Sunday, 18 November 2012

The Cuban Missile Crisis game

Although I was still suffering from the symptoms of a heavy cold I was well enough this morning to make my way central London to take part in one of the monthly wargames put on by the Jockeys Field Irregulars. This was an interesting and somewhat different wargame from the normal figure and/or map games we usually play. Its subject was the Cuban Missile Crisis, and my role was to play the part of Fidel Castro, the leader of the Cuban Revolutionary Government.

One of the interesting features of the game was the fact that the Kremlin/Soviet High Command was located in Sheffield(!), with the White House/Pentagon in one room in London and Cuba/The Caribbean in another. Communications between London and Sheffield utilised a combination of e-mail, texting, and mobile telephones. Due to problems with WiFi connections that kept failing, most of the communications relied upon text messages and phone calls ... and this led to a suitable level of confusion and misunderstanding, especially when voice messages 'arrived' before players had the opportunity to read relevant earlier text messages.

As Castro I had several concerns. The first of these was the conservation of Cuban sovereignty in the face of a possible American invasion and what could have been an 'occupation' by the Soviets. Secondly I needed to ensure that I maintained my position as head of the Revolutionary Government, which required me to take positive action when provoked by the 'imperialist' United States. Thirdly I wanted to achieve some measure of control over any offensive missiles stationed on Cuba. Finally I wanted to avoid Cuba becoming the target of a possible nuclear exchange between the Americans and the Soviets.

So how did I do?

Well I used some of the SA-2 SAMs stationed on Cuba to engage – and damage – some of the US reconnaissance aircraft that were over-flying my country. In retaliation I moved units of the Cuban Revolutionary Army up to the border with the US base at Guantanamo. I made both the Soviets and Americans aware that I would only withdraw the troops from the border if the US agreed to stop over-flights, which they did after a further series of low-level flights were engaged by Cuban anti-aircraft artillery. (The Soviets even sent me a further regiment of SA-2s to help defend Cuba, and I stationed these around Havana to protect the harbour, the main army base, and the centre of government.)

I also managed to ensure that a possible coup d'├ętat that would have led to my replacement as head of the Revolutionary Government was forestalled by a car 'accident' that resulted in the death of my likely replacement, my own brother Raul. I am not sure who was behind the plot, but I suspect that it might have been the KGB and the Soviet Foreign Ministry. It's nice to know who one's friends are!

During the confusion that arose as a result of the poor communications between the Soviet High Command and the commander of the missile troops on Cuba I negotiated a degree of agreement with the commander about the targets at which the nuclear missiles were aimed. We agreed that priority should be given to targeting US military bases and command centres and not major population centres.

The fact that Cuba was not turned into a nuclear wasteland by the end of the confrontation would seem to indicate that I managed to achieve my fourth objective as well as the other three.

All-in-all I had a successful and very enjoyable game. The crisis came, got 'hot' (at one point the US went to DEFCON 1!), and then – thanks to my mobile phone – went 'cold' again when a successful solution was negotiated between President Kennedy and Chairman Khrushchev.

Full marks must be given to John Bassett who devised the game, Alex Kleanthous who provided the London venue, and Tim Gow who coordinated the Sheffield end of the operation. Without their hard work this game would not have been possible.


  1. Hi, Bob, This sounds like a fascinating exercise. So many news commentators could benefit from trying one of these games on a current political or military crisis.

    hope your recovery proceeds at a brisk pace,

  2. Steven Page (Steve),

    It was particularly interesting for me as I was 12 years old when the Crisis started ... and everyone expected that the war would go 'hot' at some point, even if a nuclear exchange was avoided.

    Your point about news commentators is well made ... and I would also add politicians to the group of people who should give themselves the opportunity to learn from these sorts of games. Some do ... and learn that reality and expectation are not always the same thing.

    My cold is now at the stage when it is just a nuisance that I can just about live with. I hope that it will be gone by the end of the week, but in the meantime I cough a lot, sneeze a bit, and have painful sinuses. Thank God for aspirin!

    All the best,


  3. Hey Bob this has all the makings of a future 2013 article for Lone Warrior. I was 5 years old when the crisis happened and I remembered watching it on our new B&W Television. I recall there was a good movie about it a few years ago called 13 days staring Kevin Costner in which I was riveted to the seat in the theater. An awesome movie if you haven't seen it ... Jeff

  4. Great report- sounds like a really interesting game. Love that kind of gaming- always adds an extra level to things rather than just pushing Toy Soldiers around; as much as I love doing that....



  5. Chasseur (Jeff),

    Anyone who can remember the Crisis will also remember the attitude that most people in the UK (and I suspect the US) displayed. It was a sort of militant resignation. Militant in that they did not want to give in to Soviet threats (after all, the Berlin Airlift had only happened 13 years before) and resigned to the fact that unless our leaders saw sense, the war was going to turn ‘hot’ … and that would very probably mean nuclear.

    The film you mention is an excellent recreation of the events of the Crisis, and I would recommend it to anyone who wants to get some idea about how things went … and how easily the outcome could have been different.

    All the best,


  6. Ssprojectblog (Pete),

    I love my toy soldiers, but the occasional game like this gives one the opportunity to experience genuine ‘fog of war’ and to get some small understanding of what it is really like to ‘command’ (or try to command!) during a crisis.

    All the best,