When the Russians Blinked

The U.S. Maritime Response
to the Cuban Missile Crisis
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Major John M. Young
United States Marine Corps Reserve
Occasional Paper

the Cuban Missile Crisis, including such men as former Soviet
Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko, Fidel Castro's politiburo
member Risket Valdez, and Robert McNamara, the Secretary of
Defense during the Kennedy administration, all agreed that
both sides drastically misjudged the other.
misjudged Soviet intentions on the original emplacement of
the missiles. The Soviets believed they could secretly
introduce the missiles and that when they were installed, we
would not respond. The Soviets and Cubans believed that the
United States intended to invade Cuba prior to the crisis,
but we had no such intent.2 With the misinformation and
history of mistrust, the recipe was disaster.
If the Soviets intended to address the strategic nuclear
balance, their Cuban plans were a failure. As twenty-five
more years of history have demonstrated, nuclear war has
been averted without the presence of Soviet missiles in cuba.
If the Soviets' intention was to deter an invasion, their
plans could then be considered to be a success, although it
is doubtful that a conventional military operation would have
been undertaken against Cuba even if the missiles had never
been emplaced or discovered.
However, it is curious to note that in a number of
places in the sources researched, indications were found that
the U.S. Navy was at least planning to be ready to implement
2. McNamara, Robert S., liThe Lessons of OCtober: An Insider
Recalls the Cuban Crisis," February 13, 1989, p.47

CINCLANT OPLAN 312 as early as the latter part of September
or the early part of October 1962. This is significant
because the presence of the missiles was not discovered until
October 16th and the President was not infonned until the
morning of October 17, 1962. It is not surprising that the
military had drafted contingency plans for the attack of
Cuba, but it is unusual that the military, apparently upon
its own analysis of international events, began undertaking
specific plans to be ready to implement a contingency plan to
the extent of prepositioning equipment and supplies in the
anticipated theatre of operations. More specific research on
this question was beyond the scope of this paper
concentrating on the participation of the u.s. Marine Corps
in the crisis.
It is probable that, had the Soviets not escalated the
Cuban Crisis to the nuclear level, there would have been
tremendous pressure upon President Kennedy to "do" something
about Cuba from the more conservative elements of Congress,
the military, and the country. Although there does not appear
to be any evidence of specific plans being undertaken to
mount another Brigade 2506 type invasion, it was certainly an
option. If given even limited conventional military
assistance in the form of air or naval support, a second
attempt might have been much more successful. Although a
"deal" was reached which provided for the removal of the
missiles in exchange for a non-invasion pledge, the agreement
was never formally implemented because one provision was the

targets within range. President Kennedy did minimize this
risk ~ decreeing that any missile attack launched from Cuba
would be considered as one launched from the Soviet Union,
justifying a retaliatory response. That statement alone,
however, could have proved to be disastrous. If a site were
about to be overrun by an invading force, would the site
crews have launched rather than allowing their missiles to be
overtaken by their enemy? Or could Cuban crews have
overtaken the sites and launched the missiles themselves,
even against the Soviets' wishes, as apparently was the case
with the downing of Major Anderson's U-2? It is entirely
conceivable that, if Castro perceived his government to be in
danger of overthrow, he would have "pushed the button" if he
had any way to do so. If President Kennedy had followed
through with his threat, then he would have been bound to
have retaliated against the Soviet Union for what might not
have been an attack ordered by the Soviet national command
Another weakness of the quarantine decision was its
forfeiture of the element of surprise. The Soviets did not
know that we had discovered the presence of their missiles.
After the announcement of their discovery, the alert status
of their air defense crews no doubt was raised. That
forfeiture of surprise, however, had a collateral benefit.
Khrushchev's greatest "hold card" during the crisis was his
conventional superiority to attack Berlin or some other
European target where the West would have been vulnerable.

By forfeiting the element of surprise, Khrushchev was
maneuvered into a position of being an attacker or aggressor
himself had he chosen this option.
The concern expressed by many military officers during
the quarantine debate within Excomm was its inability to
obtain the actual removal of the missiles. Its objective was
the voluntary removal of the missiles by the Soviets and, it
must be admitted, the West at that time had not been very
successful in obtaining the voluntary cooperation of the
Soviets to do much of anything.
This is where the importance of the Marines came into
play. President Kennedy warned that the quarantine was only
the first step. As several of the sources in the previous
chapter indicate, the motivating factor for Khrushchev to
finally make the decision to voluntarily remove the missiles
was his knowledge that an actual invasion of Cuba was
eminent. And, by that time, Khrushchev was correct than an
invasion was eminent. Within hours of the receipt of an order
of the President of the United States to do so, over 25,000
fully supplied and equipped Marines could have stormed ashore
at any of several points in Cuba. Airborne forces would have
dropped nearby, and air strike forces would have streaked
across the skies of Khrushchev's tiny remote ally, destroying
much of the assets that it did have with which to wage war.
Forces at Guantanamo could have attacked out of their base.
The U.S. military response to the Cuban Missile Crisis
totaled a quarter of a million personnel, more than the total

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