Cause and Effect

Jupiter and the Cuban Missile Crisis

In a briefing to the US Secretary of Defense in September, 1955, Werner von Braun suggested that a longer range missile be developed to compliment the short range Redstone rocket. The new missile should have a range of 1,500 miles and be capable of carrying nuclear warheads. The Army and the Navy both were interested and signed a joint pact with Chrysler to build this missile. The idea, they though, would be to park these missiles in Europe and along the Soviet coast to keep Crazy Ivan in check.

The naval requirement that it be sea launched drove the design of the missile to a short, squat missile rather than the taller, sleeker design preferred by land-based missile operators. However, a year after the design started, the Navy pulled out of the project, instead going with the UGM-27 Polaris. By this time it was too late to change the design and the missile remained short and squat. The major drawback was that the missile could not be transported by the cargo aircraft available.

In 1958, the DoD informed the Air Force, who had begrudgingly taken over the Jupiter missile program, they were going to deploy the Jupiter in France. However, before the deal could be finalized, Charles De Gaulle, soon to take over the presidency, informed the US that he did not want those dirty, filthy, English-speaking missiles in his beautiful and pure country. The US government scrambled and found Italy and Turkey receptive to the idea of hosting Jupiter launch sites.

Two squadrons with 15 missiles each were sent to Italy between 1961 and 1963. A third squadron was sent to the Turkish-Soviet border in 1962. The location of the missiles were not a very tightly guarded secret. In 1962, a Bulgarian MiG-17 crashed in Italy near a Jupiter encampment after recording its location. Reconnaissance flights were a fairly common occurrence. The Soviets knew where they were and what they were. They didn’t like it. Especially the one in Turkey.

In retaliation for the Jupiter missiles in Europe and the Thor missiles in Britain, the Soviets began sending SS-4 “Sandal” MRBMs and SS-5 “Skean” IRBMs to Cuba. The American discovery of these missiles, in Corona satellite photos and a U-2 flyover, began the Cuban Missile Crisis. For the next 13 days, Khrushchev and Kennedy positioned themselves for war and argued over who started what. In the end, the Soviets agreed to remove the bombers and missiles from Cuba if the US agreed to not attack Cuba ever again. In a back door deal, the Americans also agreed to remove the Jupiter and Thor missiles from the Soviet’s doorstep.

No big deal, advances in rocket and guidance technology meant the Jupiter was entering obsolescence. Soon, the North American continent would be dotted with ICBM sites with multiple warheads pointed directly at the Soviet union. Luckily, a red phone was installed in the Kremlin and the White House that would keep us and them from ever having to use these missiles.

[Image Credit: Public Domain]