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35. Memorandum From the Joint Chiefs of Staff to Secretary of Defense McNamara0



  • Military Evaluation of the Cuban Plan

Attached hereto is the Military Evaluation of the Central Intelligence Agency Para-Military Plan, Cuba. Subject to your concurrence,1 the Joint Chiefs of Staff propose to forward copies of their assessment of the plan to the Director for Central Intelligence with the proposal that they meet with the Director for Central Intelligence and members of his staff for further discussion of this project.

For the Joint Chiefs of Staff:

L.L. Lemnitzer2


Joint Chiefs of Staff




  • Military Evaluation of the CIA Para-Military Plan, Cuba

1. The Joint Chiefs of Staff have evaluated the feasibility of the military portion of the CIA plan for action to effect the overthrow of the Castro regime and arrived at the following conclusions:

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a. Since the success of this operation is dependent on the degree of local Cuban support, this factor should be a matter of continuous evaluation until a decision to execute the operation is made.

b. Based on an independent analysis by the Joint Staff the beachhead area is considered to be the best area in Cuba for accomplishment of the Task Force mission.

c. There should be a review of the plan for air movement to the embarkation point to eliminate the possibility of compromise.

d. In view of the complexity of the loading and marshaling phase of this amphibious operation, the current plans should be reviewed to ensure detailed coordination and centralized control.

e. If surprise is achieved and the estimates of Castro's air defense capabilities are correct, the plan of air operations is within the capability of the Air units and should be successful.

f. Since it is highly improbable that the airborne assault would be opposed, it should be successful.

g. The amphibious assault should be successful even if lightly opposed; however the personnel and plans for logistic support are marginal at best. Against moderate, determined resistance logistic support as presently planned will be inadequate.

h. The scheme of maneuver to secure the beachhead area is basically sound.

i. Additional planning is required concerning the control and utilization of indigenous facilities, and personnel both for combat and support functions.

j. It would appear more desirable for guerrilla bands to support from outside the beachhead area rather than combining with the invasion force as currently planned.

k. Without interference from the air, obstacles or guerrillas the Cuban Army could move substantial forces to the area by D+2. Necessity to develop the situation and prepare a coordinated attack would take an estimated two additional days at a minimum. Interference by any of the three above factors would further delay a coordinated attack.

l. Since the Cuban Army is without experience in coordinated offensive action, the invasion force should be able to successfully resist the initial attacks.

m. Even if the task force is expanded by local volunteers, it is estimated that, lacking a popular uprising or substantial follow-on forces, the Cuban Army could eventually reduce the beachhead, but no estimate of the time this would require is possible.

n. This operation as presently envisaged would not necessarily require overt U.S. intervention.

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o. In view of loading requirements, a decision as to the execution of this operation must be made by D-21.

p. In summary, evaluation of the current plan results in a favorable assessment, modified by the specific conclusions set forth above, of the likelihood of achieving initial military success. It is obvious that ultimate success will depend upon political factors; i.e., a sizeable popular uprising or substantial follow-on forces. It should be noted that assessment of the combat worth of assault forces is based upon second and third hand reports, and certain logistic aspects of the plan are highly complex and critical to initial success. For these reasons, an independent evaluation of the combat effectiveness of the invasion force and detailed analysis of logistics plans should be made by a team of Army, Naval, and Air Force officers, if this can be done without danger of compromise of the plan.

q. Despite the shortcomings pointed out in the assessment, the Joint Chiefs of Staff consider that timely execution of this plan has a fair chance of ultimate success and, even if it does not achieve immediately the full results desired, could contribute to the eventual overthrow of the Castro regime.

2. It is recommended that the enclosed study be forwarded to the Director, Central Intelligence Agency, for information and consideration.

[Here follows a 3-page section entitled “Military Evaluation of Para-Military Plan,” which is identical with the conclusions outlined in paragraphs a-q above. The only substantive difference is the addition of a paragraph 2, under the heading “Facts Bearing on the Problem”; see footnote 7 below.]

Annex “A”


1. Enemy Forces. (Appendix “A” for details)4

a. Cuban Army—Total, 32,000 personnel, including 9,000 police, organized into four infantry regiments (strength, 2,000), three artillery battalions, three tank battalions and one AAA battalion. Nearest Army force to beachhead is approximately 100 miles away, consisting of 6,000 troops (one infantry regiment, one artillery battalion and one tank battalion, not confirmed). In beachhead area, there is a police squadron.

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b. Air Force—Three F-47; one F-51; 14 Sea Fury; 13 B-26; six TBM-38; 15 transport type aircraft; 22 helicopters of various types.

c. Navy—Total, approximately 5,000 personnel. Three PF; two PCE; 43 smaller craft.

d. Militia—Between 200,000 and 300,000 in strength. Well armed but combat capability is questionable. Approximately 1,200 militia are located in the beachhead area.

e. Combat Readiness of Cuban Armed Forces is low but improving. This improvement partially offset by deteriorating morale.

2. Friendly Forces. (Appendix “B” for details)

a. Cuban Task Force—1,004 personnel.

(1) An Infantry Battalion of four rifle companies (one airborne), totaling approximately 826 personnel and armed to include 4.2 mortars and 77 mm recoilless rifles, and a tank platoon of 5 M41 tanks.

(2) An Air Force consisting of 17 B-26's; 10 C-54's; 5 C-46's; supported by approximately 100 personnel, 18 of which are pilots. Maintenance is excellent and has adequate logistic support.

(3) Navy—3 LCU's; 2 LST type; 2 LCI; 4 LCP; 1 LSD (USN); and supported by approximately 40 Naval personnel.

b. Guerrillas—In Cuba, total 1,500 but in general area of beachhead (25 mile radius) five bands with an estimated strength of 660.

c. Cuban Volunteers after invasion. CIA is counting on a sizeable number of indigenous volunteers. This support will undoubtedly develop but the numbers cannot be estimated. Arms for 1,500 volunteers are included in initial lift.

3. Characteristics of the Invasion Area.

a. Terrain—The beachhead area is generally semicircular with a perimeter of approximately 11 miles. Within the beachhead area is a small city,5 a small airfield, roadnet and a river. The perimeter of the beachhead is generally anchored on low hill masses with a commanding hill mass, approximately 700 feet in height, at its north center. The area between the hill masses and the ocean is generally flat, with wooded and cultivated areas. Two good roads enter the area from the east and the west, with a railroad entering from the northeast. Tanks generally can operate throughout the beachhead.

b. Landing beaches—There are three small beaches in the landing area, two at river mouths and one on the west side of the bay formed by the rivers. The left river mouth beach is 100 to 150 yards in length, with 12 foot water depth up to the beach. The center beach, at the main river mouth, is 100 to 150 yards in length, with shoal water off the beach making it suitable only for LCVP's. The third beach, on the west side of the bay, is 50 to 60 yards in width with 7 feet of water up to the beach and easily identifiable by four buildings to the rear of the beach. Exits at all [Page 71]beaches are suitable for small vehicles, while the exit from the west beach is very good, suitable for vehicles and tanks. The seaward approaches are clear.

c. Airborne drop zone—The planned drop zone is approximately 2,000 yards in length, open and generally flat. It is located near the commanding hill mass within the beachhead. It is considered suitable for a company drop zone.

d. Strategic location—The beachhead is so located that it is remote from known concentrations of Cuban Army, access routes are limited and it can be readily isolated by cutting highway and railroad bridges at river crossings outside the beachhead area. Rugged terrain in the vicinity facilitates expansion of para-military operations.

4. Concept. (Appendix “C” for details) On D-1, air strikes are designed to neutralize Cuban Air Force, Cuban Naval patrol vessels, key communications facilities, and destroy tanks and artillery in parks. Second priority is isolation of the objective area. Following a feint on the night of D-1, prior to first light on D Day, the task force will invade by simultaneous air drop in the vicinity of the key hill mass and by amphibious landing on the selected beaches. Avoiding the city, control of the beachhead area will be established by seizing and organizing four strong points on key terrain along the perimeter which dominate entrance routes into the area. Contact will be established with guerrilla bands in general area of operations. Small air strip in area will be cleared. Every effort will be made to increase force by local volunteers for which arms will be provided. Force will establish control within beachhead area and if driven therefrom, be prepared to withdraw from beachhead area and link with guerrilla forces to continue guerrilla activities. For detailed concept of air employment and capabilities, see Appendix “D” to Annex “A”.

5. Logistics. (Appendix “E” for details) The supply of Class I, III and V6 is adequate. The shipping is limited and allows no margin for miscalculation or unforeseen contingencies. Of the 826 personnel in the Brigade, only 18 are specifically designated for logistic tasks. These 18 are in the 85 man Brigade Headquarters. The quantities of Class I, III and V supplies are adequate for the operation. The Brigade is without engineer or bridging capability. Plans call for Class I, III and V supplies to be mounted-out from New Orleans, Guatemala and Nicaragua. These supplies are available for both air and surface lift. Transportation is adequate for the initial phases of the operation on an austere basis.

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Annex “B”


1. Friendly Forces

a. A task force with an approximate strength of 1040 officers and enlisted men has been recruited, assembled and is now undergoing training. This task force consists of a ground force unit with an approximate strength of 826 personnel, a seaborne support element of approximately 40 individuals, and an air combat and support element with an approximate personnel strength of 100.

b. The ground force unit is organized along the lines of a U.S. Infantry Battalion and consists of one Headquarters and Support Company, four Rifle Companies, one Heavy Gun Company and one Tank (M41) Platoon. One Rifle Company has received airborne training, one Rifle Company has received training as motorized infantry to operate with the Tank Platoon, and three of the Rifle Companies are theoretically trained to engage in amphibious landings. To date, no actual training in amphibious landings has been accomplished by the Rifle Companies. Boat crews to operate the landing craft are currently undergoing training. M41 tank crews have not received sufficient training as yet; however, it is anticipated that adequate training will be provided within the United States. Eighty airborne trained personnel have received additional training as a special purpose unit, designed to parachute into general area of operation on D-Day to insure that strategic bridges are demolished and thereby denied to the enemy. (For further details on assault force, see Appendix “B” to Annex “A”.)

c. Seaborne support unit has available a limited number of vessels and landing craft for training and for the conduct of its operational mission. (For further details, see Appendix “B” to Annex “A”.) A detachment of 11 personnel is receiving specialized training in underwater operations to qualify them to mark the channel of approach for landing craft on D-Day.

d. The Air Force combat and support element has available 18 trained pilots within its total strength of 100. Aircraft available and being used for training are: 17 B-26's, 10 C-54's, and 5 C-46's.

e. All of the above information was obtained by representatives of the Joint Staff as a result of a briefing held 31 January 1961. There is no indication that personnel of the task force have received a combat type checklist evaluation to determine its combat readiness.

2. Beachhead Area. The general objective area is isolated from the location of Cuban Army units and is strategically located so as to facilitate blocking rapid reinforcement by cutting bridges on the two main [Page 73]roads and the railroad into the area. The location of the area also facilitates expansion of military and para-military operations. The selected beaches for the amphibious assault are suitable for the landing envisaged, provide adequate exits, and can be readily identified from seaward. The airborne landing area is adequate for the planned one company drop and is adjacent to the company's objective area. Tanks can operate throughout most of the beachhead area. Overall, the objective area is considered desirable for the type operation envisaged.

3. Air Movement to the Port of Embarkation. The troops that are to be moved amphibiously will be flown to Puerto Cabezas during three consecutive nights prior to their departure for Cuba. This airlift is well within the capability of the volunteer force. However, this traffic converging on Puerto Cabezas, coming on the heels of recent construction there, might alert Castro-Communist elements who could possibly observe the loading of the troops on the LST's and report this information to Cuba. To eliminate this possibility, other plans for moving these troops to the LST's should be examined. For example: It might be feasible to airlift these troops from Retalehuleu to Swan Island for loading onto the LST's. This would reduce the likelihood of being observed by Castro-Communist elements, and would cut the time needed to move from the point of embarkation to the invasion beaches by approximately one day.

4. Sea Movement

a. The plan requires that shipping be loaded at New Orleans, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Vieques. Commencing at D-15, shipping will load supplies at New Orleans and proceed independently to ports in Guatemala and Nicaragua. At the same time, other ships of the invasion force will be loading personnel and equipment at Vieques. All shipping, upon completion of embarkation, will steam independently to a rendezvous area off the Cayman Islands to arrive on D-1. Each ship will travel on individual orders without knowledge of the orders of other ships in the force. The result will be dependent on the coordination and control exercised in the execution of a detailed, exacting plan. Once in the rendezvous area at the Cayman Islands, certain key personnel will conduct pre-D-Day transfer among shipping. The final movement into the objective area includes the rendezvous with the invasion fleet of one U.S. Navy LSD. Final juncture of shipping is effected at H-5 hours on D-Day off the invasion beaches.

b. The complicated and multiple ship movements for the 14 days prior to D-Day will require plans in exact detail, executed under centralized control and coordination.

5. Air Operations

a. Given the correctness of the current CIA estimate of Cuban air defense capabilities, and assuming the air attack will have the advantage [Page 74]of surprise, the D-1 and D-Day air operations should be generally successful.

b. However, if the CIA estimate is incorrect, and it develops that the Cubans possess jet aircraft and pilots, and ground to air missiles, the air strikes could fail.

c. Furthermore, if the element of surprise is lost, the Cubans could utilize a few of their Sea Furys and B-26 aircraft airborne. The Cubans could also set sugar cane fires generating smoke that could frustrate at least some air strike missions, with the over-all effect that the D-1 and D-Day air operations would not accomplish all assigned missions.

6. Airborne Assault. The task force has adequate transport aircraft to lift the entire airborne infantry company to the landing zone within the beachhead. In view of the size of the drop zone, and its location in relation to the airborne company's objective, the airborne assault should be successful in seizing and holding the key terrain objective.

7. The Amphibious Assault

a. The amphibious element of the force has received no amphibious training and is not now scheduled to receive any prior to the operation. This deficiency will not be too serious if estimate of unopposed landing holds true. Nevertheless, lack of sufficient trained shore party personnel will complicate control in moving personnel and materiel across the beaches. Facilities for handling broached boats are not available. Trained personnel are not generally available for traffic control, beach installations, and control of dump sites.

b. Beaches are adequate to land personnel and equipment according to plan. Routes of egress restrict the landing of heavy vehicles to the beach on the right flank. Beaches are generally marked by significant terrain features. In addition, UDT trained personnel will be utilized to mark the approaches to the principal beach on the right flank.

c. The amphibious assault does appear feasible, but there should be detailed plans to insure coordination of landing and effective handling of supplies and equipment across the beach and at least mockup training should be conducted.

d. The personnel and plans for logistic support are marginal at best. This operation may be supported logistically on an austere basis during an unopposed landing. If opposition increases, the logistical aspects will rapidly worsen. Against moderate, determined resistance, this plan will fail to provide adequate logistic support.

8. Concept of Control of Beachhead Area

a. The concept of the invasion assigns the airborne company the mission of seizing the key hill mass which dominates the northern portion of the beachhead area and the town. One company lands amphibiously on the left flank beach, then proceeds to an objective area on the left [Page 75]flank which controls routes of ingress from the west. The first company to land amphibiously on the right flank beach clears the airfield, then moves to an objective area on the northeast portion of the beachhead area which controls the main highway and railroad from the east. The last company leaves one platoon on the right flank beach to assist in beach operations; the remainder of the company clears the port, then proceeds to an objective area on the eastern part of the beachhead area to control the unimproved roads in that area that lead to the east.

b. The units will maintain control by establishment of strong points, road blocks, and neutralization of avenues of approach. Patrols will be utilized to cover the principal routes leading into the beachhead area.

c. A major problem could arise in control of indigenous personnel. In this regard, desirability of control of radio and news media may be stressed. Provisions need be made for the prevention of sabotage, operation of port facilities, traffic control measures to restrict civilian movement in the beachhead area, care and control of POW's, and utilization of indigenous labor. Particular attention is required to restrict local civilian personnel from interfering with air operations at the air strip within the beachhead area. The question of local procurement of materiel on the local market may merit consideration. The plan is deficient in that it does not provide for these matters. It has been indicated that plans are being prepared which will take these problems into account. However, the size and composition of the force as it now stands is inadequate to fulfill the requirements described above.

d. The invasion force intends to establish contact with the guerrilla bands now operating in the general area of operations. According to currently available intelligence, it is estimated that within a 25 mile radius of the objective area, five guerrilla bands with a total estimated strength of 660 may cooperate with the task force. Another guerrilla band with an estimated strength of 90 is operating approximately 30 miles west of the objective area. Two additional guerrilla bands are operating some 40 miles north of the objective area. The concept is for these bands to reinforce the invasion force in the beachhead area. This part of the concept is not considered sound. It would appear that it would be desirable for the guerrilla bands now established within the area of operations to intensify operations and hold their current operating areas as a base to which the invasion force can withdraw if it is forced out of the beachhead.

9. Local Indigenous Support

a. Any invasion to overthrow the Castro regime would probably be supported by many segments of the population, especially if it showed some early success. Continued support of the invasion would depend largely on the identification of leaders with the hopes and aspirations of the bulk of the population. While some preliminary softening probably [Page 76]would be accepted as necessary for success of the operation, wholesale bombings would tend to unite the people behind Castro, especially if there was high loss of life as a result.

b. If the leaders of the movement can get their message across to the people rapidly and with a united voice, support probably will be forthcoming from all segments, including the armed forces and militia and widespread defections could be expected. However, a split in the leadership, or lack of a clear program appealing to the people, could well prevent any effective support developing. In the general area of operations, the loyalty of the militia and police units is probably divided between support for Castro and support for the anti-Castro guerrillas operating in the mountains. The militia units now engaged in counter-guerrilla operations were drawn from other provinces in order to assure their loyalty. Therefore, considerable local support for the invasion force can probably be expected. Likewise, if widespread support for the invasion force develops, it would reduce the militia units and rebel army elements available to oppose the landing force in subsequent operations.

10. Resistance to Invasion and Time and Space Factors on Cuban Army Reaction

a. The nearest Cuban Army Forces, approximately 100 miles away, are not normally concentrated but scattered throughout the area. Even if assembly of these forces commences on the evening of D-1, it is estimated that only a small element (approximately 1 battalion) could commence movement towards the area by the night of D-Day. Additional forces could begin departing for the area immediately thereafter as transportation becomes available. The initial elements of these forces could arrive in the area in about 8 hours, and could begin to probe the beachhead by D+1.

b. By U.S. combat standards without interference from the air, obstacles or guerrillas, a force of approximate regimental size should be able to attack late on D+1. However, in view of the inexperience of the Cuban Army in this type of operation it is estimated that a force large enough to attack in strength could not be assembled in the beachhead area before D+2. The necessity to develop the location of the invasion force positions and prepare a coordinated attack would probably take an additional two days, although minor attacks or piecemeal attacks could occur between D+2 and D+4. If there is interference as planned from the air, obstacles or guerrillas, the mounting of a coordinated counterattack would be further delayed.

c. Without interference, tank units could reach the area from Santa Clara by road in approximately 8 hours and from Managua by rail and road in a maximum of 56 hours after starting to load.

d. Even if the invasion task force is expanded by local volunteers, it is estimated that, lacking a popular uprising or substantial follow-on [Page 77]forces, the Cuban Army could eventually reduce the beachhead, but no estimate of the time this would require is possible.

11. Political-Military Considerations

a. When this plan was originally briefed to the Joint Staff in outline form the impression was gained that the force would occupy a small perimeter in the mountains where it could fairly easily be surrounded and destroyed. If such an event should appear imminent after declaration of a provisional government and U.S. recognition, U.S. overt support would have to be given to uphold U.S. prestige regardless of the international consequences. The detailed explanation of the plan now reveals that if the beachhead area cannot be held, the force together with leaders of the provisional government will withdraw into the mountains and join existing guerrilla bands. In this eventuality, the invasion force will not have completely failed in its mission, and the U.S. would not necessarily be committed to overt support. Therefore, a decision to commit this force would not necessarily require a simultaneous decision for overt U.S. military action.

b. If the United States had not recognized the provisional government prior to abandonment of the beachhead, subsequent U.S. actions could be in the form of continued covert support of a guerrilla movement. If the United States had recognized the provisional government, prior to abandonment of the beachhead, then a decision as to whether U.S. prestige would require overt support would be required. This eventuality should be considered at the time the basic decision to execute the plan is made.

c. The present plan does not allow for the possibility of follow-up support from other Latin American countries in subsequent phases of the operation. Such support would increase the capabilities of the military force and, it is estimated, would intensify local Cuban support. The introduction of such forces would create problems of supply, command, prestige, etc. which would be solvable, but which would have to be anticipated and included in prior planning. Therefore, a decision as to possible OAS support should be sought without delay.

12. Ability to Accomplish Mission

a. The following are factors favorable to the invasion force:

(1) Probably unopposed landing.

(2) Probable lack of air opposition.

(3) Availability of friendly air support.

(4) Suitability of terrain for fixed defense.

(5) Remoteness of beachhead area.

(6) Assistance from guerrillas.

(7) High motivation and morale.

b. Following are factors unfavorable to the invasion force:

(1) Lack of reserves.

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(2) Lack of logistic support elements.

(3) Lack of freedom of maneuver.

c. Following are unknown factors:

(1) Degree of popular support.

(2) Capabilities of Cuban Army to successfully counterattack.

d. Considering the above factors, on balance the invasion force should be able to accomplish objectives as stated in paragraph 2a and c.7 Since objective stated in paragraph 2b is dependent on degree of popular support and success of the political, psychological part of this plan rather than on purely military factors, success of this part of the mission cannot be definitely assured, but it is estimated has a fair chance of success.8

“a. Invade the island of Cuba by amphibious and airborne assault.

“b. Hold a beachhead long enough to establish a provisional government, act as a rallying point for volunteers and a catalyst for uprisings throughout Cuba.”c. Integrate with existing guerrilla bands and carry on guerrilla operations if driven from the beachhead area.”

  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Countries Series, Cuba, Subjects, Taylor Report. Top Secret; Limited Distribution. According to a May 4 memorandum in which he detailed his briefings of the JCS on the paramilitary plan, Major General David W. Gray gave the JCS a 20-minute briefing on February 3 on the CIA Para-Military Plan, Trinidad area, which is outlined in JCSM-57-61. (Ibid.)
  2. In a handwritten note on the source text at this point, McNamara authorized the Joint Chiefs to forward the assessment to the CIA and to discuss the project with CIA officials in light of the assessment.
  3. Printed from a copy that indicates Lemnitzer signed the original.
  4. Top Secret; Limited Distribution. The memorandum is marked as a draft, but it is the assessment forwarded to McNamara on February 3, under cover of JCSM-57-61.
  5. Appendices A-E to Annex A are attached but not printed.
  6. Trinidad.
  7. Class I covered subsistence materials, including food, Class III involved petroleum products, and Class V was ammunition.
  8. Paragraph 2 of the first section of the study, not printed, lists a 3-part mission for the Cuban exile force:
  9. According to General Gray's May 4 list of JCS briefings, on February 8 the Director of Central Intelligence and several CIA officials met with the Joint Chiefs of Staff to discuss the JCS comments on the Trinidad Plan outlined in JCSM-57-61. Agreement was reached that a team of military officers would evaluate the combat effectiveness of the Cuban Expeditionary Force.