For those of you who don’t already know, I have written a 22 chapter historical novel based on my years as the Air Officer on Admiral E. J. O’Donnel’s staff at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba before and during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. Pretty exciting times with a lot of uncertainty. Thought you might like a one chapter preview of that book. It is obtainable on Amazon.Com and listed as GITMO:The Missile Crisis by Don Hubbard. Pretty inexpensive and I think it will be both fun and educational to read. As you all know, I like a challenge and this period was certainly it. So was the novel! Don


17 April 1961, Monday
Lieutenant Commander Glenn Wynter glanced out of the cockpit and looked down at the scene below. He recognized the small bay and the Cuban coastline and then banked the big aircraft in a shallow left turn.

“O.K.Carl, I’m turning on the heading for the first run. Cameras ready?

The photo/navigator turned to look at him briefly and then put his eye back on the viewfinder. “Yup, looks like you’re right on target. I’m all set to go as soon as you roll out of the turn and level off. Give me the go ahead as soon as she settles down.”

“I’m coming in from the west so that you have a good fix on the coastal area when you begin taking pictures. This is the same place we hit before about five months ago.”

Carl nodded his head slightly. He recognized the terrain in below.

The large reconnaissance aircraft swung on track and leveled off.

“Yeah, I remember it. Nothing there but a small bay and some fishing villages.”

“You got it! If we’re lined up right start shooting. Give me a thumbs up when you flip the switches. I’ll put her on auto-pilot.”

“Roger!” Carl raised a thumb and they began the first run.

The ship was flying smoothly. The photo/navigator actuated the camera switches. The large gyro-stabilized aerial camera began taking sequential pictures, each photograph overlapping the preceding one by 60%. The overlap would allow the photographic interpreters to view them in stereoscopic vision. The 24″ camera would provide the requested 1:10,000 resolution. Ideal for covering smaller objects on the ground.

Wynter scanned the instruments. The auto-pilot was holding the aircraft on a steady course, speed and altitude, so the photos would be consistent and complete. To obtain the required coverage this mission would require three parallel high altitude runs over the target.

Wynter waited until the photo navigator looked up. They would be clicking pictures on this leg for about three minutes so there was nothing for either of them to do but wait. “Wonder what the hell they want these pictures for this time?” he asked on the intercom. Carl shook his head and raised both hands in a gesture of incomprehension.

Wynter had been given this flight because he had covered the same area once before. The photography then, showed that there had been nothing unusual. Just another of the many parts of Cuba that they had been periodically assigned to photograph. The photography had been mostly of the coastline and beaches on the south side and west end of the large island. All of the target areas were nearly uninhabited except for small fishing villages. The villages occurred where there were small sheltering bays or openings, or clear beaches where the fishermen could launch and retrieve their small, almost primitive, wooden skiffs.

The current mission had been set in motion by a top secret message from AirLant headquarters in Norfolk the previous day. It read: “Obtain maximum photo coverage, scale 1:10,000, 20 mile strip north and east of coordinates 81:05 W- 22:05 N, commencing 0730, 17 April 1961, Immediate photo readout required.” Wynter had thought that strange. Immediate read-out of a swamp area and coast line? Why?

En-route to the target area, along the coast of Florida, there had been some scattered puffy cumulus clouds well below his operating altitude. These could be a complicating factor and he worried about it a bit, but the weather over the target area was nearly clear so the photography should turn out O.K. He was happy about this. Good! he thought, don’t want to have to do this again.

The first time on any reconnaissance mission was always interesting because there were numbers of problems to solve. Navigation, grid layout, camera selection, fuel quantities and the many other photographic and aircraft handling details that he had been taught to do, even the possibility of enemy action, but the second time over the same area was less of a challenge. If you didn’t succeed that time because of weather or camera malfunction, a third trip would be boring.

Wynter adjusted his oxygen mask and looked down at the scene below. Nothing exciting, just another isolated place on the Cuban coast. Looked just as it did before when AirLant had requested the same coverage. Now, from 20,000 feet, there didn’t appear to be any changes. He did notice a bit of smoke about a mile inland , and a few fishing boats on or near the beach. Offshore he noticed a larger vessel whose funnel was smoking, and another large one further north inside the prominent bay. He assumed that these two large vessels were shrimpers dragging their nets near shore. Nothing unusual. He had seen large shrimp boats like this along the southeastern and Gulf coasts of the United States

They had to make two 180 degree turns to obtain the three parallel lines of photos. After the third pass the photo-navigator called on the intercom. “I’ve got the photos Glenn. You can take her home.” Wynter gave a thumbs up, shut off the auto-pilot and took manual control of the aircraft.

Well, he thought, we’ve got the pictures, time to get out of here. So far as he knew, aside from a couple of T-33 jet trainers, Castro didn’t have any aircraft with the speed, armament or altitude capability to bother them, and the area was so remote that anti-aircraft fire was not likely, still they were over a foreign nation without permission so there was no reason to linger in the area. The aircraft made a wide turn to starboard and then headed north.

The mission took five hours and twenty minutes including the transit time from and to the squadron base at the Naval Air Station in Jacksonville, Florida.

They were back at the airfield on the hard stand and out of the aircraft by 1030. A three man crew met them to offload the film magazines and drive them to the lab for processing.

Altogether the cameras had used up six full magazines of film. Wynter spoke to the first class petty officer in charge of unloading. “Get this stuff right up to the lab and get it processed soonest. AirLant wants an immediate read out”

“Yes, sir.” The petty officer acknowledged the order. “The lab has been alerted and is standing by.”

Wynter knew the big photo processing machines in the lab would have the film developed and dried in less than two hours so that a read-out of the negatives could begin. His leading chief Brendenhauser had been alerted and the interpretation crew would be ready to scan the negatives as soon as the film was dry. The interpreters never waited for a positive print before read-out, they were trained to read the negatives. Wynter went to the ready room, grabbed a cup of coffee and a magazine and sat down to read and wait.

By the time the yeoman came in two and a half hours later Wynter was dozing. He had been up since 0330 for the 0500 launch and the warm Jacksonville ready room had taken its toll.

“Pardon me, sir.” The yeoman was a tall lanky kid from Kansas with red hair and pink skin. Good typist, but new in the Navy and still with that boot camp attitude that dictated treating officers with respect and a bit of awe. He stood back a bit shyly when talking, and his head was bowed slightly.

Wynter woke up, gave his closed eyes a quick rub and then looked up at the young, shy sailor.
“What’s happening?” he asked.

“Sir, Chief Brendenhauser with the photo interp people asked me to find you and deliver this preliminary report. It’s the first part of the read out. They thought you had better take a look at it.”

He yawned and reached over for the paper. It was a standard read-out report on legal sized paper. The information was handwritten in a neat handwriting that Wynter recognized as Brendenhauser’s. Wynter’s worked his eyes down the paper. The information began to be interesting. It was not what he expected. The first strange item reported was a downed twin engine aircraft which the interpreter thought was a B-26 bomber. Then a cluster of tanks had been sighted moving south on the dirt road that led towards the large beach. They were causing a dust storm behind them that pointed out the tanks like a finger pointing at a caterpillar.The tanks were in the center of the area he had been assigned to cover. He mentally worked over the information in his mind. That must have been the smoke he saw inland. It was dust! Obviously some military action was going on in the area. Castro must be having some trouble, he thought.

He thanked the messenger, grabbed his hat and headed for the interpretation area in the photo lab building. The four lighted tables, where the film was scanned, were all busy and surrounded by clusters of enlisted men who were examining each of the 9 X 18 negatives both by eye and with magnifying glasses as they came off the large film spools.

Wynter spotted Chief Brendenhauser. “Hi Chief” he grinned, “Looks like your guys have been having fun, any more action?”

Brendenhauser smiled back. “Yes sir!” He pointed to the third table, and they strolled over to it. Brendenhauser spoke to the second petty officer who was methodically examining each frame on one roll of film. “Hi Barry, would you crank the film back about thirty frames to the beached boats?”. The petty officer grabbed the crank handle and scanned back frame after frame until he came to a stop.

“There they are Chief! He pointed to some small images of beached boats. These were the smaller vessels that Wynter had assumed were native fishing boats. “Take a look at that cluster with a magnifying glass, sir”

With the benefit of enlargement Wynter could see that one of the small vessels was grounded awkwardly and lay nearly parallel to the beach. There was a thin plume of smoke coming from a hatch behind the deck house. The second and third vessels nearby had forward ramps and were obviously some sort of small landing craft. Another, further down the beach, was nearly alone. Tracks of some sort could be seen leading from two of the vessels up the beach, over the berm and into the brush and vegetation higher up.

Further west one of two larger vessels, the one he had seen to the north in the bay, had also come to a halt at an angle. It was perhaps 100 yards offshore and not quite perpendicular to the beach. Looking at it from overhead, the water was clear enough to reveal a reef that disappeared under the bow of the boat. It was obvious that the vessel had accidentally grounded. Offshore the other larger vessel looked like a freighter. It was listing and burning and sending up plumes of smoke. These two large vessels were the two that Wynter had assumed were shrimpers.

Brendenhauser spoke. “It look like this is a mini-invasion force trying to get ashore and establish a beachhead. They must have had some air support judging from the crashed B-26 we found a few miles inland.”

Wynter spoke quietly, “No wonder they wanted the photographs and the immediate read out, and that’s why I had to make the earlier flight. Someone was planning an operation against Castro.”

Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, 17 April 1961, Monday

“Any word yet, Tarpley”? The admiral had just walked into Flag Plot, the top secret operations and briefing room.

“No sir. Last message said that the landing craft were heading ashore just before daylight. On Saturday the insurgent aircraft hit the Cuban airfields and destroyed most of Castro’s aircraft. At least they think so,” He shook his head slightly because of this hint of uncertainty, “so there shouldn’t be too much aerial resistance. There is some indication that the insurgents may have lost one aircraft to ground fire, but that’s all. Fidel only had 18 combat aircraft on the island to start with and if the insurgents are any kind of pilots they should have smashed or disabled most of them. We should hear something soon.”

The admiral turned to leave. He was concerned. The base at Guantanamo was vulnerable. The defenses were minimal. If any trouble started with the Cubans, the American base would mostly have to rely on the guns on the navy ships that were training there for any heavy artillery support. Guantanamo had only a small marine detachment with a modest supply of smaller weapons, but their job over the years had been fence-line patrol and guarding vital areas, like the ammo dumps. The marines were not there to be a heavy fighting force.

Just as importantly the base depended on more than 3,600 Cuban workers to run the infrastructure. Everything from the machinery running the generators, the personnel manning the fire department, all of the docking and ship repair facilities, the base laundry. This base was dependent on people whose loyalties might lay on the other side. Finally there was the base’s water supply. This came from the Yateras river, eleven miles outside the base perimeter, The pumping station was owned and manned by Cubans. It was not an American facility.

Washington understood these limitations, hence the top secret message a few weeks earlier alerting them to the pending events, but the base commander was also reassured by his superiors that the planned Bay of Pigs landing was purely a Cuban affair.

That was the assurance, but the admiral doubted it. His mind worked over the problems of any invasion. There must be some American involvement. How did the insurgents get aircraft, ships and supplies. Individuals don’t mount offensives, governments do. The alerting message had said that the insurgents were operating out of Nicaragua and Guatemala, but no Nicaraguan or Guatemalan government would want to supply arms even if they could afford to. That would be an act of war and Cuba was too close and much too strong to fight with. No there had to be American help. He did not doubt that the CIA was a part of it. Even the advance information they had received smacked of American involvement.
“You know, Warren, this has got to have American backing, and the CIA is probably involved.”

Commander Tarpley nodded. He thought so too.

“Damn it! If the United States is sanctioning this, why in hell didn’t the navy and marines get involved in the planning. We’re the experts in amphibious landings. Its not like they decided to invade yesterday.” He shook his head in disgust. “ Planning for this has had to have been going on for some time. Eisenhower must have sanctioned it. He has a military background and knows what to expect in an operation of this type. Kennedy doesn’t, but only God knows what difference that will make now that the operation is underway.”

The classified teletype machine began to chatter. Colangelo, the 2nd class signalman, walked over and when the machine stopped printing, tore off the message and took it to Commander Tarpley.
Tarpley read it quickly and shook his head.

“Things are not going well admiral. The air strikes on Saturday apparently failed to eliminate Castro’s air force. Most of the landing party is on the beach and facing some resistance. Three or four undamaged Cuban aircraft are playing hell with them and have hit two offshore ships according to an insurgent B-26 pilot report.” He looked up at the Admiral whose face reflected his concern. “ One freighter seems to be burning badly. The other ship appears to have run herself aground. Communications is a mess. No one knows exactly what’s happening.” He looked down referring to the message again. “The B-26 pilot also reported a column of tanks somewhere north of Playa Giron, the Bay of Pigs, where the main landing was supposed to take place. They were heading south towards the beach area. The pilot strafed them but he didn’t think he did much damage. They’re still on the move.”

“What they could use is some naval gunfire support.” He pounded his right fist into his left hand. “We have three destroyers here in port that could handle that. It’s only about 360 miles west of here. They could be there in 14 or 15 hours.” As a veteran of the Pacific campaigns during World War Two he was familiar with amphibious operations. “And what about resupply? If the support vessels have been sunk or grounded how are they going to obtain additional ammunition and other supplies?”
“Don’t know sir. This is certainly not a professional show. For one thing the navy and the marines never launched an amphibious assault at night. Hard enough in the daytime, but you just can’t coordinate a landing force at night. You’re right, they need naval gunfire support and if they can’t ferry supplies ashore they need some airdrop capability. I pity them. I doubt if they have any chance now.”

It was tense in Flag Plot all day as incomplete reports trickled in. Tuesday was no better. Castro’s forces had been strengthened and the insurgent force was quickly running out of ammunition and supplies with no relief in sight. Tarpley was under a great deal of strain. His tired eyes showed it. With no one to relieve him he had slept on a couch in his office so as to be available for any incoming news, and he slept fitfully.
On Wednesday news arrived that President Kennedy had authorized two Navy destroyers to escort three insurgent landing craft into Playa Giron to extricate what was left of the invaders, but it was too late. The surviving insurgent force, without ammunition and food was finished as a fighting force. A final message arrived at 1600. The invading force had surrendered that afternoon. Castro was proudly and loudly broadcasting the information on all radios.

Despite the tragedy Tarpley was relieved. The waiting was over. Now, maybe, he could get some rest.
At 1645 the telephone rang. Tarpley answered it.

“Colonel Brummett here.” Brummett was the commandant of the base marine force. “Tarpley, tell the admiral that the Cubans have sent another detachment of militia to the main gate at Boqueron. I think they have orders to stop all Cubans from entering the base. One truck also drove off to the east along the outside base perimeter road with an armed group of soldiers. They are a pretty rag-tag bunch, but I’ve alerted our people to double the guard along the fence. Tell the admiral that I’ll keep him posted.” He hung up.

Commander Tarpley put the phone back in its cradle and wearily walked down the hall to the admiral’s office. The aide was not there, so he knocked on the door and was invited in by the concerned looking admiral. “Sir,” he spoke in a soft voice. “The insurgent force has surrendered and it looks like our fun’s begun.” Then he relayed Colonel Brummet’s message.

The admiral saw the tired face of the middle aged commander. Despite the standard navy ‘Can Do!’slogan, the admiral had been pragmatic enough to recognize that staff augmentation would be an absolute necessity. He needed manpower and because of the crisis he thought he would be able to push through a request for additional officers to help discharge his growing responsibilities.

“Warren, we’re going to need more help in Flag Plot. Since Castro has broken off relations with the United States and declared Cuba a Socialist state there has already been increased ship traffic coming in from the Soviets. CinCLant has noticed increasing Russian submarine activity as well. Now we have this failed invasion.” He drummed the desk with his fingers. “ You can’t handle it alone. I’m going to request that BuPers assigned us two additional operations officers. One surface, one air. They will complement each other and you can have the job of coordinating their efforts. I’m going to emphasize that this is an emergency and that we need these officers now.” He put special emphasis on the last word. “Let’s see what happens. I already have the Chief of Staff working on the letter for me.”