The Soviet Military Takes Over: 21-24 May 1962

Fifty years ago today: the Soviet Presidium approves sending nuclear missiles to Cuba.

Twenty-first in a Series Chronicling the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962

Creating the Deployment Order: 21 May 1962

Immediately after the Presidium approved sending strategic missiles to Cuba, General Ivanov, secretary of the Defense Council, began the huge task of implementing that decision.

General Anatoly Gribkov, Ivanov’s assistant on the General Staff, reminisced that he and two General Staff colleagues had two days to turn Ivanov’s hand-written notes into an “… operation without parallel in Soviet history in either size or distance to be covered…”, and they had to do it “by hand. No typist.”

They made it.

The Presidium Approves: 24 May 1962

On May 24, 1962, fifty years ago today, the General Staff presented a hand-written memorandum to the Presidium listing the Soviet military units and equipment to be deployed in what became known as Operation ANADYR.

The Presidium approved the plans.

ANADYR’s Deadly Teeth

Well over 40,000 Soviet military personnel were ultimately deployed to Cuba along with their weapons and the tons upon tons of engineering equipment and materials it would take to build the strategic bases.

We must take a close look at the military units which made the Cuban missile deployment not only historic but hugely dangerous:

  • Three medium range ballistic missile (MRBM) regiments each with eight launchers (range @ 1,100 nautical or 1,265 statute miles).
  • Two intermediate range ballistic missile (IRBM) regiments, with eight launchers each (range @ 2,200 nautical or 2,530 statute miles).
  • 60 missiles and 60 nuclear warheads distributed among the five ballistic missile regiments.
  • Two regiments of FKR tactical cruise missiles, with eight launchers per regiment and five 14-kiloton nuclear warheads for each launcher. The FKR’s range was 180 km (@105 nautical or 121 statute miles).

The Danger of the Strategic Missiles

Once operational, the MRBMs and IRBMs could deliver their 60 one-megaton warheads anywhere within an arc that embraced all of the Continental United States except extreme northwest Washington state and Alaska; a huge portion of southern Canada; all of the Caribbean and Central America; and the northern third of South America.

In other words, once these strategic missiles were operational, America’s nuclear superiority would be severely reduced if not neutralized. Put differently: once those Soviet missiles were operational, America would no longer be immune to a devastating Soviet nuclear strike.

The Danger of the Cruise Missiles

The FKR cruise missiles are the big shocker in these plans. Here’s why:

  1. The Soviets had deployed two types of cruise missile to defend Cuba from an invasion: a) the conventional cruise missile Sopka (dangerous enough in itself); and b) the two FKR regiments equipped with 80 14-kiloton nuclear warheads. Each of these warheads had about the same destructive force as the single atom bomb that obliterated Hiroshima in 1945.
  2. But here’s what made those FKR warheads doubly dangerous: Americans did not learn they were there until more than thirty years after the Crisis.
  3. Throughout 1962 the Joint Chiefs of Staff had been goading the Defense Department and the White House to invade Cuba before its defenses were beefed up. As of October 22, 150,00 U.S. soldiers were aboard U.S. Navy vessels surrounding Cuba, waiting for orders to invade.
  4. Had that order come, those troops would have been obliterated by the FKRs they didn’t know were there. Ships, landing craft, men, aircraft—everything would have vanished in the cataclysmic blasts of the FKRs’ warheads.

Then the United States would have had to retaliate.

Email the author at phufstader@sbcglobal.net.


Anatoly Gribkov presents his account of the composition of the deployment memorandum for the Defense Council and the Presidium in Anatoly Gribkov and William Y. Smith, Operation ANADYR: US and Soviet Generals recount the Cuban Missile Crisis. Chicago: edition q, inc., 1994. The quotations above appear on pp. 7 and 8.

The complete deployment order can be downloaded from the Cold War International History Project: www.wilsoncenter.org/digital-archive

Re the fact that the deployment memorandum presented to the Presidium was handwritten, I append this quote from James H. Hansen, “Soviet Deception in the Cuban Missile Crisis: Learning from the Past.” CIA Studies in Intelligence, Vol. 146 No. 1, posted 14 April 2007. Emphasis added.

Throughout the planning stage, no secretaries were used to prepare final typed texts [of ANADYR documents]. A colonel with good penmanship wrote the proposal that the Defense Council adopted. It grew into a full-fledged plan, still handwritten, which was approved by Malinovsky on 4 July and Khrushchev on 7 July. From May through October, for reasons of security, no communications about the proposed, planned, and actual Soviet deployments in Cuba were sent, even by coded messages. Everything was hand-carried by members of the small coterie of senior officers who were directly involved.

http://www.cia.gov/library/center-for-the-study-of-intelligence/csi-publications/csi-studies/studies/vol46no1/index.html. If this link does not work, and it may not, I may be able to e-mail the article.

The ANADYR deployment plans were included in the trove of papers given to the Library of Congress by USSR General Dimitry Volkogonov in 1996 and made available to the public in 1998. This deployment plan is printed in Raymond L. Garthoff, “New Evidence on the Cuban Missile Crisis: Khrushchev, Nuclear Weapons, and the Cuban Missile Crisis.” Cold War International History Project Bulletin 11, Winter 1998, 251-257.This article, which covers far more than this single deployment order, will be referred to later in this series.

ANADYR is the name of a God-forsaken region of Eastern Siberia. The General Staff probably thought the name a perfect cover for a deployment to the tropics—particularly after the failure of the farcical codenamed Operation ATOM in 1959! (See A Closer Look into the CIA’s Cracked Crystal Ball ()  

A tactical nuclear weapon is intended for use on battlefields like landing beaches. You can get an idea of the FKR’s effect on an invasion fleet simply by imagining pictures you have seen of Hiroshima taken on and after 6 August 1945.

Strategic nuclear weapons are intended to obliterate an enemy’s cities, military installations, and economic structures in one strike.

Steven Zaloga describes the difference between the Sopka and the FKR in a letter to the Editor of Cold War International History Project Bulletin 12/13, Fall-Winter 2001, 360.

The Joint Chiefs’ 1962 campaign to invade Cuba is described in the 10th post in this series:

Nuclear weapons’ destructive power is rated in kilotons or megatons of TNT. A 12-kiloton warhead has the destructive power of 12 thousand tons of TNT. A one-megaton warhead has the destructive power of one million tons of TNT.

The Cold War International History Project is located at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.

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