Reflections by Comrade Fidel
The Playa Girón Battle
More than one year before
The main instrument of the sinister plan was the economic blockade on
memorandum drafted by the then Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Lester
Mallory, listed the concrete goals pursued by the sinister plan: “The majority of
Cubans support Castro –states the document- […] There
is no effective political opposition […]. The only foreseeable means of
alienating internal support [from the government] is through disenchantment and
disaffection based on economic dissatisfaction and hardship […]. Every possible
means should be undertaken promptly to weaken the economic life […] denying
money and supplies to
The set of measures to be taken was called “Program of Covert Action against the Castro Regime.”
Any onlooker, whether or not in agreement with such repugnant methods lacking every elemental ethics, would admit that this would imply the idea of subduing an entire people.
In this case it was about a confrontation between the most powerful and rich country in the planet and a small country with a different origin, culture and history.
Eisenhower was not a born
criminal. He seemed to be –and perhaps
he was- and educated person who behaved properly according to the parameters of
the society in which he lived. He was born into a modest farmers’ family in
He first took on the command
of troops in 1941, at a time when the
He was not a brilliant
officer; he made significant mistakes in northern
After this necessary reference to the Five-Stars General, Dwight Eisenhower, President of the United States from January 1953 to January 1961, I will then go over to a question: ¿how is it possible that such a serious man, who dared to expose the nefarious role of the Industrial Military Complex, could be made to adopt such a criminal and hypocritical attitude as the one that led the United States government to attack the independence and justice that our people had been seeking to achieve for almost a century?
It was the capitalist system, the preeminence of the privileges of the rich, inside and outside the country, to the detriment of the most elemental rights of peoples. The mighty power never worried about the starvation, ignorance, unemployment, land problems, education, health and the most elemental rights of the poor people of our nation.
In the brutal attempt to
submit our people, the
When it comes to historical
issues there are many imponderables and quite a considerable incidence of
chance. I start from the information and
the experience I had during those days when the phrase “Girón was the first
defeat dealt to imperialism in the
We did not have a national army in our country. By the end of what historians in Cuba called the Third Independence War –in which the defeated and exhausted Spanish colonial army was hardly able to preserve only the control of the big cities -, the ruined metropolis, thousands of miles away, could not maintain a force almost equal to the one the United States had in Vietnam by the end of the genocidal war it carried out in that old French colony.
It was then when the
Our brave people fought on
their own for its independence -as much as any other in this hemisphere-
against a nation that, as was stated by Bolivar, was destined to plague
misery in the name of liberty.
Based on just
ideas and after overcoming bitter tests, starting with only seven rifles, we
did not hesitate in continuing our struggle in the Sierra Maestra after our 82
strong detachment, out of lack of experience and other adverse factors, was
attacked by surprise before reaching the
foothills. In only 25 months, our heroic
people defeated that army, which was equipped with the arms, fighting experience,
communication means, training centers and advisory with which the
By applying the correct fighting methods, the principles of respect for the population and our policy to fight the adversary –healing he wounded and sparing the life of prisoners without a single exception during the entire war-, we dealt the military apparatus created by the Yankees a crushing blow, and we finally seized the one hundred thousand weapons and materiel they had and used against our people.
But it was also necessary to ideologically defeat the immense arsenal they had and the almost absolute monopoly over the media through which they flooded the country with sweetened lies.
The mass of unemployed persons, landless peasants, exploited workers, illiterate citizens, sick people without hospitals, children without books or schools, and the endless list of those whose dignity and rights had been trampled, were far more numerous than the rich and privileged minority allied to the empire.
Education, science, culture and arts, sports, all the professions involving human development, lacked support in our country, which was devoted to the monoculture of sugar cane and other economic activities subordinated to Yankee transnational banks and enterprises through which the powerful neighbor to the North imposes its “democracy” and “human rights” patterns.
I should point
out that a show like the one performed by ‘
To avoid giving
We bought several tens of thousands of semi-automatic FAL rifles caliber 7.62 with 20 bullets magazines and its corresponding ammunitions, among them, the anti-personal and anti-tank grenades for those weapons which were transported on board of customary merchant vessels, just as any other country would do.
But, what happened to those ingenuous purchases of “non-communist weapons” whose quality seemed excellent to us?
The first vessel
There was no
illegal deal whatsoever; nor there were any pretext to
launch a campaign against
however, did not last for long. The
second vessel arrived at an important dock in the capital. Longshoremen and combatants of the Rebel Army
were unloading the crates. Containers did not exist back then. I was at the fourth or fifth floor of the
Agrarian Reform Institute, a building which currently hosts the Ministry of the
Revolutionary Armed Forces, located nearby the Revolution Square. That used to
be my office when I was not moving around the city or the country. The old
I imagined the victims. I rushed down from the office. I was accompanied by a small security detail. We all plunged into the cars and drove to the port through narrow streets and heavy traffic. I was too close to the docks already when I heard a second explosion coming from the same place. You may figure out the anxiety that the new explosion caused in all of us. I imagined the harm caused to the workers and soldiers who would be assisting the victims of the first explosion. With great difficulty I made the car to come close to the docks, where I could see the tragic but heroic behavior of those men.
Around 100 persons died. There were many wounded requiring immediate assistance.
The day after,
from the University, we carried the corpses down the broad
On March 5, for the first time and in an absolutely spontaneous way, during the burial of the workers and combatants who had been vilely assassinated, I exclaimed: ¡Patria o Muerte! (Homeland or Death!) It was not a mere phrase. It was a profound conviction.
Many investigations were still to be done but, at that very moment, I had no doubt in my mind of the purpose of the aforementioned massacre. The merchant vessel had been sabotaged before it sailed from the European port. The sabotage had been the work of experts.
I devoted all due
attention to the required investigations.
I needed to know if those grenades that had come inside the crates where
the explosions had taken place, could have burst by accident if one of them had
slipped down to the floor or any of the like.
To rule out that possibility –which had been discarded by the experts who
had previously studied the safe mechanisms of the grenades- I asked that some
of the crates filled with grenades that came on the vessel be dropped from a
height of one thousand meters. I
observed the tests and not a single grenade exploded. All the moves that the vessel had made were
thoroughly investigated and it became evident that he sabotage had been
perpetrated by experts hands, as part of a plan approved by the
We had been taught a lesson about what was to be expected from the imperialism. We did not hesitate to approach the Soviets, with whom we had no principled contradictions.
We were granted
the necessary credits to purchase those weapons. Since the
For decades, our
own vessels carried most of the weaponry used by
The speech I
delivered on April 16 of 1961 at the funeral of the victims of the treacherous
bombings during the early hour of morning of the previous day,
was addressed to the comrades of the Rebel Army, the National Revolutionary
Militias and the people of
“This is the second time that we rally at this same corner. The first time was on the occasion of the
“Since the early days of the Revolutionary Government, the first efforts made by the enemies of the Revolution were aimed at preventing our people from arming itself.”
“…since the first diplomatic steps failed, they resorted to sabotage […] to prevent those weapons from reaching our hands…”
“That brutal attack took the lives of numerous workers and soldiers, […] we had the right to think that those to blame for the sabotage were the ones interested in depriving us from those weapons…”
of us, our entire people, were fully convinced that the hands that had
perpetrated that barbaric and criminal action were the hands of the
people in this country and even abroad found it too hard to believe that the US
government could be capable of reaching such extremes; it was hard to believe
that the leaders of one country were capable of resorting to such methods […]
we had not been able to acquire the tough experience that we have been
accumulating in these two and a half years.
We didn’t quite know our enemies yet; […] we did not know what the
“…our country was already being a victim of the incursions of several pirate planes which dropped some pamphlets one day, and the day after burned our sugar fields, and then the next day tried to drop a bomb over one of our sugar mills.”
“…the bomb they intended to drop went off and the pirate plane and crew exploded; […] on that occasion, the United States government could not deny -as it had been doing so far- that those planes were taking off from its coasts; […] since we were able to seize the entire documentation intact […] the US could not deny the facts; […] they decided to apologize and offer an explanation.”
“However, those flights did not cease […] and on a certain occasion, one of those incursions took a high toll on the lives of our compatriots. However, none of those actions had the characteristics of a military attack…”
“Never had there been any operation with the characteristics of a purely military operation.”
“…some weeks ago, a pirate boat made itself through the port of Santiago de Cuba, opened fire against the refinery located there, and at the same time, with its gunshots, caused several victims among the soldiers and sailors who were detached at the entrance of the bay.”
“…such an operation, with that kind of boats, could not have been carried out if not for the boats provided for by the Americans and supplied by the Americans somewhere in the Caribbean.”
“…this continent surely knew about foreign troops landings. It experienced it in Mexico, […] Nicaragua […, Haiti […] the Dominican Republic […] and all these peoples had the opportunity to know what the interventions of the US Marine Corps were all about.”
“…the one thing that none of the peoples in this continent had had the chance to know about was that systematic action of the secret services of the United States government […] the one thing that none of the peoples of this continent never knew about was the struggle against the Central Intelligence Agency […] which was determined, against all odds, and following the instructions of its government, […] to systematically destroy the fruit of the work of an entire people; to systematically destroy the economic resources, commercial centers, industries, and what is worst: the valuable lives of workers, peasants and of hardworking and honest citizens of this country.”
“But despite all that, none of the previous events had, as it was the case yesterday, the characteristics of a typically military aggression. It was not a flight of a pirate aircraft; it was not the incursion of a pirate vessel. It was in fact a simultaneous attack against three different cities of the country, at the same time, in the early hours of morning. It was an operation following the rules of all regular military operations.
“Three simultaneous military attacks at dawn, at the same time, in the city of Havana, in San Antonio de los Baños and Santiago de Cuba […] which were carried out with the use of B-26 bombers that dropped bombs of a high destructive power and rockets, and machine-gunned three different locations of the national territory. This was an operation with all the characteristics of a regular military operation.
it was a surprise attack, similar to those attacks that are usually perpetrated
by some vandalistic Nazi and fascist governments against nations […] The
attacks launched by Hitler’s hordes against European populations were always
like these: attacks without any previous notice; attacks without any
declaration of war; treacherous and surprise attacks. That was how
I reminded them of what the
Japanese militarists had done at the
“…we do not intend to make any comparison” –I said- “because when the Japanese were fighting the Americans, that was a conflict between two imperialist countries, a dispute between two capitalist countries, between two exploiting governments; it was a conflict between two colonial governments, two governments whose intentions were to control the markets, the raw materials and the economy of a significant part of the world.”
“What makes us different from the United States is that the United States is a country that exploits other peoples; a country that has taken hold of a significant part of the world’s natural resources and forces tens of millions of workers from all over the world to work in the interest of its cast of millionaires.”
“With our Revolution, we are not only eradicating the exploitation of one nation by another nation; we are also eradicating the exploitation of men by men!”
the dispute between
“However, how useful have these events been to our own understanding! How useful have these events been in our discovery of this world’s realities! How useful have these events been in the education of our people! Those lessons are costly, painful and bloody but, how much peoples learn from those facts! How much our people have learned from them! How much they educate our people and how bigger our people have grown!”
“…no wonder right now we are one of the peoples who have learned the most in less time in the entire world.”
“How difficult it was to know what was going on in the world, when the only news that reached our country were the American news! How much deception did they instill in us and how many lies had we been victims of! If anyone has any doubt, if any person of good faith in this country –and I am not referring to the miserable ‘gusanera’ (the counterrevolutionaries); I am speaking about men ad women with honest ideas, even if they do not think the way we do-; if any of them had any doubt or believes that there is a bit of honor in the Yankee policy, or a bit of moral in the Yankee policy; if anyone believes there is an atom of dignity or honesty or justice left in the Yankee policy…”
“If there is anyone in this country, which has had the privilege of watching how an entire people have become a people of heroes, a people of proud and courageous men; if there is anyone in this country - whose merits, heroism and sacrifices grow by the day- still has any doubt; if those who do not think the same way we do believe they are raising or defending and honorable banner, a just banner, and because of that they are pro-Yankee and advocators of the US government; if there is anyone of those good faith people left in our country, may these facts serve […] to dispel all of their doubts.
“Yesterday at sharp, as everyone knows, three groups of bombers penetrated the national territory from abroad and attacked three points of the national territory. At each of these points, there were men who defended themselves heroically. In each of these points, the courageous blood of the defenders was shed. In each of these points there were thousands, if not hundreds and hundreds of witnesses of what had happened there. Besides, it was something we expected to happen; everyday we had been expecting this to happen. It was the logical climax to the burning of sugarcane fields, the hundreds of violations of our airspace, the incursions of pirate aircraft, and the pirate attacks against our refineries perpetrated by a boat that made it into our territory one day in the early hours of morning. It was the consequence of everything that the world knows; it was the consequence of what everybody knows; it was the consequence of the aggressive plans that were being perpetrated by the United States with the complicity of puppet regimes in Central America; it was the consequence of the air bases that the people know about and the entire world knows about, because even the American news agencies and papers have published about them, and their own agencies and papers are tired of publishing information about the mercenary armies that they train, the airfields they have ready, the planes that the US government has given to them, the Yankee advisors and the air bases established in Guatemalan soil.”
you think that the world would ever get to know about an attack against
“…what they told the world and what perhaps they have made tens of millions of human beings believe; what was published yesterday by thousands and thousands of papers; what was broadcast yesterday by thousands and thousands of radio and television stations about what had happened in Cuba; what the world, or much off the world, or a significant part of the world knew, through the Yankee news agencies.”
“… ‘District Immigration Director Edward Ahrens in
“‘He explained’ –listen very carefully, what a big lie and how much
nonsense-, ‘that he and the other pilots had left their families in
“Cables from A.P.:
"One of the two Second
World War twin-engine bombers landed in
“‘The other plane with two
men on board landed at the
“‘…you may now realize how cynical they can be, […] and how shameless the leaders and officials of imperialism are; […] they even fabricate in great detail a horrifying legend that no one would believe’. The pilot said – listen to the story they delivered to the press, to wrap the whole news with details, to complete the trick with every single detail; just listen to the story they invent-:
“’ I am one of the 12 B-26
pilots who remained in Castro’s Air Force after the defection of Díaz Lanz, ex
chief of the Cuban Air Force, and the subsequent purges. Three of my comrades
and me had been planning for months to escape from Castro’s
“That is to say, this is what
they have told the world. Not only the
UPI and the AP publish to the world the news about ‘Cuban airplanes’, ‘pilots
who left with the planes and carried out bombings’, but they also distribute
this cartoon story through the entire world.
And, what do you think has been read and heard by tens of millions of
persons yesterday in the world, and published by thousands and thousands of
different newspapers, radio and television stations? What do you think they
have said in
“They have not only confirmed
the news, but have made up a full story, in great details, including names, of
how they planned everything. No one in
“Both agencies published the following news:
“‘A statement issued by Dr. Miró Cardona –this was published by AP and UPI-: A heroic blow in favor of Cuban freedom was dealt this morning by a certain number of officers from the Cuban Air Force. Before flying their planes to freedom, these true revolutionaries tried to destroy as many of Castro's military planes as possible. The Revolutionary Council is proud to announce that their plans were carried out successfully, and that the Council has been in contact with them and has encouraged these brave pilots. Their action is another example of the desperation which patriots of all social strata can be dragged to under Castro's relentless tyranny. While Castro and his followers try to convince the world -listen carefully-; while Castro and his followers try to convince the world that Cuba has been threatened by an invasion from abroad, this blow in favor of liberty like others before it, was dealt by Cubans living in Cuba who decided to fight back against tyranny and oppression or die trying. For security reasons, no further details will be released."
“Miró Cardona was none other
than the head of the provisional government that the United States had waiting,
nearby a plane, with his bags all packed, ready to land in the
“But this did not stop here. Now we are going to finish unmasking that sham that the imperialism has there at the United Nations, who put on the face of an illustrious, liberal and leftist man, etcetera, etcetera: Mr. Adlai Stevenson […] And the deception keeps on; I mean, the deception to the world keeps on. The UPI and AP have spread the story; thousands of newspapers and they themselves have published that the main newspapers had particularly welcomed the news about the defection of those pilots.
“The amount of lies was not enough yet.”
“ ‘The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Adlai Stevenson, rejected Roa's claims and reiterated the statement made by President John F. Kennedy that under no circumstances –I repeat-, under no circumstances whatsoever, would there be a direct intervention by US military forces against Cuba. Stevenson showed the Commission photographs from United Press International showing two airplanes that landed in Florida today after taking part in the raids against three Cuban cities.’”
'They have the mark of Castro's Air Force on
their tails –he said, pointing to one of them-; they have the star and the
Cuban initials; these are clearly visible. I will exhibit this photograph with
pleasure. Stevenson added that those two planes were piloted by officers of the
Cuban Air Force and manned by deserters from the Castro regime. No
minister said that ‘the incursions during the early morning hours today were no
doubt the prelude to an attempted full scale invasion organized, supplied and
financed by Washington. The government
“Here we have the opportunity, as has been rarely the case for any other people, to know inside out, from the sides, from above and from below what imperialism is all about […] and the work of its financial, publicity, political and mercenary apparatus, its secret corps and its officials, who so quietly and in a very astonishing way deceive the world.”
“That is to say, they organize the attack, they prepare the attack, they train the mercenaries, equip them with planes and bombs, prepare the airports, everybody knows that; afterwards the attack takes place and then they simply make a declaration to the world –a world that they know would feel outraged in the face of such monstrous and cowardly violation […] about peoples’ rights and peace!
“And these miserable imperialists, after casting a pall over half a dozen households, after assassinating a group of youngsters, who were not millionaires; because those whom we’ve come here to bury were not parasite millionaires … they were not mercenaries who sold themselves for the gold of any foreign country; they were not thieves. They are true sons of our people! They were young workers, children from families of ordinary people who never stole anything from anyone, who never exploited anyone, and who had more right to live than the millionaires. They had more right to live than the parasites! […]. Because they did not live off the labor of others, like the Yankee millionaires. They did not live off foreign gold, like the mercenaries and counterrevolutionaries who have sold out to imperialism. They do not live off vice and robbery. Their lives deserve respect, and no miserable imperialist millionaire has the right to send planes, bombs or rockets to destroy those young and beloved lives of the homeland!”
“…those who agree with such crime; those who agree with such atrocity, those who miserably sell themselves out and support the activities of those criminals, those who conspire against the homeland out in the streets, in the churches, in schools, wherever, deserve to be treated by the Revolution the way they deserve!”
“The imperialists plan de crime, organize the crime, furnish the criminals with weapons for the crime, train the criminals, pay the criminals, and then those criminals come here and murder the sons of seven honest workers, after which they calmly land in the US and although the whole world knows of their deeds, they just state that they were Cuban pilots, make up a ridiculous tale and broadcast it to the whole world an publish it in all newspapers, radio and television stations…”
“Is there any honest Cuban unable to understand that? Is there any honest Cuban having any doubt? […] Let them go there and see by themselves if there is a single hint of truth in what they have said; let them see by themselves how the imperialist reactionaries and a fake clergy are deceiving the world and the peoples; let them realize it is high time for the peoples to rid themselves from the exploitation, deception and fraud of the imperialists and all shams in this world; and break loose from those shackles, no matter the cost!”
“… I hope that the President of the United States has a modicum of decency; and if the President of the United States has a modicum of decency, the Revolutionary Government of Cuba challenges him before the entire world […] to present at the United Nations the pilots and the planes he said took off from our national territory!”
don’t they do that? Obviously the President of the
“…if the President of the United States does not bring those pilots before the United Nations to prove […] that those pilots were here and defected from here, then not only the Cuban Revolutionary Government but the entire world will have the right to call him a liar!
“…The US imperialist government will have no other choice but to confess that the planes were its own, that the bombs were its own, that the bullets were its own, that it organized, trained and paid the mercenaries, that the bases were located in Guatemala and that it was from there that the planes took off to attack our territory; that those planes that were not shot down went there to seek refuge in the US coasts, where they have been given shelter.”
“…we are not living in the times of stagecoaches; we re living in the times of the radio, and the truths of one country can be conveyed to far away places.”
the imperialists cannot forgive us for is that we are here. What the
imperialists cannot forgive us for is the dignity, the integrity, the courage,
the firmness of ideas, the spirit of sacrifice, and the revolutionary spirit of
the people of
“…what they cannot forgive […] is that we have made a socialist Revolution …”
“And that we defend this socialist revolution with these guns! That we defend this socialist revolution with the same courage shown yesterday when our antiaircraft artillery riddled the aggressor’s planes with bullets!
“…we do not defend that Revolution with mercenaries; we defend that Revolution with the men and women of the people.”
“… Are those weapons in the hands of mercenaries? Are those weapons in the hands of millionaires? Because mercenaries and millionaires are one and the same thing. Are those weapons in the hands of the children of the rich? Are those weapons in the hands of the foremen? Who have those weapons? Whose hands are those that are raising these weapons? […] Are they the hands of the rich? Are they the hands of the exploiters? Whose hands are those that are raising these weapons? Aren’t they the hands of the workers? Aren’t they the hands of the peasants? Aren’t these the hands toughened by labor? Aren’t these creative hands? Aren’t these the humble hands of the people? And, who are the majority of the people? The millionaires or the workers? The exploiters or the exploited? The privileged or the humble?”
“Comrade workers and peasants, this is the socialist and democratic Revolution of the humble, by the humble and for the humble. And for this Revolution of the humble, by the humble and for the humble we are ready to give our lives.
“Workers and peasants, humble men and women of our country, do you swear to defend this Revolution of the humble, by the humble and for the humble until the last drop of blood?
“Comrade workers and peasants of the homeland: yesterday’s attack was the prelude to the mercenaries’ aggression. Yesterday’s attack, which cost seven heroic lives, was aimed at destroying our planes on the ground. But the mercenaries failed; they only destroyed three planes, and the bulk of the enemy planes were damaged or shot down. Here, in front of the graves of our fallen comrades; beside the remains of the heroic youth, children of workers and children of humble families, let us reaffirm our determination that, just as they faced the bullets, just as they gave their lives, no matter when the mercenaries might come, all of us, proud of our Revolution, proud to defend this Revolution of the humble, by the humble and for the humble, shall not hesitate to confront whoever may come and defend it to the last drop of blood.”
The end of that speech was no doubt an
inflamed harangue of revolutionary questions and answers. At the end I shouted: “Long live the workers!
Long live the peasants! Long live the humble! Long live the Socialist
Revolution! Long live the martyrs of the homeland!” And I concluded my speech
by shouting “Homeland or Death!”, which became a usual
slogan since we buried those who had fallen more than one year before as a
result of the explosion of
What nobody knew was that, as I spoke –it was almost dark- one of my bodyguards approached me and told me that the enemy was landing nearby the Cabañas harbor, to the West of Havana.
The landing was absolutely logical and expected, after the attack aimed at destroying our small air force early in the morning the day before. Then I did what I had never done before after concluding a speech. After shouting the traditional slogan ‘Homeland or Death!’ I continued speaking very briefly. In fact I went on to give instructions to the combatants.
After the final applauses, I literally said: “Let us all go to combat…Let us sing the National Anthem, comrades” (all those present began to sing the National Anthem).
“Comrades, all units need to head towards the headquarters of their respective battalions, in view of the mobilization that has been ordered to maintain the country in a state of alert in the face of the imminent mercenary aggression that can be deduced from all the events of the last weeks and yesterday’s cowardly attack, the attack by the mercenaries. Let us march to the Militia Houses. Let us form up the battalions and prepare to go and confront the enemy, with the National Anthem on our lips, singing the lyrics of the patriotic anthem, and crying “To the battle,” with the conviction that “to die for the homeland is to live” and that “to live in chains is to live plunged in ignominy and shame.”
“Let us march to our respective battalions and await for orders there, comrades.”
After the rally was over, I went to “Punto Uno”, the code name for the General Staff of the Armed Forces, to receive information about the situation.
There had not been any landing; there had been a mock landing organized by the US Navy. The whole situation was analyzed and several instructions were given.
Afterwards, I left around twelve . Persuaded that the enemy was about to act, I decided to take a few hours sleep.
Roxana Rodríguez, who passed away a few days ago, the wife of the then director of the plan to develop the Zapata Swamp, Abraham Maciques, said she had called Celia to inform her that Lieutenant Antelo Fernández, chief of the military unit of Jagüey Grande, had told her about some landing through Playa Larga, and that heavy machinegun and cannon shooting were being heard in that location.
In a note sent by Celia to “Punto Uno” she affirmed
that she established communication with the
According to the note sent by the Command Post, it was
When I went over the words I myself said during the TV program ‘Universidad Popular’, that is, three days after the victory, I said I received the news at . Celia really did not waste a single minute in the face of any situation.
Since that moment, some events occurred that were hard to believe. I am writing a summary that could be the starting point for a thorough and objective investigation of the history of these events that someone with enough time, health and energy could recreate.
What matters is the essence, which should never be altered. The details are especially significant for the most meticulous historians. In this case, my interest has to do with the desire that our youth could get to know about the events occurred in those decisive years, for them to know about the struggle in which their predecessors risked their lives for the Revolution and for the immense cultural wealth our youth have today, for it is now their turn to continue defending it.
“Homeland is humanity!”
As I explained at the ‘Universidad Popular’ TV program “…I was told, and the rest of the comrades are told, that there were combats in Playa Girón and Playa Larga, where the enemy had landed…”
“We asked for
confirmation. Under such circumstances,
it is always advisable to be on the safe side, because afterwards we received
information about some boats on such and such a location, that there were boats
coming through a different place […].
The fact is that, with absolute certainty and after the first wounded in
combat, the news came that an invasion force was producing heavy fire with
bazookas, recoilless guns, 50 caliber machine guns and warship guns. Playa Girón and Playa Larga, at the
“The microwave equipment in Playa Girón and Playa Larga were informing the results of the attack […] until the very moment when, as a result of the attack itself, they stopped working […] From three to four o’clock in the morning there were no more news about Playa Larga or Playa Girón.”
“Before there was no way of communication […] A narrow-gauge railway was the only way of communication that the peasants of that area had.”
“At the moment of
the invasion there were two hundred teachers in the
“It was one of the
pilot areas of the Literacy Campaign.
All these towns –Jagüey Grande,
“There are […]
three hundred sons and daughters of peasants who live in the swamp that are currently
taking courses on ceramics, tanning, mechanics and carpentry in
In July of 1976 I told the Swedish TV filmmaker Gaetano Pagano the following:
through an area where they could have held up for some time, because that was a
place very difficult to recover. The
access roads ran several kilometers through impassable swampy areas. It was a sort of
The Playa Larga
coastline, the one that the mercenaries intended to occupy, is
When I was at the Sierra Maestra I did not have any bodyguards nor did I need them. I used to march along with the troops and when I moved from one place to the other I was accompanied by persons who helped me do different tasks. Those responsible for the weapons, health services, supplies and transportation were focused on their respective tasks until the war ended. Celia took care of the logistics of the small group who accompanied me and the combatants of Column No. 1.
When the tyranny collapsed,
I was on my way to the capital, with some troops from Column No. 1. The tanks, artillery and two thousand soldiers
of the elite troops that had been defeated during the Rebel Army offensive and
counter-offensive, already described in the corresponding texts, joined us, for
we healed the enemy soldiers wounded in combat and respected prisoners without
any exception. I took them with me
because the situation in the capital was not yet very clear. Camilo and Che received instructions to move
on quickly down the
They were excellent, and accompanied me for more than two years. Afterwards they went to accomplish other important tasks of the Revolution.
Security became a function under the Ministry of the Interior, who was directed by comrade Ramiro Valdés and his advisors. Ramiro was one of the combatants who took part in the attack to the Moncada garrison; he came on board of the ‘Granma’ boat and was part of Che’s Column. I never objected to any of the persons chosen. They were, as a rule, youngsters from humble peasants and workers families of well-known leftist ideas.
In our country, as is known, there was an ideological chaos created by the Yankees whose rule was based on lies and ignorance rather than on the use of force.
The new members of my security detail received crush courses that helped them to better to do their task and, in general, they were courageous and determined, but had no combative experience at all.
That did not worry me much. I cared, most of all, about the personal qualities of each of them. Among other things, they should have a good domain of the weapons and of cars. We all had a lot to learn.
I will tell you what one of them literally said, and this is part of his own written testimony about what happened in the early morning hours of April 17 when we received the news about the mercenary landing:
“I was on duty guard on the corridor facing the staircase and I remember that around the small hours of morning an abnormal movement on that floor began. Suddenly the Commander woke up and started to ask that telephone calls be made to different military chiefs. While the calls got through, he paced up and down and said: ‘They already landed, and they did it at the place I expected. But, it does not matter: We will crush them!’ […] ‘Let’s go!’. I thought to myself: Now we are all screwed up; the Americans are landing and this man has gone mad! We left immediately for Punto Uno.”
Bienvenido was really scared that day.
Gathered at Punto Uno in the small hours of April 17 were Commander Sergio del Valle Jiménez, Chief of Staff; Captain Flavio Bravo Pardo; the chiefs of several defense sectors in Havana: Commander Filiberto Olivera Moya; Captain Emilio Aragonés Navarro; Captain Osmany Cienfuegos Gorriarán; Captain Rogelio Acevedo González; Captain Raúl Curbelo Morales, who would later on be appointed Chief of the Revolutionary Air Force; and Captain Sidroc Ramos Palacios, among others. I was already communicating with several chiefs.
I should point out that during the Girón battle, first quality stenographers worked in shifts at Punto Uno. With amazing accuracy, they took note of every conversation I had with the different Points and also of the conversations between the Central Command Post and any of the chiefs at the operation theatre. Here I include the transcriptions of many of those communications that illustrate the evolution of the battle with a minimum of explanations, which I elaborate only when it becomes indispensable. If there is anything that is not clear enough, I may round up the idea. Many a time I have deleted some rude words; I have only included them when they offer an idea of the fervor that we experienced.
NOTES AND ORDERS ISSUED FROM ‘PUNTO UNO’:
hours. Commander Sergio del Valle (Commander of the Rebel Army and Chief of Staff of
the Revolutionary Armed Forces) instructs the
“ hours. Commander in Chief Fidel Castro instructs Rebel Army Captain Osmany Cienfuegos Gorriarán to have all the battalions of his sector ready on the trucks to go on a military operation.
hours. The mercenary landing at Playa
Larga is confirmed. Militia Battalion 339 –which is at the
Battalion 339 of
Almeida sent the
battalion. Due to some sort of
confusion, the battalion had one platoon in Playa Larga. Should it had been deployed in Girón and
Playa Larga, instead of being stationed at the Australia sugar mill, at a
distance of 68 and
The instruction I gave at in the small hours of morning that this unit should move during the evening to support the men who resisted in Playa Larga, was exactly what had to be done. Giving that instruction in open daylight, after the enemy paratroopers had already been dropped, would not have been the right thing to do. It was around in the morning, that is to say, three hours later, when the enemy dropped the battalion of paratroopers who were supposed to occupy the ways of access through the swamp. Obviously, the enemy B-26 planes, some of which were piloted by the Batista’s pilots who had launched so many bombs against us at the Sierra Maestra, provided air coverage for the paratroopers who were dropped over Pálpite, where the antiaircraft batteries that were supposed to participate in the counterattack could not arrive at that time.
This is an important observation necessary to understand the future course of events.
“ hours. The Commander, Chief of the Revolutionary Air Forces, is instructed to set two Sea Fury and one B-26 ready with their full loads. Julio. (Captain Flavio Bravo Pardo).
“ hours. Fidel orders the Chief of the Revolutionary Air Forces to have the planes ready, organize two squadrons, two Sea Fury and one B-26.
hours. Fidel orders Silva (Captain of
the Rebel Army and fighter pilot Luis Alfonso Silva Tablada) of the
“0:48 hours. To
move another battalion to
hours. A telephone call from Commander in Chief to Silva, at the
“First objective: to attack the airport with full force if there are planes there.
“Second objective: to attack the ships.
“Third objective: to see if there are any movement of trucks very close to Girón. If there is, to attack the trucks and the troops.
“If you spot any maneuvers
of ships and troops, attack the ships and then the troops. You should turn southeast heading for
hours. Commander del Valle made a telephone call to
Commander Raúl Guerra Bermejo, Maro (chief of the Revolutionary Air Force, at
“At hours of April 17. Commander del Valle advised Olivera and Acevedo to mobilize all troops without using radio and have everything ready to receive orders. They were informed about the landing and its evolution. By Lieutenant Crabb.
hours. Fidel calls
“ hours. Fidel calls the Revolutionary Air Forces to find out about the planes ready to attack. He orders that the Revolutionary Air Forces chief should command the Sea Fury and a jet fighter to attack Playa Larga, and that a B-26 should follow after those that left before arrive. Let them report at once and let them get ready and take off immediately. To follow those orders immediately.
hours”. The San Antonio Air Base is
instructed that it should inform our planes that when flying over the
hours. Curbelo, from the Revolutionary
Air Force, reports to Fidel that enemy planes are overflying the
hours. Order by
Fidel: Two antitank batteries to ‘Aguada de Pasajeros’. Those that left for
“ hours. Fidel orders that the jet fighter should be ready; there are planes heading in that direction. Also ready should be the antiaircraft battery and the jet fighter. Another plane should be ready to defend the air base. The Sea Fury should take off and leave for the target; the jet fighter should be kept in the air or on the airstrip, ready to attack. The antiaircraft artillery should be ready to reject the aggression together with the plane.”
“At . Another squadron left for Girón.
“ hours. Silva reports to Fidel: What did you do? You broke And, haven’t you shot the ship? Haven’t you attacked the ship? Did the Sea Fury shoot the ship? Did you sink it? What did you do over Girón? You shot a speed boat; but you did not sink it. You saw them swimming. Go back again and shoot them; yes, yes. And, what did you do to them? Go back to Playa Girón, attack the ship and sink it. Shoot those at Girón; the others went to Playa Larga. You go back to Playa Girón and sink all the ships there.
“ hours. Commander del Valle requests to speak to Curbelo: Fidel asks if the Sea Fury planes are back. Hey, tell me, yes, yes, yes, tell me, all right, let them watch those planes too, the others should attack Girón, we can not let those ships go away; very well, very well.”
“ hours. To Pepín Álvarez Bravo. (José Álvarez Bravo, chief of the antiaircraft artillery) How many batteries do you have left? And in the warehouses? Mobilize the six batteries and leave one on duty guard that we are going to resist. You shall be in command of the batteries. No, you have to keep on moving them to support the artillery and the tanks. The fight is with the artillery and tanks. All right, Homeland or Death!
“ hours. Who’s speaking? Call Almeida or Angelito. (Ángel Martínez, ex Lieutenant Colonel of the Spanish Republican Army and military advisor of Commander Almeida in the Central Army) Angelito? You should send some troops through Juraguá to Jovellanos. Let him move towards Jovellanos, so that he could keep on along the coastline. Very well! They? From where? But, how could they move on through? How? Have they advanced? Well, go out and fight those isolated paratroopers; they are doomed to die. The paratroopers dropped over Horquita are doomed to die! Use the militia troops you have to fight them.”
That was the first news I received about the dropping of enemy paratroopers.
“Almeida? Sent some troops through Jovellanos, so that they could fight on the coast. Filiberto (Commander of the Rebel Army Filiberto Olivera Moya) is going to move on through Girón, and the battalion that you sent with Tomassevich (Commander of the Rebel Army Raúl Menéndez Tomassevich, Chief of Staff of the Center Army). Then those people should move towards Girón from Juraguá. Let a company move on toward that area, and let them prevent the enemy from running away.”
hours. To Del Valle
(personally). Order Pedrito Miret
to mobilize at least twelve
“We have to prepare the antiaircraft defense. Two Sea Fury planes on the antiaircraft string to defend the airspace against the B-26. Let them be ready for tomorrow. Those planes arrive this afternoon; they should quickly offer protection to our forces. Today we are going to sink ships, tomorrow we are going to shoot down planes.”
“ Che calls Fidel (from Pinar del
Río): What’s up? What type of mortars, Che? What mortars? We are training those
“At hours. To Universo Sánchez, that the antitank batteries troops from Pinar del Río and Toranzo (Captain of the Rebel Army Mario Toranzo Ricardo) send 120 caliber mortars to Che.
“ hours. To Universo Sánchez. Che has six batteries of cannons but no staff. I recommend that you send him there some of the best trained staff from Rinar del Río […] The cannons are there. They know a lot already. If they don’t know a lot at least they know something.”
“ hours. To Curbelo – Revolutionary Air Forces […] we are going to shoot down planes, but today we are going to sink ships. Sink ships! Sink ships, damn it, you have to sink many ships! What the fuck, shoot them!”
I kept on giving instructions at that same pace since hours.
“ hours. To Osmany (Personally). To Kico (Captain of the Rebel Army Enrique González) let him send ammunitions and spare parts for tanks.
“ hours. To Osmany (Personally) The order given to Curbelo was to destroy ships, destroy the ships!
hours. To Osmany.
Let us count. One Filiberto, two
Jovellanos, there are three, one in
“ hours. To Aragonés. (Personally). ‘Fatso’: at in the morning all this will be clean. I know down well all that area. At in the morning everything will be clean. We are going to attack in the evening, and with full force!
“ hours. To Raúl Castro (in Oriente). So far I think you have been left out of the party, but you should be alert. What? So have they have landed through the South. I can not give you any details; I should not give any details. But you should be alert at the Sierra and around all that area. I think they have concentrated them here, you know? All right, good luck! Bye.
“ hours. Commander Del Valle requests communication with Commander Curbelo. Del Valle says that our mission is to concentrate the attack on the ships in Playa Larga and Cayo (Playa) Girón.
“ hours. To Curbelo. Revolutionary Air Force. Tell me. How is everything? Yes. What happens? Yes. And, the pilot? Where did he go? Yes. And what about the enemy ships, what? Yes. You have not sunk any? Fine. High morale! Have you shot down any of their planes? Well, a Sea Fury, how many do we have left now? Tell me. Well, we have to keep on fighting. Have the jet fighters arrived in there already? Here, what? And the jet fighters? Have you shot them? Have they been shot? The ships have not withdrawn? You have to keep on shooting them with anything you got! Yes, we have to avenge the comrade that they shot down! We have to avenge him, comrade! Use the jet fighters to shoot down their B-26! Well, you will certainly receive bullets. Bye, comrade.”
The brave Captain of the Rebel Army, Luis Alfonso Silva Tablada, a fighter pilot with whom I talked at , had been shot down.
At I managed to communicate with the ‘Covadonga’ sugar mill.
“To the Covadonga sugar mill: ‘Tell me, yes. Look, comrade, (Gonzalo Rodríguez Mantilla, Chele) tell that comrade he can not leave from that place. Tell me. Fine, tell me one thing: Are there any troops at Aguada de Pasajeros? It does not matter; those are our planes that are bombing. Our planes are bombing the enemy non-stop. Well, look: do not withdraw; things are on the way there, comrade, but they have advanced, and this takes time. They should have moved past Aguada. Call Aguada de Pasajeros. I will make a call so that the reinforcement troops are sent there. Resist there with courage, comrades! Very well! Homeland or Death!’”
“ hours. To Del Valle. (Personally). (Someone informs that Cedeño, from the Ministry of Transportation, has given the order of paralyzing the entire transportation). Tell him not, tell him not to follow that order while it is not necessary.”
“ hours. The Revolutionary Air Force reports to Commander Del Valle that two enemy B-26 are chasing one of our jet fighters. Another jet fighter took off to help.
hours. To Curbelo. Revolutionary Air Force in
hours. To Fernández –
“ hours. To Del Valle (personally) Give the order of quartering all patrol cars tonight, to go wherever it is needed to. (Del Valle asks if there should be one around here). No, it is not necessary.”
hours. To Curbelo.
Revolutionary Air Force. Curbelo: Could you offer that protection to
them? In that direction? It is going to protect us, isn’t
it? Yes. Protect them between
Regarding the air protection, I went back on the same issue at and at hours.
hours. (Del Valle reports that pilot Carreras has sunk one ship and has
damaged another that is sinking. He shot
down one B-26 that withdrew with one wing wrapped in flames. He returned to
refuel and continue the attack on the semi-sunk ship). Ask in
hours. To Curbelo.
Revoltuionary Air Forces. Curbelo: Fernández has not reported to
me. You have to explain the pilot very
well that the road is the one that goes from the
“ hours. From Fidel Castro to Commander Raúl Castro in Oriente:
“Listen, Miró Cardona insists that there has been a landing through Oriente. Yes, listen, it does matter. In case anything happens, you have to use a lot of antitank, in case some tanks come. All antitanks should be ready, so that they can arrive quickly. We don’t know; when we capture the first we will let you know. One paratrooper dead. Don’t hurry; do not worry. Listen to me, Raúl; a lot of antiaircraft at the airport…We will ask again, but they must be arriving at any time. One more thing: if anything happens tomorrow there, we can send you already, probably, the aviation. The aviation has been perfect (…) I can not specify, but there is nothing to be worried about. What? Yes, because they insist a lot, but they launched their paratroopers and all here; they made an effort to take hold of this area. I think it was here, through Zapata, where they made their main effort. I can not be specific, but they launched a lot of paratroopers; I think they launched all they had. You should be very alert there. Raúl: a lot of tanks and a lot of antiaircraft. Give support to the people with the antiaircraft. Afterwards they will send you some, but use a lot of antiaircraft. I will find out about the 400, when they left and from where. Where? I don’t know, but I will find out. A lot of antiaircraft, and protect the people, because they come with planes. Fine.”
I give more that 50 orders and adopt several measures at “Punto Uno” before leaving for the theatre of operations.
Testimony by José Ramón Fernández:
approximately in the early
hours of morning of April 17. I had no
news about the invasion, I mean, about the mercenary landing, and he was the
one who told me that a landing was taking place through the
“He ordered me to
live in no time for
“’Take a car and leave at full speed’”.
“I took a while in
leaving, because I was looking for some maps of the region –I had been at the
Swamp only once with the Commander; I had never gone through that region,
neither before nor after. I had only
been there for a day on our way from Escambray –and the warehouse where the
maps were kept was closed. […] Around half an hour later the Commander called
again: But, are you still there? Haven’t
you left yet?’ Well, I don’t remember if
we knocked down one door. I got the map
and left immediately for
“I hardly had entered the facility –the current headquarters of the Central Army Command- when the officer at the sentry box told me: ‘The Commander is calling you’. I went there, I talked to him again and he reiterated that I should move to Jagüey Grande. He asked what route I intended to take. I didn’t quite know the roads and when I looked at the map I realized how I could reach Jagüey.”
“I left with the
intention of going through Colón. I
finally went through Perico-Agramonte.
Upon arriving to Jovellanos, on the road, there was the Captain of the
Rebel Army José A. Borot García and another two or three comrades. They signaled me to stop, and almost
miraculously I stopped. Then I told
them: ‘Please, I beg you not to interrupt me.
I am packed and I am in a hurry’ […] Then they
told me: ‘No, no, the fact is that the Commander is calling you’. The military garrison of Jovellanos was right
there, at the town’s entry. I went
there, climbed up the stairs and got in touch with the Commander again. He told
me to go to the administrative building of the
“Then I had taken
more than two hours to go from
“…at around hours the manager of the sugar mill arrived. I went there and asked:
“- Where is the telephone here?
“Indeed, when I picked up the phone I talked to the Commander again, who ordered me not to stay far from the phone and clarify well what the situation was like, and that I should look for information about what was going on.
“This was the
first call I received from the Commander at the
“People started to gather […] More than 100 or 200 men gathered there, asking for weapons to go and fight.”
Upon receiving the information about the landing, the chief of Battalion 339, the Captain of the Rebel Army Ramón Cordero, who was at his unit, close to the Australia sugar mill, sent some troops of his first and second companies to confront the enemy in the area between Pálpite and Playa Larga at their disadvantage: the adversary was better armed, better organized, much better trained and deployed in a position favorable for the defense. During that fierce battle against the aggressors, several militias were killed and that part of the battalion troops was virtually dispersed. Shortly afterwards, before dawn, the rest of the units of Battalion 339 also moved on. This time the troops were under the direct command of their battalion chief, and they fought under quite unfavorable conditions.”
He told me to take Pálpite with my people. I was looking at the map and told him: Commander, there’s no such thing as Pálpite on the map. That was the beginning of a long discussion: “I can not find it. There’s no Pálpite on this map.’ ‘Well then, look for Pálpite; it must be there.’
Then, it so happened that there was a mistake on the map. It read ‘Párrite’ –the military maps of the 1950’s are still around. Instead of Pálpite it read Párrite, and I continued looking in the map. Then I told him: ‘Look, I see a place here called Párrite, located between such and such a point and such and such a point’. He responded: ‘That’s the one; it is not Párrite, but Pálpite. Go and take Pálpite.’
“Fidel called me again and told me that there was a battalion coming. That was Battalion 219-223 of the area of Colón, under the command of Captain Roberto Benítez Lores.
“These were people
from battalions that were not completely conformed or well organized as
yet. But those men had a high morale,
although none of them had practiced shooting and only carried M-52 rifles with
20 rounds each. I gave them the mission to try to occupy the little town of
In this case there
must have been some sort of confusion in Fernández memories. He made that recount on
The Militia Leaders School of Matanzas, with its chief, José Ramón Fernández, was sent to fight the invasion, precisely because it was one of the best trained units and its proximity to the area chosen by the enemy for the landing.
The testimony of José Ramón Fernández continues:
“An attack launched by the enemy air force caused six deadly casualties and forced it to retreat. (He is referring to the Battalion that arrived from Colón). I ordered them to advance again and secure the road, specially the sewage.”
227 from Unión de Reyes, under the command of the Captain of the Rebel Army
Orlando Pérez Díaz, arrived in
That was another
unit made up by brave combatants as those from Colón, who advanced to the
Fernández’ recount continues:
“Around in the morning the Battalion of the
“When the message arrived that Pálpite had been taken, I called the Commander and he asked me:
“-Did you take Pálpite? Is your people in Pálpite? Are you sure?
“- Sure, Commander.
“- We already
won!”, Fernández said I exclaimed and, although this was not recorded in the
stenographic notes of my communications, such conclusion was not impossible,
because the beachhead to the other side of the swamp,
And Fernández concludes his recount by affirming as follows:
“That is why Fidel, one month later, during the speech he made at the graduation ceremony of the Militias School, when referring to the deadly casualties among the members of the school that was turned into a combat battalion, he expressed: ‘…the members of this unit did not graduate as militia leaders; they graduated as eternal heroes of our homeland’.”
Testimony by Raúl Curbelo Morales:
“I think that my
case is like the case of many other comrades.
Despite the fact that I had no knowledge about the air forces, I took up
that responsibility. In crucial moments,
Fidel, out of his own instinct and his understanding of the war, wanted to have
“Fidel called me
many times to the command post of the airbase of
“Commander Raúl Guerra Bermejo, Maro, was the chief of the Air Force; he was Commander and I was Captain.”
“I remember I told Maro: ‘I do not know about the conditions of the land here; nor I know how to handle the preparations of the planes for combat, so you take care of the land, that I will go up to the control tower, to direct operations from up there, with the pilots, according to the instructions I receive from the Commander in Chief.’
“Then Maro, with tremendous enthusiasm, courage and determination, without any reservation, played a very important role there together with all the rearguard staff. Maro had very good relations with me.”
“There is one factor that was decisive, which shows the art the Commander in Chief had to conduct military operations.”
“My version was to attack the troops on the ground. Fidel responded: ‘No, we have to attack the ships, the ships!’
At that moment I did not quite understand him. I managed to understand him later on, when I concluded my military studies. When fighting a sea landing, the first thing is to put out of action the naval means that are carrying out the landing. He did that as if he had studied at any of the great military academies. He did it out of its own intuition, because Fidel’s war at the Sierra Maestra had nothing to do with ships or any action of that sort. Perhaps his readings about the First and the Second World Wars, the great military campaigns of the Romans and other military theoreticians provided him with that historical knowledge about the big battles.
“He reiterated to me: ‘We must sink those ships’. That was when I told him: ‘Look, Commander, incidentally I have Carreras close to me. If you wish I pass over the phone to him.’
“He responded: ‘Tell him to pick up the phone!’ It was then when he asked Carreras: ‘Sink those ships! Attack the ships, Carreras!’ That was the moment when he asked Carreras that. Shortly afterwards, Carreras took off on board of his plane and later on we received the news that he had shot the rockets first against the Houston and afterwards against the Río Escondido.”
These were the sincere words by Raúl Curbelo. Given the heroism and the beauty of the narration of the feat worked by this pilot, I should include in this Reflection what General Enrique Carrera Rolas told to the ‘Letras Cubanas’ publishing house in 1979, and explain how important it was to preserve the few fighter planes that we had.
Testimony by General Enrique Carrera Rolas:
“The Commander in
Chief visited us very often at the
“In those conversations he told us: ‘Look, those dilapidated planes that you fly, should be scattered. You should not have them parked altogether. Thus, in case there is an air strike, the enemy will destroy the aircraft that have already been discharged. Place them at a certain distance one from the other to confuse the enemy and preserve our planes. I am sure that they will attack us. Make your moves before they come’. And so it happened.
“I was on duty guard in my plane when I was told that the Commander in Chief wanted to speak to me.
“Carreras, there has been an enemy landing in Playa Girón. Take off and get there at dawn. Sink the ships that are carrying the troops and don’t let them go away.’
“At five in the
morning we received the order to take off.
When I was told that there had been a landing I thought it was about
some yacht or another bigger ship that was dropping soldiers along the coast. I
could not imagine, not even in my dreams, that I would
have to cope with the situation that awaited me over
“I took a decision
on my own, in a matter of seconds. I chose the first prey: the vessel that was heading for Playa
Larga. I gave encoded instructions
through the radio to my comrades and I was the first to launch the attack. From a height of 5 thousand to 7 thousand
feet we dive-bombed the
“We had already been sighted by the enemy and the antiaircraft fire against us was a real madness. Dozens of batteries –machine guns and cannons- were spewing their bullets upwards. It was an impressive scene. The space was all lighted up by tracer shells and the explosion of the missiles.
“I can assure you that what we rehearsed was a ‘kamikaze’ action, as the one performed by the Japanese suicidal pilots.
“I activated the
mechanism to shoot the rockets and followed with my eyes the direction they
took. I must confess that I was all
surprised to see them hit the target on the stern of the
“I made two more passes over the target and shot all the rounds of my machine gun. Afterwards I returned to the base.
“When I got off the cockpit, I was all excited. To a certain point I had found that everything had been so easy –just pressing some buttons and see how the structure of a ship crumbled as if it were made of paper- that I wanted to tell everybody what had happened. Curbelo called me to the Operations Room and I reported to him. Afterwards I was told that they could hardly understand what I said at the beginning, because I started to mix up all the routes and jumbled up all the explanations, until I calmed down a little and I was able to put together a decent part of conversation.
“Commander Castro was already pleased. We had dedicated the first ship to him.
“I do not know how
long they took to get my plane ready again with fuel and ammunitions. The mechanics and the weapons staff moved
like flying. They did everything in one
third of the usual time I guess; and I took off again, this time carrying eight
rockets five inches each. I headed for Playa Girón. From the sky I could see the
“The rockets of my Sea Fury came out looking for the huge ship as if they were smoking lightning flashes. Touché! The rockets hit the ship right in the middle. I take more time in telling this than what the Río Escondido took to burst like a firecracker, wrapped up in flames.
“When I was enjoying the show, which was still new to me, I saw that a B-26 was approaching me. I thought it was Silva’s plane, but soon I realized that we had no B-26s flying at that moment. The trick was almost perfect. The only distinct feature I noticed on that plane was some blue stripes on the wings. Aside from that, it had the same colors, the Cuban flag and the markings of the Revolutionary Air Forces, just exactly as our planes. I made a turn, taking advantage of the speed of my ‘Furious’, which was higher than that of the enemy bomber, and I managed to place myself behind its tail. It was a perfect ‘’. (Pilots used that language to define the position of the adversaries in the air).
“Despite my advantageous position, the B-26 managed to open fire first with the machine gun on its tail. I answered back with a long burst of my 50 caliber gun and hit one of its engines. I saw it was losing height, spewing smoke, heading towards the warships sailing below, as if it were looking for protection. Finally it plunged into the sea, nearby one of the vessels.
“I don’t know if it was because of the B-26 shots or the rounds shot by the ships’ antiaircraft batteries, but I realized that my engine had been hit. The Sea Fury was faulty. Despite that, I made several passes over the ships until I ran out of ammunitions. Afterwards I headed for the base. During landing, the plane did not respond well. As soon as the mechanics approached, they explained to me what had happened. Two shots had damaged one of the cylinders; that was quite a serious mishap.
“But all of us who were there knew that it was far more dangerous to fly any of those planes than confronting the enemy in a fire exchange.
“Much to my regret I had to submit to a compulsory recess. The repair took time and I would not be able to fly again on that day.
“But I was very happy: I had added two big ships and one enemy plane to my credit.
“I thought that Fidel Castro must have felt pleased. Carreras had not failed to him.”
On a single day, and
only in the ‘
Raúl Curbelo explains it further:
the planes. He first damaged the
“I think that was the key moment. There were other moments after that which made it possible to defeat the enemy in seventy two hours, because one ship had been sunk and the other was placed hors de combat with an entire battalion inside; the barges that were in the process of landing were all destroyed. There were other ships. One of them, ‘El Atlántico’ saw that one of the ships had been sunk and the other had been damaged, so it moved farther from the ground because it was at a distance of approximately three miles from the shore.”
Testimony by Harold Ferrer Martínez:
“When the airports were attacked at around 02:00 hours, the Commander in Chief called me to Cojímar and asked me some questions about the men, the weapons and the transportation means I had there. He told us to be ready to leave, because probably we would have to go into action. He gave no further details.
“On April 17,
Celia called me to Cojímar to give me the news about the landing through Girón
and the Commander ordered me to be ready to leave in the morning. He ordered me to leave for
“I had gone out to get some transportation.
“In 1959, the Commander in Chief gathered a group of officers of the Rebel Army and asked us who were willing to go to Minas de Frío to accomplish a mission. The Rebel Army officers Leopoldo Cintra Frías (Polo), the Sotomayor brothers, the Pardo brothers, Captain Gaspar Camejo, Hugo del Río, among others, were all part of that group.
“The idea was to
rely on comrades who were ready to command thousands of Rebel Army soldiers, give them some training and have them climb the
“That was how this
column was created, which he himself named after Jose Martí. He was personally in charge of providing it
with the first transportation means and weapons that arrived from the
“There were four infantry companies, one mortar batteries company, one machine gun company and the fire launchers that were at INRA who subordinated to us (they were around 600 men). This force was not organized as a battalion, but as a column. It was not as numerous as a battalion.”
“At the time of
the invasion, he told us to be ready to leave and wait in
“There he gave us the mission to move to Laguna del Tesoro, and from there we should attack together with the tanks and the support of the artillery the positions of the mercenaries who controlled the highway from Pálpite to Playa Larga.”
“Fidel gave us details about the characteristics of that swampy area, difficult to access through a single road with swamps and vegetation on both sides. He warned us it was a difficult mission, but it would be a historical mission because we had to expel the enemy from their positions.
“Column No. 1 was made up by around 600 men. Under its command there were two bazooka and fire launchers companies that we had at the INRA.
“While I received Fidel’s orders, I ordered one of the chiefs to deploy the Column nearby the central highway, but there was some confusion, and part of the artillery continued to Colón. I tried to advise them to return, but I had no other choice than to inform the Commander what had happened. He told me he would be in charge of locating the rest of the troop and send it to the theatre of operations.”
In the afternoon I was already at the theatre of operations and I sent a handwritten order to Captain Fernández:
“I have decided to send the other twelve howitzers and support them with two multiple machine guns batteries and also an antiaircraft canon battery because I think it is extremely important to open an infernal barrage. Try to shoot as many howitzers as you can in barriers.
Testimony by José R. Fernández Álvarez:
“While Fidel was
there –and he stayed up to the night, or until late in the afternoon, because
in the evening he left for Pálpite- the antiaircraft artillery arrived.
Artillery batteries as well as tanks arrived.
Fidel had followed the strategy of moving these forces, which are easily
identifiable from the air, and had no good antiaircraft defense, such as the
artillery and the tanks, to Jovellanos and concentrate them there. During the evening he would move them to the
combat zones. But afterwards, some of
those units moved during the day, although, as a general rule, the strategy was
to move them during the night. The truth
is that, at dusk, Fidel authorized us to move to Pálpite and organize the
attack on Playa Larga. We had the
protection of the antiaircraft artillery.
We moved five tanks, four
Testimony of bodyguard Bienvenido Pérez Salazar (Chicho):
“He stayed for
some time there in the
“I am staying, but I am still worried that the Commander is around the combat zone. I was planning the way to leave Augusto anyway, not because it was Augusto, because I felt a profound respect towards him. But the thing was that I was part of Fidel’s security detail, I was not Augusto’s bodyguard. Then it becomes necessary to send Fidel a message informing him that there was another landing taking place through Bahía Honda. Augusto was looking for a guide to take the message there. It was already dark. Then I told Augusto: “I am the guide; I know how to walk down this road day or night, because the Commander comes very often around that area. I know that road perfectly well”. I told him I could move down that road even with my eyes closed. He did not want to give me the message, until he realized that I was the best suited person to do that.
and I left for
“That was the moment when he handed over to
Flavio –I think it was him- all those documents, all the maps, in order to go
back, to return to
Testimony of bodyguard Santiago Castro Mesa:
“I stayed to take care of the car. I lied on the grass and fell asleep. They came out all of a sudden and Chicho could not find me.
We had spent four nights without sleeping, without even closing our eyes.
“On the evening of
April 17, we went up to
“When we were
about to reach
Before leaving for
“I am taking care
of the cannon ammunition. The other
tanks will arrive at
“Augusto will stay
“(F) Fidel Castro
“P.S. I have not received any news yet since the little paper you sent me informing that the enemy was decreasing its fire power.”
I told once the
historian Quintín Pino Machado about my return to
‘ And, when I arrived (…) I had no communication from my car(…) We had to
drive a long way, more that three hours (…).
When I arrived at
“ ‘Some years later we knew that the confusion arose from a diversionist maneuver of the CIA, for which it used upgraded and very modern electronic equipment, capable of simulating a battle. Using different means of transportation, rubber dinghies among them, they placed the equipment close to the shore and with some contrasting light effects and the corresponding characteristic sounds, they managed to give the impression that there was a true combat. In the evening of April 16 some movements of ships were spotted to the West of Havana.
“The success of
the maneuver consisted in extending the combats based on a fortuitous event
because, out of mere chance, the only officer present who knew the area was the
Commander in Chief of the Cuban Armed Forces. Ninety per cent of the defense
“From Augusto to Fernández:
“Fidel received your message and tells me to give you the following instructions:
“1. Position all the antiaircraft to protect our people.
“2. The tanks
should keep on their attacks. Position
the batteries again (
“3. Do not fail to position a single antiaircraft.
“4. He recommends you to send a troop, either from Battalion 180 or from Battalion 144, for you to move towards Soplillar and go out through Caleta del Rosario and block the road to them. Thus, the enemy will be split into two.
“5. If necessary, he can send you the ten tanks that are about to arrive from Jovellanos.
“6. You can divide
those ten tanks into two groups: one by the road and the other one by
“7. If necessary, move the tanks during the day. I could send you a heavy antiaircraft protection.
“8. Finally, Fidel says that it is necessary to take Playa Larga without any excuses.”
Testimony by José R. Fernández Álvarez:
“…Fidel’s idea was to split the enemy forces, and do that with Battalion 111, separating the units located to the North of San Blas from those that were at Girón; and Battalion 144 would isolate the enemy forces deployed at Playa Larga from those located at Girón. With that, the enemy would be divided into three groups, separated one from each other. Thus they could be defeated faster.
“I am convinced that if we had managed to do that, we would have taken Girón on the 18. Unfortunately this was not done either by Battalion 111 or Battalion 144, and that upset Fidel. The guide of the battalion I sent disappeared.”
“The truth is that the operation did not go out well. The enemy deployed at Playa Larga managed to escape. They, together with the main force, put up a strong defense and resistance at Playa Girón.”
To be continued.
Fidel Castro Ruz