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Long Ago and Far Away: Bay of Pigs - The CIA Sponsered Invasion of Cuba, April 1961

Updated on April 20, 2009

Operation Puma

Regardless of what you think about this whole affair, it remains quite remarkable that President Kennedy was unaware (and for some time) what the CIA was doing. And what the CIA was doing was assembling a military force, shipping, and aircraft, all from obsolete equipment in various states of disrepair. The whole affair began after the 1960 Presidential election between Nixon and Kennedy. After Kennedy had won, the CIA began to assemble the plans and recruiting efforts. This was not known to him.

By March, recruiting efforts has gathered 1151 men, all ex-cubans, who fled from Cuba when Castro came to power a few years earlier and turned a democracy into a Soviet communist-like government. The 1151 men were formed into the 2506 Assault Brigade and in every way ended up as a viable military unit armed with WW2 and later weapons. About 200 of them were trained as parachutists and would drop to block key roads ahead of the beachheads.

The site chosen was of course the Bay of Pigs (Baja de Cochinas) which was about as remote as one could get. It was on the other end of the island from Havanna. The region had no viable military force nearby but for some national guard units in training. The Zapata Swamp, which was vast, acted as a barrier to any Cuban counterattacks and the few roads meant any attacks would have to follow along them.

Cuba barely had a military. Most of its untis were poorly armed and trained, many were still in training. Its air force had 14 aircraft! They had a few training jets and Migs. The Bay of Pigs was totally undefended. Castro had little idea of the planned invasion, although, rumors were running wild, so knew something was coming.

The 2506 Brigade had five battalions: 2nd, 5th, 4th, 6th, 3rd, 12 trucks, 5 M41 tanks. Its Heavy gun battalion contained 4.2mm mortars, 75mm RCL, 50mm HMG. The battalions were actually company in size, around 200 men. Air support was originally 22 B-26 bombers, however, Kennedy (once he knew about it) made sure there was no hint of a US sponsored attack, reduced it to five. This is really quite naive of the US administration to think the Cubans would not think it was the US attacking. After all, all the equipment was American.

A US naval task force was nearby comprised of the US carrier Essex with the latest modern jets, it was protected by 5-7 destroyers. Cuba had no real navy, by the way! However, because Kennedy wanted no US involvement, none of the jets flew until late Tuesday until Castro had effectively crushed the invasion by the 1151 Cuban-Americans. By this time, they were fighting for their lives and pursued by over 10 Cuban military and para-military battalions. This US air support by 12 A-4D jets was against all standing orders, they flew over the battle area for one hour keeping Castro's men at bay. The Task Force commander told the President, " Goddammit, Mr. President, we ARE involved!". On the following day, US destroyers closed in on the Bay of Pigs, not far from shore, to provide cover to the decimated 2506 Brigade, so greatly outnumbered. The Cubans took a few shots at the destroyers only to silenced by naval gunfire. Aircraft dropped a few Napalm bombs on large concentrations of Cuban troops, decimating them or causing them to flee.

At one point, the 1200 US Marines on the USS Essex were being considered to land on shore to save the retreating patriots, but this action was not taken.

The 2506 Brigade fought well. Despite their short training time, their morale made up for what they lacked. The general local uprising which was a major part of the plan's success and hoped for, never happened. Since it was hoped that population there would rally to the invaders call and fight against Castro, everything fell apart when this did not occur. The brigade's size was simply too small to do the job. Since the US was only willing to act covertly because of world image issues, it was doomed from the start unless a population uprising occurred. 

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