Bahia de Conchinos, Cuba (JFK+50) A force of 1400 Cuban exiles landed at the Bay of Pigs on the southern coast of Cuba 53 years ago today, April 17, 1961.
The exile force, known as Brigade 2506, trained in Guatemala and was led by Jose Miro Cardona, head of the anti-Castro Cuban Revolutionary Council.
The brigade came under heavy fire from Fidel Castro's army as they hit the beach.
The invasion, planned by the United States Central Intelligence Agency, had been approved by President Dwight D. Eisenhower and was continued by the new president, John F. Kennedy.
The invasion, the purpose of which was to overthrow communist dictator Fidel Castro, was hampered by bad weather and a shortage of ammunition.
The CIA plan called for two air strikes on Castro's air bases. The first strike failed and left most of the Cuban Air Force intact.
JFK, fearing United States involvement in the invasion would become publicly known and a possible escalation into a nuclear confrontation with the USSR, cancelled the second planned air strike.
20,000 of Castro's forces killed 100 of the invaders and captured 1200.
The POWS were held for 20 months while the Kennedy administration worked for their release.
On December 29, 1962, in Miami's Orange Bowl, President and Mrs. Kennedy welcomed the exiles to the United States.
President and Mrs. Kennedy
December 29, 1962
JFK Library Photo
President Kennedy publicly accepted full responsibility for the failure saying...
"I am the responsible officer of the government."
The Bay of Pigs fiasco has been included in the TOP TEN of presidential mistakes.
In one of the best and most recent accounts of the Bay of Pigs, "Brilliant Disaster," Jim Rasenberger writes...
"Long before his death, John Kennedy's presidency was transformed by the Bay of Pigs. There were...tactical changes (such as) tightening of the inner circle, increasing reliance on (Bobby Kennedy), the skepticism regarding the advice of military and intelligence advisers...and broader policy changes that escalated the Cold War."
As far as JFK's role in the Bay of Pigs, Rasenberger says that President Kennedy...
"could not easily halt the operation (but saw) the potential for serious repercussions if he went ahead."
In regard to the CIA's view going in, Rasenberger asks....
"Did the CIA (expect) the president to eventually make US military support available to the brigade?"
Further insight is provided by a quote from Nobel Laureate Gunnan Myrdal who described JFK's position this way...
"If Kennedy had called (the invasion) off, he would have been ruined politically at home, but if he had engaged American forces to salvage a failing covert operation, he would have been ruined abroad."
But what if the invasion had succeeded?
Clayton Fritchey believes the United States "would have been an occupying force in Cuba faced with...house to house" fighting in Havana which would have brought resentment of the United States in Latin America.
Interestingly, Rasenberger concludes....
"The peculiar truth may be that the result Kennedy got was the VERY BEST he could have desired.
If he achieved this result accidentally, then he was lucky. If he achieved it intentionally...then he deserves a place as one of the most coldly calculating presidents in history."
"The Brilliant Disaster, JFK, Castro and America's Doomed Invasion of Cuba's Bay of Pigs," Jim Rasenberger, Scribner, New York, 2011.