When the world came dangerously close to atomic Armageddon
This October marks the 60th anniversary of the ‘underwater’ component of the Cuban Missile Crisis. It was an extraordinary episode that precipitated the infamous standoff between Moscow and Washington weeks later, and likewise brought the world to the brink of nuclear destruction. With frenzied Western accusations abounding that the Kremlin is preparing to use atomic weapons in the Ukraine conflict, and spirited denials emanating from the opposite direction, it’s never been more important to revisit the incident.
On October 1, 1962, four Soviet submarines, each equipped with nuclear-armed torpedoes, departed Kola Bay in the Barents Sea en route to Cuba. The mini-fleet was intended to secretly bolster a vast Soviet military presence on and around the island and protect the construction of defensive missile sites requested by Havana in the wake of the CIA’s disastrous Bay of Pigs operation, in which Washington-backed rebel forces attempted to storm Havana and overthrow the popular Communist government of Fidel Castro.
Cooler heads prevail
“After submerging, the question whether the plane was shooting at the submarine or around it would not have come up in anybody’s head. That is war. But the plane, flying over the conning tower, 1 to 3 seconds before the start of fire turned on powerful searchlights and blinded the people on the bridge so that their eyes hurt. It was a shock,” Arkhipov recalled. “The commander…could not even understand what was happening.”
Luckily for the world, Arkhipov was still in the submarine’s tower when Savitsky’s apocalyptic orders were issued – had he not been, the planet would likely not be still standing. Seeing that the Americans were in fact issuing warning signals to the submarine, and not attacking, he calmed the understandably panicked Savitsky down, ensuring his command wasn’t transmitted to the officers in charge of the submarine’s torpedoes, and a clear message was sent back to the Americans to cease all provocative actions.
Cuban Missile Crisis Archive
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