On October 27, 1962, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, a group of eleven United States Navy destroyers and the aircraft carrier USS Randolph located the diesel-powered nuclear-armed Soviet Foxtrot-class submarine B-59 near Cuba. Despite being in international waters the Americans started dropping practice depth charges, explosives intended to force the submarine to come to the surface for identification. There had been no contact from Moscow for a number of days and, although the submarine’s crew had earlier been picking up U.S. civilian radio broadcasts, once B-59 began attempting to hide from its U.S. Navy pursuers, it was too deep to monitor any radio traffic, so those on board did not know whether war had broken out.
The captain of the submarine, Valentin Grigorievitch Savitsky, believing that a war might already have started, wanted to launch a nuclear-tipped torpedo.
Three officers on board the submarine – Savitsky, the political officer Ivan Semonovich Maslennikov, and the second-in-command Arkhipov – were authorized to launch the torpedo if agreeing unanimously in favor of doing so. An argument broke out among the three, in which only Arkhipov was against the launch.
Although Arkhipov was only second-in-command of submarine B-59, he was actually Commander of the flotilla of submarines including B-4, B-36, and B-130, and of equal rank to Captain Savitsky. According to author Edward Wilson, the reputation Arkhipov gained from his courageous conduct in the previous year’s K19 incident also helped him prevail in the debate.
Arkhipov eventually persuaded Savitsky to surface the submarine and await orders from Moscow. This presumably averted the nuclear warfare which would have ensued had the torpedo been fired.
The submarine’s batteries had run very low and the air-conditioning had failed, so it was forced to surface amidst its U.S. pursuers and head home.
Washington’s message that practice depth charges were being used to signal the submarines to surface never reached B-59, and Moscow claims it has no record of receiving it either.
- How one man’s “NO” saved the world (indrus.in)
- Thank you Vasili Arkhipov, the man who stopped nuclear war | Edward Wilson (guardian.co.uk)
- How One Man Held Off Nuclear War (theepochtimes.com)
- Secret hero: the man who saved the world from World War III (thesun.co.uk)
- How a Soviet submariner stopped World War III! (sfluxe.com)