In early January 1961, U.S. Navy vessels began taking up station off Cuba. By April 19, 1961 the invasion to overthrow Fidel Castro was under at the Bahia del Cochinos (Bay of Pigs) on the islands southern coast: Cuban exile Brigade 2506 (some 1,300 men) had landed.
On scene for the operation was the Carrier ESSEX, escorted by the Destroyers CONWAY, CONY, EATON, MURRAY and WAILER, who was designated Task Force “ Alpha.”
The diesel powered Sub U.S.S. COBBLER (SS-344), along with another Sub of the Atlantic Fleet’s Antisubmarine Development Force, were part of Task Force Alpha. So were the Destroyer escorts BACHE and BEALE, according to veterans.
Aboard the ESSEX was VA-34, a jet fighter squadron called the “Blue Blasters” and 1,200 Marines. All told probably 6,000 American servicemen covered the invasion. (In addition, the CIA had recruited at least 18 U.S. civilian aviators as pilots, navigators, radio operators and flight engineers to fly B-26 bomber missions for the exiles.)
Directly involved was the landing ship dock SAN MARCOS (LSD-25) with a complement of 326 men. Under the cover of darkness, we picked up a contingent of Cuban freedom fighters and transported them to the Bay of Pigs, recalled David M. Scott, a machinist’s mate the SAN MARCOS. One of the non-U.S. ships was sunk but our ship was not hit.
But other U.S. ships came close to being hit. The EATON led the invasion flotilla into the Bay of Pigs. It received fire from the beach, and was bracketed by two stray shells from Cuban tanks positioned along the Bay.
Jose Knoblock, a radarman on the U.S.S. CONY, remembered: Small arms fire started dinging off the ship so we moved out of range during the invasion. During one patrol we picked up a sub contact. On our way back to Norfolk the crew was told to keep quiet about where we were and what we did.
Moreover, a whaleboat, carrying sailors heavily armed with Browning Automatic rifles, from the CONY, was beached at one stage. While rescuing Brigade survivors, it was fired upon by a Cuban helicopter.
ESSEX put up a recon flight, and its unmarked AD-4s drew fire over the beaches on April 19. Carrier aircraft also attempted to protect the vulnerable B-26 bombers. Volunteer U.S. training advisers flew four of the B-26s. Tragically, all four Alabama’s lost their lives that day.
One bomber was brought down by anti-aircraft fire over Castro’s headquarters at the central Australia sugar mill. Both pilots survived the crash. But were subsequently shot. The other plane was pursued by a Cuban T-33 and shot down over the sea with the loss of both men. These American deaths were not officially admitted Feb. 25, 1963.
CIA’s clandestine operation failed, and as a consequence the Cuban exile brigade lost 114 KIA and 1,189 captured. In repulsing the aborted invasion Communist troops sustained 106 killed.
U.S. Navy vessels remained in Cuban water up through the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962. (The Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal kicked in October 24.)
Entry Page | Home | WWII Vet Tribute | CV Commanding Officers | LHD Commanding Officers | Association Information | Association Officers | Membership Application | Upcoming Reunion | Past Reunions | LHD2 Recent Events | Ships Store | Essex History | Photo Album | Final Resting Place | Sea Stories | Memorial | Essex LHD-2 | Find A Lost Shipmate | Links
COPYRIGHT (C) 1997-2011 USS Essex Association