During the night of 16/17 April, a mock diversionary landing was organized by CIA operatives near Bahía Honda, Pinar del Río Province. A flotilla of small boats towed rafts containing equipment that broadcasted sounds and other effects of a shipborne invasion landing. That was the source of Cuban reports that briefly lured Fidel Castro away from the Bay of Pigs battlefront area.
At about 00:00 on 17 April 1961, the two CIA LCIs Blagar and Barbara J, each with a CIA 'operations officer' and an Underwater Demolition Team (UDT) of five frogmen, entered the Bay of Pigs (Bahía de Cochinos) on the southern coast of Cuba. They headed a force of four transport ships (Houston, Río Escondido, Caribe and Atlántico) carrying about 1,400 Cuban exile ground troops of Brigade 2506, plus tanks and other vehicles in the landing craft. At about 01:00, the Blagar, as the battlefield command ship, directed the principal landing at Playa Girón (code-named Blue Beach), led by the frogmen in rubber boats followed by troops from Caribe in small aluminium boats, then LCVPs and LCUs. The Barbara J, leading Houston, similarly landed troops 35 km further northwest at Playa Larga (code-named Red Beach), using small fiberglass boats. Unloading troops at night was delayed, due to engine failures and boats damaged by unseen coral reefs. The few militia in the area succeeded in warning Cuban armed forces via radio soon after the first landing, before the invaders overcame their token resistance.
At daybreak at about 06:30, three FAR Sea Furies, one B-26 and two T-33 jets started attacking those CEF ships still unloading troops. At about 06:50, and 8 kilometres (5.0 mi) south of Playa Larga, Houston was damaged by several rockets from a Sea Fury and a T-33, and about 2 hours later captain Luis Morse intentionally beached it on the western side of the bay. About 270 troops had been unloaded, but about 180 survivors who struggled ashore were incapable of taking part in further action because of the loss of most of their weapons and equipment. At about 07:00, two invading FAL B-26s attacked and sank the Cuban Navy Patrol Escort ship El Baire at Nueva Gerona on the Isle of Pines. They then proceeded to Girón to join two other B-26s to attack Cuban ground troops and provide distraction air cover for the paratroop C-46s and the CEF ships under air attack.