The Thirteen Days, October 16-28, 1962

Day 1 - On the morning of October 16, National Security Advisor McGeorge Bundy told President John F. Kennedy about photographs of medium range ballistic missiles, or MRBM, in Cuba; JFK created the Executive Committee of the National Security Council, or ExComm, to advise him on how to respond to the missiles. At the first meeting of the ExComm, the missiles are mistakenly identified as SS-3, later corrected to the SS-4, MRBM with a range of 1000 miles, and six more U-2 flights are made to collect more photos. The ExComm discussed options ranging from a military invasion of Cuba to a blockade of Cuba. That afternoon, JFK met with the Special Group Augmented (SGA) led by RFK that had been supervising Operation Mongoose directed by Edward Lansdale since Nov. 30, 1961, and discussed options using Cuban exiles. The second meeting of the ExComm that evening discussed the latest intelligence reports that no missiles were operational or had nuclear warheads, but they could be operational in two weeks. In Moscow, U.S. Ambassador Foy Kohler met with Khrushchev; the Soviet premier criticized U. S. bases in Turkey and Italy and claimed Soviet activity in Cuba was only defensive.

Day 2 - On October 17 at the State Department, Robert McNamara argued in favor of the blockade and Dean Acheson argued in favor of an air strike. Photographs revealed SS-5 IRBM sites under construction but no missiles have yet arrived in Cuba. The IRBM range of 2200 miles was twice the range of the MRBM.

Day 3 - On October 18 at the ExComm meeting, the JCS argued for the air strikes but RFK questioned the morality of a "Pearl Harbor in reverse." That evening JFK met with Gromyko at the White House.

Day 4 - On October 19, the ExComm formed separate working groups to examine the air strike and blockade options, and by the afternoon most support in the ExComm shifted to the blockade option. Ted Sorensen began working on JFK's speech. That evening Paul Nitze produced a schedule for military preparations, but the Defense Dept. denied the claims of such preparations in an article by Paul Scott and Robert Allen.

Day 5 - On October 20, the morning ExComm meeting at the State Dept. completed blockade plans and approved Sorensen's speech. At the afternoon meeting, JFK met with the ExComm and approved the plans for a blockade. Adlai Stevenson argued that the U. S. should pull missiles out of Turkey, but JFK opposed. James Reston of the New York Times agrees to hold a story on the military buildup. An intelligence report concludes Cuba has 16 launchers operational for MRBM, plus 24 SA-2 SAM missile sites and 3 coastal cruise missile sites and 12 cruise missile patrol boats and 28 jet bombers and 39 MiG-21 jet fighters. One MRBM site has a nuclear warhead storage bunker that Soviet sources later indicated held 20 warheads.

Day 6 - On October 21, JFK officially approved the quarantine plan and notified Pierre Salinger. JFK arranged for John McCloy to fly from Germany to help Adlai Stevenson at the United Nations.

Day 7 - On October 22, State Dept. began briefing foreign leaders of the Cuban crisis. At noon, SAC bombers went on alert and the JCS put all military forces on DEFCON 3 status at 7 pm.. Air Defense Command mobilized 161 aircraft at 16 bases and for the first time armed aircraft with nuclear weapons. JFK informed 17 congressmen of the quarantine plan, and Dean Rusk gave Dobrynin a copy of JFK's speech. Ambassador Kohler in Moscow delivered a letter from JFK to Khrushchev demanding the missiles be removed from Cuba. At 7 pm, JFK delivered his 17-minute speech to the nation on television

Day 8 - On October 23, Ambassador Kohler transmitted a letter from Khrushchev to JFK that refused to remove missiles. At the UN, Adlai Stevenson criticized the Soviet Union; Cuba denounced the quarantine as an act of war, and Soviet representative Valerian Zorin denied any missiles in Cuba. Castro mobilized his armed forces in Cuba, and the Soviet Union put all Warsaw Pact forces on alert. For the first time, low level reconnaissance flights began by F-8 and RF-101 aircraft to supplement the high level U-2 flights, and the Soviets responded by camouflaging their missile sites. That evening, JFK sent another letter to Khrushchev urging prudence and asking that Soviet ships observe the quarantine. JFK ordered the Navy to give the highest priority to tracking Soviet submarines near Cuba and protecting American ships. At 7:06 pm, JFK formally signed Proclamation 3504 that declared the quarantine was necessary under the OAS charter to defend the western hemisphere. At the suggestion of British Ambassador David Ormsby-Gore, JFK moved the quarantine line around Cuba from 850 to 500 miles to give the Soviet Union more time to comply.

Day 9 - On October 24, during the morning 16 of 19 Soviet ships enroute to Cuba reversed course. Only the tanker Bucharest continued its voyage to Cuba as the quarantine officially went into effect at 10 am. Robert Kennedy's memoir noted that this was the tense moment of the crisis. McNamara reported two Soviet ships still sailing toward the line, the Gagarin and the Komiles, with a Soviet submarine between the ships. The USS Essex was ordered to make the interception. At 10:25 am intelligence reported the two Soviet ships had stopped. Dean Rusk said "We're eyeball to eyeball and I think the other fellow just blinked." That evening, TASS made public a telegram from Khrushchev warning that the Soviet Union would respond to the "pirate action" of the U.S. In a letter to JFK that same evening, Khrushchev called the blockade "an act of aggression" that would not stop Soviet ships. For the first time in history, the JCS ordered a DEFCON 2 alert.

Day 10 - On October 25, at 7:15 am the USS Essex and destroyer USS Gearing determined that the tanker Bucharest carreid no missiles and was allowed to proceed to Cuba. The morning syndicated column by Walter Lippman proposed an agreement to remove Jupiter missiles from Turkey in exchange for the missiles in Cuba. At 5 pm, CIA director McCone reported that some missile sites in Cuba were now active. At 5:43 pm, the USS Kennedy began to make preparations to board the Lebanese freighter Marucia.

Day 11 - On October 26, At noon, correspondent John Scali met with KGB station chief Aleksandr Fomin at the Occidental Restaurant in Washington at Fromin's request, and Fromin offered a proposal to end the crisis by a Russian removal of missiles and an American promise not to invade Cuba. This same proposal was later mentioned in a long letter from Khrushchev received at 9 pm. RFK secretly met that night with Dobrynin at the Soviet Embassy and Kennedy offered to remove missiles from Turkey in exchange for the missiles in Cuba.

Day 12 - On October 27, Radio Moscow at 9 am reported a message from Khrushchev that missile bases in Turkey would be dismantled in exchange for missiles in Cuba. A letter with this message is delivered to the U.S. embassy in Moscow, and was transmitted to the ExComm at 11 am. At this same time, the ExComm received information that a U-2 plane in Alaska had flown off course over Soviet territory on the Chukotski Peninsula, causing MiG fighters to fly from Wrangel Island and American F-102 fighters with nuclear air-to-air missiles to fly to the Bering Sea. McNamara turned white and yelled "this means war with the Soviet Union." However, the U-2 flew back to Alaska before any shots were fired. At noon, a U-2 plane was shot down over Cuba by a SA-2 missile fired by local Soviet officers and the pilot Major Rudolf Anderson was killed. That afternoon, an F-8 low-flying reconaissance plane was hit by a 37mm anti-aircraft shell from Cuban troops but returned to base. That evening, the ExComm drafted a reply to Khrushchev's long letter, accepting his offer to remove missiles from Cuba but without mentioning the jupiter missiles in Turkey. JFK later met with a small group of advisors and agreed to send an oral message to Dobrynin that the U.S. will not invade Cuba and the Turkey missiles will be removed. Robert Kennedy met with Dobrynin and made this proposal. JFK ordered McNamara to mobilize 14,200 Air Force reservists.

Day 13 - On October 28, the CIA reported that all 24 Soviet MRBM missile sites had been completed. At 9 am, Radio Moscow braodcast a message from Khrushchev ordering the removal of all missiles from Cuba, thereby ending the crisis.

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revised 4/10/06 by Steven Schoenherr | Filmnotes | Cold War Policies