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  • It was a moment in time that almost ended it all for the human race, the ultimate game

  • of brinkmanship.

  • This is the story of the Cuban Missile Crisis.

  • 1962, Cuba.

  • The Soviet Union has been welcomed with open arms by the Fidel Castro regime.

  • Seen as a guarantor of Cuban independence from the United States, the Cuban-Soviet alliance

  • is vital for Castro, and a strategic coup for the Soviet Union.

  • With Miami only 80 miles away, Cuba gives the Soviets airbases and naval facilities

  • from which to do something no foreign power has been able to do in over 150 years- threaten

  • the American homeland.

  • But Nikita Kruschev, premier of the Soviet Union, has not taken full advantage of the

  • strategic importance offered by Cuba, much to Castro's chagrin.

  • Kruschev knows two things- first, the Soviet navy is unlikely to be able to support Soviet

  • forces so far from their own shores if facing down the American navy, and second, the presence

  • of large Soviet military forces eighty miles from the US would be an extreme provocation

  • that is unlikely to remain unanswered.

  • This is why it comes as such a surprise to many senior Soviet leaders when Kruschev approves

  • a plan to station nuclear weapons in Cuba.

  • If military forces would be a provocation, this was tantamount to a declaration of war.

  • The plan must be carried out in complete secrecy.

  • Kruschev's goal is to set up several dozen nuclear capable missiles on Cuba, and then

  • reveal their existence to American president John F. Kennedy.

  • He'll use the presence of the missiles as leverage to gain several concessions from

  • the US in return- chiefly the removal of American nuclear missiles in Turkey and possibly even

  • the evacuation of West Berlin by NATO forces.

  • If Kruschev can catch Kennedy by surprise, Kennedy will have no choice but to agree to

  • the demands- or face down the threat of nuclear missiles capable of reaching Washington in

  • ten minutes or less.

  • But American intelligence has kept an expansive spy ring alive and well in Cuba.

  • Many Cuban citizens may not have liked the Batista dictatorship supported by the US,

  • but they like Castro and communism even less.

  • Rumors circulate about a large influx of Soviet military personnel, disguised as agriculture

  • experts and civil engineers.

  • Movement of Soviet equipment across the island has been spotted and reported to American

  • field agents, who relay the information back to their handlers on the mainland.

  • The intelligence community is convinced- there are Soviet nuclear weapons in Cuba.

  • But nobody else believes them, they must gather evidence.

  • October 14th, 1962.

  • A U-2 spy plane piloted by Major Richard Heyser takes off from an airfield in Florida and

  • heads for Cuba.

  • Flying at extreme heights, the plane is difficult to target with ground-based weapons, and Cuban

  • radar operators aren't as alert as they should be.

  • The plane takes thousands of photographs of suspected Soviet military sites on the island

  • before returning home.

  • The film roll, over 3 miles in length, is rushed to be analyzed by intelligence specialists.

  • The specialists have been cooperating with experts in Soviet nuclear missile sites, and

  • with their knowledge confirm the presence of several sites on Cuba which look exactly

  • like known nuclear sites in the USSR.

  • The greatest existential threat the United States has ever faced has just been confirmed.

  • As the news is rushed to President Kennedy, the Soviets continue their work.

  • They cover their launchers with camouflage netting during the day and work strictly at

  • night to avoid detection.

  • Kruschev monitors their progress carefully.

  • If the missiles can remain undetected, in just over a week they will be active and he'll

  • have achieved the greatest strategic victory in Russian history.

  • October 16th.

  • President John F. Kennedy has called an immediate meeting of Ex-Comm, a team of his most senior

  • advisors and Pentagon officials.

  • The photos are analyzed and scrutinized.

  • American intelligence confirms the locations of the missiles, brought to Cuba aboard Soviet

  • freighters and carefully hidden from public view during the transit.

  • Kennedy asks how long it'll take for the missiles to be active.

  • Estimates vary, but most agree it'll take just over a week.

  • The President needs options, and he needs them fast.

  • Air Force Chief of Staff General Curtis LeMay, the legendary World War II bulldog bomber

  • commander, has an immediate answer.

  • Bomb the sum' bitches”, he responds.

  • The United States has the largest strategic bomber fleet in the world, and LeMay's Air

  • Force can level the missile sites in a matter of hours.

  • The other military advisors in the room agree with LeMay, strongly favoring immediate military

  • action.

  • The US Marines, supported by the Navy and Army, can have a foothold in Cuba with just

  • a few days preparation time.

  • The missiles, Castro, and the Soviets could all be out of the Western Hemisphere by the

  • end of the week.

  • Kennedy's non-military advisors are horrified, and Kennedy shares their objections.

  • A military strike would kill thousands of Soviet personnel and risk escalating the conflict.

  • Kruschev would be likely to take retaliatory action in Germany- particularly against West

  • Berlin where 15,000 NATO forces are surrounded by over a hundred thousand eastern bloc forces.

  • The heated argument lasts for hours, and finally Kennedy is given three options: an air attack

  • and possible invasion of Cuba, diplomacy with Castro and Kruschev, or a naval quarantine

  • of the island.

  • Kennedy immediately takes to the quarantine idea, though is careful to phrase it as a

  • quarantine and not a blockade as that would technically be considered an act of war.

  • However, Kennedy needs more time to prepare the US navy and to consider how to execute

  • the quarantine.

  • Soviet ships frequently travel to the island nation, and he needs to mull the decision

  • over.

  • He knows the Soviets may call his bluff, and American seamen may be forced to fire on Soviet

  • ships, with unknown repercussions.

  • To the rest of the world, the American government seems to be pursuing business as usual.

  • Soviet intelligence is confident that the US still doesn't know about the missiles.

  • Congressional elections are coming up shortly, and Kennedy goes on the campaign trail for

  • fellow Democrats, acting as if everything is perfectly fine.

  • Behind the scenes though, the US military is preparing for conflict.

  • America's silent service, its fleet of submarines, begin a hunt for Soviet ballistic missile

  • subs and then shadow them.

  • In the case of war, they'll be sunk before having a chance to fire.

  • American journalists however are beginning to grow suspicious.

  • Leaks from within the White House have led to rumors of imminent military action against

  • Cuba.

  • The rumors, completely unsubstantiated, then begin to hint at the presence of nuclear weapons

  • on the island.

  • A Washington correspondent spots a dinner meeting of senior military leadership and

  • Cuban policy experts and presses for answers, but the men refuse to answer.

  • One major editorial finally has enough evidence to go to press with a bombshell story about

  • Soviet weapons in Cuba, and President Kennedy himself personally asks the editor of the

  • paper to not publish the story.

  • The editor agrees, giving Kennedy more time to prepare his response.

  • Kennedy leaves the campaign trail in order to meet with senior advisors, and at a daily

  • press briefing reporters demand to know if rumors that the President returned to Washington

  • to discuss a military matter of great significance are true.

  • The White House press secretary assures the reporters that the President was simply suffering

  • from a worsening cold.

  • The Soviets however are growing suspicious that their weapons have been made by the Americans.

  • Their fears are confirmed when on the morning of October 22nd, the White House press secretary

  • announces that the president will address all Americans on a matter of vital national

  • importance that very evening.

  • As the sun sets across America, President John F. Kennedy addresses the United States

  • and the world over television and radio.

  • The President confirms the presence of Soviet nuclear weapons on Cuba, as well as the assembling

  • of Soviet strategic bombers and the creation of support air fields.

  • He lambasts the Soviet Union for lying about the defensive nature of the military buildup

  • on the island.

  • Kennedy then announces a naval quarantine of the island, stating that any ships discovered

  • to be carrying weapons will be turned back, and the quarantine will be strictly enforced.

  • He also makes it clear that any nuclear weapon launched against any target in the western

  • hemisphere will be considered as an act of war against the United States itself.

  • Thousands of miles away, Kruschev and his cabinet pay close attention to Kennedy's speech.

  • Kruschev is actually greatly relieved- he had expected, and been preparing for, military

  • action.

  • However, Kennedy's quarantine is a clear signal that he's willing to negotiate.

  • That night, Kruschev sends his own signal to Washington by attending the opera where

  • an American performer is currently headlining.

  • He meets with the American and together they discuss peace.

  • But the fate of the world may be out of the hands of the two men who's militaries are

  • preparing to go to war against each other, and in the hands of those very soldiers.

  • Back in the US, the American navy is steaming into position around Cuba and closing the

  • cordon.

  • With twenty ships already on their way from the Soviet Union, tensions are sky-high.

  • Standing orders are to issue radio warnings to turn back.

  • If any ship refuses, a single warning shot across the bow will be fired.

  • If the ship still refuses to turn back, American ships are authorized to fire in order to disable

  • the ship.

  • Still several hundred miles out, the Soviet ships however are not showing any signs of

  • stopping or turning around.

  • Further ratcheting tensions, the American secret SOSUS underwater surveillance program

  • confirms the presence of Soviet submarines moving into the Caribbean.

  • Back in Washington, an American reporter is getting a drink at a bar and chatting with

  • a friend.

  • He remarks that he's soon to be attached with a Marine landing force.

  • The bartender overhears the chatter, and moves down the bar to where a Soviet reporter is

  • drinking.

  • The bartender taunts the Soviet, telling him that soon the US will be invading Cuba.

  • The Soviet is not just a prominent reporter though, he's a KGB agent.

  • The next day, the Soviet ambassador meets with the American reporter, and over dinner

  • attempts to pump him for information about a possible invasion of Cuba.

  • The reporter simply warns the ambassador not to underestimate the resolve of the United

  • States.

  • October 25th, the eastern Caribbean.

  • Soviet freighters full of arms are approaching the quarantine zone.

  • They've ignored all warnings to turn back.

  • American ships sound battle stations- but at the last minute, the ships suddenly change

  • course and sail back for Europe.

  • The oil tanker Bucharest however refuses to turn back.

  • American captains are under orders to not fire without express authorization from the

  • President himself.

  • Kennedy is informed of the tanker's refusal.

  • His advisors warn him that if they allow the tanker through, it'll only encourage other

  • Soviet ships to break the quarantine as well.

  • Kennedy decides to risk it, and allows the tanker to dock in Cuba.

  • The next day, Fidel Castro sends a letter to Kruschev imploring him to launch a nuclear

  • first strike against the United States.

  • He's willing to sacrifice his island and his people for the cause of global revolution

  • if it means the US will also burn in flames.

  • Kruschev ignores the letter, and writes one of his own to Kennedy, penning a strong emotional

  • appeal for both sides to find a peaceful resolution and notdoom the world to the catastrophe

  • of thermonuclear war.”

  • Kennedy receives the letter and considers it.

  • It poses great political risk for both sides.

  • If the letter is leaked, Kruschev could appear weak to the Soviet people and his allies.

  • If Kennedy takes the letter at face value and it turns out to be nothing more than a

  • manipulative ploy, Kennedy could appear extremely naive.

  • Back in Cuba, the Americans are now keeping tabs on the progress of the missile buildup

  • with the use of U-2 spy planes.

  • The planes are detected by Cuban radar, but the anti-air missiles are under the command

  • of Soviet units.

  • Soviet forces are under strict orders to not fire without Kremlin authorization.

  • October 27th, high in the sky over Cuba, an American U-2 is flying a reconnaissance mission.

  • Major Rudolf Anderson has been detected and tracked by Cuban radar.

  • Soviet missiles have a good lock on the American plane.

  • Inexplicably, the Soviet ground commander gives the order to fire.

  • A telephone-pole sized missile streaks up into the sky.

  • In minutes it explodes under the belly of the U-2, tearing it into pieces.

  • Shrapnel from the explosion rips through the cockpit, fatally wounding Major Anderson.

  • The first shot of World War III may have just been fired.

  • Unknown to the Soviets, the White House had already decided even before the U-2 took flight

  • that if it was shot down, they wouldn't even meet- a military response would be immediately

  • launched.

  • What the Americans don't know however is that Soviet strategic nuclear weapons are already

  • operational, and more than capable of annihilating an American invasion force.

  • Luckily for the world, the White House goes back on their original plan and decides to

  • meet and discuss the incident instead of launching a military strike.

  • As the Americans debate their response however, yet another provocation is about to launch

  • global thermonuclear war.

  • Soviet submarines have been tracked by the Americans across the Caribbean, and now one

  • has been detected loitering near the quarantine zone.

  • Soviet Foxtrot-class submarine B-59 has been running deep and silent in order to avoid

  • the American navy, but its batteries are nearly exhausted.

  • It's now loitering on the surface and running its diesel engines in order to recharge onboard

  • batteries when the crew spot two American destroyers steaming directly at them.

  • The captain calls for an emergency crash dive, and the sub gets under the waves just a minute

  • before the Americans arrive.

  • The two destroyers begin dropping practice depth charges around the submarine's location.

  • These charges are used in training and contain little explosive charge, and are meant to

  • signal to the submarine that it must surface.

  • However, the Soviet crew don't know that the US is dropping training charges, and to make

  • matters worse they have been out of radio contact with Moscow for days due to their

  • need to run deep and silent.

  • When they surfaced they'd been monitoring US civilian radio for signs of how the crisis

  • was playing out- the submariners fear that war has already broken out.

  • Unknown to the Americans above, the B-59 is equipped with a nuclear-tipped torpedo, and

  • believing that they are under attack and war has broken out, Captain Valetin Savitsky and

  • political officer Ivan Semyonovish Maslennikov both approve launch of the nuclear torpedo.

  • However, Vasily Arkhipov, commander of the submarine flotilla B-59 is a part of, does

  • not give his consent.

  • On any other Soviet submarine, only two officers must give consent, but with Arkhipov aboard,

  • all three must agree.

  • The launch is aborted, and the B-59 surfaces to re-establish contact with Moscow.

  • Nuclear war is once more, just barely avoided.

  • On October 28th, Kruschev concedes to Kennedy's demand that the missiles be withdrawn.

  • The American ambassador has already informed him that American missiles in Turkey were

  • going to be removed anyways, but the plan couldn't be made public.

  • Kennedy and Kruschev have come to an agreement- the missiles in Cuba will be removed and America

  • will remove its own missiles from Turkey.

  • The apparent 'concession' by the US gives Kruschev just enough to save face in front