In 1959 a revolution took place in Cuba and Fidel Castro came to power. He introduced a Soviet-style government on the island and he looked to the Soviet Union for support.
In May 1960 the Soviet Premier vowed to defend Cuba against US aggression. After the Bay of Pigs ordeal, Cuban leader Fidel Castro was expecting another attempt, and the Soviets began to install long-range missile launch sites in Cuba that would have threatened much of the Eastern USA.
On 29 August 1962, US U-2 spy planes spotted new military construction and the presence of Soviet technicians. There was also an increase in the number of Soviet ships arriving in Cuba which the United States government feared were carrying new supplies of weapons.
Photographs of launch sites (pictured below) were delivered to President Kennedy on 16 October and after considering the alternatives, he ordered a naval blockade of Cuba and warned that US armed forces would seize offensive weapons and associated material that Soviet vessels tried to deliver to Cuba.
As well as imposing a naval blockade, Kennedy also told the USAF to prepare for attacks on Cuba and the Soviet Union. The army positioned 125,000 men in Florida and was told to wait for orders to invade Cuba.
If the Soviet ships carrying weapons for Cuba did not turn back or refused to be searched, a war was likely to begin. Kennedy also promised his military advisers that if one of the U-2 spy planes were fired upon he would give orders for an attack on the Cuban SAM missile sites.
Kennedy appeared on national American television on 22 October to inform the nation that Soviet missiles had been deployed on Cuban soil and that many US states were now within range of nuclear strike.
On 24 October President Kennedy was informed that Soviet ships had stopped just before they reached the United States ships blockading Cuba. That evening Khrushchev sent an angry note to Kennedy accusing him of creating a crisis to help the Democratic Party win the forthcoming election.
Khrushchev sent Kennedy another letter on 26 October proposing that the Soviet Union would be willing to remove the missiles in Cuba in exchange for a promise by the United States that they would not invade Cuba. The next day a second letter from Khrushchev arrived demanding that the United States remove their nuclear bases in Turkey.
While the president and his advisers were analysing Khrushchev‘s two letters, news came through that a U-2 plane had been shot down over Cuba. The leaders of the military argued that Kennedy should now give orders for the bombing of Cuba. Kennedy refused and instead sent a letter to Khrushchev accepting the terms of his first letter.
Khrushchev agreed and gave orders for the missiles to be dismantled. The world breathed a collective sigh of relief and stepped back from the nuclear brink.
The Cuban Missile Crisis was the first and only nuclear confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union. The event appeared to frighten both sides and it marked a change in the development of the Cold War.