Cuban Missile Crisis | World History | Free PDF Download




  • With the end of World War II and the start of the Cold War, the United States had grown concerned about the expansion of communism.
  • A Latin American country openly allying with the Soviet Union was regarded by the US as unacceptable.
  • The Kennedy administration had been publicly embarrassed by the failed Bay of Pigs Invasion in May 1961, which had been launched under President John F. Kennedy.


  • In addition, Khrushchev’s impression of Kennedy’s weaknesses was confirmed by the President’s response during the Berlin Crisis of 1961, particularly to the building of the Berlin Wall.
  • In January 1962, US Army General Edward Lansdale described plans to overthrow the Cuban government in a top-secret report.
  • In February 1962, the US launched an embargo against Cuba,and Lansdale presented a 26-page, top-secret timetable for implementation of the overthrow of the Cuban government.


  • In May 1961, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev was persuaded by the idea of countering the US’s growing lead in developing and deploying strategic missiles by placing Soviet intermediate-range nuclear missiles in Cuba.
  • A second reason that Soviet missiles were deployed to Cuba was because Khrushchev wanted to bring West Berlin, controlled by the American, British and French within Communist East Germany, into the Soviet orbit.
  • Thirdly, from the perspective of the Soviet Union and of Cuba, it seemed that the United States wanted to increase its presence in Cuba. As a result, to try and prevent this, the USSR would place missiles in Cuba and neutralize the threat.


  • Additionally, placing nuclear missiles on Cuba was a way for the USSR to show their support for Cuba and support the people in Cuba whose rights were taken away by the United States.
  • By May 1962, Khrushchev and Castro agreed to place strategic nuclear missiles secretly in Cuba. Like Castro, Khrushchev felt that a US invasion of Cuba was imminent and that to lose Cuba would do great harm to the communists, especially in Latin America.
  • Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev assumed that the United States would take no steps to prevent the installation of Soviet mediumand intermediate-range ballistic missiles in Cuba.
  • Such missiles could hit much of the eastern United States within a few minutes if launched from Cuba.


  • By August 29, 1962 new military construction and the presence of Soviet technicians had been reported by U.S. U-2 spy planes flying over the island.
  • The first consignment of R-12 missiles arrived on the night of September 8, followed by a second on September 16. The R-12 was a medium-range ballistic missile, capable of carrying a thermonuclear warhead.
  • The Soviets were building nine sites—six for R-12 mediumrange missiles and three for R-14 intermediate-range ballistic missiles.
  • On October 14 the presence of a ballistic missile on a launching site was reported.


  • Do nothing: American vulnerability to Soviet missiles was not new.
  • Diplomacy: Use diplomatic pressure to get the Soviet Union to remove the missiles.
  • Secret approach: Offer Castro the choice of splitting with the Russians or being invaded.
  • Invasion: Full force invasion of Cuba and overthrow of Castro.
  • Air strike: Use the US Air Force to attack all known missile sites. • Blockade: Use the US Navy to block any missiles from arriving in Cuba.


  • On October 18, Kennedy met with Soviet Minister of Foreign Affairs, Andrei Gromyko, who claimed the weapons were for defensive purposes only.
  • Not wanting to expose what he already knew and to avoid panicking the American public,Kennedy did not reveal that he was already aware of the missile buildup




  • October 16, 1962 Ex-Comm has its first meeting.
  • October 18, 1962 Robert Kennedy meets with Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko.
  • October 19, 1962 Ex-Comm suggests quarantining Cuba.
  • October 20, 1962 Robert Kennedy gives Ex-Comm’s recommendation to the president.
  • October 22, 1962 President Kennedy gives a televised speech to the nation.
  • October 23, 1962 Soviet ships on their way to Cuba are stopped.


  • October 24, 1962 Khrushchev refuses to remove the missiles from Cuba.
  • October 25, 1962 Kennedy orders increased flights over to Cuba.
  • October 26, 1962 The U.S. begins discussions about invading Cuba.
  • October 27, 1962 An American pilot flies off course into Soviet airspace.
  • October 27, 1962 President Kennedy agrees to not invade Cuba.
  • October 28, 1962 Khrushchev agrees to remove the missiles.


  • Kennedy met with members of EXCOMM and other top advisers throughout October 21, considering two remaining options: an air strike primarily against the Cuban missile bases or a naval blockade of Cuba.
  • The term “blockade” was problematic. According to international law, a blockade is an act of war, but the Kennedy administration did not think that the Soviets would be provoked to attack by a mere blockade.


  • On October 19, the EXCOMM formed separate working groups to examine the air strike and blockade options, and by the afternoon most support in the EXCOMM shifted to the blockade option.
  • The US could find itself bombing operational missiles if blockade failed to force Khrushchev to remove the missiles already on the island


  • On October 22 at 7:00 pm EDT, Kennedy delivered a nationwide televised address on all of the major networks announcing the discovery of the missiles. He noted: “It shall be the policy of this nation to regard any nuclear missile launched from Cuba against any nation in the Western Hemisphere as an attack by the Soviet Union on the United States, requiring a full retaliatory response upon the Soviet Union.”


    • Three days after Kennedy’s speech, the Chinese People’s Daily announced that “650,000,000 Chinese men and women were standing by the Cuban people.“
    • In West Germany, newspapers supported the US response by contrasting it with the weak American actions in the region during the preceding months.
    • In France on October 23, the crisis made the front page of all the daily newspapers. On October 24, Pope John XXIII sent a message to the Soviet embassy in Rome to be transmitted to the Kremlin in which he voiced his concern for peace.


  • A crucial moment in the unfolding crisis arrived on October 24, when Soviet ships bound for Cuba neared the line of U.S. vessels enforcing the blockade.
  • An attempt by the Soviets to breach the blockade would likely have sparked a military confrontation that could have quickly escalated to a nuclear exchange. But the Soviet ships stopped short of the blockade.
  • The tense standoff between the superpowers continued through the week, and on October 27, an American reconnaissance plane was shot down over Cuba, and a U.S. invasion force was readied in Florida.


  • During the crisis, the Americans and Soviets had exchanged letters and other communications, and on October 26, Khrushchev sent a message to Kennedy in which he offered to remove the Cuban missiles in exchange for a promise by U.S. leaders not to invade Cuba.
  • The following day, the Soviet leader sent a letter proposing that the USSR would dismantle its missiles in Cuba if the Americans removed their missile installations in Turkey.
  • Officially, the Kennedy administration decided to accept the terms of the first message and ignore the second Khrushchev letter entirely.


  • By the time of the crisis in October 1962, total nuclear weapons in each country’s stockpile numbered approximately 26,400 for the United States and 3,300 for the Soviet Union.
  • The U.S. had approximately 4,375 nuclear weapons deployed in Europe, most of which were tactical weapons such as nuclear artillery, with around 450 of them for ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, and aircraft; the Soviets had more than 550 similar weapons in Europe.


  • Both the Americans and Soviets were sobered by the Cuban Missile Crisis. The following year, a direct “hot line” communication link was installed between Washington and Moscow to help defuse similar situations, and the superpowers signed two treaties related to nuclear weapons.
  • The Cold War was far from over, though. In fact, another legacy of the crisis was that it convinced the Soviets to increase their investment in an arsenal of intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of reaching the U.S. from Soviet territory.

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