209. Memorandum for the Record0

General Shoup

Question: What action was taken on the over-all U.S. plan of action for Cuba developed by the JCS in late January?

General Shoup: It was considered by the JCS, but I donʼt know to whom it was distributed nor what action was taken on it.

General Taylor: At no time after January was there any reconsideration by the JCS of the need for that kind of paper to pull the whole thing together?

General Shoup: To my knowledge there was no reference to it by the Chiefs, but what the Chairman might have done I donʼt know.

Question: What was the JCS view of the military feasibility of Trinidad and Zapata?

General Shoup: Only by having an opportunity to give my feelings on this whole operation can my observations be taken in the proper context. When I first learned that something of this nature was happening as a military man it immediately dawned on me that this was a whole lot more than dropping a few parachutists or running a boat in at a few various places along the island. I went through the NSC papers and discovered that the national policy was the overthrow of the Castro regime. CIA then drew up the Trinidad Plan and asked that the Joint Chiefs and the Joint Staff evaluate it from a military feasibility standpoint. This led to a very careful look at the mission. The mission had nothing to do with the armed forces of Cuba or the militia, with the exception of that necessary to enter Cuba. The personnel of this force were being better trained than the ordinary Cubans. Their task was to get ashore with this tremendous amount of equipment and supplies which was to be made available for distribution to the people who would rise up to assist the operation. They had considered time and space factors available to them, and determined that this organization had sufficient time to get in there, get the materials ashore, and distribute them to the dissidents. The intelligence indicated that there were quite a number of people that were ready to join in the fight against Castro. These people were to come into the beachhead [Page 494] and pick up this material, and then the beachhead would expand and they would very soon have a formidable military organization. Considering this plan and the location of the enemy forces on the basis of the time and space factors, it appeared to me that they could accomplish their objective. Sometime later the Chairman said the President would not approve the Trinidad Plan because it smacked too much of Normandy, which would make it impossible to deny U.S. involvement. Consequently CIA was directed to develop some alternatives. Later Gen. Gray came in and briefed us on some alternate plans and, as I understood it, there was no question about the Trinidad thing. It was out right there as far as doing it in its original form. A new requirement was levied on CIA to make their landing where there was an airfield. It was my personal feeling that the airfield requirement virtually restricted the operation to the Zapata region. The JCS decided that there was no question about it, the Zapata area had the greatest possibility of success of the alternatives we were considering. Following this there was considerable discussion about how many aircraft Castro had, and the best way to eliminate the tanks. There seemed to be no question about being able to destroy Castroʼs aircraft with napalm, strafing and rockets, nor the ability to disrupt the tanks. That brings us to the place where the decision was made to go in and try the Zapata thing. However, one thought was predominant. You must achieve and maintain air superiority or you are not going to be able to get ashore.

Question: Did you feel that Zapata was as good a plan as Trinidad?

General Shoup: No, sir. I questioned the swamp area. However, after considerable thought and discussion, I was satisfied that by dropping parachutists to block the roads and by using anti-tank mines you could accomplish the same objectives in the Zapata area that you could in the Trinidad area. However, there were complications in the distances the people would have to come to get the weapons, the problem of maneuvering would be more difficult, and the possibility of debouching would also be more difficult from the Zapata area.

Question: There was no civilian population in the area at all, was there?

General Shoup: There were about 1,800 people where the landings were made.

Question: You made the point that one of the essential parts of the Trinidad Plan was the fact that they had a population there on which they could base their expansion. Did you consider that possibility existed in Zapata?

General Shoup: Yes, sir. The idea was that time and space factors were favorable. It was my understanding that there were lots of people just waiting for these arms, that they would get them in the same manner as they would have in the Trinidad Plan. However, you were closer to [Page 495] some of Castroʼs army forces and tank forces and you would have more difficulty debouching from this area.

Question: Did you visualize that this landing would attract sizable Castro forces?

General Shoup: Obviously, once he determined the location of the main invasion, Castro was bound to bring in his forces.

Question: How were the dissident Cuban civilians going to get their arms then?

General Shoup: The parachutists and anti-tank mines would block the roadways. Then the whole area would be in a state of revolt. There would be no problem of them coming through. These people would have been much closer to their source of arms than the enemy, because the enemy didnʼt know where they were coming in.

Question: Was there any impression that there was going to be a pre-D-Day message to the population?

General Shoup: My understanding was that the possibilities of uprisings were increasing, that people were just waiting for these arms and equipment, and as soon as they heard where the invasion was that they would be coming after them.

Question: If you were in charge of the defenses in this area couldnʼt you get some artillery in and really give them hell?

General Shoup: It takes time. Itʼs time and space. I didnʼt conceive of them stashing all this stuff on one spot on the beach and waiting until somebody brings artillery down.

Question: What was your opinion of what they were going to do? Get these arms out of there?

General Shoup: Right. And there would be people there to assist them and get the arms. This force, from my understanding, was highly trained in comparison with the militia. They had proper arms, equipment, and leadership to enable them to stand off the armed forces they could expect Castro to commit against them.

Question: How long did you think theyʼd be in the Bay?

General Shoup: One day. I thought theyʼd unload those ships and get out of there. If they didnʼt get unloaded, theyʼd come back after dark, depending upon whether they were actually rushed by the enemy or if they werenʼt, and depending upon where the people were that could use the arms.

Question: Was it your understanding that a lot of people in this area were going to come in and help?

General Shoup: I certainly thought there was going to be a number of them. We werenʼt just talking about the people that had homes in this area. We were talking about the people who wanted to get the help they knew was coming to them with this landing force.

[Page 496]

General Shoup: I didnʼt think the militia were going to band together and harm this thing. It would take some elements of the organized force and if the actual time and place of the landing was not known, the enemy could not afford to commit all of his forces because he doesnʼt know where the main thrust will be. It was my opinion that the arms and ammunition they had with them was nowhere near sufficient for the people that wanted them.

Question: The JCS commenting on Trinidad said that it had a fair chance of success. Then I think that the record shows that they viewed the next alternatives and said that Zapata was the best of these three plans, but that they still preferred Trinidad.

General Shoup: Yes, sir, any corporal would have said that.

Question: The Chiefs rated the chances of success for Zapata as something less than fair. What was your appraisal of the chances of success of this operation?

General Shoup: The plan they had should have accomplished the mission in Zapata, if the plan had been brought to fruition.

Question: You did not expect a quick or strong reaction from the Castro forces?

General Shoup: I expected them to react, but not with some of the equipment with which they did react, and I donʼt think they would have if the plans had been carried out.

Question: As you saw this plan develop, the amphibious landing on a hostile shore, did you have any misgivings?

General Shoup: I very frankly made this statement, if this kind of an operation can be done with this kind of a force with this much training and knowledge about it, then we are wasting our time in our divisions, we ought to go on leave for three months out of four.

Mr. Dulles: Do you realize how many military men we had on this task force? Some of your very best officers. We took a great deal of responsibility, but we called on the Defense Department and I looked to them for military judgments. I didnʼt look to our people for military judgments.

Question: General Shoup, isnʼt that statement of yours somewhat in contradiction with your over-all optimism that this plan would work?

General Shoup: No, sir, it is not.

Question: Would you say that you took the same interest in this operation and made the same personal analysis as you would have done had you been in charge?

General Shoup: Iʼll say this. I spent a lot of sleepless hours over this because I worried about the thing because there was no plan for helping these men if there was something unforeseen, an act of God or something, that prevented a successful landing. In my opinion there would be [Page 497] no way to save them. There was no way to guarantee its success, but if the plan was executed, as planned, I believe it would have been successful. I couldnʼt find out all I wanted to about the plan. I knew I wasnʼt supposed to. It wasnʼt my responsibility. Had I been completely responsible I think that I would have known about everything. There were only four people in my headquarters that knew anything about the plan.

Statement: Letʼs go back to this question of military responsibility. Certainly you, as Commandant of the Marine Corps, had no responsibility for it, but as a member of the Joint Chiefs you did have responsibility for this operation.

General Shoup: Thatʼs not my understanding.

Statement: At least the JCS as a corporate body had responsibility for this operation.

General Shoup: Thatʼs not my understanding, only insofar as the Commander in Chief might want to know something about the adequacy of the plan, or the probability of success. Otherwise I donʼt feel that I or the other Joint Chiefs had any responsibility for the success of this plan.

Question: The Joint Chiefs are by law the advisors to the Secretary of Defense, National Security Council, and the President. Consequently, would you say that you should volunteer any advice on this subject?

General Shoup: As a member of the Joint Chiefs I donʼt know what the Chairman did. I donʼt know what happened at a lot of meetings at the White House or the State Department but I do know this, that within the corporate body I for one emphasized time after time that we had to have air superiority and we had to help this outfit fend off the force they were going to have opposing them down there.

Admiral Burke: There are three or four things that are the basis of this thing that ought to be clear. One is the responsibility of the Chiefs to comment on the plan. Another is the actual conduct of the operation, which was all in one place and that was in CIA.

Mr. Dulles: But that was done by military personnel.

Admiral Burke: But not under our command structure.

Statement: But as advisors to the President the JCS had a responsibility. The President had the right to look to the Joint Chiefs for advice during the planning or execution phase if they thought they had something important to offer.

General Shoup: Thatʼs true, as limited by their knowledge of all aspects of the plan.

Statement: And in the absence of hearing from the Chiefs he had a right to assume that everything was going satisfactorily.

General Shoup: Yes, to the limit of our knowledge. I want to tell you this right now. Had I as an individual heard that they were going to call [Page 498] off the air strikes Iʼd have asked that the Commander in Chief be informed. Iʼd have called him myself because it was absolutely essential to success. The D-2 affair was only a half effort.

Mr. Dulles: General, may I add this. The D-2 Day was essentially a plot, not a plan. The plan was the D-Day strike.

Question: Do you feel that you had absolute and complete knowledge about this operation?

General Shoup: Absolutely not.

Question: Did you understand that the President and his advisors were looking to you for your military evaluation of this plan?

General Shoup: The thing that we were asked to do was to determine which of the three alternatives was the best.

Question: But then after that, did you understand that during that period of time that the President was looking to you, the JCS, for the military evaluation of the operation?

General Shoup: I would have to presume that in accordance with his title as Commander in Chief he would be thinking about the military part.

Question: But you understand that he wanted to get your advice and ideas also?

General Shoup: That was never stated.

Question: What I am getting at is that if you feel that you didnʼt have full knowledge and information on the plan and at the same time the President was looking to you for advice, it seems to me it would be almost impossible for you to give him the military evaluation.

General Shoup: Well, you had to look at it in the context of what the agency said about the uprisings. I had no possible way to know or evaluate them. That in itself was a particularly important factor.

Statement: There was a general impression that the Joint Chiefs of Staff had approved this operation. I donʼt think there is any doubt but what they went ahead thinking that you and the other Joint Chiefs had approved the plan, but you now say that you didnʼt have full knowledge and information in order to evaluate the plan. That in itself is of some significance for the future.

General Shoup: One of the main features relating to the ultimate success of this was not whether you could put these ships in here and unload this military equipment, whether the people were properly trained to fend off a reasonable enemy effort.

Statement: Your idea of the plan is entirely different from some other peoplesʼ idea of the plan.

General Shoup: Iʼm telling the truth as I know it.

Statement: I donʼt think there is any doubt about that.

[Page 499]

Statement: The idea that the people would land on the beach and then take off into the swamp is a new one to us.

Admiral Burke: There was great emphasis on the uprisings and we spent hours and hours determining how to get additional equipment. We ended up with equipment for 30,000 people. The only slight difference I have with General Shoup is that it was my understanding that this group had to be able to hold a beachhead for some time, for several days.

Statement: Itʼs very significant that the Commandant of the Marine Corps, whom the President of the United States and the Secretary of State thought had approved this plan, had an entirely different idea of what the plan was. It seems that something has gone wrong somewhere along the line.

General Shoup: This whole thing was a function of time.

Statement: But when I asked you, you said they were going to get out of there the same day. They were only going to hold a beachhead long enough to unload the equipment. There wasnʼt any possibility of anybody coming down there. There wasnʼt anybody around there. Their idea was to hold that beachhead. I think it is important that when the President and the Secretary of State think they have your view, that they do have your view.

General Shoup: I donʼt think that the Chairman should go to the President as Commander in Chief on an operation of this kind by himself. There are three people here who are quite knowledgeable. The Chairman undoubtedly has a good grasp, but when you hit something like this, details are important.

Question: During the execution of this operation did you keep informed of what was taking place?

General Shoup: It is a question of degree. I had a liaison officer working for me to keep me advised.

Question: The ammunition situation turns out to be the vital factor that caused the ultimate defeat at the beachhead. Did you have a clear picture of how vitally the beach was hurting for ammunition?

General Shoup: No, with the exception that I was told that the ship that was sunk had arms and tank ammunition.

Question: But at the end of the second dayʼs fighting no one communicated to you the crisis that had arisen as a result of the lack of ammunition?

General Shoup: Yes, to the extent that the ships that were sunk had this vital ammunition. Whether or not the drops had rectified this situation I didnʼt know.

Question: What was your understanding of additional resupply of ammunition by ship?

[Page 500]

General Shoup: They had a regular plan drawn up. I canʼt tell you exactly what the plan was. The equipment was for 30,000 people.

Question: Was it reported to you that two of the cargo ships that had reserve ammunition had fled the area and one got as far south as 200 miles?

General Shoup: No, sir.

General Taylor: May I summarize now what my understanding is? That you would say that you as members of the Joint Chiefs first concurred in the feasibility of Trinidad Plan; that with regard to the Zapata Plan you concurred that it was the best of the three alternatives considered, and as you saw the plan develop you still felt it had a reasonable chance of success.

General Shoup: For the mission as I understood it.

General Taylor: You feel that the Joint Chiefs recognized their responsibility for advising the President, but did not make any special comments to him mainly because you thought the plan was going along all right.

General Shoup: I think you have to preface all these remarks by recognizing that I was not consulted as to whether such a thing ought to happen. That wasnʼt my business.

General Taylor: The overthrow of Castro you accepted?

General Shoup: Yes, that was national policy.

General Taylor: Wouldnʼt you say that the Joint Chiefs had every right and responsibility if they didnʼt believe that an amphibious landing of this kind would succeed, to so advise the President?

General Shoup: Absolutely.

General Taylor: Were you satisfied with the plan as being a feasible, reasonable plan?

General Shoup: To accomplish the mission as I understood it, not the destruction of the armed forces.

Question: What was the mission?

General Shoup: The mission was to get some well-trained military people into Cuba, who could gather into their fold and equip all the people that were just waiting for a chance to get at Castro, then these military people could develop a real military organization and increase their strength to the extent that the whole Castro regime would fall apart.

Question: The success of this operation was wholly dependent upon popular support?

General Shoup: Absolutely. Ultimate success.

Statement: Not only ultimate success, but any success really.

Question: Who gave you this information on the uprisings?

General Shoup: I donʼt know. I suppose it was CIA. Well, itʼs obvious we wouldnʼt be taking 30,000 additional rifles if we didnʼt think there [Page 501] was going to be somebody to use them. I donʼt think any military man would ever think that this force could overthrow Castro without support. They could never expect anything but annihilation.

Question: Youʼd say then that they would still be on the beach if the plan had been carried out as conceived and depended upon popular uprisings throughout the island of Cuba? Otherwise they would have been wiped out?

General Shoup: Absolutely. I donʼt think there is any doubt at all. Eventually 1,500 people cannot hold out against many, many thousands.

Question: Would you send 1,200 Marines in there to do that?

General Shoup: No, I wouldnʼt, unless 1,200 Marines are going to be assisted by 30,000 Cubans.

Question: Did somebody tell you thereʼd be 30,000 Cubans?

General Shoup: No, they didnʼt, but we were getting materials ready for them.

Question: Did you ask about the swamp?

General Shoup: Yes, I asked about it on the first briefings. Even in the rainy season parts of it were passable by foot and in the dry season much of it was passable by foot. There were a number of egresses other than the roads. Thatʼs what we were told.

Question: Were you in touch with General Gray during this?

General Shoup: To my knowledge I was personally present each time that General Gray briefed the Joint Chiefs.

Question: But aside from that, did he give you any individual briefings?

General Shoup: No, sir.

Question: If you were going to do this again and there was still the requirement that it be a covert operation, what changes would you make? Anything that would be materially different?

General Shoup: I donʼt think that at this time in 1961 or hereafter you are going to do it covertly.

Question: Did you really think that this could be covert in the sense that it would not be attributed to the United States?

General Shoup: I did not.

  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 12th in the series conducted by the Cuba Study Group and was held at the Pentagon. The participants at the meeting, in addition to Taylor, Kennedy, Dulles, and Burke, included General White, General Decker, General Shoup, Bissell, Mitchell, and Tarwater. A note at the top of the source text reads: “The following notes are not a verbatim record, but represent the general substance of the statements made.”