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Operation Pluto: Brigade 2506 Invades Cuba at the Bay of Pigs, April 17, 1961

Updated on January 24, 2017
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A T3485 in Cuba 1961- This was a common tank in WW2The B-26 Bomber2nd Battalions' M-41 tankCastro's T-33 fighters
A T3485 in Cuba 1961- This was a common tank in WW2
A T3485 in Cuba 1961- This was a common tank in WW2
The B-26 Bomber
The B-26 Bomber
2nd Battalions' M-41 tank
2nd Battalions' M-41 tank
Castro's T-33 fighters
Castro's T-33 fighters

The Slaughter of Castro's 339th

The main reason for this covert operation was because the Soviet Union and Castro had signed a military pact for millions of dollars in military equipment from tanks to MG-21's. Castro had begun receiving them in early 1961.

Operation Pluto was the mission name to covertly train Cubans who hated Castro in Nicaragua and Guatemala at special American bases. Most of the Cubans lived in Florida. It was hoped that once Brigade 2506 landed in the Bay of Pigs and had advanced inland, the native Cubans in the surrounding area would rebel against Castro in a general uprising and from there, spread into Havana. With only 1500 men, there was never any intention of doing much more and although the US tried to make it look like it was a "foreign" force, nobody was fooled of which nation was behind it.

The one shining moment of the 2506 was in battle. These men were motivated and well trained and armed. Nothing shows this more than the trap Castro's 339th Battalion walked into on April 17 at around 2:30 p.m. The 2nd Battalion of the 2506th landed and advanced from the coast to Palpite. A company of paratroopers had already dropped earlier to block the road. The area is wooded and marshy with vegetation. This battalion had over 400 men and was equipped with one 75mm gun, 57mm RCL, .50mm cal machine gun, two 3.5 anti-tank bazookas, two M-41 tanks (this was their first time in battle) and further augmented with men from the 4th Battalion.

The Cuban 339th (700-900 men) was a training unit from Matanzas Military School for cadets. Most were from it but not all. It was poorly armed, some had no weapons. They were one of the first units to rush to the invasion site in madcap fashion mostly loaded up in Soviet trucks and moving down the road from Central Australia. Scouts for the landed 2nd Battalion reported their movements and the 2nd Battalion all hid in the brush. The ambush was set. The Cubans approached the site around 2:45, within 75 yards of those lying in wait.

The 2nd Battalion opened up. Their tanks fired at near point blank range. Trucks blew up left and right causing complete chaos to Castro's first move. Because of the terrain, trucks could not leave the road easily and those that did seldom escaped. Some of the Cubans regained some discipline and fired back but the 2nd Battalion had surrounded them in a U-shape. Their fire came from all directions. Luckily, two B-26 bombers arrived from Nicaragua. These were devastating aircraft with eight .50mm caliber machine guns, eight 5" rockets and 10 bombs. This gave the 2nd Battalion even more punch. The aircraft strafed the road with fire, back and forth several times. When the machine guns were empty, they fired their rockets and dropped their bombs. Within 20 minutes, the troop convoy was in ruin. Most of Castro's troops simply ran off to save themselves in all directions, which is why in Cuban history they call it the "lost battalion." The B-26 aircraft had caused havoc on the Cubans and flew off. However, Castro had ordered for his small air force to activate (at this time, he had 2 T-33, 3 Sea Furies, 2-6 B-26). The T-33 jets spotted the slower B-26 and pounced on them. One was quickly downed and the other also was hit and eventually ditched.

It wasn't over. Castro was determined to reach the beachhead. Once the 339th had regathered and armed, it was supplemented with three batteries of 122mm artillery guns, 22 tanks (T-34 and JS-2), all totaled some 2000 men. But the 2nd Battalion also had been reinforced by the 4th Battalion and one company from the 6th Bn and one M-41 tank.

Castro personally directed this attempt from Australia town. At 7:30 p.m., the artillery began a Soviet-styled creeping barrage that missed more than hit 2nd battalion in trenches. It went on for an hour or more as some 1200 rounds were dropped. Then, it stopped until 12:30 a.m., when part of the 339th and others with a T-34 and JS-2 tank slowly advanced down the same road. The 2nd Battalion opened up with more firepower and destroyed both tanks and caused panic. This style of attacked was repeated over and over until 3 a.m. By then, Castro had lost six tanks and little to gain from it. Frustrated, the remaining of Castro's men of the battalion and others tried to force the 2nd Battalion defenses in a charge that ended in a final retreat by 5:30 a.m.

Little did Castro know that 2nd Battalion's last stand had cost them dearly in ammunition. Each man had only 50 rounds left. Hardly enough for a determined push. They requested more airdrops for ammo, but few came and often missed the drop zone. Two of the supply ships in the Bay of Pigs had been sunk by the same two T-33 jets! The CIA ordered B-26 flights halted because of the losses.

Meanwhile, Castro tried one more time to breakthrough and lost another five tanks. When Castro pulled back, so did 2nd Battalion (now, almost out of ammunition), closer to the beach. Time played against this covert war. There would be no uprising in Bay of Pigs area. By now, even President Kennedy had become quite reluctant about the whole affair that he was apprehensive about. In trying to obfuscate that America was behind the invasion, Kennedy forbade an aircraft carrier from providing air cover for the retreating brigade. This guaranteed their destruction.

By the end of the American fiasco, Castro had sent 19 battalions, five JS-2 tanks, 10 T-34\85 tanks, nine artillery batteries to battle the 2506 Brigade! The CIA had abandoned them and most were killed or captured. Those that did escape became doctors, business owners or politicians in later years.

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      giron61 5 months ago

      the landings should have been made at Trinidad not giron. The Brigade would have a better chance and the landings at night. All of the suppplies could have been unloaded

    • perrya profile image
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      perrya 5 years ago

      There were many nuance of the plan that were cancelled, like 20 B-26 bombers making a bombing run on Castros airfields. The USS Essex not launching air cover on day 2 and 3, the refusal of supply ships to get close to the beaches on day 2 because they feared Castro's only two aircraft, T-33. But, strategically, it was naïve to think the population would up rise.

    • FGual profile image

      FGual 5 years ago from USA

      Great Hub. Often this is portrayed as a Castro victory, thanks for detailing how badly the Cuban army did. The flawed premise of regional popular uprisings plus inadequate aircover and resupply sunk the mission. A couple of WWII B26 bombers, what a joke. Still no uprising half a century later, won't happen.