Vasili Alexandrovich Arkhipov (Russian: Василий Александрович Архипов, IPA: [vɐˈsʲilʲɪj ɐlʲɪkˈsandrəvʲɪtɕ arˈxipɔːf], 30 January 1926 – 19 August 1998) was a Soviet Navy officer credited with casting the single vote that prevented a Soviet nuclear strike (and, presumably, all-out nuclear war) during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Such an attack likely would have caused a major global thermonuclear response which could have destroyed much of the world. As flotilla commander and second-in-command of the diesel powered submarine B-59, only Arkhipov refused to authorize the captain's use of nuclear torpedoes against the United States Navy, a decision requiring the agreement of all three senior officers aboard. In 2002 Thomas Blanton, who was then director of the US National Security Archive, said that Arkhipov "saved the world".
|Vasili Alexandrovich Arkhipov|
|Native name||Василий Александрович Архипов|
30 January 1926|
Zvorkovo, Moscow Oblast, Russian SFSR, Soviet Union
19 August 1998 (aged 72)|
Zheleznodorozhny, Moscow Oblast, Russia
|Allegiance||Union of Soviet Socialist Republics|
|Years of service||1945–1980s|
Arkhipov was born into a peasant family in the town of Staraya Kupavna, near Moscow. He was educated in the Pacific Higher Naval School and participated in the Soviet–Japanese War in August 1945, serving aboard a minesweeper. He transferred to the Caspian Higher Naval School and graduated in 1947.
In July 1961, Arkhipov was appointed deputy commander and therefore executive officer of the new Hotel-class ballistic missile submarine K-19. After a few days of conducting exercises off the south-east coast of Greenland, the submarine developed an extreme leak in its reactor coolant system. This leak led to failure of the cooling system. Radio communications were also affected, and the crew was unable to make contact with Moscow. With no backup systems, Commander Zateyev ordered the seven members of the engineer crew to come up with a solution to avoid nuclear meltdown. This required the men to work in high radiation levels for extended periods. They eventually came up with a secondary coolant system and were able to keep the reactor from a meltdown. Although they were able to save themselves from a nuclear meltdown, the entire crew, including Arkhipov, were irradiated. All members of the engineer crew and their divisional officer died within a month due to the high levels of radiation they were exposed to. Over the course of two years, fifteen more sailors died from the after-effects.
Involvement in Cuban Missile CrisisEdit
On 27 October 1962, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, a group of eleven United States Navy destroyers and the aircraft carrier USS Randolph located the diesel-powered, nuclear-armed Soviet Foxtrot-class submarine B-59 near Cuba. Despite being in international waters, the Americans started dropping signaling depth charges, explosives intended to force the submarine to come to the surface for identification. There had been no contact from Moscow for a number of days and, although the submarine's crew had earlier been picking up U.S. civilian radio broadcasts, once B-59 began attempting to hide from its U.S. Navy pursuers, it was too deep to monitor any radio traffic. Those on board did not know whether war had broken out or not. The captain of the submarine, Valentin Grigorievitch Savitsky, decided that a war might already have started and wanted to launch a nuclear torpedo.
Unlike the other subs in the flotilla, three officers on board B-59 had to agree unanimously to authorize a nuclear launch: Captain Savitsky, the political officer Ivan Semonovich Maslennikov, and the second-in-command Arkhipov. Typically, Russian submarines armed with the "Special Weapon" only required the captain to get authorization from the political officer to launch a nuclear torpedo, but due to Arkhipov's position as flotilla commander, B-59's captain also was required to gain Arkhipov's approval. An argument broke out, with only Arkhipov against the launch.
Even though Arkhipov was only second-in-command of the submarine B-59, he was in fact commander of the entire submarine flotilla, including B-4, B-36 and B-130, and equal in rank to Captain Savitsky. According to author Edward Wilson, the reputation Arkhipov had gained from his courageous conduct in the previous year's Soviet submarine K-19 incident also helped him prevail. Arkhipov eventually persuaded Savitsky to surface and await orders from Moscow. This effectively averted the nuclear warfare which probably would have ensued if the nuclear weapon had been fired. The submarine's batteries had run very low and the air-conditioning had failed, causing extreme heat and high levels of carbon dioxide inside the submarine, which was a situation not conducive to rationality. They were forced to surface amidst the American pursuers and return to the Soviet Union as a result.
Immediately upon return to Russia, many crew members were faced with disgrace from their superiors. One admiral told them "It would have been better if you'd gone down with your ship." Olga, Arkhipov's wife, even said "he didn't like talking about it, he felt they hadn't appreciated what they had gone through." Each captain was required to present a report of the happenings during the mission to the defense minister, Andrei Grechko. Grechko was infuriated with the crew's failure to follow the strict orders of secrecy after finding out they had been discovered by the Americans. One officer even noted Grechko's reaction, stating "upon learning that it was the diesel submarines that went to Cuba, removed his glasses and hit them against the table in fury, breaking them into small pieces and abruptly leaving the room after that."
In 2002, retired Commander Vadim Pavlovich Orlov, a participant in the events, held a press conference revealing the subs were armed with nuclear missiles, and that Arkhipov was the reason those devices had not been fired. Orlov presented the events less dramatically, saying that Captain Savitsky lost his temper, but eventually calmed down.
When discussing the Cuban Missile Crisis in 2002, Robert McNamara, the U.S. Secretary of Defense at the time, stated, "We came very close" to nuclear war, "closer than we knew at the time." Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., an advisor for the John F. Kennedy administration and a renowned historian, continued this thought by stating "This was not only the most dangerous moment of the Cold War. It was the most dangerous moment in human history."
Later life and deathEdit
Arkhipov continued in Soviet Navy service, commanding submarines and later submarine squadrons. He was promoted to rear admiral in 1975, and became head of the Kirov Naval Academy. Arkhipov was promoted to vice admiral in 1981 and retired in the mid 1980s.
He subsequently settled in Kupavna (which was incorporated into Zheleznodorozhny, Moscow Oblast, in 2004), where he died on 19 August 1998. The radiation to which Arkhipov had been exposed in 1961 contributed to his kidney cancer, like many others who served with him in the K-19 accident.
Nikolai Vladimirovich Zateyev, the commander of the submarine K-19 at the time of its onboard nuclear accident, died nine days later, on 28 August 1998. Both Arkhipov and Zateyev were 72 at the time of their deaths.
Vasili Arkhipov was married to Olga Arkhipova. They remained together up until his death in 1998. They had a daughter named Yelena.
Arkhipov was known to be a shy and humble man. In a BBC documentary titled Missile Crisis: The Man Who Saved the World, his wife described him as intelligent, polite and very calm. Much of what is known about his personality comes from her. According to her, he enjoyed searching for newspapers during their vacations and tried to stay up-to-date with the modern world as much as possible. In this same interview, Olga alludes to her husband's possible superstitious beliefs as well. She recalls walking in on Vasili burning a bundle of their love letters inside their house, claiming that keeping the letters would mean "bad luck".
In popular cultureEdit
The B-59 incident was a source of inspiration for the 1995 film Crimson Tide.
American singer-songwriter Blake Hodgetts has a song on his 2018 album Out of the Workshop based on the B-59 incident, called "The Ballad of Vasiliy Arkhipov".
Awards and honorsEdit
In recognition of his actions onboard B-59, Arkhipov received the first "Future of Life Award," which was presented posthumously to his family in 2017. Offered by the Future of Life Institute, this award recognizes exceptional measures, often performed despite personal risk and without obvious reward, to safeguard the collective future of humanity.
- Noam Chomsky, in his book Hegemony or Survival: America's Quest for Global Dominance cited we were "one word away from nuclear war" and "a devastating response would be a near certainty", and also noted that President Dwight Eisenhower stated "a major war would destroy the northern hemisphere"(Chomsky, pp. 74)
- Lloyd, Marion (13 October 2002). "Soviets Close to Using A-Bomb in 1962 Crisis, Forum is Told". Boston Globe. pp. A20. Retrieved 7 August 2012.
- Roberts, Priscilla Mary (2012). "Arkhipov, Vasili Alexandrovich". Cuban Missile Crisis: The Essential Reference Guide. Abc-Clio Inc. pp. 13–14. ISBN 9781610690652. Retrieved 11 May 2012.
- "Vasili Arkhipov: Cold War Russian hero -- Sott.net". SOTT.net. Retrieved 2015-11-09.
- Burr and, William; Blanton, Thomas S., eds. (31 October 2002). "The submarines of October- U.S. and Soviet Naval Encounters During the Cuban Missile Crisis". National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book. No. 75. Archived from the original on 11 May 2012.
- Michael Dobbs, One Minute to Midnight, Vintage, Random House, 2009. Includes photograph of B-59 surfacing.
- "Chronology of Submarine Contact During the Cuban Missile Crisis". National Security Archive of the George Washington University. Retrieved 15 November 2010.
- Edward Wilson (2012-10-27). "Thank you Vasili Arkhipov, the man who stopped nuclear war". The Guardian. Retrieved 2012-10-31.
- Noam Chomsky (2004). Hegemony or Survival: America's Quest for Global Dominance. New York: Henry Holt. p. 74. ISBN 0-8050-7688-3.
- Blanton, Thomas S. (16 October 2002). "The Cuban Missile Crisis: 40 Years Later" (Interview). Interviewed by The Washington Post; Forum users. Archived from the original on 2008-08-30. Retrieved 15 November 2010.
- "The Man Who Saved the World". Secrets of the Dead. PBS. 2012-10-24.
- Savranskaya, Svetlana (Jan 24, 2007). "New Sources on the Role of Soviet Submarines in the Cuban Missile Crisis" (PDF). Journal of Strategic Studies. 28 (2): 248. doi:10.1080/01402390500088312. Retrieved 21 February 2017.
- Isachsnkov, Vladimir (21 June 2002). "Russian Book Looks at Missile Crisis". johnson. Archived from the original on 2011-05-30. Retrieved 2008-05-03.
- "'I don't think anybody thought much about whether Agent Orange was against the rules of war'". guardian.co.uk. May 19, 2002. Retrieved 22 June 2012.
- Lloyd, Marion (October 13, 2002). "SOVIETS CLOSE TO USING A-BOMB IN 1962 CRISIS, FORUM IS TOLD". The Boston Globe. Retrieved 21 February 2017.
- Edward Wilson (27 October 2012). "Thank you Vasili Arkhipov, the man who stopped nuclear war". The Guardian.
- Codi von Richthofen (2015-02-21), Missile Crisis: The Man Who Saved the World, retrieved 2017-02-26
- Vasili Arkhipov on IMDb
- "K-19: The Widowmaker: The true story behind the movie starring Harrison Ford". National Geographic. Retrieved 7 November 2017.
- Davis, Nicola. "Soviet submarine officer who averted nuclear war honoured with prize". The Guardian. Retrieved 7 November 2017.
- Davey, Tucker. "55 Years After Preventing Nuclear Attack, Arkhipov Honored With Inaugural Future of Life Award". Future of Life Institute. Retrieved 7 November 2017.