'Arguably, the most dangerous moment in the crisis was not recognized until the Cuban Missile Crisis Havana conference, in October 2002...'
On 27 October 1962, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, a group of eleven United States Navy destroyers and the aircraft carrier USS Randolph located the diesel-powered, nuclear-armed Soviet Foxtrot-class submarine B-59 near Cuba. Despite being in international waters, the Americans started dropping signaling depth charges, explosives intended to force the submarine to come to the surface for identification. There had been no contact from Moscow for a number of days and, although the submarine's crew had earlier been picking up U.S. civilian radio broadcasts, once B-59 began attempting to hide from its U.S. Navy pursuers, it was too deep to monitor any radio traffic. Those on board did not know whether war had broken out or not. The captain of the submarine, Valentin Grigorievitch Savitsky, decided that a war might already have started and wanted to launch a nuclear torpedo.
Unlike the other subs in the flotilla, three officers on board B-59 had to agree unanimously to authorize a nuclear launch: Captain Savitsky, the political officer Ivan Semonovich Maslennikov, and the second-in-command Arkhipov. Typically, Russian submarines armed with the "Special Weapon" only required the captain to get authorization from the political officer to launch a nuclear torpedo, but due to Arkhipov's position as flotilla commander, B-59's captain also was required to gain Arkhipov's approval. An argument broke out, with only Arkhipov against the launch.
Even though Arkhipov was only second-in-command of the submarine B-59, he was in fact commander of the entire submarine flotilla, including B-4, B-36 and B-130, and equal in rank to Captain Savitsky. According to author Edward Wilson, the reputation Arkhipov had gained from his courageous conduct in the previous year's Soviet submarine K-19 incident also helped him prevail. Arkhipov eventually persuaded Savitsky to surface and await orders from Moscow. This effectively averted the nuclear warfare which probably would have ensued if the nuclear weapon had been fired. The submarine's batteries had run very low and the air-conditioning had failed, causing extreme heat and high levels of carbon dioxide inside the submarine. They were forced to surface amidst its U.S. pursuers and return to the Soviet Union as a result.
Immediately upon return to Russia, many crew members were faced with disgrace from their superiors. One admiral told them "It would have been better if you’d gone down with your ship." Olga, Arkhipov's wife, even said "he didn't like talking about it, he felt they hadn't appreciated what they had gone through." Each captain was required to present a report of the happenings during the mission to the defense minister, Andrei Grechko. Grechko was infuriated with the crew's failure to follow the strict orders of secrecy after finding out they had been discovered by the Americans. One officer even noted Grechko's reaction, stating "upon learning that it was the diesel submarines that went to Cuba, removed his glasses and hit them against the table in fury, breaking them into small pieces and abruptly leaving the room after that."
In 2002, retired Commander Vadim Pavlovich Orlov, a participant in the events, held a press conference revealing the subs were armed with nuclear missiles, and that Arkhipov was the reason those devices had not been fired. Orlov presented the events less dramatically, saying that Captain Savitsky lost his temper, but eventually calmed down.
When discussing the Cuban Missile Crisis in 2002, Robert McNamara, the U.S. Secretary of Defense at the time, stated, "We came very close" to nuclear war, "closer than we knew at the time." Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., an advisor for the John F. Kennedy administration and a renowned historian, continued this thought by stating "This was not only the most dangerous moment of the Cold War. It was the most dangerous moment in human history."
Later life and death
Arkhipov continued in Soviet Navy service, commanding submarines and later submarine squadrons. He was promoted to rear admiral in 1975, and became head of the Kirov Naval Academy. Arkhipov was promoted to vice admiral in 1981 and retired in the mid 1980s.
He subsequently settled in Kupavna (which was incorporated into Zheleznodorozhny, Moscow Oblast, in 2004), where he died on 19 August 1998. The radiation to which Arkhipov had been exposed in 1961 contributed to his kidney cancer, like many others who served with him in the K-19 accident.
really quite incredible story about how fragile things are