Giron, Cuba (1961 AD)
The Battle of the Bay of Pigs, better known as the Bay of Pigs Invasion, was an abortive attempt on the part of the United States to replace the Communist government of Cuba. It was also one of America’s greatest military blunders, and a disastrous event for the anti-communist powers during the Cold War. Carried out by a small band of Cuban counter-revolutionary fighters trained by the American military and CIA, it became a massive propaganda victory for Cuba’s primary backer, the Soviet Union, and helped to solidify Fidel Castro’s hold on power, which to date has lasted well over five decades.
On New Year’s Eve 1959, the communist revolution in Cuba, which had ravaged the island since 1956, succeeded in toppling the government of Fulgencio Batista. The revolutionaries under Fidel Castro immediately set about the creation of a new communist government in the Soviet model. Obviously this conflicted with American interests on several levels, and specifically threatened the tenets of the Monroe Doctrine.
Cuba had been a solid ally of the United States ever since the Spanish-American war at the beginning of the century. Furthermore, Batista was a supporter and friend to the United States, and America had considerable economic and military interests in the island. Finally, the proximity of a Soviet ally so close to Florida threatened America strategically.
In 1961, the CIA conceived of a plan to overthrow the Castro regime using American-trained Cuban expats, supported by American military air strikes. On April 17, a force of 1,500 counter-revolutionaries landed in the Bahia de Cochinos, or Bay of Pigs, on Cuba’s southern coast. Unfortunately, the Cubans were forewarned and prepared. While the expeditionary force quickly defeated local defenders and secured the landing site, a large army was quickly moved in.
The attackers were quickly overwhelmed, and no anti-Castro revolution materialized as was predicted by Amerian intelligence officials. Two days later the invaders were in full retreat and scrambling to get off of the island. Most were captured, and by April 20 the campaign was officially at an end. The disaster was celebrated as a massive propaganda victory by Castro, and the Cuban victory is commemorated on Defense Day.
Aside from the airstrikes, all of the fighting took place around the small bayside village of Playa Giron. Although the village has since grown, the sites of the battle are marked and commemorated. There is also a small museum, the Musee Giron, where artifacts from the battle are on display. Among the more interesting items is a World War II era Sea Fury FB11 which was used in the defense of the island. Close to the beach is a monument in honor of the defenders of Playa Giron.
The Bay of Pigs battle sites are largely located along the beach just outside of Playa Giron, approximately seventy miles southeast of Havana. The battlefield is an open site. There is no cost of admission. As of this writing, no information was available for the Musee Giron. Web: www.gocuba.com (official tourism website of Cuba).