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The Cuba Crisis marked the height of the Cold War. In October 1962 the World was on the edge to the Third World War and faced nuclear destruction.






  • Date: 14 – 28 Oct 1962
  • Location: Cuba, Caribbean
  • Start: Discovery of Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba
  • End: Withdrawal of the nuclear missiles


Parties & Persons Involved

  • United States of America
    • John F. Kennedy (1917 – 1963)
  • Soviet Union
    • Nikita Khrushchev (1894 – 1971)
  • Cuba
    • Fidel Castro (1926 – )



Cold War & Nuclear Arms Race

  • After World War II the East-West Conflict arises & the superpowers start the nuclear arms race which is imbalanced during the early 1960ies:
    • Soviet Union: 4 – 75 intercontinental missiles (ICBM)
    • USA: 170 ICBMs & 8 submarines with Polaris missiles
  • Medium range ballistic missiles (MRBM) are stationed near the enemy territory to reduce the advance warning time:
    • 1958: Soviet Union places MRBMs in Eastern Europe
    • 1959: USA stations MRBMs in Great Britain, Italy & Turkey

The USA possess a significant advantage over the Soviet Union so that theoretically even a nuclear first strike would be possible.


Cuba & Her Strategic Importance

  • 1959: Fidel Castro replaces the Cuban dictator Batista
  • May 1960: Diplomatic relations between Cuba & the Soviet Union
  • Oct 1960: The USA impose an embargo on Cuba after Castro nationalised U.S. companies in Cuba without compensation
  • Apr 1961: Cuban exiles, supported by the United States, fail to overthrow Castro (Bay of Pigs Invasion)
  • Cuba is of high strategic importance because of her proximity to the United States

Cuba provides the Soviet Union with the opportunity to even the strategic disadvantage in the Cold War by establishing a Soviet strongpoint. However, a communist stronghold in the “own backyard” is a clear & present danger to the United States.



  • 26 – 17 Oct 1960: The 1st U3 reconnaissance flights discover Soviet air defence systems & fighter jets in Cuba
  • Jun 1962: The BND (German foreign secret service) learns about Soviet plans to place nuclear missiles in Cuba & warns the USA
  • 10 Jul 1962: The Soviet Union commences the covert operation Anadyr, the shipment of 42,000 troops & MRBMs to Cuba
  • 05 & 29 Aug 1962: U2 reconnaissance flights discover Soviet air defence systems in Cuba
  • 15 Sep 1962: Naval reconnaissance photos of the Soviet freighter Poltava in the Atlantic prove Soviet arms supplies
  • 14 Oct 1962: U2 photographs confirm the construction of launching sites for MRBM – further reconnaissance flights follow
  • 16 Oct 1962: The crisis committee summons in the White House
  • 16 – 21 Oct 1962: The crisis committee discusses possible U.S. reactions: air strikes, invasion & blockade; nondisclosure & business as usual
  • 21 Oct 1962: Final decision to impose a blockade (quarantine) & remain the option for further measures
  • 22 Oct 1962: Kennedy informs the public about the Cuba Crisis:
    • U.S. forces are put on DEFCON 3
    • Troops are moved to Florida
    • 200 U.S. Naval vessels take up positions around Cuba
    • Kennedy announces the quarantine (blockade) for 24 Oct & demands the withdrawal of the Soviet MRBMs
  • 23 Oct 1962: Khrushchev announces to ignore the blockade
  • 24 Oct 1962: All of the Soviet ships turn around during the first day of the blockade
  • 25 Oct 1962: Diplomatic confrontation between the USA & the Soviet Union in the UN assembly
  • 26 Oct 1962: The Strategic Air Command is put on DEFCON 2, several incidents between U.S. destroyers & Soviet subs & Castro demands from the Soviet Union a nuclear 1st strike if Cuba is attacked
  • 26 Oct 1962: Khrushchev’s 1st offer to negotiate
  • 27 Oct 1962: U.S. destroyers force a Soviet submarine to surface after using training underwater charges / only the officer Arkhipov stops the launch of a nuclear torpedo
  • 27 Oct 1962: Kennedy & Khrushchev agree in secret negotiations to end the Cuba Crisis:
    • Soviet Union withdraws her MRBMs from Cuba
    • USA will not invade Cuba
    • USA withdraw her MRBMs from Italy & Turkey (covert)
  • 28 Oct 1962: Khrushchev announce via radio that the Soviets withdraw their MRBMs from Cuba - End of the Cuba Crisis


Consequences & Impact

  • The U.S. & the Soviet Union take measure to reduce the risk of a nuclear war:
    • Introduction of the Moscow-Washington Hotline
    • Introduction of the nuclear football (the Soviets introduce a similar system)
  • Consequences for the Cold War:
    • U.S. & NATO strategy “flexible response“
    • Soviet concept of “peaceful co-existence”
    • The superpowers avoid direct confrontations & focus on proxy wars, i.e. Vietnam (1960ies & 70ies) & Afghanistan (1980ies)
  • Impact on Cuba:
    • The relations to the United States decrease
    • The relations to the Eastern Bloc intensify