199. Memorandum for the Record0

[Here follows discussion of intelligence aspects of the Zapata operation.]

[Page 439]

Secretary McNamara

At this point the Group proceeded to Secretary McNamaraʼs office where he was asked a number of questions in an attempt to determine what the picture was as he saw it at his level of decision.

Question: What was the estimate of the probability of success of Zapata?

Secretary McNamara: This should be answered in the time context of the point of no return. Actually the chances of success changed as the days went by as the plan was modified. Initially there was a smaller force, about 800 personnel. Finally there were somewhere in the neighborhood of 1,200. This increase in the strength of the invasion force, of course, increased the chances of success. The increased logistic support also tended to increase the chances of success. On the other hand, the reduced air support, the new landing area, and the reduced sea cover all tended to reduce the chances of success. However, the over-all balance indicated a marginal probability of success. It seemed desirable to go ahead for three reasons: (1) If we didnʼt proceed we would have to bring the invasion force back to the United States. It seemed that the general conclusion that would result from this would be the idea that the United States was unwilling to help others fight against Communism. (2) A feeling that never again would we have a chance to overthrow Castro without utilizing Americans. (3) The failure of the CEF to succeed in their operation as a unified force would not preclude the force from breaking up and continuing guerrilla operations, in which case the operation would not be viewed by the rest of the world as a total defeat.

Statement: One side we are interested in exploring is the side pre-sented by Mr. Mann.

Secretary McNamara: Tom Mann endorsed the plan before the point of no return.

Statement: Our papers indicate that on the 18th of February Mr. Bundy reported to the President that there were two points of view, Mr. Bissellʼs and Mr. Mannʼs.1 Was Mr. Mann the one who insisted on nonattribution?

Secretary McNamara: The desirability of nonattribution was a general view, almost to be met prior to approval. However, this canʼt be charged to Tom Mann.

Question: Was the question of guerrilla operations in the Zapata area considered?

Secretary McNamara: Yes. However, this was considered to be unlikely because the CEF was believed to be able to control the access routes into the beachhead. If control of the access routes was lost, however, it was believed it would be easier for the invaders to get through the [Page 440] swamps as individuals than it would be for Castroʼs units. Finally, it was believed that if Castro broke through the force could be evacuated by sea.

Question: Was it a major factor that this force could get to the mountains?

Secretary McNamara: Yes, it was certainly in the Presidentʼs mind. It was always considered that the force could be evacuated or go through the swamp into the mountains, in which case the Press wouldnʼt be able to look upon the operation as a total failure.

Question: What was the feeling with regard to the possibility of popular uprisings?

Secretary McNamara: It was understood that there was a substantial possibility of uprisings, possibly on the order of four or five out of ten. This led to the belief that the whole operation was marginal. Uprisings in a police state werenʼt expected to occur fast enough to support the landings.

Question: What was expected to happen if the landing force effected a successful lodgment but there was no uprising?

Secretary McNamara: They would be split up into a guerrilla force and moved into the Escambrays.

Question: What was the understanding of the position of the JCS as to Zapata? Was it appreciated that they favored Trinidad over Zapata?

Secretary McNamara: The JCS had reviewed the plan in early January and while they considered it marginal they still believed it had sufficient chance of success to warrant its implementation. After all the modifications to the original plan were made they still believed the chances of success were marginal, but they still wanted to give it a try. There was one important modification that the Chiefs never knew about and one about which they all felt strongly. This was the decision to cancel some of the D-Day air strikes. This decision was made at the only meeting at which neither I nor the Chiefs participated. It was my understanding that both the CIA and the Chiefs preferred Zapata to Trinidad. For while Trinidad offered the advantage of close proximity to the Escambray or guerrilla territory, Zapata offered an air strip and was likely to be less well protected by Castro, thereby raising the chances of success for the initial landing.

Question: Was it understood that control of the air was essential to the success of the landing?

Secretary McNamara: It was understood that without control of the air the chances of success would be considerably decreased. The understanding of Castroʼs air force was not adequate, particularly in terms of the members and types of aircraft. Furthermore, it was assumed that a large number of his aircraft would be incapacitated. This appears to have [Page 441] been a major error. However, to get back to the question of control of the air, it was certainly understood that it was very important.

Secretary McNamara: It doesnʼt appear that we would have achieved complete control of the air even if we had made the dawn air attack.

Statement: There were some reports that we knocked out approximately two-thirds of Castroʼs combat aircraft.

Secretary McNamara: If we knocked out two-thirds of Castroʼs aircraft they had a greater capability than they were expected to have.

Question: What was the understanding as to the ability of the landing force to pass to a guerrilla status in an emergency?

Secretary McNamara: Quite clear that they could function in a guerrilla status.

Mr. Dulles: Actually this never had a chance to be tested.

Question: What degree of nonattribution was sought and why?

Secretary McNamara: The highest possible degree because the Latin-American countries had indicated they would not support this operation.

Question: Was there any doubt that, globally speaking, this operation would be attributed to the United States?

Secretary McNamara: We felt it would to a degree, but wanted to reduce this to a minimum.

Question: Were the implications of the conflict between operational requirements for success and the need for nonattribution clearly understood?

Secretary McNamara: Not really. As the plan progressed there was a definite trend to reduce the possibilities of attribution. This trend took the shape of a curve and finally the plan was compromised in order to reduce the chances of attribution.

Question: Do you believe that the CIA became advocates of the plan?

Secretary McNamara: It was not a CIA debacle. It was a Government debacle. There wasnʼt any person in the room that didnʼt approve the plan. Bissell in no sense was selling the operation. Colonel Hawkins was eloquent in advocating the plan. However, his presentations were so onesided that he made little influence on my judgment.

Secretary McNamara: This was a marginal operation. It was recognized that if one ship was lost we were in trouble. The feeling never developed, however, that CIA was selling this operation.

Admiral Burke: I had misgivings about the plan, but none that were crucial.

[Page 442]

Secretary McNamara: Thatʼs right, it was a gradual erosion of the plan, but not to the extent that it seemed desirable to call off the operation.

Question: You mentioned the requirement for the clarification of responsibilities here in Washington.

Secretary McNamara: CIA should not run such large operations. They simply donʼt have the facilities. We could have used our facilities on a nonattributable basis. It would have been better if we could have handled the operation because we could have planned it on a much larger scale. We could have assured command control. A military operation should never be conducted except under a military man.

Secretary McNamara: We should systematize the decision making process.

Question: How would you do this on a systematic basis?

Secretary McNamara: I wasnʼt thinking so much in terms of this as the fact that I wouldnʼt allow any decisions to be made or actions taken except on the basis of written documents.

Question: Do you believe the absence of written documents was a consequence of security considerations?

Secretary McNamara: Yes.

Question: Going back to the Cuban operation, accepting for the moment that the military should have run the operation, when should they have taken control?

Secretary McNamara: I am not qualified to answer that as I donʼt know enough about the CIA structure.

Secretary McNamara: Another alternative that might be desirable in the case of future Cubas is that the CIA, for example, would conceive the need for certain actions. CIA should then lay out their basic plan and when they reach the point where they feel that they should train and equip troops, the JCS should be brought in to make an evaluation. This should be done even before the President makes his decision. Then at the point when the operation is approved the military commander should take over so he can shape the whole operation. In the case of Cuba, for example, at the point where the Special Force instructors were requested the DOD should have come in.

Secretary McNamara: There is one point that should be emphasized, that is, that all decisions and actions should be written. This would engender responsibility.

Question: How big should a force be before becoming a DOD responsibility?

Secretary McNamara: To answer that question you need a detailed organization study. I believe that someone should make a study and come up with a recommendation.

[Page 443]

General Wheeler

At this point the Group returned to General Taylorʼs office and General Wheeler appeared before the Group.

Question: As the Director of the Joint Staff, how did this operation look to you?

Answer: When we got into this in January I put General Gray to work as our representative. Now an interesting aspect was that we attempted to make an evaluation of the plan as it existed at the time we became aware of it and I had J-2 and J-3 make an independent survey to find the optimum landing beach in Cuba, and they came up with Trinidad. Then General Gray, working with a group of officers from all the J Staffs, evaluated the plan, and this evaluation was concluded with the statement that the plan had a fair chance. It was pointed out, however, that our conclusions were based only on hearsay and so we recommended that a team of officers go down to the training area and make an evaluation there. When they returned they wrote their evaluation which indicated several weaknesses, particularly in logistics. As a consequence, we sent Lieutenant Colonel Wall down to help them with their amphibious logistic problems. Thereafter, progressively as the time approached for the implementation of the plan, the plan as originally envisioned was walked away from, particularly the air support aspects. For example, the air strikes were desired on D-Day for maximum effect. The next thing that was bothersome was that we couldnʼt land at Trinidad as we had to find an airstrip from which the B-26s could claim to be operating. Then came the evaluation of the Zapata Plan. If I remember correctly, there were three alternatives to Trinidad that were looked at, and Zapata was the least objectionable. I can recall that when he looked at the Zapata Plan General Lemnitzer asked how the force would get out of that area in the event that the operation didnʼt go well. It was explained that the troops would fade into the swamps and move into the mountains. I felt that this had less than a fair chance of success.

Question: How long did you consider the Zapata Plan?

Answer: It couldnʼt have been for more than 48 hours.

Question: Do you think this was time enough to go into the plan adequately?

Answer: I believe that you could make a fairly good evaluation in that length of time, or even less. Zapata was only a change of the area of landing, not a change of the pattern of the landing.

Question: What about the air plan? Was it really discussed by the Chiefs?

Answer: At every meeting there were pros and cons on how important the first air strikes would be and how important it would be to the [Page 444] success of the operation. I feel that the sense of the Chiefs throughout the meetings was that air support was critical to the success of the operation.

Question: When the Chiefs approved the Zapata Plan, however, was it with the understanding that there would be pre-D-Day strikes or D-Day strikes?

Answer: The matter of the pre-D-Day strike came up after the Zapata Plan was more or less set as the plan to be implemented, if I remember correctly. The plan for the Zapata landing, as I recall it, still called for the D-Day strike, I think at dawn on D-Day. As I say, I could be wrong on that particular point.

Question: Do you have documents that you can refer to that will establish this time?

Answer: Yes, General Gray, I am sure, has these documents.

Statement: The Chiefs were still talking largely in terms of the original plan with the locale moved from Trinidad to Zapata.

Response: That would be more understandable except for the fact that you rejected some of the other alternatives you considered on the basis that they didnʼt have air strikes.

Question: Did anybody study whether or not the guerrillas could operate in the swamp area?

Answer: I understand that they can, that they have been operating in there for a hundred years.

Statement: This has been referred to, as General Wheeler says. However, I have seen no evidence it has been utilized in recent years.

Question: Did anybody study that?

Answer: In that particular area we didnʼt make any particular study of it, no. We were told this was a guerrilla area and I was under the impression that there were even some guerrillas operating in there at this time.

Question: But nobody in the Joint Staff looked into this matter at the time?

Answer: Our people said that this was a guerrilla area and that people could sustain themselves in there.

Question: What I am trying to determine is if a study was made.

Answer: No, no study was made, certainly no detailed study.

Statement: We inquired into this on one occasion and the people at CIA told us that a group of a hundred guerrillas was operating in this area, and there was lots of smaller game.

Statement: Of course, a second point was that while it might have been usable as a guerrilla area at one time, this was before the time of helicopters. It would seem that some of these military experts should have been able to figure this out.

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Question: In talking with Colonel Egan, did he point out that the primary evacuation would be by sea, but if this failed they would move into the swamps for their guerrilla operation?

Answer: Yes, that was discussed, sir, and it was recognized that this would be a very sticky and difficult thing to do. In the first place, it was recognized that evacuation by sea is one of the most difficult operations there is. You almost have to have support from the sea in the form of gunfire support or air cover. I thought that if these people were really pressed hard the possibility of evacuation would be much less than their going into a guerrilla operation.

Statement: It would seem that the concept of falling back to the beaches should have been ruled out because it almost ruled out the possibility of guerrilla action as a practical thing.

Question: With regard to the logistics of this thing, would you say that the Joint Staff checked the logistics carefully?

Answer: I believe that the logistic aspects were checked very carefully indeed.

Question: As D-Day approached what plans were there for liaison with the CIA.

Answer: We set up a little war room here which ran on a 24-hour basis. We had constant liaison with CIA, we had liaison officers from the services, and I had taken people from various sections of the Joint Staff. We had a special communications system where all items from CINC-LANT came directly in to General Gray. He was really the disseminator of all messages from the Department of Defense and the other agencies to CINCLANT.

Question: How did you get the messages that came in over at CIA?

Answer: They were transmitted over here.

Question: How were they transmitted?

Answer: We have a teletype here in J-2.

Question: So you had the same messages here as they had in CIA?

Answer: To the best of my belief.

Question: When were you and the Joint Staff aware of the ammunition shortage?

Answer: When we got word that the ship that was at Blue Beach was sunk we learned that a large portion of their reserve ammo was aboard, and then we saw messages from the beach area in which they particularly mentioned that they were running low on tank ammunition.

Question: Once you found out there was an ammunition shortage did you try and get the ships back in there?

Answer: Yes, we did.

Statement: I get the impression that a very careful evaluation was made of the Trinidad Plan and that about all that was done in regard to [Page 446] the Zapata Plan was that it was looked at with the idea that everything set forth in the Trinidad Plan would go with the exception of the adjustments that had to be made at the new beach.

Response: Yes, sir.

Question: Did you have liaison officers over at CIA?

Answer: Yes, sir.

Question: On D+1 they were going to try and make a run into the beach with ammunition. They made an emergency request for air cover. Do you recall whether it was appreciated that this was the only way that they could get that ammunition ashore was with air cover?

Answer: Sir, I wouldnʼt even put it on the basis of ammunition alone. The reports from the beach indicated that the men desperately needed air cover. I definitely knew the situation was desperate at that time, there was no question about it.

Statement: Well, letʼs move out now and have you tell us how you think you could do this a little bit better in the future.

Answer: This is not an original thought. It results from discussions with General Gray and others, and we feel that to properly organize you need to start with a broad national plan prepared by all the agencies of the Government. It should start off in the broad terms of a concept and after the concept is agreed upon and approved by the President each agency should prepare its own part of the plan. We think that in this case CINCLANT should have set up a special operational task force and prepared the detailed plan for the operation. If this plan was prepared, of course, it would be passed up through channels to the President.

Question: How about your other aspects of the plan—the political, the psychological and so on?

Answer: Well, actually these are the special plans that were mentioned earlier with regard to the national plan.

Question: Who would be responsible for success or failure?

Answer: The man in charge of the special task force.

Statement: What we really feel is that we lack this national U.S. plan of action. We feel that there should have been a unified task force commander to really conduct the operation. We feel that you cannot efficiently attempt to conduct operations of this sort from Washington. It is too far removed. People are too immersed in other types of activities. What it results in is that responsible officials are called upon to make rather heavy decisions with very little forewarning and in some cases without perhaps as much information as they should have.

  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Countries Series, Cuba, Subjects, Taylor Report. Secret; Eyes Only; Ultrasensitive. No drafter is indicated but it was probably Colonel Tarwater. The meeting was the ninth in the series conducted by the Cuba Study Group and took place at the Pentagon. The participants in the meeting, in addition to Taylor, Kennedy, Dulles, and Burke, included McNamara, Wheeler, Bonesteel, Kinnard, King, Mitchell, and Tarwater. A note on the source text reads: “The following notes are not a verbatim record, but represent the general substance of the statements made.”
  2. See Document 48.