198. Memorandum Prepared in the Central Intelligence Agency for the Cuba Study Group0


  • Sequence of Events (D-2 to D+2), and Organization and Operation of Command Post


  • Paragraph 4, Memorandum dated 1 May 1961, Subject: Additional Information Desired of CIA1


(D-2 to D+2)

General. The description of events set forth herein is based upon messages and other information received at Headquarters during the operation. Comments are inserted where amplifying information is considered necessary. Later debriefing of personnel who actually participated in the operation has provided more extensive information concerning the action, but the purpose of this paper is to record what was known at Headquarters at the time.

D-2 (15 April 1961).

Air Strikes.

The purpose of these air strikes was to destroy the Castro air capability, located at Campo Libertad, San Antonio de los Banos, and Santiago de Cuba. In conjunction with the air strike, one B-26 with Castro Air Force markings and piloted by a Cuban was to land at Miami with the story that he was a defector from the Castro Air Force. The purpose of the defection flight was to conceal that the air strike was launched from outside Cuba, and to attempt to obtain mass defections in Castroʼs Air Force.

The air strike was carried out as scheduled at dawn D-2 by 8 B-26ʼs, allocated as follows:

  • 3—Campo Libertad
  • 3—San Antonio de los Banos
  • 2—Santiago de Cuba

Initial pilot reports indicated that 50% of Castroʼs offensive air was destroyed at Campo Libertad, 75% to 80% aircraft destruction at San [Page 432] Antonio at los Banos, and that the destruction at Santiago included 2 B-26ʼs, 1 DC-8, 1 Lodestar, and 1 T-33 or Sea Fury. Subsequent photographic studies and interpretations indicated considerably less damage.

Comment: The State Department had consistently objected to any air attacks on Cuban airfields or other targets in Cuba. Conversely, the military planners on this project had realized from the outset that complete domination of the air was vital to the success of any landing attack. Therefore, methods were sought whereby destruction of enemy aircraft could be achieved in a manner acceptable to the State Department. It was within this framework that the defection operation in conjunction with B-26 attacks on Campo Libertad, San Antonio de los Banos, and Santiago was presented to the President of the United States, who approved the proposal. It was also the understanding of the military planners, at the time that the President gave his approval, that the D-2 strikes were to be followed by strikes at dawn D-day on airfields and other military targets. The fact air attacks on D-day were planned was specifically mentioned by the Deputy Director (Plans) when he briefed the President on the contemplated operation.

Diversionary Landing in Oriente.

A landing 30 miles east of Guantanamo by a group of 160 men, led by Nino Diaz, was planned for the night of 14/15 April. The landing had a twofold purpose: (1) to divert attention from the main landing, and (2) to organize guerrilla operations in Oriente Province.

The ship on which the force was embarked (Santa Ana) approached the landing point on schedule without interference. However, the landing was aborted. Reasons given for aborting were as follows:

Friendly beach reception party did not appear on beach. (Comment: The leader was never informed that there would be a reception party.)
Reconnaissance boat was lost.
Two rubber boats were lost.

When it was learned that the operation had not been conducted, instructions were issued to land the following night. The ship remained in the area, retraced its route of the day before, and made its approach without incident. However, the landing again was not conducted. Reasons given this time were as follows:

Reconnaissance boat broke down.
Too much time lost in retrieving the reconnaissance boat.
Friendly beach reception party did not appear on the beach.
Enemy activity in area was too great.

Comment: The validity of the reasons given by Diaz for not conducting the landing are questionable. Intelligence sources did not indicate [Page 433] that the force had been discovered by the opposition. It was finally decided at Headquarters that weak leadership on the part of Diaz was responsible for the refusal to land, and on 16 April (D-1) orders were given to this force to proceed to the Zapata area and join the main force. The Diaz group did not arrive at Zapata in time to participate in the main operation.

Brigade En Route to Objective Area.

The ships on which the Brigade was embarked were following widely separated courses to the objective area. According to reports received (later confirmed by debriefings of Grayston Lynch, William Robertson, George Shane, and Sven Rydberg): all ships were proceeding ahead of schedule.

Comment: This was not considered detrimental to the security of the operation at this time because of the distance which separated the ships from the objective area.

About 1000, 15 April the Atlantico reported an automatic weapon accident in which 1 man was killed and 2 men wounded. A U.S. Navy destroyer made pick up after dark that night. Wounded were eventually evacuated to Guantanamo Bay Naval Station.

D-1 (16 April 1961).

Seaborne Movement of Brigade.

The assault shipping continued to move on separate courses toward the objective area. From position reports rendered by the various ships and the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier Essex, it was determined that all the ships, except the Rio Escondido, were ahead of schedule. At about 0600, 16 April the ships were ordered to reduce speed in order to arrive at the remainder of reference points in accordance with Ship Movement Schedule (contained in Tab A to Appendix 1 to Annex H to the Operation Plan).2 Subsequent position reports indicated the ships complied with instructions.

The ships made their rendezvous with each other on time at about 1730, 16 April. They proceeded in column and made rendezvous with U.S. Navy LSD (San Marcos) about 5000 yards from Blue Beach. LCU and LCVP aboard the LSD were transferred to Cuban crews without incident between 2300 and 2400, 16 April.

Movement of Airborne Battalion from Base Camp in Guatemala to Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua.

This movement was accomplished during the night of 15/16 April without incident. The troops were moved expeditiously from aircraft to [Page 434] an isolated area near the airfield, where briefings of troops and aircraft crews were conducted until time for takeoff for objective area.

Cancellation of D-day Air Strikes.

The information on the decision to cancel planned D-day air strikes against Cuban airfields and other military targets was received at the Command Post at about 2200, 17 April.

Comment: The late hour at which this information was received made it impossible to cancel the landing, though the PM staff planners recognized the implications of such a decision. The Brigade and assault shipping were advised at this time that all Castro aircraft had not been destroyed. The Blagar (Flagship) was ordered to expedite unloading of troops and essential cargo from the Houston, Caribe, and Atlantico and send them 50 miles to sea at the earliest possible time. The Blagar and Barbara J were ordered to protect the Rio Escondido while it was being unloaded during the day. Friendly B-26ʼs were to fly cover over the beachhead all day. It was realized at the time by the paramilitary staff that loss of ships and military supplies on board was inevitable since it was known that Castro possessed an offensive air capability which had not been destroyed.

D-day (17 April 1961).

Blue Beach.

When it was discovered that resistance was to be met in the landing over this beach, the Blagar moved in close to shore and delivered gunfire support. Brigade troops commenced landing at 0100.

  • 0115—Brigade Commander ashore.
  • 0300—Unloading of troops on Caribe completed. Commenced unloading troops from Atlantico. UDT reported searching for LCU landing point.
  • 0330—Troops from Atlantico landing under fire.
  • 0420—Brigade Commander issued orders to land troops, originally scheduled for Green Beach, over Blue Beach.
  • 0600—First LCU ashore.
  • 0630—Enemy air attacks commence on shipping and Blue Beach.
  • 0640—Friendly air support arrived. (There is no mention henceforth as to what this support accomplished.)
  • 0730—Completed discharging all vehicles and tanks from LCUʼs.
  • 0825—Enemy T-33 shot down by Blagar.
  • 0825—All troops ashore at Blue Beach.
  • 0930—Rio Escondido hit and sunk. Crew members rescued and evacuated to Blagar.
  • 0930—Brigade reported Playa Giron Airstrip ready for use.
  • 1000—Continuous enemy air attacks forces shipping to go to sea. At 1200 Headquarters issued instructions which required sailing south at best possible speed.
  • 1000—As ships withdrew they continued to come under air attack.
  • 1130—Brigade reported had only 4 hours ammunition left. (The Brigade Commander was probably referring only to Blue Beach, because there is nothing to indicate that he was in contact with units at Red Beach or with the airborne units.)

The Blagar went to sea in company with the LCU with the plan to load the LCUʼs and then return after dark to make delivery of supplies and ammunition. However, after loading the LCUʼs, there wasnʼt sufficient time (darkness) remaining to make the run to the Beach, unload the craft, and retire to the seaward.

In response to the Brigade Commanderʼs request for ammunition, at 1300 Headquarters issued instructions to base in Nicaragua to make airdrops at head of Bahia de Cochinos and at Playa Giron. During the night of 17/18 April 1 C-54 drop was made at Red Beach and 3 C-54 drops at Blue Beach. Results of drops are not positively known due to the fact that DZʼs were not lighted.

Red Beach.

Nothing was reported to Headquarters on D-day concerning the landing at Red Beach. On D+1, the following was reported by the Barbara J concerning the D-day landing.

270 men with 6-81mm mortars, 1-75 RR, 2-57mm RR, 1-.50 caliber MG, and 2-60mm mortars were landed. A report from the Barbara J (message dated 221004Z) indicates that these troops were engaged immediately.

The Houston came under air attack at about 170630, and was hit. The ship went aground sometime later (time undetermined) with about 180 men on the west side of Bahia de Cochinos—about 5 miles from the landing beach.

Airborne Landing.

No action reported to Headquarters from the field on D-day. Certain reliable sources outside the objective area indicate the landing took place about 170730R in predesignated drop zones. Debriefing of pilots later confirmed that all landings were made except for one outpost scheduled for DZ-2.

Night Air Attacks.

Orders were issued at 1615 to bomb as many airfields as possible at night with fragmentation bombs. Three B-26ʼs were launched for San [Page 436] Antonio de los Banos for these attacks but failed to find target due to haze and the fact that target was blacked out.

D+1 (18 April 1961).

At about 0730 the 2d Battalion at Red Beach reported for first time in message traffic, saying that its position could not be maintained without air support for more than 30 minutes.

  • 0824—Brigade Commander reported Blue Beach under attack by 12 tanks and 4 jet aircraft. Ammunition and supplies requested. (Soon after the above report, authority to use napalm was granted for use in the beachhead area.)
  • 1010—Red Beach reported wiped out. It was learned later during debriefing of Lynch and Robertson that Deputy Brigade Commander had ordered a withdrawal to Blue Beach, which was executed in an orderly manner.
  • 1200—Blue Beach reported under attack by MIG-15ʼs and T-33ʼs, and out of tank ammunition, and almost all out of small arms ammunition also.
  • 1600—Essex reported long line of tanks and trucks approaching Blue Beach from east.

Enemy air attacks and shortage of ammunition continued to be reported the rest of the day. Three C-54 ammunition and food drops on Playa Giron were reported dropped during the night 18/19 April. One of the drops was completely successful; and the other two doubtful—one landed off the end of the runway at the airfield, and one landed in the water. No report was received as to the amount of the latter that was recovered.

Friendly air attacks using napalm were conducted late in the day, causing undetermined damage. Pilot reports indicate many fires to the west of Blue Beach.

  • 1800–1st Battalion reported under heavy artillery attack. Position indicated at this time was considerably south of the 1st Battalion planned position north and northeast of San Blas.
  • 1800—Brigade Commander continued to request jet air cover, including close support and ammunition.

Comment: By means of a message sent from Headquarters at 2024, the Brigade Commander was informed that a C-46 with ammunition would land at the Playa Giron airfield, and would evacuate wounded. It was also recommended to the Brigade Commander that patrols armed with bazookas search out tanks and knock them out during the night. Brigade Commander was also informed in this message that ships would be sent in on night 19 April for evacuation if he so recommended.

[Page 437]
  • 2200—Brigade Commander sent message “I will not be evacuated. We will fight to the end here if we have to.”

During the night many discussions were held concerning the participation of U.S. Navy aircraft over the beachhead area. The final instruction provided for Navy CAP between 0630 and 0730 to defend “CEF against air attack from Castro forces.” The aircraft were issued instructions not to seek air combat but defend CEF forces from air attack, and not to attack ground targets. As a result of these provisions, plans were made to use all available B-26ʼs to support Brigade, while Navy was providing air protection. Later, it was reported that Cuban pilots flying these missions aborted prior to arrival over the beachhead, and two American crews were shot down.

D+2 (19 April 1961).

  • 0600—Enemy air strikes commenced.
    • 0710-1430—Enemy commenced closing in on Brigade elements in Blue Beach sector with tanks and infantry in coordination with air attacks. From the beginning of this period, the Brigade Commander sent many frantic appeals for air cover and support to destroy enemy tanks.
    • 0170-1430—Last message—“Am destroying all equipment and communications. Tanks are in sight. I have nothing left to fight with. Am taking to woods. I cannot wait for you.”

Comment: Commencing early morning of 19 April, serious consideration was given to evacuating Brigade during the night 19/20 April despite the Brigade Commanderʼs assertion that he would not evacuate. Necessary instructions were issued to move shipping closer to the Blue Beach area so that the run to the beach, reembarkation of troops, and withdrawal to sea could be done during hours of darkness. Identification of messages sent are as follows:

  • Hqs. Msg. No.
  • 4835 (OUT 7239)—190820Z
  • 4839 (OUT 7269)—191346Z
  • 4840 (OUT 7271)—191358Z
  • 4844 (OUT 7280)—191434Z
  • 4850 (OUT 7293)—191627Z3


The Command Post functioned in a manner similar to that of a military command post (divisional level). Representatives from the sections comprising the Paramilitary Staff operated on a 24 hour basis. Sections [Page 438] represented were Ground Operations, Air Operations, Maritime Operations, Intelligence, Personnel and Logistics.
Contact liaison was maintained with the Joint Chiefs of Staff through Lt. Col. Benjamin Tarwater (JCS Staff representative) who visited the Operations Center twice daily to obtain timely briefing notes in order to prepare and present daily JCS briefings.
Telephone and cable contact was maintained with Headquarters CINCLANT. Communications with the Brigade and CEF ships was via CIA communication center at the operation center building (Quarters Eye).
Colonel Hawkins, Chief, Paramilitary Staff and Mr. Esterline, the Project Chief, were physically present at the Command Post in Quarters Eye throughout the period of operations.
Mr. Bissell and Colonel King were also immediately available for consultation throughout the operation and frequent conferences between these officials, Mr. Esterline and Colonel Hawkins were held.
Decisions within the competence of CIA were immediately reached in all cases. Decisions requiring Department of Defense participation were critically delayed due to the necessity for consideration at higher levels of government and political implications.
During the final day of the operation, Colonel Hawkins and other key military staff officers posted themselves in the communications center of Quarters Eye and responded to messages coming from the field instantly upon receipt.
  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Countries Series, Cuba, Subjects, Taylor Report. Secret. Three maps entitled “Planned Disposition of Forces,” “General Disposition of Forces—End of D-Day,” and “General Disposition of Forces—End of D+1” are not printed.
  2. Not found.
  3. The CIAʼs detailed Operation Plan has not been found.
  4. These messages, all dated April 19, are in the Naval Historical Center, Area Files, Bumpy Road Materials.