The Cuban Missile Crisis: A nuclear order of battle, October and November 1962

By Hans M. Kristensen, Robert S. Norris | November 1, 2012

Photo by Cecil Stoughton. White House Photographs. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston

Nuclear Notebook: How many nuclear weapons were operational during the Cuban Missile Crisis?

There is little argument that October 1962—the Cuban Missile Crisis—marked the closest the world has come to nuclear war. Today, 50 years later, volumes have been written about the crisis. Even so, in the tens of thousands of pages that interpret and analyze this conflict, there are essential details missing—specifically, a comprehensive nuclear order of battle. That is, there still remains to be a full accounting of the numbers and types of US and Soviet nuclear weapons that were operational, some of which were on high levels of alert and could have been readily used, from mid-October to November 20, 1962, when the naval blockade of Cuba ultimately ended.

Depending on their range, yield, location, and delivery mode, the types of nuclear weapons varied. Most writings on the crisis, however, describe certain weapon types and leave others out. The tally, therefore, remains incomplete…

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The Nuclear Notebook is researched and written by Hans M. Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project with the Federation of American Scientists and Robert S. Norris, a senior fellow with the FAS. The Nuclear Notebook column has been published in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists since 1987. The Nuclear Notebook column has been published in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists since 1987.

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