Vasili Arkhipov Prevented Nuclear War During The Cuban Missile Crisis

Vasili Arkhipov is one of the unsung heroes of world history. Though you may have never heard of him, Arkhipov basically saved the world from mutually assured destruction in 1962. He single-handedly prevented the Cuban Missile Crisis from turning into the Cuban Missile, well, Apocalypse. Thanks, buddy!

In 1962, relations between the U.S. and the Soviet Union weren't so hot. Both powers had huge nuclear weapons pointed at the other, and even at the allies of the enemy. The Soviet Union sent a fleet of four submarines armed to the gills with nuclear torpedoes down to Cuba to get better aim at the U.S. (Cuba wasn't too keen on the U.S. at the time, so supporting the Soviets made sense). The captain of each sub was granted the authority to launch the torpedoes as long as they had the support of the political officer on board. Enter Arkhipov; he was second in command on the B-59, one of the four subs. If any of the captains got word from Moscow to launch, they would do it. But when communication from Moscow was cut off in October of 1962 during the several days the crews were down there, it got complicated.

Here's where it gets heated. John F. Kennedy, U.S. president at the time, heard about the secret Soviet subs near Cuba and told the Soviet government that the U.S. will fire off some warning shots to force the subs to surface. Moscow tried to tell the subs that these warning shots were coming, but the subs were too deep to receive messages. When the shots from the U.S. came, the captain of the B-59 was convinced that nuclear war had already broken out. The captain had the support of the political officer on board to fire the torpedoes, but second in command had to voice his concerns. The hero of our story, Arkhipov, insisted on holding the torpedoes because they hadn't heard from Moscow in days, and essentially had no context for what was happening in the outside world. You probably know how this story ends. The torpedoes were not fired, all thanks to Arkhipov. Still need a refresher on the Cuban Missile Crisis? Learn more about it in the videos below.

Cuban Missile Crisis in 5 Minutes

Here's a quick recap of what you should know about this situation.

Written by Curiosity Staff November 18, 2016

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