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Soviet Ships: October 23


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With the naval quarantine of Cuba due to go into force at 2:00 PM GMT on October 24, the Atlantic Fleet and CIA was watching the movements of Soviet ships intently. They had identified 22 ships enroute to Cuba, 16 of which were dry cargo ships, with 6 tankers. Another 6 were believed to include stops in Cuba enroute to other ports. Analysts were most interested in the dry cargo ships because they could potentially be carrying military hardware. Three of the ships had deck hatches large enough to accommodate MRBMs or IRBMs.

The previous day, and unusual encrypted “very urgent” signal had been intercepted that was evidently received by several, but not all, of the ships. Analysts were watching for any behavior from the ships that might shed light on that mysterious message.{{1}}

During the evening of October 23, Navy officials identified the Kimovsk and the Yuri Gagarin, both dry cargo vessels, as the first to be intercepted. The location of both was known approximate through direction-finder fixes, and it was believed that aerial reconnaissance flights would find them relatively easily. (Later that evening, the Yuri Gargarin was apparently located already in Cuba.) The Poltava would likely be intercepted shortly after.{{2}}

In addition to the Soviet ships enroute to Cuba, several others had arrived in Cuban ports in recent days. They were: Almetevsk (dry cargo); Dubno (dry cargo); Nikolaevsk (passenger); Fizik Kurchatov (dry cargo); Metallurg Anasov (dry cargo); Moscow Festival (tanker); Leninsky Komsomol (dry cargo); Yuri Gagarin (dry cargo); and Divnogorsk (dry cargo).

The passenger vessel Nikolaevsk had been followed by a U.S. naval ship for a couple of hours on October 23 before making port.

Source Data: The map above uses the coordinates recorded by the CIA as of 9PM on October 23 and detailed in CIA, “The Crisis: USSR/Cuba,” 24 October 1962, in National Security Files, box 46, “Countries: Cuba, Subjects, CIA Memoranda, 10/23/62-10/25/62” folder, John F. Kennedy Library.

[[1]]A post-action report by the office of the Chief of Naval Operations put the total number of ships enroute to Cuba on October 23 at 23. Chief of Naval Operations, “The Naval Quarantine of Cuba,” 1963, in CNO, box 10, Post 1946 Report File, Naval Historical Center.[[1]]
[[2]]Chief of Naval Operations, “The Naval Quarantine of Cuba,” 1963, in CNO, box 10, Post 1946 Report File, Naval Historical Center.[[2]]