Events in American Foreign Policy
The Bay of Pigs Invasion, 1961

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The capture of Cuban counter-revolutionaries after the failed invasion at the Bay of Pigs.


The Failed Invasion of the Bay of Pigs


Training and Equipping the Exiles


The CIA began training Cuban exiles for Operation Zapata, codename for the Bay of Pigs Invasion, in 1960.  Under the plan authorized by Eisenhower in March of that year, training camps were established in Guatemala for the purposes of training the exiles.  By November the US had trained a small group of the exiles on the guerilla tactics and landing procedures they would use when invading Cuba.  At the same time in Miami, the CIA prepared a group known as the United Revolutionary Front for a governmental takeover if and when the invasion succeeded.  Jose Miro Cardona, leader of the Cuban exiles, was among those being trained in Miami.  While the government sought to keep all information regarding the Cuban invasion a secret, information leaked in Miami regarding the training of the United Revolutionary Front, and it was widely covered in the news.  As a result, it took little time at all for Castro to receive information regarding the training of the Cuban exiles in the United States and Guatemala.  Many advisors to Kennedy suggested the necessity to carry out the operation sooner than later.  The CIA faced the problem, then, of having to train the entirety of the counterrevolutionary force in a very short span of time.*


The Plan


The invasion itself called for a force of 1400 men.  Men were needed to fulfill specific roles regarding the invasion.  The plan called for the entire invasion force to begin its operations under the cover of darkness.  First, paratroopers would be dropped in specific locations to block transportation in pivotal areas as well as fight any Cuban forces they might encounter.  Next, a diversionary force would land on Cuba's eastern coast in order to cause confusion.  Finally, the main force would form a defensive land perimeter while the United Revolutionary Front established its new government.  One vital aspect of the plan was the idea that Cubans witnessing Cuban exiles fighting against Castro's regime would serve as motivation to join in the cause, thus rallying support in their effort to overthrow Castro's government.  Should all go according to plan, Jose Miro Cardona would be the provisional president of Cuba, and the United States would recognize him as the legitimate ruler of Cuba, thereby negating Soviet-Cuban relations and paving the way for a more moderate regime in Cuba.*2


The Invasion


On April 17, 1961, just five days after President Kennedy announced that the United States had no intention of interfering in Cuba, the American-trained counterrevolutionary forces of Brigade 2506 began their attempted invasion at the Bay of Pigs.  From the very start the mission had serious errors.  An air strike of B-26 bombers was sent out two days before the actual invasion to destroy Cuba's arsenal of planes.  The bombers were painted to look like Cuban Air Force planes, but the planes used in the attack were actually outdated World War II planes.  As a result, the mission failed to destroy the Cuban arsenal.  Still worse, photographic evidence of the planes made its way around the world, and despite the attempt to use disguise, the planes were identified as US planes, therefore showing the complicity of the United States in the operation.  Because he had essentially been caught red-handed, President Kennedy called off a second air strike to be carried out later on.  Because of the leaked information regarding the training of Cuban exiles, Castro knew to expect an attack; he just did not know exactly when or where it would take place.  As a result, he prepared his military to expect an attack at any time.  He ordered that Cuban Air Force planes be taken out and camouflaged.  The Air Force then placed older, obsolete planes in the place of the more advanced models as a diversionary tactic, causing the rebel force to bomb the wrong targets.  When the actual invasion began on April 17, Castro was more than prepared for the attack.    The invasion force landed along the Bay of Pigs amid heavy fire, just after struggling to get ashore over the bay's rigid coral.  Within the next 24 hours, Castro had 20,000 troops headed for the beaches.  Castro's Air Force dominated the skies, and his ground troops easily controlled the ground.  The situation had become increasingly grave, and Kennedy authorized six unmarked American fighter planes to aid in the attack.  However, due to time zone confusion, these planes arrived an hour later than scheduled, and Castro's air force easily took them down.  Four American pilots were killed in the failed operation, while over 100 exiles were killed and 1200 surrendered to the Cuban military.  The rest escaped into the sea.  The many errors within Operation Zapata gave way for an all out Cuban victory and complete humiliation of President Kennedy and the United States.*3



1. "The Bay of Pigs." John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum. Available from Internet; accessed 29 April 2008.

2. Kornbluh, Peter. Bay of Pigs Declassified. New York: The New Press, 1998, p. 48.

3. Ibid, 49-51.