17 April 1961: Bay of Pigs invasion begins


After Cuban rebel leader Fidel Castro came to power in 1959, he began creating a communist state. He infuriated America by negotiating trade deals with the USSR, seizing the property of most US firms on the island and expelling many American diplomats.

In return, the US imposed trade restrictions and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) began training an army of exiles to overthrow Castro.

These plans, begun by President Dwight Eisenhower but approved by his successor, John F Kennedy, would be put into practice on 17 April 1961. Around 1,400 troops landed in the Bay of Pigs on the south coast of Cuba.

At the same time, the CIA launched an attack on Cuban airfields, believing this would prevent Castro’s forces from responding while the exile forces took control of key areas.

However, the airstrikes were unsuccessful, leaving the exiles exposed to the well-armed Cuban army. After a brief battle, more than 100 soldiers were killed by Castro’s forces, with the rest taken prisoner. After over 18 months in captivity, most would be ransomed for $53m in aid from the US.

The disaster was a major embarrassment for America. The head of the CIA was forced to resign and the agency was nearly disbanded. The US government extended the trade embargo in February 1962. Around the same time Castro accepted a Soviet request to station nuclear missiles on Cuban soil, leading to the Cuban missile crisis of October 1962.

The resolution of the crisis led to a no-invasion pledge, but there is evidence that the US was set to support an anti-Castro coup just before JFK’s assassination in November 1963.