ubakcenris  
     
     
  THE CUBAN MISSILE CRISIS  
 

Return to home page

 
 

Return to "The fortress during the cold war"

 
   
     
 

Part of this material has been taken from a soon to be published book about the Cuban Crisis, which was written by the “museumsinspektør” of the Langelandsfort Museum and Cold War researcher Peer Henrik Hansen. The photographs are from the National Archives and Records Administration in Washington.

 
     
 

All ships that passed through the Langelands Belt were watched closely from the naval observation post at Langelandsfort. The fortress was in a superbly strategic position to watch all shipping originating in the Eastern Block. During the course of 1962 the observers had noticed that the number of soviet freighters passing through the Belt had increased markedly. These vessels often carried deck cargos, which were always camouflaged.

There was also a lot of activity on the other side of the Atlantic. An American spy plane had discovered that the Soviet Union was constructing missile-launching ramps on Cuba. These missiles were situated at only about 90 miles (140 kilometres) from the U.S.A. The American President, John F. Kennedy, convened his national security council to advise him how he should react to this provocation. He then ordered his armed forces to step up their military readiness. Warships were dispatched to sea and bombers, armed with nuclear bombs, took to the skies.

On October 22, 1962 President Kennedy addressed the American people by television and informed them that America’s security was being threatened by the Soviet Union and that he was not willing to allow that military build-up to continue. He informed his people that the missiles on Cuba were nearly operational and that he had decided to initiate a strict naval blockade of Cuba as from the 24th October onward. That would imply that all ships bound for Cuba, whatever their nationality, would be stopped at sea and searched. Any ship carrying military equipment, of whatever kind, would be forced to turn around.

Premier Nikita Khrushchev replied that the Russian ships would not comply with the American demands. The crisis was a fact. At the Langelandsfortress all hands were called on board. The armed forces came to general quarters and all stations were manned. Langelandsfort had turned into an important player in the chess game between NATO on the one side and the Warsaw Pact on the other.

On its maiden voyage, earlier that autumn, the M/V “Kasimov” had exited the Baltic Sea through the Great Belt, on its way to Cuba to deliver IL-28 bombers. A week later the same freighter, with the cases with airplane parts still on deck, was photographed by a U-2 spy plane on its way to San Julian airbase. The day after the Danes spotted “Kasimov”, another well-known soviet ship passed through their waters. Just like the “Kasimov”, the M/V “Krasnograd” had already made several roundtrips to Cuba. The “Krasnograd”, which had first been observed from the Danish Island of Anholt, sailing Northwards with about 12 trucks on deck, was later tracked by the NSA on its way to Cuba. When, on October 22, President Kennedy made his television address to the American people, informing them about the soviet build-up on Cuba, both vessels were either still in, or had just exited from, the Baltic Sea with destination Cuba

From the naval observation station at Føllesbjerg, on the East Coast of Langeland, all ships that had left the Baltic Sea through the Great Belt were being closely watched. Then, early in the morning of October 24, just hours before the American naval blockade was due to be set into motion, the crew of the observation post noticed that the M/V “Krasnograd”, which a few days earlier had sailed in a northerly direction, had reversed its course and was now sailing back to the Baltic Sea. This was most remarkable, seen in the light of Kennedy’s recent television address. The observation was reported and just about two hours later the Danish operational command sent a message to all military leaders of NATO, among others to:

SACEUR (“Supreme Allied Commander Europe”, located in Mons, Belgium), SACLANT (“Supreme Allied Commander Atlantic” in Norfolk, VA, USA), CINCNORTH (Commander in Chief Northern Europe, situated at Kolsås, Norway) and COMBALTAP (Commander Baltic Approaches in Karup, Denmark).

Only hours before the American blockade was due to come into effect around Cuba, Denmark could report that the soviets had ordered one of their ships, which had been en route to Cuba, to turn around and return to the Baltic Sea. “That was the first and, as far as I am aware, the only time in the history of the Service that a message with the priority marking “X” – the highest priority in NATO – has been transmitted, the intelligence officer A.W. Thorsen remembered years later.

 
     
 

When Denmark informed NATO that “Krasnograd” had reversed course, the American intelligence services noticed that a number of other soviet ships destined for Cuba, had also altered course. The “Yuri Gagarin” and “Kimovsk” were closest to Cuba, whereas “Dolmatova” and “Metallurg Kurako” were in the middle of the Atlantic when they altered their course. The “Urgench” was close to the Azores, whereas the “Fizik Vivalov” had just exited the Mediterranean on October 23, only to turn around and re-enter the Mediterranean.

Then, on October 26, 1962, Chairman Khrushchev sent the following letter to President Kennedy:

“Mr. President, we and you ought not now to pull on the ends of the rope in which you have tied the knot of war, because the more the two of us pull, the tighter that knot will be tied. And a moment may come when that knot will be tied so tight that even he who tied it will not have the strength to untie it, and then it will be necessary to cut that knot, and what that would mean is not for me to explain to you, because you yourself understand perfectly of what terrible forces our countries dispose. Consequently, if there is no intention to tighten that knot and thereby to doom the world to the catastrophe of thermonuclear war, then let us not only relax the forces pulling on the ends of the rope, let us take measures to untie that knot. We are ready for this”. (Source: Wikipedia).

Consultations then started behind closed doors and at Langelandsfort the alert level was downgraded. The crisis was almost over. Long and complicated negotiations between the Americans and the Soviets followed.

Poul B. Hansen remembers: “For us servicemen the crisis caused a lot of nervousness. We were ill-informed by our superiors and they, in their turn, were quite disoriented. For a few nights we slept fully dressed, with our equipment next to our beds”

Poul Rasmussen, nicknamed “Caramba”, still remembers the atmosphere at the fort during those restless days. “Everyone went and checked his weapon. I myself did and I saw that my mate also did it.” No-one said anything. We acted very relaxed and calm” he said. There were rumours that the Eastern Bloc might execute a surprise attack on the Langeland fortress. He continues: “I remember that we were wondering whether we would receive anything to shoot with any time soon. That would be very comforting when the balloon went up. We always thought that if something would happen, it would come as a surprise.” 

One of the non-commissioned officers, Staff Sergeant Filip Nielsen, who served at Langelandsfort during the Cuban Crisis, had been one of the first Danes to be trained as a frogman. “The command “all hands on board” was given. Nobody was granted leave. I slept with my machine pistol next to me in bed and ammunition was handed out. All fire-directing equipment and other instruments were switched on, guns and radars were manned around the clock”, he remembers.

This crisis also showed other aspects about their comrades. Not everyone had quite understood how serious the situation between the United States and the Soviet Union really was. Some were upset, because their home leave had been cancelled, or because some of their privileges had been stopped, others because they were either nervous or scared. There were, independent of rank, many different ways the men reacted to the crisis. It is said that one never knows if a soldier is a good soldier until you go into battle”, Filip Nielsen says.

Nick Capion, who was responsible for the anti-aircraft battery north, remembers what it was like when the fortress was put on alert: “All guns were manned. I was wondering what on earth was going to happen. We felt the suspense. We had a feeling that things would not go well when the balloon went up, as we used to say in those days. Nowadays we know a lot more than we knew then. If we had known then what we know now, we would not have been as relaxed as we were then” Nick Capion remembers years later.

There was also a lot going on in the air, especially for one type of aircraft, the RF84F “Thunderflash”. The Cold War Museum Langelandsfort has been successful in purchasing the aircraft number C-651 from a private collector. That Thunderflash has now arrived at the museum, where a special hangar has been built for it. Visitors may view the aircraft while it is being restored.

The museum has interviewed some former pilots. One of them said that he remembers having flown the C-651 quite often and that he had photographed missile parts which were camouflaged in different ways. Interestingly, he also remembers having photographed missile parts in April 1962. Another former member of the air force confirmed that military equipment had been seen on soviet freighters, a long time before 22 October. He also said that a large number of photos, that had been taken by the C-651, have disappeared without a trace. He also remembers that Denmark had received a thank you letter, but he did not know where that letter was, if it still exists. He thinks it might be filed at the military intelligence service. The logbooks of the observation station on the beach have also disappeared into thin air. It seems someone has been rather busy trying to cover up what really happened.

 
     
     
   
     
 

This is a copy of the telex, in which Langelandsfort reported the first soviet freighter (“Krasnograd”) having reversed its course and sailing back to the Baltic Sea.

 
     
     
  The following link will show you a speech by Arthur Christensen on the occasion of the opening of the Langelandsfort Museum in 1997  
     
 

97-06-17-Fyns Amts Avis.pdf

 
     
  The following link will show formerly classified messages, which were found in American archives  
     
 

Dokumenter af 2. maj 1962
Dokument af 5. juni 1962
Dokument af 31. juli 1962
Dokument af 25. september 1962

Dokument II af 11. oktober 1962 

 
     
     
     
               
               
   
 

Click on a photo to enlarge it.

 
     
 

Pictures 1 and 2 show Arthur Christensen, picture 3 shows Anker Johansen. The aerial photograph, shown by Arthur Christensen, doesn’t show missile parts, but Beagle bombers. Picture 6 shows the RF 84F Thunderflash, number C-651.

 
     
     
     
 

The coastal observation service and soviet fleet-units.

Coastal observation stations were ordered to observe and report on activities of foreign naval forces in Danish waters. Since 1915 they resorted under the Ministry of the Navy. At first, fishermen and farmers performed this job. During the German occupation these observations were terminated. After the war the stations were re-established as military installations. Since 1951 they resort under the Naval High Command. During the Cold War they concentrated their efforts on the shipping traffic of Warsaw-Pact countries in the Øresund and the Great Belt, in close co-operation with radar surveillance services of the Navy and the Air Force.

All vessels, belonging to Eastern Bloc countries, were reported and, whenever possible, identified while still in the Baltic Sea. These observations were reported to the Operational Command of the Navy, where they collected all available information and tracked the vessels in question.

Observation stations were often located in lighthouses. On Langeland there was one such station at Kelds Nor lighthouse; a second was located on the beach below the fortress. From the latter, supported by radar, all shipping traffic in the Langeland Belt was observed around the clock: freighters, submarines, fishing boats and battle ships.

In order to identify these foreign ships, the observers could use a whole collection of reference books. Today, these NATO-reconnaissance books are an excellent source for naval historians. They provide us with an exact picture of all the different ships that were used during the Cold War, as well as those of neutral nations and NATO-countries.

 
     
     
     
     
 

To the top