Thirteen Days in October

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Shortly after 8 a.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 16, 1962, President John F. Kennedy was informed that the Soviet Union had secretly delivered nuclear missiles to Cuba, capable of obliterating Washington just 15 minutes after launch. Thus began the famous "13 days" during which the world came closer than ever before -- or since -- to nuclear war. Unbeknownst to Kennedy, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev had also sent 98 tactical nuclear warheads to Cuba, capable of destroying an American invading force and the U.S. naval base at Guantánamo Bay. For the 50th anniversary of this terrifying standoff, I began the Cuban Missile Crisis + 50 project with Foreign Policy, using the research and archival materials gathered for my book on the crisis, One Minute to Midnight, to re-create in real time the events of those days. In addition to providing context for the events and blogging about the experience, I'm live-tweeting the events leading up to those 13 fateful days at @missilecrisis62.

Khrushchev agreed to remove his missiles from Cuba, but only after receiving a non-invasion pledge from Kennedy and a promise to remove U.S. nuclear missiles from Turkey. Before stepping back from the brink, the two leaders unleashed a chain of unpredictable events, culminating in the shoot-down of an American U-2 spy plane over Cuba.

As we enter October, the photos that follow offer a comprehensive, day-by-day breakdown of events as Kennedy, Khrushchev, and Castro hurtled toward the Cuban missile crisis. You can also follow the drama live on Twitter as we chart the course of the crisis, from the initial U-2 photographs of the Soviet missile sites to the photograph of a much-relieved JFK leaving church on Sunday, Oct. 28.

Above, Kennedy signs the order for the naval blockade of Cuba on Oct. 24, 1962, in the White House.

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On Oct. 4, the Soviet cargo ship Indigirka docked in the port of Mariel, Cuba, with the first shipment of nuclear warheads to arrive on the island. The ship was carrying six atom bombs, 36 warheads for long-range R-12 missiles, and a further 36 warheads for short-range FKR missiles. Together, these weapons have over 20 times the explosive power of all the bombs dropped on Germany by the Allies in World War II. (Click here for a closer look at nuclear stockpiles in 1962.)

While chairing a meeting of the CIA Cuban covert operations group -- called the Operation Mongoose committee -- in Washington, Robert "Bobby" Kennedy, the president's brother and the U.S. attorney general (shown above), calls for "considerably more sabotage" against Cuba. The CIA decides to consider plans for the mining of Cuban harbor and the capture and interrogation of Cuban forces.

Meanwhile, at Kennedy's instruction, the U.S. Air Force builds mock-ups of Soviet SA-2 missile launchers to prepare pilots for bombing runs.

Oct. 16, 1962 was the first of the "thirteen days" -- the crucial fortnight at the heart of the Cuban missile crisis. From here, we'll go into the events of each day in closer detail.

08:00 - Following the discoveries by intelligence analysts in Washington the previous day, President Kennedy is informed by National Security Advisor McGeorge Bundy of "hard photographic evidence" showing Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba. Kennedy exclaims that Khrushchev "can't do this to me." He later calls the premier of the Soviet Union an "immoral gangster" to his brother Robert Kennedy, then telephones Republican lawyer John McCloy, who advises him to take forceful action to remove the missiles.

10:00 - In Moscow, Khrushchev meets with the U.S. ambassador to the USSR Foy Kohler and tells him forcefully that all Soviet activity in Cuba is purely defensive. He also claims that the Cuban government has leaked any information regarding Soviet action in Cuba without Soviet permission.

11:00 - President Kennedy briefs Robert Kennedy on the discovery of Soviet missiles in Cuba, who expresses surprise. Bobby would later write that his main reaction had been one of "shocked incredulity" and the feeling that as well as being subject to USSR deception, "we had also fooled ourselves."

11:45 - The head photo interpreter for the CIA, Arthur Lundahl, shows President Kennedy the U-2 photos of Cuban missiles, taken the previous day. Kennedy's first impression of the site was that it could be "mistaken for a football field." Kennedy then orders a meeting of 14 advisors, forming the group that becomes known as "ExComm" -- the Executive Committee of the National Security Council, shown above. ExComm then meet for the first time and are shown photos of the missiles. The group is informed that the CIA estimates that Soviet MRBMs could explode over Washington in 13 minutes once they are armed and ready to fire. The briefing board used by the CIA to show the range of missiles on Cuba can be found here.

However, Defence Secretary McNamara suggest that the nuclear warheads required are not yet present on Cuba so the missiles couldn't be fired immediately. Despite this, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Maxwell Taylor, warns that the missiles could be fired "very quickly." In a meeting earlier in the day, the Joint Chiefs of Staff had been adamant that the military threat from Cuban was "so serious" that missiles must be "taken out" by air strikes. ExComm orders six further surveillance flights over Cuba, which are carried out over the course of the day. (An audio recording of the ExComm meeting from the National Security Archives can be found here.)

14:30 - Robert Kennedy meets with the Special Group Augmented and expresses his brother's "general dissatisfaction" with Operation Mongoose -- a covert program for sabotage in Cuba -- and their lack of progress in ousting Castro. He informs the Mongoose operational team that they will meet at 9.30am every morning until further notice.

16:35 - President Kennedy meets with reporters, telling them that his priority is ensuring the "survival of our country" and avoiding the "third and perhaps last war" but doesn't inform them of the unfolding crisis.

17:15 - The Soviet cargo ship Bolshevik Sukhanov leaves for Cuba from Kaliningrad with equipment for R-14 missiles.

18:30 - ExComm meets again and President Kennedy is informed that all missiles on Cuba will be "fully operational in two weeks," with individual missiles ready sooner. Kennedy thinks that Soviet action is intended as both a "psychological" and "political" threat to the United States as well as being defensive.

On Oct. 17, the debate heats up over whether or not to launch an air strike at Cuba.

10:00 - Adlai Stevenson, the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., warns President Kennedy that he can't negotiate with a "gun at our head" and should be prepared to compromise with the Soviets over U.S. missiles in Turkey and Britain. In a memo to the president, John McCone, the director of the CIA, states that he thinks Soviet deployment of missiles to Cuba should be seen as an attempt to establish a "trading position" that would force the United States into removing their own overseas missile bases.

10:30 - McNamara declares that eliminating the missiles via a "surgical" airstrike is militarily impractical and would lead to an invasion of Cuba. He advocates instead that the U.S. implement a naval blockade of the island. However, members of ExComm express concern that a blockade of Cuba might lead to Soviet counteractions, including a blockade of Berlin.

11:20 - The U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, shown above meeting in their conference room, which was known as "the Tank," propose to remove the missiles using 3,000 air strikes against Cuba over five days.

13:30 - An SS-5 intermediate range ballistic missle (IRBM) site is detected in Cuba. SS-5 missiles have range of over 2,200 nautical miles, but experts advise that they will not be operational until December.

14:30 - Meanwhile, in Cuba, Fidel Castro is interviewed by French broadcaster and despite not directly alluding to the crisis states that "we [Cuba] have been the victim of pressure exerted by the U.S. government."

On Oct. 18, tempers flare over the prolonged debate over what to do about Cuba.

09:30 - During a Joint Chiefs of Staff meeting, Air Force Chief Gen. Curtis LeMay becomes frustrated by the lack of progress in deciding what to do over the missiles in Cuba. He asks "are we really going to do anything except talk?" Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Taylor replies that there will be "a political approach followed by a warning, a blockade, air strikes, invasion."

10:30 - Meanwhile, the Soviet cargo ship Pogbinek arrives Cuba from Nikolaev, Ukraine, with mobile nuclear warhead teams on board.

11:00 - During an ExComm meeting, Robert Kennedy raises the question of whether a surprise air attack would be morally right. It was later said that he spent "more time on this moral question than on any other matter."

14:30 - President Kennedy is also concerned about the morality of an airstrike, and in a meeting with advisor Dean Acheson, describes it as "Pearl Harbor in reverse." Acheson, however, dismisses the analogy as "silly" and advises an airstrike.

17:00 - The USSR Minister of Foreign Affairs Andrei Gromyko, shown above, meets with President Kennedy and accuses him of "pestering" Cuba and denies that the Soviet Union is sending offensive missiles to Cuba. Kennedy privately refers to Gromyko as "that lying bastard."

21:00 - ExComm meets again and informs President Kennedy that its majority supports a naval blockade of Cuba. Kennedy subsequently requests the preparation of a brief to establish the legal basis of such a blockade. ExComm is also presented with the first in a daily series of "joint evaluations" from the CIA and is told that "one must assume that nuclear warheads could now be available in Cuba" and that MRBMs in Cuba could probably be launched in 18 hours. Over the course of the meeting, ExComm's original consensus to a naval blockade breaks down. Instead, the group splits and begins developing plans for both the blockade and for a military airstrike to present to the president.

On Oct. 19, Kennedy meets with the military brass to consider all his options.

08:00 - Gromyko sends a telegram to the Soviet government stating that he believes the American administration is shocked and "amazed" by the Soviet Union's courage and is "not preparing an intervention in Cuba."

09:00 - During reconnaissance flights, U.S. U-2 spy planes discover a second cluster of missile sites in central Cuba. These include facilities for IRBMs with ranges of 2,800 miles. The CIA has now identified three different medium range missile sites on the island with eight missile launchers each.

09:45 - President Kennedy meets with the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The Army, Air Force, and Navy chiefs favor an invasion of Cuba, although Army chief Maxwell Taylor only wants to prepare at this stage. However, Kennedy is hesitant to take firm military action, predicting that a U.S. attack on Cuba would cause the Soviet Union to retaliate with an attack on Berlin. This would leave the United States with the only alternative "to fire nuclear weapons," which Kennedy called a "hell of an alternative." Air Force Chief LeMay disagrees with the president, stating that a lack of firm action by the United States would "lead straight into war," and compares it with the appeasement of the Nazis in Munich. LeMay instead believes that U.S. nuclear superiority over the Soviet Union will put Khrushchev "in a trap," and that they should go ahead and "take off his testicles." Kennedy strongly disagrees with the concept of attempting to "win a nuclear war" and said that it was meaningless when "you're talking about the destruction of a country." After the president leaves the meeting, the Head of the Marine Corps, Gen. David Shoup, states that Kennedy's caution will leave them all "screwed" and that they should settle matters with "that little pipsqueak of a place" for good. Later, and in private, Kennedy tells his personal assistant that his generals have "one great advantage in their favor...if we listen to them and do what they want us to do, none of us will be alive later to tell them that they were wrong."

11:30 - The CIA locates the Soviet ship Aleksandrovsk near Cuba. However, they record it as a "dry cargo" ship of little importance -- however, Soviet nuclear weapons were actually on board at the time.

14:00 - ExComm meets again, with the members increasingly supportive of the idea of a blockade on Cuba, as many feel that the destructive "price" of an airstrike is too high.

16:00 - Meeting again in the afternoon, the Joint Chiefs, who are still in favor of an airstrike, state that they are willing to accept a 24-hour delay in attacking Cuba in order to inform allies. A CIA report issued that afternoon expresses the belief that directly approaching either Khrushchev or Castro is unlikely to halt the deployment of missiles to Cuba and that a total blockade of Cuba would "almost certainly" lead to strong Soviet action and could "escalate to general war."

21:00 - The U.S. Defense Department publicly denies any knowledge of missiles in Cuba or of any emergency action by the U.S. government to the press.

21:45 - Miguel Orozco and Pedro Vera, two Cubans working for the CIA, enter Cuba on a guerrilla operation to attack the Matahambre copper mine. They have both been told by their CIA case officer that they must successfully disrupt copper extraction "or don't bother to come back alive."

On Oct. 21, the blockade of Cuba is approved.

Morning - Pierre Salinger, the press secretary for the White House, is informed of the crisis for the first time. Meanwhile, the CIA reports sightings of nuclear warhead bunkers under rapid construction near fixed missile sites in Guananjay, Cuba.

11:30 - In a meeting with the president, Robert Kennedy opposes a "Pearl Harbor-type" surprise attack against Cuba and tells his brother that he thinks the United States should start with a blockade and then "play for the breaks." President Kennedy gives final approval to a blockade of Cuba. Plans for the blockade are outlined -- approaching ships will be signalled to stop for inspection. Shots will then be fired if ships don't comply. Despite approving the blockade, President Kennedy also directs the military to prepare for a possible airstrike and orders the reinforcement of the U.S. naval base at Guantánamo Bay, shown above.

13:00 - The Joint Chiefs of Staff meet again and are informed by Air Force Chief Curtis LeMay that the chances of an airstrike hitting all the missile sites in Cuba are only "90 percent."

16:30 - The Soviet cargo ship Krasnograd leaves for Cuba again from Kaliningrad carrying another four R-14 missiles.

Evening - The White House realizes that the press is beginning to piece together information. However, the reporters hold their stories on the president's request.

National Security Archives 

On Oct. 22, the president addresses the nation.

12:00 - U.S. Marines began evacuating civilians from Guantanamo Bay Naval base, with 2,810 women and children leaving by warship and plane.

15:00 (22:00 Moscow) - In Moscow, reports of unusual activity in Washington reach Premier Khrushchev. He is told that President Kennedy plans to address the U.S. public on a matter of "highest national urgency." Khrushchev tells his son Sergei that the Americans have "probably discovered our missiles" and realized that "they're defenseless." Marshal Rodion Malinovsky, the Soviet defense minister, prepares a decree authorizing Soviet troops on Cuba to oppose a U.S. attack by "all available means." However, this alarms Khrushchev, who is concerned that this could trigger nuclear war. He states that "the tragic thing is that [U.S] can attack us and we will respond -- this could all end up in a big war." Khrushchev would later say "we didn't want to unleash a war, we just wanted to frighten them, to restrain U.S in regard to Cuba."

16:00 - In Washington, foreign governments, including that of the Soviet Union, are informed of the Cuban missile crisis by the U.S. administration. The U.S. plans for a quarantine of Cuba -- the name was changed from"blockade," as it was thought it sounded less aggressive -- are outlined. French President Charles de Gaulle expresses his support for President Kennedy, saying "it is exactly what I would have done."

16.39 - The U.S. Air Defense Command begins sending 161 aircraft to 16 bases. All aircraft are armed with nuclear weapons for the first time in history.

17:00 - Seventeen congressional leaders from both parties assemble at White House and are briefed on the crisis and the quarantine plan. Most offer their support, but Kennedy comes under some criticism. Among others, Senator Richard Russell believes that an immediate airstrike is necessary and that anything else is an sign of weakness, declaring "we're either a world class power or we're not." President Kennedy is privately furious at these negative reactions, exploding "if they want this job, fuck 'em, they can have it. It's no great joy to me!"

18:00 - Secretary of State Dean Rusk delivers the Soviet Ambassador Dobrynin a copy of Kennedy's speech, calling the USSR missile deployment "a gross error." Rusk would later recall that Dobrynin, who never knew of the Soviet missile deployment, aged "10 years right in front of my eyes." Another copy of Kennedy's speech is delivered to the Kremlin, along with a letter stating that the "U.S. is determined that this threat to the security of this hemisphere be removed." Khrushchev originally expressed pleasure that the president was not demanding the removal of Soviet nukes from Cuba by a deadline and that this was "not a war" but "an ultimatum." However, he then increased alert levels for Soviet troops and drafts a statement calling the quarantine "piracy" and accusing the U.S. government of pushing the world to war. The Kremlin then orders General Issa Pliyev to increase combat readiness on Cuba in order to defeat the enemy, but not to use nuclear weapons.

19:00 - President Kennedy makes a televised statement to the nation, shown above, informing the public of the crisis and citing "unmistakable evidence" of Soviet nukes in Cuba. He goes on to announce the blockade plan and declares that "any nuclear missile launched from Cuba" will be regarded as an "attack by the Soviet Union on the United States requiring retaliatory action." He also addresses the "captive people of Cuba," saying that their leaders are no longer of "Cuban ideals" but "agents of international conspiracy."

21:00 - In Cuba, Castro dictates that the next day's newspaper headlines declare Cuba as "heroic defenders of the Revolution" and that "we will win!"

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.

[[PAGBREAK]]

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

On Oct. 25, Adlai Stevenson makes his case to the U.N. Security Council.

01:00 - The saboteurs sent into Cuba by the CIA, Miguel Orozco and Pedro Vera, reach their destination -- a "break over tower" between the Matahamre copper mine and the sea -- after five days of walking. Orozco places two bombs on the cables from the tower, which will then be carried to the copper mine in one direction, and to the Santa Lucia docks when the tramway starts in the morning. Vera attaches another bomb designed to bring the tower down and disrupt power to the mine. However, workers at the copper mine discover the bombs and dismantle them before they detonate.

02:00 - A message from President Kennedy is sent to Khrushchev stating that U.S. action and the quarantine of Cuba is entirely in response to Soviet deception over missile deployment. Khrushchev then meets with the Presidium and acknowledges that to avoid nuclear war he must "dismantle the missile sites." He also proposes a compromise: to remove Soviet missiles from Cuba if Kennedy can give "firm guarantees" not to attack the island.

03:00 - USSR Foreign Minister Anatoly Dobrynin sends a message to Khruschev stating that he believes that Kennedy still intends to invade Cuba. This is based on an overheard conversation with an journalist in Washington, who insinuated that he would soon be sent to Cuba to report.

10:00 - ExComm meets and is informed that the ships USS Essex and USS Gearing attempted to intercept the Soviet tanker Bucharest, but it is allowed to continue to Cuba. Meeting with the Joint Chiefs of Staff earlier in the day, the Secretary of Defense Dean Rusk authorizes the U.S. Navy to stop "non-bloc ships" and the stopping and boarding of the Soviet tanker Grozny. Later in the day, the ship USS Kennedy approaches the Lebanese freighter Marucla and informs her crew that she will be boarded in the morning. U.S. reconnaissance over Cuba photographs tactical short-range "Luna" missiles. The U.S. government had previously been unaware of their presence on the island. U.S. Navy surveillance photographs the Soviet submarine B-130 surfacing near the quarantine line.

17:00 - Adlai Stevenson shows intelligence photos of Soviet missiles to the U.N. Security Council, pictured above. He taunts the Soviet Ambassador Valerian Zorin, who refuses to confirm or deny knowledge of missiles before the United Nations.

21:00 - The Turkish government informs the Kennedy administration that they will reject removal of U.S. Jupiter missiles stationed in Turkey without nuclear substitution.

On Oct. 26, preparations for a U.S. airstrike on Cuba are made.

00.03 - A U.S. guard patrolling Duluth Airport in Minnesota shoots at a figure scaling the fence and triggers the "sabotage" alarm -- the intruder is later thought to be a bear. In response to the alarm, the Air Force begins "flushing" its interceptor force -- all nuclear armed planes are to take off as soon as possible. Troops across the county think that war has broken out and scramble to prepare planes. The alarm is reversed and the planes called back one minute from launch. All F-106 planes were armed with four missiles, one of which had a nuclear warhead

07:50 - U.S. Navy officials from USS Kennedy successfully board the Marucla, a Lebanese freighter under USSR charter. On approving the instructions, President Kennedy had said "We've got to prove sooner or later that the blockade works." The ship is searched but nothing of interest is found. Later in the day, the normally taciturn Pentagon spokesman Arthur Sylvester gives a hungry press a detailed account of the boarding.

08:19 - All four Soviet submarines have now begun to pull back away from Cuba on orders from Moscow. However, the submarine B-36 is ordered to explore a sea passage between Grand Turk and Hispaniola. It is spotted 80 miles east of Grand Turk by a U.S. Navy plane and goes into an emergency dive.

11:00 - ExComm meets and is shown low-level reconnaissance photos that had been interpreted earlier in the day. These show a military encampment of Soviet troops on Cuba along with Luna missiles capable of destroying a U.S. invading force. CIA Director John McCone states that this makes the option of an invasion a "much more serious undertaking than most people realize -- it's very evil stuff they've got there."

An ABC News correspondent is invited to lunch by the KGB Washington station chief Aleksandr Feklisov (also referred to as "Fomin"), who presents him with an alternative to solving the crisis. This involves the Soviet Union dismantling its missile bases on Cuba under U.N. supervision and a promise from Castro never to accept offensive weapons of any kind, in exchange for an official pledge from the U.S. promising not to invade Cuba. Feklisov suggests Scali contact his "high level friends" concerning this. Later in the day, Scali relates all this information to Dean Rusk, who assumes that the message had been authorized by Moscow, although this was not actually the case.

18:00 - Castro orders Cuban anti-aircraft forces to fire on any U.S. aircraft flying ahead, stating that "we cannot tolerate these low level flights."

21:00 - A letter from Khrushchev to President Kennedy reaches the White House. It has taken 12 hours to be sent from Moscow in full. Khrushchev suggests that Moscow will declare ships bound for Cuba as "not carrying armaments" if Washington pledges not to invade or support any invasion of Cuba. ExComm reconvenes to consider both this and Feklisov's proposals. Unknown to ExComm, Robert Kennedy secretly meets with Anatoly Dobrynin and informs him that "we are ready to examine favourably the question of [missiles in] Turkey." In Cuba, General Pliyev -- head of Soviet forces on the island, shown above with Fidel Castro -- tells Moscow that he expects a "U.S. airstrike that night" and begins dispersing nuclear warheads.

On Oct. 27 -- "Black Saturday"-- the crisis reaches its height.

03:00 - Fidel Castro tells Premier Khrushchev that he believes that U.S. aggression is imminent "within 24 - 72 hours." He urges Khruschev to consider a nuclear strike against the United States. (At the Havana Conference in 1992, Castro claimed this was a misinterpretation of his letter and that he was only asking for defence in the case of a U.S. attack.)

04:00 - A U-2 flight piloted by Captain Charles Maultsby takes off from Alaska on a routine air sampling mission to collect evidence of Soviet nuclear tests. In Moscow, Khrushchev meets with Presidium, telling them that United States is "not going to invade now" and that he doubts Kennedy's "bravery." Khrushchev orders General Pliyev to "not use nukes" on Cuba without direct authorization from Moscow. Meanwhile, the CIA concludes that five out of six MRBM sites on Cuba are now "fully operational."

09:00 - Radio Moscow broadcasts a message from Premier Khrushchev calling for the dismantling of U.S. missiles in Turkey in exchange for removal of Soviet missiles in Cuba

09.09 - A U-2 plane piloted by Major Rudolf Anderson Jr. takes off for a low level reconnaissance of Cuba.

10.00 - ExComm meets and is informed by Robert McNamara of Soviet ships moving towards Cuba. It is suggested that the Soviets are unaware of the exact quarantine location and Kennedy agrees to ask the U.N. to inform the Soviet ambassadors in New York exactly where the U.S. is drawing the quarantine line. AP and Reuters bulletins arrive stating that Khrushchev says he will withdraw Cuban missiles in exchange for the Turkish ones -- President Kennedy has not yet received this message. A second message from Khrushchev subsequently begins to be received by the U.S. government, requesting that missiles in Cuba swapped for those in Turkey. ExComm begins debating a response to this message. President Kennedy states that going to war rather than accepting such a trade would be "an insupportable position."

11:00- The U-2 piloted by Anderson is shot down by Soviet troops in Cuba without direct authorization from Moscow. The Kennedy administration is informed that the Soviets have found the wreckage of a U-2, shown in the photo above.

12:00 - Confused by the Northern Lights, the U-2 piloted by Maultsby in Alaska strays into Soviet airspace. As he crosses the border, six Soviet interceptor jets take off from Chukotka to shoot down the intruder plane. Picking up Russian folk music on his radio, Maultsby realizes that he is lost and calls for help. Two U.S. fighter jets in Alaska head to assist him. McNamara is informed of the missing U-2 flight and is horrified, exclaiming "I must tell Rusk at once...this means war with the Soviet Union." Kennedy's aides panic at the news, worried that the Soviets will regard it as "last minute intelligence reconnaissance in preparation for a nuclear war." However, on being informed, Kennedy laughs bitterly and says "there's always some son-of-a-bitch that doesn't get the word."

13:55 - Captain Maultsby manages to return to U.S. airspace safely.

15:55 - Another six U.S. reconnaissance planes take off for a low-level mission over Cuba. Two out of the six are forced to abort due to mechanical failures. Cuban anti-aircraft weapons fire upon the remaining four but they return unharmed. Upon being told of this, Kennedy decides not to retaliate immediately, but agrees to attack the surface-to-air missile sites if any more planes are shot down. At Rusk's request, the ABC News correspondent Scali meets again with KGB head Feklisov to ask why Khrushchev's second message differs from the latter's proposal on the 26th. Feklisov claims that the introduction of Jupiter missiles in Turkey into the deal was the result of "poor communications" with Moscow. He also states that he is waiting for reply from Khrushchev at any minute and begs Scali to report that there has been no treachery to ExComm -- Scali reluctantly agrees to this.

ExComm meets again and drafts a message to Khrushchev. This message attempts to negotiate his initial request of a U.S. non-invasion pledge in exchange for a declaration that Soviet ships are unarmed. Kennedy also decides to send an oral message via Anatoly Dobrynin stating that if the missiles are not removed from Cuba, then the U.S. will begin to take military action. However, this message also contains an assurance that while no public or explicit deal will be made concerning the Jupiter missiles, they will be removed from Turkey if the Soviets comply.

20:10 - Kennedy's letter, drafted earlier, is transmitted to Moscow and released directly to the press in an attempt to avoid communication delays. Unbeknown to the rest of ExComm, Kennedy and Rusk begin preparing a contingency plan involving a public Turkey-for-Cuba missile trade.

On Oct. 28, a crisis is averted.

02:00 - Premier Khrushchev informs his Presidium that the USSR will retaliate "if an attack on Cuba" is made by the United States but that otherwise "we agree to dismantle the missile sites." He then sends a message to General Pliyev stating that "We have taken a decision to dismantle the R-12 missiles and evacuate them" and ordering the General to begin to implement this measure. He also says that "We consider that you acted too hastily in shooting down the American U-2." The Soviet ship Grozny is ordered by Moscow not to challenge the blockade, and comes to a standstill just outside the quarantine zone. Radio Moscow broadcasts a message from Khrushchev stating that Soviet Government has "issued a new order on the dismantling of the weapons."

09:00 - President Kennedy, shown above, is informed of the news just before leaving for a Sunday church service. He subsequently writes to Khrushchev stating that he considers their communications as "firm undertakings" to be "promptly carried out" by both governments. He then orders that no more reconnaissance missions be flown over Cuba and that no further action be taken against Soviet ships.

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