Cuban Crisis Chronology
Newsletter of «Association of Air Force Missileers».
Volume 20, Number 4, December, 2012.
Cuban Missile Crisis Chronology, Part II This part completes the chronology of events that occurred during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. Part I was in the September newsletter. To save space, first names and titles are removed where possible, and John F. Kennedy is referred to as the President or just Kennedy. For a complete list of sources for this article, look at our web page or contact AAFM
1318, The State Department receives a cable from the US ambassador to Turkey, warning that Turkish officials will “deeply regret” any Turkey-for-Cuba missile trade. The ambassador expresses his opinion that the most satisfactory resolution would avoid the Jupiter Issue altogether, but suggests that if the missiles have to be removed, it should be gradual. He also acknowledges that an alternative solution could be the “dismantling of Jupiters on [a] strictly secret basis with Soviets.”
1400, the US Ambassador is requested to ask the Brazilian government to have the Brazilian ambassador in Havana meet with Castro to relay a message, giving Castro reassurances that the US is unlikely to invade Cuba if the missiles are removed. 1800, the State Department begins receiving a message from the US embassy in Moscow containing a new, private letter from Khrushchev. The message, in four sections, takes 12 hours to be delivered. The letter, almost certainly composed by Khrushchev, is, in Robert Kennedy’s words, “very long and emotional.” It says, “I propose: we, for our part, will declare that our ships bound for Cuba are not carrying any armaments. You will declare that the US will not invade Cuba with its troops and will not support any other forces which might intend to invade Cuba. Then the necessity of the presence of our military specialists in Cuba will disappear.”
1845, Scali tells Rusk and Hilsman of Fomin’s proposal. Officials assume that Fomin’s message has been initiated by the Kremlin and interpret Khrushchev’s newly arrived letter in light of Fomin’s offer that the Soviet Union remove its missiles under UN inspection in return for a US non-invasion pledge. Recent information from Soviet sources suggests that, contrary to US assumptions at the time, Fomin’s proposal was not, in fact, authorized by Moscow.
1935, Scali recites a message given to him by Rusk when he meets with Fomin. He states, “I have reason to believe that the [US government] sees real possibilities and supposes that the representatives of the two governments in New York could work this matter out with U Thant and with each other. My impression is, however, that time is very urgent.” Fomin assures Scali that his remarks would be communicated immediately to the “highest Soviet sources.”
2200, the ExComm reconvenes to consider Khrushchev’s letter. Further analysis of the letter is ordered, and two Soviet specialists analyze the letter alongside the proposal from Fomin.
That night, unknown to any of the ExComm members, Robert Kennedy and Dobrynin meet in one of a series of secret meetings they held. (Dobrynin has since discussed that when he defended the Soviet missile deployment by noting that the US had stationed Jupiter missiles in Turkey, Robert Kennedy offered to introduce the Turkish missiles into a potential settlement.) The attorney general phones the President, and tells Dobrynin, “the President said that we are ready to consider the question of Turkey, to examine further the question of Turkey.” Dobrynin reports the conversation to the Kremlin.
Around this time, according to Khrushchev “We received information from our Cuban comrades and from other sources which directly stated that this attack [on Cuba] would be carried out within the next two or three days.” Khrushchev’s statement may refer to a cable from Castro that was transmitted on 26 October. Fearing that an imminent, invasion, Castro reportedly composes the message - dictating in Spanish to Soviet Ambassador Alekseyev, who translates the letter into Russian - while spending the night in a bomb shelter in the Soviet embassy. Khrushchev apparently understood the cable both as warning of an impending invasion and as an attempt to get him to launch the missiles against the US. According to an unpublished portion of Khrushchev’s memoirs, Khrushchev recalls Castro warning that “an American invasion would take place within a few hours.” Therefore, he was proposing to preempt the invasion and inflict a nuclear strike on the US. At the Havana Conference in January 1992, Castro states that his letter was mistranslated: that he was suggesting that if Cuba was invaded, the Soviet Union would need to defend itself from attack by using nuclear weapons.
Castro orders Cuban antiaircraft forces to open fire on all US aircraft flying over the island. According to one source, Castro’s order reportedly replaces his standing orders to fire only on groups of two or more low-altitude airplanes. When the Soviet Ambassador asks Castro to rescind his order, he apparently is rebuffed. As a result of the increased frequency of low-level reconnaissance missions, additional military targets in Cuba are identified. Military planners consequently revise air attack targets and plans. The airstrike plan now includes three massive strikes per day until Cuban air capability is destroyed. Some 1,190 bombing sorties are planned for the first day of operations.
0600, a CIA intelligence memorandum reports that three of the four MRBM sites at San Cristobal and the two sites at Sagua la Grande appear to be operational. The mobilization of Cuban military forces is reported to be continuing at a high rate, but the CIA advises that Cuban forces remain under orders not to engage in hostilities unless attacked.
0900, Radio Moscow broadcasts a message from Khrushchev, calling for the dismantling of US missile bases in Turkey in return for the removal of the Soviet missiles in Cuba. While the broadcast is underway, the original copy of Khrushchev’s last letter to Kennedy is delivered to the embassy in Moscow. 1000, the ExComm meets. After the intelligence briefing, the minutes record that “McNamara reported on the positions of Soviet Bloc ships moving toward Cuba. He recommended that we be prepared to board the Grozn, which is now out about 600 miles. Under Secretary Ball pointed out that the Soviets did not know the extent of our quarantine zone. The President agreed that we should ask U Thant to tell the Russians in New York where we are drawing the quarantine line. The Russians would then be in a position to decide whether to turn back their tanker or allow her to enter the quarantine sometime later today. During the meeting Khrushchev’s second message begins to be received. The full text of Khrushchev’s formal letter came across a Foreign Broadcast Information Service ticker in the White House at 1103. The message states in part: “You are disturbed over Cuba. You say that this disturbs you because it is 90 miles by sea from the coast of the US. But...you have placed destructive missile weapons, which you call offensive, in Turkey literally next to us.... I therefore make this proposal: We are willing to remove from Cuba the means which you regard as offensive. Your representatives will make a declaration to the effect that the US will remove its analogous means from Turkey. And after that, persons entrusted by the UN Security Council could inspect on the spot the fulfillment of the pledges made.”
The new letter sets the stage for a protracted ExComm discussion about how to respond, with the President stating that to go to war with the Soviet Union instead of accepting a trade would be “an insupportable position.”
Around 1015 to 1200, a U-2 from a SAC base in Alaska strays into Soviet airspace on what was reported to be a “routine air sampling mission,” apparently as a result of a navigational error. The pilot radios for assistance and F-102 fighter aircraft in Alaska scramble. Soviet MiGs take off from a base near Wrangel Island to intercept the U-2, which manages to fly out of Soviet territory with no shots being fired. Records suggest that the F-102s are armed with nuclear air-to-air missiles. According to one account, when McNamara hears that a U-2 was in Soviet airspace, he turned absolutely white and yelled “This means war with the Soviet Union.” Kennedy’s laconic reaction upon hearing of the incident is simply to laugh and remark that “there is always some [son of a bitch] who doesn’t get the word.”
Around 1200, a U-2 reconnaissance plane is shot down over Cuba and its pilot killed. The ExComm, when informed of the downing - that the attack had been ordered by the Kremlin - speculates that the move is designed to escalate the crisis. In fact, as Soviet and Cuban officials have only recently revealed, the attack is the result of a decision made by local Soviet commanders. Although a Soviet major general, Statsenko, claims responsibility for the decision in 1987, other Soviet sources have suggested that Lt Gen Grechko and Gen Carbuz are the two officers who authorized the firing. After the incident, Marshal Malinovsky mildly reprimands the officers and orders that no other U-2s be attacked.
1430, several ExComm members assemble to consider possible options in light of the deteriorating situation.
1541, F8U-1P low-level reconnaissance planes take off for missions over Cuba. Two of the six planes are forced to abort their mission due to mechanical problems. As the remaining planes fly over San Cristobal and Sagua la Grande, Cuban troopers open fire with antiaircraft guns and small arms. One of the US aircraft is hit by a 37mm aircraft shell but manages to return to its base.
1600, the ExComm is called back to the White House. Kennedy dispatches a message to U Thant asking urgently to ascertain if the Soviet government is willing stop work on the bases while negotiations continue. Taylor brings in a late report confirming that the missing U-2 had been shot down over Cuba, probably by a SAM site. The President decides not to retaliate but that if any more surveillance planes are fired at, the SAM sites would be attacked. Kennedy’s order to call off the planned reprisal is reportedly received with disbelief in the Pentagon. Most of the meeting centers on formulating a response to Khrushchev’s most recent proposal. Kennedy favors trading away the missiles in Turkey for those in Cuba as Khrushchev has offered possibly because he secretly has hinted to the Soviet government through Robert Kennedy and Dobrynin that the US would agree to such a deal. Most of the group argues that an open trade could fragment the NATO alliance. Alternative courses of action are suggested: McNamara argues that the Jupiters in Turkey should he removed, but only as a prelude to an invasion; Taylor forwards the JCS recommendation simply to initiate the airstrike and invasion plans and the State Department drafts a letter flatly rejecting the Soviet proposal. As the meeting progresses, the idea of ignoring Khrushchev’s new proposal and responding only to the 26 October letter (which did not mention the Jupiters) gradually begins to emerge. The President, initially hesitant to accept the idea because he does not believe Khrushchev would accept such a deal, finally agrees when Soviet specialist Thompson argues that Khrushchev might. Sorensen and Robert Kennedy leave the meeting to compose the proposed response. The letter is sent that evening.
After the ExComm meeting, a smaller group, the President, McNamara, Robert Kennedy, Rusk, Thompson and Sorensen meet. The group agrees that the second letter to Khrushchev should be reinforced with an oral message passed through Dobrynin. They further agree that Dobrynin should be informed that if the Soviet missiles are not withdrawn, there will be military action against Cuba. If they are removed, however, the US will be willing to give a non-invasion pledge. Rusk suggests one further component to the message: an assurance that, while there can be no public or explicit deal over the Turkish missiles, the Jupiters will in fact be removed once the Cuban crisis is resolved. The proposal quickly gains the approval of the group and the President. Concern is so acute that not even other ExComm members are told of the additional assurances regarding the Jupiters.
1615, at Rusk’s request, Scali and Fomin meet again. When Scali asks why the 26 October proposal has been scrapped and the Jupiters introduced into the deal, Fomin explains that the change is a result of “poor communications.” He states that Khrushchev’s new message had been drafted before his report on the favorable US reaction to the 26 October proposal had arrived. Furious at Fomin’s response, Scali shouts that Fomin’s explanation is not credible and that he thought it is simply a “stinking double cross.” An invasion of Cuba, Scali warns, is now a matter of hours away. Fomin says that he and Dobrynin are expecting a reply from Khrushchev at any moment and urges Scali to report to US officials that there is no treachery. Scali replies that he does not think anyone will believe Fomin’s assurances but that he will convey the message in any case. The two part ways, and Scali immediately types out a memo to the ExComm on the meeting.
1945, Dobrynin and Robert Kennedy meet at the Justice Department. In his memoirs on the crisis, the latter recalls telling Dobrynin: “We had to have a commitment by tomorrow that [the missile] bases would be removed. I was not giving them an ultimatum but a statement of fact. He should understand that if they did not remove those bases, we would remove them. He asked me what offer the US was making, and I told him of the letter that the President had just transmitted to Khrushchev. He raised the question of our removing the missiles from Turkey. I said that there could be no quid pro quo or any arrangement made under this kind of threat or pressure, and that in the last analysis that was a decision that would have to be made by NATO. However, I said, the President had been anxious to remove those missiles from Turkey and Italy for a long period of time. He had ordered their removal some time ago, and it was our judgment that, within a short time after this crisis was over those missiles would be gone. Time was running out. We had only a few more hours - we needed an answer immediately from the Soviet Union. I said we must have it the next day.”
Dobrynin has recently contradicted Robert Kennedy’s account of the meeting in several ways. According to Dobrynin, Kennedy did not in fact threaten military action against the missile sites if the Soviet government did not remove the missiles. Second, Kennedy reportedly did not say that the Jupiters had been ordered removed earlier instead, he suggested that an explicit deal on the Turkish missiles could be struck.
After the meeting with Dobrynin, the attorney general returns to the White House. At the President’s direction, McNamara instructs Secretary of the Air Force Eugene Zuckert to order to active duty twenty-four Air Force Reserve units totaling 14,200 personnel. Robert Kennedy later recalls the mood at the White House: “We had not abandoned hope, but what hope there was now rested with Khrushchev’s revising his course within the next few hours. It was a hope, not an expectation. The expectation was a confrontation by Tuesday, 29 October, and possibly even tomorrow.”
2005, Kennedy’s letter to Khrushchev drafted earlier in the day is transmitted to Moscow. The final text reads in part, “As I read your letter, the key elements of your proposals - which seem generally acceptable as I understand them - are as follows: 1) You would agree to remove these weapon systems from Cuba under appropriate UN observation and supervision; and undertake, with suitable safe-guards, to halt the further introduction of such weapon systems into Cuba. 2) We, on our part, would agree upon the establishment of adequate arrangements through the United Nations, to ensure the carrying out and continuation of these commitments (a) to remove promptly the quarantine measures now in effect and (b) to give assurances against the invasion of Cuba.” The letter is also released directly to the press to avoid any communications delays.
2050, in response to U Thant’s request that Cuba stop work on the missile sites while negotiations continue, Castro indicates in a letter to the UN acting secretary general that he would order work to cease, provided the US lifted the blockade. Castro also extends an invitation to U Thant to visit Cuba. U Thant travels to Havana on 30 October.
2100. U Thant informs Stevenson that Soviet representative Zorin has refused to accept information about the exact location of the quarantine interception area that the US passed on earlier in the day.
2100 The ExComm again reviews various options for the following day, including ordering an airstrike on the missile sites in Cuba and extending the blockade to include petroleum, oil, and lubricants (POL). As the meeting comes to a close, McNamara tells Robert Kennedy, the US had better be “damned sure,” that we “have two things ready, a government for Cuba, because we’re going to need one…and secondly, plans for how to respond to the Soviet Union in Europe, because sure as hell they’re going to do something there.” Evening, unknown to other members of the ExComm, the President and Rusk prepare a contingency plan to facilitate a public Turkey-for-Cuba missile trade. At Kennedy’s instruction, Rusk phones Andrew Cordier, a former UN undersecretary, and dictates a statement that Cordier is to give to U Thant upon further instructions from Washington. The statement is a proposal to be made by U Thant calling for the removal of both the Jupiters in Turkey and the Soviet missiles in Cuba. During the day, Kennedy also asks Roswell Gilpatric to draw up a scenario for the early removal of the missiles from Turkey.
Night, Castro meets with Soviet Ambassador Alekseyev for lengthy discussions in the Soviet embassy in Havana. Castro, Alekseyev later reports, had been briefed by him on each of the messages sent back and forth between Moscow and Washington during the crisis. Alekseyev recalls that despite Castro’s “characteristic restraint,” he [Castro] also evaluated the situation as highly alarming.
0012, instructions are sent to Ambassador Finletter to review the deepening crisis with the NATO allies. The cable notifies Finletter that “the situation as we see it is increasingly serious and time is growing shorter...[T]he US may find it necessary within a very short time in its interest and that of its fellow nations in the Western Hemisphere to take whatever military action may be necessary.” 0600, the CIA reports that Soviet technicians have succeeded in making fully operational all 24 MRBM sites in Cuba. Construction of one nuclear bunker reportedly has been completed but none are believed to be in operation.
0900, a new message from Khrushchev, which effectively terminates the missile crisis, is broadcast on Radio Moscow. Khrushchev declares “the Soviet government in addition to previously issued instructions on the cessation of further work at the building sites for the weapons, has issued a new order on the dismantling of the weapons which you describe as ‘offensive,’ and their crating and return to the Soviet Union.” Upon receiving Khrushchev’s message, Kennedy issues a statement calling the decision “an important and constructive contribution to peace.” In a separate letter to Khrushchev written almost immediately after the broadcast, Kennedy states, “I consider my letter to you of 27 October and your reply of today as firm undertakings on the part of both our governments which should be promptly carried out.”
Although there is a sense of relief and exultation among most of the ExComm members after word of Khrushchev’s decision is received, several members of the JCS are less enthusiastic. Adm Anderson reportedly complains, “We have been had,” while Gen LeMay suggests that the US “go in and make a strike on Monday anyway.” In the afternoon, the Joint Chiefs instruct military commanders not to relax their alert procedures, warning that the Soviet Union’s offer to dismantle the missile sites could be an “insincere proposal meant to gain time.”
Castro, who was not consulted or informed of the decision beforehand, reportedly goes into a rage upon hearing of the Soviet move, cursing Khrushchev. A few days later Castro will publicly state in a speech at the University of Havana that Khrushchev lacked “cojones.” After meeting with high military leaders during the morning, Castro apparently goes to San Antonio Air Force Base himself in order to shoot down a US low-altitude aircraft. However, US planes do not pass over the base.
1100, Robert Kennedy meets with Dobrynin, who notes that Khrushchev has agreed to withdraw the missiles, and he tells Kennedy that the Soviet leader wants to send his best wishes to him and the President.
The ExComm meets. By this time, the full text of Khrushchev’s message announcing the decision to dismantle the missiles in Cuba is available. McNamara reports that the Soviet ship Gozny is standing still and that no other Soviet Bloc ships will be entering the quarantine zone during the day. Kennedy directs that no air reconnaissance missions be flown that during the day and that no action be taken against any Soviet Bloc ships with regard to the unresolved question of the IL-28 bombers in Cuba. Kennedy agrees that the United States should consider the IL-28s “offensive weapons” and press for their removal, but he also suggests that the US should not “get hung up on this issue.”
Around noon, Castro declares that the US assurance of nonaggression against Cuba is unsatisfactory unless it includes additional measures. He outlines several specific demands, later to be known as his “five points.” They include an end to the economic blockade against Cuba, an end to all subversive activities carried out from the US against Cuba, a halt to all attacks on Cuba carried out from the US military bases in Puerto Rico, the cessation of aerial and naval reconnaissance flights in Cuban airspace and waters and the return of Guantanamo to Cuba.
1300-1500, according to information given to U Thant by a Soviet commander several days afterward, instructions to dismantle the missiles in Cuba are received by the Soviet military in Cuba. Actual dismantling of the sites reportedly begins at 1700.
1304, at a background press briefing, Rusk cautions against any gloating at the Soviet decision, explaining that “if there is a debate, a rivalry, a contest going on in the Kremlin over how to play this situation, we don’t want…to strengthen the hands of those in Moscow who wanted to play this another way.” Rusk also asserts, in a reference to IL-28s still in Cuba, “it is not yet the time to say this is over.”
1607, the JCS asks CINCLANT to reevaluate the invasion plan of Cuba, and determine what modifications should be made to the plan in light of the most recent intelligence estimates on military equipment in Cuba. CINCLANT is specifically directed to consider whether tactical nuclear weapons, both air and ground, should be included in the arsenal of US forces invading Cuba.
Evening, Scali meets with Fomin for the fourth time during the crisis. Fomin tells Scali “I am under instructions to thank you. The information you provided Khrushchev was most helpful to him in making up his mind quickly.” Fomin then adds, “And that includes your explosion of Saturday” - indicating that US anger, as conveyed by Scali toward the broadening of Soviet demands, had reinforced Khrushchev’s decision to accept the U.S. proposal for ending the crisis.
The Soviet embassy in Havana receives a lengthy telegram from the Kremlin explaining the decision to withdraw the missiles. Any other move, the message argues, would have meant “global conflagration and consequently the destruction of the Cuban revolution.” The cable also stresses that “the Soviet government under no circumstances would refuse to fulfill its international duty to defend Cuba.” Alekseyev passes on the telegram to the Cuban President.
Morning, Soviet First Deputy Premier Vasily V. Kuznetsov meets with U Thant. Kuznetsov, sent by Khrushchev to New York to work out the details of a settlement to the crisis, tells U Thant that the Soviet missiles are in the process of being dismantled and shipped out of Cuba. Kuznetsov proposes that when the dismantling is completed, the Soviet Union report to the Security Council, which would then authorize a UN team to visit Cuba for “on-site” verification.
As a result of an order from McNamara to begin the process of removing Jupiter missiles from Turkey an interdepartmental task force convenes under Defense Department General Counsel John McNaughton. McNaughton reportedly opens the meeting by declaring, “Those missiles are going to be out of there by 1 April if we have to shoot them out.”
1000, at the morning ExComm meeting, the President orders Navy ships maintain their quarantine stations. Low- level reconnaissance flights are directed to resume, but no U-2 missions are authorized. 1530, U Thant briefs Stevenson, McCloy and Yost on his meeting with Kuznetsov earlier in the day. U Thant tries to convince the Americans that the quarantine should now be suspended, but McCloy and Stevenson disagree, linking the end of the quarantine to the actual removal of offensive weapons from Cuba. They do agree, however, that the quarantine could be suspended for the duration of U Thant’s visit to Cuba, scheduled to begin on 30 October.
1048, CINCLANT informs the JCS that in view of reports that Cuban forces have nuclear-capable FROG short-range missiles, he intends to modify invasion plans so that US air and ground forces engaged in operations against Cuba would also be armed with tactical nuclear weapons. CINCLANT assures the JCS that the nuclear weapons would be employed only if Cuban or Soviet forces initiated the use of nuclear weapons. The JCS agrees to allow US invasion forces to be armed with nuclear-capable weapons but specifies that the actual nuclear warheads should not be introduced into Cuba without further JCS authorization.
The Soviet Union attempts to hammer out a formal agreement with the US on the settlement of the missile crisis. Dobrynin brings Robert Kennedy an unsigned letter from Khrushchev explicitly spelling out the terms of the arrangement, including Robert Kennedy’s pledge that the Jupiters will be removed from Turkey. The attorney general makes no immediate response but takes the letter with him to consider the proposal. When he meets Dobrynin the following day, Kennedy rejects the idea of a written agreement involving the Jupiter missiles.
Following the ExComm’s discussion of the IL-28 question on 28 October, State Department analyst Raymond Garthoff recommends in a memo that “in addition to the MRBMs and IRBMs, the IL-28s should definitely be included in the items the US wanted withdrawn from Cuba.” Garthoff writes, however, ---------- that the US cannot “reasonably insist” on the withdrawal of MiG aircraft, SAMs, or non-missile ground force weapons. Khrushchev has inadvertently opened the door to US demands that additional weapon systems be removed by telling Kennedy in his 28 October letter that he would remove “those weapons you describe as offensive.” Although the crisis has centered around the deployment of Soviet missiles, the US uses several arguments to support its contention that the bombers are also “offensive.” US negotiators note that the quarantine proclamation explicitly included bomber aircraft and they point to the President’s letter of 22 October, which objected to the long-range missile bases” as well as “other offensive systems in Cuba.”
1500, shortly after his arrival in Havana, U Thant and his aides meet with Castro, President Dorticós and Foreign Minister Roa. U Thant presents several verification proposals to ensure that the dismantling of the missiles is proceeding, including on-site inspection by a UN team, aerial inspection by UN reconnaissance planes or verification by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). Castro rejects each of these proposals, saying they are “intended to humiliate the Cuban State.”
Khrushchev sends Kennedy a 16 page message covering the crisis, the quarantine, a nuclear test-ban treaty and the Berlin question. The Kremlin leader requests that the US lift the quarantine immediately as well as the economic blockade of Cuba. He also suggests that the US withdraw from its base in Cuba. On the testban treaty, Khrushchev proclaims. “We now have conditions ripe for finalizing the agreement on signing a treaty on cessation of tests of thermonuclear weapons.” Khrushchev also attempts to garner an agreement on Berlin that would exclude German Chancellor Adenauer, because “the next crisis...can be caused by the German question.”
Robert Kennedy and Dobrynin discuss the letter the later had given him before spelling out the terms of the US-Soviet agreement resolving the Cuban missile crisis. Notes he prepared for the meeting reflect his position: “Read letter - Studied it overnight. No quid pro quo as I told you. The letter makes it appear that there was. You asked me about missile bases in Turkey. I told you we would be out of there - four to five months. That still holds. You have my word on this and that is sufficient. Take back your letter - reconsider it if you feel necessary to write letters then we will also write one which you cannot enjoy. Also if yon should publish any document indicating a deal then it is off and also if done afterward will further affect the relationship.”
Dobrynin acquiesces to Kennedy’s demand and withdraws the letter.
In Moscow, Gromyko informs Kohler that the Soviet Union wishes to reach an agreement as quickly as possible on the basis of the Kennedy-Khrushchev exchange of letters. Gromyko also suggests that some type of formal agreement should “codify” obligations on both sides.
All operations by Task Force W, the CIA’s action arm for Mongoose activities, are called to an immediate halt. However, during the crisis, Director of Task Force W William Harvey ordered teams of covert agents into Cuba on his own authority to support any conventional US military operation that might occur. At the end of October, a new mission is about to be dispatched. One of the operatives, concerned about a covert operation so soon after the settlement to the missile crisis has been reached, sends a message to Robert Kennedy to verify that the mission is in order. Kennedy is angered to learn that CIA missions are continuing, chastises Harvey and asks McCone to terminate the operations. Edward Lansdale is subsequently sent to Miami to oversee the end of Mongoose. However, three of ten scheduled six-man sabotage teams have already been dispatched to Cuba. On 8 November, one of the teams carries out its assigned sabotage mission.
The ExComm reviews the lack of progress in the talks between U Thant and Castro. Kennedy directs reconnaissance missions to resume the next day unless significant progress is made in the discussions. U Thant meets with Castro, Dorticós, and Roa. Castro agrees to send the body of the pilot of the downed U-2 back to the US. Castro claims that Anderson’s plane “was brought down by Cuban anti-aircraft guns, manned only by Cubans, inside Cuban territory.” Complaining about continued aerial reconnaissance, he warns that “the Cuban people can no longer tolerate such daily provocations,” and that Cuba will “destroy any plane any time which intruded into Cuban airspace.” U Thant is unable to obtain Castro’s approval for any form of inspection of the Soviet missile withdrawal.
1800, after hearing an update on U Thant’s mission to Cuba, Kennedy orders the resumption of low-level reconnaissance and quarantine operations but continues the suspension of U-2 flights.
Stevenson reports to Washington that he has received preliminary reports from U Thant and Iudar Jit Rikhye on their visit to Cuba. The UN officials report that relations between Cuba and the Soviet Union are, in Rikhye’s words, “unbelievably bad.” Rikhye states that although they have not had a “definitive” discussions about the IL-28 bombers, “the Russians repeated...that they were determined to take out all equipment which the president has regarded as offensive and this would include the IL-28s.”
1000, the President authorizes continued low-level reconnaissance flights over IL-28 airfields and missile bases but decides that no immediate retaliatory measures will be carried out if any US aircraft are shot down.
Instructions approved by Kennedy are issued to US negotiators in New York for use in upcoming meetings with Soviet First Deputy Premier Mikoyan. Kennedy directs US negotiators to stress the importance of obtaining verification, which he describes as “essential” in “view of the history of the affair.” With regard to the Soviet bombers stationed in Cuba, the negotiators are told to fly to “elicit a clear confirmation that the IL-28s included [in the Kennedy-Khrushchev understanding] are being dismantled for removal from Cuba.”
Mikoyan meets with McCloy and Stevenson shortly after arriving in New York. Stevenson has been instructed to provide Mikoyan with a list of weapons that the US considers “offensive” and expects the Soviet government to withdraw. However, engrossed in discussions dealing with many matters, Stevenson and McCloy apparently forget to give the list to Mikoyan. The US negotiators remedy this oversight the next day by sending Mikoyan a letter with the list attached.
0830, Castro reports on his meeting with U Thant, in a speech carried by Cuban radio and television. Castro also discusses the differences that had arisen between the Soviet Union and Cuba over the resolution of the missile crisis. Adopting a conciliatory tone, he states, “we have confidence in the leadership of the Soviet Union…more than ever, we should remember the generosity and friendship that the Soviets have shown us.” Castro and Alekseyev meet during the day for the first time since 27 October.
Photoreconnaissance shows that all MRBM sites in Cuba have been bulldozed and that the missiles and associated launch equipment have been removed. Construction at the IRBM sites appears to have stopped, and the installations are partially dismantled. US intelligence further reports that work is continuing on IL-28s at San Julian airfield but that it is unclear whether the bombers are being assembled or dismantled.
1000, at a meeting of the ExComm, Kennedy confirms that the US will press for the removal of the IL-28 bombers currently stationed in Cuba. In other matters, Kennedy states that the quarantine must continue to be maintained but only by hailing all vessels entering the quarantine zone. He reconfirms orders to US Navy vessels not to board Soviet Bloc ships.
Morning, in a letter to Mikoyan, Stevenson lists those items the US considers to be “offensive weapons,” adding, “we trust that the weapons you plan to remove include all those on this list.” The complete list includes: a) surface-to-surface missiles including those designed for use at sea and including propellant and chemical compounds capable of being used to power missiles. b) bomber aircraft. c) bombs, air-to-air rockets, and guided missiles. d) warheads for any of the above weapons. e) mechanical or electronic equipment to support or operate the above items, such as communications, supply and missile launching equipment, including Komar-class motor torpedo boats.
In a brief televised address, the President informs the nation that the US government has concluded “on the basis of yesterday’s serial photographs…that the Soviet missiles and related equipment are being crated, and the fixed installations at these sites are being destroyed.”
Mikoyan arrives in Havana and immediately announces his support of Castro’s five points.” Castro, still angry with the Soviet decision to remove the missiles, reportedly does not want to meet Mikoyan but is persuaded to do so by Alekseyev. Castro’s anger and concern revolve around not only the lack of consultation before the Soviet decision to remove the missiles but a belief that the US will invade Cuba despite pledges to the contrary resulting from the Kennedy- Khrushchev agreement. Because of his distrust of any agreement Castro agrees to the missile withdrawal only after receiving assurances from the Soviet government which included a pledge to maintain one Soviet combat brigade on the island.
Mikoyan holds his first formal meeting with Castro at Castro’s apartment in Havana. Castro meets alone with Mikoyan, Alekseyev and a Soviet interpreter. However, the talks are immediately interrupted by the news that Mikoyan’s wife in the Soviet Union has died unexpectedly. Mikoyan later decides to have his son, who was accompanying him, return to Moscow while he remains in Cuba.
1630, the 19th meeting of the ExComm focuses on inspection questions and the issue of the IL-28 bombers, Stevenson, who attends the meeting with McCloy and Yost, brings the group up to date on the slow moving talks in New York. The President states his belief that the US should announce that it considers the IL-28s to be offensive weapons to be withdrawn from Cuba, but he agrees that the public announcement of this should be delayed until the next day.
The President issues additional directions to “all concerned with the present negotiations in Cuba.” The formal instructions thus state, “We have good evidence that the Russians are dismantling the missile bases…[But] the assembly of IL-28s continues. There is some evidence of an intent to establish a submarine-tending facility. The future of the SAM sites is unclear. We have no satisfactory assurances on verification.” Kennedy concludes, “in blunt summary we want no offensive weapons and no Soviet military base in Cuba, and that is how we understand the agreements of 27 and 28 October.”
Kennedy replies to Khrushchev’s letter of 30 October addressing the issue of inspection and verification before the naval quarantine will be lifted. Kennedy cites “very serious problems” if Castro cannot be convinced to allow on-site verification, and he suggests that sustaining quarantine “can be of assistance to Mikoyan in his negotiations with Castro.”
McCloy lunches with Soviet negotiators at his Stamford, CT, home. Vasily Kuznetsov says all missile sites constructed by the Soviet Union were dismantled as of 2 November. Kuznetsov proposes that the US conduct at-sea inspections: the Soviet Union would give the US a schedule for the removal of the missiles and allow the US to bring ships alongside Soviet vessels to examine the cargo on deck. In return, the Soviet government wants the quarantine lifted and a formal protocol of US guarantees, including a pledge that the US will not invade Cuba or induce other Latin American countries to attempt an invasion. Kuznetsov also seeks a guarantee that no subversive activity will be undertaken against Castro and suggests UN observation in the US as well as in Cuba.
1515, Kennedy dispatches a brief memo to McNamara warning that “the Russians may try again. This time they may prepare themselves for action on the sea in the Cuban area. Does Adm Anderson think they could build up a secret naval base which will put them on a near parity with us if we should once again blockade?” Anderson later advises McNamara that the Soviet Union could base naval forces in Cuba in several ways, but he believes that US intelligence would detect all but the most “austere” buildup. Anderson repeats his earlier recommendation that submarines operating out of, or supported from, Cuban bases should be declared offensive weapons and placed on the list of prohibited materials.
In a three page letter to Kennedy, Khrushchev writes that he is “seriously worried” about the way in which the US has defined ”offensive weapons.” That the Soviet Union is to remove from Cuba, that is, as including the IL-28s and Komar-class missile boats. Khrushchev asks Kennedy to withdraw his “additional demand” saying that the Soviet Union views them as “a wish to bring our relations back again into a heated state in which they were but several days ago.”
Soviet ships begin to return the first MRBMs and associated launch equipment to the Soviet Union. The process of removing the equipment is completed on 9 November.
Kennedy hands McNamara a short memorandum expressing his concern that US plans for an invasion of Cuba seem “thin.” Warning that using too few troops could result in the US becoming “bogged down,” Kennedy recommends calling up three Army Reserve divisions and, if necessary, building additional divisions. As a result of the memo, McNamara tells military planners later that day that additional Army divisions might be needed for a successful invasion. The JCS meet on 7 November with CINCLANT to rectify the problem.
Robert Kennedy continues to exert pressure on the IL-28 question in a meeting with Dobrynin, telling the him that “it was very clear that the...IL-28s had to go.” Further pressure to remove the bombers is brought to bear by U Thant, who, at the request of the US, raises the issue with Kuznetsov. Kuznetsov replies that the bomber question is “a new issue” and not “covered” in the Kennedy-Khrushchev understanding.
An aerial encounbter between a US reconnaissance aircraft and Cuban-based MiG fighters occurs. Although no shots are fired, US policy makers express concern that the incident suggests that more attempts to intercept reconnaissance aircraft would be made. McNamara, with the concurrence of the JCS, proposes that the public not be informed of the incident, but that a diplomatic protest be made to the Soviet Union. Reconnaissance flights continue.
Kennedy sends another letter to Khrushchev regarding the US definition of “offensive weapons.” In it he responds to Khrushchev’s accusation that the US is trying to complicate the Cuban situation. The IL-28s are not “minor things” for the US, Kennedy writes, asserting that the weapons are definitely capable of carrying our “offensive” missions. The president raises the issue of four reinforced Soviet troop regiments n Cuba for the first time. He also expresses concern over possible Soviet submarine facilities, telling Khrushchev that he attaches “the greatest importance to the personal assurances you have given that submarine bases will not be established in Cuba.”
1600, a cable from Kohler reports “there seems to me no doubt that events of [the] past ten days have really shaken [the] Soviet leadership.” One Soviet military official,” Kohler recounts, “told my wife he was now willing to believe in God.” Kohler reports seeing no evidence of any split within the ruling elite at a Kremlin reception held during the evening, and he states that Khrushchev has privately discouraged an immediate summit with Kennedy, saying that the two sides should not “rush” into such a meeting.
1700, after being informed that the Soviet missile withdrawal was continuing, Kennedy tells the ExComm that the US “wouldn’t invade with the Soviet missiles out of Cuba.” Kennedy suggests that a formal non-invasion commitment might be issued once the Soviet Union removes the IL-28 bombers and the US receives “assurances that there will be no reintroduction of strategic missiles.” Apparently, some uncertainty still exists on how to handle the IL-28s, for Kennedy requests that the ExComm reconvene the next day to “decide whether we should go to the mat on the IL-28 bombers or whether we should say that the Soviets have now completed their agreement to remove the missiles and move on to other problems.”
2132, in a cable to Stevenson, Rusk advises, “our primary purpose is to get the MRBMs and IL-28s out of Cuba, and we would go far in reducing our list of offensive weapons in order to achieve this purpose.” The US eventually drops its demands for the removal of Komar-class missile boats in order to focus on the bombers.
1630, the ExComm discusses the ways in which the US can pressure Cuba into removing the bombers. According to minutes of the meeting, Kennedy “was inclined not to re-impose the quarantine, but he did favor pressure on our allies to keep the ships out of Cuba.” Various other ideas are offered, including tightening the quarantine, new covert action against Castro, and launching air attacks on the IL-28 aircraft.
A six-man CIA sabotage team dispatched as part of Task Force W blows up a Cuban industrial facility. The incident is never raised in US-Soviet talks and remains unknown to most if not all members of the ExComm.
The Defense Department announces that “all known” MRBM and IRBM Soviet bases in Cuba have been dismantled, and that a “substantial” number of missiles have been loaded aboard Soviet ships or are being moved to port areas. U Thant offers a new on-site inspection proposal in which five ambassadors to Cuba from Asian, African, European, and Latin American countries would verify the withdrawal of the missiles. Cuba rejects this proposal, as it does all other unilateral inspection formulas, on 11 November.
The last of the ships removing Soviet MRBM missiles from Cuba leave the island. Six vessels have left Maribel since 5 November, and two ships depart from Casilda during this period. During the day, five ships are inspected at sea, with the Soviets ships pulling canvas covers off the missile transporters to allow US ships to observe and photograph their contents. Assistant Secretary of Defense Arthur Sylvester later tells reporters that the “responsible people of this government are satisfied” that the ships are in fact carrying missiles.”
1100, Stevenson reports to the ExComm that negotiations in New York on the IL-28 issue are deadlocked. At Kennedy’s prompting, the group discusses various ways in which the US might strike a deal with the Soviet Union over the bomber issue. The possibility of offering further non-invasion assurances, ending the quarantine, and lifting on-site inspection demands are raised as possible inducements, but the meeting ends without a firm decision on how to proceed in the negotiations. President Kennedy decides not to lower SAC alert levels at the time with McNamara noting that such a decision could send the wrong “signals” to the Soviet Union.
Khrushchev sends Kennedy a message confirming the removal of the missiles. The letter adopts a friendly tone, commenting on the outcome of the November elections in the US. “You managed to pin your political rival, Mr. Nixon, to the mat,” the letter comments on the fact that Nixon lost his bid to become governor of California. “This did not draw tears from our eyes either.”
Night, Kennedy instructs his brother Robert to inform Dobrynin that Khrushchev’s “word” on the IL-28s will “suffice” and the US will not insist on an immediate withdrawal of the planes. Robert Kennedy tells the Soviet Ambassador that the US would hope the planes are removed “within, say 30 days.”
Morning: ExComm members continue to discuss the IL-28 issue. The group’s recommendations, incorporated into a paper by U. Alexis Johnson, include a proposed sequence of actions designed to end the deadlock. To begin with, the group recommends a “last chance” private message to Khrushchev, warning that further actions could be taken shortly: the message fails to produce the desired outcome, the group suggests tightening the blockade, arranging for other countries in Latin America and elsewhere to apply diplomatic pressure on Castro, and using intense lowaltitude reconnaissance as a form of psychological warfare. The ExComm also notes that one other option exists but recommends that it only be used as a last-ditch measure “provoking” an attack on US reconnaissance planes and responding by striking a variety of Cuban targets, including the IL-28 bombers.
Khrushchev sends another message to Kennedy on the IL-28 issue. Khrushchev hedges on when the Soviet Union will remove the bombers, but states that “it can be done in 2-3 months.” He also complains that the US is ”not carrying out its commitments” to end overflights and quarantine, nor has it agreed to “register” the non-invasion pledge.
President Kennedy discusses the Cuban situation with Harold MacMillan over the telephone. Kennedy admits that no firm strategy for ironing out the remaining issues has been decided upon, “We do not want to crank up the quarantine again over the bombers. The only question is whether we should do that or take some other action. For example, we might say the whole deal is off and withdraw our no invasion pledge and harass them generally.”
1900, in a five page letter to U Thant, Castro warns that Cuba will fire on US reconnaissance planes: any aircraft flying over Cuban airspace, he says, do so “at the risk of being destroyed.” Noting that the US has already inspected Soviet ships at sea, he also declares that Cuba will continue to reject “unilateral inspections by any body, national or international, on Cuban territory.” US intelligence has reported during the day that Soviet control of the Cuban air defense system has tightened sharply. Cuban fighter aircraft are detected practicing low-level flight tactics in the Havana area.
Kennedy writes to Khrushchev on the continuing IL-28 issue. He complains that the “three major parts of the undertakings on your side - the removal of the IL-28s, the arrangements for verification, and safeguards against introduction - .have not yet been carried out.” During the day, Dobrynin is informed that the IL-28 issue has “reached a turning point,” and that unless the matter is resolved, the US and Soviet Union will “soon find ourselves back in a position of increasing tension.”
0700, the largest amphibious landing since World War II begins as part of an exercise at Onslow Beach, NC. The two-day exercise, a full-scale rehearsal for an invasion of Cuba, includes six marine battalion landing teams, four by assault boats and two by helicopter assault carriers.
1605, the JCS meets with Kennedy to report on the readiness status of forces that would be involved in any military action against Cuba. US forces massed for a Cuban invasion have reached their peak strength, the JCS reports some 100,000 Army troops, 40,000 Marines and 14,500 paratroopers stand ready, with 550 combat aircraft and over 180 ships available to support an invasion. Kennedy is advised that this advanced state of readiness can be maintained for about 30 days. The talking paper prepared for Taylor for this meeting spells out the US position on the IL- 28 deadlock: they recommend that the United States continue to press the Soviet Union to remove the bombers, suggesting that the quarantine be extended to POL if no progress is made. If the quarantine does not succeed in having the aircraft removed, the Joint Chiefs warn that the US “should be prepared to take them out by air attack.”
McCloy and Stevenson meet with Kuznetsov and Zorin to try to force the dispute over the IL-28s to a head. McCloy repeatedly warns Kuznetsov that the President is scheduling a press conference for 20 November, and that the US must have a pledge that the bombers will be removed by that time. McCloy also continues to raise concerns over the lack of on-site verification, the possibility that new “offensive weapons” might be introduced into Cuba and the continued presence of four reinforced Soviet troop regiments in Cuba. Stevenson reports to the ExComm that the negotiations ended with “no indication from Kuznetsov that they would give way in regard to [the] IL-28s.”
1000, at a morning ExComm session, Kennedy authorizes highlevel reconnaissance flights but again suspends low-level sorties. Robert Kennedy scrawls notes on the back of an envelope during the meeting: “President reluctant to send in low-level flights... how far can we push Khrushchev?” During the day, the attorney general meets with Georgi Bolshakov and warns him that lowlevel reconnaissance will begin again unless the Soviet Union promises to remove the bombers. Robert Kennedy states that he needs a response to the IL-28 issue before the president’s press conference the next day.
2025, letters from the President to de Gaulle, Adenauer and MacMillan are transmitted by the State Department. Kennedy warns them that if the IL-28s are not withdrawn, further US action might result, including the extension of the quarantine to include POL and the possibility of an air attack against Cuba in response to attacks on US reconnaissance planes. Although the overall situation is said to be “somewhat less dangerous than it was in October,” Kennedy warns that getting Khrushchev to back down again in some ways might be more difficult than it was during the missile crisis. Similar messages for Latin American heads of state are also sent during the evening.
Castro informs U Thant that the Cuban government will not object if the Soviet Union removes the IL-28s from Cuba, thereby ending the crisis over the Soviet bombers. In a letter announcing his new position, Castro renounces any claim to the aircraft, stating that the IL-28 aircraft are “the property of the Soviet Government.” However, the letter warns again that any “warplane invading Cuban airspace could do so only at the risk of being destroyed” and again rejects any unilateral inspection of Cuban territory. The Cuban government apparently had been persuaded to allow the bombers to he removed by the signing of a new Cuban-Soviet agreement under which the Soviet Union would leave an instruction center on the island where Cuban troops could be trained in the use of Soviet military equipment.
The President directs an oral message through the Soviet ambassador for Khrushchev stating that he will announce a lower state of alert for US forces at his press conference.
Khrushchev formally agrees to remove the IL-28s from Cuba in a fourteen-page letter to Kennedy. In his letter, Khrushchev complains that during their exchange of correspondence in October, Kennedy had not made “a single mention of bomber planes.... I informed you that the IL-28 planes are twelve years old and by their combat characteristics they at present cannot be classified as offensive types of weapons.” Nonetheless, he added that, ”we intend to remove them within a month.” In a separate transmission, Khrushchev urges that Kennedy refrain from “hurting the national feelings of the Cubans” during his upcoming press conference.
1530. After discussing Khrushchev’s letter agreeing to remove the IL-28s, the ExComm agrees to lift the quarantine. In addition, the SAC alert is ordered canceled and no low-altitude flights are authorized for 21 November. U-2 missions are scheduled to verify the dismantling and withdrawal of the bombers.
1800, The President announces at a press conference, “I have today been informed by Chairman Khrushchev that all of the IL- 28 bombers in Cuba will be withdrawn in 30 days. I have this afternoon instructed the Secretary of Defense to lift our naval quarantine.” Kennedy suggests that because no on-site inspection has occurred, the precondition for a US non-invasion guarantee has not been met. Nonetheless, he states, “If all offensive weapons are removed from Cuba and kept out of the hemisphere in the future, and if Cuba is not used for the export of aggressive Communist purposes, there will be peace in the Caribbean.”
2321, The JCS orders SAC to return to its normal airborne alert status, effective immediately. During the day, SAC forces lower their alert status from DEFCON 2, and other US military commands reduced their alert status from DEFCON 3 to DEFCON 4.
0949, in a cable to Stevenson and McCloy, Rusk summarizes the status of the crisis following the IL-28 agreement. The loose ends still remaining unfulfilled…are these: On [the] Soviet side, onsite UN-supervised verification of removal of offensive weapons, and longer-term safeguards against their reintroduction, on our side, formal assurances against invasion of Cuba. Rusk notes that the US favors settling the issue by having the US and Soviet Union issue parallel declarations before the UN Security Council. The US declaration, he says, will state non-invasion assurances, contingent on Cuban behavior
Kennedy sends a brief letter to Khrushchev welcoming the Soviet leader’s decision to remove the IL-28s. Kennedy writes, “I have been glad to get your letter of 20 November, which arrived in good time yesterday. As you will have seen, I was able to announce the lifting of our quarantine promptly at my press conference, on the basis of your welcome assurance that the IL-28 bombers will be removed within a month.” Kennedy also reassures Khrushchev that “there need be no fear of any invasion of Cuba while matters take their present favorable course.”
The president officially lifts the naval quarantine of Cuba, and measures are taken promptly by the US Navy to return to a normal readiness posture. McNamara authorizes the Secretary of the Air Force to release 14,200 Air Reservists, and the Defense Department removes involuntary extensions for the Navy and Marine Corps personnel. Almost simultaneously, the Soviet Union and other Warsaw Pact nations announce the cancellation of the special military preparedness measures that had been put into effect on 23 October.
Those of us in SAC, while officially back in DEFCON 4, remain at elevated alert and 24 hour duty until the following Monday, the week after Thanksgiving. The world is slowly returning to “normal.”
Most of the assembled chronologies of the Cuban Missile Crisis continue for several more months, as letters, negotiations and other activities continue, involving Cuba, the Soviet Union and the US. But, from the outlook of most of us who were on duty during this tense period in our history, it was now back to “business as usual.” For most of us who were serving in one of the new missile units, it meant a return to long days of work to try to figure out how to make these new missile systems perform as they were designed to do. We all had matured considerably during the last month.