Cuban Missile Crisis

Reconnaissance photo of Soviet missiles in Cuba shown to John F. Kennedy on October 16, 1962
Reconnaissance photo of Soviet missiles in Cuba shown to John F. Kennedy on October 16, 1962

Historical Context

Of the many heart-stopping incidents in the Cold War, perhaps none was more frightening than the Cuban Missile Crisis. On the morning of October 16, 1962, the above photo was one of a set shown to US President John F. Kennedy, confirming that the Soviet Union had placed nuclear missiles in communist Cuba, 90 miles off the coast of Florida.

This kicked off thirteen extraordinary days of tension and brinkmanship between the two rivals. For days the Kennedy cabinet debated in private what to do about the situation, and on October 22, Kennedy went public with the crisis by announcing a 'quarantine' of Cuba - a carefully used word, since a blockade would technically be an act of war.

More tense moments passed. Soviet ships attempted to penetrate the blockade but turned back. A US spy plane was shot down over Cuba. Eventually, after a long period of talks, Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev agreed that the Soviets would withdraw the missiles in exchange for a public assurance the US would not invade Cuba, as well as a secret deal that America would remove its missiles in Italy and Turkey.

What most people don't know is just how close the situation came to nuclear war. During the crisis, the US Navy dropped practice depth charges on a Soviet submarine. Inside the sub, the commanders were unaware if a war had begun. It took three votes to launch a nuclear strike: only one of the three commanders, Vasili Arkhipov, voted not to retaliate with a strike, thereby preventing a nuclear war.

Photo Info


Photographer: US Air Force
Date taken: October 14, 1962
Location taken: San Cristobal, Cuba

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Related Events

  • 1962-10-16 Cuban Missile Crisis begins as JFK is shown photos confirming the presence of Soviet missiles in Cuba
  • 1962-10-22 Cuban Missile Crisis: US President John F. Kennedy addresses TV about Russian missile bases in Cuba and imposes a naval blockade on Cuba, beginning the missile crisis
  • 1962-10-24 Cuban Missile Crisis: Soviet ships approach but stop short of the US blockade of Cuba
  • 1962-10-27 Black Saturday during the Cuban Missile Crisis: An American spy plane is shot down over Cuba and the navy drops warning depth charges on Soviet submarines
  • 1962-10-28 Cuban Missile Crisis: US President JFK receives letter from Soviet Leaderr Khrushchev suggesting agreement

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