Blue Moon Over Cuba
Aerial Reconnaissance during the Cuban Missile Crisis
By Capt. William B. Ecker, USN (Ret.) & Kenneth V. Jack
On January 1,1959 Fidel Castro, and his revolutionary army overthrew to regime of Fulgencio Batista and shortly after Fidel Castro was named the premier of the new Cuban Republic. The outlook for this new republic was glowing. Castro, however, was under the influence of his brother Raul and his “compadre” Che Guevara. In time, their influence won out and the Cuban Republic became a Communist bastion in the Western Hemisphere. This led to the United States turning their back on the Cubans. The Soviet Union stepped into the void and bought the Cuban sugar crop and provided weapons and finance to the fledgling government. Many Cubans escaped from their island home and settled in Florida. Cuban émigré organizations were formed and voiced outcries for the United States to invade and rid Cuba of their Communist leaders.
In April 1961 an “invasion force” was formed from these émigré groups and on the 17th the invaded Cuba at the Bay of Pigs. Through various agencies support for the invasion was promised, including B-26 bomber raids on Cuban targets. The United States government acquiesced at the last moment, canceling the raids in fear of Soviet intervention on the Cuban side and thusly, the beginning of World War III.
As a result the Commission of Ministers and , notably, Nikita Khrushchev were brought to the conclusion that Kennedy was weak and the Soviet Union could place nuclear missiles in Cuba thereby placing the entire United States under the threat of destruction. A U2 flight over Cuba at the beginning of October revealed that the Soviets were building what looked like missile sites on Cuban soil. The photos taken at 70,000 feet showed little detail as to the progress being made. The decision was made to make low-level reconnaissance flights over the key areas where construction was evident in the Cuban countryside.
VFP-62, the Navy’s Light Photographic Squadron, based in Jacksonville, Florida was picked as the unit to carry out these missions. Due to the Squadron’s development of more advanced cameras and techniques their photos were known to present the clearest images available. The planes flown by the Squadron were the recon version of the F-8 Crusader fighter plane. The pilots were trained to fly at a level of 500 feet, at speeds near Mach I. Captain Ecker was to commanding officer of VFP-62 during the crisis.
After the initial flights over three distinct areas of Cuba, progress on the building of the sites and their operational status was evaluated. Operational SAM-2 sites were noted on these photographs defending the missile sites being built. Further flights were scheduled to check out the progress being made at the three sites.
At this juncture, the Air Force, under General Curtis LeMay, decided that they had to get into the act or they would be left out of the credit for discovering these sites and the missile prep areas being discovered. The Navy pilots were told to keep quiet about what they were doing under penalty of courts-martial. The Air Force pilots received no such admonition, so they were courted by the press and were written up as though they were doing all the work, when, in fact, they made few runs and turned out mostly useless photos.
A “rogue” Soviet officer fired a SAM-2, against Moscow’s orders, shooting down a U2 aircraft killing its pilot. As is known that this “Missile Crisis” brought the world to the edge of nuclear war and the complete destruction of civilization as we know it. The Soviets finally backed down and removed the missiles from Cuba and the world settled back into the “Cold War” without any other catastrophes.
This book is the story of the work done by VFP-62 during the “crisis” in the words of the men who flew the planes and lived under the specter of a nuclear holocaust. I can recommend this book to anyone interested in the background history of that period. I also recommend it to anyone with a military bent who wants to read a book that grabs you by the head and holds you in its grip until you finish the final chapter. At this time I was in grammar school and lived on the Southern tip of Florida while these events unfolded. I can remember drills in the classroom that if sirens went off we had to get under our desks and cover our heads as best as we could. I also remember watching the news at night on the B/W TV as the events unfolded. Reading this book brought back many personal memories and when reading the chapters and looking at the pictures, you can sit back in your chair, take a sigh and say, ”That was a book, I just couldn’t put down.”