Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Operation Pluto: a failed military adventure of American imperialism

Next month the Cuban people will be celebrating and commemorating the ignominious 50th anniversary of the first defeat of American imperialism in Latin America. The C.I.A. minions of the Dwight D. Eisenhower administration called it "Operation Pluto." It consisted of training mercenary Cuban exiles from Miami, Florida, who supposedly were going to "liberate" Cuba and restore Batista democracy and American rule to the Caribbean island.

It was a bipartisan effort on the part of the two major capitalist political parties. Eisenhower planned it, Kennedy inherited it and foolishly carried it through to its tragic and disastrous finale.

Below are some historical facts, and a little bit of opinion, from Tom Cooper, from AGIC (Air Combat Operations Group).

Clandestine US Operations: Cuba, 1961, Bay of Pigs

Sep 1, 2003, 11:28

On 31 December 1959 the Cuban dictator Batista was forced to flee the country as the rebels lead by Fidel Castro occupied Havana after almost four years of civil war. The USA were one of the first countries which recognized the new government in Cuba, but in the following months a rift developed in reaction to the lynch-justice of the new government, which also nationalized all the US-owned capital on the island. As the tensions rose, Washington put Cuba under economic sanctions, and Castro then turned to the Soviet Union for help, thus causing a stand-off which very much lasts until today.

Initially, the CIA – at the time a secret service which was very active organizing different subversive activities against plethora of governments around the world – planned not to leave Castro as long in power: in the case of Cuba, already in September 1960 the organization and planning of the Operation called "Pluto" were initiated.

The Operation Pluto was organized within a remarkably short period of time, between September 1960 and March 1961, and mainly based on the fact that after the fall of Batista thousands of Cubans have left the country and settled in the USA. Many of these could be recruited for taking part in the counter-invasion which was to start an uprising against the new – increasingly communist – regime under Castro. The original plans for "Pluto" saw landings of small parties, which would fight a guerrilla war and undertake subversive operations, but the response from the Cuban exiles was such, that it soon become clear, that a much larger operation – a true invasion, which would also need support from the air – could be organized.

In total, the Operation Pluto was actually well prepared – even if the intelligence was poor – and had fairly serious chances for a success if executed in aggressive manner with proper support from the air. It was based on three aspects:

- successful recruitment of enough Cuban exiles,
- successful organization of resources - including B-26s
- training of the needed invasion- and support-forces in at least two countries (Guatemala and Nicaragua).

In August 1960, the CIA established the "Camp Trax" near Retalhuleu, in Guatemala, which has got an own airfield Simultaneously, in Miami, a number of Cuban exiles were gathered in order to be trained as pilots and technical personnel at the Homestead AB, and Opa Locka. Meanwhile, no less but 1.400 Cubans were recruited, and most of them were organized into the "Brigade 2506", which was to become the main fighting force.

In order to better conceal the preparations for the invasion, the CIA organized a series of front companies, and ever since, a pretty good overview of these became available. The first group of exiled Cubans destined for being trained as pilots were gathered at Opa-Locka, a disused Marine air base near Miami. Despite a large number of trained Cuban personnel, some US citizens were needed to train them and maintain aircraft. Both the US and Cuban flying and technical personnel were recruited via the "Double-Check Corporation", with the help of Gen. Doster, the then commander of the Alabama National Guard. Doster gathered some 80 Americans, between them many experts for the B-26s from the 117th TRW, USAF, and at least 60 Cubans. Via the company Intermountain Aviation a total of 26 B-26Cs were purchased. Of these, 20 were considered as usefull and made fully operational. Other companies supporting the Operation Pluto were the "Civil Air Transport" (CAT), a company founded by former General Chennault already in 1946 (foremost for operations in China). CAT was regularly purchased by the CIA, and turned into "Pacific Corporation" Holding, which included the new main company, "Southern Air Transport" (SAT) and operated also two smaller companies, the "Air America", and "Air Asia".

In order to better conceal the size of the Operation Pluto, the Invaders and their crews were officially controlled by the "Carribean Marine Aero Corporation", which was also paying the Cuban crews. The training of the crews was officially undertaken by the "Zenith Technical Enterprises Inc.", while all the transport aircraft were operated by the CAT and its subsidiaries. The small arms were purchased via the – in Carribic very well known – Interarms company, owned by the well known arms dealer Sam Cummings. By November 1960, the training of the exiled Cuban crews was so far that they were moved from Fort Lauderdale and Opa-Locka to Retalhuleu, in Guatemala, to get additional training on B-26s, C-46s, and C-54s. The more experienced Cuban pilots have already started to fly their first missions over Cuba, transporting dissidents, saboteurs, arms, and ammunition. Despte many problems with poorly marked drop-zones and poor communications, by March 1961 no less but 68 such missions were flown over Cuba.

Despite the purchase of many aircraft, it was obvious that all the men and heavy weapons could never be delivered to Cuba by transport aircraft only. Therefore, five merchant ships, each 5.000dwt, were chartered from "Garcia Line", in Nicaragua. Via the "Minearal Carriers Ltd." the CIA also purchased two LCI landing crafts, and a 110m long landing ship USS San Marcos, which was actually taken out of the USN reserve. Some slight postponements were caused due to the need to use some of the Cuban crews and transport aircraft for putting down some unrests in Guatemala.

Although at least two B-26Cs were damaged in training and one crashed, and an AT-11 was shot down over Cuba on 11 March 1961 (the crew was recovered by a destroyer of the USN), by the time the Operation Pluto was initiated, there were still up to 16 Invaders at hand. All the Invaders prepared for the operation were equipped with drop tanks taken from USAF F-84s, giving them an increased endurance. It was planned, namely, that these aircraft would be used to destroy the FAR during the early hours of the invasion, so to establish the air superiority over the bridgehead and a better part of Cuba. As already mentioned, in order to conceal the actual origins of these planes, all were painted in fake FAR-markings, getting the FAR national markings on the fin and serials on the nose. In fact, these markings were only superficially similar to those indeed used by the "original" Cuban aircraft: the FAR B-26Cs, for example, had not only a glazed nose, but were also painted in olive drab overall, while the B-26Bs of the exiles had noses with eight machine guns and were left aluminum overall.

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The Miami mercenaries landed at Playa Giron, Bay of Pigs, Cuba, on April 17, 1961. We all know how the story ended 66 hours later.

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