When I go through my dad's photo album and come across his photos while he was serving in the Royal Canadian Navy, November 11 has a special meaning. you see my dad served his country during the Cuban Missile Crisis
My Dad's Navy Service During The Cuban Missile Crisis
During 1961 President Kennedy visited Ottawa and gave a speech in The House of Commons "Geography has made us neighbors. History has made us friends. Economics has made us partners, and necessity has made us allies."(1)
My dad served on the HMCS Bonaventure, the Royal Canadian Navy's flagship. After World War 2 her hull was taken to Harland & Wolff Shipyard in Belfast Ireland. If this company sounds familiar to you it should. Harland and Wolff is the company that built the infamous RMS Titanic. The Bonaventure was to be updated to a Majestic Subclass Carrier equipped with anti-submarine warfare technologies or ASW for short. She steamed through the Atlantic Ocean with her 4 Admiralty 3 drum boilers and could maintain a maximum speed of 24.5 knots
How Did the Cuban Missile Crisis Begin?
The Cuban Missile Crisis began on October 14, 1962. The Kennedy's Administration failed miserably in the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961. After the failed attempt to overthrow Castro, the Soviet Union began to support his communist regime by sending over 20,000 Russian advisors.
Rumors' were working their way through the Kennedy's Administration suggesting that Russia was providing them with medium range ISBMs. The ISBM could be retrofitted with nuclear warheads. This was a serious threat to the United States. Cuba was only 90 miles away. They could reach all the way to the west coast reigning destruction on the American citizens.. This was a concern for the Canadian Government as these missiles can reach Canada.
Canadian Maritime Command became alarmingly concerned when reports started flooding in to headquarters in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
In the United States NORAD went to a Defcon 3.
U2 spy planes were sent over Cuba for reconnaissance missions. During these missions they were photographing missile build up in that country.
The Kennedy Administration reached out to Ottawa for help in the Atlantic Ocean
Being a young male at an age of 21 he was more interested in the local bar scene with his buddies. then the current events at that time.
24 October 1962, the HMCS Bonaventure was given her sailing orders.
At that time he had no idea about the seriousness of this crisis or what was involved.
My dad was on shore leave at the time the orders were issued. They were docked at a port in North Carolina, United States. Him and his buddies were enjoying refreshments at the local bar. The Master Sea Man approached them and issued their orders.
"Gentlemen, shore leave has been cancelled.. Report back to the Bonny for further instructions."
"What is going on?" dad asked.
"Sorry." The Master Seaman replied. "Need to know basis only."
My dad looked at his buddies and asked out load, "I wonder what is going on?"
His buddy replied, "who knows."
As soon as they boarded the Bonny her klaxon alarms sounded. "Yellow alert, yellow alert" "All hands action stations."
"This is the Captain speaking."
"We have received orders from Halifax Maritime Command. Rendezvous with destroyer escorts and we will head to the Northwest Atlantic. We will be participating in a anti-submarine surveillance operation known as ORTSAC. Our orders, create a anti-submarine net. To discourage the Soviet Union Navy from assisting Cuba on it's nuclear arms build up.. Part of our orders includes listening to communications from Russian fishing trawlers and merchant vessels. That is all for now."
The engineering room reported the ships readiness for battle
Dad, double timed his pace to his station on the Bonny's flight deck were he worked as signals person. Assisting ASW aircraft taking off and landing. This includes the Banshee jet fighter planes that also assisted in the naval exercise.
The sonar radar operators put their headsets on and began. The radar glowed with a greenish color. A yellow horizontal line rotated in a clockwise rotation. Any time a contact was made the radar would see it as dots. The operators were required to take notes on when a contact was made, when, were, and what type of submarine class it was. Radar operators were aware of three types of Soviet subs. The ultra quiet "Foxtrot", "Golf", and "Zulu" class.
Lots of contacts were made but the Liberal Diefenbaker Government covered it up so as not alarm the Canadian Public.
However, tensions between the two superpowers escalated when, on October 27, 1962, U2 spy plane pilot, Rudolf Anderson Junior was piercing the stratosphere with his plane. His mission was to take photos of the missile silos that were in Cuba. He was shot down and killed that day. His death saved millions of lives during the height of the cold war.
Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev came to his senses. He recalled the warships back to Moscow. The missiles in Cuba were removed and dismantled the missiles.
The Cuban missile crisis taught the United States what containment felt like.
After the crisis, a hot line link was established between Washington and Moscow.
Cuba stopped America from bothering it.
American government dismantled nuclear missile sites in Turkey.
China stopped being allies with the Soviet Union.
For the first time since World War II, the U.S. has been a military superpower, it had never faced a nuclear threat close to it's borders.
It was a tense three weeks in October of 1962. The world came very close to a nuclear war. Canadian school students were practicing their drills by hiding underneath their desks.
To this day my Dad was afraid how close we came to nuclear annellation. I feel proud that my dad did his part to save us from this awful destruction.
That is all for now. I hope you enjoyed this version of the Cuban missile crises.
Coming Soon, Author, The Women Behind The Manhattan Project