28 Comments

  1. Poor guys… They were abandoned once the attack began, if I’m not mistaken. America screwed up again. If you want to topple Fidel Castro, you’ll have to use surgical bunker-buster airstrikes on his house at least twenty times and then level every airport and harbor of Cuba thrice over to the point where the Cuban military system is deemed useless.

    What I’m suggesting is that “There is no kill like overkill.”

    Johnson rifles were great for sniping, but I’m not sure one should use it in close quarters as it is a recoil operated rifle whose barrel should not get damaged in any way lest the operating mechanism fail… Not enough fore-stock for reinforcement if you do use that pig-sticker bayonet…

  2. Cuban paratroopers held a key crossroad for three days. They were supposed to hold it for 3 hours. Out of ammunition and begging for resupply, they were finally airdropped 10,000 rounds of .30-06 on that third day.

    They were armed with M1 Carbines.

    JFK gets a pass on most of this only because he was assassinated.

  3. The first shots fired in anger at the April 17 1961 landing were from the Texan Grayston “Gray” Lynch with a .30-06 BAR. Even as one of the agents assigned to liaison with the exile Assault Brigade 2506 and actually physically mark the invasion beaches, he found out there would be no U.S.-provided air umbrella during the landings… A fact he described as discovering “Superman was a fairy.”

    The plan was initially a guerrilla infiltration. The Cuban Revolutionary Armed Forces and militia were engaged in a counterinsurgency against anti-Castro militants in the Escambray.
    The plan changed to a WWII style naval landing designed to hive off a piece of territory *with an airstrip.* The idea was:
    Plan A: Castro is dead [a key component], the revolutionary state is thrown into confusion, there are uprisings here and there, the FAR and the MNR defect or refuse to fight or fail to mobilize effectively, the AB2506 links up to the main highway just outside Central Australia where the only telephone is, turn left, and march into Havana.
    Plan B: The airfield is held, an “exile Goverment” with Tony Varona is flown in by the CIA, a de-facto civil war in Cuba is presented to the world, and voilá, the United States and the Organization of American States that had just expelled Cuba announce to the world their intention to intervene to stop the conflict, and oust/eject Castro.

    Both of these plans failed utterly.

    “Why not just invade?” Because aggression would have come from the U.S. first during a Cold War in which the Berlin garrison was surrounded by Soviet forces. U.S. relations with Latin America would be damaged much as they were by the overthrow of Árbenz in Guatemala in 1954. Because the U.S. wished to avoid looking like the Soviet Union when it crushed Hungary in 1956…

    D-2 15 April 1961: Airstrikes designed to cripple the revolutionary air force, primarily the U.S. Lockheed T33 trainers fitted with .50 cal. MGs in the nose. The “plausible deniability” is that B-26 Invaders painted like the Cuban air force’s “bombed their own airfields before defecting.” Fair enough. How many aircraft? Way more than the actual number of Cuban B-26s. So the number of air craft was halved–halved!–to keep up pretenses. The CIA planes were type B models bristling with .50 cal. MGs. The Cuban’s B26 Invaders were the C version with plexiglass noses. The world is not fooled, the U.S. State Dept. look like a$$-clowns, Stephenson and Rusk go beserk about the plan.

    D-1 16 April 1961: Castro mobilizes the FAR and the MNR and openly proclaims the Cuban Revolutions socialist objectives. The country is put on a full war footing. The MNR and the pro-revolutionary CDRs and police round up TENS OF THOUSANDS of suspected anti-Castro folks in mass arrests. There will be no counter-revolutionary plots during the landings. Cuban air forces disperse to different air-fields, with pilots on stand by, one sleeping in a cot under the wing, the other sleeping in the cockpit.

    Jake Esterline CIA and Jack Hawkins USMC go see Richard Bissell CIA–“the smartest guy in the room” and tell him their doubts that the plan will succeed. They insist that air superiority is a must. Bissell hears them out, does nothing.
    The second air strike ahead of the invasion is srubbed/cancelled. Esterline and Hawkins go beserk. They tell General Cabell USMC to find some way to reinstate the air strikes. JFKs handlers offer the phone to both Bissell and Cabell, but both decline to “bother” JFK further.

    Result: Humiliating foreign policy disaster for the U.S. Imprisonment for AB2506, Cuban revolutionary victory after 66 hours of heavy fighting. To this day in Cuba 17-19 April 1961 celebrated as a defeat of “Yanqui imperialism.”

    A “perfect failure” in the U.S. Don’t forget that JFK followed up BofP with Mongoose, which convinced the Cuban leaders that a “Finland style” arrangement with the U.S. was impossible and that only direct Soviet forces could defend the island… Hence BofP led directly to the October 1962 Missile Crisis. JFK becomes a hero because the world was not destroyed in late 1962, so no one in the U.S. really cares much about the Bay of Pigs… Just some dumb CIA scheme that went awry…

    • What has “Central Australia” got to do with the ill fated invasion of Cuba. Whatever you’re smoking – it must be good!

      • In Cuban Spanish a “Central” is a vast sugar “ingenio” that draws its cane from a vast, sprawling sea of “cañaverales” including cane farms run by share-cropper “colonos” who supply cane to the mill in exchange for a percentage.

        “Central Australia” was where the only telephone existed in the region, and hence, served as Fidel Castro Ruz’s headquarters. Has much to do with the Bay of Pigs/ Playa Girón battle…

        • Thanks David and Bear – nothing like a good Cuban cigar!!! David, good explanation. Sometime an explanation is required as things can become a bit convaluted with so much background noise and jargon.

  4. Suite of small arms

    Castro FAR and MNR and PNR:

    9mm Sa.23 and Sa. 25 SMGs–Czechoslovakia
    7.62x25mm Tokarev PPSh41 SMGs–USSR
    7.62x45mm VZ52 rifles–Czechoslovakia
    7.62x51mm FN FAL rifles–Belgium
    left over U.S. small arms from Republic and Batista periods
    7.62x45mm VZ52 light machine guns–Czechoslovakia
    7,62x54r DP and DPM light machine guns–USSR
    7.92x57mm ZB53/VZ37 HMGs–Czechoslovakia
    12.7mm DShKM/M53 quad.50 AA guns–Czechoslovakia
    Mortars: 82-120mm Soviet
    Artillery and howitzers: 76-122mm Soviet
    T34/85 tanks USSR
    IS-2M Stalin heavy tanks in reserve USSR
    SU100 antitank guns USSR

    Assault Brigade 2506

    .45 M3A1 SMGs–USA
    .45 M1A1 SMGs–USA
    .45 M1928 SMGs–USA
    .30 M1 and M2 carbines–USA
    .30-06 U.S. M1 Garand rifles–USA
    .30-06 BAR automatic rifles–USA
    .30-06 M1919A6 LMGs–USA
    .50 M2HB HMGs–USA
    M20 89mm Superbazooka–USA
    M18A1 and M20 recoilless rifles–57mm and 75mm
    60mm, 81mm, and 107mm mortars–USA
    5 x M41 Bulldog Walker light tanks, 76mm M32 gun.

    • Thanks for the suite of small arms list, David. I definitely remember seeing a photo of Cuban troops (taken shortly after the guns were issued, I believe) with a vz.52 Czechoslovak LMG, an interesting gun that could provide a good subject matter for a future feature at FW. A good book on the vz.52 was published a few years ago in the Czech Republic, but unfortunately it is only available in Czech language.

    • Just noticed a little missing thing: to the bunch of small arms inherited from the Batista era, we should add the Dominican-made Cristobal .30 carbines, which are quite evident in period photos. The Dominican arsenal exported these nifty guns to several Latin American countries – the price must have been quite inviting, as the market was flooded with new and surplused M1 carbines in the immediate post-war years.

  5. My nice, original Model 1941 Johnson rarely produces a 3 MoA group, even with match prepped ammunition. A scope on a Johnson is a waste of time, a loose, worn M-1 Garand is a better shooter. The Johnson is well suited to duty as an impact weapon.

    Didn’t Fidel’s troops have Dutch made Armalite AR-10s as well? Immediately after the revolution they were combing the world for available small arms. I know they had a lot of M-1 Garands and Thompsons left over from the Batista era. Most of these were later distributed to Latin American revolutionaries.

    • Yes, during the Cuban Revolution, 1956-1959, the Cuban army purchased Dominican San Cristóbal .30 cal. carbines from Rafael Leonidas Trujillos’s Dominican Republic. By March 1958 the U.S. cut off all arms to the Batista regime over bitter opposition in many quarters, including the U.S. ambassador. Britain provided weapons and aircraft and tanks like the Cromwell. Much of this equipment was actually “red painted” U.S. WWII-vintage Lend Lease .30-06 weapons that did not work with the British .303 or 7.62x51mm service cartridges. This may have been the Interarmco provenance of some of the M1 Garands the AB 2506 carried.

      In the pre-1959 period, the San Cristóbal carbine earned a bad reputation from combatants in the M-26-7 as unreliable. After 1 January 1959-8 January 1959, when the Castro regime began to consolidate control and change the institutions of the state, these San Cristóbal carbines were typically given to guards and to members of the CDRs. There are images of Cuban women marching in support of the Castro revolution armed with these forgotten Dominican carbines. If you watch the old 1963 social realist “agitprop” Soviet-Cuban propaganda film _I am Cuba_ one can see these used by M-26-7 on film along with M1s, M1903s, etc.

      During the Bay of Pigs/ Playa Girón most of the regular FAR had the FAL and the MNR carried the VZ52 and Sa.25 9mm SMG.

      • Thanks for the details on the Cristóbal carbines in Cuban service. This is very interesting as it contradicts what I’ve read on the gun in a French language article and also elsewhere (generally praising the design as rugged and reliable).

      • Interesting side note; Two decades later, a substantial number of the FALs were passed on to the leftist guerrillas in El Salvador via the Sandinista regime’ in Nicaragua. To somewhat disguise their provenance, the Cuban national crest stamped into the right side of the magazine housing was cut out with an end mill, leaving a characteristic silver-dollar sized hole.

        They were still traced back by S/Ns, due to FN’s records of their sale to the Batista government to begin with.

        cheers

        eon

        • In terms of logistics, the Salvadoran FMLN were real pros. They got stuff from all over. Anecdotally, South Vietnamese ARVN M16 5.56mm rifles showed up in El Salvador while the gov’t. armed forces and Guardia and so on still had G3s. In Nicaragua, the Sandinistas had such M16s while the Guardia Nacional had U.S. M1s and Israeli Galils. Cuban FALs were not just delivered while Batitsta was in power. In fact, it appears most Belgian FALs with the Cuban escudo de armas came in during the 1959-1960 period. FALs with the escudo cut out in a crude sanitization scheme have turned up in El Salvador, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Colombia, and Chile.

          When Kokalis was in El Salvador he took photos of one, and possibly several such examples. By the 1989 offensive the FMLN in El Salvador had sanitized SVD rifles, Yugoslav RPKs, East German MPiKs, and all kinds of strange stuff like single-shot grenade launchers, Soviet two shot silent-pistols, RPGs with repurposed 81mm mortar bombs as warheads, you-name-it.

    • There was a lot of discontent in sectors of the population, but from 1960 on people had been leaving for exile in the United States, usually convinced that the United States would not allow the Castro revolution to persist for very much longer… Those who remained on the island were subject to an emergent police with CDRs watching every neighborhood. How many evaded mass arrest during the round ups ahead of the invasion is an interesting question.

  6. I SAW one of those B26s at an airshow at the Tamaimi Airport…at least that’s what the owner/exhibitor SAID IT WAS…but reading this, it fits!!! In the Army I learned the 4 Ps – Piss Poor Prior Planning….IIRC we wound up ransoming the captured Cubans for tractors & medicine a few years later…

    CB in FL

    • [butt strokes a cardboard cutout of Fidel Castro, my weapon is a Johnson]
      “Take that you bearded communist maniac!”

  7. Aircraft:

    FAR:
    6 Lockeed T33 trainers, each with 2x.50 Browning, probably 3 airworthy cannibalizing the others for parts.
    11 Douglas B26 C Invaders, probably 5 airworthy, two of those destroyed on the ground D-2 15 April. These can carry 6,000 pounds of bombs and mount four or more .50 Browning machine guns.
    14 Hawker Sea Fury aircraft armed with 12×76.2mm rockets and 4x20mm Hispano Mk.V cannon.

    The British had begun delivery of these Sea Furies to Cuba after the U.S. arms cutoff. The remainder had not been delivered when he fled and the M-26-7 with Fidel Castro took over. The Cuban revolutionaries asked the Brits not to send anymore Sea Furies, but to upgrade to Hawker Hunter Jets. The British Ambassador to Washington D.C. sent a ciphered telegram to Foreign Secretary Selwyn Lloyd regarding conversation with Alan Dulles–CIA–about the issue 24 November 1959:

    “[Dulles] volunteered that there was at present [November 1959] in Cuba no opposition to Castro who were capable of action. Abroad there were a number of Batista adherents who were trying to get into touch with the United States Administration, but they were, of course, worthless. [!] The most hopeful prospect might lie amongst people who had originally been supporters of Castro … [like Huber] Matos and the Chief of the Air Staff. …
    4. … he said that he greatly hoped what we would decide not to go ahead with the Hunter deal. His main reason was that this might lead the Cubans to ask for Soviet or Soviet bloc arms. He had not cleared this with the State Department, but it was, of course, a fact that in the case of Guatemala it had been the shipment of Soviet arms that had brought the opposition elements together and created the occasion for what was done [i.e. PBSUCCESS 1954]. …
    5. Summing up, he said that there was, of course, always the chance that Castro would get shot. [!] …”
    The remaining Sea Fury aircraft were sent, but no Hawker Hunter jets. The Sea Furies were very effective in disabling/sinking the exile flotilla ships Houston and Río Escondido and together with the T-33 jets, gained air superiority over the battlefield… This was much to the fury and outrage of U.S. Navy aviators of A-4 Skyhawks aboard the U.S. Aircraft carrier standing nearby….

    The AB2506 air force was the FAL–Fuerza Aérea de Liberación:
    16 Douglas B26B Invadors with 8x.50 MGs in the nose, napalm, bombs, and rockets. Many of these were shot down. Some of the pilots were from the Alabama Air National Guard as contractors. At least one of them, killed on the ground, was kept in a morgue in Havana until the Jimmy Carter presidency.

  8. Just a little off topic, but the Bay of Pigs fiasco came from having a few people in an administration who thought they were so smart that they had only to pull an all-nighter dorm room bull session to solve anything. Then other people in the administration thought they had to leave their mark on the project by tweaking this and adjusting that, usually in a bad way. You just have to feel awful about the brave and patriotic Cuban’s sent to their death by the half-baked plan.

    It was the same administration that decided to pull another all-nighter to solve the problem of state mental hospital budgets growing every year. The result, to put the mentally ill on disability checks, tell them where the Thorazine clinic is, push them out the hospital door, and wish them the best of luck, was not only bad for a good number of the mentally ill, but also untreated and unhospitalized paranoid schizophrenics became the gun ban poster boys in America.

    • What a bunch of idiots. Pulling all-night planning sessions instead of regular daytime meetings increases mental stress on people. If I’ve been through a long day and I decide to plan past midnight an invasion of Cuba, I will likely make big mistakes since I’m really stressed and tired. Engineers also make mistakes if they’re overworked, which is what killed Project Vanguard. What idiots! You’d think that some good night’s sleep would do them good.

      As for the gun ban due to improperly treated mentally ill people, I’m not surprised. Shoving the patients out the door put them and people around them in danger! Budget cutting is not a good reason for putting mentally ill people at risk. Common sense cannot comprehend politics…

  9. As a Cuban American and the Grandson of a 2506 vet. I weep for the lost freedoms of Cuba and her people. The Castro brothers are scum as are those that supported him. JFK and his brain drain idiots are also scum for promising support and then stabbing us in the back. I have an abosule haterd of Democrats and the current gaggle of Republicans are no better. In the end, it is nice to see that photo. I just wish my Aubelo was alive to see it.

  10. Lou:

    Your history is awry. The Bay of Pigs operation was designed from the start to be “plausibly deniable” by the USA. President Kennedy made it absolutely clear that he would never sanction direct US air support. If the operation had needed such support, it should never have gone ahead. President Kennedy was assured by the CIA that it would not be necessary. On that basis, he agreed to the plan. Not only did he never promise direct US air support, he made it perfectly clear that he would not agree to it. You cannot blame him for failing to do something he made it absolutely plain he would never do.

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