Invaders at the Bay of Pigs

Last revised March 19, 2020

Within only a few months after the success of the Castro-led revolution which overthrew the Batista government of Cuba in January of 1959, it became clear that his new regime was going to take on a definitely Communist flavor, with nationalization of private industries, one-party rule, suppression of dissent, and the export of leftist revolutions elsewhere in the Western Hemisphere all being promised. Not about to stand idly by and let a Communist regime take hold only 90 miles from American shores, the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) began a series of efforts to undermine the new Castro regime in Cuba.

By September of 1960, a decision was made in Washington by the Eisenhower administration to recruit a force of anti-Castro Cuban exiles and supply them with arms so that they could invade Cuba and overthrow the Castro regime before it could consolidate its power. A group of Cuban exiles plus some American "advisors" were assembled under CIA sponsorship at secret bases at Retalhuleu in Guatemala and at Puerto Cabezas in Nicaragua. The governments of Guatemala and Nicaragua were more than willing to look the other way. Anxious that the upcoming invasion be perceived as an indigenous uprising of the Cuban people rather than as an American-sponsored attack, the CIA created a number of "front" organizations to disguise its role in the sponsorship of the affair--among these were Southern Air Transport, the Double-Check Corporation, Intermountain Aviation, and Zenith Technical Enterprises, Inc.

Since a number of the Cuban exile recruits already had some B-26 experience, the decision was made to acquire about twenty surplus B-26s out of USAF surplus stocks at Tucson, Arizona. These aircraft would be used to provide air support during the upcoming invasion. These Invaders were primarily solid-nosed B versions. These planes were "purchased" by the CIA front organization Intermountain Aviation and immediately sent to the launching sites in Guatemala and Nicaragua. Since Castro's air force was also equipped with Invaders, the exile Invaders were painted in FAR colors and were provided with fake FAR serial numbers in the hope that when the operation took place, it would be perceived as a strictly local uprising within Castro's own air force and not an American-led invasion. However, it seems that the CIA was unaware of the fact that most of Castro's Invaders were transparent-nosed B-26Cs rather than solid-nosed B-26Bs. At the same time, a group of B-26Bs had separately been provided to the air force of Guatemala, and these planes were used for training of the exile group.

The invasion began on the morning of April 15, with an attack by two exile B-26s on the Santiago de Cuba airfield. Other B-26s hit the Libertad airfield and the base at San Antonio de los Banos. One exile B-26 was shot down during the attack on Libertad, and two exile B-26s were damaged severely enough that they had to divert to emergency airfields at Key West, Florida and on Grand Cayman Island. As part of the deception campaign at the beginning of the attack, a Liberation Air Force B-26B painted as FAR serial number 933 and equipped with fake battle damage landed at Miami, claiming that it was a defecting Cuban aircraft which had strafed and bombed some of Castro's air force as it escaped.

Still other B-26s supported the Bay of Pigs invasion itself, which began on April 17. Unfortunately, there was no fighter cover provided during the invasion, and a group of FAR Sea Furies immediately attacked the landing fleet and sunk one of the ships. There was even a situation in which a FAR B-26 and an invasion B-26 briefly exchanged fire, marking one of the few occasions where Invaders actually fought against each other.

Actual invasion fleet B-26 losses were eight in all, one to AAA during the initial attack on Campo Columbia and the remainder destroyed by FAR fighters. Castro's force of T-33 jet trainers proved particularly effective during the fighting, shooting down no less than five of the attacking FAL B-26s. Two more were shot down by FAR Sea Furies. Deprived of air support that could have protected the attacking force from Castro's T-33s and Sea Furies, the invasion was quickly defeated and those troops unable to escape were forced to surrender. This was a humiliating defeat for the new Kennedy administration in Washington which had inherited the invasion plan from the previous administration but nevertheless had opted to go ahead with it.

After the failure of the Bay of Pigs operation and the withdrawal of the survivors, the remaining Liberation B-26s were left to languish at Puerto Cabezas. Many of these aircraft eventually joined the ranks of the Fuerza Aerea de Nicaragua, although some were apparently returned to Davis Monthan where they were put back into storage.

A single B-26B is on display in an open-air museum at Playa Giron to commemorate the Castro victory at the Bay of Pigs. It is pained as FAR serial number 933. However, this aircraft is probably a war prize returned to Cuba from Angola and painted to commemorate the events of 1961.

A Douglas Invader bomber used in the April 1961 Bay of Pigs Invasion was donated by Guatemala to a new Bay of Pigs museum in Hialeah Gardens in 2019


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  2. McDonnell Douglas Aircraft Since 1920: Volume I, Rene J. Francillon, Naval Institute Press, 1988.

  3. American Combat Planes, Third Enlarged Edition, Ray Wagner, Doubleday, 1982.

  4. Foreign Invaders--The Douglas Invader in Foreign Military and US Clandestine Service, Dan Hagendorn and Leif Hellstrom, Midland Publishing, 1994.

  5. E-mail from Vahe Demirjian on B-26 donated to new Bay of Pigs museum in Hialeah Gardens