[Book Review by Ken Jack: The new book, “One Minute to Midnight” by Michael Dobbs is a masterfully written account of the Cuban missile Crisis in October 1962. The book is written from the perspective of those who lived through the most dangerous Cold War encounter between the two nuclear super powers, Russia and the United States. It probes the power plays of the introduction of nuclear missiles in Cuba by Nikita Khrushchev and President Kennedy’s response that brought the world to the brink of nuclear war.
Being a veteran who served with the Navy photo reconnaissance squadron VFP-62 during that period, I had particular interest in reading the new material uncovered by Mr. Dobb’s investigative reporting. VFP-62 photo Crusaders flew the low-level photo missions over Cuba, gathering the intelligence needed to help President Kennedy forge a plan of action that avoided nuclear catastrophe. The discovery of nuclear capable cruise missiles, by VFP-62 photos, revealed new information on how they were to be used against Guantanamo Naval Base and invading U.S. forces. The use of tactical nuclear weapons was not considered by the Pentagon in the initial planning of the intended invasion of Cuba.
The book is spell binding with the fast moving anticipation of a Tom Clancy novel, although in this case, events are real. Mr. Dobbs gets into the minds of the decision makers and probes the many ways the crisis could have ended in a total nuclear annihilation for Cuba, the Soviet Union, and the United States. The accounting of the wayward U2 that strayed over the Soviet Union during the height of the crisis, the crash of a F-106 with a nuclear bomb on board, the shoot down of a U2 over Cuba, the lack of full control over the nuclear weapons, in Cuba, the Soviet Union, and the United States, is a chilling reminder of how close we came to a nuclear disaster. Defense Secretary, Robert McNamara, came to believe that only “luck” had prevented nuclear war over Cuba.]
After 46 years, many today believe that they know all that is necessary about the Cuban missile crisis. Through television documentaries such as, “Man, Moment, Machine”, or “DEFCON 2” by the History and Discovery Channels, or the movie “Thirteen Days”, the public is led to a superficial coverage of the most dangerous time in our nation’s history. Only a book such as this, written by a skilled writer, can provide that sense of conflict between the military and the civilian control over the use of nuclear weapons. The book provides the most chilling account of the indifference of the Generals and Fidel Castro to the eminent deaths and destruction of millions of lives. This is a must read that is relevant today as it was in 1962.
[Book Review by P.J. Smith, VFP-62 pilot]
A well researched and well written account of a near confrontation between nuclear powers which could have resulted in hundreds of thousands of casualties. I found the book hard to put down. It was an exciting read!
Fortunately the two leaders involved had experienced war an understood the potential results of a nuclear conflict.
Kruschev and his advisors had been "fretting" about the Jupiters in Turkey. It would seem to me that he did not give enough thought to this move. Although the "Bay of Pigs" fiasco must have given him some idea that he Kennedys would back off and accept the presence of Soviet missiles in Cuba. Major miscalculation!
I firmly believe that the "US of A" would have prevailed because of being better trained and having a far superior arsenal !
The book verified or negated the stories that many of us had heard over the years. The author seems to have utilized excellent sources to compose believable accounts.
I have other comments regarding the author's lack of familiarity with basic aircraft technology and jargon regarding aircraft, ships, submarines and personnel. They are minor and do not detract from the story.
Many roads and facilities had to be constructed in the months prior to discovery of the missiles in October, 1962! The tac nukes had to have been in place in Oriente Province and Pinar del Rio months earlier.
It was also noted that detailed geodesic surveys had never been conducted in Cuba. The Soviets needed to know elevation in order to accurately launch the R-12s. Consequently, a network of towers were constructed across Cuba. New roads also had to be built. These requirements could not have been constructed overnight.
The CIA had been observing new activities since as early as December, 1961 and probably even earlier.
[Webmaster's Note: P.J.'s reference below to his mission over cuba in early 1962, before the crisis, is also dealt with on our "Cuban Missile Crisis" Page.]
I am convinced that the photos of Bejucal taken in May, 1962 were the results of Skipper Winslow and my flights in May, 1962. I do not believe that the U2 photos from 72,000 feet ,even with 36" cameras would provide the resolution necessary to ID shock-proof bunkers, and other features mentioned. Even so CREST still did not recognize the facility as a warhead storage facility.
That entire mission "smelled " CIA in the way that it was conducted. Only the Skipper knew where we were going and what our targets were. As stated before I do not recall many details while over the target because I was tucked in pretty close to leader. I had begun to believe that we were going to land at Leeward Point but then we proceeded West down the middle of Cuba . I also wondered why we were photographing the middle of Cuba vice the coastline. I recall seeing a large city off to the right of our course. It had to have been Havana. I believe we were photographing new roads and facilities at lower altitudes that had been available from the U2s.
Film was always removed at Homestead. I did not know the Support personnel. Never saw the film again. No debrief but an admonition to not discuss or log the flight.
I also do not believe that CNO George Anderson was ever referred to as "Gorgeous George"! Adm Anderson was highly respected as one of the better Naval Officers who had served as CNO. The pejorative label belonged to now deceased Capt George Watkins. This Naval Aviator was as flamboyant as his CNO brother David was staid. Both were capable in their own way.
What is very scary about the story is the time required for Kennedy and Kruschev to exchange official communications!
It was probably good that SECDEF and others in Washington had not a clue as to what was transpiring on the "Quarantine" line!
Here is a report on the Seminar at the Smithsonian in DC on Thursday evening July 10.
I was very fortunate to participate in this event with Michael Dobbs, a Washington Post reporter, who conducted extensive research on the events of October 1962 and the Cuban Missile Crisis for his book “One Minute to Midnight: Kennedy, Khrushchev, and Castro on the Brink of Nuclear War”. Michael was able to obtain about 20 cans of film from the National Archives that are stored in what he described as a Gravel Pit in Kansas. The film included mostly work by our VFP-62 aircraft, but also some RF-101 and U-2 photography as well. Michael began the Seminar after introductions with about 45 minutes focused primarily on the flights and photography from VFP-62 aircraft. He displayed many photos of those flights that showed the missile sites, support equipment, and soviet personnel in the area. He was able to talk to Russian military personnel during his research as well as Cuban personnel to enhance his research. He had one photo provided to him by either a Russian or Cuban that showed the Soviet troops marching in civilian clothing. Had hoped to purchase one of his books after the Seminar, but was detained by Seminar attendees asking questions and when I got to the book sales area, they were all gone.
The next speaker was Dino Bruigioni a top CIA analyst at the time who studied the film and prepared briefings that his boss gave to President Kennedy. Dino spoke for about 30 minutes and provided an excellent insight into how his team was structured and how the briefings were prepared. He maintains a large collection of photos from this time period at his home in Northern Virginia. He does not allow media or others to take the photos out of his home, but does permit media and individuals to view and make photo copies at his home. Adam, I know you would like to meet him and see some of his collection. After Dino finished his presentation the three of us sat on the platform and Michael asked a few questions of me to get an idea of how the camera systems worked in the F8-U1P and my experience flying the perimeter at Gitmo in November. We then fielded questions from the audience for about 15 to 20 minutes.
The Seminar was at the Ripley Center which is about 50 feet underground and is a large bomb shelter that I did not realize existed there. I did not see the extent of the facility, but was told it extends completely across the Mall to the Northern side to Constitution Avenue. It was a memorable evening and I encourage the purchase of Michael Dobb’s book. Dino Bruigioni has written a book ["Eyeball to Eyeball" - webmaster] about these events, but I don’t recall the title of his book.
[Webmaster's Note: Jim is a retired Navy Capt. who flew VFP-62 missions over Gitmo. See our "Cuban Missile Crisis" page for a link to the story.]
Created on ... July 22, 2008