200. Memorandum for the Record0

The first portion of the meeting was devoted to a consideration of some of the tentative conclusions reached at this point. After a short while it was deemed desirable to recall General Gray for further questioning.

General Gray

Question: We are impressed by the incompleteness of the JCS appraisal of the Zapata Plan. We understand that the incompleteness of the evaluation was due, in part, to the fact that it was based on a concept rather than a completed plan. Is that a fair statement?

Answer: Yes. To a degree the incompleteness was due to that.

Question: Having at least concurred in this concept as being an adequate basis for further planning, why didnʼt the Joint Chiefs, at some point down the road, look at the completed plan or a plan sufficiently detailed so that they could consider some of the points that they had missed?

Answer: One reason the Zapata Plan was brief in comparison with the other one is because most of the factors were exactly the same. The second factor was the limitation of time. We were briefed in the morning and had to get out a paper on which we could brief the Chiefs the following morning. Furthermore, at this time this was not just a consideration of three possible alternatives. The original Trinidad Plan was still in the running. We determined that Zapata was the best of the three alternatives, but we still preferred the original Trinidad Plan.

Question: But you did accept Zapata as the basis for further planning?

Answer: Yes.

Question: At what point did the plan take enough shape that the JCS could have made a detailed evaluation?

Answer: The detailed plan was probably completed on 8 April because thatʼs when Hawkins and Egan went down south. However, we didnʼt get that plan until the operation started.

[Page 448]

Question: General Gray, how close were you to this plan?

Answer: I was in on all the meetings that were held at the White House with one exception.

Question: Were you talking with CIA people on this plan?

Answer: Yes. The first change we noticed was when the concept changed from being just at the head of the Bay, and moved south down the eastern side to the Blue Beach area.

Question: How did you get that information?

Answer: By liaison back and forth between officers. I briefed the JCS on that change in concept at one of their meetings. The reason for this change was because a usable airfield was down on the shoulder and that was one of the requirements that had been placed on the plan.

Question: Was the possibility of this force becoming a guerrilla unit considered?

Answer: Not formally by the Joint Chiefs, but we looked at it. It was felt that they could hold this area. However, if they didnʼt get popular support there was no advantage for them to sit there. For even if Castro couldnʼt eliminate them, other people couldnʼt get in to them, so they had to get out of there. It was concluded if they were going to withdraw there were three ways they could do it. One was evacuation by ship. If the decision had been made and planned for we could have withdrawn those people off the bench. The second one was that with air support they could have fought their way out. The third possibility was that part of the force would be evacuated and then later infiltrated back in as guerrillas and the other part of the force would actually remain in that whole Zapata Peninsula area and operate as guerrillas in the expanse to the west. It was always believed they could get out by sea because the CIAʼs sea operations had always been very successful.

Question: Were you aware that the troops were trained and instructed that in the event they couldnʼt hold their lodgment they were to fall back onto the beaches for evacuation, and only if that failed would they operate as guerrilla forces?

Answer: No, we werenʼt. That wasnʼt in the plan and we were not present at the final briefing.

Question: Did you brief the Joint Chiefs on all the parts of the plan?

Answer: Yes, all except the question of the air strikes.

Question: What was your understanding of the air strikes?

Answer: There would be air strikes on D-Day. This D-2 air strike didnʼt come in until the last few days. The air plan consisted of nothing but D-Day strikes. Our understanding of the plan was always that the air strikes would be conducted at dawn from Puerto Cabezas.

[Page 449]

Question: Would you look back in your notes and see when you briefed the Chiefs and essentially what was in your briefing so weʼll know what they heard about the plan?

Answer: Yes, sir.

Statement: There were four official papers that the Joint Chiefs considered. The first was the original Trinidad Plan. The second was the Zapata Evaluation. Third was the evaluation of whether or not we could put a small force in the Oriente Province and they could hang on, and fourth was the evaluation of the teamʼs trip to Guatemala.1 They were briefed on these official papers and at their regular meetings I brought them up to date on what was going on. At several of these meetings they were briefed on changes to the plan and they approved them.

Question: Were these briefings for information or to get their decision?

Answer: Generally speaking, when I briefed them it was on some paper or something that they were being asked to approve.

Question: Would you say then that the Chiefs did have all the essential elements of this plan and did consider the plan adequate?

Answer: Yes, sir.

Question: Did you feel you had the option to the guerrilla alternative?

Answer: Yes, Iʼve always thought we had the option to make that decision before the force got pressed right down to the beach.

General Gray: As D-Day approached it seemed to me that popular support was developing and building. We did measure all the military factors we thought were necessary. However, it was very difficult to get an accurate fix on where the militia was.

Question: You and the DOD did consider the logistic problem and took action to strengthen the logistic plan. Is that a fair statement?

Answer: Yes, sir.

Statement: In other words, logistically speaking, you had planned a very heavy back up to insure a successful operation.

Answer: Yes, sir.

Question: Would you say that you saw this plan develop, that you had adequate contact with the CIA so that your group, at least, had full knowledge of the developments and anything that looked doubtful was taken before the Joint Chiefs?

Answer: Thatʼs right.

Question: Is it true that while the Joint Chiefs never had a presentation on the over-all Zapata Plan at one time, they were briefed on all the [Page 450] pieces of the plan, so they could be said to have knowledge of the entire plan?

Answer: Yes, sir.

Question: What concern was expressed over the fact that there were only small boats to unload the Houston off Red Beach?

Answer: I actually didnʼt know that detail.

Question: Did you know that the Atlantico and the Caribe had gone south a hundred or two hundred miles and actually escaped from control for a number of hours?

Answer: Yes, sir.

Question: Do you recall when you discovered that?

Answer: Itʼs in our log. As soon as we become aware of it we told CINCLANT to round them up.

Statement: Our position on all of this was that we would do anything as long as it was approved, and then CIA carried the ball on getting the approval.

General Taylor: After listening to General Grayʼs testimony I now feel that the Joint Chiefs had a more complete appraisal of the plan and consequently gave a more complete approval.

General Gray: I believe there should have been a final briefing on the over-all plan about April 12th. I wrote that into the tasks that were to be followed by the different agencies. I believe this would have permitted a more detailed evaluation of the plan and all the changes that had been made up to that point.

General Gray: Speaking for myself, there could have been a more detailed evaluation, but I donʼt think it would have changed my evaluation that the plans should have gone ahead.

[Here follows discussion with General Bonesteel of organizational changes required to deal with cold war problems.]

At this point the Study Group reconvened in Secretary Ruskʼs office in the State Department. Present were:

  • General Taylor
  • Secretary Rusk
  • Mr. Kennedy
  • Commander Mitchell
  • Mr. Dulles
  • Lt Colonel Tarwater

After a few introductory remarks Secretary Rusk was asked his estimate of the probability of success of the Zapata Plan.

Secretary Rusk: It was in the neighborhood of fifty per cent. It appeared the landing might be followed by further uprisings. If this failed the force could become guerrillas.

Mr. Dulles: I think we all looked upon this as a pretty risky operation.

[Page 451]

Secretary Rusk: The risks of the operation were accepted, however, because the importance of success was fully appreciated. Time was running out. It was the last chance in some time to have this job done by Cubans. Otherwise we might have to do this with American personnel and this would be less desirable. Castroʼs police power was increasing and he was also receiving a large inflow of Soviet arms. Further, it should be pointed out that when we talked about the possibility of failure we talked about far more disastrous results than actually occurred. For example, we had discussed the possibility of such things as being ousted from the OAS or censure by the UN, and lively and adverse reaction by our allies in Europe. The results that developed were not as serious as those that we had considered.

Question: What was the feeling of the likelihood of a popular uprising following the landing?

Secretary Rusk: There was a very considerable likelihood of popular uprisings.

Question: How essential was such an uprising regarded for the success of the operation?

Secretary Rusk: It was believed that the uprising was utterly essential to success in terms of ousting Castro. At one point we discussed the possibility of putting these men in as guerrillas. However, this concept was rejected on the basis of the fact that it would not spark an uprising.

Question: What was your understanding of the requirements for sufficient shock to spark uprisings?

Secretary Rusk: The impression existed that 1,200 highly trained men expected to get ashore and run into some militia units and beat the hell out of them. This would be the kind of a bloody nose that would get things moving. The feeling was that there would be no fighting on the beach. It seemed that this area was virtually empty. There was a good chance the invasion force could get well ashore without being discovered.

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

Secretary Rusk: In that case they would commence guerrilla operations, move into the swamps and then into the hills. This swamp area was stated to be the home of guerrillas.

Question: Was the point made that this area had not been used for guerrilla operations in this century?

Secretary Rusk: I donʼt recall.

Question: Was the possibility of a sea evacuation of the force considered?

Secretary Rusk: I donʼt recall. At least, it didnʼt make an impression on me. Let me point out that there was a minimum of papers.

[Page 452]

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

Secretary Rusk: They approved the Trinidad Plan. Trinidad involved a larger scale, more spectacular operation. It didnʼt offer the immediate possibility of an airstrip. It was felt that Zapata had considerably more political advantages and that the JCS approved Zapata.

Statement: The JCS commented that Zapata was the best of the three alternatives they considered, but that they still favored the original Trinidad Plan.

Secretary Rusk: They didnʼt put their view in writing and that didnʼt come through. There was a strong impression that they favored the plan. At one meeting the President went around the room and asked everyone personally their opinion and I believe that I was the only one that didnʼt approve.

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

Secretary Rusk: Yes, it was understood that it was essential to the success of the landing, but there was an inadequate appreciation of the enemyʼs capability in the air. Furthermore, neither the President nor I was clear that there was a D-2 air strike. We did have it in our minds that there would be a D-Day air strike. Following the D-2 air strike there was considerable confusion. It wasnʼt realized that there was to be more than one air strike in the Havana area. The President was called on this matter and he didnʼt think there should be second strikes in the area unless there were overriding considerations. We talked about the relative importance of the air strikes with Mr. Bissell and General Cabell at the time. However, they indicated that the air strikes would be important, but not critical. I offered to let them call the President, but they indicated they didnʼt think the matter was that important. They said that they preferred not to call the President.

Question: Did you attempt to advise the President as to the importance of the air strikes?

Secretary Rusk: I had talked to him and he had stated that if there werenʼt overriding considerations the second strikes shouldnʼt be made. Since Mr. Bissell and General Cabell didnʼt want to talk to the President on the matter, I felt there were no overriding considerations to advise him of. I didnʼt think they believed the dawn air strikes were too important. I believe that Castro turned out to have more operational air strength than we figured.

Mr. Dulles: I donʼt believe they had any more. However, they turned out to be more efficient.

Question: Do you recall why the question of air strikes was withheld until Sunday evening?

[Page 453]

Secretary Rusk: As far as I was concerned, I was caught by surprise with the first air strikes. I was trying to advise Adlai Stevenson at the UN on what was happening and suddenly found out there were additional air strikes coming up. We didnʼt want him to have to lie to the UN.

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

Secretary Rusk: The impression was that the ability of this force to pass to guerrilla activities presented no difficulty. At the beginning of the second day the President and I discussed the question of whether it was time to move the force out as guerrillas. However, it appears there was a delay in turning to this because they didnʼt have this action in mind.

General Taylor: They were told to fall back to the beaches so that they could be evacuated from the sea.

Secretary Rusk: Guerrilla actions were regarded as far more feasible than they turned out to be. I do regret, however, that consideration was not given to another alternative. I suggested earlier that they land in the eastern portion of Cuba and then get a position with Guantanamo behind them. However, our military friends didnʼt want to spoil the virginity of Guantanamo.

Question: What was the understanding of the ammunition situation at the end of April 18? Was the importance of air cover for the returning ammunition ships understood?

Secretary Rusk: It was apparent that it was critical. The requirement for air cover wasnʼt as apparent as for air drops and getting the ships back in there, particularly in regard to getting them some tank ammunition.

Question: Was it known at your level that two of the ammunition ships had taken off from the beach area and kept going south?

Secretary Rusk: No.

Question: What degree of nonattribution was sought and why? Were the operational disadvantages arising from some of the restrictions imposed by the efforts to achieve nonattribution clearly presented and understood?

Secretary Rusk: We were hoping for the maximum. In retrospect, however, this looks a little naive. The considerations involved in this were that if you have success all the problems solve themselves. However, if you have failure itʼs very nice if the United States is not involved.

Statement: Of course, there are degrees of nonattribution. The most costly restriction was the requirement not to have the air strikes even by Cubans.2

[Page 454]

Question: To what extent did the CIA operations representatives have to “sell” the operation to the other agencies of government?

Secretary Rusk: You have to draw a distinction between the policy side and the operational side. The policy side we were willing to look at, if it was policy. On the operational side, we were oversold on the operational aspects.

Question: What do you mean by oversold on the operational aspects?

Secretary Rusk: It was presented in too optimistic terms.

Question: Do you have any remarks on the integrated planning and coordination?

Secretary Rusk: This is very important. These covert matters are handled on such a restricted basis that the resources of the departments are not brought to bear.

Secretary Rusk: When you go beyond a few people in an operation of this sort it shouldnʼt be handled by the CIA.

Question: What didnʼt we do that we should have?

Secretary Rusk: Before the President made his decision, CIA and Defense should have spelled out the entire CIA plan in one presentation. While the President had all the factors in his mind, I think this would have helped.

Secretary Rusk: Furthermore, we overemphasized some of the factors. For example, the question of what to do with this 1,200-man force. This question played too large a role because we certainly should have been able to handle these 1,200 men.

Secretary Rusk: If you are not prepared to go all the way you shouldnʼt put 1,200 men ashore.

Secretary Rusk: When you get to the final decision stage the room should be cleared of all those that have formal constitutional responsibility. People looking down the cannonʼs mouth should be in a solemn position and make a solemn decision without having large numbers of people in the room.

Statement: Mr. McNamara stressed the desirability of having written papers and decisions.

Secretary Rusk: That would have been helpful. However, it would have meant 50 or 60 pieces of paper around this town.

Secretary Rusk: One concluding remark. There was no one involved that didnʼt recognize this was a risky business and that failure would be costly. However, we overestimated the international effects of failure, and underestimated the effects of failure on this town.

  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 tenth in the series conducted by the Cuba Study Group. The initial stages of the discussion took place at the Pentagon; the discussion with Rusk took place at the Department of State. The participants in the meeting, in addition to Taylor, Kennedy, Dulles, and Burke, included Rusk, Gray, Bonesteel, 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. Documents 9, 62, 57, and 56, respectively.
  3. Taylor wrote an addition to the end of this sentence which reads as follows: “which were out of Cuba.”