10 years ago, the part played by Captain Vasili Arkhipov in preventing World War Three was unknown to the general public, until, on the 40th anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis, his role made known.
Vasili Arkhipov joined the Soviet Navy as a young man, near the end of the Second World War, and saw service on board a minesweeper in the Far East against Japan. Later transferring to submarines, Arkhipov was executive officer aboard Submarine K-19
, when there was a serious radiation leak on the 4th July 1961 [ the incident has been filmed as K-19, The Widowmaker
The following year, Arkhipov, was commander of a group of 4 diesel electric "Foxtrot" class submarines sent from Murmansk as part of a planned deployment to Mariel Bay, Cuba. Arkhipov travelled aboard Submarine B-59
, Captain Savitsky. When the United States began it's quarantine of Cuba, the 4 Foxtrots were ordered to hold position in the Sargasso Sea.
On the 27th October 1962, B-59
was detected by a US Navy anti-submarine group and subjected to continual sonar pingings and bombardment by practice depth charges. The American intention was to force the Soviets to the surface and had informed Moscow of the proposed method, unfortunately B-59
had been out of contact for a week and had no way of knowing if a shooting war had started for real.
After 5 hours of being chased, Captain Savinsky ordered the deployment of B-59
's "special weapon". Known only to the Captain, Political Officer and Weapons Officer aboard, each of the 4 Foxtrots was armed with a nuclear warhead torpedo. Savinsky now proposed using this against the surrounding US forces. Political Officer Maslennikov, concurred and both men matched up their respective halves of the fire control key and prepared to fire. It was now that Arkhipov intervened, as commander of the squadron [ though technically second in command of B-59 itself], any firing decision required his approval and this approval he now flatly refused.
Savinsky and Maslennikov deferred to this decision and the "special weapon" was made safe. Any use of nuclear weapons at this period would have almost certainly resulted in escalation.B-59
surfaced and retired from the scene, the other 3 boats having already gone.B-59
photographed on the surface on either the 28th or 29th October 1962.
At the 40th anniversary of the Crisis, Robert MacNamarra declared that the actions of Arkhipov had prevented a nuclear war.