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The CIA proceeded to organize the operation with the aid of various Cuban counter-revolutionary forces, training Brigade 2506 in Guatemala. Over 1,400 paramilitaries, divided into five infantry battalions and one paratrooper battalion, assembled in Guatemala before setting out for Cuba by boat on 13 April 1961. Cuban airfields and then returned to the US. It initially overwhelmed a local revolutionary militia. Castro decided to take personal control of the operation.

As the US involvement became apparent to the world, and with the initiative turning against the invasion, Kennedy decided against providing further air cover. As a result, the operation only had half the forces the CIA had deemed necessary. The original plan devised during Eisenhower’s presidency had required both air and naval support. On 20 April, the invaders surrendered after only three days, with the majority being publicly interrogated and put into Cuban prisons. The failed invasion helped to strengthen the position of Castro’s leadership, made him a national hero, and entrenched the rocky relationship between the former allies. It also strengthened the relations between Cuba and the Soviet Union. The US subsequently invaded the island, and forced the Spanish army out.