Operation Anadyr: Missile Maskirovka

When Moscow launched the ambitious Operation Anadyr, the deployment of missiles and an army division to Fidel Castro’s revolutionary Cuba in the spring of 1962, the KGB played no minor role in its execution. KGB military counterintelligence (Third Directorate) was responsible for ensuring the secrecy of the movement of Soviet forces, from Odessa and the icy port of Murmansk to the Caribbean tropics. The operation would become a textbook example of Soviet maskirovka (denial and deception). Historian Aleksandr Sever recounts:


Military counterintelligence officers not only had to catch spies, but also secure the integrity of military secrets in “special conditions.” As an example we can name the operation to shift Soviet forces to Cuba.

Aleksandr Tikhonov, the deputy chief of military counterintelligence for the Pacific Fleet and the Pacific Border District, was appointed director of counterintelligence of the group of forces sent to Cuba. KGB Chairman Vladimir Semichastny explained his choice thus:

The situation is complex, and since you participated in the landing operations during the defense of Odessa, Sevastopol, and the Caucasus, the cards, as they say, are in your hands.

From the first days of Soviet military counterintelligence’s presence on Freedom Island, close relations with the Cuban organs of state security had been established.

Soviet-Cuban Poster
Soviet-Cuban poster: “Long live eternal, unbreakable friendship and cooperation between the Soviet and Cuban peoples!”

Joint work bore its first fruits: the radio-counterintelligence service pinpointed the entry on air of an intelligence transmitter working in special regime, when the seance lasted just seconds, and the message was somehow shot out. We managed to triangulate the agent’s radio transmitter and catch CIA station chief Clement Inclan red-handed.

From the CIA officer were seized a hyper quick-acting radio transmitter, an automatic encoder of the newest modification, secret writing formulas, two Browning pistols, a Minox camera, false documents, a pen pistol, and 14,000 gold pesos. Going by their checklist for espionage information, we could conceive that the sphere of interests for US intelligence included everything. In particular, they requested clarification on “what the large and small camouflage patterns on the tunics of Soviet military instructors meant, and can personnel of tank units wear uniform shirts of the same color and cut as military instructors? Is it true that the officer corps wears patterned sport shirts rather than the soldiers?

An illegal subversive organization called the “Narciso Lopez Division” was discovered. All of Cuba had been divided into seven zones, and there was a station chief for each zone.

In the course of the operation to liquidate the Narciso Lopez Division, 237 members of the organization were seized, among them: four majors, 17 captains, and seven first lieutenants. There were uncovered nine weapons caches and larges sums of dollars and gold pesos. This operation dealt a serious blow to espionage across the entire territory of Cuba.

Soviet troops in Cuba, on patrol in civilian clothing.
Soviet troops in Cuba, on patrol in civilian clothing.

Simultaneously, necessary measures for keeping the deployment of Soviet forces in Cuba secret were taken. On the territory of the USSR, the transfer of forces to port cities (Sevastopol, Baltiisk, Murmansk, Arkhangelsk, Odessa, and Nikolaev) was painstakingly prepared and carried out in accordance with the requirements of concealed command of forces. It’s understandable that Chekists [KGB personnel] actively participated in these operations. If Sevastopol and Murmansk were military cities closed to foreign visitors, foreign ships regularly docked in the port of Odessa.

The commands of military units also received the order to prepare and visa the travel documents of all military personnel intended to be sent to Cuba. Descriptive characteristics and other documents of the travel file had to be signed by the commander of the unit, the chief of the political department, and the “special department” [KGB military counterintelligence] officer. According to official data already published in our time, 40-60% of candidates didn’t pass selection. The reasons were various, beginning with medical ones (suitability for work in tropical climate conditions) and finishing with family circumstances. Although there were also diversions on KGB lines. For example, in the 51st missile division (commander Maj. Gen. Igor Demyanovich Statsenko), there were replaced up to 500 officers and over 1,000 soldiers and sergeants. And from five regimental commanders, three were switched out. It’s understandable the all the replacements laid a heavy burden on the shoulders of military counterintelligence officers who were servicing these units – they needed to acquaint themselves with the new men, restore their agent networks, etc.

Soviet military personnel in Cuba, 1962: keeping it casual.
Soviet military personnel in Cuba, 1962: keeping it casual.

All measures of denial and deception were used [maskirovka]. Military personnel wore civilian clothes. Loading the vehicles and equipment into echelons on the ships was done under the cover of exercises for loading and offloading in coordination with railway and sea transport. Military echelons at railway junctions were not stopped – stops were done at sections of double track and at halt points. The entire system of command of forces was executed by verbal orders, and in extreme cases, through code.

Designating the operation “Anadyr” brought to mind the North. For confirmation of this legend, crews on several ships were given skis, stoves, and overcoats. No one knew where the ships were going. The captains and chiefs of the echelons where given three packets numbered 1, 2, and 3. On the first packet was printed, “Open after leaving USSR territorial waters.” On the other two there were no inscriptions. In Packet No. 1, it said that Packet No. 2 should be opened after passing through the Bosporus and Dardanelles. Packet No. 2 instructed to open Packet No. 3 after passing through Gibraltar. In Packet No. 3 was contained the order: set course for Cuba. During crossings of the seas and oceans, when airplanes approached, the men would hide in the holds of the ships. All military hardware was also repainted gray instead of standard green.

Secrecy of movement of forces was also secured in Cuba. All ships arriving to the island were met by staff groups already at roadstead and sometimes as they approached Cuba. Because of the complex operational environment, the ships had to change their appointed ports.

Weaponry arrived under the cover of industrial shipments, inasmuch as our specialists at the time were conducting searches for oil, iron, nickel, and phosphates. Agricultural hardware was imported, as well as mechanization specialists and much else. And the military was somehow wedged into these shipments.

In those cases when it was impossible to hide armaments because of their size and configuration, for example medium-range R-12 missiles, airplanes, and helicopters, by agreement with the Cuban side, Soviet soldiers dressed in Cuban uniforms. In the newspapers it was announced that in a given region exercises were underway.

Soviet missile forces deployed in Cuba.
Soviet missile forces deployed in Cuba during Operation Anadyr.

In order not to expose their identity, any type of conversation was forbidden at crossings. Troops were allowed to give only two commands in Spanish: “Adelante,” “forward,” and “Pare el coche,” “stop the vehicle.”

The men moved only at night. Places for stopping in daytime were chosen accounting for the possibility of concealment from visual reconnaissance. After the departure of a column, any objects that would reveal its presence were destroyed.

All these measures secured the concealment of movement of Soviet missiles around the island. Only on October 14th, 1962, was one of the missile installations uncovered by US aerial reconnaissance in the area of San Cristobal (Pinar del Rio province). By that time 42 missile complexes with a striking range of up to 2,000 km. were already in position. And from Cuba to the state of Florida, the distance was just 180 km. There is still one important fact about which few know. The adversary didn’t succeed in detecting the storage locations for R-12 nuclear warheads, and therefore the Americans couldn’t have destroyed them in case of combat action.

That the adversary nonetheless was able to discover the position of a missile installation was not the fault of military counterintelligence – those errors were committed by the General Staff. Namely they didn’t preliminarily and comprehensively study the geography and the natural and climate particularities of the Caribbean. The “Moscow view” of using palm fronds as natural camouflage for the missiles turned out to be mistaken. Among the commanders of the missile regiments on the island, there arose the serious problem of selecting locations for placement pf the missile installations. Another problem was the deficit of engineering hardware and sapper units.


Work Translated: Север А. История КГБ. Москва: Алгоритм, 2008. – Щит и меч. К 90-летию ВЧК.

Translated by Mark Hackard

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