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Surface-to-air missile site at La Coloma, Cuba. According to the caption on the photograph, it was taken during a reconnaissance flight on 10 November 1962.

Source: National Archives, Still Pictures Branch, Record Group 342-B, box 1401

The Pentagon during the Cuban Missile Crisis

Part II. Day-By-Day

According to the caption on the back of this photo: "At a meeting in the White House … President John F. Kennedy talks with members of Major Rudolph Anderson's reconnaissance team who uncovered the Soviet missile buildup in Cuba. Left to right: Col. Ralph D. Steakley, photo evaluator with Joint Chiefs of Staff; Lt. Col. Joe M. O'Brady, Huntington, ARK, and Major Richard B. Heyser, Apalochicola, Fla., reconnaissance pilots, and Gen. Curtis E. LeMay , USAF Chief of Staff. Brig. General Godfrey McHugh, Air Force Aide to the President, is shown in the background. November 1962." Steakley was actually a significant figure in the intelligence bureaucracy; he was director of the Joint Reconnaissance Center, which, according to a CIA history, was "a focal point for policy decisions on US reconnaissance missions. " During the crisis, President Kennedy did not want Steakley to be away from the telephone for more than three rings.

Source: National Archives, Still Pictures Branch, Record Group 342-B, box 571

Washington, DC, October 19, 2012 – Notes, office calendars, and daily journals from Pentagon top secret files published today for the first time by the National Security Archive show top civilian Pentagon officials and their military aides and advisers working around the clock during the Cuban Missile Crisis trying to ensure that military operations did not inadvertently spark a military confrontation with the Soviet Union. Declassified handwritten notes prepared by Deputy Secretary of Defense Roswell Gilpatric provide perspective on how top Pentagon officials viewed diplomatic options during the crisis. A supporter of less forceful military options, such as a blockade, on 18 October 1962 Gilpatric wrote about the possibility of a final agreement involving the removal of Soviet missiles from Cuba in exchange for dismantling U.S. Jupiter missiles in Turkey and Italy and even the possibility of negotiating a new status for the U.S. base in Guantanamo, most resented by the Cubans. In this respect, Gilpatric was ahead of the curve in supporting the type of settlement that would eventually occur.

For Gilpatric, the disadvantage of the air strike option against Soviet missile deployments was that it would involve more attacks to prevent replacement of the missiles, "landing on Cuba," and the deaths of Soviet technicians, which would force Khrushchev to "respond in kind" with Washington and Moscow becoming "militarily engaged directly," with "no sure way of limiting conflict."

According to daily journals prepared by Office of Secretary of Defense military aides, on 23 October 1962, President Kennedy was worried enough about the threat of an incident involving Soviet submarines that he called the Pentagon to prohibit "depth charge attacks" to force a submarine to surface. After speaking with Secretary of Defense McNamara, Kennedy modified the order to permit "'noise type' attacks" using practice depth charges that were unlikely to damage the submarines (but which Soviet submariners would find scary enough.)

The daily journals produced by McNamara's and Gilpatric's military assistants also disclose:

  • A hitherto unknown decision to postpone a Thor-Delta missile launch scheduled for 24 October from Cape Canaveral. Deputy Secretary of State U. Alexis Johnson objected to the launch, which would put the missile on a course toward the Soviet Union, because it would be during "one of the most sensitive periods in the present situation." Instead, the launch occurred on 27 October, probably the tensest day of the crisis!
  • Robert McNamara attempting to have a little fun with the Navy by questioning an admiral about the role of the U.S. Coast Guard in the blockade, whether the Navy had authority over the Coast Guard, under what "order" was the Coast Guard operating in the blockade area and whether the admiral knew that a Coast Guard ship had made the first intercept of the blockade. Gilpatric's notes confirm that the Coast Guard had intercepted a Greek freighter sailing off Key West during 24-25 October.
  • Calendar's detailing McNamara's and Gilpatric's daily schedules show them staying all night at the Pentagon during the week of the crisis so they would be on-the-job if the situation escalated.

Today's publication is compiled from a unique set of records at the National Archives created by the Office of Secretary of Defense--five cartons of "Sensitive Records on Cuba, The Cuban Missile Crisis"--which aggregate the Cuba files of McNamara, Gilpatric, and Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs Paul H. Nitze for the years 1961-1964. The collection includes McNamara's and Gilpatric's daily schedules during the missile crisis, showing who they met with and when, what meetings they went to, and who they spoke with over the telephone. It also includes daily journals produced by the military assistants of Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara and Deputy Secretary Roswell Gilpatric: Brigadier General George S. Brown (Air Force), Lt. Colonel Sidney B. Berry (Army), Col. Francis J. Roberts (Army), and Capt. William D. Houser (Navy). Each of them would record on an hour-by-hour basis, their activities, requests from their superiors and action taken to follow through on them, and brief notations concerning briefings and meetings and documents prepared and/or filed away.

Deputy Secretary of Defense Roswell Gilpatric, who played a key role in managing Pentagon operations during the crisis. Early in the crisis, he recognized the merits of a trade of U.S. Jupiter missiles in Turkey for Soviet missiles In Cuba and at the last stages of the crisis, was one of a handful of senior officials who knew that President Kennedy had secretly approved a trade.

Source: Courtesy of Historical Office, Office of Secretary of Defense

These documents usefully give a sense of policymaking and policy implementation at a key U.S. government agency. They show orders being given and received, the flow of important paperwork, the thinking of senior officials, and those same officials in action at important moments. Necessarily, these records give only a partial view-we don't know what who said what to whom at many of the events on McNamara's calendar, and major developments, such as the stray U-2 over Soviet territory, are not mentioned. All the same, when combined with other records, including declassified Pentagon files and the ExCom tapes, they help expand knowledge of behind-the-scenes developments at a crucial moment in U.S. history.

Recently the National Declassification Center at the National Archives listed the "Sensitive Records" collection as one of a number of recently-processed records. This was an error because the collection actually became available five years ago at the request of Michael Dobbs, author of the critically acclaimed study One Minute to MidnightL Kennedy, Khrushchev, and Castro on the Brink of Nuclear War. Unfortunately, at the time of the initial release hundreds of documents were withdrawn from the collection and the situation remains essentially the same. In 2006, Dobbs filed a mandatory declassification review request for some of the exempted documents, but so far the National Archives has declassified only a handful of them. Indeed, when he received an initial response to his request, the Archives, presumably at the behest of the Defense Department withheld most of the documents that Dobb had requested, including one that was released separately under the FOIA to the National Security Archive [See document 18], suggesting that the initial review for NARA was defective.

Also published today for the first time is a complete set of Deputy Secretary Gilpatric's handwritten notes from the crisis. While a number of the Gilpatric handwritten notes are classified in the collection at the National Archives, owing to a prior Freedom of Information request by the National Security Archive, all of them are available except for some mostly minor, but generally dubious, excisions (e.g., excisions of information relating to Jupiter missile deployments in Turkey).




More Pentagon Notes

In additon to Gilpatric, another ranking civilian at the Pentagon, Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs Paul H. Nitze, kept records of ExCom and other meetings during the crisis, also in the form of handwritten notes. His grandson, Nicholas Thompson, author of The Hawk and the Dove: Paul Nitze, George Kennan and the History of the Cold War (New York, 2009) has published the notes (with a link to a complete set of the notes) on-line at the New Yorker Web-site, under the title, "We Will All Fry."

Sources: Unless otherwise noted (FOIA release), the archival source for the documents is National Archives, Record Group 330, Records of the Department of Defense, "Sensitive Records on Cuba, The Cuban Missile Crisis", box 1:

A. McNamara and Gilpatric daily calendars: folders: "Black Book 4th drawer," "Cuba 381 1962 20 Oct-26 Oct," "Misc Papers Regarding Cuba 28 October-Nov 1962," and "Cuba 381 1962 (20 Oct-25 Oct)"

B. Gilpatric hand-written notes: folder "RLG Notes on Cuba pre-10-21-62,"

C. Daily journals: "Cuba Journal," "Folder 2 Misc Papers Regarding Cuba 28 October-Nov 1962," and "Cuba 381 1962 (20 Oct-25 Oct)"

D. Navy materials ("Entries of Significant Events," CNO "Office Logs," etc. from U.S. Navy Operational Archives; copies donated by Michael Dobbs)


9 October 1962


Document 1: Gilpatric notes, "10/9/62 meeting with Pres on Cuban reconnaissance," Top Secret, FOIA release

The first item in a file of handwritten notes by Deputy Secretary of Defense Gilpatric covers a White House meeting on 9 October 1962 to approve U-2 reconnaissance flights over Cuba to verify reports that the Soviets were deploying missiles in an "area of concern" in western Cuba. Owing to concerns about an incident, Secretary of State Dean Rusk and national security adviser McGeorge Bundy had barred U-2 flights directly over Cuban territory since 10 September. Reports from Cuban observers of Soviet missiles and indirect and direct pressure from CIA and DIA led to White House decision to reverse the ban. The White House deferred a program of low-level flights and plans to use drones and peripheral flights were in the works. [1]


15 October 1962


Document 2: Secretary's Calendar, 15 October 1962

Even before photo interpreters had identified Soviet MRBMs in the previous day's U-2 photographs, at the close of the afternoon, 15 October 1962 McNamara and the Joint Chiefs of Staff were preoccupied with Cuba. According to declassified JCS notes, they discussed contingency plans for military action against Cuba, including Oplans 314 and 316 for an invasion of Cuban (smaller scale and full scale).[2]


16 October 1962


Documents 3A-B

A: Secretary's Calendar. 16 October 1962

B: Gilpatric notes, "10/15 [Sic] at White House," Top Secret

The news that a Strategic Air Command U-2 had taken photos of missile sites in Cuba began to reach top officials in Washington on the evening of 15 October. Before McNamara and Gilpatric went to the White House for the first NSC Executive Committee [Excom] meeting, they met to discuss the discovery with JCS Chairman Maxwell Taylor and top intelligence officials, including CIA deputy director Marshall Carter and CIA director of science and technology Herbert Scoville, DIA director General Joseph Carroll, and Colonel Ralph Steakley, director of the Joint Reconnaissance Center (JRC).

Gilpatric's notes on the ExCom meetings were typically sparse, [3] focusing mainly on follow-up actions for the Defense Department, in this instance reconnaissance flights and the preparations of military plans, ranging from a blockade to an invasion of Cuba. At the bottom of the page, he suggested that politics ought to be in command: "no direct military action, unless dictated by political considerations." What appears to have been especially important for Gilpatric was the possibility that a U.S. military response to a Soviet action might lose the support of U.S. allies. As he wrote, the risk was that "NATO and other allies might not join."


17 October 1962


According to the caption: "Firepower demonstration for President John F. Kennedy at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., 4 May 1962. Here Pres. Kennedy is greeted by Dept. of Defense dignitaries upon his arrival … Left to right: Hon. Roswell L. Gilpatric, Deputy Secretary of Defense; Hon. Eugene Zuckert, Secretary of Air Force; Gen. Curtis E. LeMay, USAF Chief of Staff; Gen. Walter C. Sweeney, Commander Tactical Air Command, and Maj. Gen. Robert H. Warren, Commander, Air Force Proving Ground AFSC [Air Force Systems Command]." During the missile crisis, Sweeney briefed President Kennedy and Secretary of Defense McNamara on the plans to use tactical aircraft to bomb missile sites in Cuba.

Documents 4A-C:

A: Secretary's Calendar, 17 October 1962

B: Duty Officers Journal, 17 October 1962

C. Gilpatric notes, "10/17/62 RLG's Preferred Course of Action," Top Secret

D. Gilpatric notes, "Rusk 10/17/62," Top Secret, FOIA release

As McNamara's calendar demonstrates, he and Gilpatric attended two meetings at the State Department. Gilpatric's notes are confined to Rusk's presentation in favor of plan 1, for an air attack on the missile site, after informing "key allies", and preparing for Soviet counteraction against allies ("Turkey" has been excised from the document, a good example of silly secrecy). [4] But what Gilpatric paid most attention to were the arguments in favor of the blockade option, which he reported to military aides Colonel Francis Roberts and Captain William Houser, had the "cloak of legality" and could be carried out "without generating extreme Russian reaction." Supporting the blockade option put Gilpatric in opposition to the JCS's support for an early air strike.

Gilpatric's notes on a "preferred course of action" showed that he initially favored a militant version of the blockade approach, which would begin with messages to Castro and Khrushchev protesting the missile deployments. In the absence of "satisfactory" responses, the U.S. would declare war against Cuba, and initiate a blockade, with other diplomatic action to follow. This hard-line approach differentiated itself from the ultra-tough line taken by JCS in favor of air strikes or an invasion.


18 October 1962


Documents 5A-C:

A. Secretary's Calendar, 18 October 1962

B. Gilpatric notes, "White House 10/18/62," Top Secret, FOIA release

C. Gilpatric notes, "10/18/62 Alternative Courses of Action on Cuba," Top Secret

D. Gilpatric notes, "10/18/62 [date covered by declassification stamp] U.S. Air Strike Course of Action," Top Secret

E. Gilpatric notes, n.d. [circa 10/18/62], "U.S. Blockade Course of Action," Top Secret

Robert McNamara's workday included a meeting with Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy and lunch with Gilpatric, no doubt focusing on political and military strategy. An ExCom meeting later in the morning led Gilpatric to itemize tasks for key agencies and individuals, for example, Robert Kennedy looking into "state of war issues", State exploring approaches to Castro and Khrushchev, and CIA and Defense reviewing surveillance issues, and Theodore Sorenson drafting the President's statement. While an airstrike was gaining support at the ExCom, there was general agreement that military and diplomatic options had to be thoroughly reviewed. Sometime during the day, Gilpatric considered the pros and cons of political (diplomatic) approaches, an air strike against the missiles, and a "declaration of war accompanied by a full blockade." While his preference was for the blockade route, he could see significant advantages and disadvantages for any of the possibilities, e.g., a political approach could give Khruschev "a way out" and would have NATO's support, but could make later action more difficult, while an air strike could not be taken as an isolated measure and Soviet advisers would be killed, thus making it hard to limit conflict.

On two separate pages, Gilpatric showed that he was thinking through the two options before the ExCom, a blockade (without declaration of war) or an airstrike, both of which would begin with a 24-hour ultimatum, with the airstrike followed by a blockade and anticipated Soviet action against U.S. Jupiter missile bases in Turkey. Showing that he was ahead of the curve on the possibility of a trade, Gilpatric envisioned the blockade approach culminating in an agreement to "dismantle" US missiles in Turkey and Soviet missiles in Cuba. This was a point that McNamara would make at the White House that same day, when he suggested that the Jupiter missiles in Turkey and Italy were a "minimum price" for getting Soviet missiles out of Cuba. [5]


19 October 1962


Documents 6A-D

A. Secretary's Calendar, 19 October 1962

B. Duty Officers Journal, Capt. William D. Houser

C. Gilpatric notes, "10/19/62 [Interagency meeting at State Department], Top Secret, FOIA release

D. "Friday, 19 October 1962", unattributed diary entry from Office of Chief of Naval Operations, Top Secert

McNamara's calendar included a meeting with journalist Stewart Alsop and Pentagon press chief Arthur Sylvester, which raises the question, why McNamara was taking time out during an intense crisis to meet even with the most well-connected journalist. It is possible that the interview had been scheduled before the crisis and perhaps McNamara thought it better to meet with Alsop than invite suspicions by cancelling or postponing it. [6]

An ExCom meeting was followed by a session at the State Department. At the ExCom, President Kennedy was under strong pressure from the Joint Chiefs of Staff for military action, but a follow-up meeting, at the State Department, showed growing support for a blockade or a "defensive quarantine." Gilpatric took notes on some points made in the discussion. The Duty Officer's Journal shows Gilpatric seeking answers from the Joint Chiefs to a number of questions (See Part I, Document 5), which were specified in a document in Part II of this posting concerning anti-riot control measures by Latin American governments, the role of Latin America in the blockade, blockade procedures, and the possibility of action by Alpha 66 anti-Castro activities that could make the blockade look "much more stringent." As the questions were being answered, a large evening meeting looked closely at blockade procedures. According to a Navy record of the post-meeting discussion, Secretary of the Navy Fred Korth "sided wholeheartedly" with CNO Anderson who believed that a blockade" was not in the U.S.'s "best interests."


20 October 1962


Medium-range ballistic missile site at San Cristobal. According to the caption, "During an interim three-day period the launch area is nearing completion with two prepared launch positions and other missile construction activities evident. Two missile erectors, missile trailers, and other vehicles are visible in the area. The site is marked by much more vehicle trackage, and intensive activity is apparent." According to the caption the photograph was taken during a reconnaissance flight on 17 October 1962

Source: National Archives, Still Pictures Branch, Record Group 342-B, box 1401

Documents 7A-E

A. Secretary's Calendar, 20 October 1962

B. Duty Officers Journal, 20 October 1962, Capt. William D. Houser

C. Gilpatric notes, "10/20/62 White House." Top Secret, FOIA release

D. Gilpatric notes "10/20/62 Assignments," Top Secret

E. Gilpatric notes, "10/20/62 Reasons RLG Favors Blockade," Top Secret

That Saturday McNamara and Gilpatric attended more meetings at the White House and the State Department, which showed a consensus forming among the civilians for the blockade option. Gilpatric's notes for the day include more on follow-up action and division of responsibilities, e.g. CNO George Anderson's office was to be the blockade "headquarters." Another example of silly secrecy: the Defense Department has excised from Gilpatric's notes that Assistant Secretary of Defense Paul Nitze was assigned to "study the problems arising out of the withdrawal of missiles from Italy and Turkey." (The State Department's published and declassified record of the ExCom meeting fully accounts for Nitze's assignment http://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1961-63v11/d34).

Consistent with the emerging consensus on a blockade, Houser's journal shows more preparations, with apparently some dissatisfaction with the answers from the Navy. In the meantime, Gilpatric had become a strong supporter of the blockade option which he saw as most likely to lead to negotiations and "peaceful settlement," do the "least damage" to U.S. alliances, and involve the "lowest price" for getting Soviet missiles out of Cuba, such as "withdrawal of Jupiters" and perhaps even a status change for Gitmo. All the same, he saw disadvantages because the blockade was a "prolonged, difficult course of action," could give the "appearance of US lack of determination," and not "necessarily lead to downfall" of Castro.


21 October 1962


Documents 8A-C

A. Secretary's Calendar, 21 October 1962

B. Duty Officers Journal, 21 October 1962: Capt. William D. Houser, Col. Francis J. Roberts, and Lt. Col. Sidney B. Berry

C. Gilpatric notes, "[6 [sic]/21/62 Questions open," Top Secret, excised copy, FOIA release

McNamara went to the White House twice, once with General Taylor and Commander-in-Chief Tactical Air Forces Walter Sweeny for a briefing to Kennedy on the air strike option, which McNamara wanted to defer. Later McNamara and Gilpatric went to the White House for an ExCom meeting which involved discussions of the President's speech for Monday night, blockade procedures, the feasibility of talks with Khrushchev, and the timing of such actions as air strikes and an invasion of Cuba. [7] The duty officers notes show the wide variety of support activities that took place, including DIA briefings to McNamara and Gilpatric, a tour of the Navy's "special intelligence spaces" at Flag Plot for McNamara's and Gilpatric's military assistants, and Nitze following up on Kennedy's instructions on Jupiter missiles. Gilpatric showed special interest in insuring that an attack on Cuba involved a "stage of escalation," perhaps to avoid the dangers of precipitate action. Gilpatric's notes concern more issues that had to be resolved, such as blockade timing, reinforcement of Guantanamo, "clandestine actions v. Castro regime," and JCS instructions to commanders, which apparently involved a discussion whether to impose a Defense Condition [Defcon] 2 or 3 readiness posture (Defcon 2 was close to war). Another task was to make sure that the Joint Staff followed up on Gilpatric's request for "rules of engagement" for the blockade [See Part I, Document 7].


22 October 1962


Documents 9A-E

A. Secretary's Calendar 22 October 1962

B. Deputy Secretary's Calendar 22 October 1962

C. Duty Officers Journal, 22 October 1962: Captain William D. Houser, Col. Francis J. Roberts, and Brig. General George S. Brown

D. Gilpatric notes, "Notes for 10/22/62 Staff Meeting [9:30 a.m.]", Top Secret, FOIA release

E. Gilpatric notes, "10/22/62 JCS." Top Secret, excised copy, FOIA release

F. Gilpatric notes, "10/22/62 White House," Top Secret, excised copy, FOIA release

With President Kennedy scheduled to give a television address on the Soviet missiles in Cuba and the U.S. quarantine, McNamara's and Gilpatric's calendars show a hectic day, with a Congressional briefing at the White House and meetings with the Joint Chiefs, with staff, and with the media (after the President's speech). Wanting to stay plugged in, McNamara had stayed overnight in the Pentagon and he would do so the rest of the week. Gilpatric's calendar shows a query from Gerald Johnson, McNamara's assistant on nuclear weapons issues, whether U.S. and Allied "QRA" (quick-release alert) aircraft NATO Europe should be loaded with "two-stage weapons" (hydrogen bombs). In keeping with White House policy to minimize overly risky action, Gilpatric replied in the negative, but the Joint Chiefs of Staff soon successfully appealed the decision. [8]

That morning, Gilpatric held a special staff meeting, apparently clueing them in (not everyone on his staff may have been in the loop) on the discovery of the Soviet missile deployments and the decisions made by President Kennedy. Notes on his and McNamara's afternoon meeting with the Joint Chiefs indicate plans to brief military attaches of foreign embassies and the NATO Military Committee (by U.S. Military Representative General Clark Ruffner), "generation" of alert forces by SAC, and the movement of the 12th Armored Division from Fort Hood to Fort Stewart, GA, and reactions to the "detonation" of any Cuban-based nuclear weapons on U.S. soil. The excisions in these notes are probably President Kennedy's instructions to the Pentagon for tight controls over Jupiter missiles in Italy and Turkey to ensure that they were not launched, even if attacked. According to the notes of JCS meetings, "the President wants a message sent to USCINCEUR, saying in effect, make sure the Jupiter warheads in Turkey and Italy are not released if missiles come under attack, and if they are in danger of being taken by our angry allies, destroy them." [9]

Gilpatric's notes on the tense White House meeting with Congressional leaders, where Kennedy had to face hostile comments from Senator Richard Russell (D-Ga), echo the transcripts and summaries of the tapes, e.g. what to do if a U-2 is shot down, the pros and cons of an air strike, why action wasn't taken earlier, and why stronger action than a blockade had not been taken. An excision clearly refers to Jupiter missile deployments in Turkey, a matter which Pentagon FOIA reviewers still believe to be an official secret. [10]

The duty officer's journals shed light on the day's preoccupations, for example, chartering ships for a possible invasion force, monitoring flights by Soviet TU-114s to Cuba (possibly carrying nuclear warheads), [11] and fine-tuning by McNamara and General Counsel John McNaughton of blockade instructions to Naval commanders (to be sure they were "air tight"). After meeting with Anderson at the CNO's office at 10:40, McNamara visited Flag Plot at 11 p.m., where he laid down "requirements" for tracking Soviet flights to Cuba and ship intercepts. Also of note, McNamara asked Pentagon comptroller Charles Hitch to keep track of spending on the Cuban crisis. That he did, and in January 1963, Hitch provided a full account of what the Missile Crisis cost the Pentagon directly [See Part I, Document 42B].


23 October 1962 Tuesday


Documents 10A-E

A. Secretary's Calendar 23 October 1962

B. Deputy Secretary's Calendar, 23 October 1962

C. Duty Officers Journal, 23 October 1962: Captain William D. Houser, Col. Francis J. Roberts, Brig. General George S. Brown, and Lt. Col. Sidney B. Berry

D. Gilpatric notes, "10/23/62 White House (6 p.m.), Top Secret, FOIA release

E. Gilpatric notes, "10/23/62 NSC-ExecCom," Top Secret, FOIA release

F. "Entries of Significant Events, 23 October 1962 (Admiral Ricketts), Top Secret"

McNamara's calendar shows more ExCom meetings and a number of phone calls with Joseph Charyk, the first director of the then highly-secret National Reconnaissance Office (NR0). Again, McNamara stayed overnight at the Pentagon. The ExCom discussed the quarantine, extending tours of Navy personnel on active duty, procedures in event of U-2 shootdown, chartering of invasion ships, possible call-up of reserves and the quarantine proclamation. Concern that the Soviets might challenge the blockade led to detailed discussion of worst case scenarios. With President Kennedy worried that a "real fight" could break out if the Navy intercepted a Soviet ship which then refused to let the U.S. inspect its cargo, McNamara was instructed to closely review all instructions to naval forces involved in the quarantine to avoid a needless and dangerous clash. [12] Gilpatric's notes provide a rough outline of the major issues discussed.

The Duty officers' journal show a hitherto unknown decision to postpone a Thor-Delta missile scheduled for launch on 24 October from Cape Canaveral, because Deputy Secretary of State U. Alexis Johnson believed that the launch, which would put the missile on a course toward the Soviet Union, would be during "one of the most sensitive periods in the present situation." Also described in the Journal is Gilpatric's setting up a meeting at Flag Plot involving Secretary McNamara and CNO Anderson. Gilpatric was concerned about the "exact methods" that would be used to conduct the the first intercept of a Soviet ship not be of a "baby food ship"--a reference to language used by Dean Rusk earlier in the ExCom [13] --but one that "we highly suspected … carried quarantined materials," such as missiles and related military equipment.

The Flag Plot briefing, which took place about 8:15 p.m., led to the famous argument between Anderson and McNamara over the conduct of the quarantine, especially whether the Navy should follow customary procedures and try to board, or even attack, ships that did not cooperate. [14] The journals also include evidence on President Kennedy's interest in the Navy's tracking of Soviet submarines; while he initially prohibited "depth charge attacks" to induce a submarine to surface, after speaking with McNamara he modified the order to permit "'noise type' attacks" (using practice depth charges) that were unlikely to cause damage. Nevertheless, in view of the incident involving Soviet submarine B-59 on 27 October 1962, Kennedy correctly remained apprehensive that even practice depth charges might involve too much risk. [15]

Colonel Berry's and General Brown's journals cover a key development--the issuance and dissemination of President Kennedy's quarantine proclamation-as well as confirmation that President Kennedy's instructions for tight control over Jupiter missiles had been sent to the European Command and acknowledged. Brown's journal disclose McNamara's interest in finding out the "bookkeeping costs" of the Missile Crisis and a query about the status of alert aircraft that would be used if an order went out to destroy the missile sites.

"Entries" prepared by Vice CNO Claude Ricketts detailed plans for a submarine reconnaissance of prospective landing beaches" for an invasion of Cuba and McNamara's strong interest in a system to induce submerged Soviet submarines to surface, with Ricketts suggesting "practice depth charges" as the "most practical and effective means of transmitting such a signal." Ricketts also recorded information on President Kennedy's conversations with McNamara (for information on invasion readiness) and with Prime Minister Macmillan, who asked why "he didn't go all the way and send in troops" to Cuba.


24 October 1962


Documents 11A-E

A. Secretary's Calendar, 24 October 1962

B. Deputy Secretary's Calendar, 24 October 1962

C. Duty Officers Journal, 24 October 1962: Captain William D. Houser, Col. Francis J. Roberts, and Brig. Gen. George S. Brown

D. Gilpatric notes, "10/24/62 9 a.m.," Top Secret

E. Gilpatric notes, "10/24/62 White House," Top Secret

F. Gilpatric notes, "10/24 9:45 pm., [bottom half of page], Top Secret, FOIA release

G. "24 October 1962 - A.M. (VADM Griffin," "24 October 1962 (VADM Sharp)," and "24 October 1962 P.M. (ADM Ricketts),"Top Secret

H. "Office Log 24 October 1962," Top Secret

McNamara calendar's shows another sleep-over at the Pentagon as well as 3 visits to Flag Plot, including one late in the evening which is detailed in the journal of Col. Francis J. Roberts. The blockade of Cuba went into effect at 10 a.m. that morning so McNamara and Gilpatric closely monitored the locations of Soviet ships and submarines. The ExCom discussions for that day showed ongoing concern about the possibility of clashes at sea so information from Flag Plot was of central importance. At 9 a.m., McNamara and Gilpatric received their first briefing; a Soviet submarine was near the U.S. naval barrier, while several ships were approaching it. That same morning, U.S. intelligence picked up signs that the Soviet ships were stopping or turning around and the intelligence was confirmed during the mid-day. Avoiding the risks of an "eyeball to eyeball" confrontation, Khrushchev had decided to observe the U.S. blockade. Just as anxious to avoid an incident at sea, Kennedy sent out orders to give any suspect ship an opportunity to turn around without interference.

McNamara and Gilpatric and their assistant Colonel Roberts continued to visit Flag Plot in part to ensure that incidents were avoided but also to keep track of efforts to monitor the Soviet submarines. Moreover, although the Soviet ships suspected of carrying missile-related and other military equipment had turned around, the Soviet tanker Bucharest continued to sail towards Cuba. The last Flag Plot visit of the day was at 9:45 p.m.; Roberts' notes compressed a more complex discussion where McNamara required the intercepting ships to call the CNO--who would in turn contact McNamara--if they had made contact with a Soviet ship before taking any action like boarding. [16]

McNamara may have attempted to have a little fun with the Navy by interrogating an admiral about the role of the U.S. Coast Guard, whether the Navy had authority over the Coast Guard, under what "order" the Coast Guard was operating in the blockade area, and whether the admiral knew that a Coast Guard ship had made the first intercept of the blockade. This point is further explained in Gilpatric's notes which indicate that the Coast Guard had intercepted a Greek freighter off the Florida Keys (probably the Sirus). The notes also give more detail, although a bit fuzzily, about other conversations at Flag Plot: to minimize the possibility of a clash, McNamara or Gilpatric formulated blockade procedures for CINCLANT Dennison to follow the next day: to "go close aboard [?] look over deck cargo, hail & ask destination (not board)." According to the Duty Officers journal, McNamara's language to Admiral Ricketts indicated uncertainty about "what to do": that he did not want to "let [Khrushchev] retreat too long" reflected the dilemma then faced by Kennedy and his advisers. While the blockade was an effective signal, the Soviets had kept working on the missile sites and were preparing what was thought to be a storage area for nuclear weapons. [17]

Entries by Admirals Griffin, Sharp, and Ricketts and the Flag Plot "Office Log" provide detail on the reaction to the news that Soviet ships were turning around, the Intelligence Plot briefings for Secretary McNamara, the assignment of "special reconnaissance gear" to B-50s that would be tracking Soviet ships in the Atlantic, and a message to "all countries" on procedures that would be used to signal submerged Soviet submarines. At one point during the day President Kennedy imposed such tight control over the intelligence on the course change of the ships that a captain would not tell anything to Admiral John S. McCain, Chief of Naval Information, who was probably getting requests from the media (see document 11H)


25 October 1962


Documents 12A-E

A. Secretary's Calendar, 25 October 1962

B. Deputy Secretary's Calendar, 25 October 1962

C. Duty Officers Journal, 25 October 1962: Captain William D. Houser and Col. Francis J. Roberts

D. Gilpatric notes, "10/25/62 White House," Top Secret, FOIA release

E. Gilpatric notes, "Action for 10/25/62," Top Secret, FOIA release

F. Gilpatric notes, "Take-up at NSC 10/25/62," Top Secret, FOIA release

G. "25 October 1962 (1100) (Admiral Ricketts)," Top Secret

H. "Office Log 25 Oct," Top Secret

Before the White House meeting, McNamara was considering escalatory moves, "if we choose to do so." He asked the Navy to come up with plans and then he asked his Army assistant, Col. Roberts for information on the status of "Lazy Dog," a plan to use non-explosive pellets to wreck the Soviet missile deployments. [18] As these discussions occurred, the U.S.S. Gearing intercepted a Soviet tanker, the Bucharest at 7:15 am. While the Gearing did not board the Soviet ship, it continued to monitor it all day. Before they went to the ExCom meeting, [19] McNamara and Gilpatric instructed Captain Houser to have the Navy establish a capability to board a non-Soviet ship that day and then a Soviet ship later.

With the Soviets continuing to ready the missile sites, Kennedy and the ExCom ordered a program of low-altitude reconnaissance flights, partly to monitor the activities, but also to provide cover in the event that Kenned approved a raid on the missiles. The ExCom inconclusively discussed the pros and cons of boarding a ship like the Bucharest as well as the possibility of escalating the blockade, which led to an order from McNamara and Gilpatric to Houser and Admiral William Lee for a study. That led to a proposal to expanding the blockade by including jet fuel or missile fuel among other measures. Moreover, Gilpatric called Vice CNO Ricketts with orders not to "stop or harass" the Bucharest, but to "stop and board" a non-bloc tanker, and make preparations for stopping the Grozny the next day. The Navy "Office Log" elucidates the plans for stopping a non-bloc tanker as well the "political" considerations that shaped the decision on the Bucharest: because the Soviets had "backed off, it was decided not to push matters." Also on the plate for the military assistants was whether to approve a plan to hold the Thor-Delta satellite launch, "Project ANNA," the next day (as it turned out, the launch took place on Saturday, 27 October [20] (not a great decision given the tensions of that day).

Gilpatric's notes on "Take-up at NSC" include a reference to the "two-stage weapons [hydrogen bombs] on QRA in Europe," which the Joint Chiefs wanted up-loaded on alert aircraft in NATO Europe. This is a reference to President Kennedy's National Security Action Memorandum (NSAM) 199, issued on 25 October 1962, authorizing U.S. commanders in NATO Europe to up-load the weapons. [21]


26 October 1962


Documents 13A-E

A. Secretary's Calendar, 26 October 1962

B. Deputy Secretary's Calendar, 26 October 1962

C. Duty Officers Journal, 26 October 1962: Col. Francis J. Roberts

D. Gilpatric notes, "10/26/62 White House," Top Secret,

E. Gilpatric notes, "10/262/62 White House," Top Secret

F. "26 October 1962 (2300) (VADM Sharp," including entries for 27 and 28 October, Top Secret

G. "Office Log 26 October," Top Secret

Gilpatric's notes on the ExCom discussions include several lines on UN diplomacy, including Secretary General U Thant's proposals and U.S. Ambassador Adlai Stevenson's discussion of his "stand-still" proposal, involving a stand down of work on the missile sites, no Soviet ships to Cuba carrying arms, and a suspension of the blockade. To make sure that the missiles would be "inoperable", for "long term negotiations," Stevenson proposed a no-invasion pledge, giving up bases in Italy and Turkey, and a nuclear-free zone in Africa and Latin America. The word "inoperable" was the crux of the generally hostile reception that Stevenson's presentation received at the ExCom; nobody favored a standstill because the missiles were becoming more and more "operable. The ExCom discussions motivated Kennedy to make the point that because quarantine would not get the missiles out, there were only two ways to do so: "negotiate them out", e.g., with a trade of Jupiter missiles in Turkey, or "go in and take them out." [22] The possibility of a trade of U.S. Jupiters for Soviet missiles in Cuba was, as far as Gilpatric was concerned, a legitimate option, although probably out of deference to McNamara, he did not argue the point.

Gilpatric's notes on diplomatic activities refer to Brazil's proposal for a Latin American nuclear free zone and the U.S. efforts to work with Brazil as a mediator by sending a message to Fidel Castro through the Brazilian government. The ExCom approved the message although Gilpatric saw it as a "political problem" because it might tip the "US hand on blockade escalation." This might have been a reference to an earlier draft that threatened to include POL in the blockade which could have had a significant impact on the Cuban economy. [23]

A briefing paper attached to Gilpatric's notes addressed the problem of what it would take to verify Soviet actions to render missiles and bombers (IL-28s) "inoperable" by moving them from their operating bases and them removing them from Cuba or by destroying them (see Document 13D). The key point was to facilitate photographic observation as the chief means of verification.

The management of the blockade continued to pose problems. Gilpatric's second set of notes for 26 October lists the ships that had been inspected, were on their way to the quarantine lines, or were of concern because they were submarines. The Bucharest is not mentioned because it had already reached Havana; the ExCom had decided that an attempt at inspection would look like U.S. indecision. Instead, McNamara ordered the boarding of a non-Soviet bloc ship, the Soviet-charted Lebanese freighter Marucla, which took place that morning without incident. Other ships being monitored included an East German passenger ship, the Völkerfreundschaft (which was not a good candidate for inspection), a Soviet freighter, the Grozny; the Belovdsk, carrying helicopters, and two tankers, the Mir and the Karl Marx.

Admiral Sharp's diary entry includes more details on tracking those ships, with even more information in the "Office Log" for that day, which cited President Kennedy's objections "to the amount of information the press was getting" on ships positions, leading Flag Plot to "log in" visitors who were "not Navy or 'in the family.'" The Office Log reflected some uncertainty about reports on Soviet submarines, whether they had actually surfaced at one point or the other

Colonel Roberts' journal for the day has an entry concerning the U.S.S. Oxford, which housed a National Security Agency listening post The ExCom discussed whether to move it in closer to Cuba and if there was a risk of capture. At the Pentagon, CNO Anderson decided to move the ship in closer because with Cuban ships and aircraft "standing down" the risk of attack was low.


27 October 1962

Documents 14A-E

A. Secretary's Calendar, 27 October 1962

B. Deputy Secretary's Calendar, 27 October 1962

C. Duty Officers Journal, 27 October 1962: Col. Francis J. Roberts

D. Gilpatric notes, "10/27/62 White House 9 PM," Top Secret, FOIA release

E. "Office Log for October 27," Top Secret

F. "Opnav [Chief of Naval Operations] 24 Hour Resume of Events 270000 to 280000," with "Intercept Items of Immediate Interest," and "Items of Significant Items [sic]," attached, n.d., Top Secret

Gilpatric's notes and the duty officers' journals are thin for 27 October, "Black Saturday," perhaps the most nerve-racking day of the crisis, although it concluded with action to resolve it peacefully. Thus, as their calendars indicate McNamara and Gilpatric spent another night at the Pentagon.

Colonel Robert's notes, prepared in the middle of the night and early in the morning, focus on the scheduling of maritime patrol aircraft, P2Vs and P3Vs, to monitor Soviet ships that were slated to approach the quarantine line. The Grozny was the closest and at 7:00 a.m., McNamara instructed the Navy to avoid contacting it "in light of the situation existing at this time." While the ExCom had discussed the possibility of intercepting and boarding the Grozny, the Navy would keep out of sight and only make radar contact with it. [24] While dangerous incidents would occur that day-such as the shoot down of a U-2 over Cuba and the accidental flight of a U-2 into the Soviet Union (from Alaska)-they had not yet happened. All the same, the "situation" was so tense, with no resolution in sight and with pressure increasing for an invasion and an attack on the missiles sites and McNamara did not want to risk an incident.

The Flag Plot "Office Log" for that day cites the state of suspense over the U-2, first that it was "overdue" and then the report on an "attack incident," which prompted discussion of the "Shoe Black" contingency plans for "discriminatory retaliation." A report in the "Office Log" of a thwarted attempt by an unidentified "swimmer" to attach a limpid mine to a ship in a Cuban harbor suggested that sabotage operations against Cuban resources were still underway. While the "Office Log" does not mention submarine incidents, an "Opnav" chronology, probably prepared by Flag Plot, mentioned several contacts, along with more detail on sightings of Soviet ships, reconnaissance flights, McNamara's redefinition of the "interception area" for the quarantine, and JCS instructions on reaction times for air strikes and an invasion.

Gilpatric's notes provide a rough outline of the third ExCom meeting that day, mainly on action to be taken the next day, from calling up Air Force Reserves and more low-level surveillance although Gilpatric incorrectly suggests that a decision had been made to "hit MIGs if they attack." Also on the agenda was "stopping the Grozny" and the possibility of extending the blockade to POL, among other actions. The notes do not hint at the highly sensitive ExCom discussions of the pros and cons of the Jupiter missile trade, much less the decisions secretly made by President Kennedy and a small group of advisers (including Gilpatric) to include the Jupiters in a secret deal to settle the crisis. Nor do they mention that the President asked Gilpatric with JCS and State Department officials to investigate a "scenario" for early withdrawal of the Jupiters. Gilpatric was in these sensitive positions because Kennedy had confidence in him, even though he had objected to a trade involving the Jupiters on the grounds that the "missile threat is growing in Cuba."[25]


28 October 1962


Documents 15A-C

A. Secretary's Calendar, 28 October 1962

B. Deputy Secretary's Calendar, 28 October 1962

C. Gilpatric notes, "10/28/62 White House 9 PM," Top Secret

D. [Opnav] "28000 Sitsum and Movements," Top Secret

E. "Office Log for 28 October 1962," Top Secret

The next morning the Grozny stopped sailing toward the quarantine line [26] , a sign that Khrushchev had accepted the U.S. proposals and that the crisis over the missiles was ending. The evening of 28 October both McNamara and Gilpatric would leave their offices for home. Gilpatric's notes on Kennedy's reply to Khrushchev's letter indicate elements of the settlement, including "dismantling weapons," noninvasion pledge ("no attack on Cuba issue"), verification by the UN, and future discussions of disarmament and NATO-Warsaw Pact issues. Gilpatric's language about the "definition of offensive weapons" was an indirect reference to the problem of the IL-28 bombers whose withdrawal would prove to be a vexing issue during November. As the notes indicate, until the missiles were on their way out, the U.S. quarantine would continue. Surveillance, however, would temporarily stop-"no U.S. flights today," while future reconnaissance, for verification purposes, might be done in cooperation with the UN.

Taking note of Khrushchev's letter to President Kennedy on the Soviet decision to dismantle the missile bases, the log for Admiral Anderson's office indicated that by the end of the afternoon, a "relaxed condition of readiness" had set in. Nevertheless, CNO Anderson's staff kept track of Soviet shipping, worried about proper levels of payments for Navy and Marine Corps dependents from Guantanamo Bay, and researched Admiral Anderson's request for pre-World War II proclamations on neutrality zones. CIA official James J. Hitchock visited Flag Plot with information about the Grozny and intelligence from a "reliable source" about prospective attacks on U.S. petroleum resources "by Latin American Communists."


29 October 1962


Documents 16A-B

A. Secretary's Calendar, 29 October 1962

B. Gilpatric notes, "10/29/62 White House," Top Secret

C. "Office Log for 29 October 1962," Top Secret

Gilpatric's notes on the first ExCom meeting on 29 October provide good detail on McCone's intelligence briefing and brief coverage of other issues, such as the problem of reconnaissance flights. NRO director Joseph Charyk had met with U Thant's military adviser, Indian General Jir Rikhye, offering a US RC-130 plane with UN markings for use in verification missions. While U Rikhye had suggested a voluntary suspension of the quarantine, as Gilpatric noted, it was "not lifted" but the U.S. would announce that ships would be kept "on station" to convey a little ambiguity. [27]

Another topic at the ExCom was the creation of a "Coordinating Committee," to help make decisions on resolved issues, such as a plan on future reconnaissance flights over Cuba (the U-2 shoot-down made the next steps unclear). John J. McCloy was to chair the committee and Gilpatric and Ball were to be members. Kennedy asked Gilpatric and Ball to join McCloy up in New York and they left during the meeting. This took Gilpatric out of the ExCom and brought his file of notes to their conclusion. Nevertheless, he remained closely involved with the next stage of the Crisis, the resolution of the IL-28 deployment in Cuba.

Admiral Anderson's staff continued to monitor Soviet ship movements, but was becoming concerned about reports of Soviet air force interference with U.S. "electronic transmissions." The CIA's James Hitchcock visited the CNO's office again, bringing historical data on neutrality zones but also unspecified information on the "use of 'Otter' for interdiction of ships."


30 October 1962


Documents 17A-B

A. Secretary's Calendar, 30 October 1962

B. "Office Log for 30 October 1962", Top Secret [incomplete copy]

McNamara's schedule shows another ExCom meeting, but the CNO "Office Log" is revelatory about President Kennedy's displeasure over a story that New York Times reporter Max Frankel had written. The headline, "Air Attack on Cuban Bases Was Seriously Considered," showed that Frankel had gotten a scoop that the ExCom had given "long and serious thought" to the possibility of an air strike before Kennedy decided on a quarantine. The "Office Log" also indicated how the implementation of the "new intercept line."


Document 18: Memo for Mr. Gilpatric from Col. Francis J. Roberts, "Cuban Crisis - Record of Events," 6 November 1962," Top Secret, excised copy, FOIA release

In early November, Gilpatric's military assistant Col. Francis Roberts used some of the hand-written notes and the extensive documentary record to produce a detailed draft of key developments during the missile crisis: political developments, military actions taken, and "national decision-making," with a summary of reconnaissance flights. This gives a useful perspective on the course of events, although it would be more useful if the separate chronologies had been integrated. This document includes a number of "dubious secrets," unnecessary classification actions taken by the Department of Defense; perhaps the most astonishing is the excision, on page 30 of the PDF, of Nikita Khrushchev's "publicly announced message" on 27 October 1962, proposing the removal of Soviet missiles from Cuba if the United States "will remove its analogous means from Turkey." Security reviewers at the Pentagon continue to insist that the fact of the U.S. Jupiter missile deployment in Turkey cannot be released even if what is being excised is a public statement by the Soviet premier.


[1] For background on the decision to resume U-2 flights and the broader implications of the 10 September decision, see David Barrett and Max Holland extraordinary work, Blind Over Cuba: The Photo Gap and the Missile Crisis (College Station: 2012).

[2] For notes on Joint Chiefs of Staff meetings during the crisis, see https://nsarchive2.gwu.edu/nsa/cuba_mis_cri/621000%20Notes%20Taken%20from%20Transcripts.pdf .

[3] For a detailed account of the ExCom meetings, based closely on the White House tapes, see Sheldon M. Stern, Averting 'The Final Failure': John F. Kennedy and the Secret Cuban Missile Crisis Meetings (Stanford, CA: 2003).

[4] For the record of the meeting, which includes references to Turkey, see the State Department's Foreign Relations of the United States, see http://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1961-63v11/d23

[5] Stern, Averting, 115. For a major study of the role of the Jupiters, see Philip Nash, The Other Missiles of October: Eisenhower, Kennedy, and the Jupiters, 1957-1963 (Chapel Hill, NC, 1997)

[6] This may have been the interview when Alsop brought McNamara a leaked CIA report showing that the Soviets were putting their intercontinental missiles in concrete silos (previously, they had been stationed on exposed launch platforms). See Gregg Herken, Counsels of War (New York: 1985), 169.

[7] For McNamara's account of the meeting with Sweeney and Kennedy, see Lawrence Chang and Peter Kornbluh, The Cuban Missile Crisis 1962 (New York, 1992), 144-145. The ExCom meeting was not taped but a paper record exists; see http://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1961-63v11/d38.

[8] Scott Sagan, The Limits of Safety: Organizations, Accidents, and Nuclear Weapons (Princeton, NJ, 1993), 106-108.

[10] See Stern, Averting, 151 ff.

[11] Mary S. McAuliffe, editor, CIA Documents on the Cuban Missile Crisis 1962 (Washington, D.C., 1992), 301.

[12] See Stern, Averting, 196-200.

[13] Stern, Averting, 197.

[14] For the Anderson-McNamara dispute, with evidence showing that it took place on Tuesday evening, instead of 24 October as most of the literature claims, see Dobbs, One Minute to Midnight, 69- 69-72. Probably because of the generally tense situation, McNamara's personal style, and their own inflexibility, Admirals Anderson and Sharp found his interventions as maddening intrusions on commander's prerogatives, but other Navy leaders found them to be reasonable exercises of civilian control. For detailed coverage, see Joseph F. Bouchard, Command in Crisis: Four Case Studies (New York, 1991), 87-137.

[15] Ibid, 213-214. For a detailed account of the Soviet submarine deployments during the missile crisis and the incident on 27 October, see Svetlana V. Savranskaya, "New Sources on the Role of Soviet Submarines in the Cuban Missile Crisis," The Journal of Strategic Studies 28 (2005): 233-259.

[16] For comprehensive coverage of the blockade, see Chief of Naval Operations, "The Naval Quarantine of Cuba, 1962,"

[17] Stern, Averting, especially 231-232.

[18] Fen Osler Hampson, "The Divided Decision-Maker: American Domestic Politics and the Cuban Crises ," International Security 9 (1984-85):137.

[19] Houser wrote 10:30 as the time of the talk with McNamara and Gilpatric, but the ExCom was meeting then, so he probably meant 9:30 which was when Gilpatric and McNamara actually met, according to their calendars.

[20] The missile launch occurred on 27 October instead; see Sagan, Limits of Safety, 130.

[21] Ibid., 108.

[22] Stern, Averting, 272-274.

[23] See James Hershberg, "The United States, Brazil, and the Cuban Missile Crisis 1962 (Part 2)," The Journal of Cold War Studies 6 (2004), especially 20-30.

[24] For more on the effort to find the Grozny, see Michael Dobbs, One Minute to Midnight: Kennedy, Khrushchev, and Castro on the Brink of Nuclear War (New York, 2008) 209-211.

[25] Nash, Other Missiles of October, 135. Sheldon M. Stern, The Cuban Missile Crisis in American Memory: Myths versus Reality (Stanford, CA, 2012), 141 [Updated 25 January 2013]

[26] Dobbs, One Minute to Midnight, 326-327.

[27] For detailed coverage of the meeting, see Stern, Averting, 297.

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