18. Failure to Account for Time Zones Helped Turn the Bay of Pigs Invasion Into a Farce
In the spring of 1961, American-trained Cuban exiles readied themselves to overthrow Fidel Castro. They were convinced – or more accurately, they convinced themselves – that when they landed in Cuba, they would be supported by the US Air Force, with the US Marines right behind them. The aerial cover actually promised the Cuban exiles by the CIA was support from 16 WWII era B-26 medium bombers, flying out of bases in Nicaragua. However, that number was halved to 8 bombers when the new president, JFK, insisted that the operation be kept minimal. On April 17th, 1961, the exiles landed on the Bay of Pigs, but the 8 B-26s turned out to be woefully inadequate support. Pinned down, with their backs to the sea, no means of retreat, and no chance of advancing into Cuba’s interior, the invaders were cut to pieces.
The invasion had failed, but on the following day, JFK made a final gesture. With Castro’s forces now on full alert, any follow-up strikes by the B-26s would require fighter protection. So the president authorized 6 fighter jets from the aircraft carrier USS Essex to fly cover over the Bay of Pigs for an hour on April 18th, to protect the B-26s as they carried out another strike. However, the invasion, which had already gone from failure to fiasco, was destined to conclude with a farce. The rendezvous between the carrier jets and the B-26s was missed because the Pentagon had failed to factor in the one-hour time zone difference between Cuba and the bombers’ base in Nicaragua.