miércoles, 4 de enero de 2017

The Death of General Enrique Carreras and my Participation in the Bay of Pigs by Frank de Varona

The Death of General Enrique Carreras and my Participation in the Bay of Pigs


Frank de Varona

Shortly after midnight, our ship, the Houston, an old liberty type vessel, entered the Bay of Pigs on April 17, 1961. There was complete silence, only the splashing of waves against the ship could be heard. Our D-Day had arrived!

While on the ship, I was reminiscing and recalling that less than a month before my brother, Jorge, and I were students at Georgia Tech in Atlanta, Georgia. When the winter quarter ended in mid March, we both returned to Miami and announced to our astonished parents that we wanted to enlist in the Brigade and train in the camps of Guatemala to liberate our country from communism.

My father allowed my brother, who was 19 at the time, to enlist but refused to allow me to do so since I was only 17. Eventually, my father agreed after several days of intense discussions and signed a consent form since I was a minor. I was finally able to join my brother, many cousins, and other friends from my hometown of Camagüey, Cuba in Guatemala on April 1, 1961.

Fortunately, I attended Admiral Farragut Academy, a naval preparatory academy from 1957 to 1960 in St, Petersburg, Florida where I graduated. We had military and naval discipline and Admiral Farragut Academy prepared me to be a sailor and a soldier. Also, at my father’s cattle ranch in Camagüey, my brother and I had shot many birds so we were used to handling a rifle. We both attended four summer camps in the United States and took shooting classes. In fact at the training camp in Guatemala, I was the among the best shooters, I wrote a letter to my parents proudly stating any enemy soldier at 300 yards would be a dead soldier.

After barely two weeks of training, I was flown to Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua with the rest of the brigadistas. On the night of April 14, our five small rusty cargo ships left for Cuba. We were not allowed to cook onboard since we were carrying gasoline and oil for the B-26s (if they could have landed at the airport in Playa Girón) and tons of ammunition, which made our ships floating bombs. Later one of our ships, Río Escondido, blew up after being attacked by Castro’s Air Force. My brother Jorge had been aboard that ship, but fortunately he and his Sixth Battalion had already landed.

At 2:00 a.m., the  Houston arrived in front of Playa Larga. I was on the deck of the ship anxiously waiting to disembark with other 160 soldiers from the Fifth Battalion. The more experienced soldiers from the Second Battalion began to disembark first in the small boats with outboard motors that we were carrying under heavy enemy fire.

The crane used to place these boats on the water made a tremendously loud noise and soon we were under fire by the enemy on land. The Houston had four 50-caliber machine guns which immediately began firing at the enemy in Playa Larga. It did not have anti-aircraft machine guns. The small Barbara J, a support ship, also began to fire at the enemy. Throughout the night I watched the illuminated tracer bullets hit the shore. The outboard engines in some of the boats broke down and others got lost in the dark or sank when they hit the rocks and reefs on the beach. When morning arrived, the entire Fifth Battalion and squad from the Second were still on board the Houston.

Fuerza Aérea Revolucionaria (Revolutionary Air Force)

A Sea Fury F 50 preserved at the Museo Girón  in Cuba.

The Cuban government had  purchased 17 refurbished Sea Furies from Hawker in Great Britain. When the Cuban dictator Fidel Castro came to power in 1959, these aircrafts became part of the Fuerza Aérea Revolucionaria (FAR) (Revolutionary Air Force). The communist regime also inherited  several B-26s and T-33 jets from the Fulgencio Batista government. 

On April 17, 1961, during the Bay of Pigs invasion  three Sea Furies, two B-26s and two T-33s started attacking the Brigade 2506 ships and the soldiers in Playa Girón and Playa Larga.  On April 15, 1961, in a pre-emptive and surprise attack by eight  Brigade 2506  Air Force B-26s,  two Sea Furies were destroyed on the ground, one at Ciudad Libertad  and one in a hangar near Moa, as well as other aircrafts. During the Bay of Pigs invasion Brigade soldiers  shot down a FAR Sea Fury.

In the early hours of April 17, 1961, Brigade 2506 soldiers began to land at  Playa Larga and Playa Girón.  Around 6:30 a.m., a FAR formation, composed of three Sea Furies, one B-26, and two T-33s started to attack the ships of the Brigade 2506.

Aboard the Houston, we saw a B-26 flying in our direction and we all applauded. We expected air support as we had been told that “the sky would be ours.” Much to our surprise and despair, the B-26 opened fire on us from one end to the other of the Houston. Our nightmare had just begun. We were repeatedly attacked by Castro’s B-26s, Sea Furies, and T-33 jets. Several of our soldiers were killed or wounded. I saw a bomb be dropped by a B-26 so close to our ship that its explosion shook the Houston.

Later on, while attempted to land at an airbase, Carreras Rolás's Sea Fury was attacked and damaged by a Brigade B-26; but he was able to abort his approach and escape. Carreras Rolás later shot down other  B-26s. While attempting to shoot down a Brigade Curtiss C-46 that was  bringing Brigade paratroopers, Nicaraguan-born pilot Carlos Ulloa crashed in the Bay of Pigs around 8:30 a.m., after having received anti-aircraft fire from Brigade soldiers. Around 9:30 a.m., multiple FAR aircraft, including the Sea Fury of Carreras Rolás destroyed the Brigade ship, Rio Escondido.  A Sea Fury piloted by Lieutenant Douglas Rudd also destroyed a Brigade  B-26.

 At about 9:00 a.m., five miles south of Playa Larga, the  Houston was damaged by rockets and cannons from FAR aircraft, including the Sea Fury piloted by Captain Enrique Carreras Rolás (known as Abuelo) and Captain Gustavo Bourzac. We were hit in the stern by a Sea Fury’s rocket. The explosion made a ten-foot hole in the bottom of the ship and damaged the rudder.

Fortunately, the rocket did not explode or we would have all died. The Houston started to sink fast and its captain, Luis Morse, beached her about a mile from the coast. I heard explosions and saw smoke and thought that the ship was going to blow up at any moment.

After the Houston was beached, soldiers from the Fifth Battalion  began to jump in the water but I hesitated since I had seen sharks in the water. I finally jumped in with a knife in my hand. I had left my rifle and backpack aboard but kept 360 bullets and grenades around my chest and waist and was wearing my uniform including my boots. With all this weight on me, I soon hit the bottom of the ocean and almost drown. I had great difficulty reaching the surface due to the weight I was carrying. With great effort, I discarded everything in the water except for my pants.

Together with my roommate at Georgia Tech, Eduardo Sánchez, I started to swim towards the shore.

 After more than 53 years, I still vividly remember what happened on that day. Enemy planes were shooting at those of us in the water. Many soldiers were screaming and drowning and some were being devoured by sharks.

I saw a small boat floating aimlessly in the water and since I was completely exhausted I said farewell to Eduardo and swam to the boat. I asked for help to the men who were inside the boat. None assisted me. I held to the side of the boat and desperately tried to climb into it. After attempting several times, I was able to finally do it. Once I lifted myself on board, I saw several soldiers crying and in a state of shock. I was unable to persuade them to row the boat ashore. I also helped another soldier who was in the water to climb on board. After resting for several minutes, I jumped in the water and swam as fast as I could ashore.

It took me about an hour to swim to shore as I had to float to rest along the way several times. Feeling completely exhausted, I eventually emerged out of the water. I knelt down, thanked God, and kissed the sand. I looked around and saw desperate unarmed soldiers begging for water, many of them wearing only underwears with their bodies covered with oil.

Later on that sad morning, our battalion commander, Ricardo Montero Duque, asked for four volunteers to row a lifeboat from the shore back to the Houston to rescue the wounded soldiers and others still onboard who did not know how to swim. I volunteered together with Mario Cabello, Jorge Marquet, and another soldier. We rowed as fast as we could to the Houston, always looking at the sky for enemy aircrafts that continued shooting at us from time to time.

We were able to rescue several soldiers and some of our wounded. One of them was Dr. René Lamar, a medical doctor, who had been hit in the arm. Among the soldiers we brought to shore were the Fifth Battalion second-in-command Félix Pérez Tamayo, Radio operator Luis González Lalondry, and Fico Rojas.

In the afternoon, we walked north bordering the beach towards Playa Larga. Unfortunately, there were enemy soldiers at a nearby small village called la Caleta de Buenaventura and only a handful of us had rifles. Our battalion commander Ricardo Montero Duque ordered us to return to the area near the partially sunk Houston and wait to be rescued.

Without food or water I waited with the others. On Thursday, April 18, at approximately 5:00 p.m., as our priest Father Tomás Macho (who years later married me to my wife Haydée) began to offer a mass. Two boats with six enemy soldiers landed in the area. The few of us who had rifles opened fire killing or wounding them. However, one of them escaped in one of the boats. At that moment, since our position was already known, we received the order to disband and attempt to escape. But where should we go? We had no maps and we were in a swamp area.

I was very weak and extremely thirsty. With a small group, I started to walk south not knowing where to go. By Saturday morning, April 22, I could not speak due to the dryness in my mouth and throat caused by extreme thirst since I had not drink water for six days. At about noon, I was captured by the enemy. The enemy soldiers after stealing my watch, wallet, and boots offered me food and water, but all I wanted was water. The water tasted like vinegar and the more I drnk the more thirst I had.

Meeting Ernesto Che Guevara

I was taken to Playa Girón by boat crossing the Bay of Pigs and placed in a small room in a house there with other prisoners. Later that night, the Argentinean  assassin Ernesto Che Guevara came to see us. He looked at each of us for a long time without speaking, while his many bodyguards told us "This is the great Che Guevara who has come to see you" and other false statements of how concerned the bloody Guevara was about us.

During the first few months of 1959, Fidel Castro appointed Guevara to be in charge of La Cabaña, an old Spanish castle which served as a prison to implement a reign of terror. Che Guevara shot approximately 2,000 freedom-loving Cubans, including children, after draining them of most of their blood. The blood was sold to North Vietnam. Today, communist Cuba still sells blood and organs to other countries receiving over $100 million a year. Cuba has always been a sadistic Vampire nation.

The bloody Guevara walked towards me and said in a soft voice "How many caballerías (a unit of land equivalent to 33 acres) did your father have"? I answered, "100". He said, "So you came to Cuba to recover the land that the Revolution took from your father?" "No,"  I said, "whether or not I had come in the invasion, had we succeeded in overthrowing your communist regime, our cattle ranches would have been returned to my father since he did not steal the land from anyone."

Che responded, "You are wrong, your father stole the land from the sweat of the peasants who worked for him." I disagreed  by stating the following: "No, he did not, my father worked very hard all his life to earn money to buy land. What you are telling me is communist theory that all property is stolen from the sweat of the workers and  I do not agree with that viewpoint."

Che asked where did I attend school. "Colegio "Champagnat in Camagüey from the Marist Brothers," I answered. "Did the brothers tell you we were bad?," he inquired. "No, I already knew that," I responded.

"How have you been treated as prisoners?,", Che asked me. "Very badly. Your soldiers have stolen my money, watch, and took my boots," I said. "Those items are needed by the Revolution," he told me. "Do they also need our religious items?," I asked him. "No," he said and ordered his soldiers to return them to us. Thus, I recovered the religious medals that my mother had given me before going to war as well as my rosary and a small statute of the Virgin Mary-- all of which I still have in my home in Miami.

The inhumane communist prisons

Two difficult years of brutal imprisonment followed. We were packed like sardines in a can, starved, given polluted water, beaten, and kept in isolation for as  long as seven months. I contracted hepatitis, dysentery, and skin diseases. We slept on the bare floor and were deprived of soap, toothpaste, and toilet paper for months. We were truly treated worse than animals.

 After a year of imprisonment, we were given a trial and sentenced to thirty years at hard labor. Each prisoner was also set a ransom of money. The ransom for my brother and I was $100,000 each. While in prison, I studied French, German, religion, accounting, and history, and read hundreds of books.

At last, we were freed on December 25, 1962 after 20 months in the Castillo del Príncipe and Isle of Pines prisons. My parents cried when they saw my brother and I in Miami. My weight at the time of release was 120 pounds.

The week at the Bay of Pigs and the nearly two-year imprisonment made me appreciate even more the value of freedom and those daily privileges and comforts that we take for granted, such as food, water, housing, cleanliness. Despite having lost our freedom along with our home, cattle ranches, and bank accounts in Cuba and living below the poverty level in Miami, I was certain that I was going through a transitory situation. I was determined to achieve an education and become a successful professional in the United States.

I have enjoyed a great life in this country as an educator and writer. I am happily married to a great woman, Dr. Haydée Prado, a psychologist, and have a wonderful daughter, Irene, a successful sales consultant, and handsome grandson Danny.

Who was Division General  Enrique Carreras  Rolás who sank the Houston killing 26 soldiers from the Fifth Battalion and other Brigade soldiers and two Americans?

Enrique Carreras Rolas, Photo from Enrique Carreras, Por el dominio del aireEnrique Carreras was born in 1923.  His  father was a corporal of the Cuban Constitutional Army and his mother did not work outside and took care of the home. They had six children. Carreras grew in Matanzas, where he saw  flying boats in the bay. He then developed a passion for aircrafts.  He joined the Army during WWII and was later accepted in the Air Force, graduating  on March 25, 1944. During the remainder of the Second World War, he patrolled the Cuban water in search of German submarines. 

After the coup d'état by Fulgencio Batista in March of 1952, Enrique Carreras was promoted to Captain Assistant of the General Staff Chief, Colonel Eulogio Cantillo,  who until that moment was the Army Air Force Corp Chief.  Later, he was appointed leader of the Escuadrón de Combate of F-47D Thunderbolts. He participated in conspiracies against President Fulgencio Batista. In 1957, Enrique Carreras joined, along with Lieutenant Alvaro Prendes, the July 26 Movement of Fidel Castro.

On September 5, 1957, Carreras participated in the revolt in Cienfuegos.  As leader of the F-74D Squadron, he refused the order of bombarding the rebel sailors. For his insubordination and his involvement in the conspiracy against the Batista government  Carreras was imprisoned until the triumph of Castro on January 1, 1959.  Returning to the now Revolutionary Air Force, he  investigated his former aviators who had bombed Castro rebels in Oriente province. These pilots of the Batista’s Air Force were accused of committing crimes but were not found guilty during their trial.  An angry Fidel Castro ignored the court´s ruling and illegally had them convicted in a second trial to lengthy prison sentences.

Carreras participated in several purges of the personnel of the Air Force, firing the non-communist individuals.  Carreras became an instructor and  one of the leaders of the Fuerza Aérea Revolucionaria (FAR). After the defection of  Diaz Lanz to the United States, Carreras was placed in charge of the Escuadrón de Persecución y Combate (Pursuit and Combat Squadron). Carreras taught aviation to Che Guevara and Raul Castro in 1959.  

During the Bay of Pigs invasion in April of 1961, Captain Carreras was one of the most successful pilots of the FAR. On April 17,1961, he received the order from Fidel Castro to attack the Brigade 2506 ships that were transporting the invading troops. As stated earlier, Carreras with rockets from his Sea Fury, sank the Houston.  

He shot down two B-26s, the first one while piloting  in his Sea Fury and another B-26 on April 19 while in a T-33. In total, Carreras completed seven missions.  He was the only FAR pilot  who flew in the three combat airplanes types of the FAR: Sea Fury, B-26, and T-33.  Carreras shot the B-26 that was being flown by two American aviators from the Alabama National Guard. Thus,  Captain Carreras killed and injured many Brigade soldiers and two Americans.

He was the first pilot in Cuba to fly MiG-15 and MiG-19. He was appointed as leader of the first Escuadrón de Cazas (Fighter Squadron) of MiG-15s.  During the Missile Crisis of October of 1962, he served as the Air Force representative of Flavio Bravo, General Staff of the Armed Forces.

Carreras was appointed Military Attaché in Peru, Mexico and Portugal.  He served as  the leader of a Cuban delegation to North Vietnam, a nation that was fighting against the United States  and South Vietnam. 

In 1976, Major Carreras was appointed leader of the Cuban Air Force in Angola.  In 1988, he stopped flying at the age of 65. In 1994, Carreras  was promoted to Division General. He was decorated with the medal of Hero of the Republic of Cuba.  Carreras published his memoirs in the book entitled  Por el dominio del aire (Control of the Skies) in 1995. General Carreras died on March 18, 2014.

71 TMK Sea Fury N71GB Sawbones 2014 gold photo D Ramey Logan.jpg


A current Sea Fury flying in Nevada.


Momento en que Fidel impone al general Carreras el título de Héroe de la República de Cuba

Castro places a medal on Carreras.


 General Enrique Carreras Rolás with Cuban dictador Fidel Castro.

Other pilots of the Revolutionary Air Force who fought at the Bay of Pigs

Rafael del Pino Díaz joined the Revolutionary Air Force (FAR) at the beginning of 1959 and began his flying training to become a fighter pilot. In April 1961, he flew a Lockheed T-33 jet and shot down two Brigade 2506 B-26s and assisted in the sinking of the Houston and the Río Escondido. During the three-day battle, Rafael del Pino flew 25 combat missions. Del Pino rose through the ranks of the Cuban Air force and was promoted to the rank of brigadier general.

On May 28, 1987, a twin engine plane Cessna 402 requested permission to land at the Boca Chica Naval Air Station at Key West, Florida. The aircraft was piloted by Brigadier General Rafael del Pino Díaz, deputy commander of the Cuban Revolutionary Air Force. Del Pino´s airplane was chased by two MiG-23BNs from San Antonio de los Baños Air Force Base, but he succeeded in reaching U.S. airspace before he could be intercepted. This was one of the most surprising and damaging events the Castro regime has faced.

General del Pino was a hero of the Cuban Revolution. Since he shot two B-26s at the Bay of Pigs, del Pino was portrayed as a revolutionary hero in articles and television programs in Cuba. Later del Pino was trained in the Soviet Union as a MiG pilot and served two years in Angola. He eventually rose to the rank of brigadier general, a position he occupied at the time of his defection.

The Cuban American National Foundation published a book on del Pino. In this publication, the Foundation  asked what led a general who had such a brilliant career within the Cuban regime to take such a step and risk, not only his life, but that of his family who accompanied him on his flight to freedom. The interviews of del Pino with Radio Marti, were obtained by the Cuban American National Foundation and from other media sources in South Florida, provided a good insight to the general's reasons. The Cuban American National Foundation stated that these were reasons for his defection:

"First, there is war fatigue. The general and his colleagues in the Cuban armed forces are convinced Cuban lives are being wasted unnecessarily and irresponsibly in the war in Angola. According to del Pino, they are convinced the war cannot be won.

Second, his comments reflect great resentment for the callousness in risking lives and dealing with casualties; in particular, the practice of not returning the remains of the dead to Cuba and allowing families to mourn their losses.

Third, there is the increasingly unacceptable contrast between the privileges of Castro's intimate circle and the austerity being imposed on the people as a consequence of the economic failures of the Revolution.

Finally, there is the personal experience of having had a son beaten by a lieutenant colonel and then seeing the corrupt legal system cover up the incident."

Rafael del Pino now lives under the protection of the United States government. He later wrote a book, Proa a la Libertad, Editorial Planeta Mexicana, 1990.

This writer met Rafael del Pino in Miami. He remembers very well del Pino's T-33 jet firing at him and the other soldiers of the Fifth Battalion aboard the Houston on April 17, 1961.

Douglas Rudd died in Miami in early 1992 while visiting the home of Eduardo Ferrer, one of the pilots of Air Force of the Brigade 2506. Gustavo Bourzac died in Cuba. Jack Lagas died in an aviation accident in Chile. Alberto Fernandez, still resides in Havana. Ernesto Guerrero originally returned to his native Nicaragua, but now lives in California.

Colonel Alvaro Prendes Quintana wrote a letter to dictator Fidel Castro, in which he requested democratic changes in Cuba. When his request was ignored, Colonel Prendes spoke to the foreign press about his views, which was consider to be treason by the communist regime. Due to the fact that he was a popular hero, Colonel Prendes was granted permission to leave for the United States, where he currently resides. He later wrote a book, En el Punto Rojo de mi Kolimador,  Editorial de Arte y Literatura, 1976.

Raquel Carreras Rivery


General Enrique Carreras Rolás was survived by his seven children. After the death of General Carreras, Granma, which is the official newspaper of the Central Committee of the Communist Party in Cuba, reproduced an article of an interview of the general by a reporter six years before. In his interview General Carreras spoke of his intimate friendship with Cuban dictator Raúl Castro and his great admiration for dictator Fidel Castro. He explained that Raúl Castro visited his home and met his entire family. He spoke of his loyalty for the Cuban Revolution and the Communist Party. It is obvious from this interview that the children of General Enrique Carreras Rolás met several times with Fidel and Raúl Castro and with many other generals of the Armed Forces of Cuba.

One of his seven children, Dr. Raquel Carreras Rivery, made the following comment in the newspaper Granma regarding her father. She stated the following: "In addition to being the great man that he was, General Tamayo, when the book, Secrets of Generals, was presented said this about my father: he was the most honest person that I have met, the most humble, the most calm, and the most decent. But additionally, he was the most aggressive that we have known in the combat aviation". Raquel Carreras continued writing and said the following regarding General Carreras: "He was a sweet, understanding and concerned father, a human being of enormous qualities. His children and all others that felt that they were his children within the Cuban Air Force, can never forget him. I hope the example of his life serves as an inspiration to many. Rest in peace father, this is your external flight"!

Dr. Raquel Carreras is married and has two daughters, one lives in Cuba and the other one resides in Chicago. Raquel's husband, Ismael, a retired Cuban pilot moved to Chicago to be with their daughter. Since Ismael moved to the United States, he receives $700 a month pension from Social Security, in addition to his pension from Cuba.

Raquel Carreras lives in Reparto Kohly, one of the best neighborhoods of Havana. As daughter of a highly decorated division general and a hero of the Cuban Revolution, she must have lived a privileged life in Cuba. Currently, Dr. Carreras travels to the United States, Spain, Portugal, Russia, Ecuador, and other nations giving conferences.

In 1980, Raquel Carreras received a degree in Biologic Sciences at the University of Havana . Since then and until 1995, she worked as a scientist in the Wood Anatomy Laboratory at the Forestry Research Institute of Cuba.

In 1995, she started working at the National Center of Conservation and Restoration as a scientist supporting the restoration of the Historic Centre of Old Havana. In January 1996, she obtained her Ph.D. in Forestry Science at the University of Pinar del Rio and obtained the title of principal researcher.

In 2001,  Raquel Carreras received a grant to initiate an investigation on wood from the cultural patrimony at the Getty Conservation Institute of Los Angeles. The following year, she was hired as an expert advisor to teach technical training at the previously mentioned institute.

Raquel Carreras is а regional teacher for UNESCO on the Preservation of Cultural Patrimony of Latin America and the Caribbean (CRECI). She has also performed a mission as an expert for UNESCO in the evaluation of cultural goods in Guayaquil.

Raquel Carreras is part of the technical team of advisors at the Center of Research of Technology and Arts (CITAR), and frequently invited to participate as a professor in the Master and Ph.D. Programs at the Valencia Polytechnic University, Granada University, and Oporto Catholic University. Raquel Carreras is a member of the Association of Plastic Arts at the National Writers and Artistic Guild of Cuba (UNEAC) as well as the Botanic Cuban Society.

She is the author of the book Wood Anatomy that includes 157 forestry species in Cuba, their technological applications, historic and cultural background (Belgium), of how to identify the wood structures (Spain), wood in native objects (Cuba), and main types of wood present in different styles of furniture (Cuba), in among others.

Unlike Fidel Castro's daughter, Alina Fernández, who defected from Cuba and denounced the many crimes committed by her father in Miami, Dr. Raquel Carreras Rivery continues to live and work in Cuba. Dr. Raquel Carreras Rivery is very proud of her father, Division General Enrique Carreras Rolás and wrote in Granma after his death that "I hope the example of his life serves as an inspiration to many." Certainly no freedom loving Cuban would be inspired by the life of General Enrique Carreras Rolás who always supported the tyrannical Castro regime in Cuba

0 comentarios:

Publicar un comentario

Enviar comentarios: