Starting in the mid-1950s, the United States and the Soviet Union, both world powers at the head of their own blocs, were locked into an unprecedented arms race that culminated in the so-called Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. American aerial reconnaissance photographs showed that the Soviet Union was deploying medium-range missiles in Cuba. The very short flight time between the island and the mainland meant Moscow would easily be able to launch a nuclear strike on the USA.
This led to a fraught confrontation: To prevent the deployment of further missiles, the US Navy set up a naval blockade around Cuba, and Strategic Air Command was put on high alert as the stand-off threatened to escalate into a full-blown nuclear war. Feverish negotiations between Moscow and Washington finally succeeded in defusing the conflict.
But the crisis had a little-known backstory. Two years earlier, the USA had stationed its own medium-range missiles in the Mediterranean region, threatening Moscow, Leningrad and other targets in the Soviet Union. One place they were deployed was in Murgia, a sleepy region in southern Italy.