110. After Action Report0
MR. ROBERTSONʼS REPORT OF ACTIVITIES ON BARBARA J
The writer was Operations Officer on the Barbara J. The Barbara J. is an LCI fitted with eight .50 cal machine guns, three .30 machine guns, a 75mm recoilless rifle, and a 57mm recoilless rifle, plus various automatic [Page 250] hand carried weapons. The job for the Barbara J during the operation was as follows:
- The Barbara J was to escort the transport ship Houston into Bahia Cochinos to Red Beach. The Houston had aboard the 2nd and 5th Battalions Reinforced.
- The Barbara J was to spot the Houston offshore, while the Barbara Jʼs beach reconnaissance team reconnoitered the beach and set light markers at each flank of a suitable landing site.
- The Barbara J was to provide gunfire support when necessary and assist in the unloading of the Houstonʼs men and supplies at Red Beach.
- When the beach was considered in good shape, the Barbara J was to escort the Houston out of Bahia Cochinos and proceed to patrol the beach from Green Beach eastward for five miles, engaging any enemy sea or road convoys heading toward Green Beach.
- The Barbara J was to engage in any harassment operations which would confuse the enemy and help our own forces.
The objective of the 2nd Battalion on Red Beach was to secure the beachhead, proceed northward to Sopillar airstrip, link up with the paratroopers, and proceed to Objective A on the railroad at 82.0-72.0 on the 1:50,000 map. The objective of the 5th Battalion was to land behind the 2nd Battalion and take over and safeguard the beachhead.
At 2330 on D-1 the Barbara J and the Houston separated from the major convoy on schedule. At 0115 on D-Day the Barbara J and the Houston were on station opposite Red Beach. One Barbara J small boat with radio was dispatched to stand by with the Houston. The other small boat with the reconnaissance team and the writer proceeded ashore to the right of Red Beach and scouted and marked the right flank without being detected. Then the team proceeded by water to the point which was to be the left flank of Red Beach and discovered the point was occupied by enemy men. The 2nd Battalion commander was asked to notify us when he was within ten minutes of dispatching his first wave to the Beach. When the Battalion commander signified he was ready, the recon team approached the point. At about 30 yards off the point four or five machine guns and submachine guns opened fire on the recon boat. The recon boat returned fire and silenced these guns. The recon boat backed up to approximately 100 yards off the point and marked the left flank with a blinking flashlight towards sea. The first forty soldiers landed without opposition, though sporadic fire started as soon as they had landed ashore. This fire was their initial contact with the 50 militiamen in the village at the time of the landing.
Within twenty minutes of the reconnaissance teamʼs initial contact with the enemy, six or seven trucks were seen entering the area from the left flank. The writer called for supporting fire from the Barbara J. The Barbara Jʼs first shots hit the lead truck and threw the convoy into darkness [Page 251] and confusion and apparently helped delay the convoyʼs arrival at Red Beach until later in the morning.
The reconnaissance group proceeded then to help in landing the troops. These troops were landed with approximately two units of fire and a minimum of equipment other than their personal weapons and the unit weapons. The unit weapons we succeeded in getting ashore were four .30 cal light machine guns, four 81mm mortars, and four 57mm recoilless rifles, plus 3.5 rocket launchers. On the second trip to Red Beach, our boat was hit by machine gun fire coming from about 200 yards left of the Red Beach left flank. One man in the boat was killed. On arrival at the beach this second trip, the writer sent for a representative of the 2nd Battalion command post, and between the two, an airstrike plan was set up in the event that communication might be out when the daylight airstrike arrived. In the plan, the aircraft would take on any targets moving along the beach towards Red Beach or along the road from the north towards Red Beach, and at first daylight the 2nd Battalion commander would send a well-briefed officer to the beach carrying a red flag for further conference with the writer. The commanding officer at this conference requested that future landing craft be landed nearer the right flank of the beach in as much as all enemy activity to date was being encountered from the left. There were explosions within the beachhead at this time which the writer took to be incoming mortar fire with some light calibre.
During this period, some .50 cal machinegun fire was directed at the Barbara J. The Barbara J was lying about 500 yards offshore and the Barbara J engaged this machine gun and silenced it.
The Houston reported that there were no small boats, so our recon team tied onto one of the Barbara Jʼs rubber boats to the lee side of the Houston where we found seven or eight small aluminum boats huddled with no troop movement going on. The writer climbed aboard and got a boat-load and a half of soldiers off-loaded before being stopped by a Cuban believed to be the 5th Battalion Commander. The writer believes that this manʼs intention was to wait until first daylight before continuing off-loading the 5th Battalion. At this point, 270 soldiers had been off-loaded. This was the 2nd Battalion Reinforced and the weapons company from the 5th Battalion and the Assistant Brigade Commander.
On the trip into shore, first daylight had arrived and at approximately 6 oʼclock a B-26 appeared low and machine-gunned our small boat without success on this first run. When he came again we turned our small weapons and the weapons of all the soldiers in the small boat and fired back at him. On this pass the B-26 wounded one soldier with a freak shot that passed through another manʼs weapon before hitting the soldier. On the third pass of the B-26, he immediately, after passing over [Page 252] head, started smoking and wobbling and soon went down over land with one survivor parachuting out.
A second B-26 appeared and started after the Barbara J and Houston. He strafed and dropped two large bombs, both misses. The Barbara Jʼs skipper was circling the Houston tightly and bringing all her firepower in support of the Houston during this action.
At this point, our cargo planes bearing paratroopers and accompanied by two friendly B-26ʼs arrived in the area and the enemy aircraft departed. At the departure of our aircraft, we were attacked by a fighter plane which I believe was a Sea Fury. The skipper of the Barbara J decided to disperse until our air cover had better control and so moved the Barbara J and the Houston away from Red Beach about five miles.
The writer suggests that the following is a likely account of the short history of Red Beach. The account is compiled from observation and interrogation of survivors. Very little action occurred at Red Beach before daylight. Most of the shooting was our own. The air attack at daybreak, which included bombing and strafing the beachhead, damaged nothing important. At approximately 1000 a truck-mounted attack from the north involving 500 or 600 militia was broken up by Red Beach forces. This was accomplished with small losses to our forces and considerable loss to the milita. Fifty to seventy of the militia were captured, most of which were willing to join the Red Beach forces. The paratroopers were apparently engaged immediately upon landing, and link between the paratroopers and Red Beach forces was not accomplished. At 1400 on D-Day, another attack was made from the north involving 1,500 militia. An unknown amount were destroyed en route to this battle by a friendly B-26. Two of our own tanks which had been sent up from Blue Beach assisted in stopping this attack. From all accounts, this force was well handled by our forces, and we claimed 1,000 casualties were inflicted. Seven tanks, which arrived after midnight were engaged by our 57mm recoilless rifles and 3.5 rockets, and five were destroyed. On D+1 an orderly withdrawal to Blue Beach was effected, since Red Beach was out of ammunition. Red Beach losses at this time were 25 dead, and an unknown amount wounded. The wounded were carried to Blue Beach.
On arrival at Blue Beach, the 2nd Battalion was put into the Blue Beach defense line which had been comparatively quiet till this point. In the afternoon, a battle started which put 1,500 militiamen against the 2nd Battalion. This battle lasted all night. The following morning an attempt was made to regain Red Beach, but the 2nd Battalion encountered tanks, trucks, troops, and artillery, and it is believed, did not reach Red Beach. The heavy mortars supported the 2nd Battalion until out of ammunition. Two tanks which were supporting the 2nd Battalion were returned to Blue Beach damaged by this action. It is believed that the 2nd Battalion was lost with Blue Beach.[Page 253]
At the time when the skipper of the Barbara J ordered the dispersal of the convoy, a B-26 arrived requesting targets for his bombs at Red Beach. He was instructed to go to Objective A on the north road and engage any mobile forces moving towards Red Beach. He located a convoy moving into Red Beach with blue marked trucks and was refrained from interfering with this convoy since it was known to be ours.
At this point the skipper of the Barbara J turned the convoy back towards Red Beach. The Barbara J and the Houston arrived off the point Carazones. When a T-33 jet arrived and strafed and fired rockets, with near misses for the Barbara J and hits on the Houston, a welded seam on the Barbara J was split, causing the Barbara J to take water at the rate of four feet each two and a half hours. The Houston announced the loss of their steering capability, and was at this time headed towards the beach. The skipper of the Barbara J ordered the Houston to reverse engines and back away from the beach. The Houston attempted to do this, but was observed to begin sinking rapidly by the stern. At the same time another Sea Fury started attacking the Houston. Gasoline was covering the water all around both ships, and the Houston reversed its engines again and made straight into the shore, grounding about 100 yards off-shore. As she struck shore, men were seen diving over the side in life jackets. The Sea Fury continued its strafing runs against the ship and the men in the water. From subsequent reports, we believe from seven to twenty men were killed in the strafing, and ten drowned from inability to swim. The Barbara J had no small boats; the Houston didnʼt attempt to use its three small boats. There was speculation as to whether we should attempt an evacuation, but this was tempered by the idea that the occupants of the Houston were scheduled to go ashore with the possibility that they could make a tie-up at Red Beach. The Barbara J was ordered to move to the Blue Beach to provide protection for the unloading operations there, the ships at Blue Beach being under air attack also.
From interrogation of survivors, it is learned that the Houston group proceeded towards Red Beach, but the scouts observed militiamen, and the entire group withdrew to the swamp. My last radio contact with this group was an announcement by the 5th Battalion Commander that he had successfully regrouped 1-1/2 miles west of the sunken ship. Information on his position was requested for an intended air supply drop. Within a half hour he was under attack. His request was for small boats so that he could strip the Houston of necessary supplies. Arrangements were made for RB-12 rubber boats and paddles to be dropped at first darkness. Within a half hour after this arrangement, the Houston was under attack and apparently the enemy was trying to split it up. I feel that our voice communication was being monitored. The folowing night an enemy patrol craft approached the Houston and landed five militiamen. These five were attacked by the survivors of the Houston. Two militiamen [Page 254] were killed and three taken prisoners. The three prisoners were executed because of the logistical problems they made for the survivors. On the 19th the skipper of the Houston, the 5th Battalion Commander, five 5th Battalion officers, the Chaplain, and three doctors left the beach in the captured patrol craft, bidding their men to scatter and make out for themselves. This might indicate a reason why the 5th Battalion seemed reluctant to go ashore at Red Beach. Of the remaining men, a few immediately made their way north through the swamps, and a few made their way south. Those that were rescued on the southern islands had swum most of the way in the swamps. The Houston skipper and the small boat reportedly departed for Cayo Guano, but radio Cuba reported it landed at Cayo Largo and the men were captured.
As the Barbara J departed from Bahia Cochinos, a Sea Fury was circling, but apparently was bluffed by two of our B-26ʼs which were flying protection for Barbara J. A jet T-33 was seen to attack one of the B-26ʼs, and the B-26 was seen to fly lower and to either crash or make a crash landing on the airstrip at Blue Beach area. The remaining B-26 hovered over the Barbara J, reported he was out of ammunition, and asked for instructions. I requested that he stay as long as possible to bluff enemy aircraft, which he did, until he had only fifteen minutes reserve gasoline supply. This manʼs name was Farrari and should be commended for courageous work.
At the entrance of Bahia Cochinos we had observed the Rio Escondido catch fire and blow up.
On arrival in the Blue Beach area, all ships were ordered south. We departed with the Atlantico and Caribe leading, and the Barbara J providing close support. The U-boats protected by the Blagar followed. The Blagar requested all ships to merge for mutual self-protection. The Barbara J joined the Blagar and U-boats, and the Caribe and Atlantico disappeared over the horizon. One strafing and bombing pass was made on the right flank LCU, with the Blagar and Barbara J giving her support. What appeared to be a salvo boat of shore-based artillery splashed five shells within the convoy on the way out. This was possibly 1 oʼclock to 2 oʼclock in the afternoon of D-Day.
At approximately 3:30, when the convoy was outside the continental limit, a Sea Fury and a B-26 attacked. The Sea Fury circled high and the B-26 came for a low strafing attack, lining up the Barbara J and the Blagar. As the B-26 passed over the Blagar, it exploded in a great ball of flame. It is believed that hits from Blagar guns had entered the gas tanks, and that the pilot fired his rockets, causing the explosion. The Sea Fury then circled for a few minutes and started a run on the Barbara J, but peeled off early, probably because of the Barbara Jʼs gunfire. He scored 20mm hits on the Barbara J. At this time we were ordered further out to sea.[Page 255]
Preparations were made for a night run into Blue Beach. When the order arrived, headquarters was notified that we were without the cargo ships, and that it was felt that it was impossible to arrive at Blue Beach before daylight. Air and/or sea support was requested, with the warning that we felt we were sure to be sunk without this protection and thus be no good to Blue Beach. During the night we were ordered to cancel this run. The following evening the cargo ships had been reassembled, and the Caribe was unloaded into LCUs. The Barbara J was unloaded into an LCU when the order came for the Barbara J to make a 500-man pack supply run to Blue Beach. The Barbara J was leaking and one bank of engines was out and emptied of supplies and had no small boats, so the responsibility was shifted to the Blagar. The writer transferred to the Blagar to assist in this run and to assist the Blagar Operations Officer with communications functions. At approximately midnight the run was started, with an additional warning to headquarters that we were going to arrive in daylight. An air or sea support was necessary. Sometime during the night this trip was cancelled.
The writer relieved the Operations Officer of the Blagar of communication duties at times during the night. The gist of the communication can be summed up as follows: The Brigade Commander continually reported he was out of anti-tank ammunition and surgical supplies and had wounded to evacuate. All messages were forwarded to strike base and U.S. Navy. From strike base and U.S. Navy we continually received assurances that re-supplies and evacuation of wounded were being carried on and that a close air support strike was arranged for first light. A tank column had been located coming into Blue Beach from the north. Its exact location was reported by the Brigade Commander. Arrangements were made for strike base to take on these tanks at first light, and U.S. Navy jets were “on the way.” The jets had not appeared when first light arrived and their whereabouts was requested. We were told that they were still “on the way.”
At 20 minutes daylight a request from headquarters came that either of the two operations officers go on beach to evaluate the situation. A Cuban CW operator was recruited to go with the writer. No boat operator was found who would go. Subsequent activity negated this operation.
At daylight the beach was under air, tank, and artillery attack. During the night, two re-supply drops had been made, part of which went into the ocean, part of which was received. A C-46 had landed on the airstrip, dumped its supplies, and departed evacuating one wounded. The Brigade Commander began talking in terms of his men standing in the water fighting, and “being massacred” and “murdered.” At one point he could see four Navy jets high overhead, and was being attacked simultaneously by three enemy Sea Furyʼs. When he asked that the jets enter the [Page 256] fight and was told that we were doing everything to get permission, his comment was “God damn it, God damn you, God damn you. Do not wait for permission.” He continually spotted tanks, artillery locations, and continually asked when would they be attacked by our airplanes. About midday the base announced that we were going in in full force, shooting, for evacuation purposes. The Brigade Commander was told that within three hours the Navy forces, air and sea, plus our cargo convoy would be there to pick them up. He announced that an enemy tank was within 400 yards of his command post firing at him and he had no ammunition with which to fight it. He said he would not be there in three hours. In his next message he said he was destroying his communications set and going into the woods. We were trying to get him to hold on when communication abruptly broke. We have two reports: (1) That the Brigade Commander was seen going to sea in a small sailboat, and (2) That he had gone inland to Excambrey. The convoy started out to sea.
On the morning of D+3 the operations officers of the Blagar and the Barbara J were transferred by rubber boat, along with six UDT men and personal weapons and radios, aboard the USS Eaton. Subsequently we boarded the aircraft carrier Essex along with the commander of the destroyer group, Captain Crutchfield, for the purpose of conferring with Admiral Clark and Marine Colonel Mallard about effecting rescue operations. It was generally thought among all concerned that the Houston survivors could be sought only if the information concerning them was recent, accurate, and reliable. The Eaton was dispatched towards Bahia Cochinos with our operations officers and UDT men aboard with the understanding that Mallard and Clark would seek information on the validity and accuracy of intelligence concerning survivors on the beach, and would send authorization or cancellation of that operation prior to the arrival of the Eaton on station. The operation was cancelled by Admiral Clark and we spent the night sailing close to the beach for light signals. At daylight movement was seen on Cayo Blanco del Sur. A rubber boat was dispatched and contact made with four survivors, who were pulled aboard. A whaleboat was dispatched from the Eaton with U-boat personnel aboard. The whaleboat would carry the writer and three UDT men to a position 200 to 300 yards off the beach, from where we would make the approach and contact with the survivors by rubber boat. Seventeen survivors were removed in five separate operations by this group over a period of two days. Predawn landings and reconnaissance were made each day to assure that Castroʼs militiamen hadnʼt occupied the island during the night. Similar activity was conducted by the Blagar operations officer and three UDT men on other beaches. The final day these two groups swept Cayao Miguel and Cayao Blanco del Sur and the island of Carrario. We carried loud speakers and searched in the mangrove swamps and tried to reassure hidden refugees that the [Page 257] arms we carried were not against them, but against Castro. They were afraid of our arms. For example, one man had been lying with only his face out of the water, and when he saw the writer, he tried to sink under water. We tried to assure him, but he thought that the writer was a Russian. He said that there were no friends any more, and we were Russians. We broadcast that if they would call to us, we would approach them without clothing and arms. During this operation Castro had helicopters calling as if they were saviors of the refugees and then submachine gun those who would show themselves. I believe that we missed many survivors because of the smallness of our patrol. We could not cover every square foot of these islands, and the refugees were afraid to expose themselves to us. All were in weakened condition and at times had to be carried to the boat.
On this night, the militiamen moved onto the islands and set fire to the brush and claimed to have driven out 166 survivors. I believe that this is an exaggeration. On the following morning, the writer and four UDT men and rubber boats and equipment boarded the submarine USS Threadfin and started towards Bahia Cochinos for an attempted rescue near the sunken Houston. This operation was cancelled at 7 oʼclock in the evening and the Threadfin returned to sea because of an occurence which is U.S. Navy Top Secret and not to be recorded in this report. The writer and men returned to the Eaton. The writer and the operations officer of the Blagar were air-lifted to the Essex and subsequently to Guantanamo and to headquarters.
- Source: National Defense University, Taylor Papers, Box 12, Cuba, Paramilitary Study. Secret; Eyes Only. Robertson prepared the report for the Taylor Committee.↩