As nuclear rhetoric picks up in Russia, and the West prepares contingency plans in the event Putin detonates a nuclear weapon in Ukraine, I’m reminded of all the times our species has come close to nuclear annihilation.
Each story is harrowing in its own right, but few nuclear “near-misses” come close to the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the events that took place beneath the waves in October of 1962.
Weeks before the American blockade of Cuba, four Soviet Foxtrot-class submarines left Russia en route to Cuba.
Each of the Soviet subs carried a nuclear warhead that was to be delivered to Castro in Cuba and set up at one of the many launch sites.
The captains of these vessels were given strict instructions from Moscow to go to Cuba and stop for nothing along the way.
Also, they were told that if war broke out between the Soviet Union and the Americans, then they should use their nukes against U.S. targets via torpedo.
Per the Russian nuclear doctrine of the time, the sub captains were only to use their nukes if direct orders to do so were received from Moscow. But the sub captains were permitted on this occasion to use their best judgment if communication with Moscow was broken.
In addition, all commanding officers (the captain and political officers) on board each submarine had to agree that the nuke needed to be used.
The four Foxtrots has a pretty uneventful cruise across the Atlantic, but once they reached the emerald waters of the Caribbean, they encountered Kennedy’s U.S. Naval blockade.
One of the Foxtrots, B-59, was led by Captain Valentin Grigoryevich Savitsky, a political officer named Ivan Semyonovich Maslennikov, and commander of the deployed submarine detachment Vasily Arkhipov.
Arkhipov was previously the Executive Officer on board the K-19 when it suffered an extreme leak in its nuclear reactor coolant system.
Arkhipov calmly led the engineering crew through a rotating shift schedule that avoided a nuclear…