The man who saved the World

This post is dedicated to the man who has saved the World from a certain destruction. Without him the humanity would have fried in a thermonuclear hell in early 1960s so I guess we all have a lot to thank him for. In a crisis situation he demonstrated some clear thinking which has averted an all-out nuclear exchange between the US and USSR. Yes – I am talking about Vasili Arkhipov.

Born in 1926 he served in the Soviet-Japanese War of 1945 and later on the Russian nuclear submarines in the Black Sea, Northern and Baltic Fleets. In July 1961, Arkhipov was appointed deputy commander or executive officer of the new Hotel-class ballistic missile submarine K-19. During its nuclear accident, he backed Captain Nikolai Vladimirovich Zateyev who was facing a mutiny. While assisting with engineering work to deal with the overheating reactor, he was exposed to a harmful level of radiation. But what led to the accolades heaped upon Vasili Arkhipov on da-boss was the role he played during the episode known as  Cuban Missile Crisis. To understand the importance of his cameo appearance on the stage of World’s politics let us have a look at what had led to the events which shook the World in 1962.

After the failed Bay of Pigs invasion sponsored by CIA the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev offered Fidel Castro to install the nuclear missiles in Cuba. The Americans, under JFK, found out that the Soviet freighters headed for Cuba carried the missiles and set up the naval blockade of the island. The Soviet submarine B-59 operating in the area, on which Vasili Arkhipov served at that time, was located by the US Navy. This has led to a showdown which put the fate of the World in a balance.

The US sub-hunters located B-59 with a sonar and dropped some practice depth charges to flush it out. At that stage B-59 had been out of contact with the Soviet command for days, low on oxygen and somewhat desperate. The exploding practice depth charges were interpreted as an attack on the ship and a meeting convened to decide the response. In accordance with the Soviet military doctrine of the time three command personnel aboard B-59 had to be unanimous to launch a nuclear-tipped torpedo. They were the captain of the submarine, Valentin Grigorievitch Savitsky, the political officer Ivan Semonovich Maslennikov, and the second-in-command Vasili Arkhipov. If the nuclear torpedo had been launched it would have forced the US to retaliate and in 2013 there would be no da-boss blog and you would not be here to read it either.

Of the three crew members of B-59 deciding the fate of the World on October 27, 1962, the commander favoured launching the torpedo. His political officer concurred. Had Vasili Arkhipov joined them the torpedo would have been launched, triggering a sequence of events leading to the certain annihilation of the World we know. But he did not. He persuaded Savitsky to surface the submarine and await orders from Moscow. This is what they did and the Cuban Crisis was eventually settled politically.

Thomas Blanton (then director of the National Security Archive) said in 2002 that “a guy called Vasili Arkhipov saved the world”. He may as well be right so I encourage you to spare a thought to this unsung hero of humanity. Kudos.


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