Military history of Cuba

The Military history of Cuba begins with the island's conquest by the Spanish and its battles afterward to gain its independence. Since the Communist takeover by Fidel Castro in 1959, Cuba has been involved with many major conflicts of the Cold War in Africa and Latin America where it had supported Marxist governments and rebels from liberation movements who were opposed to their colonial masters and/or allies of the United States.

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History of Cuba
Governorate of Cuba (1511–1519)
Viceroyalty of New Spain (1535–1821)
Captaincy General of Cuba (1607–1898)

US Military Government (1898–1902)
Republic of Cuba (1902–1959)

Republic of Cuba (1959–)

    Cuba portal

    Colonial period (1511–1902)

    Ten Years' War

    The Ten Years' War was the first of three wars that Cuba fought against Spain for its independence. The Ten Years' War began when Carlos Manuel de Céspedes and his followers of patriots from his sugar mill La Demajagua began an uprising. The war ended with the signing of the Pact of Zanjón.

    Cuban War of Independence

    The Cuban War of Independence was the last major uprising by Cuban Nationalists against the Spanish Colonial Government. The conflict culminated with American intervention during the Spanish–American War.

    Spanish–American War

    The Spanish–American War was a major war fought by the United States and the Kingdom of Spain in the Spanish territories of Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines. The war was triggered with the sinking of the USS Maine in Havana Harbor. Cuban rebels fought alongside American troops throughout the war on the Cuban island. The war lasted for 10 weeks.

    Cuba was occupied by US military troops on July 17, 1898. In the Treaty of Paris (1898), Spain renounced its sovereignty over Cuba without naming a receiving country. Cuba then established its own civil government, which was recognized by the United States as the legal government of Cuba upon the announcement of the termination of United States Military Government (USMG) jurisdiction over the island on May 20, 1902. This date is celebrated as Independence day for the Republic of Cuba.

    Early republic (1902–1959)

    World War II

    Cuba entered World War II in December 1941. The Cuban Navy performed convoy escort duties and antisubmarine patrols during the Battle of the Caribbean; despite its small size, the Cuban Navy quickly developed a reputation for being extremely efficient. The most notable success of Cuban forces was the sinking of German submarine U-176 by a Cuban submarine chaser squadron. Six Cuban merchant vessels were sunk by German submarines in the conflict and 79 Cuban sailors were killed.

    1952 coup

    Military strongman Fulgencio Batista staged a coup on March 10, 1952, removing Carlos Prío Socarrás from power. Cubans in general were stunned, but remembering the bloodshed of the Batista's rule in the 1930s, they were reluctant to fight. Batista created a consultative council from pliable political personalities of all parties who appointed him President months before elections were to be held. Batista’s past democratic and pro-labor tendencies and the fear of another episode of bloody violence gained him tenuous support from the bankers, and the leader of the major labor confederation.

    The Cuban Revolution

    The Cuban Revolution started as an uprising that resulted in the overthrow of the Fulgencio Batista government on January 1, 1959 by Fidel Castro and other revolutionary elements in the country. The Revolution began on July 26, 1953, when a group of armed guerrillas attacked the Moncada Barracks.

    From 1956 through the middle of 1958, Castro and his forces staged successful attacks on Batista garrisons in the Sierra Maestra mountains. Che Guevara and Raúl Castro helped to consolidate rebel political control in the mountains through guerrilla fighting, building trust with campesinos, and severely punishing traitors and informers. The irregular and poorly armed rebels harassed the Batista forces in the foot hills and the plains of Oriente Province.

    The final blow to Batista government came during the Battle of Yaguajay. Castro’s forces were able to capture the garrisons at Santa Clara along with the second largest city. As a result, Batista fled the country and Castro came into power.

    Post-revolution Cuba (1959–present)

    Bay of Pigs Invasion

    The Bay of Pigs Invasion (known as La Batalla de Girón in Cuba), was an unsuccessful attempt by a U.S.-trained force of Cuban exiles to invade southern Cuba with support from U.S. armed forces to overthrow the Cuban government of Fidel Castro. The plan was launched in April 1961, less than three months after John F. Kennedy assumed the presidency in the United States. The Cuban armed forces, trained and equipped by Eastern Bloc nations, defeated the exile combatants in three days. Bad Cuban-American relations were exacerbated the following year by the Cuban Missile Crisis.

    Cuban Missile Crisis

    The Cuban Missile Crisis (October Crisis in Cuba) was a confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union over nuclear missiles that were deployed in Cuba and Turkey. The Russian missiles were placed both to protect Cuba from further attacks by the United States after the failed Bay of Pigs Invasion, and in response to the U.S. deploying Thor missiles with nuclear warheads on the Soviet border in Turkey.

    The situation reached the crisis point when U.S. reconnaissance imagery revealed Soviet nuclear missile installations on the island, and ended fourteen days later when the Americans and Soviets each agreed to dismantle their installations, and the Americans agreed not to invade Cuba again.

    Congo Crisis

    The Congo Crisis was a period of turmoil in the Congo that began with national independence from Belgium and ended with the seizing of power by Joseph Mobutu. During the Congo Crisis, Cuban Expedition led by Che Guevara trained Marxist Rebels to fight against the weak central government of Joseph Kasa-Vubu along with the forces of Mobutu Sese Seko. This would be the Cuba's first military action overseas and in Africa.

    Bolivia Insurgency

    During the 1960s, the National Liberation Army began a Communist insurgency in Bolivia. The National Liberation Army was established and funded by Cuba and led by Che Guevara.

    The National Liberation Army was defeated and Che Guevara was captured by the Bolivia government aided by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. Bolivian Special Forces were informed of the location of Guevara's guerrilla encampment. On October 8, the encampment was encircled, and Guevara was captured and later executed by Bolivian forces.

    Eritrean War

    Cubans trained Eritreans but later, in a political reversal, trained Ethiopian Marxist forces who were fighting against Eritreans.

    Yom Kippur War

    The Yom Kippur War was the fifth major conflict between Israel and the neighboring Arab States. Cuba deployed 1,500 troops, including tank and helicopter crews, to support the Arabs during the war. Precise Cuban casualty numbers are unknown.[1]

    Ogaden War

    The Ogaden War was a conflict between Somalia and Ethiopia between 1977 and 1978. Fighting erupted in the Ogaden region as Somalia attempted to annex it. The conflict ended with a Somali retreat.

    When the Soviet Union began to support the Ethiopian Derg government instead of the Somali government, other Communist nations followed. The Cuban Military deployed 15,000 combat troops along with aircraft to support the Derg government and the USSR military advisors in the region.

    Cuban intervention in Angola

    Between 1961 until 2002, the Cuban Military provided support for the left wing MPLA movement in a series of civil wars. During these conflicts the MPLA emerged victorious due in part to the substantial aid received from Cuba.

    The Angolan War of Independence was a struggle for control of Angola between guerilla movements and Portuguese colonial authority. Cuba supplied the People's Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) rebels with weapons and soldiers to fight. Cuban military would fight alongside the MPLA in major battles.

    The Angolan Civil War was a 27-year civil war that devastated Angola following the end of Portuguese colonial rule in 1974. The conflict was fought by the MPLA against UNITA and the National Liberation Front of Angola (FNLA). MPLA was aided by Cuba and the Soviet Union, and UNITA and FNLA were supported by South Africa, United States and Zaire. It became Africa's longest running conflict. The conflict was only formally brought to an end in 2002 with the death of UNITA-Leader Jonas Savimbi.

    South African Border War

    The so-called South African Border War was a conflict that took place in South-West Africa (Today independent nation of Namibia) between the Apartheid-era South African Defence Forces and its allied National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) against the South West Africa People's Organization (SWAPO) and the Angolan MPLA.

    During the conflict, Cuba sent soldiers to aid Angola in its own civil war. The Cuban army had a major involvement in some of the most important battles including Battle of Cuito Cuanavale.

    Invasion of Grenada

    722 Cuban soldiers were deployed in Grenada During the Invasion of Grenada by U.S. troops in 1983. The Cuban government sent these troops there to support the leftist government of the country. Cuban losses during the conflict were 25 killed, 59 wounded, and 638 captured. In 2008, the Government of Grenada announced a move to build a monument to honor the Cubans killed during the invasion by Genelle Figuroa. At the time of the announcement the Cuban and Grenadian government are still seeking to locate a suitable site for the monument.

    Salvadoran Civil War

    The Salvadoran Civil War was fought by the El Salvador government waging a vicious crackdown against various left-wing rebels, as well as committing war crimes against civilians, one example of which being the El Mozote massacre. Cuba supplied the rebels with weapons and advisors.

    Nicaraguan Civil War

    During the Sandinista revolution and the following Civil War, Cuba gave aid and support to the Sandinista government of Daniel Ortega. The Sandinista government was fighting the American backed rebels (aka) Contras. The conflict ended with the 1990 presidential election where Ortega lost to Violeta Barrios de Chamorro.


    1. Perez, Cuba, Between Reform and Revolution, p. 377-379
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