. If the United States wasn’t going to defeat Cuba by sponsored invasion or covert tactics, it was going to defeat Cuba economically. The embargo hurt Cuba but also drove Castro into the arms of his allies in the Soviet Union.
The attempted invasion at the Bay of Pigs put Castro on alert. Fearing for the defense of his regime, Castro allowed the Soviet Union to begin shipping weapons and materials into Cuba. These weapons included medium-range ballistic missiles and tactical nuclear weapons. American U-2 spy planes also caught footage of Soviet missile launchers set up on the island.
The United States responded with a warning to the Soviet Union and Cuba to remove the missiles and began a blockade of Soviet ships entering Cuban waters. Suddenly, the world stood still as the two superpowers faced off over the island nation. The incident became the Cuban Missile Crisis, and it was the closest the world has ever come to nuclear war.
After the United States began stopping Soviet ships, Soviet leadership finally gave in and ordered their vessels out of Cuban waters. The two countries struck a deal: The Soviet Union would remove its missiles from Cuba if the United States would remove its missiles from Turkey. Meanwhile, the United States and Cuba negotiated on bringing the captured Cuban exiles back to America. The two countries agreed that America would send $53 million worth of food and medicine to Cuba in exchange for the imprisoned exiles. They were brought back to the United States in December 1964, which brought an end to the saga that began with the Bay of Pigs invasion.
The Bay of Pigs, John F. Kennedy Library.
Program Review by the Chief of Operations, Operation Mongoose (Lansdale), 18 January 1962, Mount Holyoke College.
Sir Lawrence Freedman, Kennedy’s Wars: Berlin, Cuba, Laos, and Vietnam, Oxford University Press, 2000, pgs 123- 245.
Pentagon Proposed Pretexts for Cuba Invasion in 1962, The George Washington University: The National Security Archive.
Archive, Mary Ferrell Foundation.