Cuban Missile Crisis
The discovery of nuclear missiles
On October 14, 1962, an American spy plane flew over western Cuba. Some of the photos taken from great heights showed suspicious military objects. A day later, image evaluators for the CIA secret service identified them as launching pads for Soviet medium-range missiles. These could transport atomic warheads with an explosion energy of 1 megaton TNT (about 66 times the strength of the atomic bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima in 1945) around 2000 kilometers.
This meant that large parts of the east coast of the USA, including the capital Washington, were within range of the Soviet missiles. Further reconnaissance flights over Cuba provided evidence that even the deployment of Soviet missiles with a range of around 4,000 kilometers had been prepared. These missiles could have hit almost any point in the United States.
First reactions from the American government
When President JF Kennedy was informed of this situation on October 16, 1962, it caused him and his closest circle of advisors to be shocked and initially perplexed. In order to find a way out of the crisis, an executive committee of the National Security Council (English abbreviation: ExComm) was convened. This team of government representatives and political and military experts met repeatedly over the next two weeks. Everyone agreed that the US could not tolerate the stationing of Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba.
However, one group – the “Falcons” – advocated a military approach, namely a bombing of the rocket positions and a subsequent conquest of the island republic. The others – the “doves” – advocated a non-military solution, a mixture of diplomacy and international pressure. As a first measure, it was decided to set up a sea blockade to prevent Soviet ships from transporting further military equipment to Cuba according to areacodesexplorer.
President Kennedy briefs the public
On the evening of October 22nd, 1962, President Kennedy made a radio and television address “of the highest national urgency” to the American public. In it he informed the population about the deployment of Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba and called on the Soviet Union to dismantle and withdraw them immediately. At the same time he announced a sea blockade around Cuba.
Kennedy presented the United States as the strong and indomitable protecting power of the West, declaring: It will be our country’s policy to regard any nuclear missile launch from Cuba against any nation in the Western Hemisphere as an attack by the Soviet Union on the United States requires a comprehensive retaliatory strike against the Soviet Union. «The allied NATO states had already signaled their support for this tough stance.
The sea blockade
The sea blockade came into force on October 24, 1962. The Soviet state and party leader NS Khrushchev officially protested against this and condemned it as “piracy” contrary to international law. Nevertheless, he had the Soviet ships with military cargo heading for Cuba stop and turn around in front of the blockade line.
But that was by no means the end of the crisis. The nuclear missiles were still in Cuba. The Soviet Union submitted a compromise proposal on October 26, 1962. The Soviet Union offered to withdraw its nuclear missiles if the US promised not to attack Cuba in the future or to support any other armed forces.
The “black Saturday” on October 27th
Despite the signs of relaxation, on Saturday, October 27th, 1962, a catastrophe almost happened after all. An American reconnaissance plane was shot down over Cuba and the pilot died. When another aircraft entered the airspace of the USSR from Alaska, Soviet interceptors soared. Various American commanders urged Kennedy to finally agree to a military strike that was to take place on October 29, 1962 at the latest. Hundreds of US nuclear missiles were ready to go, American submarines with nuclear weapons on board took up their positions, and long-range B-52 bombers loaded with hydrogen bombs were ready for action in the air. The approximately 42,000 Soviet soldiers in Cuba were also in combat readiness.
One event in front of the blockade line was particularly explosive. There, a Soviet submarine with a nuclear torpedo on board was fired at by American destroyers with depth charges and forced to surface. The submarine crew assumed that a military conflict had already broken out and were about to fire the torpedo. One of the officers prevented this at the very last second and thus probably averted the outbreak of a nuclear war.
Finally, the Soviet Union made a supplementary demand for the withdrawal of nuclear weapons from Cuba: The US should also dismantle its medium-range missiles stationed in Turkey, which the Soviet Union felt threatened by.