USS BEALE DDE 471
Cuba Bay of Pigs Invasion April, 1961
Cuban Missile Crisis October, 1962
This is a talk given by former Navy Lieutenant Ed Bales at the USS Beale reunion in Cocoa Beach, Florida on October 14, 2018. Lt. Bales was commissioned in 1960 after college graduation as a Midshipman with an Electrical Engineering degree. He was assigned to the USS Beale but first went to CIC school in Glynco, GA. While at the school, he returned home to Chicago to marry his High School sweetheart. Ed and Barbara returned to Glynco to complete CIC school and he reported to the Beale in January 1961. The Beale was a member of Task Group Alpha, the anti-submarine Squadron 28. He was on board during the April 1961 Cuban Bay of Pigs invasion and the October 1962 Cuban Missile Crises. This is his story.
The Cuban Bay of Pigs Invasion
As background, in January 1959, Juan Batista left Cuba and was replaced by Fidel Castro and his revolutionary forces. By summer of 1960, Castro had total control of the Cuban government and nationalized all industry in Cuba, including American interests. He kicked out all Americans. It was estimated the US lost more than $700 million in resources. Castro also stated that in three years Cuba was going to be a totally communist country. He had already established ties with Communist Russia.
In March of 1960, President Eisenhower ordered the CIA to begin planning an invasion of Cuba because he did not want a communist country ninety miles off our coast. He thought it would be totally clandestine using the CIA as opposed to using the Pentagon.
In May of 1960, the CIA set up several training camps for Cuban revolutionaries recruited from Cuban immigrants to the US, mainly from Florida. And, also as many people the CIA could get out of Cuba. One of their interesting training locations was a private island off Ft. Myers, FL. They also used the Army's Jungle Warfare School in the Panama Canal Zone which was a US Territory. Nicaragua and Honduras also had training camps. At the time, CIA advisors were saying” it was wealthy Cubans” who were funding the operation and only supported by the US. This was so the US could claim deniability.
President Kennedy was elected in 1960 and the political hand-off was very poor. Kennedy really didn't know much about was going on regarding the invasion of Cuba because the CIA was covering it. At that time the CIA had 2,000 revolutionaries in five camps. The US was providing them arms and training through American advisors who were private contractors with the aim of US not having any culpability in this plan.
The group was named Brigade 2506. It was named after the serial number of the first Cuban revolutionary killed in a training accident in Honduras. The leaders thought that by naming the unit after one of the “martyrs”, it would create a great deal of emotional attachment.
On New Year's Day 1961, Castro, in an hours long harangue to the Cuban people, said there would be an invasion according to their intelligence. The CIA thought it was secret. However, the CIA was recruiting Cubans which included Castro informants. Not a surprise! And, Castro would keep talking about this invasion.
The Bay of Pigs is in the southwest corner of Cuba. The CIA thought this bay would be a good place for a landing. What they didn't know was the Bay of Pigs was Castro's favorite fishing spot. He was there often, and he knew the territory surrounding the bay. He also learned in advance that this was where the landing was going to be.
The invasion date was set for April 17, 1961 and was named Operation Pluto as in the planet Pluto. But you also know Pluto is the Disney character who goes along with Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck. I don't really know why they chose Pluto. But the name was indicative of the way things were going.
The CIA planned for the invasion to take place in early morning darkness. If you go back to WWII, not a single invasion took place in the darkness of night because there was no air cover and the landing forces would not be able to see the obstacles in the water. However, the CIA thought it better to conduct the invasion under cover of darkness in standard uncovered motorboats with outboard motors. The Brigade would jump out of them once the boats reached the beaches.
The CIA continued to insist this operation was financed by wealthy individuals and not by the US.
On April 16th, the day before the invasion, B-26's piloted by Cuban refugee pilots bombed Castro's small air forces of a few old US B-26's and several Russian tanks. But they missed many targets. These B-26's flew from Honduras to Cuba and then landed in Miami. Before leaving Honduras, the engine cowlings were removed, and bullets were fired at the cowlings and non-sensitive parts of the airplanes. That way, when arriving in Miami, they could say they were fired upon by Cuban ground forces. There was supposed to be a second bombing of the airfields, but President Kennedy canceled it. He was afraid of civilian and other collateral casualties. So, there was only one bombing and it left several of Castro's planes intact and able to fight.
What was the role of the Beale? I was Electronics and Crypto officer at the time and our orders were to accompany the Murray and Bache. We were ordered to Nicaragua. On the way, the deck crews of the Beale and Bache painted out the number four on the side of the ships. So, we were DD 71 and the Bache became DD 70. Of course, there are no American destroyers with hull numbers 70 and 71. Our Executive Officer had our Ensign and Commissioning Pennant covered with fuel oil rendering them unrecognizable. So, we had these ugly things flying from the mast. We did not want to be identified as American ships.
There were five CIA leased merchant ships of 25,000 tons flying Nicaraguan flags carrying the revolutionaries. We escorted the Sam Houston and saw there were many revolutionaries on deck with none in uniform. We didn't know it at the time, but the Sam Houston was carrying 100% of the supplies which included ammunition, food and medicines the revolutionaries would need when reaching shore. We stayed close to the Sam Houston and did not see much of the other four ships. I remember seeing the mountains when we approached Cuba. We arrived at the Bay of Pigs in early morning.
The remainder of Castro's air force bombed and sunk the Sam Houston just offshore. This resulted in all supplies being lost and not available for the other four ships and invasion force. (Who puts all supplies on only one ship)? As a young Ensign I was assigned to monitor the air-control channels. We were operating with the Essex and could hear their aircraft communications. Our pilots kept requesting permission to conduct an attack on the beaches. They could see Castro's tanks and troops coming down towards the invasion force.
At this time, there were approximately 3,000-4,000 revolutionaries on the beach facing Castro's army estimated at 200,000. The expectation of the CIA was that Cuban population would join in with the revolutionaries and help overthrow the Castro Regime and establish a provisional government. Another mistake was the revolutionaries did not want to fire upon their family members remaining in Cuba. So, they never had a civilian uprising to support the invasion. The Essex jets continued to request for permission and the responses continued “permission not granted”.
Kennedy was afraid and indecisive because he did not know what to do with the 3-4,000 revolutionaries he had inherited. The CIA kept pushing very hard. And, there were very influential Cuban refugees pushing Congress to support this operation. About 1,800 revolutionaries were killed and most of the remainder were captured and imprisoned. The US had embedded American advisors with the Brigade and several of them were killed and others meeting the same fate as the revolutionaries. There was another story about the CIA paying families not to say anything about it.
It’s obvious that Operation Pluto was such a fiasco that it should never have happened. We should never have let the CIA plan a military operation. Obviously, the US military cooperated but the CIA was directing it.
There were more than 2,000 revolutionaries in prison. After about nine or ten months, Kennedy and Castro negotiated their release and return to the US. And, Kennedy agreed to make payments of about $70 million and farm implements. So, that was the trade. About 1,200 prisoners died while in prison.
That was our April 1961 adventure in Cuba. The Beale then returned for ASW operations with Task Group ALFA. We exercised with many submarines on a continuous basis. Upon completion of an exercise, the subs would go deep and under the temperature gradients. I do believe they were and are the ultimate weapon. For the most part, the Beale sonars were ineffective against the newer nuclear submarines. Detection equipment has greatly improved but so have the subs. Today's subs are almost impossible to detect.
Dave Leslie - The first time I fired a BAR was in preparation for the Bay of Pigs, but we did not go in”
Ted Bales – Yes, we had a Gunnery Sargent come aboard to conduct shooting drills “off the fantail “with 45 caliber pistols, Thompson machine guns and BARs.
Jim Svejk - “There were post Bay of Pigs conferences between Castro, Kennedy and Khrushchev. But Khrushchev seemed to be more impressed with Jackie Kennedy than with Jack”
Ted Bales – I know they had conferences and so forth. But, the Bay of Pigs embarrassed Kennedy so much, it really changed his whole approach to the later Cuban Missile Crisis.
Jim Svejk – I worked with an old retired Chief Radioman who told me the US was prepared to land US troops to stabilize the situation if the Bay Pigs invasion was successful. He also described how the hull numbers were painted out.
My thought. Would the Bay of Pigs been successful if the Essex jets would have been allowed to provide support to Brigade 2506? Who knows?
The Cuban Missile Crisis
On October 14, 1962, U-2 spy planes flying over Cuba took photographs of missile emplacements shipped in by Khrushchev. They were medium and intermediate range ballistic missiles. Medium is 1,000 miles and intermediate is 2,000 miles. The missiles could reach New York, Chicago and about two-thirds of the eastern half of the US. Khrushchev had hidden them in regular ships going to Cuba.
On the 15th through the 22nd of October, Secretary of Defense McNamara, President Kennedy, Vice President Lyndon Johnson and the President’s Cabinet spent hours trying to determine what their response should be to the missiles in Cuba.
On October 18th, Kennedy went on record and told Khrushchev the President would never allow Russian missiles in Cuba, only 90 miles away from the US. On October 22nd, Kennedy gave a radio broadcast where he proposed imposing a full blockade of Cuba. All Russian ships going to Cuba would stopped.
Task Group ALFA was at sea at the time having just completed routine ASW operations off Norfolk and heading home. We received orders to turn around and go South. We were told we were going to be part of the blockade. Captain Loomis called his wife and asked her to notify dependents that we were not going home and would be out for a while. Reasons were not given, and it left those ashore wondering and worried.
On October 24th, the blockade would begin, and the US went onto DEFCON 3. I had Air Force friends who later told me they were on 24 x7 alert. B47's were crewed, loaded with weapons with the engines running and ready to take off on a minute’s notice.
We were ordered south.
(Note: A couple years ago Paul Barry had written a paper on the Beale's involvement based on information taken from Naval and Russian archives. This is posted on the Beale website. The archives revealed there were four Russian subs that had violated the blockade. Unknown to any of us at that time, and even the Pentagon, each sub had a nuclear tipped torpedo having a 10-kiloton warhead. This is the same destructive force as the bombs we dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima in 1945.)
When we got down there, there were many planes and ships in the area. Most were involved in the blockade and searching for submarines and Russian ships.
The Deck Logs for the USS Beale for the month of October 1962 were obtained from the archives. On October 27th, I was standing watch as Officer of the Deck (OOD) with Pete Peterson who was Operations Officer and Joe Keeley, Engineering Officer. By then we were most experienced ship handlers. I had the mid watch early on the 27th. The Deck Log show the Task Group was to relieve another task group in the prosecution of an unidentified submarine in contact. So, we headed on course 310 to relieve them. I’m sure we were better at this than they were. We were very good! On the 8-12 watch we were pinwheeling in our search. On the12-1600, we went with the Cony and the Murray. We were members of TG ALFA.
We were chasing an unidentified submarine contact. That contact was based on a radio signal heard on our ECM (Electronic Counter Measure), system. This was picked by Ubaldo Bareda, STG2. I’ve had several phone conversations with him about this. Some of you may know him from past reunions. The signal was determined to be Russian in nature. So, that gave us a bearing on the submarine. Speed was ordered to 25 knots. The engineering department had 4 boilers on for us to make the required speed.
Pete Peterson had the16-1800 watch. At 16:59, we located the sub and were over it. We dropped 5 hand grenades over the sub. This was the international signal to surface. All three of our ships were pinging them on sonar and calling them on the underwater telephone. There was no response from the sub whatsoever. We stayed on top of the sub until at 20:50 in the evening, the submarine surfaced. It was Foxtrot submarine B-59. We had all spotlights on them. In addition, overhead helicopters were also illuminating the sub.
B-59 continued moving slowly at about 8 knots. This was a diesel sub that had been down at least three days and nights. We noticed that when the crew came out the conning tower and after deck hatches, they looked very sick. They were throwing up and it looked like a mess.
Shortly after this, a compromise was reached between Khrushchev and our President. Khrushchev would take the Russian missiles out of Cuba as long as we would remove our missiles from Turkey. Our half of the agreement was never publicized to protect Kennedy's reputation. This was only made public several years later.
So, here's some the things we learned. First, the submarines, at least the Foxtrot class, was built for the Northern Atlantic and the North Sea. Now these subs were down in the Caribbean with much warmer water. The air-conditioning systems on the subs could not handle the warm water. At times the temperature in the subs would hit 130 degrees. Can you imagine being in a cocoon trying to operate. The subs had air scrubbers to remove the CO2 exhaled by the crew. These were also designed to operate at cooler temperatures. So, the living conditions on the sub were unbearable. They were really suffering. After hearing the five grenades dropped on them, the Captain of the sub was sure they were being depth charged. He ordered the nuclear torpedo loaded and armed. Captain Savinsky stated “We will all die but will sink them all. We will not disgrace our Navy”. We were with the carrier USS Randolph which was to be the target. But it took three keys to fire the nuclear torpedo. Every Russian ship had a political officer who reports to the Kremlin. The political officer Masslenikov, agreed with the Captain to fire the warhead. But the third person, Chief of Staff (equivalent to our Executive Officer), Vasili Arkhipov, refused to provide his key. The reason he announced a few months later was that he had been the Captain of the Russian nuclear sub K19. The K19 suffered a nuclear melt down that resulted in radiation throughout the ship. Arkhipov had watched 21 of his crewmen die from nuclear radiation. Their bodies swelled up and their tongues turned black. So, he knew the terrible consequences of nuclear radiation. So, he refused. I'm surprised the Captain didn't shoot him.
The inability of the B59 to break contact with our three ships and the unbearable living conditions had forced the sub to the surface. We escorted them to the East.
One man, Vasili Arkhipov, stopped a nuclear war. You must remember, we were ready with missiles and bombers. His refusal was key. We had no idea. Not even the Pentagon knew the B59 was armed with a nuclear weapon until months later.
Some of this can be seen in the movie, “The Thirteen days of October”.
So, that's the rest of the story how the Beale, Eaton and Bache participated in the Bay of Pigs and the Beale, Cony, Murray were involved in the Cuban Missile Crisis. We were part of history although we didn't know it. We did our job and brought that submarine up and didn't allow it to do its job. That's what we were all about. I often think how we worked together as a team. Everybody was working together like a well-oiled machine.
If there are no further questions or comments, thank you and thank you all for your service.
USS BEALE DDE 471
Cuban Missile Crisis October, 1962
Here is my brother’s story. These days he can remember some of this but with dementia there are times when he doesn’t even remember the Cuban Missile Crisis at all. I am glad he got this down on paper three or four years ago while he was still very clear headed. Thanks much for getting back to me on this.
Cuban Missile Crisis
By Jim Corcoleotes
I was in the Navy for three years after high school. They were drafting back then and my brother-in-law, Ron, told me that to avoid getting drafted, he joined the Navy before he turned 18, and then they let him out the day before he turned 21. So I decided that three years in the Navy has got to be better than two years in the Army. After signing up I was sent to boot camp in San Diego and then I went to sonar school became a sonar man. After graduating I was assigned to the destroyer, U.S.S. Beale in Norfolk on the East Coast.
One day we were sailing around in the Atlantic, when suddenly we turned and started going full speed. I thought this was weird and wondered what was going on. Then the captain announced over the PA that we were going to Cuba. It was the start of the Cuban Missile Crisis.
When we got to the area near Cuba, there were a whole lot of ships sailing around. We cruised in the area for a while we suddenly picked up a contact on sonar. We determined right away it was definitely a submarine. We notified the captain of our ship who called higher ups and found that we didn’t have any subs in the area. So we knew this had to be a Russian sub.
We tracked the sub for several days. He tried to give us the slip but we had a really good sonar crew and we stayed right on him. While I was on the “stack”, the sub sent out decoys and a smokescreen but I stayed right on his butt.
Then one night the captain got on the PA and announced that the sub had surfaced off our port side. I ran up on deck to see it. It was dark out but a US helicopter was overhead shining floodlights on the sub. It was only about 75 yards away from us. The hatch opened up and a Russian officer came up and raised the Russian flag. We had ‘em dead to rights. There was no escape and a little while later the sub went back down and left the area.
Several years ago there was an article about the Cuban Missile Crisis in the newspaper. It said that when we picked up the sub on sonar, the captain of the Russian sub called Khrushchev and Khrushchev told him to fire a torpedo at us. The captain of the sub refused to do so. I can’t imagine the trouble he got into by refusing an order from Khrushchev!
We could have easily avoided a torpedo, but the thing is, their torpedoes had nuclear warheads on them and with so many ships in the Gulf, I am sure a torpedo would have hit one of the ships pretty close to us and blown up half of the Gulf. I could’ve died that day! I wish I could’ve met the sub’s captain to thank him for what he did. He actually saved my life, not to mention the lives that would have been lost had he fired that torpedo and World War III had broken out!