The Cuban Missile Crisis
Thirteen Days on an Atomic Knife Edge, October 1962
[Cold War 1945 - 1991 Series]
Barnsley, UK: Pen & Sword Military 2017
Paperback 128pp RRP $40.40
Reviewer: Neville Taylor, April 2020
Phil Carradice does not purport to be a military historian – he writes stories! Taking the ‘the people, the place and the problem’ he has succinctly and accurately chronicled the most dangerous situation the world has ever faced.
Starting by recalling what he was doing at the time of the crisis, he provides an excellent account of Cuba’s background and its relationship with the USA, before turning to brief biographical details of Kennedy, Khrushchev and Castro. Castro’s belligerence let to the bungled US sponsored attack on Cuba, (see Carradice’s Bay of Pigs: CIA's Cuban Disaster, April 1961  in this series).
At the June 61 Summit in Vienna, Khrushchev totally savaged Kennedy verbally and strategically before going on to create the Berlin Wall two months later. In December Castro announced Cuba embracing the Marxist/Lenin programme, which was then followed by the US applying a full embargo on Cuba in February 1962. Khrushchev and Castro agreed in May to secretly place intermediate range missiles capable of covering the US eastern seaboard and many other critical population centres, but to also use the missiles as a bargaining chip to force US withdrawal from Berlin.
US U-2 reconnaissance aircraft flights over Cuba were suspended on 30 August for six weeks due to fears of retaliation after an accidental incursion in December over Soviet territory. In the interim the preparation of missile silos, the landing of missiles and Russian soldiers to operate them continued. By 16 October the US had confirmed the presence of missiles that were far larger than required for the self-defence role claimed by Khrushchev. Non-military personnel were evacuated from the US facility at Guantanamo Bay and Kennedy, standing firm against his Chiefs of Staff who pressed for a military strike, placed a Naval blockade around Cuba.
Khrushchev sent a letter to Kennedy on 26 October offering a way out of the standoff; removal of the missiles, the lifting of the blockade and America not to invade Cuba. ‘Black Saturday’ (27th) saw a U-2 spy plane shot down and one of four Russian submarines forced to surface. It had had no communication with Russia, so was unaware of the status of the stand-off. Twice the submarine was bombarded by practice depth charges, and thinking it was under attack its skipper prepared to launch a nuclear-tipped torpedo. The check was that the three senior officers present all had to approve, and the onboard flotilla commander refused - thus averting the outbreak of a nuclear war. By 10.00am Sunday Khrushchev agreed to Kennedy’s proposal to include the removal of nuclear missiles on Turkey’s border (not to be publicly disclosed) and the crisis had been defused.
[On 20 June 1963 the Washington-Moscow Direct Communications Link (later becoming known as the ‘Hotline’) between the Pentagon and the Kremlin was agreed to, and after an exchange of teletype machines, became operational on 30 August. At no stage have telephones been involved. A Limited Test Ban Treaty was signed between the US, the UK and Russia on 5 August 1963.]
Carradice has devoted a whole chapter to the sentiments of a large variety of individuals who experienced that critical period in world history. Subsequent political moves post-crisis and the final years of the major players finalises his work.
High quality black and white photographs have been included along with a coloured insert that includes maps of the ranges of the Cuban missiles and Soviet units in Cuba, US and Cuban (Russian) aircraft, the three types of Russian missiles, leaders’ photographs and memorials. The work concludes with substantial endnotes, and bibliography.
An excellent publication that acquaints the reader with individuals involved and the complexities of a crisis that appeared to be hellbent towards an horrific outcome.
The RUSI – Vic Library thanks the publisher for making this work available for review.