Cuban Missile Crisis begins

Cuban Missile Crisis begins

The Cuban Missile Crisis begins on October 14, 1962, bringing the United States and the Soviet Union to the brink of nuclear conflict. Photographs taken by a high-altitude U-2 spy plane offered incontrovertible evidence that Soviet-made medium-range missiles in Cuba—capable of carrying nuclear warheads—were now stationed 90 miles off the American coastline.

Tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union over Cuba had been steadily increasing since the failed April 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion, in which Cuban refugees, armed and trained by the United States, landed in Cuba and attempted to overthrow the government of Fidel Castro. Though the invasion did not succeed, Castro was convinced that the United States would try again, and set out to get more military assistance from the Soviet Union. During the next year, the number of Soviet advisors in Cuba rose to more than 20,000.

Rumors began that Russia was also moving missiles and strategic bombers onto the island. Russian leader Nikita Khrushchev may have decided to so dramatically up the stakes in the Cold War for several reasons. He may have believed that the United States was indeed going to invade Cuba and provided the weapons as a deterrent. Facing criticism at home from more hard-line members of the Soviet communist hierarchy, he may have thought a tough stand might win him support. Khrushchev also had always resented that U.S. nuclear missiles were stationed near the Soviet Union (in Turkey, for example), and putting missiles in Cuba might have been his way of redressing the imbalance. Two days after the pictures were taken, after being developed and analyzed by intelligence officers, they were presented to President Kennedy. During the next two weeks, the United States and the Soviet Union would come as close to nuclear war as they ever had, and a fearful world awaited the outcome.

READ MORE: The Cuban Missile Crisis: A Timeline

The Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962

The Cuban Missile Crisis was a tense 13-day-long (October 16-28, 1962) confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union triggered by America’s discovery of nuclear-capable Soviet ballistic missile deployment in Cuba. With Russian long-range nuclear missiles just 90 miles off the shore of Florida, the crisis pushed the limits of atomic diplomacy and is generally considered the closest the Cold War came to escalating into a full-scale nuclear war.

Spiced with open and secret communication and strategic miscommunication between the two sides, the Cuban Missile Crisis was unique in the fact that it took place mainly in the White House and the Soviet Kremlin, with little or no foreign policy input from either the U.S. Congress or the legislative arm of the Soviet government, the Supreme Soviet.

Today in history, October 22: Cuban missile crisis begins

On this day in 1962, US President JFK addressed Russian missile bases in Cuba, imposing a naval blockade on Cuba and beginning the missile crisis.

A US administration official shows aerial views of one of the Cuban medium-range missile bases to the members of the United Nations Security Council. Source:AFP

Highlights in history on this date:

1859: Spain declares war on Moors in Morocco.

1862: Garrison in Athens, Greece, revolts, forcing King Otto I to resign.

1873: Emperors of Germany, Russia and Austria-Hungary form alliance.

1883: New York’s Metropolitan Opera House opens with a production of Gounod’s opera Faust .

1906: Death of Paul Cezanne, French post-impressionism painter.

1928: Andrew Fisher, three times prime minister of Australia from 1908 to 1915, dies.

1947: India and Pakistan begin a war over Kashmir.

1954: West Germany joins the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.

1956: Demonstrators in Hungary call for democratic government.

1962: US President John F. Kennedy addresses TV about Russian missile bases in Cuba and imposes a naval blockade on Cuba, beginning the missile crisis.

1964: French writer Jean-Paul Sartre rejects the Nobel Prize for Literature, saying it would reduce the impact of his writing.

French existentialist philosopher Jean Paul Sartre, who rejected the Nobel Prize for Literature on this day in 1964. Source:News Limited

1974: US and Iceland sign new lease permitting continued operations of US military bases in Iceland.

1979: US Government allows the deposed Shah of Iran to travel to New York for medical treatment, a decision that precipitates the Iran hostage crisis.

1988: Iraq announces it will release 25 Iranian prisoners of war in accordance with UN ceasefire resolution.

1991: Yugoslav defence minister rejects EC peace proposals as leading to �tastrophe” for that country.

1992: A UN-sponsored commission says it has discovered signs of a mass grave near the Croatian city of Vukovar.

1993: Haiti’s last major gas retailer orders its pumps shut after a UN-imposed oil embargo.

1994: A Maltese oil tanker breaks apart and sinks in the typhoon-churned South Sea, leaving 17 people dead or missing.

1995: Fidel Castro, in New York for the UN anniversary, receives a warm welcome from residents in the Harlem neighbourhood.

1996: More than 25 prisoners burn to death in a Venezuelan jail after guards fire tear gas canisters that start a fire.

1997: Statistics show that British consumer spending had its largest decline in six years, apparently because of gloom surrounding Princess Diana’s death and funeral.

The funeral of Princess Diana, which was thought to have influenced British consumer spending to decline. Source:Supplied

1999: Maurice Papon, the former Vichy official who fled France rather than face a 10-year-jail sentence for his role in sending Jews to Nazi death camps, is captured in Switzerland.

2000: Armed Islamic militants kill 24 people in Algeria. The deaths bring to 50 the number of people killed in the North African country during that week.

2001: A British Airways Concorde completes a round trip from London to New York, the supersonic jet’s first trans-Atlantic flight since service was suspended the previous year after a crash near Paris killed 113 people Hamas 𠇌ommander” Ayman Halaweh, accused by Israel of being behind deadly suicide bombings, dies in the West Bank city of Nablus when his car explodes.

2 003: USA Today publishes a leaked memorandum dated October 16 from US Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld to four high-level Defence Department associates in which he questioned the progress in the war on terrorism.

2005: A Boeing aircraft operated by Nigerian private carrier Bellview crashes in stormy weather shortly after takeoff from Lagos, killing all 117 people on-board.

2006: Former Democrats leader Natasha Stott Despoja announces she’ll quit federal politics when her term ends in 2008.

2007: Osama bin Laden calls for Iraqi insurgents to unite and avoid divisive 𠇎xtremism” in an audiotape apparently intended to win over Sunnis opposed to the terror group’s branch in Iraq.

2009: More than 300 people involved in a Mexican drug cartel are arrested in raids across the US.

2010: At least 150 people die when a cholera epidemic spreads in central Haiti.

Workers carry the body of a Haitian woman who died from cholera. Source:AP

2013: ACT passes same-sex marriage laws. The Commonwealth immediately lodges a High Court objection and the laws are thrown out on December 12, rendering several marriages invalid.

2014: Researchers say breathing polluted air in the first two years of life is linked to autism.

2015: Snakes invade Alice Springs in “huge numbers” during a burst of warm night-time weather — one serpent ends up in a household fridge.

2016: A father is charged with the murder of his two children — aged three and five — who were found dead in their coastal home in Perth’s north.

2017: British actor Rosemary Leach, of A Room with a View, dies following a short illness aged 81.

2018: The Federal Parliament offers a historic apology to survivors of institutional child sexual abuse.

Happy Birthday, Catherine Deneuve! Source:News Corp Australia

Catherine Deneuve, French actor (1943) Clover Moore, Sydney Lord Mayor (1945) Arsene Wenger, French football manager (1949) John Howard, Australian actor (1952) Shaggy, Jamaican reggae rapper (1968) Spike Jonze, American filmmaker/producer (1969) Michael Fishman, US actor (1981) Mark Renshaw, Australian cyclist (1982) Zac Hanson, pop musician (1985).

“Moral indignation is in most cases 4 per cent moral, 46 per cent indignation, and 50 per cent envy.” — Vittorio De Sica, Italian movie director (1901-1974).

Today in History – October 16, 1962 – The cuban missile crisis begins, F-100’s on alert

16 October 1962 – In response to the failed Bay of Pigs Invasion of 1961 and the presence of American Jupiter ballistic missiles in Italy and Turkey, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev agreed to Cuba’s request to place nuclear missiles on the island to deter a future invasion. An agreement was reached during a secret meeting between Khrushchev and Fidel Castro in July 1962, and the construction of a number of missile launch facilities started later that summer.

Meanwhile, the 1962 United States elections were underway, and the White House had denied charges for months that it was ignoring dangerous Soviet missiles 90 miles (140 km) from Florida. The missile preparations were confirmed when an Air Force U-2 spy plane produced clear photographic evidence of medium-range (SS-4) and intermediate-range (R-14) ballistic missile facilities.

When this was reported to President John F. Kennedy he then convened a meeting of the nine members of the National Security Council and five other key advisers in a group that became known as the Executive Committee of the National Security Council (EXCOMM). After consultation with them, Kennedy ordered a naval blockade on October 22 to prevent further missiles from reaching Cuba. The US announced it would not permit offensive weapons to be delivered to Cuba and demanded that the weapons already in Cuba be dismantled and returned to the Soviet Union.

Two Operational Plans (OPLAN) were considered. OPLAN 316 envisioned a full invasion of Cuba by Army and Marine units, supported by the Navy following Air Force and naval airstrikes. Army units in the US would have had trouble fielding mechanized and logistical assets, and the US Navy could not supply enough amphibious shipping to transport even a modest armored contingent from the Army.(1)

OPLAN 312, primarily an Air Force and Navy carrier operation, was designed with enough flexibility to do anything from engaging individual missile sites to providing air support for OPLAN 316’s ground forces. [61]

The 429th TFS who were previously assigned to Incirlik AB, Turkey was sent to Seymour Johnson AB, NC loaded with MK-83’s in response to the crisis.

After several days of tense negotiations, an agreement was reached between Kennedy and Khrushchev. Publicly, the Soviets would dismantle their offensive weapons in Cuba and return them to the Soviet Union, subject to United Nations verification, in exchange for a US public declaration and agreement to avoid invading Cuba again. Secretly, the United States agreed that it would dismantle all US-built Jupiter MRBMs, which had been deployed in Turkey against the Soviet Union there has been debate on whether or not Italy was included in the agreement as well.

When all offensive missiles and Ilyushin Il-28 light bombers had been withdrawn from Cuba, the blockade was formally ended on November 21, 1962. (2)

Cuban Missile Crisis

In October 1962, an American U-2 spy plane secretly photographed nuclear missile sites being built by the Soviet Union on the island of Cuba. President Kennedy did not want the Soviet Union and Cuba to know that he had discovered the missiles. He met in secret with his advisors for several days to discuss the problem.

After many long and difficult meetings, Kennedy decided to place a naval blockade, or a ring of ships, around Cuba. The aim of this "quarantine," as he called it, was to prevent the Soviets from bringing in more military supplies. He demanded the removal of the missiles already there and the destruction of the sites. On October 22, President Kennedy spoke to the nation about the crisis in a televised address.

No one was sure how Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev would respond to the naval blockade and US demands. But the leaders of both superpowers recognized the devastating possibility of a nuclear war and publicly agreed to a deal in which the Soviets would dismantle the weapon sites in exchange for a pledge from the United States not to invade Cuba. In a separate deal, which remained secret for more than twenty-five years, the United States also agreed to remove its nuclear missiles from Turkey. Although the Soviets removed their missiles from Cuba, they escalated the building of their military arsenal the missile crisis was over, the arms race was not.

In 1963, there were signs of a lessening of tensions between the Soviet Union and the United States. In his commencement address at American University, President Kennedy urged Americans to reexamine Cold War stereotypes and myths and called for a strategy of peace that would make the world safe for diversity. Two actions also signaled a warming in relations between the superpowers: the establishment of a teletype "Hotline" between the Kremlin and the White House and the signing of the Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty on July 25, 1963.

In language very different from his inaugural address, President Kennedy told Americans in June 1963, "For, in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children's future. And we are all mortal."


Despite the short geographical distance between the two countries, Cuba and the United States have had a complicated relationship for more than 150 years owing to a long list of historical events. Among all, the Cuban Missile Crisis is considered as one of the most dangerous moments in both the American and Cuban history. It was the first time that these two countries and the former Soviet Union came close to the outbreak of a nuclear war. While the Crisis revealed the possibility of a strong alliance formed by the former Soviet Union and Cuba, two communist countries, it also served as a reminder to U.S. leaders that their past strategy of imposing democratic ideology on Cuba might not work anymore and the U.S. needed a different approach. It was lucky that the U.S. was able to escape from a nuclear disaster in the end, how did the Cuban Missile Crisis affect the U.S. foreign policy in Cuba during the Cold War?

In order to answer this question, I will be focusing on three secondary sources. The first one is Edward Cuddy’s work “America’s Cuban Obsession: A Case Study in Diplomacy and Psycho-History.” The second one is “October Missiles and November Elections: The Cuban Missile Crisis and American Politics, 1962” by Thomas G. Paterson and William J. Brophy. The third one is “Trends: The Cuban Missile Crisis and U.S. Public Opinion” by Tom W. Smith. While these three works are all addressing the Cuban Missile Crisis, they contribute different perspectives that are useful for understanding the topic.

To begin, the Cuban Missile Crisis allowed the United States to reflect upon the application of the Containment Policy toward Cuba. This view was supported by Professor Cuddy’s work. He argued that the U.S. government had been obsessed with intervening in the political affairs of Cuba for a long time and the Crisis was a good example of that. [1] He believed that the U.S. should neutralize the Cuban obsession since American interventionism had been a big reason contributing to Cuban nationalism and Cuba’s decision to turn to the Soviet Union for an alliance. [2] He revealed that there were many myths held by Americans toward Cuba. [3]

As an Emeritus History Professor of Daemen College, Cuddy did a great job in presenting his arguments and destroying the myths that the U.S. public had toward Cuba. His use of point form when addressing the common myths was concise and easily understood. The quote “Who controls the past, controls the future: who controls the present, controls the past” was a great embodiment and summary of Cuddy’s view. The U.S. government could be controlling the view that the public held toward Cuba for the political purpose of increasing the support for the Containment Policy. An example of that would be some of the over-exaggeration of the evilness of Cuba or communism under the Castro administration. [4]

In contrast to the Cuddy’s work, History Professors Paterson and Brophy pointed out that the Cuban Missile Crisis had no significant effects on both the U.S. foreign and domestic policy during the Cold War. [5] To prove their points, they tried to conduct research on the effects of the Crisis by looking at the change in public opinion towards Democrats and Republicans from October to November in 1962. [6] Paterson and Brophy revealed that there was no direct relationship between the way the Kennedy administration handled the Cuban Missile Crisis and the voter turnout in the House and the Senate elections. [7] There was a mix of factors that determined the House and the Senate election results, and neither party benefited significantly from the Crisis on election day. [8]

Like Cuddy, Paterson and Brophy were clear on their arguments. It was great that they even included pictures and graphs to showcase the polling condition and research results. Yet, it was doubtful whether the result was able to conclude that the Crisis did not have significant effects on both the foreign and domestic policy. Since the research only focused on October and November, more could be done apart from collecting the polling result. Asking voters about their views toward the effects of the Crisis or extending the research period to at least a year would definitely be able to capture more of the effects of the Crisis. While Paterson and Brophy provided a new perspective on the Crisis’ effects, it was a pity that the conclusion was not convincing.

Cuban Missile Crisis: How Close America Came to Nuclear War with Russia

It was one minute before high noon on Oct. 27, 1962, the day that later became known as “Black Saturday.” More than 100,000 American troops were preparing to invade Cuba to topple Fidel Castro’s communist regime and destroy dozens of Soviet intermediate- and medium-range ballistic missiles thought to be aimed at targets in the United States. American reconnaissance aircraft were drawing enemy fire. The U.S. Strategic Air Command’s missiles and manned bombers had been ordered to DEFCON-2, one step short of nuclear war. In the Caribbean, U.S. Navy destroyers were playing a cat-and-mouse game with Russian submarines armed with nuclear-tipped torpedoes.

And then, at 11:59 a.m., a U-2 spy plane piloted by Captain Charles W. Maultsby unwittingly penetrated Soviet airspace in a desolate region of the Chukot Peninsula opposite Alaska. Flying at an altitude of 70,000 feet, the 11-year Air Force veteran was oblivious to the drama below. He had been on a routine mission to the North Pole, gathering radioactive air samples from a Soviet nuclear test. Dazzled by the aurora borealis, he’d wandered off course, ending up over the Soviet Union on the most perilous day of the Cold War. He was completely unaware the Soviets had scrambled MiG fighters to intercept him, and not until he heard balalaika music over his radio did he finally figure out where he was.

A former member of the Air Force’s Thunderbirds flight-demonstration team, Maultsby had enough fuel in his tank for nine hours and 40 minutes of flight. That was sufficient for a 4,000-mile round trip between Fairbanks’ Eielson Air Force Base and the North Pole, but not enough for a 1,000-mile detour over Siberia. At 1:28 p.m. Washington time, Maultsby shut down his single Pratt & Whitney J57 engine and entrusted his fate to his U-2’s extraordinary gliding capabilities. The Air Force’s Alaskan Air Command sent up two F-102 fighters to guide him back across the Bering Strait and prevent any penetration of American airspace by the Russian MiGs. Because of the heightened alert, the F-102s were armed with nuclear-tipped air-to-air missiles, sufficient firepower to destroy an entire fleet of incoming Soviet bombers.

On the ground, SAC commanders were frantically trying to retrieve their wayward reconnaissance plane. They knew Maultsby’s location, as they had tapped into the Soviet air-defense tracking network. But there was little they could do with this information: The ability to “read the mail” of Russian air defenses was a closely guarded Cold War secret. Pentagon records show that Defense Secretary Robert McNamara was not informed about the missing U-2 until 1:41 p.m., 101 minutes after Maultsby first penetrated Soviet airspace. He briefed President John F. Kennedy by phone four minutes later.

“There’s always some sonofabitch who doesn’t get the word,” was Kennedy’s frustrated response.

At 2:03 p.m. came news that another U-2, piloted by Major Rudolf Anderson Jr., was missing while on an intelligence-gathering mission over eastern Cuba. Evidence soon emerged it had been shot down by a Russian surface-to-air missile near the town of Banes. Anderson was presumed dead.

Historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. called the Cuban Missile Crisis “the most dangerous moment in human history.” Scholars and politicians agree that for several days the world was the closest it has ever come to nuclear Armageddon.

But the nature of the risks confronting Kennedy and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev have been widely misunderstood. For decades, the incident was taught in war colleges and graduate schools as a case study in the art of “crisis management.” A young American president went “eyeball to eyeball” with a Russian chairman and forced him to back down through a skillful blend of diplomacy and force. According to Schlesinger, Kennedy “dazzled the world” through “a combination of toughness and restraint, of will, nerve and wisdom, so brilliantly controlled, so matchlessly calibrated.”

Thanks to newly opened archives and interviews with key participants in the United States, Russia and Cuba, it is now possible to separate the myth from the reality. The real risks of war in October 1962 arose not from the “eyeball-to-eyeball” confrontation between Kennedy and Khrushchev, but from “sonofabitch” moments exemplified by Maultsby and his wandering U-2.

The pampered son of the Boston millionaire and the scion of Russian peasants had more in common than they imagined. Having experienced World War II, both were horrified by the prospect of a nuclear apocalypse. But neither leader was fully in command of his own military machine. As the crisis lurched to a climax on Black Saturday, events threatened to spin out of control. Unable to effectively communicate with each other, the two leaders struggled to rein in the chaotic forces of history they themselves had unleashed.

The countdown to Armageddon began on October 16, with his promise not to deploy “offensive weapons” in when Kennedy learned that Khrushchev had broken Cuba—a U-2, piloted by Major Richard Heyser, had flown over the island two days earlier and taken photographs of intermediate-range Soviet missiles near the town of San Cristóbal. Kennedy branded the mercurial Russian leader “an immoral gangster,” but the American president bore some responsibility for bringing about the crisis. His bellicose, but ultimately ineffective, attempts to get rid of Castro had provoked Khrushchev into taking drastic action to “save socialism” in Cuba. Kennedy imposed a military quarantine on the island and demanded the Soviets withdraw their missiles.

By October 27—the 12th day of the crisis—the two superpowers were on the brink of war. The CIA reported that morning that five of the six Soviet R-12 missile sites were “fully operational.” All that remained was for the warheads to be mated to the missiles. Time was obviously running out. The U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff presented the president with a formal recommendation to bomb the Soviet missile sites. A full-scale invasion of the island would follow within seven days. Marine units and the Army’s 1st Armored Division would hit the beaches east and west of Havana, along a 40-mile front, in an operation modeled after the June 1944 D-Day landings in France.

It is impossible to tell what would have happened had Kennedy accepted the advice of Air Force General Curtis LeMay and the other joint chiefs. But several things are certain. The risks of a nuclear conflagration were extraordinarily high. And the full scope of the danger was not understood in Washington, Moscow or Havana. None of the main protagonists—Kennedy, Khrushchev or Castro— had more than a very limited knowledge of events unfolding on a global battlefield that stretched from the Florida Straits to the Bering Sea. In some ways, World War III had already begun—aircraft were taking fire, missiles were being readied for launch and warships were forcing potentially hostile submarines to surface.

As Black Saturday dawned, Castro wrote Moscow of his conviction that an American attack on the island was “almost inevitable” and would take place in the next 24 to 72 hours. Unbeknownst to Kennedy, the Cuban leader had visited the Soviet embassy in Havana at 3 a.m. and penned an anguished telegram to Khrushchev. If the “imperialists” invaded Cuba, Castro declared, the Soviet Union should undertake a pre-emptive nuclear strike on the United States. In the meantime, he ordered his anti-aircraft defenses to begin firing on low-flying American reconnaissance planes. Castro declared that he and his comrades were “ready to die in the defense of our country” rather than submit to a Yanqui occupation.

The Soviet commander in Cuba, General Issa Pliyev, was also preparing for war. On his orders, a convoy of trucks carrying nuclear warheads moved out of the central storage depot at Bejucal, south of Havana, around midnight. By early afternoon, the convoy had reached the Sagua la Grande missile site in central Cuba, making it possible for the Soviets to lob eight 1-megaton missiles at the United States. Pliyev also ordered the arming of shorter-range tactical nuclear missiles to counter a U.S. invasion of Cuba. By dawn a battery of cruise missiles tipped with 14-kiloton warheads had targeted the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay from an advance position just 15 miles away.

Kennedy was blissfully unaware of the nature of the threat facing U.S. forces poised to invade Cuba. On October 23, the CIA estimated that the Soviets had between 8,000 and 10,000 military “advisers” in Cuba, up from an earlier estimate of 4,000 to 5,000. We now know that the actual Soviet troop strength on Black Saturday was 42,822, a figure that included heavily armed combat units. Furthermore, these troops were equipped with tactical nuclear weapons intended to hurl an invading force back into the sea. McNamara was stunned to learn, three decades later, that the Soviets had 98 tactical nukes in Cuba that American intelligence knew nothing about.

No one can know for sure whether the Soviets would have actually used these weapons in the event of an American invasion of Cuba. In a cable to Pliyev, Khrushchev had asserted his sole decision-making authority over the firing of nuclear weapons, both strategic and tactical. But communications between Moscow and Havana were sporadic at best, and the missiles lacked electronic locks or codes to prevent their unauthorized use. The weapons were typically under the control of a captain or a major. It is quite conceivable that a mid-level Soviet officer might have fired a nuclear weapon in self-defense had the Americans landed.

“You have to understand the psychology of the military person,” said Colonel-General Viktor Yesin, a former chief of staff of the Soviet Strategic Rocket Forces, when confronted with precisely this scenario. “If you are being attacked, why shouldn’t you reciprocate?” As a young lieutenant in October 1962, Yesin was responsible for preparing the missiles at Sagua la Grande for the final countdown.

There is at least one documented case of a Soviet officer contemplating the unauthorized use of tactical nuclear weapons on Black Saturday. Valentin Savitsky, captain of the Soviet submarine B-59, considered firing his 10-kiloton nuclear torpedo at the destroyer USS Beale as the latter attempted to force B-59 to the surface by dropping practice depth charges. Savitsky could not communicate with Moscow and had no idea if war had broken out while he was submerged. “We’re going to blast them now!” he yelled. “We will die, but we will sink them all!” Fortunately for posterity, his fellow officers calmed him down. The humiliated Savitsky surfaced his vessel at 9:52 p.m.

The unauthorized firing of nuclear weapons was only one of several dangers the world faced at the peak of the Cuban Missile Crisis. The very act of ordering armies, missiles and nuclear-armed bombers to hair-trigger states of readiness created its own risks, which increased exponentially as the crisis progressed.

Mishaps, accidents and near misses occurred on all sides. A U.S. F-106 carrying a nuclear warhead crash-landed in Terre Haute, Ind. A guard at an Air Force base in Duluth, Minn., mistook a fence-climbing bear for a Soviet saboteur, triggering an alarm to scramble an interceptor squadron in Wisconsin. A truck in the Soviet cruise missile convoy moving toward Guantanamo fell into a ravine in the middle of the night, convincing others in the convoy they were under attack. American air-defense radars picked up evidence of a missile launch in the Gulf of Mexico that was later traced to a computer glitch.

Mistakes and miscalculations go hand in hand with war. Some have far-reaching consequences, leading to the pointless squandering of blood and treasure, but they are unlikely to cause the end of civilization. Kennedy understood that a nuclear war is different from a conventional war. There is no room for error. A “limited nuclear war” is a contradiction in terms.

As Maultsby glided across the skies of eastern Russia, a debate raged in the White House over how to respond to a new message from Khrushchev, delivered over Radio Moscow. The Soviet leader had offered Kennedy a deal: The Soviet Union would withdraw its nuclear missiles from Cuba if the United States agreed to remove its analogous missiles from Turkey. Advisers urged the president to reject Khrushchev’s offer, arguing that acceptance would destroy NATO, compromise the American negotiating position and confuse public opinion. Kennedy remained open to the proffered deal.

“How else are we gonna get those missiles out of there?” he asked.

Kennedy’s decisions on Black Saturday were shaped by a lifetime of political and military experience, beginning with his service as a World War II U.S. Navy torpedo boat commander in the Pacific. One lesson he learned from World War II was that “the military always screws up.” Another was that “the people deciding the whys and wherefores” had better be able to explain why they were sending young men into battle in clear and simple terms. Otherwise, Kennedy noted in a private letter, “the whole thing will turn to ashes, and we will face great trouble in the years to come.” He was also influenced by historian Barbara Tuchman’s 1962 book The Guns of August, which described how the great powers had blundered into World War I without understanding why. Kennedy did not want the survivors of a nuclear war to ask each other, “How did it all happen?”

Bypassing his executive committee, or ExComm, the president sent his brother, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, to meet Soviet Ambassador to the United States Anatoly Dobrynin at 8:05 p.m. on Black Saturday. “There’s very little time left,” the younger Kennedy warned Dobrynin. “Events are moving too quickly.” If the Soviet government dismantled its missile bases in Cuba, the United States would end the Cuba quarantine and promise not to invade the island.

“What about Turkey?” Dobrynin asked.

The attorney general told the ambassador that the president was willing to withdraw the American Jupiter missiles from Turkey “within four to five months” but added that the U.S. government would not make any public commitment to do so—that part of the deal would have to remain secret. Although Bobby Kennedy did not set a deadline for a response from Khrushchev, he warned that “we’re going to have to make certain decisions within the next 12, or possibly 24, hours.… If the Cubans shoot at our planes, we’re going to shoot back.”

Like John Kennedy, Khrushchev had come to understand the limits of crisis management. At 9 a.m. on October 28— the 13th day of the crisis—the Soviet premier broadcast another message over Radio Moscow, announcing the dismantling of the Cuban missile sites. He also expressed his concern about the overflight of the Chukot Peninsula by Maultsby’s U-2. “What is this—a provocation?” he asked Kennedy. “One of your planes violates our frontier during this anxious time we are both experiencing, when everything has been put into combat readiness. Is it not a fact that an intruding American plane could be easily taken for a nuclear bomber, which might push us to a fateful step?”

Citing national-security considerations, the U.S. Air Force has yet to release a single document on Maultsby’s adventures. In the book One Minute to Midnight, this author was able to piece together his story from a family memoir, interviews with his fellow U-2 pilots and scraps of information discovered in other government archives. After switching off his engine, Maultsby glided for 45 minutes across the Bering Sea and was eventually picked up by the American F-102s. Maultsby performed a dead-stick landing on an ice airstrip near Kotzebue, on the westernmost tip of Alaska. Numbed from his 10 hour 25 minute ordeal, he had to be lifted out of the cockpit like “a rag doll.” (Charles Maultsby died of cancer in 1998.)

The “sonofabitch who never got the word” was fortunate to survive that day the White House called Black Saturday. So was the rest of humanity.

For further reading, Michael Dobbs recommends his own One Minute to Midnight (Knopf, 2008).

Originally published in the November 2010 issue of Military History. To subscribe, click here.

U.S.-Cuba Relations

Since Fidel Castro’s ascent to power in 1959, U.S.-Cuba ties have endured a nuclear crisis, a long U.S. economic embargo, and political hostilities. The diplomatic relationship remained frozen well beyond the end of the Cold War but moved toward normalization during the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama, whose policies were largely rolled back under President Donald Trump.

Fidel Castro establishes a revolutionary socialist state in Cuba after he and a group of guerrilla fighters successfully revolt against President Fulgencio Batista. Batista, who had been supported by the U.S. government for his anticommunist stance, flees the country after seven years of dictatorial rule. Castro gradually strengthens relations with the Soviet Union.

Castro nationalizes all foreign assets in Cuba, hikes taxes on U.S. imports, and establishes trade deals with the Soviet Union. President Dwight D. Eisenhower retaliates by slashing the import quota for Cuban sugar, freezing Cuban assets in the United States, imposing a near-full trade embargo, and cutting off diplomatic ties with the Castro government.

Executing a plan developed and approved by the Eisenhower administration, President John F. Kennedy deploys a brigade of 1,400 CIA-sponsored Cuban exiles to overthrow Fidel Castro. The Cuban military defeats the force within three days, after several mishaps disadvantage the invaders and reveal U.S. involvement. Despite the failed invasion, U.S. administrations over the next several decades conduct covert operations against Cuba.

The Kennedy administration imposes an embargo on Cuba that prohibits all trade. Cuba, whose economy greatly depended on trade with the United States, loses approximately $130 billion over the next nearly sixty years, according to Cuban government and United Nations estimates.

The Cuban missile crisis

The Cuban missile crisis unfolded over two weeks in October 1962, following the discovery of nuclear-capable Soviet missiles on the island of Cuba, off the coast of the United States. The presence of these missiles gave the Soviet Union ‘first strike’ capability and the American government was determined to force their withdrawal. The confrontation that followed took the two superpowers closer to war and nuclear conflict than at any other time during the Cold War.

Missiles discovered

On October 14th 1962, an American U-2 spy plane completed a relatively routine run over the island of Cuba, taking reconnaissance photographs from an altitude of 12 miles.

When the film was developed it revealed evidence of missiles being assembled and erected on Cuban soil. CIA and military analysts identified them as Soviet medium-range ballistic missiles, capable of carrying nuclear warheads.

The presence of these weapons in neighbouring Cuba meant the Soviets could launch attacks on locations in the southern and eastern United States. This would give the Soviet Union a first-strike capacity, giving cities like Washington DC, New York and Philadelphia just a few minutes’ warning.

Kennedy’s response

President John F. Kennedy was briefed about the missiles four days later (October 18th). By the end of the day, Kennedy had formed an ‘executive committee’ (EXCOMM), a 13-man team to monitor and assess the situation and formulate response options. EXCOMM’s members included vice-president Lyndon Johnson, Kennedy’s brother Robert, defence secretary Robert McNamara and other advisors from the military and Department of State.

Over the next few days, Kennedy and EXCOMM weighed their options. They agreed that the US could not tolerate the presence of Soviet missiles in Cuba. Diplomatic pressure on the Soviets to withdraw the missiles was also ruled out.

Advice from EXCOMM suggested the Soviets would respond poorly to belligerent language or actions. An offer of exchange, such as the withdrawal or dismantling of US missile bases in Europe, might make the Kennedy administration appear weak, handing the Russians a propaganda victory. Kennedy’s military hierarchs recommended an airstrike to destroy the missiles, followed by a ground invasion of Cuba to eliminate Fidel Castro and his regime.

Kennedy, now warier of military advice since the failed Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba, wanted to avoid a military confrontation with the Soviet Union. Instead, he authorised a naval blockade of the island. The US would draw a firm line around Cuba while seeking to avoid hostile action that risked triggering a nuclear war.


On October 22nd, Kennedy addressed the nation by television, announcing a “quarantine” of the Cuban island. He also said his administration would regard any missile attack launched from Cuba as an attack by the USSR, necessitating a full retaliatory response.

Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev described Kennedy’s quarantine as a “pirate action” and informed Kennedy by telegram that Soviet ships would ignore it. Kennedy reminded Khrushchev that the presence of Soviet missiles in Cuba breached an earlier promise by the Soviet government.

As per Kennedy’s orders, US Navy warships initiated their quarantine of Cuba. They allowed some small freighters through but stopped larger vessels for inspection, finding no military equipment. Meanwhile, American U-2s continued their missions over Cuba, flying every two hours. These overflights reported no pause or slow-down in the assembly of Soviet missiles.

War seems inevitable

There was no change in the situation after four days of quarantine. With the quarantine having no effect, Kennedy came under pressure from his generals to order an airstrike, in order to destroy the missiles before they became operational.

At this point, a military confrontation between the US and USSR seemed almost inevitable, which led to fears about a possible nuclear exchange. All levels of government hastily organised civil defence measures such as public bomb shelters. In most cases, these were capable of sheltering barely one-third of the population.

Some citizens constructed their own shelters and stockpiled tinned food and other necessities. Many gathered in prayer in their local churches. Others packed up their belongings and took extended vacations with family members in remote areas where nuclear missiles were less likely to fall. In Soviet Russia, press censorship meant most citizens were largely unaware of the crisis unfolding in the Caribbean.

Stalemate broken

War was averted and the stalemate broken by a series of developments across two days.

On October 25th Adlai Stevenson, the US ambassador to the United Nations, confronted the Soviet ambassador in the Security Council with photographic evidence of the Cuban missiles. Given their previous denials, this publicly exposed Soviet dishonesty during the crisis.

Around this time, the White House also received a backroom offer to resolve the crisis, passed to a Washington reporter by a Soviet agent. On October 26th, the US State Department received a long, rambling letter, purportedly from Khrushchev. This letter promised to withdraw the Cuban missiles, provided the US pledged to never attack or invade Cuba.

A follow-up message proposed a more direct exchange: the removal of the Cuban missiles, in return for the removal of American Jupiter missiles from Turkey and Italy. Kennedy agreed to this, provided the deal was not made public.

The arrangement was finalised on the evening of October 27th, though it almost fell through after an American U-2 was shot down over Cuba by a Soviet surface-to-air missile. Kennedy resisted considerable pressure from his generals to retaliate. It later emerged the Soviets in Cuba had fired on the U-2 without authorisation from Moscow.


The Cuban missile crisis was arguably the ‘hottest’ point of the Cold War. It was the closest the world has come to war between the US and USSR, nuclear war and annihilation. It was also a classic example of Cold War brinkmanship. As US Secretary of State Dean Rusk noted toward the end of the crisis, “we were eyeball to eyeball and the other guy just blinked”.

Information revealed years later suggested that the crisis could easily have deteriorated into a nuclear exchange. Several Soviet military officers were authorised to use nuclear weapons of their own accord, making Kennedy’s delicate handling of the crisis all the more judicious.

Soviet officers in Cuba were equipped with about 100 tactical nuclear weapons, as well as the authority to use them if attacked. Fidel Castro, convinced that an American invasion of Cuba was imminent, urged both Khrushchev and Soviet commanders in Cuba to launch a pre-emptive strike against the US. And during the naval quarantine, a US destroyer dropped depth charges on a Soviet submarine which, unbeknownst to the Americans, was armed with a 15-kiloton nuclear missile and the authority to launch it.

In the wake of the crisis, the Soviets reorganised their command structure and nuclear launch protocols to ensure military officers did not launch without explicit authorisation from Moscow. The White House and Kremlin also installed a ‘hotline’ – a telephone link between the two leaders – to ensure direct communication in a similar emergency.

“The die was cast when the president met with his Executive Committee in the Oval Room at 2.30pm. It was a long and, toward the end, an unexpectedly bitter session. The choices put toward Kennedy that afternoon were two: begin with the naval blockade and, if need be, move up the ladder of military responses, rung by rung or begin with an airstrike then move almost certainly to a full-scale invasion of Cuba… The president paused gravely before speaking his mind. He said that he preferred to start with limited action. An air attack, he felt, was the wrong way to start… Kennedy was still expecting a Soviet move against Berlin, whatever happened in Cuba.”
Elie Abel, journalist

1. The Cuban missile crisis unfolded in October 1962, following the discovery by US spy planes of Soviet missile sites being installed on nearby Cuba.

2. Missiles in Cuba gave the Soviet Union a ‘first-strike’ capacity. Unwilling to tolerate this, President Kennedy formed a committee to orchestrate their removal.

3. Considering all options from diplomatic pressure to an airstrike or invasion, EXCOMM settled on a naval “quarantine” of all Soviet ships sailing to Cuba.

4. The Cuban crisis and the US blockade carried a significant risk of military confrontation between the US and USSR, with the consequent risk of nuclear war.

5. The crisis was eventually resolved through a secret deal, in which the Soviets withdrew the Cuban missiles in return for the withdrawal of American Jupiter missiles from Turkey and Italy.

Cuban Missile Crisis Timeline

It is believed in history that the Cuban Missile Crisis was the closest that the world ever got to a nuclear war. At that time United States was on the highest alert possible and Soviet commanders in Russian army were prepared for a nuclear war and had installed their nuclear weapons in Cuba. The two national leaders, President John F. Kennedy and Premier Nikita Khrushchev, wanted that war was called off. They both knew it was not the right thing to do. However, even though the war was averted, it was not done on friendly terms.

There was an existing cold war after that. Also, the US was concerned about the stalling of the nuclear weapons in Cuba. They wanted to have it removed. Also another concern for the United States was that Russia was always ahead with their weapons and United States struggled to keep abreast.

Fidel Castro, who was the Cuban leader at that time, was also looking for a way out and to defend their island nation by being taken over by the US. Even America had keen interest in Cuba. After the Bay of Pigs attack was unsuccessful, Castro always anticipated a second attack. So, Castro approved the placement of nuclear weapons in the country on request from the Russian premier.

In the year 1962, the Soviet Union built the missile installation stations in a top secret mission in Cuba. It was strategically placed for an attack on the United States. When America learnt about this there was a Presidential meeting held. They debated over the consequences for a long time and the Kennedy decided to move the troops back from Cuba. Then the US president requested Russian leader to remove the missiles from Cuba and in turn they asked him to sign a letter saying that the United States would never invade Cuba. After the pact or agreement was signed, Russian leader ordered for the removal of the nuclear missiles from Cuba. This, however, angered Fidel Castro.

The tensions on the United States soil only eased after the announcement from Russia came that the installations were being dismantled. United States also mentioned that the Soviet Union bombers also have to be removed from Cuba. Russia also demanded that United States have to assure that they will not be invading Cuba. This entire events gripped the year of 1962 and it was one of the most tension filled year fro both the countries.

At the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis America and Russia were in a cold war. The terms between them were miserable. However, during the Cuban missile crisis the terms of the cold war almost forgotten by either party. In Cuba, things got heated up, and America and Russia came very close to a nuclear war. The world was threatened by the decision of both the countries. Several world leaders spoke to both Russia and America in light of the approaching nuclear war. More..

Cuban Missile Crisis begins - HISTORY

Today in 1962, the Cuban Missile Crisis began when a US Air Force U-2 spy plane captured photos of a medium-range ballistic missile site under construction near San Cristobal on the island of Cuba. There was no doubt that the construction materials and the missiles were Soviet in origin. From that October day and for the 37 days that followed, the world teetered on the edge of nuclear annihilation.

The real beginning of the crisis can be traced to Turkey. It was there that the United States installed 15 medium-range ballistic missiles earlier in 1962. These missiles were capable of hitting many of the population centers in the western part of the Soviet Union. The thinking behind this move is not clearly understood because by the 1960’s the American submarine fleet was more than capable of hitting the same areas with ICBMs. Regardless, the move into Turkey worried many of the power elite in Moscow.

In May of that fateful year, Soviet Premier Nikita Krushchev ordered the deployment of missiles to Cuba. These missiles could hit Washington, DC and were capable of taking out half of the strategic bomber airfields in the mainland United States. From Cuba, they would have to fly less than 20 minutes before hitting their targets. At first, advisors in the Kennedy administration thought that the Soviets would not move missiles into Cuba. The photographs of October 14th proved them wrong.

On the evening of October 22nd, President Kennedy addressed the world and told the Soviets directly that any attack on the United States from Cuba would be considered Soviet in nature and would be dealt with accordingly. He placed a naval blockade (then called a “quarantine”) around the island to inspect all ships coming into the area. Behind the closed doors of the White House, all options were on the table, including invasion. Troops were moved into position in Florida to await the signal to go.

Ultimately, it was the Soviets who blinked first. On October 26th and 27th, Moscow issued two demands: a US guarantee that no invasion of Cuba would take place and that the American ballistic missiles in Turkey be removed. In return, the Soviets would remove her missiles from Cuban soil. The US agreed to the terms and ended the blockade on November 20th.

It was not learned until 1992 that Soviet forces in Cuba not only had nuclear weapons mounted atop ballistic missiles, but tactical nuclear weapons as well. Any attempted invasion would likely have resulted in a local nuclear exchange which could’ve easily spread into a worldwide war.

Nikita Krushchev’s political career came to an end a few years after the end of the crisis, mainly due to what was seen as his inept handling of the matter. John Kennedy was assassinated on November 22 of the following year.

Watch the video: Η Κρίση των πυραύλων της Κούβας (January 2022).