The Russians call that 1962 nightmare the 'Caribbean Crisis', while Soviets officials called it the 'Anadyr operation'. Kyiv resident Mikhaylo Matyushko, 76, a retired Red Army colonel, still remembers each moment of the crisis, which he experienced on the ground in Cuba, where he was helping train officers in Fidel Castro's newly socialist country. Although the terrifying military standoff became known as the 'October Crisis', and the set phrase Thirteen Days in October' entered the English language, Matyushko says the crisis could have occurred earlier - if only the U.S. had noticed. His own battalion, Matyushko says, was ready to fight by July of 1962, while by the end of that month more than sixty Soviet ships had arrived in Cuba, some carrying military material. Nuclear warheads for both tactical and strategic missiles reached Cuba before the U.S. navy quarantined Cuba on October 24. By the time the crisis exploded after American intelligence caught wind of the Cuban nuclear arms build-up, there were a full 162 warheads on the small Caribbean island, located less than a hundred miles from the south Florida coast. The first consignment of Rl 2 ballistic missiles, which had a range of 1,100 statute miles, arrived on the night of 8 September. They were joined by R14 missiles, which could fly 2,400 miles - well into the American heartland. According to plan, the entire instalment, located in northern Cuba, consisted of forty missile launchers and more than 50,000 serviceman. "We were told that we would be sent to the Anadyr polar region in northeastern Russia," says Matyushko, "but started to deploy our military infrastructure to sunny Cuba instead. The weather was so hot, especially given our Chinese camouflage clothes. The story that the troops heard was that we were there to do some agricultural work."
The US. didn't catch on to the missiles parked in their backyard until 14 October, when a U2 spy plane indicated that the Soviets were building an R12 missile site at San Cristobal, in western Cuba. Colonel Matyushko remembers that the Soviet servicemen could see American spy aircraft passing overhead. "We camouflaged our military equipment very effectively, but we couldn't engage the passing aircraft, since all Soviet divisions were under strict orders not to use any weapons", Matyushko remembers. On 22 October, after reviewing the new intelligence, U.S. President John Kennedy informed the world that the Soviet UNI0N was putting secret missile bases in Cuba. After weighing options such as an armed invasion of Cuba and air strikes against the missile sites, Kennedy decided on a less dangerous response. In addition to demanding that Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev remove all the missile bases and their deadly contents, Kennedy ordered Cuba quarantined to prevent Soviet ships from bringing additional weapons and military equipment totheislandln response to the quarantine, Khrushchev authorized his Cuban commander, General Issa Pliyev, to launch tactical nuclear weapons if the Americans invaded Cuba. Deadlocked, the leaders of the world's nuclear superpowers stared each other down for five days.
By 'Black Saturday7, events were slipping out of the control of the Kremlin and the White House. The tension mounted when a U2 was shot down over eastern Cuba. Washington unsurprisingly interpreted this as a sign that the USSR deliberately wanted to escalate the confrontation. In fact, the plane had been shot down in defiance of Khrushchev's orders from Moscow, although that didn't stop many Cubans, including Castro, from celebrating. The same day, another U2 on a sampling mission strayed into Siberian airspace, generating fears that the Soviets would interpret the errant plane as an attack on their territory. In addition, the USSR tried, but failed, to launch a non-military rocket to Venus, which some in the U.S. intelligence structure thought might be a nuclear attack. Events seemed to indicate that the men in charge were losing their grip on the situation. "We were ready to begin an operation to protect our sites, our people and the states friendly to us as well. The alert orders changed a few times a day. It was a terrible time," Matyushko remembers. Finally, on 27 October, the Soviet leader granted President Kennedy's wishes, ordering all Soviet supply ships out of Cuban waters and agreeing to remove the missiles and other nuclear weapons from Cuba's mainland. "Fidel Castro was in shock; he couldn't believe that Khrushchev ordered that without consulting with him. I met him once on a military site near Havana. Anyway, after 13 days of teetering on the brink of nuclear holocaust, our nuclear missiles were removed from Cuba in three weeks." The events of October, 1962 terrified both superpowers and marked a change in the development of the Cold War. The countries now established a direct communications link that became known as the 'hotline'. The idea was that the Soviet and American leadership could communicate more freely, and prevent such dangerous confrontations as the Cuban Missile Crisis from crystallising again. Three months after the Crisis, the United States secretly removed all its nuclear missiles from Turkey and Italy. Mikhaylo Matyushko returned to Kyiv in 1963, but his overseas adventures with the Soviet military continued in other countries associated and allied with the USSR