Bay of Pigs

views updated May 18 2018

Bay of Pigs


The Bay of Pigs invasion flowed from a directive signed by Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower on March 17, 1960, authorizing the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to begin operations to remove the Castro government from power in Cuba (Kornbluh 1998, p. 269). This quickly evolved into a plan to land an invasion force of some 1,200 Cuban exiles near the city of Trinidad, Cuba, at the foot of the Escambray Mountains. The invasion force, called the Brigade 2506, trained in Central America and by the end of 1960 was making final preparations for the landing.

Meanwhile, however, presidential elections had been held in the United States. Vice President Richard Nixon, the Republican candidate, lost, and the Democratic candidate, Senator John F. Kennedy, won. The latter might have been expected to cancel the invasion plan, once informed of it, but this would have been difficult for him to do. During the election campaign, he had sharply criticized the Eisenhower-Nixon administration for allowing this Communist foothold to emerge only 90 miles to the south of the United States. Had he canceled the invasion, the Republicans would doubtless have gone public and pointed out that they had had a plan to remove the foothold, but Kennedy had abandoned it.

Further, Kennedy quickly developed confidence in Richard Bissell (19101994), the CIAs deputy director for plans, who was masterminding the operation (Wyden 1979, p. 96). Thus, Kennedy let the invasion plan go forward. He did insist, however, that a landing so near the city of Trinidad would be too spectacular, and requested that it be moved to a more remote location (Wyden 1979, p. 100). Bissell obligingly moved the site some 70 miles to the west, to the Bay of Pigs (Bahía de Cochinos). This meant, however, that if the invasion failed, the invaders could not melt away into the mountains and become guerrillas, as Bissell had suggested to Kennedy, for the mountains were now far away across impenetrable swamps (Wyden 1979, p. 102).

The invasion force of approximately 1,200 exiles seemed totally inadequate to the task at hand, given that they would face a regular army of 60,000 armed with Soviet tanks and artillery, and backed by a militia force of 100,000. Bissell assured Kennedy, however, that the invasion would spark a massive popular uprising against Fidel Castro. Unfortunately, this assurance was not based on any hard intelligence. Indeed, it turned out to be utterly baseless (Kornbluh 1998, p. 12).

Preparatory air strikes against Cuban airfields, flown by exile and CIA pilots operating from Central America, were quickly revealed to be exactly that and not strikes by defecting Cuban pilots, as the United States claimed. Adlai Stevenson (19001965), the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations (UN), was deliberately misinformed by the White House, however, and gave a speech in the UN saying the raids had been carried out by defecting Cuban pilots. Outraged when he found out the truth, he complained to Kennedy, who ordered the next days air cover to be canceled. Nevertheless, as the CIAs own report on the operation later stated, this was not the chief cause of failure (Kornbluh 1998, p. 12). The chief cause, rather, was the glaring disparity between the numbers of the invading force and the number of defenders. The former never really had a chance. They went ashore in the early morning hours of April 17, 1961, and by 2 p.m. of April 19, facing overwhelming odds, were forced to surrender. In retrospect, that surrender seemed so inevitable that the Bay of Pigs invasion came to be described as that rarest of all thingsa perfect failure (Smith 1987, p. 70).

The failure of the United States at the Bay of Pigs had three crucial consequences. First, it solidified Castro in power. Second, seeing that if the United States used its own forces, he would need Soviet support to survive, to persuade Moscow to provide that support, Castro announced on April 16 that Cuba was a socialist state and he began to transform it into one, with a system patterned after the Soviet Union. And third, flowing in part from this transformation, Nikita Khrushchev the next year decided to place missiles in Cuba, thus leading to the October missile crisis of 1962.

SEE ALSO Castro, Fidel; Central Intelligence Agency, U.S.; Cold War; Communism; Cuban Missile Crisis; Cuban Revolution; Democratic Party, U.S.; Eisenhower, Dwight D.; Kennedy, John F.; Republican Party; Socialism


Kornbluh, Peter, ed. 1998. Bay of Pigs Declassified: The Secret CIA Report on the Invasion of Cuba. New York: New Press.

Smith, Wayne S. 1987. The Closest of Enemies: A Personal and Diplomatic Account of U.S.-Cuban Relations since 1957. New York: Norton.

Wyden, Peter. 1979. Bay of Pigs: The Untold Story. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Wayne S. Smith

Bay of Pigs

views updated May 23 2018

Bay of Pigs


The Bay of Pigs (Bahía de Cochinos) is a small bay on the southern coast of Cuba that was invaded on April 17, 1961 by approximately 1,400 Cuban exiles organized and armed by the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The invasion was meant to appear to be an attempt by independent Cuban rebels to overthrow leftist Cuban leader Fidel Castro, but became obviously known as an American project, and confirmed when President John F. Kennedy immediately admitted responsibility when the invasion failed. The Bay of Pigs, as the whole episode came to be known, was a major embarrassment for the United States, which was caught deceiving the United Nations and trying to overthrow by force a government which the U.S. itself had officially recognized and which was not attacking the U.S. One hundred and fourteen invaders and 157 Cuban soldiers were killed and 1,189 invaders were taken prisoner.

Fidel Castro became the leader of Cuba's government when his revolutionary forces overthrew the Batista regime in January, 1959. At first, Washington was not hostile to Castro. President Dwight D. Eisenhower recognized his government a few days after Batista's downfall, and Castro even traveled to Washington to meet with Vice President Richard Nixon (later President Nixon). Nixon decided that Castro could not be relied upon to pursue U.S. interests and began to agitate privately for his removal.

In October, 1959, Eisenhower approved a secret program to depose Castro proposed by the CIA and the State Department. Eisenhower told his advisors that "our hand should not show in anything that is done"in other words, that the operation should be carried out in such a way that

U.S. responsibility could be plausibly denied. To this end, the CIA gathered, funded, armed, and trained an anti-Castro rebel organization in Florida, the Panama Canal Zone, and Guatemala. The CIA began military training of 300 Cuban expatriates in March of 1960, and in May began broadcasting anti-Castro propaganda over the whole Caribbean from a station on a small, disputed territory named Swan Island. The programs were taped in Miami under CIA control, but claimed to be the voice of an authentic Cuban rebel movement without U.S. ties. In September, addressing the General Assembly of the United Nations, Castro accurately accused the U.S. of operating Radio Swan; the U.S. denied the charge.

In July, 1960, the Cuban fighters of "Brigade 2506"named for the number of a brigade member killed in an accidentwere transferred to a training camp in Guatemala built and run by the CIA.

On November 4, 1960, John Kennedy was elected president. Once in office, Kennedy gave his approval for the training of Brigade 2506 to continue. Like Eisenhower before him, however, Kennedy was adamant that U.S. armed forces should not take part in any effort to overthrow Castro. Not only was the whole operation illegal, any hint of U.S. manipulation would alienate potential supporters of the invasion inside Cuba. U.S. planners hoped that when news of the invasion reached the Cuban populace, an anti-Castro rebellion would arise and cast him out. At the very least, planners believed, the invaders could fight their way overland to the Escambray Mountains, about 100 miles west of the landing zone, and join rebel forces already fighting there.

On April 15, 1961, the first part of the invasion plan was carried out. Eight B-29 bombers supplied by the CIA bombed Cuban military aircraft on the ground at several locations. Later, a B-26 bearing Cuban markings and marked with bullet-holes landed at Miami International Airport. The pilots claimed to be defecting Cuban pilots, the goal being to make the raids on Cuba earlier that morning look like an internal action by defecting Cuban pilots. However, reporters on the scene noted that the plane's machine guns had not been fired and that the plane was not of the type actually used by Cuba. Castro, hearing the reports, commented that even Hollywood would not have tried to film such a feeble story. The goal of the bombings themselves was to destroy the Cuban government's small air force at one stroke, eliminating any call for U.S. air support of Brigade 2506 at the landing site. The raid was not completely successful, however.

Two days later, on April 17, a landing was made at Playa Girón (Girón Beach) in the Bay of Pigs. A small beachhead was quickly achieved by Brigade 2506, but one of their freighter vessels, containing food, fuel, medical equipment, and a ten days' supply of ammunition, was quickly sunk. Combat was heavy around the beachhead as Cuban government forces responded to the attack. The remnants of the Cuban Air Force bombed and strafed the invading forces, as Brigade 2506 had not been supplied with fighter aircraft and President Kennedy categorically refused to allow U.S. fighters to go into combat.

The military situation deteriorated steadily (from the invaders' point of view) over the next 48 hours. On April 18, while the fighting was at its peak, Adlai Stevenson denied to the United Nations, in response to Cuban accusations, that the U.S. was attacking Cuba. Eventually, Kennedy was persuaded to authorize unmarked U.S. fighter jets from the aircraft carrier Essex to provide escort cover for the invasion's B-26 bombers, most of which were now being flown by CIA agents in support of the ground invasion (two-thirds of the Brigade pilots were refusing to fly). The jets from the Essex missed their rendezvous with the B-26s by an hour due to a misunderstanding about time zones; in the subsequent, unescorted bombing raid over Cuba, two B-26s were shot down and four Americans were killed. The fighting ended on April 20, 1961, with the defeat of Brigade 2506.

The project, most analysts would later conclude, had been hopeless from the beginning. Fidel Castro enjoyed wide support in Cuba and had just consolidated a military victory against the Batista regime; a few thousand lightlyarmed invaders could not possibly have taken the island. Furthermore, the idea that the U.S. could keep its role secret had become ridiculous long before the invasion was attempted. The New York Times had run a story on March 17, 1961, predicting a U.S. invasion of Cuba in the coming weeks, and another story on April 7, entitled "Anti-Castro Units Trained to Fight at Florida Bases," which noted that invasion plans were in their final stages. Although the Times had watered down the latter story considerably at President Kennedy's personal request, when Kennedy saw the paper he exclaimed that Castro didn't need spies; all he had to do was read the news. But Castro, and others, did have spies, and the Soviet Union was fairly well-informed of U.S. invasion plans ahead of time.

The costs of the Bay of Pigs were high, and not only in lives lost. In the wake of the invasion, Castro consolidated his regime, supported by public outrage in Cuba over the U.S.-plotted invasion, and concluded a mutual-defense agreement with the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union exploited this relationship to get Cuban permission to place ballistic-missile launch sites on Cuban soil. These launch sites, detected by U.S. aerial photography, were the immediate cause of the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, generally agreed to have been the closest approach to all-out nuclear war that the world has yet ecountered.



Blight, James and Peter Kornbluh. Politics of Illusion: The Bay of Pigs Invasion Reexamined. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1998.

Kornbluh, Peter. Bay of Pigs Declassified: The Secret CIA Report on the Invasion of Cuba. New York: The New Press, 1998.


Cuban Missile Crisis
Kennedy Administration (19611963), United States National Security Policy

Bay of Pigs Invasion

views updated May 29 2018

Bay of Pigs Invasion

President John F. Kennedy's sanctioning of the Bay of Pigs operation had a significant impact on contemporary popular perceptions of his administration. For the majority, Kennedy's actions proved that he was willing to actively confront the perceived "communist threat" in Central and South America. However, his action also disillusioned student radicals who had supported Kennedy during his election campaign and accelerated the politicization of student protest in the United States.

In the early hours of April 17, 1961, a force consisting of 1400 Cuban exiles landed at the Bay of Pigs, Cuba, in an attempt to overthrow the revolutionary government headed by Fidel Castro. From the beginning, this "invasion" was marred by poor planning and poor execution. The force, which had been secretly trained and armed in Guatemala by the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), was too large to engage in effective covert operations, yet too small to realistically challenge Castro in a military confrontation without additional support from the United States. Most significantly, the popular uprising upon which the invasion plan had been predicated did not occur. After three days of fighting, the insurgent force, which was running short of ammunition and other supplies, had been effectively subdued by Castro's forces. In a futile effort to avoid capture, the insurgents dispersed into the Zapata swamp and along the coast. Cuban forces quickly rounded up 1,189 prisoners, while a few escaped to waiting U.S. ships; 114 were killed.

Although the Bay of Pigs operation had initially been intended to be carried out in a manner that would allow America to deny involvement, it was readily apparent that the United States government was largely responsible for the invasion. Months before the Bay of Pigs operation commenced, American newspapers ran stories which revealed the supposedly covert training operations both in Miami and Guatemala. Consequently, when the invasion began, the official cover story that it was a spontaneous insurrection led by defecting Cuban forces was quickly discredited. Revelations concerning the United States' role in the attack served to weaken its stature in Latin America and significantly undermined its foreign policy position. After the collapse of the operation, a New York Times columnist commented that the invasion made the United States look like "fools to our friends, rascals to our enemies, and incompetents to the rest." However, domestic political protest was allayed by President John F. Kennedy who, although he had been in office for less than one hundred days, assumed full responsibility for the fiasco. According to Kennedy biographer Theodore C. Sorensen, Kennedy's decisive action avoided uncontrolled leaks and eliminated the possibility of partisan investigations.

The operation which resulted in the Bay of Pigs disaster had initially been conceived in January 1960 under the Eisenhower Administration. Originally, this operation was envisioned as constituting the covert landing of a small, highly-trained force that would engage in guerrilla activities in order to facilitate a popular uprising. Over the ensuing fifteen months, the CIA systematically increased the scale of the proposed operation. According to both Sorensen and biographer Arthur M. Schlesinger, Kennedy, upon assuming office, had little choice but to approve the continuance of the operation. Its importance had been stressed by former president Dwight D. Eisenhower, it was supported by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and by influential advisors such as John Foster Dulles. Further, as noted historian John L. Gaddis argued in Now We Know: Rethinking Cold War History (1997), Kennedy believed that "underlying historical forces gave Marxism-Leninism the advantage in the 'third world"' and viewed Cuba as a clear example of the threat that Communism posed in Latin America. As a result, Kennedy was predisposed to take action against Castro. Unfortunately, due to inaccurate and ineffective communication between planning and operational personnel, the significant changes that had been instituted within the operation were not sufficiently emphasized to Kennedy. Consequently, according to Sorensen, Kennedy "had in fact approved a plan bearing little resemblance to what he thought he had approved." Leaders of the Cuban exiles were given the impression that they would receive direct military support once they had established a beach head, and an underlying assumption of CIA planning was that the United States would inevitably intervene. However, Kennedy steadfastly refused to sanction overt military involvement.

The impact of the Bay of Pigs invasion on American public opinion was sharply divided. According to Thomas C. Reeves, Kennedy's public support of and sympathy for the Cuban exiles rallied the public in support of their "firm, courageous, self-critical, and compassionate chief executive." A poll conducted in early May indicated sixty-five percent support for Kennedy and his actions. Conversely, the Bay of Pigs invasion also served to spark student protests. Initially, students had been enchanted by Kennedy's vision of a transformed American society and by the idealism embodied by programs such as the Peace Corps. However, students, particularly those within the New Left, were disillusioned by Kennedy's involvement with the invasion. On the day of the landings, 1,000 students held a protest rally at Berkeley, and on April 22, 2,000 students demonstrated in San Francisco's Union Square. This disillusionment spawned a distrust of the Kennedy Administration and undoubtedly accelerated the political divisions that developed within American society during the 1960s.

Internationally, the Bay of Pigs invasion provided Castro with evidence of what he characterized as American imperialism, and this enabled him to consolidate his position within Cuba. Ultimately, the invasion drove Castro toward a closer alliance with the Soviet Unionand significantly increased both regional and global political tensions. The failure of the invasion also convinced Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev that Kennedy was weak and indecisive. This impression undoubtedly contributed to Khrushchev's decision to place nuclear missiles in Cuba and to the confrontation that developed during the Cuban Missile Crisis (1962). However, sympathetic biographers have argued that "failure in Cuba in 1961 contributed to success in Cuba in 1962," because the experience forced Kennedy to break with his military advisors and, consequently, enabled him to avoid a military clash with the Soviet Union.

—Christopher D. O'Shea

Further Reading:

Bates, Stephen, and Joshua L. Rosenbloom. Kennedy and the Bay of Pigs. Boston, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, 1983.

Gaddis, John Lewis. We Now Know: Rethinking Cold War History. Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1997.

Higgins, Trumbull. The Perfect Failure: Kennedy, Eisenhower, and the CIA at the Bay of Pigs. New York, W.W. Norton, 1987.

Lader, Lawrence. Power on the Left: American Radical Movements Since 1946. New York, W.W. Norton, 1979.

Reeves, Thomas C. A Question of Character: A Life of John F. Kennedy. Rocklin, California, Prima Publishing, 1992.

Schlesinger, Arthur M. A Thousand Days: John F. Kennedy in the White House. Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1965.

Sorensen, Theodore C. Kennedy. New York, Harper & Row, 1965.

Vickers, George R. The Formation of the New Left: The Early Years. Lexington, Lexington Books, 1975.

Wyden, Petre. Bay of Pigs: The Untold Story. London, Jonathan Cape, 1979.

Bay of Pigs Invasion

views updated May 14 2018


BAY OF PIGS INVASION (17 April 1961), the abortive attempt by Cuban exiles—organized, financed, and led by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)—to overthrow the revolutionary regime of Premier Fidel Castro in Havana. The landing by the 1,453 men of Brigade 2506 on the swampy southwestern coast of Cuba turned within seventy-two hours into a complete disaster as the Castro forces captured 1,179 of the invaders and killed the remaining 274. For the United States and for President John F. Kennedy, who had authorized the operation in his third month in the White House, the Bay of Pigs became a bitter political defeat as well as a monumental failure in a large-scale intelligence enterprise. The invasion led to an increase in Soviet aid to Cuba that climaxed with the installation of nuclear warheads in Cuba in 1962. The Cuban missile crisis that followed was one of the most dangerous moments in post–World War II relations between the United States and the Soviet Union.

The plans for the Bay of Pigs were conceived by the CIA during 1960, toward the end of the Eisenhower administration, on the theory—proved by events to have been totally erroneous—that a landing by the exiles' brigade would touch off a nationwide uprising against Castro. Kennedy's administration shared the Eisenhower administration's fear of Castro's leftward leanings, and Kennedy authorized the plan shortly after Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev publicly described conflicts in Vietnam and Cuba as "wars of national liberation" that merited Soviet support.

From the mistaken assumption that Cuba would rise against Castro to its poorly managed execution, the entire venture was marked by miscalculation. To prepare for the invasion, the CIA trained the force in secret camps in Guatemala for nearly six months. But long before the landing, it was widely known in the Cuban community in Florida (and, presumably, the information was also available to Castro agents) that such a landing was in the offing. Finally, the invasion failed because Kennedy refused to provide U.S. air support for the brigade. Castro's aircraft easily disposed of the exiles' tiny air force and proceeded to sink the invasion ships and cut down the men holding the Bay of Pigs beachhead. Twenty months later, in December 1962, Castro released the 1,179 Bay of Pigs prisoners in exchange for $53 million worth of medical supplies and other goods raised by private individuals and groups in the United States.

Kennedy came under criticism both from those who believed the invasion never should have taken place and from Cuban exiles, most notably José Miró Cardona, president of the U.S.-based National Revolutionary Council, who blamed the invasion's failure on Kennedy's refusal to authorize air support. The invasion forced the resignation of the CIA director, Allen Dulles, embarrassed the Kennedy administration, and contributed to decades of tension between the United States and Cuba.


Higgins, Trumbull. The Perfect Failure: Kennedy, Eisenhower, and the CIA at the Bay of Pigs. New York: Norton, 1987.

Johnson, Haynes B. The Bay of Pigs. New York: Norton, 1964.

Szulc, Tad, and Karl E. Meyer. The Cuban Invasion. New York: Praeger, 1962.



See alsoCentral Intelligence Agency ; Cuba, Relations with ; Cuban Americans ; Cuban Missile Crisis .

Bay of Pigs Invasion

views updated May 29 2018

Bay of Pigs Invasion

Known in Cuba as Batalla de Girón, the Bay of Pigs Invasion was a U.S.-sponsored military venture of Cuban exiles against revolutionary Cuba in mid-April 1961. Launched with a force of about 1,500 Cuban exiles, the invasion was the result of growing antagonism between exiled Cubans and Fidel Castro's increasingly radical regime as well as U.S. desire to topple Castro against the backdrop of the cold war. The failed invasion stands as a pivotal moment both for the Cuban revolution and Cuba-U.S. relations.

Training of Cuban exiles began in March 1960. Led by José Pérez San Román, the exile force eventually came to be known as Brigade 2506. Manuel Artime served as the brigade's political chief. The invasion's primary goal was to secure a beachhead for the establishment of a temporary government by the Cuban Revolutionary Council under the leadership of centrist former prime minister José Miró Cardona. While not enthusiastic about the plans, newly elected president John F. Kennedy agreed to go forward but was adamant about limiting and concealing U.S. involvement.

The attack began on 15 April, when U.S. planes bearing Cuban marks bombarded several military installations. Air raids scheduled for 16 April, however, were canceled by direct orders from Kennedy. On 17 April approximately 1,300 brigade troops landed on the southern coast locations of Girón Beach and the Bay of Pigs; the landing sites proved to be inauspicious owing to swampy conditions, isolation, and reefs that surrounded the area. After two-and-a-half days of intense fighting, Cuban militia and army troops under Castro's command defeated Brigade 2506. Instrumental in the Cuban army's victory were elite cadet troops led by Captain José Ramón Fernández as well as successful air strikes by Cuban fighter planes. The final death toll on the brigade's side was somewhere around 125; another 1,197 were taken prisoner, ten of whom died while being transported to Havana in an overcrowded and airtight truck container. According to Cuban official statistics, 157 Cuban army and militia troops were killed in action. Most other sources, however, place the estimate much higher, between 1,800 and 2,200. After months of intense negotiation, brigade captives were released in exchange for $53 million in medicine and food.

The causes of the Bay of Pigs defeat have been the subject of much reflection and study. Among the most salient ones stand the failure of the Kennedy administration to provide adequate air and naval support and the CIA's overestimation of discontent of the Cuban people toward the revolution. CIA agents and operatives also alienated the exile force.

The Bay of Pigs invasion turned out to be a fiasco for the U.S. government. Kennedy later reminisced that it had been "the worst experience of [his] life." For the exiles, the defeat represented a major setback in the struggle against Castro, but many continue to commemorate the battle as a heroic attack against a much larger and better-equipped force. Castro, for his part, took credit for having stopped the imperial aggression of the world's mightiest military power. The Bay of Pigs not only demonstrated revolutionary Cuba's military effectiveness but also demonstrated the extent of popular support for the revolution. The failed invasion allowed Castro to consolidate his power over the island and to declare openly the socialist nature of the revolution. In terms of U.S.-Cuba relations, the invasion marked the end of any possible rapprochement and pushed Cuba deeper into the Soviet orbit.

See alsoCastro Ruz, Fidel; Cuban Missile Crisis; United States-Latin American Relations.


Johnson, Haynes. The Bay of Pigs: The Leaders' Story of Brigade 2506. New York: Norton, 1964.

Kornbluh, Peter, ed. Bay of Pigs Declassified: The Secret CIA Report on the Invasion of Cuba. New York: New Press, 1998.

Wyden, Peter. Bay of Pigs: The Untold Story. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1980.

                              Luis MartÍnez-FernÁndez

Bay of Pigs

views updated May 23 2018

Bay of Pigs (April 17, 1961) Unsuccessful effort by Cuban exiles (aided by the USA) to overthrow Fidel Castro by invading Cuba near the Bay of Pigs. About 1500 Cubans, trained, equipped and transported by the US government, were involved. The invasion was badly planned and the Cuban army defeated the exiles within three days. US President John F. Kennedy initially denied US involvement and was later subject to criticism for its failure. See also Cuban Missile Crisis

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