or a few days in April 1961, the US government kept up the pretense that the failed invasion at the Bay of Pigs was the sole doing of “Cuban patriots” seeking to overthrow Fidel FCastro. The cover-up went no better than the operation did. It soon became undeniable that the whole thing had been planned and conducted by the Central Intelligence Agency and that it was a complete disaster. Almost nothing went right with the assault-style amphibious landing of a “brigade” of Cuban exiles on the Cuban revolutionary forces set up southern coast of on April 17. a four-barrel 12.7 mm anti-aircraft Of the 1,400 that went ashore, more weapon at Playa Giron, Cuba. than 100 were killed and about 1,200 were taken prisoner. The ships carry- ing their ammunition and communi- cations equipment were sunk. Half of

62 JULY 2017 H WWW.AIRFORCEMAG.COM A BAY OF PIGS remote chance ofsuccess depended arose inthe liberation. to join Any man Cuban army until thepopulace head andhold out against the32,000- “harebrained.” theproject,do with itto be declaring Intelligence—would have nothing to tions andafuture Director ofCentral M. Helms, chief of clandestine opera- The idea was to establish- abeach official—Richard stances. CIA One best of circum underthefailed likely to have venture,fetched down. them were shot planes supporting the obsolete air It was afar- - - away but theCIAkept alidonthe him against thescheme. the Joint Chiefs of Staff for not warning Kennedy blamed also blamed the CIA. Kennedy andhisadvisors his advisors; trol. Kennedy CIAofficials blamed and the invasion. Castro’s to wreck airplanes survived altogether. Asaresult, enough of canceled thenext round of strikes bases. theeve oftheinvasion, On he vance against air strikes Castro’s air deniability—canceled half ofthead- andplausible onpolitical risk cused PresidentUS John F. Kennedy—fo- small airforce ahead oftime. Cuban to knock out Castro’s exiles on preemptive airstrikes flown by Large parts of the story leaked right of Largethe story parts All hands into shifted damage con- Three days before theinvasion, micromanaged by theWhiteHouse. byoperation run theCIAand It was ahalf-baked military JULY 2017 United States that inspeeches lasted for the hundreds. He out lashed against the political executed enemiesbysquads aid.His firing andmilitary for economic theSovietalliance with Union inreturn approval fast ashemade faded atrade Batistacorrupt regime in1959,but the United States whenhesupplanted the By JohnT. Correll THE CUBAN BRIGADE of whomwere incombat. killed the Alabama National Air Guard, four by Americans, from including airmen had oftheairstrikes flownsome been before public acknowledgment that secret files. Almost 40 years elapsed Cuban B-26s. were similar surplus, to USAF from purchased bytheThe CIA aircraft, during the Bay ofPigs invasion. down shot ers byCuban fighters The CIA oftwo wreckage B-26 Invad Castro was initially popular in the H WWW.AIRFORCEMAG.COM

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Photos: Granma archive; Granma archive; University of Miami Library Cidad CBB iertad AERIAL INVASION a toio OF THE BAY OF PIGS de los Baos aaa


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B F laa iro etalle erto Caeas a alle CFC C C hours. Cuba extended diplomatic rec- which some 40 The CIA was able to arrange for the ognition to Red China and North Korea. Cuban pilots with US Army special forces to train the The US public and both parties in commercial or ground crews. However, the official his- Congress demanded that President military experience tory of the operation noted “continuing Dwight D. Eisenhower do something. were selected for difficulties” with the Pentagon and the In March 1960—a month after Cuba further training in Air Force “concerning the utilization entered the alliance with the USSR— Guatemala. The of military personnel, particularly air Eisenhower approved a CIA proposal primary Brigade crews.” for “covert action against the Castro aircraft were me- According to the CIA history, Bissell regime,” including the training of a Bissell Jr. dium bombers pur- and his aides were “ready to joust with “paramilitary force outside of Cuba for chased from US Air Force surplus stor- higher echelons in the Department future guerrilla action.” age by Intermountain Aviation, a CIA of Defense” about airpower support At the CIA, the drive to oust Castro front organization. The CIA chose the when another option turned up. The was led by Richard M. Bissell Jr., the Douglas B-26 Invader—not to be con- Air National Guard was willing to help. deputy director for plans and heir ap- fused with the Martin B-26 Marauder A CIA cable in December 1960 reported parent to the aging CIA director Allen of World War II fame—mainly because that the ANG was the “most reliable Dulles, who mostly left covert opera- Castro’s air force had B-26s. and cooperative source of personnel.” tions up to Bissell. The Brigade B-26s were painted with Recruitment and training began Cuban colors and markings in hopes THE ALABAMA CONNECTION within the month for a group of an- that they could be mistaken for Castro A CIA representative went to Bir- ti-Castro émigrés who would be re- airplanes. CIA planners did not know mingham, Ala., to talk to Brig. Gen. membered to history as “the Cuban or paid little attention to the fact that G. Reid Doster of the 117th Tactical Brigade.” The CIA built an airfield and the Brigade B-26Bs had a solid nose Reconnaissance Wing of the Alabama training site at Retalhuleu, Guatemala, that looked nothing like the transpar- Air National Guard. The 117th was the in the Sierra Madre mountains near the ent nose on the Castro B-26Cs. last USAF unit to fly B-26s before they Pacific coast. There was also a staging The roster of the Cuban Brigade were retired from service in 1957. base, “Happy Valley,” at Puerto Cabezas eventually grew to 1,390 volunteers. Doster agreed to recruit volunteers on the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua, Its equipment included five M-41 to be advisors to the Cubans, fly some about 600 miles from Cuba. tanks, two landing craft owned by the transport missions, and maintain the The air arm of the Brigade was called CIA, and seven chartered commercial airplanes. They would wear civilian the Cuban Liberation Air Force, for freighter ships. clothing and carry ID with fake names.


Above: Three captured invaders—Cuban exiles—from the “Brigade” are guarded by Cuban forces. The CIA sent 1,400 men ashore during the invasion, and 1,200 were taken prisoner. Right: The four Americans killed during the raid. Ray Shamburger

Strict secrecy was to apply, and the rockets. It was a stretch to call them landing would trigger an uprising by participants could not even tell their fighters, but they were better than any- the Cuban populace. In reality, as a families what they were doing. thing the Cuban Brigade could put up. report by the CIA inspector general About 80 ANG members signed said later, there was “no intelligence up, some from Doster’s wing and MISSION CREEP evidence that Cubans in significant some from other states. Additional During the election campaign numbers could or would join the in- volunteers came from organizations in October 1960, Kennedy attacked vaders.” affiliated with the Air Guard. In all, the the Eisenhower administration for The Joint Chiefs of Staff were given CIA put about 130 of them on contract. “permitting a communist menace” to to understand that the mission was Two from the Alabama ANG—Lt. “arise only 90 miles from the shores of the CIA’s and the Pentagon’s role was Col. Joseph L. Shannon, commander the United States.” Soon enough, he to assist and support. Information was of the 106th Bombardment Squadron would have his own chance. tightly controlled. and his friend and operations officer, Upon taking office, Kennedy found In one instance, a JCS meeting was Maj. Riley Shamburger—joined the the CIA a good place to get advice. “If delayed until Gen. Curtis E. LeMay, CIA as full-fledged members. The I need some material fast, or an idea Air Force vice chief of staff substitut- others were employed by CIA cover fast, CIA is the place I have to go,” he ing for Gen. Thomas D. White, could companies. said. He considered Bissell “one of the be cleared for the briefing. LeMay When the first Alabama Guardsmen four or five brightest guys in the whole asked a question but was told, “That reached Guatemala in January 1961, administration.” doesn’t concern you.” they found 16 refurbished B-26s plus There was a big difference between In response to Kennedy’s request assorted transport aircraft waiting for the CIA’s proposal to Kennedy and the for a review, a JCS report said the them. They were outfitted with auxil- program Eisenhower approved the operation had “fair chance” of suc- iary fuel tanks to give them enough year before. The original plan was to ceeding. The actual analysis put the range for the round-trip to Cuba. recruit, train, and infiltrate guerilla probability of success at 30 percent. Castro’s air force consisted of 36 forces into Cuba. That had evolved The “fair chance” wording was in- airplanes, of which 18 were operation- into an overt assault-type amphibi- tended to mean “not too good,” but it ally ready when the Bay of Pigs inva- ous landing of almost 1,500 combat was interpreted as an endorsement. sion went down: six Lockheed T-33 jet troops. The report also said that with com- fighters, six propeller-driven Sea Fury Kennedy asked former Secretary of plete surprise and complete air su- fighters obtained from the British, and State Dean Acheson what he thought premacy—no Castro airplanes left at six B-26s. Castro’s best pilots were in of the latest CIA plan. “It doesn’t take all—the Brigade might last up to four Czechoslovakia at the time, training Price Waterhouse to figure out that days on the ground. on the MiG-21s that had been made 1,500 Cubans aren’t as good as 25,000,” It was impossible to keep the exile available to Cuba. Acheson said. In fairness, the CIA community in Florida quiet about the The key Castro airplanes were the never intended for the Brigade to take venture. A New York Times headline T-33s, vintage trainers that were out- on the Cuban army alone. in January 1961 read, “US Helps Train

fitted with guns and wing-mounted Bissell and others assumed the an Anti-Castro Force at a Secret Gua- and Tsukamoto Betsy Moore; archive Granma Mike by illustration Staff

JULY 2017 H WWW.AIRFORCEMAG.COM 65 temalan Air-Ground Base.” Kennedy complained that, “Castro doesn’t need agents over here. All he has to do is read our newspapers.” The critical factor was to destroy Castro’s airplanes on the ground. Prior to the invasion, Brigade bomb- ers were to strike the three major airfields, two of them near and the other at Santiago de Cuba on the eastern end of the island.

JFK CHURNS THE PLAN Despite the CIA optimism and exu- berance, Kennedy had his doubts, but rather than calling the operation off, he scaled it back by increments. The invasion was supposed to go ashore at Trinidad in central Cuba, a hotbed of opposition to Castro, but Kennedy decided that location was too “noisy.” On short notice, the landing site was moved 100 miles west to the Bay of Pigs. The planners did not know it was Castro’s favorite fishing place, or USS Houston, a troop and supply ves- that he was especially popular there. sel, was damaged by Cuban airpower Some on Kennedy’s staff were still and deliberately beached by its cap- fretful, as was Secretary of State Dean tain on the western side of the bay. Rusk. They wanted the least airpower and the lowest US profile possible. later that it had not been made “en- hours before the invasion and the air On April 14, three days before the tirely clear” that the whole operation strikes were to begin, the CIA dep- invasion, Kennedy told Bissell to re- depended on destroying Castro’s air- uty director, Gen. Charles P. Cabell, duce the attack on the air bases and planes. No air defense was provided stopped by the command post in Wash- make it “minimal,” with six airplanes for the Brigade, which would be starkly ington on his way home from playing instead of 18. vulnerable to any enemy aircraft that golf. Cabell, like Stevenson, had not Bissell was appalled, but grateful the survived. been told much, but with Dulles out of operation was not canceled altogether. On April 15, two days before D-Day, town, he was officially in charge. He decided that six B-26s plus two Cuban Brigade air strikes knocked out Cabell questioned the authorization spares would meet JFK’s intentions half of the combat airplanes at the for the air strikes and called Rusk to and sent that order to Puerto Cabezas, three bases. With any luck, a restrike check. Rusk, with Stevenson’s com- where the aircraft were deployed and to coincide with the landing on April plaints fresh in mind, called Kennedy waiting. Case officers on the scene took 17 would get the rest. Castro still had about Cabell’s question and added an- the liberty of launching all eight B-26s. two B-26s, two Sea Furies, and three other round of cautionary advice. Ken- Kennedy confidantes would claim T-33s left. nedy decided the strikes might not be a In yet another notion that went good idea after all and canceled them. afoul, a Cuban “defector” landed his B-26 in Miami, part of a contrived cover ON THE BEACH story that the air strikes were the work The first ashore at the Bay of Pigs, of disaffected pilots from Castro’s own around midnight, were a CIA case of- air force. Reporters quickly noticed that ficer and frogmen to mark the landing it was the wrong model of B-26. The channel. They were surprised to find machine guns, still sealed with tape, the way to the beach impeded by were mounted on the metal nose cone. reefs. CIA analysts, looking at aerial Castro’s B-26s had plastic nose cones photos, had identified them as seaweed and guns mounted under the wings. or reflections. At the UN, Ambassador Adlai Ste- The analysts had also predicted the venson—who had been kept largely beach would be deserted and quiet. in the dark—reacted impulsively and It was “lit up like Coney Island,” the President John Kennedy congratu- brandished news photos in support case officer said, with a beach party in lates Allen Dulles, retiring director of the cover story. When the Soviet progress. The landing craft, blocked of the Central Intelligence Agency, ambassador pointed out his mistake, by the coral, stopped 75 yards out and as he presents Dulles with the Na- Stevenson was embarrassed and furi- the invasion force struggled through tional Security Medal at CIA head- ous. He complained to Rusk. waist-deep water, carrying heavy quarters in Langley, Va., in 1964. Late in the afternoon of April 16, equipment, to get to the shore.

66 JULY 2017 H WWW.AIRFORCEMAG.COM Intelligence Cross, the Agency’s highest CASTRO’S AIRPLANES CAME AT medal for bravery. Even then, the fami- lies were asked to keep the information DAWN, ATTACKING THE LANDING to themselves. FORCE AND SINKING THREE OF Another 20 years would pass before the CIA admitted publicly what hap- THE BRIGADE’S SHIPS, DESTROYING pened at the Bay of Pigs. COMMUNICATIONS EQUIPMENT, SECRETS IN THE SAFE AMMUNITION, AND SUPPLIES. Dulles and Bissell were forced into retirement. In his memoirs in 1969, Bissell said that JFK’s cancellation of The Bay of Pigs was about four miles limited” air cover. What happened is the second air strike was “certainly wide and 18 miles deep, surrounded by still uncertain, but because of a mix-up the gravest contributory factor in the a thick swamp with the only access by between the CIA and the Navy about operation’s failure.” three gravel roads. The primary land- the time, Essex fighters were still on the Six months after the invasion, CIA ing was at Blue Beach, just east of the deck when the B-26s went in. Inspector General Lyman Kirkpatrick mouth of the bay. Secondary landings On the afternoon of April 20, with conducted an internal inquiry. His re- were at Red Beach at the top of the bay only a sliver of the beachhead remain- port said the CIA had “drastically con- and Green Beach, 20 miles down the ing, the landing force surrendered. verted the project into what became coast. C-46 transports dropped para- an overt military operation” that went troopers to seal off the swamp roads. FAMILIES IN THE DARK “beyond the area of Agency respon- Castro’s airplanes came at dawn, at- The Air Guardsmen returning to sibility as well as Agency capability.” tacking the landing force and sinking Alabama were ordered not to talk about It also said the CIA “tends to assume three of the Brigade’s ships, destroying the mission. In May, a lawyer from responsibilities beyond its capabilities communications equipment, ammuni- Miami showed up in Birmingham and and does not give sufficient consid- tion, and supplies. Green Beach was called a press conference. He said he eration to the ability of other depart- abandoned. At mid-morning, the Cas- represented a private group that sup- ments of the government to conduct or tro militia counterattacked in waves. ported the invasion and was there to participate in these operations.” The White House belatedly autho- arrange insurance payments to wid- John McCone, who succeeded Dull- rized B-26 close air support strikes for ows of four mercenaries shot down es as CIA director, gathered up copies the ground force on the beachhead, on a C-46 cargo mission off the coast of the IG report, destroyed most of but half of them were shot down by the of Cuba. them, and kept the others locked in T-33s and Sea Furies. The force at Red The Chicago Tribune quoted the a safe in his office. Between 1974 and Beach retired to Blue Beach on April lawyer as saying, “The men knew what 1978, Jack Pfeiffer, the CIA’s chief his- 18. Ammunition began to run short. they were getting into. It was a calcu- torian, wrote a five-volume history of With the situation growing desper- lated risk. If they came back, they had the operation. It was likewise critical ate, Bissell—supposedly without the a nice nest egg.” The widows were told and was likewise suppressed. knowledge of JFK—cleared American only that they would receive payments Peter Wyden had most—but not volunteers to fly combat missions. for the rest of their lives unless they quite all—of it figured out in The Bay The cable authorization said, “Can- remarried. of Pigs: The Untold Story, published not attach sufficient importance to Shamburger’s mother wrote to Ken- in 1979. Freedom of Information Act fact American crews must not fall into nedy and got a reply from his Air Force lawsuits by the National Security Ar- enemy hands.” aide, Brig. Gen. Godfrey T. McHugh, chive at George Washington University Eight Alabama ANG people, four who said that neither the CIA or any forced the release in 1998 of Kirkpat- pilots and four crewmen, volunteered. other government agency had any rick’s IG report, and in 2011 of three of Six B-26s, four flown by ANG pilots, information about her son’s disap- the five volumes of the Pfeiffer history. launched before dawn on April 19. The pearance. McHugh said later he had These documents, along with the two lead aircraft were hit but delivered not known any better. reporting of Warren Trest and Donald their ordnance and returned to base. Bits and pieces of the story leaked Dodd in Wings of Denial: The Alabama Lt. Col. Joe Shannon outmaneuvered out. Alabama newsman Albert C. Per- Air National Guard’s Covert Role in the a T-33, but Maj. Riley Shamburger, fly- sons, a civilian pilot who flew C-54s Bay of Pigs in 2001, finally brought the ing on his wing, could not. Shamburger in the operation, was not in the Air full account of the ANG involvement and his observer,Wade Gray,were hit by National Guard and did not feel con- to light. T-33 fire as they approached the target strained by the gag order. His story A final perspective on the operation area and went down at sea. was picked up by national newspapers was offered by Fidel Castro. Asked why Capt. Thomas W. Ray, flying with Leo and wire services, which reported that the invasion failed, he said, “They had Baker as his observer, was hit by T-33 American airmen had participated in no air support.” J and ground fire near a Cuban com- the final air strike and that four of them mand center northwest of the beach. had lost their lives. John T. Correll was editor in chief of Air They survived the crash but were killed The CIA did not tell the families Force Magazine for 18 years and is now in a shootout on the ground. the real story until 1978, when Sham- a contributor. His most recent article, The aircraft carrier Essex was in the burger, Gray, Ray, and Baker were post- “The Air Raid at Taranto,” appeared in the

area and authorized to provide “very humously awarded the Distinguished March issue. archive;Photos: Robert Granma Knudsen