JFK+50: Volume 5, No. 1924DOOMED AT THE BAY OF PIGS
Washington, D.C. (JFK+50) Fifty-five years ago today, April 19, 1961, the attempted invasion of Fidel Castro's Cuba by exiles trained by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency ended in disaster. Just three days after landing at the Bay of Pigs, the freedom fighters were routed and most were captured.
According to Jim Rasenberger, while one general said it was "the greatest American defeat since the War of 1812," no one would have believed "that Castro's reign would outlast the administrations of ten U.S. presidents."
Just after midnight on April 19th, Admiral Arleigh Burke was told by President John F. Kennedy not to send in a second air strike. The Admiral would have settled for a few planes, ships or even one destroyer, but JFK's answer was a solid "NO." He did not want the United States "involved in this."
President Kennedy found himself in a perilous position. In order to save the brigade, he would have to risk a larger war. If he was not prepared to do that, the freedom fighters were doomed.
Finally, at 2 a.m. JFK agreed to allow limited U.S. Navy air cover. It would last only one hour and would be provided by six unmarked jets. They were to provide support for a previously scheduled squad of B-26 bombers.
A troubled president retired at 4 a.m. but with the satisfaction that air support would be provided as he commanded. At the appointed time, between 6:30 and 7:30 a.m. in Cuba, the B-26s came under attack by Castro's air force, but the Navy jets were no where in sight. Two American bombers were shot down with the loss of 4 American servicemen.
Jim Rasenberger writes that the reason for the failure of the Navy jets to show has never fully been explained. There are some who blame the CIA saying that there was a mix-up in timing based on the difference in the time of day in Nicaragua, the location of the Navy airbase and Cuban time. Rasenberger, however, argues that a cable proves that theory false.
President Kennedy, after a restless night, arrived in the Oval Office at 9:28 a.m. He certainly would have known his Navy was in a position to save the Cuban brigade but without his authorization they could not do so. By mid-afternoon, the ammunition was gone and retreat was the only option.
JFK met with distraught members of the Cuban Revolutionary Council at 5 p.m. The President expressed his regrets at the outcome and read a paper giving a glowing review of the plan written before the invasion by USMC Colonel Jack Hawkins*.
Council member and former prime minister of Cuba, Tony Varona**, listened to the report and said...
"You have been taken for a ride, Mr. President."
CIA Director, Allen Dulles, who was to be retired in the aftermath of the Bay of Pigs, met with former Vice-President Richard M. Nixon. Dulles said..."This is the worst day of my life."
*Jack L. Hawkins (1920-2013) was born in Roxton, TX. He graduated from the US Naval Academy and served in both WWII & Korea. USMC Colonel Hawkins was employed by the CIA for the military planning and training of Cuban exiles who were to attack Castro's Cuba at the Bay of Pigs. JLH commanded the exiles from his base in Miami. He retired in 1965.
**Manuel Antonio de Varona (1908-1992) was born in Camaguey, Cuba & served as PM of Cuba from 1948 to 1950. He was also president of the Cuban Senate.
"Brilliant Disaster: JFK, Castro and America's Doomed Invasion of Cuba's Bay of Pigs," by Jim Rasenberger, Scribner, New York, 2011.