On Sunday USS Enterprise, the first nuclear powered aircraft carrier, arrived at Naval Station Norfolk, Va. after its final deployment. For 50 years Enterprise was involved in every major U.S. conflict and is now scheduled for decommissioning.
Cid Standifer is a freelance reporter, web designer and translator based in Arlington, Va. She has written for Military Times, Inside Washington Publishers and the Roswell Daily Record.
Chief of Naval Operations Admiral George W. Anderson Jr. was part of the inner circle of military officers advising President John F. Kennedy on how to deal with the Soviet Union’s shipping missiles to Cuba.
In October 1962, at the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis, the United States and the Soviet Union perched precariously on the brink of nuclear war. At this time of extreme challenge for U.S. leadership, there were serious disagreements within that echelon. In the event, the United States prevailed.
In 1983, the U.S. Naval Institute published The Reminiscences of Admiral George W. Anderson , an oral history in which the former Chief of Naval Operations reflected on his role in the crisis and on the controversial nature of his one-term tour as CNO. Excerpts from those recollections presented here are of enduring value.
President John F. Kennedy and a new generation took office in January 1961. If there were hopes for improved relations at the outset, Kennedy and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev soon found themselves on a road turning rocky. In April, the U.S. move to oust Fidel Castro from Cuba in the Bay of Pigs invasion failed miserably. In June, during their summit talks in Vienna, Austria, Khrushchev measured Kennedy as weak and pushed ahead on three fronts: strengthening the Soviet strategic nuclear arsenal; cutting off East and West Berlin with the Berlin Wall; establishing a stronger presence in the Western Hemisphere; and introducing a growing array of arms to Cuba.
On 1 October, the President appointed Army General Maxwell Taylor, center, to take over for General Lyman Lemnitzer as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Taylor had been serving in the White House as military representative to the President. Flanking Taylor, left to right, are Army Chief of Staff General Earle Wheeler, Air Force Chief of Staff General Curtis LeMay, Chief of Naval Operations Admiral George Anderson, and Commandant of the Marine Corps General David Shoup. Navy History and Hertigae Command
Sergei Khrushchev is the son of Nikita Khrushchev, the premier of the Soviet Union during the Cuban Missile Crisis. He shared his impressions of that showdown from a Soviet perspective and the lessons for current and future leaders.
Sergei Khrushchev, Brown University Photo
What you consider to be the largest American misconception about the Cuban Missile Crisis?
The largest misconception was the idea that America thought this crisis was about defending Cuba against possible invasion [or] some broader implications with relations to Germany or infiltration into South America . . . theories that have nothing to do with reality.
What would those realties be?
The reality is that after the Bay of Pigs Fidel Castro announced he officially joined the Soviet bloc. Through that [declaration] the obligation of the Soviets was to defend all their clients, all their allies because otherwise they would lose face . . . and your allies would not trust you. Cuba, after 1961, became for the Soviet Union the same as West Berlin to the United States—a small useless piece of land deep inside hostile territory. But if you don’t defend it, you will not be treated as a superpower. The United States was ready to use nuclear weapons to defend Berlin. The Soviet Union sent missiles to Cuba . . . as a powerful signal to the United States: Don’t invade Cuba.
Naval History Magazine, October 2012
After ‘defeat’ in 1962’s Cuban Missile Crisis forestalled a massive Soviet military buildup in the island nation, Moscow relied on its navy to re-establish its political-military presence there.
The Cuban Missile Crisis often is remembered in the context of U.S. naval forces conducting a quarantine to prevent Soviet strategic missiles from being transported to the island nation. A critical factor during the blockade was the presence in the area of several Soviet Foxtrot (Project 641)–class dieselelectric submarines.
Former Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy later wrote of the concern that his brother President John F. Kennedy had for those submarines during the tense crisis: “Then came the disturbing Navy report that a Russian submarine had moved into position between the two ships. . . . I think these few minutes were the time of gravest concern for the President. . . . I heard [him] say: ‘Isn’t there some way we can avoid having our first exchange with a Russian submarine—almost anything but that?’” 1
Those few boats were to have been the precursor of a massive naval force that the Soviets planned to base in Cuba. Operation Anadyr—the Soviet codename for the movement of strategic missiles and protective air, ground, and naval forces almost 8,000 miles from the USSR to Cuba—was one of the most remarkable undertakings of the entire Cold War. Earlier, Great Britain, Japan, and the United States had on numerous occasions transported hundreds of thousands of troops and their weapons across oceans and seas, but they were traditional sea powers with large navies and merchant fleets.
The Soviet Union had neither a major surface fleet nor a large merchant marine in 1962. Indeed, its navy did not possess a single ceangoing amphibious or landing ship. Further, beyond military advisers, the USSR had never sent troops great distances by sea. Under these severe limitations, the Soviet Union had begun the massive movement of troops and weapons from its home ports to Cuba. While the Soviet leadership realized that the shipments could not be hidden from the prying eyes of U.S. and other NATO nations’ intelligence services, Kremlin officials believed that their precise contents could be kept secret. Indeed, even after the weapons and troops arrived in Cuba special efforts would be made to keep their numbers and identification secret from Cubans as well as Americans.
Naval History Magazine October, 2012
From manning quarantine lines to flying reconnaissance missions to preparing for an invasion, the U.S. Navy played instrumental roles during the Cuban Missile Crisis 50 years ago.
On a tense day in October 1962, the USS Allan M. Sumner(DD-692) was about 500 miles off the northern shore of Cuba, trailing a Soviet freighter. President John F. Kennedy, after learning that the Soviet Union was sending ballistic missiles to the island nation, had proclaimed a quarantine against ships carrying offensive arms there. The Cuban Missile Crisis had moved from the White House and the Kremlin to the sea, and suddenly the crisis was focused on the Sumner .
“I was in the wheelhouse,” Quartermaster Third Class Bob Bourassa remembered. “The freighter was about 1000 yds off our port side.” When the transport failed to respond to an order to stop, Commander William J. Flynn, captain of the Sumner , sent a handwritten message down to the radio shack “and after the first message was returned to him, he instructed the guns to be turned toward the freighter.” After a while, Commander Flynn sent down a second message. Before it was answered, “the freighter came to a stop . . . backed down for some time, stopped and then turned around and sailed eastward.” 1
That was the Navy on the quarantine line—ships ready for action and a command system that reached from the Pentagon and President Kennedy to destroyer captains and their crews. Before the crisis ended, the Navy would have more than 140 ships in the Caribbean and over 350 combat aircraft at area airfields. 2 They were responding to a Cold War confrontation that had begun in September 1960 when the Soviet freighter Atkarsk arrived at Nikolaev, the Black Sea port used for exporting weapons and military equipment from the Soviet Union.
On Oct. 25 1962 two unarmed and unescorted Navy photo-reconnaissance jets were speeding over the Cuban landscape on their way to photograph an intermediate-range ballistic missile site being constructed by Soviet technicians. The lead RF-8A Crusader was piloted by Lt. Cmdr. Tad Riley. His wingman, Lt. Jerry Coffee, flew sorties with the first VFP-62 low-level reconnaissance missions on Oct. 23, as part of the classified operation codenamed Blue Moon. Coffee spotted a military encampment and broke formation with his flight leader to get a closer to take pictures. His photographs disclosed a military threat unknown to Pentagon and the CIA analysts: Soviet tactical nuclear-capable Luna missiles. This evidence of battlefield weapons of mass destruction got submerged in the flood of intelligence reaching the president. Those forgotten missiles of the Cuban Missile Crisis could have triggered World War III.
Earlier, in response to a Soviet supplied military buildup in Cuba in mid-1962, Pentagon planners were refining two operational plans against Cuba: one a massive 500 sortie airstrike against missile and radar sites and MiG airfields; the other a 125,000-strong joint-force invasion. The latter apparently had no contingencies for facing tactical nuclear weapons, as Defense Secretary Robert McNamara revealed in his book In Retrospect, “. . . U.S. invasion forces would not have been equipped with tactical nuclear weapons.”
Naval History, October 2012
During World War II, the war-ship that made the largest contribution to victory in the Pacific was the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CV-6)—hands down. By war’s end, though, newer and more capable members of the Essex class had surpassed “the Big E.” The ship was soon decommissioned, and in 1959 she was scrapped—despite efforts to pre-serve her as a museum and memorial. Her legacy was perpetuated, however, in that she bequeathed her famous name to the world’s first nuclear-powered air-craft carrier, which was commissioned in November 1961.
Then Cmdr. Kent Lee aboard the USS Enterprise
The namesake carrier, originally CVA(N)-65 and later CVN-65, is now on her 22nd and final overseas deployment, serving with the 5th and 6th fleets. When she returns to the United States this autumn, she will be inactivated and then defueled. The current Enterprise , like her World War II counterpart, will be scrapped. The process of removing her eight nuclear reactors will so disfigure the ship that she will not be recognizable as an aircraft carrier and thus not suitable as a museum. But what a record she has com-piled. Her longevity is truly remarkable.