We could have been living in a very different present had it not been for a certain Russian sitting inside a nuclear torpedo equipped submarine aimed at the U.S Navy. A world ravaged by nuclear war with generations getting to experience its ripple effect, first-hand. He’s the reason why you, I or anyone on this planet perhaps, is alive. Alive to tell the story of Vasili Arkhipov – the man who saved our planet.
1962 could have been mankind’s last year.
Our history books didn’t tell us much about the importance of ’62, perhaps because it was mostly about the US of A and the Soviet Union. But the Cuban Missile Crisis could have ended up being the most crucial 13 days in the history of mankind. The Cuban Missile Crisis (12th-28th October 1962) was a confrontation between the Soviets and the Americans concerning the Soviet ballistic missile deployment in Cuba. The tension was so high that it was considered the closest the Cold War came to escalating into a nuclear war!
Cuba, during the Cold War, was going through a testing phase. Cuba had been under the influence of the USA but a certain Fidel Castro led the entire nation of Cuba against the authorities and established a communist government in favour of the Soviets. The relationship between Cuba and the US worsened after news broke that the States was backing an infiltration along with Cuban exiles in 1961. That very year, USSR leader Nikita Khrushchev agreed to secretly place nuclear-tipped missiles in Cuba, just to make sure the west didn’t bother again.
In October ’62, a US spy plane spotted the missiles and the sites being built. Then U.S President John F. Kennedy, apparently under pressure from the opposition, especially because it was during the election time, decided to block off the island to prevent any future deliveries of weapons. He also demanded Nikita Khrushchev to remove the arms he had already put there. Tensions were rising, and the world was heading towards a devastating war.
While USSR missiles, all 42 of them, were pointing towards America, Kennedy himself had American allies equipped with nuclear warheads. Nuclear missiles in Turkey and Italy could hit Moscow in as less as 16 minutes. USSR wasn’t planning on backing down here. They had their fair share of nukes that were not only directed towards most of the major American cities, but also had enough ammunition to destroy all of the U.S’s allies. Imagine the ramifications, had it not been for a certain Vasili Arkhipov.
Where does Vasili Arkhipov come into the picture?
Born to a poor peasant family in the small town of Staraya near Moscow on the 30th of January 1926, Vasili got his first military role as a minesweeper in the Pacific Theater just when the second World War was coming to an end. He was 16 then. Graduating from Naval School back in 1947 he served on submarines in the Soviet Black Sea, Northern, and Baltic fleets. He was evidently great at what he did which is why, after his time on the K-19 submarine, he was made second-in-command on the B-59. It was one of the four attack submarines ordered to travel to Cuba on the 1st of October 1962. The sub had 22 torpedoes, one of which was a nuclear bomb capable of as much devastation as Hiroshima or Nagasaki. The captains of the submarine were given the permission to fire their nuclear torpedoes as they pleased as long as they had the consent of the political officer on board.
The decision that saved humanity.
United States didn’t know about the crew of B-59, and they began their naval blockade on the 24th of October. They had even started firing warning shots to force the submarines to surface from the depths of the sea. On the other hand, the Soviets had no way of communicating with their submarines. Being deep under water, the radio transmissions had jammed. On the 27th of October, 1962, the U.S naval army spotted the B-59 and started firing warning shots, trying to force the Soviets out for identification. People inside the submarine at this point had no clue what was going on. They had been travelling for about a month now with little to no communication with the outside world. Tired and clueless, things became grim when the captain of the submarine, Valentin Savitsky thought that nuclear war had already broken out and wanted to fire his torpedo. At a high tension situation like this, the only person who had the power to veto the decision, apart from the sub captain and the political officer on board, was Vasili Arkhipov. And so he did.Vasili’s absence at that point of time would have made nuclear war a certainty as both the captain and the political officer wanted to fire the nuclear missile. Vasili fought against the decision. Trying to reason that since no word had been received from Moscow, taking such an extreme step could be catastrophic. He wanted to go up to the surface and contact Moscow to seek their advice. Many say a heated argument broke out, but they eventually agreed and the submarine surfaced. The Americans instructed the submarine to return to the Soviet Union. The Russians agreed. All the more because the submarine had already begun facing mechanical issues on board.
It was taken as an act of cowardice.
Their act was seen as an act of cowardice. Technically they had surrendered to the Americans, an act that was ridiculed. Legend has it that one admiral even told the submariners, “It would have been better if you’d gone down with your ship.” But to his wife, Olga, Vasili would always remain the hero he really was. She was quoted saying,
“The man who prevented a nuclear war was a Russian submariner. His name was Vasili Arkhipov. I was proud and I am proud of my husband, always.”Even though some Russians might look at it as bowing down to the Americans, what Vasili did that fateful day could have changed the course of history completely. This was a true example of valour, where, by ‘bowing down’ at that point in time, Vasili saved the entire world.