On Oct. 23, President Kennedy asks Khrushchev to show prudence.
03:00 (10:00 Moscow) - Having spent the night in the Kremlin on Khrushchev's instructions, Soviet leaders meet to discuss their next actions. They are especially concerned with the four Soviet Foxtrot submarines in the Atlantic, with some fearing that the presence of these submarines in Cuban waters will increase the risk of confrontation with the U.S. Navy if detected. It is eventually decided that the submarines should be held back in two-to-three day sailing range from Cuba.
06:45 - The Soviet ship Aleksandrovsk, which is carrying nuclear weapons, docks in La Isabel, Cuba. 44 tactical warheads are unloaded and taken to cruise missile regiments at opposite ends of Cuba. However, the R-14 warheads remain on board the ship as they can be kept more securely.
09:30 - A spy report from Cuba informs the CIA that a "convoy of 42 vehicles including 7 missile carriers" has been spotted.
10:00 - ExComm meets again and decides that any U.S. retaliation on Cuban missile sites be delegated to Rusk if President Kennedy were unavailable.
12:05- Low level reconnaissance flights are launched by the United States, with six RF-8 Crusader jets from the Light Photographic Squadron No. 62 taking off on a mission over Cuba. The Squadron Commander William Ecker and his wingman Bruce Wilhelmy fly over the missile site at San Cristobal and identify an unfinished nuclear bunker. Other low-level reconnaissance planes photograph other missile sites such as the one at Sagua La Grande shown above.
Afternoon - The Soviet cargo ships Poltava, Okhotsk, Kasimov, and Kimovsk, heading for Cuba, all reverse course on Khrushchev's instructions. The first two were carrying seven R-14 missiles each, with the latter two carrying five R-14 missiles each. The U.S. Navy is not immediately aware of this reversal.
19:00 - President Kennedy writes to Khrushchev, requesting that "we both show prudence" and do "not allow events to make situation more difficult." Kennedy also authorizes the Navy to intercept and take into custody any Soviet ships with offensive weapons from 10:00 the next day and to give the highest priority to tracking Soviet submarines and ensuring the "greatest possible safety measures" for U.S. vessels.
20:15 - McNamara meets with the U.S. Navy Chief Anderson and insists that the Navy doesn't "fire a single shot at anything" without his permission.
21:30 - Robert Kennedy meets with Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin and informs him that his brother feels betrayed by the Soviets and feels that this may have "devastating implications for the peace of the world." Dobrynin subsequently tells Bobby that Soviet ships are under orders to ignore "unlawful demands to stop" and that attempts to stop them would be seen as "an act of war."
21:35 - Fidel Castro broadcasts a television speech to the Cuban public, stating that the U.S. "can only take our sovereignty" by destroying them.
On Oct. 24, tempers run high as Khrushchev accuses Kennedy of "outright banditry."
08:00 (15:00 Moscow) - Khrushchev meets with the U.S. businessman William Knox and tells him that if the United States is curious about Soviet arms in Cuba, they should attack and that the Guantanamo Naval Base would "disappear the on the first day." He also asserts that Washington must get used to missiles on Cuba, saying that "you aren't happy with it but you'll learn to live with it." ExComm meets and is informed that, according to CIA intelligence, 22 Soviet ships were headed for Cuba but that all of the six ships currently in Cuban waters have "either stopped or reversed course." While it was originally unclear whether or not these ships were incoming or outgoing, it is then clarified that they are all now heading away from Cuba. CIA Director Dean Rusk tells ExComm that "We're eyeball to eyeball and the other fellow just blinked." In reality, Soviet ships had turned back the previous day. However, ExComm is also informed that four Soviet submarines remain in the western Atlantic. This worries President Kennedy, who exclaims that "we don't wanna have the first thing we attack be a Soviet submarine."
11:10 - The Strategic Air Command -- under Gen. Thomas Power, shown above -- has selected 220 "high priority Task 1 targets" in the USSR for immediate destruction if an alert is given. Power makes an unauthorized address to SAC on open airwaves stating that they are "ready to meet any emergencies," which is picked up by Soviet intelligence.
The U.S. Army is mobilized in case of invasion of Cuba -- this is the greatest emergency mobilization of U.S. troops since WWII. U.S. Marines plan for an invasion of Cuba with 120,000 troops. Projected potential casualties in the first 10 days are estimated as being over 18,000, with 4,000 dead.
Soviet armed forces are also placed on high alert -- all military leave is cancelled and discharges are deferred indefinitely.
Evening - Premier Khrushchev sends President Kennedy a message accusing him of "outright banditry" and of "pushing mankind to the abyss of a nuclear war." He goes on to state that the Soviet Union "will not simply be bystanders" to "piratical acts by American ships."
National Security Archives