The autumn of 1962 was a particularly tumultuous time as the USA and USSR became locked in one of the most significant political confrontations in modern history.
For 13 days the world – much like the nuns and nurses of Nonnatus House in series 6 episode 6 – held its breath as the two superpowers clashed over weapons of mass destruction.
What was the Cuban Missile Crisis?
The Cuban Missile Crisis is considered to be the event that marked the point at which the world stood on the brink of catastrophic conflict. The threat of nuclear war loomed larger than ever before as Cold War tensions reached their peak.
What caused the Cuban Missile Crisis?
In October 1962 the United States learned that Russia was actually building nuclear missile sites in nearby Communist Cuba. Their secret plans were revealed when the pilot of an American U-2 spy plane managed to photograph the assembly of a medium-range ballistic missile while making a high-altitude pass over the island on October 14th 1962.
The USA was not at all happy to learn that Soviet weapons were being placed in close proximity to their borders, while the Soviets saw Cuba as the perfect place to level the playing field. After all, there were nuclear weapons intended to target them in numerous locations throughout Western Europe, with another batch in Turkey too.
When did the Cuban Missile Crisis officially begin?
President John F Kennedy was informed of the discovery on October 16th 1962, setting off a chain of events that would lead to a 13-day political and military stand-off, during which the world held its breath as Kennedy and Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev went head to head.
What happened during the Cuban Missile Crisis?
On October 22nd 1962 Kennedy addressed the American people, informing them of the discovery and announcing his plans to set up a Navy blockade around the island of Cuba, preventing the Soviet Union from delivering any more missiles to the island.
Kennedy made it very clear that the USA was prepared to use all means necessary to neutralise any threat to national security and demanded that the USSR remove all missiles from Cuba, a statement which left the rest of the world on tenterhooks waiting for a Soviet response.
On October 24th Soviet ships bound for the island came close to the blockade, leaving many worried they’d attempt to breach it and force a military confrontation in the process. The ships stopped short of the US navy’s fleet though, and the world could breathe easy for a few hours.
The tense stand-off continued until on the evening of October 26th, Khrushchev sent Kennedy a message proposing a resolution to remove the USSR’s weapons if the USA promised not to invade the island. He stated: “let us not only relax the forces pulling on the ends of the rope, let us take measures to untie that knot”.
However, on the 27th he sent a second communication adding that any deal would also require the removal of US missiles from Turkey and that same day a US reconnaissance plane was shot down over the island. The USA readied an invasion force in Florida and it seemed as though conflict was most definitely on the cards.
When did the Cuban Missile Crisis officially end?
On the evening of the 27th, the US President wrote a response to the first message, ignoring the second. The official line was that Kennedy and his administration had accepted the initial deal, promising not to invade Cuba if the USSR removed the missiles stationed there. However, the US also agreed to remove missiles from Turkey, with then Attorney General Robert Kennedy delivering the message to the Soviet ambassador in Washington in person.
With a deal in place, the crisis officially ended on October 28th 1962. The US removed their missiles from Turkey in April 1963.