President John F. Kennedy is seen in this October 23, 1962 file photo after signing a proclamation formally putting into effect the U.S. arms quarantine against Cuba. File photo UPI | License Photo
WASHINGTON, Oct. 24, 1962 (UPI) -- With tension continuing to build in the most critical situation since World War II, President Kennedy met with cabinet officials and his top-level military and intelligence advisers
Twenty-five Russian ships, some believed to be carrying missiles capable of wrecking American cities, moved toward a brisling ring of U. S. warships and planes which were under orders to block by whatever means further aggressive arm deliveries to Fidel Castro.
Soviet officials here and elsewhere gave every indication that the Russian ships would refuse to stop or be searched. In the last alternative this would mean U. S. ships would carry out Kennedy's order to sink any ship that refuses to be diverted.
But this was only one of the tests ahead.
Government sources and congressional leaders reported that plans were "going forward" for a full-scale invasion of Cuba if present U. S. measures prove inadequate to neutralize the island as a threat to the United States.
Russian Lt. Gen. Vladimir A. Dubovik was quoted by the Washington Post as declaring at a Soviet embassy party here last night that "our ships will sail through and if it is decreed that those men must die, then they will obey their orders an stay on course or be sunk."
The President, who authorized the stop-or-be-sunk orders, met with his top aides promptly at 10 a.m. -- the hour the blockade went into effect. The officials sat as an executive committee of the National Security Council.
High Government sources confirmed what congressional leaders learned from their meeting late Monday with the President -- that as a matter of military expediency, invasion plans were going forward.
These sources said, however, that this country hoped that success in the United Nations would make invasion unnecessary.
Chairman Richard B. Russell (D-Ga.) of the Senate Armed Services Committee reportedly told Kennedy Monday that action stronger than a blockade would be necessary to root the already-installed Soviet missiles out of Cuba.
Early today, the U. S. Navy broadcast warnings to merchant ships to stay clear of the Windward Passage, Yucatan Channel and the Florida Straits. The Navy said these heavily traveled sea routes near Cuba may become "dangerous waters."
First test of the blockade could come today, according to Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara. Ships of any nationality attempting to pass into Cuban ports will be stopped and searched for arms ranging from missiles to bombers.
Vessels attempting to run the blockade will be halted by U. S. weapons and sunk if necessary.
Valerian Zorin, Soviet delegate to the United Nations, said "no self-respecting state will permit its shipping to be tampered with." In Havana, Premier Fidel Castro thundered that the U. S. arms quarantine "will very soon have repercussions."
Kennedy also summoned congressional leaders of both parties back to the White House for a 5 p.m. meeting, their second crisis conference since Monday afternoon.
Kennedy's blockade proclamation was issued after the Organization of American States (OAS) approved a U. S. resolution asking endorsement of the blockade. The vote was 19-0 with Uruguay abstaining because it did not receive instructions from its home government.
The proclamation, known technically as "interdiction of the delivery of offensive weapons to Cuba," authorized U. S. naval, military and air power to block arms deliveries to the Castor regime.
Specific arms covered in the blockade order were surface-to-surface missiles, bomber aircraft, bombs, air-to-surface rockets and guided missiles, warheads for any of those missiles, mechanical or electronic equipment to operate such missiles or any other classes of weapons designated by McNamara.
Under the proclamation, "any vessel or craft proceeding to Cuba" will be ordered by American units to "stop, lie to and submit to search." A ship found to be carrying material banned by the order will be directed to another destination of its own choice.
The blockade units, Task Force 136, went on station around Cuba under command of Vice Adm. Alfred Ward. Ward also commands the U. S. Second Fleet. Task Force 136 is made up of major naval units, including submarines, plus aircraft based on the East and Gulf coasts.
Ward's operation was under over-all jurisdiction of Adm. Robert L. Dennison, U. S. Atlantic fleet commander based in Norfolk, Va.