For years, the Communist Party of the Peoples Republic of China have been expanding their presence and influence in Latin America, and only recently news has been released to the American public of Chinese espionage activities in Cuba and their plans to expand military bases 90 miles off the United States mainland. To those who are old enough to remember, and still alive, this is eerily similar to the events of the early Kennedy administration of the 1960s. Unbeknown to the American public at the time, the botched Bay of Pigs incident of 1961 led Cuba’s Fidel Castro, to request nuclear weapons from The Soviet Union, with who it had allied and had armed Cuba with conventional weapons. In January of 1962 American intelligence had noted an alarming increase in the number of Soviet cargo vessels transiting between Russia and Cuba, increasing steadily throughout the year. The waterlines of the cargo vessels made obvious that they were transporting extremely heavy cargo.
As a precaution, the American navy had increased its military maritime training activities along the east Atlantic coast and with Latin and South American allies. In late June, America’s first nuclear powered aircraft carrier, the U.S.S. Enterprise (CVN-65), had left port from Norfolk Virginia as its initial deployment to join the 2nd Fleet carrying out a nuclear strike training exercise off the U.S. East Coast along with another American super carrier, the U.S.S. Forrestal (CVA-59) and naval assets. Unbeknown to the American public at the time, the U.S. was secretly preparing for a possible quarantine of the island of Cuba if necessary. As top secret intelligence reports were coming out of Guantanamo Naval Base on Cuba of highly unusual Soviet activity on the island, along with belligerent Cuban air tactics including firing on American aircraft.
On 14 October, photographs taken by U-2 reconnaissance planes over Cuba revealed the presence of Soviet ballistic missile silos being constructed on the Island. As reported to the American public by the media, it was concluded by the Kennedy Administration that Soviet nuclear missiles may have already been delivered to Cuba and readiness for imminent deployment. As Cuba is only 90 miles from the U.S. state of Florida, this was obviously of grave concern. Unknown to American intelligence was that there existed 80 nuclear missiles capable of being launched against American targets.
A military quarantine of Cuba was ordered by President Kennedy to prevent further missiles from being reaching the island. Each day the Soviet ships would close the gap with American naval vessels, and over the next 14 days the world watched in fear as Soviet Nakita Khrushchev and American President Jack Kennedy exchanged secret communications to find a politically plausible solution to this dangerous situation.
Unbeknown to those outside the military, and for most of the world for many years after, October 27 was the closest the world had been, and has been since, on the verge of nuclear war. Throughout the quarantine, U.S. anti-submarine assets, that were in the forefront of the blockade, came upon a Soviet submarine, B-59, that had surfaced for air. The day had been plagued by tensions as one American U-2 spy plane disappeared while on recon in Europe, one was shot down while flying over Cuba earlier that day and word had just been received news of a second U-2 downing. The crew of Soviet submarine B-59, who had endured a long, tedious journey along with three other Soviet subs from their base in the Arctic Circle to Cuba. B-59 was not equipped for warm water operations and the cabin temperature had reached 149 degrees Fahrenheit. As it surfaced, American aircraft swooped down and circled the submarine, lighting its conning tower with glaring searchlights as they fired shots across the bow in an attempt to signal the vessel to surrender. The Soviet commander, who was by then convinced that war had already broken out panicked, giving the order for the sub to dive and prepare for nuclear torpedo launch. Under conditions such as these, a submarine commander has the authority to launch an offensive nuclear attack.
Only through divine intervention, the dive was momentarily delayed due to personnel confusion where in a split second, he realized that maybe he was being signaled by American aircraft not to dive but rather surrender. But as the sub continued its dive, American ships continued attempts to convince him to surface by dropping test depth charges in the water. As they were only capable of sounding a loud blast, some overly zealous American sailors took it upon themselves to drop hand grenades stuffed in toilet paper rolls that would delay explosion until the grenades were closer to the u boat. The explosion and sound of shrapnel hitting the hull of B-59 only added to the confusion and nearly resulted in the order to launch the nuclear missile, comparable in strength to match the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, which would have led to a nuclear exchange between the U.S. and Soviet Russia resulting to an end of life as we know it.
Fortunately, Soviet naval officer Vasil Arkhipov, aware of the consequences, refused to fire that deadly weapon of war and the submarine surfaced. By the next day Kennedy and Khrushchev reached a solution that included the reversal of the Soviet ships and their disarmament of all nuclear missiles from Cuba.
Although I was only 10, I, and nearly all Americans of that time who are alive today, can close their eyes and recall the feeling of helplessness and emptiness, not knowing if their lives were going to end at any moment, and the feeling of relief when the news came that it was over. Yet here we are today, 61 years later, with news that the Communist Chinese have been preparing to build their own military installations in Cuba. History is repeating itself, yet few Americans realize it as they weren’t old enough or even born in 1962, and have no idea of the potential devastation that the world faces as a result of this reckless endeavor by the CCP.