Chapter 2

AUTEC

 

Chapter II

Not only is Andros the subject of “mysterious” happenings; it is at the apex of the supposed Bermuda Triangle, also the subject of alleged mysterious happenings during the last 75 or more years. The Bermuda Triangle allegedly covers an area from Bermuda in the north, Puerto Rico to the south, and the apex just west of Andros at the tip of Florida. Over the years, there have been many disappearances in, or over, the Atlantic Ocean between Bermuda and the tip of Florida. Stories of ships disappearing in boiling seas, and of aeroplanes sucked out of the sky, were numerous.

 

For example, at 2.00 pm on 5 December 1945, Flight 19, comprising five U.S. Navy Avenger torpedo bombers, took off from Fort Lauderdale Naval Air Station, 150 miles northwest of Andros, on a routine patrol over the Bahamas and into the Western Atlantic. Two hours later, the patrol leader radioed the station, saying that his compass had failed, and the patrol had lost sight of land. Control ordered him to fly due west, into the sun, until he saw land. He again radioed control to say he thought they were over the Florida Keys. The Controller ordered him to take the patrol north. They were by then convinced they were over the Gulf of Mexico, and turned east. They were running out of fuel, and now out of radio range. The five planes disappeared, never to be seen again. At 7.30 pm, a rescue plane was dispatched from the Air Sea Rescue Station at Banana River. It was due to call the station at 8.30 pm. It did not. It, too, disappeared. The

captain of a ship patrolling the area, reported seeing a plane explode and catch fire. No debris was ever found of any of the planes in the sea. It is possible that they may have come down in the jungles of Andros. And, at that time, there were no airfields or airstrips on the island.

 

The story is often told as a classic Bermuda Triangle mystery. Over Fort Lauderdale the weather was fine, and visibility good; yet over Andros and the Bahamas, particularly as it was getting dark, it was bad, with storms and rough seas. Over the following years, there were many such mysterious disappearances in the area.

 

During the 1970s, oceanographers puzzled over strange sonar readings, from hydrophones, which suggested a second Atlantic seabed below the first one. Test drillings, however, revealed evidence of abundance of methane hydrate. Aircraft were also said to be affected.

 

Of the “mysteries”, Nigel Cathorne, writing in the X Factor magazine (no.24) explains:

 

“To this day, craft continue to go missing in the general area of the Bermuda Triangle, but this is inevitable when human error is given the opportunity to combine with equipment failure, appalling weather, murderous currents, some deepest waters on the planet, and one of nature’s deadliest tricks. The idea that the area is home to some mysterious ‘dark force’ which swallows up aircraft and ships alike provides a great story, but it appears the facts are far less sinister.”

Mysterious plane crashes, and vanishings, also continue to occur to the south of Puerto Rico and the Bermuda Triangle, between the Caribbean archipelago of Los Roques and the north coast of Venezuela. Known as the “Los Roques curse”, there have been more than 15 incidents between the mid-1990s and 2013. In January 2013, a plane carrying 6 passengers, including the Italian fashion executive Vittorio Missoni and the crew,

disappeared on a flight to Caracas. No wreckage has been located. Speculation for the “curse” has included the release of methane hydrates from the sea floor, whilst a local pilot spoke of seeing the plane being swallowed up “by a huge cumulus cloud”.

 

The area, and beyond, is of course prone to violent storms, hurricanes and earthquakes such as the one, in 2010, in Haiti. Indeed, hurricanes occur on average every two-and-a-half years in Andros. It is no mystery to the Americans on the island. Under Hurricane Conditions of Readiness (COR), they remind Program Managers that the hurricane season can run from the beginning of June through to the end of November. (I heard warnings of one such hurricane in October.) Due to varying characteristics of each storm, AUTEC (of more later) implements appropriate plans and guidance. For latest information of what impact a hurricane presents, computers provide readings from the Naval Maritime Forecast Center Updates, and National Hurricane Center Information.

 

The waters around Andros, and indeed other islands of the Bahamas, are, however, strewn with the wrecks of ships and boats, large and small. One site includes the wreck of the Potomac, which ran aground off Andros in 1952, and is now split in two, 600 feet apart, with both the sections visible at low tide.

 

According to Lesley Gordon (Bahamas, p.110), “wrecks liberally sprinkled throughout the islands give mute testimony to the extensive – and potentially dangerous – coral reef system that surrounds them. The history of the Bahamas is written in them…Some wrecks date from the two centuries when the islands were a refuge for pirates. Rumors of hidden treasures abound in the southern Bahamas”.Interestingly, on 1st April 2013, TV Channel 5 broadcast, and featured, a fascinating documentary entitled Bermuda Triangle: The Mystery Revealed. As previously noted by other investigators, the TV programme stated that many aircraft and surface vessels have vanished within the 4,000 square miles of what has been termed the Bermuda Triangle. It claimed that there have been, since the 1920s, more than 250 disappearances, with the loss of 5,000 lives. Mention is made of the disappearance of the U.S.S. Cyclops and the British H.M.S. Tarta. Of the aircraft lost without trace, emphasis was unsurprisingly focused on the mysterious disappearance of the five U.S. Navy Avenger torpedo bombers which vanished without trace in December 1945. Known as Flight 19, the Navy said the aircraft disappeared in “unknown circumstances”. Each had a crew of three. The planes had a range of about 1,000 miles. The TV documentary states that their compasses failed during a violent storm. According to one theory, the aircraft may have come down, not in the Bahamas, but in southern Georgia. This, however, is most unlikely. They apparently crossed Andros, where they may have come down, or to the north near the Berry Islands. Great Stirrup Cay Island, the most northerly of the Berry Islands, was mentioned.

 

What, then, is the cause of the numerous disappearances of aircraft and ships? The TV investigation argues that there is no simple explanation. Bermuda is, like the Bahamas and areas to the south, subject to violent storms. It rises in the sea, in the deepest part of the Atlantic Ocean. It, also like the Bahamas, is affected by the Gulf Stream (of warm air at an altitude of about 10km, running from west to east, thus increasing the speed of aircraft), which, incidentally, passes between the west coast of Andros and the east coast of Florida. The area, particularly to the south of Andros, is subject to earthquakes, with the inevitable movement of tectonic plates. Solar storms may also affect the area. One rather far-fetched theory, according to the TV documentary, is the speculation that the Triangle is affected by Dark Energy – whatever that is!

 

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In 1966 the United Kingdom signed a secret defence agreement with the United States, leasing to it the newly-created British Indian Ocean Territories (BIOT) for 50 years, with an option of a further 20, to use and occupy the main island, Diego Garcia, as a military base for, among other uses, intelligence gathering, a fuelling point for B-Stealth bombers and the storing of nuclear weapons.

 

But what of Andros in the Bahamas?

 

In November 1963, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas. A few weeks previously, in October, the United Kingdom, which at that time still ruled the Bahamas, signed a lease agreement with the United States to establish an underwater testing centre on Andros, close to Fresh Creek north of Andros Town, to be known as the Atlantic Underwater Test and Evaluation Center (AUTEC). In reality, according to Gene Wheaton in an article in the Portland Free Press (July-October 1996) entitled “Secret Island Spy Base 110 miles from Florida”, the “Bahamian government politicians and bureaucrats were bribed into turning over control of Andros Island for this purpose”. It was, he claimed “…a sophisticated underground/undersea computerized center for tracking Soviet (and friendly) ships and submarines”. Paul Albury noted (The Story of the Bahamas, p.245) that AUTEC is an ideal site for testing [its] underwater weapons and protective devices”.

 

Of course, the local politicians had no choice but to agree. Nevertheless, the bribes would have been acceptable. Unlike in Diego Garcia, there was not a large indigenous population to expel from Andros. A few were found employment working on the construction of AUTEC, which commenced in 1964. I have been told that the initial cost of the construction of AUTEC was $150m. Whether that included bribes, I have no idea.

 

It became operational in 1968, and was officially certified in 1969 by the U.S. Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) War Center. In theory, AUTEC “is operated jointly by the UK as well as the US, with some participation from Canada and New Zealand” (DMS Market Report, Greenwich, Connecticut, 1980). In fact, the U.S. runs AUTEC. TOTO is indeed a prime location for littoral warfare training exercises. It is, however, affiliated with the NATO FORACS (Fleet Operational Readiness Accuracy Check Site) programme, in which the participating NATO member nations are said to be Canada, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Italy, Norway, the United Kingdom and, of course, the United States.

 

At some time in 2011 or 2012, not-so-open verbal warfare broke out between NATO/FORACS members, Greece and Germany, with another NATO member, Turkey, allegedly involved.

 

Following a private meeting of European trade union leaders, summoned by the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, in Berlin, at which the Greek union leader Yiannis Panagopoulos brought up the subject of Greek weapons expenditure, rumours of submarines became the “talk of Athens”. Merkel said that Greece owed Germany payment on submarines for over a decade. But, apparently, Greece had paid Germany more than €2bn for submarines that were faulty, and which were not needed. Yet it admitted that it required, not just submarines, but French Mirage jets and other weapons from Germany and the U.S., because of the risks of attack by fellow-NATO member, Turkey. Although not publicised, it is almost certain that Greek submarines have visited AUTEC on Andros, probably to check their performance.

 

 

I can reveal however that AUTEC has been increasingly used by the British Royal Navy to test their most advanced, secret, anti-submarine weapons.

 

The primary mission of AUTEC’s Check Site (later known as Naval Forces Sensor and Weapons Check Site) is, according to NAVSEA, “…to perform precision measurements of accuracy of target and navigation sensors installed on surface ships, submarines and helicopters”:

 

“The mission of AUTEC is to support the full spectrum of undersea warfare by providing accurate three-dimensional tracking, performance measurement, and data collection resources to satisfy Research, Development, Test and Evaluation requirements, and for assessment of Fleet Training, tactical and material readiness.”

 

AUTEC had, and has, other functions as well. It has been reported that underwater, unmanned robotic vehicles (UUVS) are tested by AUTEC.

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Various buildings were constructed, the main one (referred to as Site 1) being the Command Central Building and Range Support Facility, which houses the computer centre, communications centre, the photo laboratory and central timing system. The Range Support Facility houses extensive technical laboratory facilities; a complete electronics maintenance shop, as well as a torpedo post-run workshop. At the site, six Range User buildings (RUBs), including gantry cranes, were constructed.

 

A 285-foot-long concrete pier, and an adjacent wharf 240 feet-long were built, together with marine overhaul shops. Offshore, two Range towers were also erected. A channel was cut out of the reef so that submarines could dock.

 

AUTEC had its own airstrip constructed. It provides both fixed-wing and rotary-winged aircraft to support test operations. Helicopters are equipped to provide mobile target launch and torpedo recovery services on the ranges. They are available to act as airborne targets for tracking system tests and calibration; and for surveillance, photographic and other test and training-related missions.

 

Fixed-wing aircraft are available for transporting personnel and equipment between the AUTEC Airport Terminal at West Palm Beach, Florida and Andros. AUTEC’s main administrative and technical support offices are located in West Palm Beach. According to Gene Wheaton in his 1996 Portland Free Press article, “Security at the AUTEC facility is enhanced by divers and swimmers being moved in and off the island via underwater locks accessible to submarines.” Nosy journalists were not welcome, he says. And, indeed, yachtsmen are warned not to approach AUTEC or its harbour. In 1985, Queen Elizabeth II paid an official visit to Fresh Creek on Andros, her first visit to any of the Out Islands. She did not, however, just go, or was permitted to go, to AUTEC just a few miles to the southeast.

 

The AUTEC base on Andros Island is almost self-sufficient. Housing is available with transient quarters and messing facilities. “Off-duty” facilities include: cable television, a library, cocktail lounges, a snack bar, retail store; a variety of recreational and sports activities, including basketball, racquetball, and volleyball courts, a softball field, tennis court, fitness track, a beach house – and the inevitable chapel! It is not “all work and no play” at AUTEC. Nevertheless, personnel are warned that the off-base amenities on Andros are very limited indeed.

 

But all is not lost for those who have the time and inclination for extra-curricular activities elsewhere. Nassau on New Providence Island is but a short 15-minute flight from the main AUTEC base. And AUTEC provides, for a small fee before departure, daily flights to Nassau International Airport, where taxis are available for transportation to Old Town. There is not a lot to interest AUTEC personnel in Nassau itself, although there is an excellent golf course at the South Ocean Beach Hotel, where I have stayed. But Paradise Island, linked to Old Town by 2 bridges, is a different world, however. There are hotels, restaurants, bars, shops and, of course, other forms of entertainment. It is not quite Havana pre-Castro, but it is not called Paradise Island for nothing. And, anyway, the fleshpots of Havana are no longer available to upstanding American servicemen.

 

Indeed, both the Mafia and former President of the United States, Richard M. Nixon, were at one time closely connected to Paradise Island. And Nixon was not known as “the Syndicate’s President” for nothing! He was a business associate of Mafia financier, Bebe Rebozo, who was also heavily involved in Mafia-sponsored activities against Fidel Castro. Both Nixon and Rebozo had a number of murky deals in Florida and the Bahamas, including Paradise Island, where Reboza’s Key Biscayne Bank was a conduit for dollars skimmed from the Paradise Island Casino. In January 1968, Nixon was a guest at the opening of the casino, controlled by mobster Meyer Lansky. At the 1968 Republican Party national convention in Miami, the Paradise Island Casino’s company yacht was put at Nixon’s disposal.

 

According to Dr. John Coleman (The Conspirators’ Hierarchy: The Committee of 300), not necessarily a reliable source, Meyer Lansky “used respectable fronts associated with the British higher-ups, in bringing gambling to Paradise Island in the Bahamas under cover of the Mary Carter Paint Company, a joint Lansky-British MI6 venture” (p.193). The Lansky organisation proved to be one of the best vehicles for drug-peddling, he says.

 

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The Atlantic Underwater Test and Evaluation Center provides a wide and bewildering range of capabilities, products, services and assets, many of which mean little or nothing to anyone other than submariners. Nevertheless, I will list most of AUTEC’s capabilities; then its products and services and, importantly, its assets. In the next chapter, I will describe and discuss the United States Navy Sound Surveillance System (SOSUS), of which few are aware.

 

AUTEC provides:

Active Acoustic Target Strength

Active Sonar Detection Assessment

Acoustic Beam Patterns

Acoustic Shielding

Acoustic Signature Noise Floor

Acoustic Simulation

Acoustic Source Levels

Acoustic Stimulation

ADCAP Torpedo Firing Assessment

Ambient Noise Measurement

Air-launched Torpedo Testing

Autonomous Underwater Vehicle Performance

Buoyant Ascent Vehicle Measurement

Counterdetectability Analysis

Deep Water Acoustic Measurements

Hydroacoustic Noise Measurement

In-Water Tracking

A Joint Special Warfare Operations Assessment

Littoral Warfare Testing

Low Frequency Ambient Noise Measurement

Magnetic Anomaly Detection (MAD) Testing

Mobile Sea Target Launch and Recovery

Mk 30 Mobile Target Miniwars

Mk 48 Torpedo Simulation

Mobile Sea Target Launch and Recovery

NATO FORACOS Support

Noise Augmentation Systems

Nonacoustic Sensor Tests

Over-the-Horizon Targeting (OTH-T)

Passive Signature Enhancement

Passive Sonar Performance Measurement

Periscope Detection Assessment

Propagation Loss Measurement

Shallow Water Acoustic Measurements

Shallow Water Minefield

Ship Navigation Accuracy Measurement

Ship Performance Maneuvering Trials

Ship Sensor Performance Assessment and Calibration

Sloping Topography

Sonar Acoustic Target Source

Sonar System Calibration

Sonar System Performance Assessment

Sonobuoy Tracking

Submarine Target Strength Measurement

Target Motion Analysis

Target Strength

Torpedo Launch and Recovery

Underwater Acoustic Measurement

Underwater Countermeasures

Underwater Systems Performance Assessment

Underwater Weapons Systems

Weapons Systems Accuracy Trials

 

Additionally, AUTEC also provides a full range of technical services, and infrastructure, from pre-test operations planning to post-test data analysis, including:

 

Air Support Services

Data Acquisition/Processing/Analysis

Engineering/Fabrication Support Services

Land-based Exercises and Situational Training

Logistic and Supply Services

Marine and Airport Services

Mine Warfare Tests

Oceanographic Research, Studies, and Hardware Systems Development Tests

Range Intervention Development Tests

Research and Development Testing of Advanced Undersea Warfare Combat Systems

Sea- and Air-launched weapon Evaluations

Ship Performance and Maneuvering Standardization Trials

Single POC for Test Planning, Coordination, and Fleet Liaison

Surface-Ship, Submarine, and Aircraft Sensor Performance and Calibration Tests

Test Conduct/Execution

Unmanned Vehicles, Weapons, Surface Ships, Submarines, Acoustic Measurements, and Performance Evaluation

Weapon/Target/Instrumentation Support Services

 

AUTEC’s assets include:

A precision 3-dimensional in-water and in-air tracking range in both deep and shallow environments

A Range User, Support Compound with extensive technical laboratory facilities

A tracking system for deployed sonobuoys

Andros and West Palm Beach Real-Time Displays Centers

Buoyant vehicle, deep-water haul down site with data collection capability

Computerized Mk 46 and Mk 48 torpedo simulators to minimize Fleet training costs

Differential GPS Tracking Systems for off-range tests, including a Large Area tracking Range (LATR)

Exercise Weapon and test vehicle post-run and turnaround capabilities

Extensive data reduction and data processing systems and facilities

Fixed, mobile and deployable targets, noise sources, and transponders

Helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft

Large pier and wharf to accommodate vessels with up to a 20-foot (6-meter) draft

Mk 46/Mk 50 REXTORP Intermediate Maintenance Activity (IMA) Facility

Mk 48 R & D Turnaround Facility

Open-ocean research vessels, range craft and small boats

Precisely located target for platform sensory accuracy testing

Post-test debrief/replay display systems

Remote and Portable Real-Time Range Display Systems and Software (PARGOC/PCARGOS)

Self-deployable systems for gathering radiated noise and acoustic signature data from torpedoes

Various Range User Buildings (RUBs), including a helicopter hangar.

 

Probably the most important AUTEC facility is the Weapons Range, which is primarily used to gather highly accurate positional data, to analyse and assess the performance of undersea warfare weapons, weapons systems and component subsystems.

 

The Weapons Range is parallel to the east coast of Andros Island. It is the largest of the AUTEC ranges; about 10 miles wide and 35 miles long. It is said to be able to track 9 objects simultaneously. It is supported by the Main Base (Site 1), and various smaller sites located along the east coast of the Island to the south. There is both In-air tracking up to 70,000 feet (21,000 meters) over the Range, and In-Water tracking. Surveillance radars are provided.

 

As well as the main test sites east of Andros in TOTO, there is in the southern boundary of the Northwest Providence Channel, between the Berry Islands and Bimini, a shallow-water plateau which can be used for littoral warfare tests. Also available, there are test sites (for small unmanned submarines?) off the east coast of Florida, and west of Andros, by the Cay Sal Bank. Submarines, as well as other vessels from America, can proceed from the Straits of Florida into the Northeast Providence Channel, and directly to AUTEC’s pier.

 

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Towards the end of 2012, it was reported that the British Ministry of Defence will commit an additional £2.7bn to the Royal Navy’s troubled, and generally agreed wasteful, hunter-killer submarine programme that has been beset by delays, overspend and other problems since it was first commissioned in 1997. The Royal Navy plans to have seven Astute-class boats, three of which are completed and are undergoing trials. Ultimately, the British government expects to spend at least £10bn on a fleet of submarines which is many years late. According to the Guardian (31 January 2013) altogether £35.8bn will be spent over 10 years on submarines for the British Navy, including the seven Astute-class attack vessels, plus a completely new fleet of Vanguard nuclear ballistic missile submarines, all built at Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria, in northern England. Critics have said that the programme should have been scrapped, although Rear-Admiral Simon Lister, the MoD’s Director of Submarines, claimed that “These boats provide optimum capability that a submarine can offer in land strike, strategic intelligence gathering, anti-submarine and surface ship warfare, and protection of the strategic

deterrent.” The Astute would “become the jewel in the crown,” he said.

 

Nevertheless, the first H.M.S. Astute cannot reach the top speed that the MoD claimed it could; a lead-lined water jacket, which surrounded the submarine’s nuclear reactor, was constructed with the wrong (inferior?) quality metal; and the crew’s living quarters are said to be more cramped than in submarines made more than 50 or 60 years ago. The electrical circuit boards failed the Navy’s safety standards and, presumably, had to be replaced.

 

Apparently, during trials in the Atlantic Ocean, somewhere east of the United States, H.M.S. Astute experienced a leak; there was some flooding during a routine dive, but it survived an emergency surfacing. A small part of the submarine had corroded. Whether it had undertook trials at AUTEC is not known, at least to me. In 2010, it ran aground, and its commander was removed from command.

 

In an interview with the Guardian newspaper (27 December 2012), Lister admitted that there had been design faults, technical problems and construction flaws of the Astute-class boats. Lessons were being learned, he said. Hopefully, Astute will be brought into service. The programme was first commissioned back in 1997.

Admiral Lister also admitted that Astute will not be a fast-speed submarine; but “fast enough”. Further boats, such as Ambush, should have fewer problems. But it is unlikely to achieve the maximum 30 knots, previously claimed by the Ministry of Defence. Interestingly, but not surprisingly, Russia Today TV news (on Wednesday, 15 May 2013) gave considerable prominence, reporting design and other failures, to Britain’s Astute submarines.

 

The MoD has, however, awarded a £600m contract to the French defence and security company, Thales, to service the “electronic eyes and ears” of the British Royal Navy’s fleet of submarines (and other ships), including the maintenance of the sensory systems of the Astute, Trafalgar and Vanguard class submarines. Furthermore, until 2023, Thales will provide support and repairs for the British Navy’s sonars, periscopes and electronic surveillance equipment. Whether Thales is involved with AUTEC is not known, at least to me.

 

In late 2011, a British submariner petty officer, Edward Devenny, who had been in the Royal Navy for 12 years, and had worked on a number of Trident submarines, attempted to give away allegedly secret information to the Russians. He phoned the Russian embassy, and set up what he thought was a meeting with a couple of Russian embassy officials. However, GCHQ had monitored his calls, and MI5 agents posed as the Russian officials at two meetings with Devenny. At the meetings, he gave MI5’s “Russians” secret information about operations by H.M.S. Trafalgar and H.M.S. Vengeance. And he discussed the sailing dates of H.M.S. Vigilant to the “west Atlantic for missile testing”. I would guess that this may have been at AUTEC, on Andros, in the Tongue of the Ocean, as one of AUTEC’s functions includes “missile testing”. Petty officer Edward Devenny was found guilty of “misconduct in a public office”, and sent to jail for eight years.

 

 

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Cuban Interlude

To the south of Andros, on the 8th of January 1959, Fidel Castro’s “army”, which never numbered 2,000 men, entered Havana, the capital of Cuba. They were unopposed. By the end of the year, Castro had full control. About 100,000, mostly wealthy Cubans left the country.

 

The United States was quick to respond to the events in Cuba. The National Security Council, meeting on the 10th of March, had on its agenda “the bringing of another government to power in Cuba”. And even before the Castro government had nationalised any U.S. properties (such as sugar plantations and hotels), CIA Director Allen Dulles declared that “an invasion of Cuba is necessary”. President Eisenhower agreed. Shortly after, the Mafia departed the island. Bombing attacks on Cuba in October 1959 began by planes based in Florida. The CIA, together with the Mafia, made numerous attempts to assassinate Castro. They all failed. Cuba was blockaded; and preparations for an invasion were begun. Anti-Castro émigrés were trained by the CIA.

 

Castro nationalised the entire Cuban sugar industry by the end of 1960. The United States embargoed all trade with Cuba. The U.S. broke off all diplomatic relations with the Castro regime on the 3rd of January 1961; and on the same day John F. Kennedy took his oath of office, replacing Eisenhower as President of the United States. Kennedy was now lumbered with the CIA-organised invasion of Cuba – Operation Pluto.

 

Not surprisingly, Fidel Castro looked for an ally. The choice was obvious, the Soviet Union. A trade pact was agreed to buy Cuban sugar. Castro received technical assistance, and sought to purchase Soviet oil and petrol. In May 1960, Cuba and the Soviet Union exchanged diplomats.

 

The CIA continued its preparations for the invasion of Cuba. The date was to be the 5th of March, 1961, but had to be delayed until the 17th of April. The story of the invasion – the Bay of Pigs attack – has been told many times and in great detail. It is not necessary here. Suffice it to say it was a complete and absolute failure, a fiasco!

 

The Russians began re-equipping Cuban armed forces, which included 40 MIG fighters. And, then in July the same year, the U.S. air force together with U-2 observation planes, watched and photographed Soviet ships sailing to Cuba with large crates on their decks. From the same month, an increasing number of young men (20,000 all told) were seen arriving from the Soviet Union, all wearing similar suits and walking stiffly. They didn’t look much like tourists!

 

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The Kremlin decided it had to take a strategic gamble, and install nuclear missiles and bases in Cuba. Khruschev had two motives: One to deter another, but successful, invasion of Cuba and, two, to create a nuclear balance between the U.S. and the USSR. The United States had surrounded the Soviet Union with military bases, armed with nuclear warheads capable of wiping out all Soviet cities, including Moscow, Leningrad and Kiev, within a few minutes. Those based in Turkey were of particular concern to the Soviets. So, argued Khruschev on a visit to Bulgaria: why not install missiles with nuclear warheads in Cuba?

 

He also decided to send anti-aircraft missiles to the island. It was a risk worth taking, he felt. He didn’t ask permission from Castro, however, although Fidel claimed later that he had given Khrushchev permission.

 

According to the CIA, by mid-August, there were 65 Soviet ships heading towards Cuba, of which 10 were carrying military equipment. A U-2 flight over the island noted anti-aircraft construction sites.

 

On the 8th of September, the Russian cargo ship Omsk docked at Havana at night, and unloaded a cargo of medium-range ballistic missiles (MRBMs). One week later, the CIA reported a second shipment of SS-4 missiles, with a range of 600-1,000 miles, arriving in Cuba. Such missiles could reach Washington, as well as 40-50 per cent of U.S. Strategic Air Command bomber bases. Moreover, the American radar early-warning system was useless, as it was facing the Soviet Union – not Cuba. It was the beginning of the hurricane season. Poor weather had forced the grounding of U-2 spy flights; and, indeed, on the 27th of October, a U-2 plane was lost over Cuba, probably shot down by the Cuban air force. A missile site near San Cristóbal was in construction by mid-October.

 

For more than a week, news was kept from the American people; and Britain, America’s client state in Europe, was not informed until the 21st of October, either. Already, four of the sites in Cuba were operational.

 

What would the United States do? Bomb Cuba? Destroy all the Soviet missile bases? This was ruled out. Appeal to the United Nations? This was ruled out as taking too much time; and it might fail anyway. A full-scale invasion of Cuba? Possibly. The final option, which was acted upon, was a naval blockade of the island, and an ultimatum to the Soviets that the nuclear missiles be withdrawn.

 

Legally (in international law), the United States did not have a strong case. Fidel Castro asserted that there was nothing illegal if a sovereign state invited an ally, or any other country, to install nuclear weapons and establish bases on its territories. The United States had such bases all over the world, he said.

 

The situation was, however, critically dangerous. There were a number of Soviet submarines, with nuclear torpedoes already armed, prowling the area around Cuba and to the south of Andros. The captain of one such submarine, being depth-charged by U.S. warships, assumed that the Third World War had commenced, and ordered the use of nuclear weapons. It was only the opposition of the second-in-command, Vasili Arkipov, whose consent was required, that prevented a catastrophe.

 

The Americans established a “quarantine” line. On the 27th of October, the Soviet vessel Grozny steamed towards this line. But on the same day Khrushchev offered President Kennedy a deal: “We will remove our weapons from Cuba, and you will evacuate yours from Turkey.” Kennedy reluctantly accepted; and he promised not to invade Cuba. Both kept their word. But on the 22nd of November 1963, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas. That is another story…

 

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