210. Memorandum for the Record0

General White

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

General White: I donʼt know.

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

General White: Our evaluation was that the operation had a fair chance of success based on (1) the mission and (2) the intelligence, which indicated that popular uprisings were likely. The next point that weighed heavily in my mind was the probability that this force could escape into the hills to the northwest of the search area and join with guerrillas there if they were unable to enlarge the beachhead. The third point was the importance of surprise, particularly in the air part of the picture. The Zapata plan was briefed at a JCS meeting. I was not there. Curt LeMay was, however, and he filled me in on the three alternatives; and the fact that the Chiefs thought that the Trinidad operation was still the best, but that of the three alternatives presented, Zapata was probably the best.

Question: As you learned more about the Zapata plan, did you ever make an appraisal in your own mind as to the probability of success?

General White: I felt all along that the success or failure of this operation depended almost entirely upon the reaction of the Cuban people. If we were able to establish and enlarge the beachhead somewhat, plus other subsidiary operations, if we did these things, the Cuban people would join in.

Question: Describe your recollection of the beachhead plan. How did you visualize that this force would behave when they got ashore?

General White: Well, the number one thing that I felt was vital was surprise air attacks on the several air fields. While I donʼt have a high regard for the Cuban air force, certainly it is a prerequisite for going ashore that you have air control, and I think the air strikes were the key to [Page 503] it and surprise was the key to the key so to speak. It seemed to me that if the location and timing of the attack were not known, that they would have a very good chance of establishing at least sufficient lodgment to be able to escape without disaster.

Question: Assuming the air strikes?

General White: Yes, and that the air strikes were achieved with surprise.

Question: When the Joint Chiefs commented on Trinidad and as Zapata initially developed to have the only strikes on D Day, did that appear adequate to knock out the Castro force?

General White: It was felt that heavy surprise attack, and if I could have only had one, I would have picked the one on D Day rather than one earlier, for two reasons: (1) I think the early one may have tipped off that this thing was coming, (2) I remember mentioning down there that I was a little bit worried about the relationship between Cuba and Guatemala because it would be obvious that the aircraft were coming from there, and I wasnʼt quite sure what the situation would be. At another point I thought that if we did do the pre-D Day strikes, there was a pretty good chance that world reaction would be such that the thing would be called off, and I had been keen on the United States seeking the initiative in some areas, and I thought that on balance this was a feasible show and I wanted to see it go on.

Question: How did you feel about the final limited plan of eight sorties against the air fields?

General White: In my opinion, it was fatally weak.

Question: Would it have been better not to have had them?

General White: I think the best operation would have been to launch as heavy a strike as we could on the air fields on the day of the attack.

Question: Who was the proponent of the D-2 strikes, Allen? I donʼt recall that point.

Mr. Dulles: I think that it was partly in our shop and partly with Mac Bundy, as I recall. The idea of the defections—this was one of the keys to the idea that the planes that were striking Cuban airfields were operating from Cuba.

Mr. Dulles: I canʼt say whether that limited strike concept was ever brought over here or not. I think it must have been known to General Gray, but I donʼt know whether it was discussed in the Joint Chiefs.

Admiral Burke: It was, but not before it was decided to do it. I think that this was done at the behest of State in order to get a Cuban defector ahead of time, so that it would be believed that Cubans were conducting the air strikes from Cuba.

Statement: Well, weʼll see what Grayʼs record shows on that.

Question: You thought that Zapata looked like a feasible plan?

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General White: Yes. However, I felt it was inferior to the Trinidad plan.

Question: Did you feel that you had a reasonable understanding of what the plan amounted to by the time D Day approached?

General White: Yes, I had a reasonable understanding of the plan as it was supposed to go but didnʼt.

Question: Would you say you made a personal study of this, at least of the air elements?

General White: Yes, and I had action officers who were privileged with this information who worked very close with the Joint Staff and with CIA and on appropriate occasions they briefed me on what was going on in addition to the meetings we had formally in the JCS.

Question: Do you recall when you learned about this D-2 plan?

General White: No, I do not. I have no memory of any change. The D-1 strike and the D Day strikes were the ones that I was under the impression would go.

Question: I forgot the D-1 air strikes, Allen. That was discussed I know, but did that ever get going?

Mr. Dulles: Well, that was discussed, but it never went.

General White: May I say I remember very well the discussion of defectors. We got into it because we had the air defense force moving down to Homestead in Florida with its additional radar, and we wanted to get the defectors in and to be on guard in case the Cuban air force made a strike against Florida.

Question: You were in favor of this plan then?

General White: Yes, to the degree that it had a fair chance of success on the basis that the objective was to get a rallying of Cuban people.

Question: Did you make any distinction between Zapata and Trinidad?

General White: In my opinion the Trinidad operation was a better one, but once the decision was made to go into Zapata, we backed it.

Question: You wouldnʼt have backed it if you didnʼt think there would be a chance of success?

General White: I think it also had a fair chance of success, but I think the chances were better in the Trinidad operation.

Question: Viewing this from the point of view of the President, you, of course, felt that the JCS were the primary military advisors. He heard nothing from the Chiefs with regard to any infeasibility of this plan. Is it fair to say that the Chiefs would have volunteered their comment if they really thought that this thing was going badly?

General White: Without any question. The problem was that there were last minute changes of which we did not know.

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Question: You refer to the last minute cancellation of the air strikes?

General White: Yes.

Statement: But that was just one factor.

General White: I think that was a very key factor, sir.

Statement: Well, in this operation, I think we would be convinced that the plan wouldnʼt have been any more successful if we had had the air strikes.

General White: Well, I really believe that the Cuban air force had a whale of an effect on the bad outcome. It is difficult to say what an air strike on D Day at dawn would have done, but it might very well have made the difference in my opinion.

Question: In the performance of the T-33s, were you surprised at how effective they were?

General White: I was surprised to find that they were armed.

Question: You did not consider that they were combat aircraft?

General White: We did not.

Question: Well, had you known they were armed?

General White: Well, there again you come back to how effective the air strikes would have been. I certainly would have wanted the T-33s to be one of the main targets of the strike force.

Question: Was it any surprise to you that these T-33s could take out the B-26s?

General White: No, there was no surprise about that. Thatʼs another thing, the B-26s were used as air cover over the beaches. The B-26 is a light bomber.

Statement: Yes, but you knew that was the case—that that was the only cover they would have on the beach.

General White: Yes, but they were supposed to have air strikes which would come first and the B-26s, as I understood it, would be used largely for ground support.

Question: You said that you would have recommended that the T-33s be knocked out?

General White: In planning these strikes for the three airfields, certainly I would have urged that we concentrate strikes on the fields that had the T-33s.

Question: Would you have made a recommendation that they be knocked out?

General White: We didnʼt know that they were armed.

Question: Based on the information you had, then you would never have recommended that they be knocked out?

General White: They would have been included in the over-all plan to knock out Castroʼs air force.

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Statement: Yes, but they were on the field on D-2, but they didnʼt knock them out.

General White: Had we known that the T-33s were armed, we might well have highlighted the field where the T-33s were located.

Question: Did you think that the crews they had were sufficient in number? Did that concern you at all?

General White: I think the numbers were adequate. We sent an Air Force officer down as part of a team to make an evaluation. They made quite a complete report. The report was very favorable on the quality of the Cuban pilots.

Question: By the time D Day afternoon came, the crews were exhausted because they had to fly from Nicaragua to Cuba in a seven-hour trip.

Statement: This is a very important point. I think the record shows that they had 17 Cuban pilots and about six American pilots. Now, suppose they had knocked out Castroʼs aircraft and then provided air cover over the beach because the invasion force immediately attracted very heavy forces of the Castro ground units. As I picture it, this would have put a major strain on this little air force.

Admiral Burke: I think some of the pilotsʼ energy was dissipated in sitting up all night waiting to go and they didnʼt go, but this was just as bad as going.

Question: How many pilots would it take to keep two planes over the airfield during daylight?

General White: Do you want me to check it or give you an off-hand answer?

Question: Did that ever occur to you during this time?

General White: Perhaps not specifically, but Iʼm sure I evaluated it in my own mind and my people did.

Question: What was your concept of this plan? What was it intended to do, and how would they go about it?

General White: It was intended to make a lodgment and then fan out to gain as much of the beachhead as possible, expecting that there would be a great many of the guerrilla people and other defectors that would join in, and we had ammunition and equipment to give them as they came in to the fold.

Question: The guerrillas were to come in to the beach?

General White: Yes, wherever they could join in.

Question: Then they would just come down into that area where the landing took place?

General White: I understand that there were leaflets to be dropped and a general call for the people to rise against Castro.

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Question: When was the uprising to take place?

General White: I think as soon as it could be generated.

Question: Was it to take place simultaneously or within a short period?

General White: Within a short period, I would say beginning with D Day it ought to snowball.

Question: How did you visualize any great number of these civilians coming in to the beachhead area with Castroʼs forces coming down the same route, in, behind, and along the lines of communication?

General White: I understand there were a good number of defectors who came over even under the circumstances.

Question: Did you think that this group of 1,200 people could hold this beachhead?

General White: There was a fair chance of holding the beachhead if the air was knocked out. We had also anticipated that there would be more uprisings throughout Cuba which would divert the Cuban armed forces elsewhere and they would not be able to concentrate on this one place.

Statement: Just so the record is complete, when we had a briefing from one of the pilots, we asked him about the T-33s and he said they werenʼt aware at the time of the problem or difficulty with the T-33s and they concentrated on the B-26s.

Question: The question of going guerrilla has come up. It was thought that if things went badly, these people could operate as guerrillas. How was this presented to the Joint Chiefs and how did they regard that alternative?

General White: On this particular operation, I cannot say. On the Trinidad operation, Iʼve a very clear memory.

Question: Would you say that the guerrilla phase was specifically studied by the Joint Chiefs?

General White: Only the fact that there were guerrillas in the area and that it was anticipated that the people would join with them.

Question: Was there any thought to evacuating by sea?

General White: Not until later in the game.

Question: How did the Joint Chiefs follow the course of the operation after D Day? Were you kept informed of what was going on?

General White: I was kept informed generally by my action officer.

Question: Did you have liaison with General Grayʼs office?

General White: Yes, sir.

Question: Were you aware of the criticality of the ammunition situation at the end of the second day?

General White: I had heard about it.

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Question: But you didnʼt have any realization that the battle would be won or lost the night of D+1-D+2 unless they got ammunition?

General White: No. My impression is that in general we had very little knowledge of what was actually taking place at the beachhead.

Question: How would you define the responsibility of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in this operation?

General White: Number one, we were called on for our views; we gave them to the best of our ability; and once the decision was made to go into Zapata, we supported it any way we could.

Question: Would you say you had the responsibility to volunteer advice to the President and since he received no contrary advice he had a right to assume that all was well?

General White: Yes, except that a number of things took place that I did not know about. I knew nothing about the cancellation of the air strikes.

Question: I am going to ask the same question I asked General Shoup. Do you feel that the JCS studied this plan and gave it that cold hard look which they would have given it had it been their plan?

General White: Certainly they did with the Trinidad plan. I donʼt know about Zapata. I was not there when it was briefed. It was my understanding, however, that the basic over-all considerations were similar. I would say we did not make as detailed an evaluation of the alternatives as we did the Trinidad plan.

Question: Looking back on this thing now with the benefit of experience, how do you feel about the covert nature of the plan? Was it realistic to consider that this could be kept covert—by that I mean a plan that cannot be attributed plausibly to the United States?

General White: I am sure that we could not expect to train a very sizable group of people with aircraft in any part of the world, at least any populated part of the world, without the world knowing. So I am sure that the training base in Guatemala was well known to the Cubans. This is hearsay. I was told that somebody briefed many Latin American governments about this forthcoming operation to get their views and met with almost unanimous disapproval. Iʼd say this alone was enough for a tipoff.

Statement: I believe this was Mr. Berleʼs mission down south.

Question: Do you have any comment on a landing on a hostile shore which is covert?

General White: I donʼt object to the military doing covert things; in fact, this may be a wise way for the future on this sort of thing. But there are certain considerations; I donʼt believe you should have U.S. officers in uniform because this puts them into a different category and they take risks beyond those which are usually expected of them in peace time. As [Page 509] far as covert operations are concerned, I think probably they should be done under the aegis of some agency other than Defense.

Mr. Dulles: The question is, can there be a section in the Department of Defense that has been sheep-dipped or something. How are we going to do this in the future?

General White: I think there should be greater Department of Defense participation; in fact, I think perhaps the responsibility ought to be placed on military professionals, but I believe it still should be under the aegis of some other agency. I would not like to see this type of operation attributable to the Department of Defense.

Statement: It might have been done something like this. The CIA could have done everything up to and including recruiting, assembling, and putting them into a covert training area, and organizing the covert protection around it. Training at that point could have been turned over to the Department of Defense. Planning could have been turned over to the Department of Defense and the execution turned over to the Department of Defense.

General White: Thatʼs all right with me. However, I think that the cover should be with the CIA or some agency other than the DOD.

Mr. Dulles: When you get an operation this big, the cover blows off.

Question: What do you say about the quality of interdepartmental coordination on this plan?

General White: I think it could be improved very much. I donʼt know of a formalized body short of the NSC that takes a problem like this and integrates all the interested Government agencies into a planning group.

Statement: Itʼs been a problem for a long time.

General White: I think not only in this type of thing but in the cold war. After all, in hot war, weʼre certainly organized for it and we hope ready for it. Limited wars—weʼre organized for and we hope prepared for, but this kind of covert operation weʼre talking about now is part of the cold war. The cold war is on every day of our lives and I think we need a similar organization to fight the cold war.

Question: Have you spelled that out?

General White: OCB started this kind of a thing I believe, but it was always kind of loose. The organization we need is not only to oppose Soviet power, but to take the initiative.

Statement: I wish you would give us your thoughts at your leisure.

General White: My staff has prepared a study on this subject which I subscribe to.

General White: Almost every agency in the Government is involved in fighting this cold war.

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Question: Are you suggesting that possibly the NSC framework is the place to hang this or are you talking about something separate?

General White: I think the NSC is too high level an organization. I donʼt think it should be an operating organization. I conceive this to be an operational group. They undoubtedly would have to report to the NSC or send it to the President.

Question: Would you give us your views on this thing?

General White: My views will be just what is contained in this study.

Question: Will you send us a copy of the study?

General White: Yes, sir.

Question: Will you go back to the operations for a minute? Do you think that in view of the circumstances, this was given sufficient time and attention by the Joint Staff?

General White: Yes, up to the word “go” but there were a lot of last minute changes.

Question: I understand that, but as of the 15th of March, the “go ahead” signal from a military point of view to the President and to those who were making the decisions was given. Thereafter, there were continuous meetings that took place and nobody came forward and said, this is going to be fatal; we shouldnʼt go ahead. Really considerable support developed from individual members and from the Chairman. The President understood that it was supported by the Joint Chiefs of Staff. In view of all this, do you feel it was given sufficient time and attention by you as an individual and by the Joint Chiefs of Staff?

General White: I will make the single point that General Shoup made. I think there were times when the Chairman was consulted and although he has been extraordinarily conscientious to keep us informed, I think that things took place at levels above the Joint Chiefs of Staff about which we were not fully informed. On those things which we had cognizance of, I believe the Joint Chiefs accomplished their task.

Mr. Kennedy: For instance, as I look at the records, I see that the original Zapata plan plus the alternatives were considered by the JCS for twenty minutes.

General White: I canʼt tell you the times because I wasnʼt there, but I believe by virtue of the study that was made on the Trinidad plan, that it was fairly easy to have a good look at the Zapata plan and come up with a statement that the Trinidad plan was still the best, but that of the three alternatives Zapata was the best.

Question: Then your answer is that you feel that you gave sufficient time, opinion and study.

General White: On an over-all basis, yes, sir.

  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 took place at the Pentagon. The participants in the meeting, in addition to Taylor, Kennedy, Dulles, and Burke, included General White, General Decker, General Shoup, Bissell, 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.”