In 1961, about 1,500 CIA-trained Cuban exiles launched the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba in a failed attempt to overthrow the government of Fidel Castro. In the photo, Lawyer James Donovan (R) in Miami after the return of the ransomed Bay of Pigs prisoners, which he arranged. Image credit: LIFE
What Went Wrong
The first major error occurred on April 15, 1961, when eight B-26 bombers left Nicaragua to bomb Cuban airfields. The operation failed to destroy the entire arsenal of planes, leaving most of Castro’s air force intact. The CIA had used obsolete World War II B-26 bombers, and painted them to look like Cuban air force planes. As news broke of the attack and American complicity became apparent after photos of the repainted planes became public, President Kennedy cancelled the second air strike.
On April 17, the Cuban-exile invasion force, or Brigade 2506, landed at beaches along the Bay of Pigs and immediately came under heavy fire. The planes left unharmed in the earlier air attack strafed the invaders, sank two escort ships, and destroyed half of the exile’s air support. Bad weather hampered the ground force, which had to work with soggy equipment and low stores of ammunition.
During the next 24 hours, Castro had 20,000 troops advancing on the beach and the Cuban Air Force continued to control the skies. As the situation grew increasingly grim, President Kennedy authorized an “air-umbrella” at dawn on April 19, which called for six unmarked American fighter planes to help defend the Brigade’s B-26 aircraft flying from Nicaragua. But the B-26s arrived an hour late (most likely due to time zone confusion) and were shot down by the Cubans. The invasion was crushed later that day. Some exiles escaped to the sea, while the rest were killed or rounded up and imprisoned by Castro’s forces. Almost 1200 Brigade members had surrendered and more than 100 had been killed. [jfklibrary.org]
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