View Full Version : The nine pilots that saved Castro's Cuba

15th Oct 2012, 22:28
So years ago I came across a very interesting article on the web about an aviation historical event I had never heard about, or rather I had vaguely heard about but not to the extent and with the new angle that that this article offered. It was about the role that Fidel Castro's Air Force played during the April 1961 Bay of the Pigs Invasion.
What I didn't know until I learned it from that article was that a handful of pilots, 9 I believe their number was, with a few Sea Furies and 2 or 3 T-33 saved Cuba and Fidel's regime from the invasion.

Castro himself never gave his air force and his pilots the credit they deserved because he wanted his whole army to appear strong and sho to the world that his infantry and armor had easily defeated the 1200 or so invader, with the help of his air force.

Actually, the 9 pilots and the air force had done most of the work, sinking from day one 2 of main invading supply ships and forcing the others to retreat far off shore. Then sinking some of the landing craft and finally shooting down many of the invaders' B-26s, to the point that the mercenary pilots no longer wanted to fly any mission to Cuba to cover their buddies on the ground. The 1200 men who had hit the beach and their tanks were left with no supplies, no ammunition, no fuel, no food and were force to flee into the swamps and the mangrove where Castros' troops captured them.

It reminded me of Churchill's Battle of Britain speech when he said that "Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few ". We this is even more true because in this case, the few were nine pilots and a few mechanics who kept those planes in the air.

A coupel books were written by Cubans about this story but none tell the complete and true story. Some were written by Cuban exiles that were on the invader's side. Some were written by Castro's men, but because a few of Castro's heroic pilots later defected to the States, sometimes at the controls of a MIG, the book would omit that particular pilots role in the event of April 1961.

These men, the pilots and the mechanics who lived those heroic days merit that their true store be told, even that a movie be made abut them. Many are still alive, some living in Cuba, retired Air Force Generals who also flew MIGs in Angola, others, those that defected, living in Florida.

I hope that someone who can write about these men or make a movie about them reads this.

A declassified CIA report that tells a lot about them is on line and can be found here. It mentions the books and publications that also mention the story of these men.


16th Oct 2012, 19:11
T-33 from Cuba Gruppa 38.

18th Oct 2012, 02:01
The Rage of the Furies (http://www.urrib2000.narod.ru/ArticGiron1-e.html)

KK Singh
18th Oct 2012, 18:01
This story sounds weird but may be true at least as much as these brave guys destroyed the front or blunted them enough to retard the enemy's progress. After that, the infantry must have done the rest. Well that is the basics of was. Air power, long arty, arty, armours and finally infantry or now mech infanrty take over the enemy.
Whatever, kudos to the brave Cuban pilots.

21st Oct 2012, 12:12
I have visited the 'Museum of the Revolution' in Havana, where there is a Hawker Sea Fury on display. The information panel alongside it says it is a Mk 11 made by Hawker Aircraft Co. in 1947, and given as a gift to Batista's government in 1958. (Another source says it was donated by the British Royal Navy, during a courtesy visit by an aircraft carrier to Cuba.) The info panel also says it was used in several combats during the Bay of Pigs invasion on 17th and 18th April 1961. (Another source says that it sank one of the invasion force's supply ships.)

But I believe there is some mystery about these claims, because the radial engine has a manufacturer's plate clearly stating it was made by Jacobs Aircraft Engines of Pottstown, Pennsylvania, USA! If it was an ex-RN machine, it should have a British Bristol Centaurus sleeve-valve engine, and the one on display appears to have overhead valves operated by either overhead cams, or pushrods! Each cylinder has a pair of tubes which obviously contain either camshaft drive shafts, or pushrods, and these are entirely inconsistent with the Centaurus sleeve-valve system. So it seems possible that the airframe is exactly what is stated, but that an American radial engine has been installed just for display purposes.

Also of interest in this museum is wreckage from the B-26 aircraft shot down near the 'Australia' sugar mill during the Bay of Pigs actions. And the Pratt & Whitney J75 turbine from the USAF U-2 reconnaissance aircraft shot down by a missile in 1962.

21st Oct 2012, 12:59
The Sea Fury had a Bristol Centaurus engine rated at about 2500 HP.

21st Oct 2012, 13:24
Thanks KING6024, I realised my boob in wrongly naming the Bristol engine type, but in the time it took me to check by Google and edit my post, you had swiftly corrected me! ;)

Heathrow Harry
21st Oct 2012, 15:59
IIRC the invaders had loaded most of their reserve ammo in one ship which was taken out by a Sea Fury early in the invasion

Agaricus bisporus
21st Oct 2012, 16:44
So did Jacobs manufacture large engines (for P&W or Wright) under licence then, cos a biddy little Jacobs 7 cyl would look downright daft in a Sea Fury cowling - or rather even more daft than a P&W or Wright...

21st Oct 2012, 18:26
Agaricus bisporus, I think you are right, Jacobs were indeed asked by the US War Department to produce Pratt & Whitney radials throughout much of WW2. I have looked at my pics again, and the engine in the displayed Sea Fury has 9 cylinders in the front row, not 7 like Jacobs own engines. And the manufacturer's plate, which is heavily coated with paint which makes reading all of it difficult, definitely has the word "PRATT" at the top, so it looks as if this could be a P&W R-2800 (or maybe even a R-4360) engine built by Jacobs. Still doesn't explain why it isn't a Centaurus sleeve-valve one however, if it really was an ex-Fleet Air Arm aircraft as stated. Could our FAA have had P&W engines installed in some of their Sea Furies between 1947 and 1958, I wonder? :confused:

21st Oct 2012, 18:56
This is a picture of the other surviving Sea Fury, located at the Playa Giron Museum, if that can help any expert indentify the exact model and engine.


The story I read about the origins of these aircraft is that they were purchased by the Batista regime at the very end and that they were were still in crates when he was overthrown in 1959. Castro found these newly arrived aicraft and had them assembled to form his new Air Force

21st Oct 2012, 19:45
The book "Hawker aircraft since 1920" by Francis K. Mason states:

Fifteen MArk 11s and TWO Mark 20s, selected from aircraft re-purchased from the M.O.S. in 1957, reconditionned and delivered without serial numbers by sea to Cuba during 1958 undre contract HAL/58/C./039.

21st Oct 2012, 19:59
The Playa Giron museum example looks like an FB.11, which could well be one of the small batch delivered to Batista's forces by Hawkers. If it is in its original condition, it should have a Bristol Centaurus engine. There seems no way of confirming that from this photograph with the 5 bladed airscrew and the large spinner in place. The Havana museum example that I saw had its propeller and spinner missing, exposing the front of its engine and the manufacturer's plate to view. It was quite clear that the engine is not a Centaurus, and it now seems it is a Pratt & Whitney built by Jacobs, presumably in the USA. At present, it seems a mystery how and when this engine substitution took place.

22nd Oct 2012, 09:29
Sea Furies with PW/Wright ?? radials are raced in the USA.

22nd Oct 2012, 11:49
Yes, KING6024, that's right. But it doesn't help in answering the question of how the museum Sea Fury in central Havana acquired its P&W engine, though. ;)

I've given a bit more thought to it, and think it might possibly be one of the salvaged P&W R-2800 engines from the wreckage of B-26 invasion force aircraft known to have been shot down, given a liberal coating of paint for display in the Fury airframe. Still leaves the question of what happened to the original Centaurus, propeller and spinner, however!

22nd Oct 2012, 17:55
Do not forget that the Cubans also had their own B-26s.

23rd Oct 2012, 12:30
Yes, they may have had spares, or a 'time-expired' engine available from their own B-26 aircraft. I hadn't thought of that!

31st Oct 2012, 21:35
I found a small book, in Spanish, written by one of the nine Cuban pilots, Rafael Del Pino. It's called "Amanecer en Giron" and it's 102 pages long. I'll post some info after reading it. He flew T-33s during that campaign.

Wikiepedia has an article on him:

Rafael del Pino (pilot) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rafael_del_Pino_(pilot))

There is also a paragraph on him here.

Pilots and aviators of the Cuban Aviation (http://www.urrib2000.narod.ru/Perso2-e.html)

He later flew Mig-15s, Mig-17s, then Mig-21 in Angola, and finally Mig-23s.
He fled to Florida with his family at the controls of a Cessna 402 in May 1987.

26th Jan 2013, 23:02
Earlier, someone posted that the Sea Fury displayed at the museum of the revolution in Havana did not have its original engine:

This is a picture of a B-26 in a museum in Cuba (Although I fail to understand which model The Cuban's B-26s had glass noses).

Can anyone identify the engine on the ground in front of it ? Could it be a Sea Fury engine ?


Photo by George N. Teichrib, Panoramio

27th Jan 2013, 00:21
Looks like a Centaurus to me - certainly its a Bristol engine