Enrique Carreras (1922–2014), a division general of the Revolutionary Armed Forces, born in 1922, is considered the father of revolutionary Cuba’s air force. A military officer before the revolution, Carreras was trained as a pilot in the United States during the Second World War and after. He opposed the US-backed...
Enrique Carreras (1922–2014), a division general of the Revolutionary Armed Forces, born in 1922, is considered the father of revolutionary Cuba’s air force.
A military officer before the revolution, Carreras was trained as a pilot in the United States during the Second World War and after. He opposed the US-backed coup of Fulgencio Batista in 1952 and became a collaborator within the armed forces of the July 26 Movement, led by Fidel Castro, which was fighting the dictatorship. In September 1957 the head of the air force ordered Carreras to bomb rebellious army units in the city of Cienfuegos. He and several others refused to carry out the order, for which they were arrested, court-martialed, and jailed. Carreras was sent to prison on the Isle of Pines, today the Isle of Youth.
After the revolution’s triumph at the opening of 1959, Carreras joined the effort to build the armed forces of the new revolutionary government. He was assigned by Fidel Castro to train a corps of pilots.
In April 1961, at the Bay of Pigs, the day they were preparing for arrived. As a prelude to the US-backed invasion, the air force bases in San Antonio de los Baños, Santiago de Cuba, and Ciudad Libertad in Havana were bombed on April 15 by CIA- trained counterrevolutionaries flying planes whose markings had been painted to appear to be those of the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR). Seven people were killed and fifty-three wounded. Cuba’s few existing planes had been dispersed on Castro’s instructions. Only two were destroyed.
The following day, at a mass rally to honor the victims of the attack and to mobilize the entire population for the coming war, Fidel Castro proclaimed for the first time the socialist character of the Cuban revolution.
Expecting an invasion at any moment, the commander in chief ordered Carreras and the other pilots to remain by their planes at all times. They slept on the runway beneath the wings of their aircraft.
On April 17, at 4:45 a.m., Carreras was urgently called to the telephone. Fidel Castro was on the line. A mercenary army was invading Cuba at Girón Beach on the Bay of Pigs. Castro issued immediate orders: “Carreras, there’s a landing taking place at Playa Girón. Take off right away and get there before dawn. Sink the ships transporting the troops and don’t let them get away. Understood?” “Understood, commander.”
Over the next seventy-two hours, the air squadron Carreras headed, consisting of ten pilots and eight dilapidated planes inherited from the armed forces of the dictatorship, was decisive in defeating the US-organized invasion. The Cuban planes brought down nine b-26 bombers flown by the counter- revolutionaries and US pilots, sank a number of their ships, and hounded the mercenary troops on the ground. Carreras himself shot down two aircraft, and the fighter plane he was flying was hit twice by enemy fire. Two Cuban pilots and several crew members were killed in the battle.
In subsequent years, Carreras served on various internationalist missions, among them a commission to Vietnam in 1969 to study its antiaircraft defenses. From April to August 1976, Carreras was part of a delegation led by Cuban defense minister Raúl Castro that went to Angola to help organize the Cuban volunteer forces there. Twelve years later, in March 1988, during the battle of Cuito Cuanavale, Carreras was part of the massive Cuban effort that helped Angola repel another South African offensive and sealed the fate of the failed South African attempt to topple the Angolan regime.
In recognition of his decades-long distinguished record, in 1989 Enrique Carreras was awarded the status of Hero of the Republic of Cuba, the country’s highest honor.