Sixty-third Chapter in a Series Chronicling the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962
The Primitive Logic of the Missile Crisis
Enlightened by a half century of historical research, we know that 50 years ago today
a) the Soviets were well on their way to turning Cuba into a front-line strategic nuclear weapons base; and
b) American plans called for any measures necessary, up to and including air strikes and an invasion, to remove such a base once it was discovered.
Basic, even primitive, logic is at work here: If a) did not happen, then b) would not happen. If a) did happen, however, then b) would follow “as the night the day.”
Dueling American and Soviet Documents
American and Soviet documents dated September 25, 1962, show vividly that the two sides were moving steadily, irresistibly toward confrontation.
1. U.S. Invasion Plans
On September 25 one White House aide wrote another that the Commander in Chief Atlantic (CINCLANT) had ordered the commander of the Atlantic Fleet
[to] be prepared to conduct a naval and air blockade of Cuba in accordance with provisions of this planning directive and other guidance received by higher authority.…All commands should be alert to execute plans ordered in event action escalates to involve Soviet bloc military forces.
This White House memo then summarized the U.S. plans for an invasion of Cuba:
- OPLAN 312-62 provided for air strikes against Cuba in 6, 12, and 24 hour increments “from a no-warning condition.” These strikes would precede an actual invasion. The targets to be attacked in order of priority were 1) aircraft, antiaircraft, and radar installations; 2) selected communication and transportation targets; and 3) troops, concentrations of tanks and field guns, and naval ships.
U.S. commanders meant to destroy first the enemy’s power to fend off an air attack, then his means to communicate and move troops and weapons, and last of all, once they were isolated and immobile, the combat troops themselves.
- OPLAN 314-61 was the basic invasion plan, which would assault the Havana area simultaneously from the air and the sea and reinforce the base at Guantanamo. If all went well, the invading force would “mop-up” eastern Cuba, where Guantanamo was located.
- OPLAN 316-61 was a “quick-reaction” version of 314.
All that was needed to set these deadly war plans in motion was an order from the Oval Office. That order awaited the discovery of a Soviet offensive capability in Cuba—not solely a nuclear capability, it must be remembered, but any kind of offensive capability, including a nuclear one.
2. Soviet Report on the Cuban Buildup
On September 25th Soviet Marshal Zakharov and General Fokin reported to the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CC CPSU) that Operation ANADYR was going as planned.
- Soviet combat troops would complete their deployment by 3-5 November.
- 30,900 men and their equipment had already arrived (far more than the U.S. intelligence community suspected at the time or for years afterward).
- The medium range ballistic missiles (MRBMs) would be ready to fire by October 25.
- The intermediate range ballistic missiles (IRBMs) would be operational by 5 November, the day before the United States mid-term elections.
- Warheads for the IRBMs and about half the warheads for the FKR cruise missiles would arrive between 20 and 25 October aboard the Aleksandrovsk. During her voyage to Cuba, Aleksandrovsk would be escorted by an attack submarine carrying one nuclear torpedo among her conventional fish.
- Another vessel carrying nuclear warheads, Indigirka, is also mentioned in this report but no arrival time was specified.
It will be remembered that the original ANADYR deployment order of late May ordered four Soviet FOXTROT submarines to Cuba, each with one nuclear torpedo among the conventional fish aboard. Those submarines had not yet sailed, but they would.
The Ticking Nuclear Time Bomb
As of 50 years ago today, the Soviets had smuggled medium range (1,100 nautical miles) nuclear missiles into Cuba. Intermediate range missiles (2,200 nautical miles) were on their way. The U.S. had not yet discovered the missiles already in Cuba. When it did, Kennedy would have to make good on his threat to remove them, by force if necessary.
Much now depended on whether the U.S. discovered those missiles before they were operational—or only in November, when the Soviet premier announced that they were aimed at their American targets and ready to fire.
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Sources and Notes
U.S. plans to blockade and invade Cuba are contained in a memorandum from President Kennedy’s aide on science and technology, Gerry Weisner, to Deputy Assistant National Security Advisor Carl Kaysen. See document 439 in Foreign Relations of the United States, Volume X, Cuba (http://www.state.gov/www/about_state/history/frusX/421_443.html). The CINCLANT directive Weisner refers to is document 435 in the same FRUS volume.
The Soviet report to the CC CCPSU appears as Appendix II in Svetlana V. Savranskaya “New Sources on the Role of Soviet Submarines in the Cuban Missile Crisis,” Journal of Strategic Studies, Vol. 28, No. 2 (2005), 233 — 259. Dr. Savranskaya cites the following source for the Zakharov-Fokin report: “Volkogonov Collection, Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Reel 17, Container 26, Translated by Gary Goldberg for the Cold War International History Project and the National Security Archive.”
It is worth noticing that the Soviet generals’ report also recommended canceling the planned deployment of a large Soviet fleet headed by two cruisers. Such a large deployment would “attract the attention of the entire world,” and probably not favorably.
This deployment also included seven Golf-class ballistic missile submarines. The Golf-class missile boats would almost certainly have been based at the “fishing port” that Castro had prematurely announced the USSR was going to help Cuba build. The strategic advantage the USSR would gain by basing both strategic missiles and missile submarines in Cuba can be easily imagined.