Cuban Missile Crisis

Dafato Team | May 24, 2022

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The Caribbean Crisis (Crisis of October, Spanish: Crisis de Octubre).  Crisis de Octubre) - the extremely tense political, diplomatic and military confrontation between the Soviet Union and the United States in October 1962 which was caused by the placement in 1961 by the United States in Turkey (a NATO member state) of medium-range Jupiter missiles, which could easily (due to the short flight time) reach cities in the western part of the Soviet Union, including Moscow and the main industrial centers of the USSR, thus depriving the USSR of the possibility to strike back. In response, the Soviet Union deployed cadre military units (armed with both conventional and nuclear weapons, including ground-based ballistic and tactical missiles) to the island of Cuba, just off the U.S. coast. The crisis could have led to a global nuclear war.

The Cuban Revolution

During the Cold War, the confrontation between the two superpowers, the USSR and the United States, was expressed not only in direct military threats and an arms race, but also in the desire to expand their zones of influence. The Soviet Union sought to organize and support socialist revolutions, in pro-Soviet countries it supported people's liberation movements of various kinds, often with weapons and by sending military specialists, instructors and limited military contingents. If the revolution was victorious, the country became a member of the socialist camp, military bases were built there and substantial resources were invested. The Soviet Union's aid was often gratuitous, which aroused additional sympathy for it among the poorer countries of Africa and Latin America.

The U.S., in turn, with similar policies, also encouraged "revolutions to establish democracy" and provided support to pro-American regimes. Usually the U.S. was outnumbered by Western Europe, Turkey and some Asian and African countries, such as South Africa.

Initially, after the victory of the revolution in Cuba in 1959, its leader, Fidel Castro, did not have close relations with the Soviet Union. During his struggle against the Fulgencio Batista regime in the 1950s, Castro asked Moscow for military aid several times, but was refused. Moscow was skeptical of the leader of the Cuban revolutionaries and of the very prospects for revolution in Cuba, believing that the United States had too much influence there. Fidel made his first foreign visit after the victory of the revolution to the United States, but President Eisenhower refused to see him, alleging that he was too busy. After this demonstration of arrogance toward Cuba, Castro carried out measures against the American encroachment. The telephone and electric companies, the oil refineries, the 36 largest sugar refineries owned by U.S. citizens were nationalized, but the previous owners were offered the respective security packages. All branches of North American banks owned by U.S. citizens were also nationalized. In response, the U.S. stopped supplying Cuba with oil and buying its sugar. These steps put Cuba in a very difficult situation. By that time, the Cuban government had already established diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union, and it appealed to Moscow for help. In response, the Soviet Union sent tankers of oil and organized purchases of Cuban sugar and raw sugar. Specialists from various sectors of the Soviet Union went to Cuba on long business trips to create similar industries, as well as office work on the Island of Liberty. Soviet specialists built various objects, for example, according to a special project, they made steam power plants with boilers using fuel from sugar cane waste.

First missiles deployed

In 1958, the Soviet Union began deploying medium-range ballistic missiles (MRBMs) of the R-5 type in the GDR, which were aimed against targets in Western Europe, particularly the FRG. In 1959 they were relocated to Kaliningrad. The next stage of the arms race followed in the same year. The U.S. accomplished this by installing Tor-type MRBMs in England, as well as PGM-19 Jupiter missiles in Puglia (southern Italy) and near Izmir in Turkey. In addition, a first strike that would have used nuclear weapons to destroy and make impossible a further enemy response was not ruled out. In the early 1960s it became possible for the first time for both countries to attack from their own territory with intercontinental ballistic missiles mounted there.

Rocket positions in Turkey

By 1960, the U.S. had a significant advantage in strategic nuclear forces. By comparison, the Americans had about 6,000 warheads in service, while the USSR had only about 300. By 1962, the U.S. had more than 1,300 bombers capable of delivering about 3,000 nuclear warheads to the USSR. In addition, the U.S. had 183 Atlas and Titan ICBMs and 144 Polaris missiles on nine nuclear submarines of the George Washington and Ethan Allen types. The Soviets were able to deliver about 300 warheads to the United States, mostly by strategic aviation and the R-7 and R-16 ICBMs, which had low combat readiness and high launch costs, making large-scale deployment of these systems impossible.

In 1961, the U.S. began stationing 15 medium-range PGM-19 Jupiter missiles near Izmir in Turkey, with a range of 2,400 km, directly threatening the European part of the Soviet Union, missiles that could reach Moscow. President Kennedy considered the strategic significance of these missiles to be limited because submarines armed with ballistic missiles could cover the same territory, with an advantage in stealth and firepower. Nevertheless, in the late 1950s intermediate-range missiles were technologically superior to intercontinental ballistic missiles, which at the time could not be constantly on alert. Another advantage of medium-range missiles is their short flight time, less than 10 minutes.

Soviet strategists realized that they were virtually defenseless against these missiles, but that some nuclear parity could be achieved by retaliating by deploying missiles in Cuba. Soviet medium-range missiles on Cuban territory, with a range of up to 4,000 kilometers (R-14), could keep Washington and about half the airbases of the U.S. Strategic Air Force strategic nuclear bombers in their sights, with a flight time of less than 20 minutes.

Khrushchev, head of the Soviet Union, publicly expressed his indignation at the deployment of missiles in Turkey. He considered these missiles a personal affront. The deployment of missiles in Cuba, the first time Soviet missiles left Soviet territory, is considered Khrushchev's direct response to U.S. missiles in Turkey. In his memoirs Khrushchev writes that he first came up with the idea of placing missiles in Cuba in 1962, when he was head of a Soviet Union delegation visiting Bulgaria at the invitation of the Bulgarian Communist Party Central Committee and government. There one of his comrades-in-arms, pointing toward the Black Sea, said that on the opposite shore, in Turkey, there were missiles capable of hitting the main industrial centers of the USSR within 15 minutes.

Khrushchev Proposal

On May 20, 1962 Khrushchev, immediately after his return from Bulgaria, held a conversation in the Kremlin with Foreign Minister Gromyko, Mikoyan and Defense Minister Malinovsky, during which he presented them his idea: in response to Fidel Castro's constant requests to increase the Soviet military presence in Cuba, to station nuclear weapons on the island. On May 21, at a meeting of the Defense Council, he raised the issue for discussion. Mikoyan was most opposed to such a decision, but in the end the members of the Presidium of the CPSU Central Committee, who were on the Defense Council, supported Khrushchev. The Ministries of Defense and Foreign Affairs were instructed to organize a covert transfer of troops and military equipment by sea to Cuba. Because of the particular hurry, the plan was adopted without approval - implementation began immediately after Castro's consent was obtained.

On May 28, a Soviet delegation consisting of Soviet Ambassador A.I. Alekseev, the commander-in-chief of the Strategic Missile Forces Marshal S.S. Biryuzov, Colonel General S.P. Ivanov, and Sh.R. Rashidov flew from Moscow to Havana. On May 29, they met with Raul and Fidel Castro and presented them with the proposal of the CPSU Central Committee. Fidel asked for a day to negotiate with his closest associates. It is known that he had a conversation with Ernesto Che Guevara on May 30, but the nature of this conversation is still unknown. On the same day, Castro gave a positive response to the Soviet delegates. It was decided that Raul Castro would visit Moscow in July to clarify all the details.

Contingent composition

On June 10, at a meeting of the Presidium of the CPSU Central Committee, the results of the Soviet delegation's trip to Cuba were discussed. After Rashidov's report, Malinovsky presented everyone with a preliminary draft of the missile transfer operation, prepared at the General Staff of the USSR Armed Forces. The plan called for placing two types of ballistic missiles in Cuba: the R-12, with a range of about 2,000 km, and the R-14, with a range twice as long. Both types of missiles were equipped with thermonuclear warheads of 1 Mt.Defense Minister Malinovsky also said that the armed forces would place 24 medium-range missiles R-12 and 16 intermediate-range missiles R-14, and leave in reserve half of the number of missiles of each type. The plan was to remove 40 missiles from positions in the Ukrainian SSR and in the European part of Russia. After these missiles were installed in Cuba, the number of Soviet nuclear missiles capable of reaching U.S. territory doubled.

A group of Soviet troops was supposed to be sent to Cuba to provide combat support for five nuclear missile units (three R-12 and two R-14). In addition to missiles the group included 1 Mi-4 helicopter regiment, 4 motorized rifle regiments, two tank battalions, a squadron of MiG-21, 42 IL-28 light bombers, 2 units of cruise missiles with 12 kt nuclear warheads with a range of 160 km, several batteries of anti-aircraft guns and 12 S-75 units (144 missiles). Each motorized rifle regiment numbered 2,500 men, tank battalions were equipped with the latest T-55 tanks. The Group of Soviet Forces in Cuba (GSVK) was the first army group in Soviet history to include ballistic missiles.

In addition, a group of the Soviet Navy was also sent to Cuba: two cruisers, four destroyers, 12 Komar missile boats, and 11 submarines (seven of which had nuclear missiles). A total of 50,874 servicemen were to be sent to the island. Later, on July 7, Khrushchev decided to appoint I. A. Pliev commander of the group.

After hearing Malinovsky's report, the Presidium of the Central Committee unanimously voted to conduct the operation.

Operation Anadyr

By June 1962, the General Staff of the Soviet Armed Forces developed a cover-up operation codenamed "Anadyr". Marshal of the Soviet Union I.Kh. Bagramyan planned and directed the operation. According to the drafters of the plan, it was supposed to mislead the Americans as to the destination of the goods. All Soviet servicemen, technical staff, and others accompanying the "cargo" were given skis and told they were going to Chukotka. Wagons of fur coats and sheepskin coats arrived at the ports to simulate the authenticity of their intentions. But despite such a massive cover-up, the operation had one major flaw: it was impossible to hide the missiles from U.S. U-2 reconnaissance planes that regularly flew over Cuba. Thus, the plan was predetermined that the Americans would detect the Soviet missiles before they were all assembled. The only way the military was able to find was to place several anti-aircraft batteries already in Cuba at the unloading sites.

Rockets and other equipment, as well as personnel, were delivered to six different ports from Severomorsk to Sevastopol. Eighty-five ships were assigned to move the troops. Not a single captain knew the contents of the holds or the destination before sailing. Each captain was given a sealed envelope to be opened at sea in the presence of the deputy political officer. The envelopes contained instructions to go to Cuba and avoid contact with NATO ships.

In early August, the first ships arrived in Cuba. On the night of September 8, the first shipment of medium-range ballistic missiles was unloaded in Havana; a second shipment arrived on September 16. GSVC headquarters was stationed in Havana. Ballistic missile divisions were deployed in the west of the island near the village of San Cristobal and in central Cuba near the port of Casilda. The main troops were concentrated around missiles in the western part of the island, but several cruise missiles and a motorized regiment were relocated to eastern Cuba, a hundred kilometers from Guantanamo Bay and the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay. By October 14, 1962, all 40 missiles and most of the equipment had been delivered to Cuba. The contingent of Soviet Army units stationed in Cuba numbered about 40,000 soldiers and officers.

In 1962, a CIA consultant was puzzled when he saw soccer fields on the Cuban coast, noting that Cubans played baseball, but Russians preferred soccer. By the presence of a soccer field, the CIA analyst even identified the possible location of a Soviet military base. But Kennedy demanded more proof, so he authorized the U-2 to fly over Cuba. The U-2 plane on a late-August flight took pictures of a number of anti-aircraft missile positions under construction, and on September 4 Kennedy told Congress that there were no "offensive" missiles in Cuba. In fact, Soviet specialists were already building nine positions at that time - six for R-12 and three for R-14 with a range of 4,000 km. Until September 1962, U.S. Air Force aircraft flew around Cuba twice a month. From September 5 to October 14, the flights were stopped. On the one hand, because of bad weather, on the other hand, Kennedy forbade them for fear of escalating the conflict if the U.S. aircraft were to be shot down by a Soviet anti-aircraft missile. The first flight took place on October 14 (until September 5, the flights were operated with the approval of the CIA, now under the control of the U.S. Air Force) - the reconnaissance U-2 of the 4080th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing, piloted by Major Richard Heyzer, took off at about 3 a.m. from Edwards Air Force Base in California. An hour after sunrise, Hazer reached Cuba. The flight to the Gulf of Mexico took him five hours. Heizer circled Cuba from the west and crossed the coastline from the south at 7:31 a.m. The plane crossed all of Cuba almost exactly from south to north, flying over the cities of Taco Taco, San Cristobal and Bahia Honda. The 52 kilometers Heizer covered in 12 minutes.

Landing at an air base in south Florida, Heiser handed the tape to the CIA. On October 15, CIA analysts determined that the photos were of Soviet medium-range R-12 ballistic missiles ("SS-4" according to NATO classification). On the evening of the same day this information was brought to the attention of the highest military leadership of the US. On the morning of October 16, at 8:45 a.m. the pictures were shown to the president. After that, Kennedy ordered flights over Cuba to increase 90 times, from twice a month to six times a day.

Developing possible countermeasures

After receiving photographs showing Soviet missile bases in Cuba, President Kennedy assembled a special group of advisers for a secret meeting at the White House. The 14-member group, later known as the Executive Committee (EXCOMM), consisted of members of the U.S. National Security Council and several specially invited advisers. The committee soon presented the president with three possible options for resolving the situation: to destroy the missiles with spot strikes, to carry out a full-scale military operation in Cuba, or to impose a naval blockade of the island.

An immediate bombing strike was rejected immediately, as was an appeal to the UN that promised a long delay. The only real options considered by the committee were military measures. Diplomatic ones, barely touched on the first day, were promptly discarded before the main deliberations had even begun. In the end, the choice was reduced to a naval blockade and an ultimatum or a full-scale invasion.

General Taylor, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and General LeMay, Chief of Staff of the U.S. Air Force, proposed an invasion. In their opinion, the Soviet Union would not dare to take serious countermeasures. In preparation for the invasion, the movement of troops to Florida began. The military rushed the president to order the invasion because they feared that by the time the Soviets had installed all the missiles, it would be too late. CIA intelligence on the number of Soviet troops in Cuba was already well below the real numbers by then. The Americans also did not know about the 12 Luna tactical nuclear missile complexes already on the island, which could have been deployed by order of General Pliev, the commander of the Soviet forces on the island. The invasion could have resulted in a nuclear attack on the U.S. landing party, with disastrous consequences.

It should be added that by the time of the conflict, the U.S. government was aware of the real ratio of nuclear weapons thanks to the materials of its agent Penkovsky. The pictures he passed on also made it possible to identify the types of missiles in the pictures they received. Thus, the Americans could have decided that Khrushchev was bluffing and reacted accordingly - in view of their multiple nuclear superiority.

The U.S. Congress insisted on intervention in Cuba. As early as September 27, 1962, Joint Resolution 230 of both chambers authorized the president to use military force against Cuba, and on October 4, 1962, the US Congress recommended that the US government intervene in Cuba with the OAS.

In any event, the idea of an invasion was criticized by the president: Kennedy feared that "even if the Soviets were not active in Cuba, a response would follow in Berlin," leading to an escalation of the conflict. Therefore, at Secretary of Defense McNamara's suggestion, it was decided to consider a naval blockade of Cuba.

On October 18, Soviet Foreign Minister Gromyko and Soviet Ambassador Dobrynin visited the U.S. president. According to some reports, Gromyko categorically denied the presence of any "offensive" weapons in Cuba. In his memoirs, he wrote that the conversation at that meeting was mostly about Berlin and other international issues, and that he himself had initiated the conversation about Cuba. Moreover, he said, the US president did not ask Gromyko about the presence of Soviet missiles on the island, nor did he make any assumptions about it, trying to provoke him. The presence of "offensive" weapons in Cuba was also denied by GRU officer G.N. Bolshakov, who had participated in confidential negotiations with the U.S. Secretary of Justice, President Robert Kennedy's brother.

Nevertheless, on October 19 another U-2 flight revealed several more mounted missile positions, an IL-28 squadron off the north coast of Cuba, and a cruise missile division aimed at Florida.

The decision to impose a blockade was taken at the final vote on the evening of October 20: President Kennedy himself, Secretary of State Dean Rusk, Defense Secretary Robert McNamara and the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, specially called from New York for this purpose, Adlai Stevenson, voted for the blockade.

However, according to international law, the blockade is an act of war, while neither the deployment of missiles in Turkey nor the reciprocal deployment of missiles in Cuba violated any agreements. Thus, the U.S. would be in the role of a war monger. Therefore, when such an option was discussed, there were fears about the reaction not only of the Soviet Union, but also of the international community. That is why the decision to impose a blockade was submitted for discussion to the Organization of American States (OAS). Relying on the Rio Pact, the OAS unanimously supported the imposition of sanctions against Cuba. The action was not called a "blockade," but a "quarantine," which did not mean a complete interruption of maritime traffic, but only an obstruction of arms deliveries. It was decided to impose the quarantine on October 24 from 10 a.m. local time.

Meanwhile, by October 19, U-2 footage showed four completed launch positions. Therefore, in addition to the blockade, the U.S. military command began preparations for a possible invasion at the first signal. The 1st Armored Division was transferred to the south, Georgia, and five general army divisions were placed on high alert.

Strategic Air Command has relocated B-47 Stratojet medium-range bombers to civilian airports and put the B-52 Stratofortress fleet of strategic bombers on constant patrol.


There were many problems with the naval blockade. There was the question of legality: As Fidel Castro pointed out, there was nothing illegal about the installation of missiles. They were, of course, a threat to the United States, but there were similar missiles aimed at the USSR in Europe: 60 Tor missiles in four squadrons near Nottingham in Britain; 30 medium-range Jupiter missiles in two squadrons in southern Italy (15 Jupiter missiles in one squadron near Izmir in Turkey (Çiğli Air Base). Then there was the problem of Soviet reaction to the blockade: Would an armed conflict escalate the response?

On October 22, Kennedy addressed the American people (and the Soviet government) in a televised address. He confirmed the presence of missiles in Cuba and declared a naval blockade in the form of a 500 nautical mile (926 km) quarantine zone around the coast of Cuba, warning that the armed forces were "prepared for any development" and condemning the Soviet Union for "secrecy and misrepresentation. Kennedy noted that any missile launch from Cuba toward any of the American allies in the Western Hemisphere would be considered an act of war against the United States.

The Americans received strong support from their European allies. The Organization of American States also voted unanimously in favor of a resolution supporting the quarantine. Khrushchev declared that the blockade was illegal and that any Soviet-flagged ship would ignore it. He threatened that if Soviet ships were attacked by American ships, retaliation would follow immediately.

On October 24 at 10:00 a.m. the blockade went into effect. 180 U.S. Navy ships surrounded Cuba with explicit orders not to fire on Soviet ships under any circumstances without a personal order from the president. By this time 30 ships and vessels, including the Alexandrovsk with a load of nuclear warheads and four ships carrying missiles for two MRBM divisions, were on their way to Cuba. In addition, 4 diesel submarines of Operation Kama were approaching Cuba. The Alexandrovsk was carrying 24 warheads for MRBMs and 44 for cruise missiles. Khrushchev decided that the submarines and the four ships with R-14 missiles, the Artemyevsk, the Nikolaev, the Dubna, and the Divnogorsk, should continue on their previous course. In an effort to minimize the possibility of a collision between Soviet ships and U.S. ships, the Soviet leadership decided to turn the remaining ships, which had not had time to reach Cuba, back home.

At the same time, the Presidium of the CPSU Central Committee decided to put the Armed Forces of the USSR and the Warsaw Pact countries on high combat readiness. All layoffs were canceled. The conscripts, who were preparing for demobilization, were told to remain at their duty stations until further notice. Khrushchev sent Castro a letter of encouragement, assuring him that the Soviet stance would not change under any circumstances. All the more so, he knew that a substantial part of the Soviet arms had already reached Cuba.

On the evening of October 23 Robert Kennedy went to the Soviet embassy in Washington. Dobrynin informed him that he was aware of instructions received by the captains of Soviet ships: not to comply with illegal demands on the high seas. Before leaving, Kennedy said: "I don't know how this is going to end, but we intend to stop your ships."

On October 24, Khrushchev learned that the "Aleksandrovsk" had safely reached Cuba. At the same time he received a short telegram from Kennedy, who urged Khrushchev to "be reasonable" and "comply with the terms of the blockade. The Presidium of the CPSU Central Committee met to discuss the official response to the imposition of the blockade. On the same day, Khrushchev sent a letter to the U.S. president, accusing him of putting "ultimatum conditions." Khrushchev called the quarantine "an act of aggression, pushing humanity toward the abyss of a world nuclear missile war. In the letter, the First Secretary warned Kennedy that "the captains of Soviet ships would not comply with U.S. naval regulations," and that "if the United States did not cease its pirate activities, the Soviet government would take any measures to ensure the safety of ships.

On October 25, at an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council, one of the most memorable scenes in UN history played out. U.S. Representative Stephenson accused the Soviet Union of having missiles in Cuba and demanded that Soviet Representative Zorin (who, like most Soviet diplomats, was unaware of Operation Anadyr) respond about the presence of missiles in Cuba: "Let me ask you one simple question: Do you, Ambassador Zorin, deny the fact that the USSR has and is placing medium-range missiles and launchers for such missiles in Cuba? Yes or no? Don't wait for a translation. Yes or no?" Zorin replied, "I am not in an American court! And so I don't want to answer the question that is being asked in prosecutorial terms. You will get your answer in due time!" Stevenson countered, "You are now in the court of world public opinion and can answer simply 'yes' or 'no.' You denied the existence of missiles in Cuba. I want to see if I understood you correctly." Zorin: "Continue with your speech, Mr. Stevenson. You'll get your answer in due time!" At this point Stevenson's aides brought enlarged aerial photographs of Soviet missile launchers in Cuba into the Security Council chamber.

At the same time, Kennedy ordered the U.S. Armed Forces to increase their combat readiness to DEFCON-2 (the first time in U.S. history).

Meanwhile, in response to Khrushchev's message, the Kremlin received a letter from Kennedy pointing out that "the Soviets had broken their promises concerning Cuba and misled him. This time Khrushchev decided against confrontation and started looking for possible ways out of the situation. He announced to the Presidium members that "it is impossible to keep missiles in Cuba without going to war with the United States. At the meeting, it was decided to offer the Americans to dismantle the missiles in exchange for U.S. guarantees to abandon attempts to change the state system in Cuba. Brezhnev, Kosygin, Kozlov, Mikoyan, Ponomarev and Suslov supported Khrushchev. Gromyko and Malinovsky abstained from voting. After the session Khrushchev suddenly addressed to the Presidium members: "Comrades, let's go to the Bolshoi Theater in the evening. Our people and foreigners will see us, maybe it will calm them down.

Fyodor Burlatsky recalled:

We were much calmer than the Americans. After all, we understood that Americans were civilized people, that they would not go to nuclear war, which could halve their population. The Americans, on the other hand, suspected us of being outlaws in a sense. But McNamara told me personally afterwards that on the 27th, in the evening, he thought: will I see the sunrise tomorrow? So they were more shocked than we were. Yes, and more informed. The press was buzzing, the population was preparing shelters.

Khrushchev's Second Letter

On the morning of October 26, Khrushchev set about drafting a new, less belligerent message to Kennedy. In the letter, he acknowledged for the first time that there were Soviet missiles in Cuba and offered the Americans the option of dismantling the installed missiles and returning them to the USSR. In exchange, he demanded guarantees that "the United States will not invade Cuba with its troops or support any other forces that would intend to invade Cuba." Khrushchev wrote:

You and I must not pull at the ends of the rope on which you have tied the knot of war, because the tighter we both pull, the tighter the knot will tighten, and the time will come when the knot will be so tight that even the one who tied it will be unable to untie it, and will have to be cut... Let us not only stop pulling at the ends of the rope, but let us take steps to untie it. We are ready for that.

Khrushchev drafted this letter alone, without convening the Presidium of the CPSU Central Committee. Later there was a theory in Washington that Khrushchev did not write the second letter and that a coup d'état may have taken place in the USSR. Others believed that Khrushchev, on the contrary, was seeking help against hardliners in the ranks of the leadership of the Soviet Armed Forces. The letter arrived at the White House at 10 a.m. Another condition was conveyed in an open radio address on the morning of October 27: Withdrawal of U.S. missiles from Turkey.

Secret negotiations

On Friday, October 26, at 1 p.m. Washington time, the White House received a message from ABC News correspondent John Scully about his meeting at Occidental with KGB resident in Washington, Alexander Fomin (real name Alexander Feklisov). The latter expressed concern over rising tensions and suggested that Scully approach his "high-ranking friends in the State Department" with a proposal for a diplomatic solution, warning that if the Americans invaded Cuba, the USSR might retaliate elsewhere in the world. Scully was instructed to do so, and - hours later - at a new meeting with Fomin, he discussed a possible way out of the crisis: removal of Soviet missiles from Cuba in exchange for lifting the embargo on the island and publicly renouncing invasion.

The U.S. leadership then informed Fidel Castro, through the Brazilian embassy, that if offensive weapons were withdrawn from Cuba, "an invasion would be unlikely.

Balance of power at the time of the crisis - U.S.

At the time of the crisis, the United States had the largest nuclear and conventional arsenal and numerous means of delivery.

It was based on SM-65 Atlas intercontinental ballistic missiles based in the United States. As of 1962 there were 144 of these ICBMs with 1.44 Mt W49 and 3.75 Mt W38 warheads. The missiles were deployed in three versions (SM-65D radio-controlled, SM-65E and SM-65F inertial-guided), and there were about 129 missiles on continuous duty, half of which were kept in protected underground silos (the rest were kept in above-ground or below-ground reinforced concrete shelters). The time required to prepare the missiles for launch ranged from 10 to 30 minutes. There were also about 60 SM-68 Titan-I ICBMs with a 3.75 Mt W38.

The arsenal of ICBMs was supplemented by PGM-19 Jupiter MRBMs with a range of 2,400 km. 30 such missiles were deployed in southern Italy and 15 in Turkey. In Great Britain 60 PGM-17 Thor missiles with similar characteristics were deployed.

The basis of the offensive power of the Air Force, in addition to ICBMs, was the fleet of strategic bombers: more than 800 intercontinental bombers B-52 and B-36, over 2000 bombers B-47 (combat radius - 3797 km) and about 150 supersonic B-58 (combat radius - 4167 km).

To equip them there was an arsenal of more than 547 supersonic AGM-28 Hound Dog missiles with a range of up to 1200 km and thousands of free-falling nuclear bombs of various equivalents. U.S. Air Force positions in Northern Canada, Alaska and Greenland allowed for transpolar attacks against the USSR.

The Navy had eight SSBNs with Polaris missiles with a range of 1,600 km, and 11 attack aircraft carriers, including the nuclear-powered Enterprise, capable of carrying A-3 nuclear-capable bombers. There were also nuclear and diesel submarines carrying a total of about 15 Regulus missiles.

An air defense system based on three lines of early warning airborne radars was deployed to defend U.S. territory. The extreme line, the DEW (Distant Early Warning) line, ran along the northern border of Canada. The main industrial areas, large settlements and strategic centers were covered by anti-aircraft missile systems MIM-14 Nike-Hercules and super long-range air defense systems CIM-10 Bomarc with nuclear warhead 7-10 Kt W40. MIM-14 Nike-Hercules were also capable of engaging ballistic missile warheads with nuclear warheads from 2 to 30 kt.

The air defense system was supported by a fleet of F-101 Voodoo, F-106 Delta Dart, and F-89 Scorpion manned interceptors, numbering over 3,000 with various types of guided weapons, including AIR-2 Genie nuclear air-to-air missiles. The interceptors were controlled by the SAGE semi-automatic ground-guidance system.

Ratio of forces at the time of the crisis - USSR

There were also about 700 medium-range ballistic missiles R-12 and R-14.

The Soviet strategic air force was weaker than the U.S. air force. Their core were intercontinental bombers Tu-95, 3M and M-4, about 1000, unable to reach the U.S. territory without taking off from the GDR, Murmansk Region or Kamchatka bombers Tu-4 (practical range with 3000 kg of bombs - 6200 km) and Tu-16 (combat radius - 3150 km). They were armed with cruise missiles with a range up to 600 km (X-20, power 0.8-3Mt).

The Soviet Navy consisted of 25 submarines equipped with nuclear ballistic missiles: five nuclear-powered Project 658 SSBNs and twenty diesel-powered Project 629 SSBNs. These submarines and their 650-km range missiles were less advanced than their U.S. counterparts, were quite noisy, and had surface launch missiles (three times shorter range), which exposed them to de-masking. There were also four nuclear-powered 659 and twelve diesel-powered 644 and 665 subs with 60 P-5 cruise missiles.

The Soviet air defense system was an object-based system based on extensive deployment of S-75 SAMs around only the largest guarded facilities. There were variants of missiles equipped with a special (nuclear) warhead. Such missiles were designed to engage multiple targets. Early warning capabilities were extremely limited due to incomplete radar coverage of Siberia. In arms, there were no SAMs with a range of more than 35 km.The system was supported by a fleet of fighters and interceptors Yak-25, Yak-27, Yak-28P, Su-7, Su-9, Su-11, Mig-17, Mig-19, Mig-21, numbering more than 5000 units with different types of guided weapons. The fighters were guided to their targets by the Vozdukh-1 automated fighter aviation control system. The Moscow air defense system (S-25, 56 regiments) was capable of repelling a massive enemy air raid involving up to 1200 planes. In the staff of Moscow air defense regiment S-25 were three missiles with nuclear warheads (power - 20 kt, killing radius - 2000 m).

Meanwhile, in Havana, the political situation became very tense. Castro became aware of the Soviet Union's new position and immediately went to the Soviet embassy. The commander decided to write a letter to Khrushchev to push him to take more decisive action. Even before Castro finished the letter and sent it to the Kremlin, the head of the KGB Havana residence informed the First Secretary of the message: "According to Fidel Castro, intervention is almost inevitable and will happen in the next 24-72 hours. At the same time Malinovsky received a report from General Pliev, commander of Soviet troops in Cuba, about the increased activity of American strategic aviation in the Caribbean. Both messages were delivered to Khrushchev's office in the Kremlin at 12 noon on Saturday, 27 October.

Actions of the American Navy in relation to Soviet submarines

On 27 October U.S. warships forced the surfacing of the Soviet submarine B-130 near Cuba, which they had discovered as early as 23 October. The submarine suffered engine failure and the batteries were discharged.

Also on this day U.S. sailors managed to make the Soviet submarine B-59 surface. Signal grenades were used to force Soviet submarines to surface.

The destruction of Major Andersen's U-2 plane

It was 5 p.m. in Moscow when a tropical storm broke out in Cuba. An air defense unit received a report that an American U-2 reconnaissance plane had been spotted on its approach to Guantanamo Bay. Captain Antonets, the chief of staff of antiaircraft missile battalion S-75, called Pliev for instructions, but he was not there. Major General Leonid Garbuz, deputy commander of the SDF for combat training, ordered the captain to wait for Pliev to appear. A few minutes later Antonets called headquarters again - no one answered the phone. When the U-2 was already over Cuba, Garbuz himself ran to headquarters and, without waiting for Pliev, gave the order to destroy the aircraft. According to other information, the order to destroy the spy plane could have been given by Lieutenant General Stepan Grechko, Lieutenant General of Aviation, or Colonel Georgy Voronkov, commander of the 27th Air Defense Division. The SAM was launched at 10:22 local time. The pilot of U-2 Major Rudolf Anderson died.

Captain Moltsby's U-2 flying over Chukotka

On the same day another U-2 under Captain Charles "Chuck" Moltsby, flying to the North Pole at 04:00 PM EST for a routine air search for traces of nuclear testing (which continued throughout the crisis - a 260-kt thermonuclear bomb exploded on 27 October on Novaya Zemlya), went off course and entered Soviet airspace in the Long Strait area. The results of the official investigation of the reasons for this have not yet been declassified, but according to fellow officers, the pilot himself explained that he forgot to turn off the gyrocompass from the magnetic compass (the magnetic North Pole was then near the Canadian island of Bathurst - more than a thousand kilometers from the geographic pole), and the northern lights prevented him from timely detecting the deviation from the course by the stars.

According to American information, around noon Washington MiG fighters were alerted from the Pevek airfield, but they were not able to intercept, much less shoot down a reconnaissance aircraft flying at an altitude of 22-23 km. The Americans intercepted Soviet radio communications and a pair of F-102 interceptors armed with a couple of AIM-26 Falcon missiles with 0.25 kt nuclear warheads was raised from Galina airfield waiting for Soviet bombers to attack. Finally the pilot was able to orient himself, turn to the east and under the supervision of the MiGs from (again according to American data) Anadyr airfield at about quarter past 2 (Washington time) left the Soviet airspace, and about the same time he ran out of fuel.

According to Soviet information, the intruder had been in Soviet airspace for 1 hour 22 minutes and two pairs of MiG fighters were airborne to intercept it. A pair of MiG-19Ps from the Anadyr airfield, one of which was joined to the target and escorted it for 18 minutes at an altitude of 16.2 km (according to Soviet information, U-2 was flying at 20.3-21 km) and a pair of MiG-17PFs from the Ureliki airfield.

Only after the hazardous situation was safely resolved did Strategic Air Command headquarters inform Secretary of Defense McNamara (at 1:41 p.m.), who informed the President (at 1:45 p.m.) and the State Department (at 1:47 p.m.) of the incident. He also recalled the U-2 4080th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing that had taken off for another round of air sampling, ordered an investigation into the incident and banned similar flights outside the US until it was over. The aircraft safely glided to Kotzebue and there landed at 14:25 Washington time, not only formally completing the collection mission, but thus setting an all-time record for U-2 flight time of 10 hours and 25 minutes.

A few hours later, two U.S. Navy RF-8A Cruiser photographic reconnaissance planes were fired upon by anti-aircraft guns during a low-altitude overflight of Cuba. One was damaged, but the pair returned safely to base.

Kennedy's military advisers tried to persuade the president to order an invasion of Cuba "before it was too late" before Monday. Kennedy was no longer categorically rejecting such a development. But he did not give up hope of a peaceful resolution.

Fidel Castro, who believed there was reliable information that the Americans were going to bomb Soviet bases in Cuba the next morning, suggested through Soviet Ambassador to Cuba Alekseev that Khrushchev launch a preventive nuclear strike against the United States, saying that the Cuban people were ready to sacrifice themselves to defeat American imperialism. Khrushchev responded by saying that "Comrade Fidel Castro" had lost his nerve, that negotiations with the Americans were going well.

It is generally accepted that Black Saturday, October 27, 1962, was the day when the world was closest to global nuclear war.

On the night of October 27-28, Robert Kennedy again met with Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin at the Justice Department building, as ordered by the president. According to Dobrynin's recollections, "Kennedy's office was a mess, with a crumpled plaid lying on the couch: the owner of the office had been intermittently asleep. Kennedy shared with Dobrynin the president's fears that "the situation was about to get out of hand and threatened to create a chain reaction." Robert Kennedy said his brother was willing to give assurances of non-aggression and an early lifting of the embargo on Cuba. Dobrynin asked Kennedy about the missiles in Turkey. "If that is the only obstacle to reaching the settlement mentioned above, the president sees no insurmountable difficulty in resolving the issue," Kennedy replied. According to then Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, the Jupiter missiles were already obsolete from a military point of view (although they had been placed on combat duty only two years earlier), but in private negotiations Turkey and NATO were strongly opposed to including such a clause in a formal agreement with the Soviet Union, as it would have been a sign of U.S. weakness and would have called into question U.S. guarantees to protect Turkey and NATO countries.

The next morning a message came to the Kremlin from Kennedy, which said:

1) You will agree to withdraw your weapons systems from Cuba under appropriate UN supervision and to take steps, subject to appropriate security measures, to halt the supply of such weapons systems to Cuba. 2) We, for our part, will agree, subject to an adequate system of UN assistance to ensure compliance with these obligations, to a) quickly lift the blockade currently in place and b) provide guarantees of non-aggression against Cuba.

At noon Khrushchev gathered the Presidium of the Central Committee at his dacha in Novo-Ogaryovo. The meeting was discussing the letter from Washington, when a man came in and asked Khrushchev's aide, Troyanovsky, for the phone: Dobrynin called from Washington. He relayed to Troyanovsky the gist of his conversation with Robert Kennedy and expressed his fears that the U.S. president was under intense pressure from the military. Dobrynin relayed verbatim the words of the U.S. president's brother: "We should get an answer from the Kremlin today, on Sunday. There is very little time left to solve the problem. Troyanovsky returned to the hall and read out to the audience what he had managed to write down in his notebook while listening to Dobrynin's report. Khrushchev immediately invited a stenographer and began dictating the consent. He also dictated two confidential letters to Kennedy personally. In one, he confirmed the fact that Robert Kennedy's message had reached Moscow. In the second, that he regarded the message as agreement to the USSR's condition for withdrawing Soviet missiles from Cuba - to remove the missiles from Turkey.

Fearing any "surprises" and disruption of negotiations, Khrushchev forbade Pliev to use anti-aircraft weapons against American planes. He also ordered all Soviet planes patrolling the Caribbean Sea to return to their airfields. To be sure, it was decided that the first letter would be broadcast on radio so that it would reach Washington as soon as possible. An hour before the broadcast of Nikita Khrushchev's message (16:00 Moscow time), Malinovsky sent an order to Pliev to begin dismantling the R-12 launch pads.

It took three weeks to dismantle the Soviet missile launchers, load them onto ships and remove them from Cuban territory. On November 20, convinced that the Soviet Union had withdrawn the missiles, President Kennedy ordered an end to the blockade of Cuba.

A few months later, the U.S. Jupiter missiles were also withdrawn from Turkey as "obsolete. The U.S. Air Force did not object to the decommissioning of these MRBMs, because by that time the U.S. Navy had already deployed the much more forward-looking Polaris SLBMs, which made the Jupiter complex obsolete, on submarines.

The peaceful resolution of the crisis did not satisfy everyone. Khrushchev's dismissal two years later can be partly attributed to irritation in the Politburo over the concessions Khrushchev made to the United States that led to the crisis.

The communist leadership in Cuba saw the compromise as a "betrayal" by the Soviet Union, because the decision that ended the crisis was made solely by Khrushchev and Kennedy.

Some U.S. military commanders were also unhappy with the result. For example, General LeMay, Chief of Staff of the U.S. Air Force, called the failure to attack Cuba "the worst defeat in our history.

At the end of the crisis, analysts of the Soviet and American secret services suggested that a direct telephone line (the so-called "red telephone") be established between Washington and Moscow, so that in case of a crisis the superpower leaders would be able to immediately contact each other instead of using the telegraph.

According to data declassified in 2017 by the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation, 64 Soviet citizens died in Cuba for various reasons between August 1, 1962, and August 16, 1964.

Historical significance

The crisis was a turning point in the nuclear race and the Cold War. An anti-war movement began in Western countries, peaking in the 1960s and 1970s. In the Soviet Union there were also voices calling for limiting the nuclear arms race and strengthening the role of society in political decision-making (in particular, Academician A.D. Sakharov, one of the developers of Soviet nuclear weapons, made such a statement).

It is impossible to say definitively whether removing the missiles from Cuba was a victory or a defeat for the Soviet Union. On the one hand, the plan conceived by Khrushchev in May 1962 was not completed and the Soviet missiles could no longer ensure Cuba's security. On the other hand, Khrushchev obtained from the U.S. leadership guarantees of non-aggression against Cuba, which, despite Castro's misgivings, were respected and are still respected today. A few months later, the U.S. missiles in Turkey, which Khrushchev said provoked him to deploy weapons in Cuba, were also dismantled. Eventually, thanks to advances in missile technology, there was no need to deploy nuclear weapons in Cuba or in the Western Hemisphere at all, because in a few years the Soviet Union already had enough intercontinental missiles capable of hitting any city and military facility in the United States directly from Soviet territory.

Khrushchev himself, in his memoirs, assessed the outcome of the crisis as follows: "Many years have now passed, and this is already the domain of history. And I am proud of the fact that we showed courage and foresight. And I believe that we won.

We, comrades, put missiles, medium-range missiles in Cuba. Why did we put them in, what made us put them in? We reasoned that the Americans can't stand Cuba, they say it outright, that they can eat Cuba. I was talking to the military, to Marshal Malinovsky. I asked: if we were in America's shoes, if we took a course for ourselves to break such a state as Cuba, how long would it take us, knowing our means?  - Three days at the most, and we'd wash our hands of it.

In 1992, it was confirmed that by the time the crisis erupted, Soviet units in Cuba had received nuclear warheads for tactical and strategic missiles, as well as nuclear bombs for IL-28 medium-range bombers, totaling 162. General Gribkov, who participated in the Soviet operation headquarters, stated that General Pliev, commander of Soviet troops in Cuba, had the authority to use them in the event of a full-scale U.S. invasion of Cuba.

The short duration of the Caribbean crisis and the extensive documentation of decision-making on both sides make it an excellent case study for analyzing state decision-making processes. In The Essence of Decision, authors Graham Allison and Philip Zelikow use the crisis to illustrate different approaches to analyzing state action. The intensity and scope of the crisis also provides excellent material for drama, as illustrated in the film Thirteen Days by American director R. Donaldson. The Caribbean crisis was also one of the main themes of the 2003 documentary The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara.

In October 2002, Robert McNamara and Arthur Schlesinger, along with other guests of honor, attended a meeting with Castro in Cuba to further explore the crisis and release declassified documents. At that conference it became clear that the world was much closer to nuclear confrontation than previously thought. Thus, it is possible that only the common sense of the senior aboard the Soviet submarine B-59 (Project 641) Vasily Arkhipov prevented a full-scale conflict.


  1. Cuban Missile Crisis
  2. Карибский кризис

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