Bay of Pigs Invasion: Definition, Summary, Facts & Timeline

Bay of Pigs Invasion: Definition, Summary, Facts & Timeline
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  • 0:01 Definition
  • 0:25 The Cold War
  • 1:37 The Invasion
  • 2:21 Reasons for Failure
  • 4:12 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Explore the history and impact of the Bay of Pigs Invasion of Cuba, including its history and purpose. Examine the role of the CIA and the United States government in the invasion, as well as why it eventually failed to remove a socialist leader from power.


Contrary to its name, the Bay of Pigs Invasion did not involve processed pork. Instead, the Bay of Pigs Invasion was an attempt in 1961 by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) of the United States to overthrow Fidel Castro using Cuban exiles that had fled their country after he came to power. The invasion was a terrible failure that made the United States look really bad and strengthened the communist cause in Cuba.

The Cold War

After World War II, the United States and the Soviet Union emerged as the major world powers. Between 1947 and 1991 both engaged in an international struggle to convince smaller nations to become either capitalist or communist, known as the Cold War. In 1959, the socialist revolutionary Fidel Castro and his supporters overthrew the capitalist government of Fulgencio Batista, an ally of the United States.

When the new Cuban government nationalized American industries and drew closer to the U.S.S.R., President Dwight Eisenhower asked the CIA to remove Castro from power. In addition to assassination attempts on Castro's life, the CIA organized an invasion force made up of Cuban exiles to attack the island.

In the interests of making the invasion look more like a Cuban revolution and less like a United States coup, the CIA recruited and trained members of the Brigade 2506 in secret. When President John F. Kennedy was elected in 1960, he officially approved the invasion plans. With the support of the U.S. military, Cuban exiles that had fled the island when Castro came to power would enter the country through the Bay of Pigs.

The Invasion

To distract and mislead Castro's forces, the CIA and the Cuban exiles conducted air attacks, deception flights and false diversionary landings on the days leading up to the invasion. On April 17, 1961 1,400 ground troops equipped with American landing craft and weapons rolled onto the beach at the Bay of Pigs, located on Cuba's southern coast.

Transport planes dropped paratroopers and equipment from the sky. Unfortunately, Castro's forces greatly outnumbered the exiles and the invasion came to an unsuccessful end in three days. Over 100 Cuban exiles died and more than 1,000 were taken prisoner in the invasion. Four American pilots also died.

Reasons for Failure

There were several reasons why the Bay of Pigs Invasion failed. They included:

  • Lack of secrecy
  • Lack of U.S. air support
  • Pre-invasion military failures
  • Wrongful assumptions about the Cubans

The Bay of Pigs invasion came as no surprise to Fidel Castro and the Cuban government; they'd received advance warning from the Soviet government and security agency. Some American newspapers even leaked reports of the impending attack. What was supposed to be a secret landing became public when a frogman flashed a directional beacon at the landing force, thereby alerting the Cuban militia. Some of the exile's ships also became stranded or sank on coral reefs.

Between April 15 and April 16, the days leading up to the attack, the CIA failed to destroy or neutralize the Cuban Air Force. They also underestimated the capabilities of the Cuban Army, which made the landing forces more vulnerable. Air support on the day of the invasion was minimal; President Kennedy wanted to keep information about U.S. involvement to a minimum and offset negative world opinions about our country's role in the coup. As a result, he never ordered a second expected air strike.

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