The Invasion: Operation Bumpy Road
The planning of the invasion moved ahead as preparations were made. Kennedy was still adamant that the U.S. military remain out of the assault. To reinforce his stance to the public, at an April 12 press conference, Kennedy reiterated the U.S. position. It was the policy of the government, Kennedy said, to stay out of any internal conflict in Cuba. Later that afternoon, he inquired in a meeting in the Cabinet room whether Cuban exiles were aware that U.S. military assistance would never be forthcoming. Kennedy was assured that they understood.
With the guidelines set, Kennedy was ready to proceed with the planned invasion, scheduled for April 17. He had just received information from a U.S. colonel that the 1,400 Cuban exiles in the brigade were well trained and ready to carry on. Unbeknownst to Kennedy, only 135 members of the brigade were soldiers. The rest included students, professionals, and peasants. They were inexperienced in battle, but they were ready for revenge.
An Unsuccessful Air Strike
Two air strikes were to take care of Castro's air power before the invasion commenced. On April 15, eight B-26s, flown by Cuban pilots, set out for Cuba from Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua. They bombed three airfields, and all but one pilot returned to Nicaragua. The missing pilot landed in Key West due to engine trouble. His arrival in the United States put a damper on the CIA's elaborate cover story, which called for a ninth pilot to arrive in Miami and claim he had defected from the Cuban military and was responsible for the air strikes. The ninth pilot arrived as scheduled, but the presence of the missing pilot was a strong indication that America was involved.
Calling Off the Attack
With the unanticipated second plane in Key West, questions began to emerge. Adlai Stevenson, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, unintentionally made matters worse when he told the UN General Assembly that the United States was not involved in the air strike. The press began poking holes in the story.
Kennedy and his advisors started to rethink the rest of the plan. A second air strike was planned to coincide with the ground beachfront invasion on April 17, but Secretary of State Dean Rusk became certain it was a terrible idea. He determined the plan could only work if it appeared that the planes were coming from the beach airstrip. Since there was no way to make this happen, the only course of action was to call off the second air strike. On April 16, Rusk contacted Kennedy and expressed his concern. A worried and depressed Kennedy agreed and immediately called off the air attack.
Cuban exile Miró Cardona was waiting in Miami for word of Castro's defeat. Cardona planned to step in as provisional president. Cardona had been a lawyer and professor at the University of Havana and an early supporter of Castro. During the early Castro regime, he was appointed the ambassador to the United States. He defected after Castro advanced his communist agenda.
Failure in Cuba
The ground invasion began badly when Cuban forces discovered the invaders on the beachfront before sunrise and destroyed the ship harboring the communication equipment and ten days' worth of ammunition. Castro thwarted the anticipated uprising by arresting 200,000 potential troublemakers. Cuban jets outgunned the brigade's obsolete B-26s, and Soviet-supplied tanks bore down on the invaders on the beach.
On the night of April 18, Kennedy met with his advisors. He agreed to permit unmarked U.S. Navy jets to cover the B-26s in a landing of supplies. If the B-26s were subjected to an air attack, the navy jets could defend them. By this time, the Cuban pilots were exhausted, and several of them declined to participate in the mission. In their place, civilian American pilots agreed to the assignment. Once more, everything went wrong.
Due to the difference between Nicaraguan and Cuban time zones, the B-26s arrived at the Bay of Pigs before the navy jets and four American pilots were killed. Kennedy declined any further direct U.S. intervention. Fighting continued until April 21. In the end, sixty-eight members of the Cuban brigade had died and the rest were captured and imprisoned.