The Beale and the Cuban Missile Crisis
October 27, 1962
by Paul Barry, RM2, 1965-67
On October 27, 1962 the Young Men of the Beale were at the heart of what could have been the beginning of World War III. The Beale was instrumental in surfacing Soviet Foxtrot submarine B-59, a diesel boat armed with a nuclear torpedo. If not for the clear thinking of a Soviet submarine officer, the B-59 would have launched its torpedo thereby pushing the world into the abyss of nuclear war.
This is an historical summation of the Cuban Missile crisis and the Beale’s involvement followed by personal accounts of The Young Men of the Beale.
The Thirteen Days of October, 1962
On 14 October, a U-2 recon spy plane photographed Soviet nuclear Intermediate Range Ballistic Missiles, (IRBM), at several sites in Cuba. Late the following day, the CIA analysts confirmed the photos were indeed Soviet IRBMs and notified the White House accordingly. The map below illustrates the range of both Medium and Intermediate range missiles. As you can see, virtually all major cities in North America, the Panama Canal and northern South America were in range.
On 15 October, President Kennedy met with his advisers to deliberate on the U.S. course of military action.
On 17 October, a second U-2 plane photographs additional missile site and the Joint Chiefs of staff recommended a U.S. air strike on the missile sites.
On 18 October, Kennedy tells Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev the U.S. will not tolerate IRBM sites in Cuba. Khrushchev replies, “they are only helping Cuba with their defenses”. Deliberations continue.
On 20 October, Kennedy orders a full naval defensive quarantine blockade of Cuba.
The Beale had been deployed on routine ASW and Russian Trawler surveillance operations with Task Group Alfa when the task group was ordered to patrol an area in the Sargasso Sea to the northeast of Cuba. Other ships involved were the aircraft carrier Randolph CVS-15 and destroyers Bache DD-470, Cony DD-508, Eaton DD-510, Conway DD-507, Murray DD-576, Lowry DD-770 and Waller DD-466. Initial duties were to screen and act as plane guard for Randolph’s air ops.
Task Group Alfa
Russian Intelligence Trawler Shkval
Click on the picture to see multiple antenna arrays
On 21 October, President Kennedy and staff continue deliberations and negotiations with the Soviets. And, a third U-2 flight discovers assembling of MiGs and missile sites in northern Cuba.
On 22 October, U.S. military is placed on DEFCON 3 alert worldwide, Kennedy addresses the nation and Castro sets full combat alarm in Cuba. Negotiations continue with the Soviets.
On 23 October, Task Group Alfa is on station in the Sargasso Sea conducting ASW, screen and plane guard ops for Randolph.
On 24 October, Chief of Naval Operations informs the Soviets and other governments that U.S. ships coming in contact with unidentified submerged submarines will signal such submarines by dropping four or five harmless explosive sound signals which may be accompanied the international code “I D K C A” meaning “Rise to Surface”. Sound signals will be made via Gertrude underwater communications equipment. All U.S. forces are now placed on DEFCON 2 alert. Khrushchev tells Kennedy he is “pushing mankind toward the abyss of a nuclear war”.
On 25 and 26 October, negotiations continue between Kennedy and Khrushchev. NATO aircraft are armed with nuclear weapons. On 27 October, Kennedy informs Khrushchev U.S. will not invade Cuba and will remove the blockade if the Soviets withdraw the missiles from Cuba.
On 27 October over Cuba, A U-2 is shot down over Cuba. Its pilot, MAJ Rudolf Anderson, USAF was awarded the Air Force Cross posthumously. He was the only casualty of the Cuban Missile Crisis.
On 27 October aboard Beale
Between 1200 and 1600, Beale detached from Task Group Alfa in company of Conway and Murray then proceeds to investigate an unidentified submarine contact. At 1631 Beale closed on sonar contact. At 1640 all ships holding sonar contact maneuvering to counterclockwise pinwheel. At 1659 Beale dropped five hand grenades as challenge for identification. At 1710 Beale challenged submarine via Gertrude. No response.
On 27 October aboard Conway
At 1640 maneuvered on various courses at various speeds while closing on helicopter sonar contact. At 1642 set Condition 1 ASW. Made sonar contact to remain with 3,000 yards of submarine. At 1729 challenged submarine by dropping five hand grenades. At 2052 submarine surfaced. At 2120 submarine identified as Korablx, meaning “Ship “X”, nationality USSR. At 2227 passed submarine at 100 yards to starboard for better identification.
On 27 October aboard Beale
At 2050, submarine identified as USS type “Foxtrot” surfaced at 27° 36'N, 66° 00'W on easterly course, slow speed.
At 2052, Beale and Randolph aircraft commenced illumination and photographic runs from astern of submarine for close-in photo-run. Beale maneuvered to pass 500 yards on parallel course and commenced illuminating with 24” and aircraft searchlights. At 2229, photo-run completed then maneuvered to rejoin pinwheel. At, 2245, secured from Condition 1 ASW and set Condition Readiness III.
October 27th photo of "bridge lookouts" taken by David Stevens, SM3. Can anyone help to identify the men?
On 27 October aboard USSR submarine Korablx B-59
Soviet submarine B-59 commanded by Captain 2nd Rank Valentin Grigorievich Savitsky got underway with three other diesel boats on 01 October 1962 with Top Secret orders to deploy for Mariel Bay, Cuba. Unknown to the CIA and the Pentagon, the boats were equipped with 14 kiloton nuclear torpedoes.
By late October, they were in the Sargasso Sea southwest of Bermuda and being tracked by Task Group Alfa and other U.S. ASW forces. In addition to a multitude of equipment failures, B-59 was subject to a lack of air conditioning systems generally required when operating in tropical climates. Temperatures approached 130° in some of the combat positions and engine rooms. High temperatures and humidity wreaked havoc with the entire crew causing heat strokes and other significant but lesser afflictions. These conditions were compounded by the subs inability to surface while being tracked by U.S. Ships and aircraft in order to recharge their batteries and ventilate hydrogen and carbon dioxide gases. Air quality had become virtually toxic.
At 1659 and 1729 on 27 October, they knew they were surrounded by U.S. ships and thought they were being depth charged. Signals Intelligence Officer, Vadim Orlov later said “They exploded right next to the hull. It felt like you were sitting in a metal barrel, which somebody is constantly blasting with a sledge hammer.”
Captain Savitsky ordered the assembly of the nuclear torpedoes and was quoted “Maybe the war has started up there while we are doing somersaults here. We're going to blast them now! We will die, but we will sink them all – we will not disgrace our Navy!” Fortunately, his rules of engagement required unanimous agreement of Savitsky, Political Officer Ivan Maslennikov and the second in command, Vasili Arkhipov. Arkhipov dissented and persuaded Savitsky to surface and await orders from Moscow. Arkhipov may have prevented World War III. And, he may have saved the world from nuclear disaster
October 28th and later
Task Group Alfa continued its ASW surveillance. B-59 was last detected on an easterly course away from the blockade are. The Soviets removed its missiles from Cuba. Further military action was averted. Thus, ended the 13 days of October. The Cold War continued for many years.
The crews of the Beale, other participating ships and aviation units were awarded the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal.
Campaign Streamer flown by the Beale
All material has been extracted from numerous sources in the public domain. Should you want more detailed information, you can Google on “Cuban Missile Crisis USS Beale” or go to the National Security Archives at ww2.gwu.edu. This website will include the 27 October Deck Log of the Beale
The Young Men of the Beale – photos and recollections
FRONT: LCDR W.E. Clarke (XO); CMDR R.J. Loomis (CO); LT John (Pete) W. Peterson (OPS); LTJG Fred Lawrence (2nd Div). MIDDLE ROW: ENS Gary Pritchett (R Div); ENS Jim Miller (Supply); ENS Jerry McDaniel (1st Div); LTJG Ed (Ted) Bales (OI/CIC); ENS Sam Jeffery (OC/Communications); TOP ROW: ENS Joe Keeley (Eng); ENS Jim Dunn (ASW).
“I was told the five 'hand grenades' was a signal to 'surface or be destroyed'. Not sure if that's the truth. We had tracked the sub a few days. I remember GQ was called early AM. Jumped out of rack, grabbed life jacket, helmet on, shoes on and up the ladder. I think I only hit two steps on the way to my station on bridge as look out. Shaking, thought I had sh-t myself. One of the officers saw me and smiled. He saw I didn't have my pants on. He relieved me to go dress. Came back to station. A while later the sub suraced. I don't recall the other ship that was there but we pushed real close to the sub back and forth shining our flood lights on it awhile, then flashed a light signal 'where are you headed?'. They replied 'EAST we are headed EAST'.”
Bob Kline, SH3
"I was aboard during the Missile Crisis, a Quartermaster striker. I was not on the bridge, so missed most of the real important stuff going on. But coming to the bridge that morning after the sun was up was quite a site. The unclassified records I read in the last 5-10 years really open a person's eyes as to how close we came to being blown out of the water.”
Duane Wamre, QM3
“In October 1962 we were going back to Norfolk. I was on watch in CIC when I saw the ships heading back south. At that time we were in the dark as to what was going on. I was on the ECM equipment when I began picking up a frequency on the ECM. After we broke it down, it was Russian made radar. We repoirted it to the carrier and head of the ASW force. The ASW helicopter picked up the sub and threw a sonar datum. We went into ASW mode and made her surface.”
Ubaldo Barreda, RD3
"I was a member of a repair party when the Russian sub surfaced. When General Quarters was sounded and announced 'this is not a drill', no one knew what to expect. I remember it well.”
Harry Haerr, MM2
NOTE: If anyone has recollections, they would like to share, please contact us.