6. Problems Arise
Vasili Arkhipov was not only of equal rank to the B-59’s captain, but he was also in charge of other submarines in the fleet. Their mission was vague, advance to Cuba, likely to provide support in case the crisis escalated. And each of the vessels was armed with a nuclear missile.
But Arkhipov and his fellow officers soon ran into two problems. First, they lost contact with their home base in Moscow, with their last order being to hold their position in the Caribbean. Second, was that the U.S. forces had discovered their submarine, forcing them to go deeper into the ocean.
5. The End?
In 2016 one of the crewmen, Vadim Orlov narrated the scene inside the submarine to National Geographic. “The Americans hit us with something stronger than the grenades – apparently with a practice depth bomb,” he said. “We thought, that’s it, the end.”
4. Not Going Down Without A Fight
Conditions were similarly desperate on the other submarines. Surely, they too were forced to stay underwater for four days with hot temperatures and deteriorating air quality. B-59’s Captain Valentin Savitsky soon became convinced that the Americans were trying to blow up the submarine. What’s more, he started to believe that hostilities and possibly even nuclear war had already broken out on the surface.
As Orlov recalled, the captain yelled, “Maybe the war has already started up there… We’re gonna blast them now! We will die, but we will sink them all. We will not become the shame of the fleet.” Their likely target was the USS Randolph, the aircraft carrier commanding the U.S. Navy presence.
3. Cool Headed
With no contact from Russia for four days and fearing the worst, the stressed captain of B-59 made the decision to arm the submarine’s nuclear missile. But, before he could fire, he would first have to get approval from two other senior officers. And one of them was Vasili Arkhipov.
The second officer was quick to give his approval to the idea. But Arkhipov, described by his longtime friend Ryurik Ketov as holding a cool head, declined to agree to the launch. He reasoned that the Americans were not actually trying to blow the submarine up. Instead, he believed they were deliberately dropping the charges away from the submarine to encourage the vessel to surface.
2. Cooler Heads Prevailed
Although we don’t fully know how the conversation went, we do know the result. The captain agreed, and cooler heads prevailed. B-59 then surfaced next to a U.S. destroyer and immediately turned around, heading back towards Russia.
A few days later, the crisis finally came to an end as Khrushchev agreed to withdraw the Soviet missiles. In return, Kennedy vowed to respect the sovereignty of Cuba. He also pledged to remove the U.S. Jupiter missiles located in Turkey and Italy on the U.S.S.R.’s doorstep.