“In the fall of 1962, the United States and the Soviet Union came as close as they ever would to global war.” So begins the monograph published by the Naval History & Heritage Command “Cordon of Steel, The U.S. Navy and the Cuban Missile Crisis” by Curtis A. Utz. First printed in 1993, this booklet was a yearlong effort by Utz to chronicle the Navy’s role in the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962.
Because this historic event was a dramatic example of how the U.S. Navy enabled the nation to protect its interests in one of the most serous confrontations of the Cold War, it was considered an ideal subject for the first work of a new series of monographs titled “The U.S. Navy in the Modern World.”
Broad in scope, these booklets were created to address such activities as the Navy’s deterrence of war, support for U.S. foreign policy, refugee evacuations and other humanitarian activities, joint and multinational operations, ship and aircraft development, the projection of power ashore, ship, aircraft and weapons development. Heavily illustrated and in short booklet form, they were specifically designed to appeal to the Sailor and junior officer.
Hoping to correct what he saw as a strategic imbalance with the United States, Soviet Premier Nikita S. Khrushchev began secretly deploying medium range ballistic missiles (MRBM) and intermediate range ballistic missiles (IRBM) to Fidel Castro’s Cuba in the summer of 1962. Once operational, these nuclear-armed weapons could have been used against cities and military targets in most of the continental United States. Before this happened, however, U.S. intelligence discovered Khrushchev’s brash maneuver.
At that time, by forcefully employing U.S. naval forces, President John F. Kennedy was able to achieve his strategic objectives and deal with a dangerous and well-armed Soviet Union without war.
Naval forces under the U.S. Atlantic Command, headed by Adm. Robert L. Dennison (CINCLANT), steamed out to sea, intercepting not only merchant shipping en route to Cuba, but Soviet submarines operating in the area, as well. U.S. destroyers and frigates, kept on station through underway replenishment by oilers and stores ships, maintained a month-long naval “quarantine” of the island of Cuba.
Radar picket ships supported by Navy fighters and airborne early-warning planes assisted the U.S. Air Force’s Air Defense Command in preparing to defend American airspace from Soviet and Cuban forces.
Khrushchev, faced with the armed might of the United States and its allies, had little choice but to find a way out of the difficult situation in which he had placed himself and his country. In a face-saving trade, the Soviet Union agreed to remove all offensive weapons from Cuba in exchange for the removal of obsolete American Jupiter missiles in Turkey.
The monograph “Cordon of Steel, The U.S. Navy and the Cuban Missile Crisis” can be ordered from the Government Printing Office’s online bookstore.