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.