April 17

This Day in History

Cold War

Apr 17, 1961:

The Bay of Pigs invasion begins

The Bay of Pigs invasion begins when a CIA-financed and -trained group of Cuban refugees lands in Cuba and attempts to topple the communist government of Fidel Castro. The attack was an utter failure.

Fidel Castro had been a concern to U.S. policymakers since he seized power in Cuba with a revolution in January 1959. Castro's attacks on U.S. companies and interests in Cuba, his inflammatory anti-American rhetoric, and Cuba's movement toward a closer relationship with the Soviet Union led U.S. officials to conclude that the Cuban leader was a threat to U.S. interests in the Western Hemisphere. In March 1960, President Dwight D. Eisenhower ordered the CIA to train and arm a force of Cuban exiles for an armed attack on Cuba. John F. Kennedy inherited this program when he became president in 1961.

Though many of his military advisors indicated that an amphibious assault on Cuba by a group of lightly armed exiles had little chance for success, Kennedy gave the go-ahead for the attack. On April 17, 1961, around 1,200 exiles, armed with American weapons and using American landing craft, waded ashore at the Bay of Pigs in Cuba. The hope was that the exile force would serve as a rallying point for the Cuban citizenry, who would rise up and overthrow Castro's government. The plan immediately fell apart--the landing force met with unexpectedly rapid counterattacks from Castro's military, the tiny Cuban air force sank most of the exiles' supply ships, the United States refrained from providing necessary air support, and the expected uprising never happened. Over 100 of the attackers were killed, and more than 1,100 were captured.

The failure at the Bay of Pigs cost the United States dearly. Castro used the attack by the "Yankee imperialists" to solidify his power in Cuba and he requested additional Soviet military aid. Eventually that aid included missiles, and the construction of missile bases in Cuba sparked the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962, when the United States and the Soviet Union nearly came to blows over the issue. Further, throughout much of Latin America, the United States was pilloried for its use of armed force in trying to unseat Castro, a man who was considered a hero to many for his stance against U.S. interference and imperialism. Kennedy tried to redeem himself by publicly accepting blame for the attack and its subsequent failure, but the botched mission left the young president looking vulnerable and indecisive.

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