Vasili Arkhipov was a Soviet naval officer who refused to allow a Soviet nuclear attack on a U.S. aircraft carrier during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962.
Arkhipov’s actions probably prevented an open nuclear war, the consequences of which would have included the deaths of millions, if not billions, of innocent people, a collapse of many nation-states and their economies, and an enormous amount of environmental damage. National Security Archive has called Arkhipov a man who “saved the world.”
A Little Bit Of His Life
Vasily Arkhipov was born on January 30, 1926, to a peasant family in Staraya Kupavna – a small town outside Moscow. After a traditional education in a state school, Arkhipov enrolled in the Pacific Naval School of Higher Studies – a facility that trained Soviet sailors in 1942.
Arkhipov first experienced military action during the Sino-Japanese War in August 1945, when he served aboard a minesweeper. In 1947, Arkhipov graduated from naval school and then served on submarine vessels in the Black Sea and Baltic.
The Cuban Missile Crisis
The Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 is considered the tensest moment of the entire Cold War. After the Americans detected that the USSR was building missile bases on the island, oriented towards the USA, Kennedy sent the Atlantic fleet to encircle the Caribbean country and prevent anyone from entering or leaving.
The Soviets, for their part, had sent three submarines to Caribbean waters with nuclear torpedoes inside. One of these vessels was detected by the Americans.
However, they knew nothing about the nuclear payloads and were also unaware of something more important: the ship’s commanders had permission to launch them without a direct order from Moscow.
This means the commander of each of the submarines could initiate the launching of the missiles if the political advisor and the commander of the entire fleet agreed. A vote in favor of all three was essential to execute the ejection of the projectiles. If there was no unanimity, the launch could not proceed.
Confusion On Board
The submarine B-59, in which Vasily Arkhipov, the fleet commander, was on board, was at great depth, as they had tried unsuccessfully to avoid detection by the Americans. As a result, they could not establish any contact with Moscow, so they did not know what was happening outside.
The U.S. Navy sent radio messages to the submarine to surface, but because the vessel was so deep they were never received.
The commander of the B-59, Valentin Savitsky, who had not received an order from Moscow for a week, was unwilling to surface, so the U.S. fleet began dropping depth charges that exploded on the submarine’s sides to force the Soviets to do so.
Savitsky, who like the rest of the sailors did not know what was happening and seeing how the submarine suffered the consequences of the explosive charges (destruction of basic systems such as ventilation) thought that World War III might have already begun.
Therefore, there was a justification for launching the shells, an analysis shared by the political advisor, but not by Arkhipov, the fleet commander.
On The Brink Of Disaster
The situation was critical. The fleet commander argued that the Americans might have been attacking them. It took Arkhipov hours to convince Savistky that the most sensible thing to do was to go up, talk to the Americans and wait for orders from Moscow.
Finally, and happily for all, the Soviet ship surfaced. World War III had been averted. It is clear that Arkhipov kept control of the situation and, as his wife said, knew that launching nuclear torpedoes “was madness”.
Thanks to Akhipov’s cool head, nuclear war and thus the destruction of mankind was avoided. However, the story of this man is hardly known.