Spanish English Aviacion Cubana

Aviacion Cubana

Cuban Air Force against the Castro´s guerrilla

Ruben Urribarres

  The hunt of the Granma yacht

Exiliated in Mexico since 1955, Fidel Castro prepares an expedition to Cuba with of the yate Granma to oust Batista. This armed landing should coinciding with a revolt of the "Movement 26 of July" of Fidel, in Santiago de Cuba.

The government of Batista knew some about these plans, and the FAEC increases in setptember the patrol missions around the coasts of Cuba in search of the yacht Granma, to sink it. This yacht comes out from Tuxpan, Mexico in November of 1956, and navigates various days toward the oriental coast of Cuba. Yate Granma

The pilots of the F-47, B-25, B-26, AT-6, C-47 of the FAEC and Kingfisher of the Navy had the signs of the Granma and daily they take off several times and flying around Cuba patroling the sea. The F-47 flew in pairs, one flew Cuba by the north coast, and the other by the south coast, being crossed for the tip of San Antonio. By those days the F-47 shoot by mistake a Honduran ship full of bananas, seemed to the Granma, causing some dead persons and injured. 
F-47 Thunderbolt FAEC N 473
  F-47D Thunderbolt FAEC N°473. These fighterbombers flying around Cuba each day hunting the Granma yacht

The revolt in Santiago de Cuba is produced according to the plan, November 30, 1956, but the yacht Granma is still to two days of Cuba.  The Granma could not arrive at time and the revolt of Santiago is crushed for the  Batista´s forces. However, the 82 men in the yacht have the great luck to not be seen by the FAEC and they landed hasty December 2. The troop of Fidel themselves internal in the coast bush. Little time after the FAEC aircrafts and ships of the Navy discover the abandoned Granma, and themselves login the fence. The pilot Captain Gastón Bernal affirmed that with his B-25 Mitchell he damages the Granma, but that is not confirmed. 

  The Battle of Alegría de Pío

Days after, November 5, 1956, the FAEC recon airplanes discover the expedition´s forces in the place called "Alegría de Pío". They were airplanes Pipers and Beavers, that Che Guevara mentions in its "Episodes of the revolutionary war". The airplanes call to the Army´s troops, while the mortally tired rebels, not do a great deal of case of them.  It is one of the errors that the guerrillas learn like lesson for the future. To the noon suddenly the Army´s troops, already unfolded fence, and the airplanes, open fire, taking for surprise the guerrilla.  In this first battle of the troop of Fidel, is scattered and they lose among dead, injured, lost and prisoners 60 men of the 82, without causing loses to the enemy. Since this rout the guerrilla learns to be done "invisible" for the aviation. 
Piper- PA-20
  Piper Pa-20. Similar airplanes to this pursued the rebels during all the campaign, they called them "scandalmonger" (Picture courtesy of  Phillip Treweek)

  The Army´s offensive in Mayo of 1958

The Generals Eulogio Cantillo and Ugalde Carrillo were the first and second Leaders of Operations in the Province of Oriente, and Rio Chaviano commanded the Santiago Regiment.  The General Staff planned a great offensive with 10,000 men to surround and destroy Castro, that had 300 men.  The FAEC would play an important paper and his leader in the offensive was the Lieutenant Colonel Armando Soto Hernández.  The offensive begins May 25 with the invasion to the rebellious territory of motorized columns, 14 infantry Battalions, 7 independent Companies, naval landings and bombings, but little time later was stopped in numerous ambushes, and the FAEC could not support with the necessary efficacy to its troops in the mounts. 

July 10 the Battalion 18 of the Major José Quevedo was surrounded, and he try to receive provisions of the aviation and air support, but the rebels had captured a radio PRC-10 with the transmission codes with the airplanes, and they confused the B-26 and F-47 in their missions. The day 15 the FAEC bombing the rebellious positions since the six of the morning until the night, burning the forest, but fails to diminish the pressure.  Without being able to receive the necessary help, Quevedo was yielded July 21 and was passed to Castro. Its 250 men were delivered to the Red Cross.

The rout of several companies permits to regularly capture PRC-10 radios and the combat codes. That the guerrilla during all the offensive known the enemy movements. This permits to note the low effect of the FAEC. In the battle of  El Salto near Santo Domingo the rebels hear how the Official Executive since a C-47 give orders to the Company C that he can advanced without worry, that the road had been recognized and was clean.  A half hour later this Company was destroyed in this same road.  The Company 92° in Las Vegas received the order of the Official Executive since the C-47 to advanced, therefore its road was taken by the Army.  In reality was taken by the rebels, that defeated this Company.  The FAEC throws thousands of papers with propaganda ordering the peasants to oust the zone, to then bombard everything that to move. 

The Army pressure was enormous and put in crisis the guerrilla, but eroded and failed before the mobility and tactical dexterity of the guerrilla of Fidel.  August 6, after 76 days of battles, the Army retired defeated of the Sierra Maestra, with more than 1,000 losed man (of them some 450 prisoners), while the guerrilla had 27 dead persons, 50 injured and capture 507 weapons, including 2 armored cars and 14 radio RPC-10.  To this victory contributed the low efficacy of the FAEC´s blows, and the abduction of Americans to stop the air attacks. 

  "Operation Antiaérea": Kidnap of Americans to stop the FAEC

United States began its arms embargo to Batista since November of 1957, but this don´t stoped the FAEC´s attack to the guerrilla, and during the May offensive the FAEC intensified its missions. 

In May of 1958 Fidel Castro denounces that 2 Batista´s airplanes were seen loading weapons in the Guantánamo US NAVY Base, in the south of Cuba, in violation to the American embargo. Since this American base the government airplanes refueled in the years 1957-58, the same that bombarded extensive rural zones habited by civil and where operated the guerrilla.  Is denounced that May 18 were delivered 300 rockets to the FAEC in Guantánamo. The brother of Fidel, Raúl Castro, that headed the rebels in the mountains of the Sierra Cristal, to the north of Guantánamo, informs June 2, 1958 since Bayate: "The airplanes throw incendiary bombs delivered by the yankee in the own Guantánamo Naval Base as occurred in passed days and they order to the Trujillos and Somozas that they give them weapons". At ends of this month, Raúl Castro adds in report dated in the Sierra Maestra, that during May the government aviation performed near 100 air raids over the rebels territories, being supplied of "bombs of all the types in the same American Naval Base  of Caimanera" (Guantánamo). 

June 22, 1958 Raúl Castro, that commanded the rebels forces in the Sierra Cristal, orders by the Military Order N°30 the begining of the Operation "Antiaérea", with the detention of 50 American citizens in the controlled zone. Among them there were 11 american Marines and 17 sailors of the US Navy. They are kidnaped, to avoid the FAEC bombing to the guerrilla zone and to avoid more own loses and among the peasants. 
F-47 of FAEC  The FAEC airplanes are obliged to suspend the operations. F-47D of the FAEC (Picture from the book "Republic P-47 Thunderbolt. The Final Chapter" of Dan 
 Hagedorn. Via  Eduardo Ahumada)

But Raul Castro was also at pains to let his captives know that he meant no offense. He fed and housed the others well, and drafted an apology to their "parents, wives and sweethearts". The kidnaped men were equally gallant. "A swell guy, that Raúl Castro" said Edward Cannon, a builder from Cornwall, Ont. A member of the US NAVY, the aviator Thomas Mosness, had a 45-cal. pistol and gunbelt given him by his captors, and said he is "just like one of them".  They said to the American press "We are all rebel sympathizers anyway".  The hostages were shown bomb casings with U.S. markings, were taken to see a dead three-year-old boy "with a big hole in his head" from a Batista air raid. 

The operation was a total success: as consequence, the action took great international resonance and the FAEC suspend the operations in the combat zone in the decisive phase of the Army offensive. The American Government negotiate directly with the rebels of Fidel Castro, being shown again the low efficiency of the Batista regime. The American Ambassador in Havana Earl E. T. Smith, denied that the Guantánamo Base are be used to supply airplanes of the FAEC, but there were pictures of  FAEC transports in the base. June 30 Batista suspends the failed offensive, and July 18, 1958 all the kidnaped were freed healthy, in exchange for the promise that Batista did not make brutal use of its aviation. This promise went not polite. 

  The Battle of Guisa

This was the more intensity battle in the war. After the rout of the Army offensive in May-August of 1958 to the Sierra Maestra, is produced the calm that precedes the storm. Both sides replace strengths. Fidel Castro plans a series of last blows to take all the province surrounded the large cities. And November 11, 1958 the Fidel´s forces advanced, taking small towns, until arrive at Guise, near Bayamo, in whose headquarters was the Company M of Havana, with 133 men.  November 20 the headquarters is surrounded and begins the battle for taking it. The rebels fights not only against the headquarters, but against the reinforcements that the Army sends in its aid. In all the zone the Army had 5,000 men and Fidel some 270 armed and 1,000 disarmed men. 
A rare picture of FAEC B-26
  One of the few FAEC B-26 pictures. Here the N°921 photographed in the Columbia air base in 1958 (Picture from the cited book "Foreign Invaders" of Dan Hagedoorn and Leif Hellstrom)

Immediately the FAEC appears with recon airplanes, that attack the rebels positions, but one is shot down (possibly a Pa-22).  The rebel Gonzalo Camejo remember: "That day we don´t breakfast neither and don´t lunch, and we carried a little sugar.  We eight gather in the hill to eat the sugar, when appears that little airplane and shot, the bullets breaks the paper of the sugar, and threw away it.  Everyone ran to be protected.  Then I said: "Be expected, that when pass around here we go it to shot down".  And when he retourn, we all shot at the same time, and we caught it, he fall for there by the Horno de Guisa.  We could not catch anything from the airplane, because fell in enemy territory"

The FAEC basified in Bayamo, more fence. The following day 21 of November arrive the B-26, that attack the rebels. A pilot of these report then: "A B-26 (10:22-11:48 hours) attacked a jeep at the edge of a river, in the town of Guisa.  He shot the area around the same river course.  Consumed: 5,500 capsules Cal.50, two 500 pounds demolition bombs, two 250 pounds fragmentation bomb , two napalm bombs, 6 rockets of 5 inches, 6 clusters of 36 fragmentation bombs".  The liason aviation report the escort of a Army convoy from Bayamo to Guisa and the use of 1,000 capsules Cal.30.  The Transports squadron sends an airplane from Columbia to Bayamo with a tank motor for the tanks, 3 boxes of Cal.30 munition, and other military loads. 
B-26 FAEC N 933
  B-26C FAEC N°933.  In the image is seen the "Indian" under the cockpit, symbol of Batista and insign of the Light Bomber Squadron (picture from the book "Foreign Invaders" of Dan Hagedorn and Leif Hellstrom)

The battles follow with intensity, with strong losses for the Army, that report to the General Staff in November 26 at 15.00 o'clock hours: "The Battle of Guisa is considered decisive and if we lost, is almost sure the evacuation of Bayamo, we have compromised all and Fidel Castro directs personally its troops, is necessary the urgent reinforcements and a great air support".  At 22.55 o'clock another message is received asking more support of the FAEC: "The Battle continues. Is urgent a great air support and shipment helicopters for evacuation and supply, for the first hours tomorrow to avoid that our units are decimated".  The zone is continuously attacked by 2 B-26 and 2 F-47 by Guisa and other 2 B-26 attack the road to Bayamo. Only in one of these missions that day a B-26 shot 3,800 Cal.50, five 250 pounds fragmentation bombs and 3 rockets of 5 inches. The Army General Staff orders to the FAEC that prepare all the transports for the urgent transfer of troops to Oriente. 

At November 27 the situation already is desperate, the Army report to the General Staff: "Is needed more air support to save 2 Batallions and 3 tanks surrounded in Guisa. Must send since Havana right now everything that be able in airplane to avoid a great defeat. Already it was asked to Camaguey all what they had.  The enemy have the biggest force concentration until the moment.  Airplanes should arrive it quicker possible today 27 before the sunset".  That day 10 airplanes B-26 and F-47 continuously bombarded the zone of battles, they taking off since Columbia and Camaguey. Only in one of the missions were used 10,000 cal.50., 25 rockets of 5 inches, 2 bombs of 500 pounds. Thanks to the air support of the FAEC and the tanks Sherman and T-17, the Army achieves rescue a surrounded Battalion, but  with severe losses goes back, abandoning the surrounded garrison of Guisa. November 29 the FAEC does 6 missions of 14 hours with B-26 and F-47 over Guisa supporting the Army.  With fresh troops the Army attack the rebels, that go back to establish new ambush to the reinforcements.  By this gap the Army garrison of Guisa achieves to escape, but all the zone falls in the rebels hands, that capture an armored car T-17, 14 trucks, 3 mortars, etc. The Army had 200 dead and wounded in 10 days of battle, the rebels 8 dead and 7 wounded. 

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