The Cuban Missile Crisis, 1962

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Key events


  • March – Fulgencio Batista siezes power


  • Fidel Castro and Che Guevara lead guerrilla army against the forces of Batista
  • December 31st, 1958 Cuban Revolution


  • All US businesses in Cuba are nationalised without compensation


  • April 4 John F. Kennedy approves the final invasion plan for Bay of Pigs
  • April 17 Bay of Pigs invasion begins
  • April 19 Bay of Pigs ends in fiasco: Of about 1,500 commandos, 114 died and 1,189 were captured and sentenced to 30 years in prison.
  • November 30 President Kennedy authorises Operation Mongoose – a secret program of propaganda, psychological warfare, and sabotage against Cuba to remove Castro from power.


  • February – US economic blockade of Cuba becomes an almost total embargo
  • September 8 – 1st Nuclear Ballistic Missiles arrive in Cuba
  • October 17-28th Cuban Missile Crisis (see this page for a complete timeline of this period.

  Key learning aims:

  • To be able to explain:
    • the long term and more immediate reasons for the Cuban Missiles Crisis.
    • the key events of the crisis in 1962.
    • the immediate effects of the Crisis on relations between East and West.

  Key themes and learning points:

  • Fulgencio Batista, dictator of Cuba, 1952-59
  • Fidel Castro and the Revolution of 1959
  • Castro and relations with USA and Soviet Union
  • The Bay of Pigs incident, 1961
  • Kennedy and missile sites;
  • Key events of Cuban Missile Crisis (this includes how it was eventually resolved);
  • Impact on East-West relations (this means the immediate effects more especially the hot-line).
  1. The Cuban Revolution and the Bay of Pigs



    • N. Kelly, Edexcel International GCSE (9-1) History A World Divided: Superpower Relations, 1943-72, pp. 63-66.
    • Walsh, p.347: Background; How successful were the early attempts at containment?
    • John D. Clare’s page on the Cuban Missile Crisis, Causes section
    • Mr Hinds’ History has a good page on the Bay of Pigs incident


      Using pages 63-66 of Kelly:
    1. Why was Eisenhower so concerned about the revolution in Cuba?
    2. In the aftermath of revolution, there were three main causes of tension – what were they?
    3. What responses did Eisenhower take in response?
    4. What was the Bay of Pigs and why was it a failure
    5. Read source K on p. 65 of Kelly, Summarise what the report says went wrong with the invasion.

  2. The Cuban Missile crisis, October 1962

    • Kelly, Edexcel International GCSE (9-1) History A World Divided: Superpower Relations, 1943-72,pp. 66-69.
    • Walsh, pp. 348-50: What was the Soviet Union doing in Cuba?; the October Crisis.
    • John D. Clare’s page on the Cuban Missile Crisis, Events section
    • Mr Hinds’ History has a good page (and podcast) on the causes and the course of the Cuban Missile Crisis
    • Timeline of 13 days
    • A handy little summary of events is provided by The Week


    1. Using the information in Walsh, pages 350 explain why Kennedy described Wednesday 24th and Saturday 27th October were the darkest days of the crisis. Complete the task on p. 349 of the Walsh textbook
    2. Why did the Soviet Union place nuclear missiles on Cuba? Rank the following reasons and offer some argument in support of your view
      • To bargain with the USA – Khrushchev hoped he could get American concessions in return for removing them
      • To test the USA – Khrushchev wanted to test Kennedy
      • To trap the USA – Khrushchev made no attempt to hide the missiles – he wanted to draw them into a nuclear war
      • To defend Cuba – the missiles were genuinely meant to defend Cuba
      • To get the upper hand in the arms race – with missiles on Cuba it was less likely that the USA would ever launch a ‘first strike’ against the USSR
      • To persuade the USA to remove its missiles from Turkey
      • To restore Khrushchev’s reputation following the Berlin Wall crisis
    3. Khrushchev must have known that the USA would object to Soviet nuclear missiles being placed in Cuba. Suggest reasons why this did not stop him from trying to do so.
    4. Using page 58 of Kelly, why was Kennedy motivated to challenge Khrushchev’s attempts to place missiles on Cuba even to the point of creating an international crisis?
    5. Summarise Kennedy adviser Dean Acheson’s point of view in a meeting held on October 17th, in one sentence: ‘We should proceed at once with the necessary military action and do no talking. The Soviets will react someplace. We must expect this, take the consequences and manage the situations as they evolve. We should have no consultations with Khrushchev, Castro or our allies, though we should alert our allies.’
    6. Acheson’s position could well have led to war. Does that mean the USA was prepared to fight the Soviet Union?
    7. What did Kennedy resolve to do? And what happened?

  3. The Cuban Missile Crisis: Immediate and long-term consequences.


    • N. Kelly, Edexcel International GCSE (9-1) History A World Divided: Superpower Relations, 1943-72, pp. 69-70.
    • Walsh, pp. 351-352: Why did the Soviet Union place nuclear missiles on Cuba?; The outcome.
    • John D. Clare’s page on the Cuban Missile Crisis, Results section


    1. Explain two reasons the confrontation was resolved
    2. Identify four long-term consequences of the crisis
    3. Summarise the reasons why war was avoided
    4. Study extract C on Kelly, page 71 and answer the A question: ‘What impression does the author give about the Cuban Missile Crisis? (6 marks) (technique: OILS PE)
    5. Make a cartoon or a mindmap or some other visual representation of the 13 days to help you get a more detailed knowledge of what happened. A timeline of the 13 days can be found below.
    6. Have a look at this interesting website that predicts the devastation caused by different types of nuclear weapon on cities in America and elsewhere.

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