Best Defense

A Best Defense re-run: JFK’s plan to invade Cuba with paratroops & Marines

Over the weekend I was looking through some handwritten notes in the papers of Gen. Lyman Lemnitzer, placed on-line by the National Defense University.

Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

 

(This piece originally ran on 22 November 2011)

Over the weekend I was looking through some handwritten notes in the papers of Gen. Lyman Lemnitzer, placed on-line by the National Defense University. The document is undated and unsigned. The NDU catalog lists it as created by Lemnitzer, who was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff early in the JFK era, until Kennedy dumped him in favor of Maxwell Taylor. It looks to me like General Lemnitzer wrote it or perhaps dictated it as he stewed in retirement — but perhaps not, because on the last page there is a reference to “General Lemnitzer.”

Anyway, on pages 43-44 (as handmarked; PDF lists it as pp. 45-46) of that document, I was surprised to see a summary of “CINCLANT’s operational plan for Cuba,” which seems to have been ordered up after the failure of the Bay of Pigs operation in April 1961. In summary, the American invasion of Castro’s Cuba would begin with an “Assault on the Havana [sic] by the 82nd Airborne Division and one Marine regiment.” The next day, the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment and the 2nd Infantry Brigade would land. (Grasshoppers, what is “the 2nd Infantry Brigade”? Doesn’t ring a specific bell. Maybe the writer mean “division”?) These units would be given 18 days to isolate and capture the capital. Meanwhile, on D+14, the 2nd Marine Division would move toward Santiago. (I don’t understand the delay — why wait two weeks? Surely not to wait for available shipping and air cover.) Between the 24th and 34th days, the two forces would link up.

And then, of course, there is that dose of sunny optimism that ends all U.S. war plans, as if by law: “D+60 to D+90: withdrawal of U.S. forces.” Oh, sure.

If the American invasion had happened back then, more people would know who Ted Conway was — he commanded the 82nd Airborne in 1961-62, and to my knowledge is the only soldier in American history to rise from the lowest rank in the Army to the highest and then in retirement to get a doctorate from Duke.

When Castro buys the collective farm, which should happen pretty soon, if Cuba descends into turmoil, I wonder if these plans will be dusted off…

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. @tomricks1

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