Weird History
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A Soviet Soldier Single-Handedly Saved The World From Nuclear Annihilation

Updated April 5, 2018 3.8k views9 items

You many not be familiar with the name Vasili Arkhipov, but maybe you should be. He's the Soviet Navy man who stopped nuclear war during the Cuban Missile Crisis in the '60s. Arkhipov, AKA the man who avoided nuclear war, somehow persuaded fellow officers not to fire at the United States during an extremely tense time. According to Thomas Blanton, former director of the National Security Archive, Arkhipov "saved the world."

During the Cold War, in October 1962, the United States learned that the Soviet Union had secretly placed missiles in Cuba. At the time, President John F. Kennedy was still reeling after failing to overthrow Fidel Castro during the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961, so learning that Cuba and the Soviet Union joined forces to construct ballistic missile facilities in Cuba was not good news. After 13 days of intense negotiations, President Kennedy and Premier Nikita Khrushchev came to an agreement and averted a nuclear war. Khrushchev removed the missiles from Cuba and the United States did not attack the island. One year later, the United States, United Kingdom, and Soviet Union partially banned the testing of nuclear weapons.

However, in 2017, threats made by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to fire missiles at Guam, a US territory, resurfaced tensions like those that ran rampant during the Cold War. President Donald Trump said there would be "fire and fury" if North Korea made any indication it would launch a missile at the Western Pacific island, and Defense Secretary James Mattis added that if North Korea escalated the situation it would be "game on." All one can hope is that there are still a few Arkhipovs around to handle situations like these.

  • Russia Put Nuclear Missiles In Cuba And Tensions With The US Reached An All-Time High

    Photo: Unknown Lockheed U-2 Pilot / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    In October 1962, President John F. Kennedy was given some intelligence collected by a U-2 reconnaissance aircraft, which revealed that the Soviet Union had covertly put several nuclear missiles in Cuba. For the next 13 days (Oct. 16-28), Kennedy and Premier Nikita Khrushchev played a game of cat and mouse that nearly led to nuclear war.

  • However, The US Didn't Know That Soviet Subs Had Nuclear Warheads On Board

    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    When US destroyers were ordered to quarantine the area around Cuba, they lacked one crucial detail about the three Soviet submarines they encountered there. These subs housed nuclear weapons on board. Neither Navy intelligence, anti-submarine warfare (ASW) forces, nor anyone else in the United States had any idea that they were armed with powerful warheads. Each of the submarines had 22 torpedoes. One torpedo on each sub contained a 15-kiloton warhead that could travel 12 miles.

    Meanwhile, unknowingly risking nuclear holocaust, the Americans fired depth charges at the submarines to try to get them to surface.

  • Soviet Commander Savitskii Gave An Order To Fire A Nuclear Warhead – Because He Thought War Had Already Begun

    Photo: Agrillo Mario / Wikimedia Commons / Creative Commons

    The crew on the Soviet subs felt trapped in their situation. Conditions inside were unlivable and the Americans kept sending warning shots their way. Communications intelligence officer Vadim Orlov later recalled: “The Americans hit us with something stronger than the grenades—apparently with a practical depth bomb. We thought—that’s it—the end.”

    According to Orlov, Captain Savitsky then yelled, “Maybe the war has already started up there... We’re going to blast them now! We will die, but we will sink them all—we will not disgrace our Navy!”

    The men on the Soviet sub had "gone silent" days before the crisis had started, so they were unaware of what was happening on the surface. The crew's original destination had been Cuba before they were diverted and ordered to stop in the Caribbean. The crew did not know why. Orlov, who spent some time in the United States, learned from American radio that: 1) Russia had planted missiles in Cuba; 2) Cuba shot down an American spy plane; and 3) the US Navy had blocked anyone from coming near the island. But the submarine crew was wary of American media reports. They had reason to believe that war had begun.

  • So, Vasili Alexandrovich Arkhipov Came To The Rescue And Stopped Nuclear War From Occurring

    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Fair Use

    Flotilla commander Vasili Alexandrovich Arkhipov was equal to Savitsky in rank. It's unclear what Arkhipov said to stop Savitsky from starting a nuclear war, but his words were very persuasive. According to Arkhipov's wife, the commander was a quiet and gentle man. Perhaps his demeanor helped calm Savitsky down and change his mind. When Savitsky ordered that the torpedo be armed, he required approval from three senior officers on board. While the second in command agreed, Arkhipov did not. Arkhipov did not believe the Americans were attacking the Soviet sub. Instead, he thought they were signaling them to surface. As evidence, he noted that their depth charges never made contact with B-59.