Imagine for a moment you are a Naval Officer stationed miles under the ocean – inside a B-59 Submarine and you’ve been cut off from the outside world for almost four days. There is a filtration system error in the B-59 – you and most of the crew have already lost 30 to 40 % bodyweight.
Tensions are running high and the psychological effects of being stuck inside a metal capsule deep in the ocean are beginning to take effect. From the recent explosions around you in the water – it appears that your submarine is under attack.
You and another Naval Officer discuss with the Captain the best possible course of action to take. Do you launch the 15 kiloton nuclear torpedo onboard – possibly starting a Nuclear Holocaust? Or do you surface and face what seems to be certain death?
With time running out and the walls seemingly closing in – both of the other Naval Officers agree that’s time to take offensive action. The Captain says to launch the nuclear weapon – but you say “No”.
This adrenaline inducing scenario is precisely how a real life situation took place in 1962. Now this almost 60 year old story of how just one man’s resolve and cool temperament prevented a worldwide Nuclear Holocaust can finally be told.
Click On “Start Slideshow” To Find Out How One Man Saved The World …
The Soviet Union released the class of submarine known as “Foxtrot.” It is also known as Project 641.
While the movement of weapons began almost immediately following WWII, Foxtrot class submarines took to water in 1958.
Communist nations became allies of the Soviet Union, including Cuba, a nation just 90 miles south of Key West.
A nuclear weapons launch from Russia to the United States would take too long and could be destroyed before making land fall. With American warheads pointing at Russia from European allies, Russia needed to move weapons closer to the United States.
Russia deployed multiple Foxtrot submarines to Cuba, in order to provide nuclear weapons for launch sites within the Caribbean nation.
On October 1, 1962, Russia deployed several Foxtrot class submarines from a tucked away base on the Kola Peninsula. This peninsula is directly to the east of Norway and Finland.
Four submarines we launched for the Caribbean Sea. The Foxtrot class submarines in the flotilla included the B-36, B-4, B-130, and the flagship vessel, the B-59.
26 days after the initial launch, the USS Randolph, an America aircraft carrier, detected the four submarines.
The United States had been tracking Soviet subs beginning in September, 1962.
To track the underwater submarines, the U.S. Navy used listening ports that could detect electronically compressed radio transmissions.
Whenever a Soviet Union command went out to a submarine or the submarine sent out a transmission back, it knew about it.
While the U.S. Navy could not decipher the transmissions, it could pinpoint the location of the submarines. This is how the navy located the four Soviet subs.
In order to force the four submarines to surface, accompanying naval vessels began dropping training depth charges.
The U.S. Navy dropped depth charges on the Soviet subs, despite being in international waters.
The navy dropped these charges as it believed the subs were delivering nuclear weapons to Cuba and wanted to prevent this.
A depth charge is a submersible explosive in the shape of a large barrel. Depth charges are set to go off at set depths, in order to prevent a submarine from diving under the explosive range.
Depth charges release a pressurized explosion. It is this pressure that rips through a submarine.
Training depth charges, while still containing explosive material, are not designed to destroy, but at worst maim.
The United States Navy stating it sent out messages to the Soviet submarines and the Soviet Naval HQ stating it was dropping training depth charges. The Soviet Union claimed it never received such messages.
Crew aboard all four submarines believed real depth charges were being dropped on them at first.
The training depth charges release a loud “explosive sound.”
The United States did send out the message as it sent word to other nations in addition to the Soviet Union.
It is possible Soviet Naval HQ did receive messages regarding the training charges. However, the submarine flotilla was at such a depth it was impossible to receive transmissions.
Captain Valentin Grigorievitch Savitsky of the B-59 believed the war could be underway with the release of the depth charges.
Because of this, Captain Savitsky wanted to release its payload of nuclear-tipped torpedoes at the US fleet.
The B-59 also carried political office Ivan Semonovich and flotilla commander Vasili Arkhipov.
Arkhipov has previously been appointed the deputy commander of a hotel class ballistic missile submarine known as the K-19.
The K-19 submarine uses a nuclear reactor.
During an exercise near the coast of Greenland, the reactor developed a leak. Arkhipov and the rest of his crew had to work in a highly radiated environment to stop the leak.
Every member of the engineering crew died a month later from the radiation.
15 additional sailors died from radiation exposure within the following two years.
The K-19 incident took place just more than one year before the Foxtrot B-59 set a course for Cuba.
The three men were given specific instructions that they could only launch nuclear weapons if all three agreed.
As the B-59 was the lead submarine in the flotilla, the three companion subs waited for the B-59 to commence firing before releasing nuclear weapons stored within the subs.
As the three men discussed firing the weapons, the other three subs surfaced.
Both the political officer and captain wanted to launch the nuclear weapons.
Arkhipov, the flotilla commander, believed they would have heard from Moscow if the war had started.
Arkhipov did not want to be the culprit that started the war, if fighting had not actually commenced.
Arkhipov, despite protests from the other two men, refused to allow the launch of any nuclear weapons.
Submarines are naturally built to float.
While capable of remaining under water for days, a submarine relies heavily on its batteries to push underwater and maintain the submerged depth.
While surfaced, a Foxtrot submarine can travel at 9.2 miles per hour. Submerged the speed drops to 2.3 miles per hour.
The only way for a submarine to charge its batteries is to surface.
After days underwater and heated discussion, the B-59 was out of time. It had to either launch its nuclear payload or surface.
The Foxtrot class of submarines carried 22 torpedoes, which includes a single nuclear torpedo.
Arkhipov won out and the B-59 surfaced without firing off a single weapon.
A major reason why Arkhipov won out in his argument with the other two men is that the two officers, and the rest of the crew, highly respected Arkhipov and what he managed with the K-19.
The United States did not target the B-59 or any of the other three submarines.
The United States did not target the B-59 or any of the other three submarines.
After surfacing, the B-59 switched to its three diesel engines while its three electric motors charged.
The four submarines set course for the Soviet Union.
The underwater missile crisis became another chapter in the larger Cuban Missile Crisis.
The Foxtrot class submarines were designed to handle the cold, arctic waters around Russia. The submarines were not constructed to handle the warm, tropical waters of the Caribbean.
Equipment breakdowns hampered that of the B-59.
Due to the inability to handle the warmer, saltier water, temperatures within the sub reached critical levels.
Filtration systems within the sub were struggled to rid the water of the larger amount of salt.
Lack of fresh water led to massive health problems from the men on board.
Nearly all of the men experienced a 30 to 40 percent weight loss during their time on the submarine.
Arkhipov stayed with the Soviet Navy after returning following the Cuban Missile Crisis with the B-59. He went on to become submarine squadron commander and eventually the rear admiral in 1975.
He finished his carrier as vice admiral in 1981, which is the equivalent rank of a three-star, lieutenant general (out of five).