It was 1962, in the midst of the Cuban missile crisis. The Cold War was at its height and President Kennedy had decreed a blockade of Cuba. No one was allowed to sail in the waters surrounding the island. However, a Russian B-59 submarine remained hidden in those waters, but a U.S. Navy ship detected it. The Americans began the hunt for the submarine by dropping depth charges, to force it to surface and identify itself. What they did not know was that the Soviet submarine was armed with nuclear missiles. It could have been a disaster, but a Russian officer prevented it.
A decision that could provoke World War 3.
The Soviet commander aboard the B-59, Valentin Savitsky, decided to respond to the attack with a nuclear torpedo. He ordered to arm the torpedo with his warhead and moments later the second in command approved the same order.
The submarine was having problems on board, as they were enduring temperatures above 40 °C due to an air conditioning failure. In addition, they had been unable to communicate with the Soviet high command for days, so, for lack of information, they did not know if a war had started.
In this situation, the Soviet commander aboard the B-59 faced a difficult choice. He had to decide whether to fire a missile at a U.S. Navy ship or refrain. The ready-to-fire torpedo was similar in power to the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. However, a depth charge against the submarine ultimately swayed Savitsky’s decision to launch the torpedo.
Russian officer averts disaster
A new officer, Vasili Alexandrovich Arkhipov, entered the scene in time to influence a crucial decision and save the world from a disaster of unknown consequences. Despite having the same rank as Savitsky, Arkhipov managed to calm the situation and convince him not to launch the nuclear torpedo. His negative vote was decisive in the chain of command, thus preventing the attack.
It is known that Arkhipov convinced Savitsky that the situation was not an attack, but simply a request for identification. Thanks to his persuasion, the Russian submarine, an older model diesel type, emerged to respond. Originally, the submarine’s mission was to carry missiles directly to Cuba, but they received orders to wait at sea before reaching their destination. Savitsky made the decision to remain submerged to avoid detection by the Americans, which resulted in the loss of communication with the Soviet High Command.
Arkhipov deserves credit for saving the world from a war with devastating consequences. However, he died in 1998 in anonymity, from kidney cancer. His name will be officially included in history the day the Russian reports are released.