In 1961, the United States launched an attack on Cuba meant to overthrow Castro's government. Though the aid and training given to the attacking exiles was substantial, they suffered total defeat and created a humiliating episode for the United States. Not only was the operation a military disaster, but it also failed its inital objective: in the end, the attack only increased Cubans' support of their leader.
On March 17, 1960, U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower agreed to start a program to overthrow the Cuban Government. Run by the CIA, this program would train, arm, and recruit Cuban exiles to participate in an invasion of Cuba.
When John F. Kennedy became President, he had to decide whether or not to go through with the attack. He decided in favor of it, largely because if he had called off the attack, there would have been more than a thousand armed, trained exiles who would complain and bring the matter under the public eye.
The intent of the attack was to take a beachhead, establish a government, and gain U.S. recognition. They thought that the people would then rise up and fight with them, overthrowing Fidel Castro.
As Castro expected, the attack began with an air raid. Had he not hidden and ungrouped his planes, the small Cuban air force could have been completely lost. The attacking American planes killed seven people destroyed several Cuban planes.
Then the invasion, with 1,297 troops, began. As the invaders began to leave their boats, the Cuban air force attacked. They sunk the Houston and the Río Escondido, cutting off supplies for the invaders. The other ships carrying backup supplies quickly left the area fearing the same fate and never returned.
At that point, military leaders in the United States asked Kennedy for permission to use the U.S. air force to destroy the Cuban army's planes. He only permitted them to give cover to planes flown by exiles, which arrived before the U.S. Navy planes, and were consequently shot down.
The invading forces were surrounded, mainly by the militia, and were running out of supplies. They tried to escape back into the sea, but the US navy had left the area. Most of them were taken as prisoners.
Exact details on the number of dead and captured differ. According to the Museum of Playa Girón, 1,197 exiles were captured. Two hundred invaders were also killed, compared with 156 Cubans killed. A few of the Batistiano criminals were executed, some prisoners were ransomed, and the rest freed in exchange for medical and agricultural equipment.