Salute to Soviet Submarine Commander Vasili Arkhipov.
If he hadn't said "no" to the launch of Hiroshima-size nuclear torpedoes against the US fleet above, the world would have been a vastly different place by now (if the world had survived, that is).
From The Sun (9/24/2012; emphasis is mine) writing about the documentary of this episode during the Cuban Missile crisis which has been unknown to most:
The man who saved the world
New documentary reveals untold story of the Soviet submariner who stopped World War III
By EMILY FAIRBAIRN
FOR thirteen days in October 1962, the world held its breath as the USSR and the USA stood on the brink of nuclear war.
But a new documentary to be shown on Tuesday reveals that it was the actions of one man alone which saved the planet from utter destruction.
Vasili Arkhipov, a Soviet submariner, died humiliated and outcast, despite single-handedly averting World War Three.
Now, to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis, Channel 5 documentary ‘The Man Who Saved The World: Revealed’ will tell his fascinating story.
It begins in the midst of the 1960s Cold War paranoia, when relations between Washington and Moscow had all but collapsed.
In America, ordinary people were stockpiling rations and building bomb shelters in their gardens, while in schools children were learning how to shelter under their desks.
Then there was a revolution in Cuba, and the tension escalated. Now the USSR had a communist ally sitting right on America’s doorstep. Missiles stationed in Cuba had the ability to annihilate Washington and New York in ten minutes.
The only thing stopping sworn enemies the USA and USSR firing on each other was the policy of mutually assured destruction.
One torpedo fired by either side would get a mirror response from the other — triggering a shower of destruction that could wipe out human life.
Thomas Blanton, the Director of the National Security Archive in the US, explains: “Everybody had a nuke in their pocket. One spark could set it off.”
It was in this atmosphere of suspicion and fear that four submarines secretly set sail from Russia. Only a handful of the submariners on board knew that their ships carried nuclear weapons, each with the strength of the bombs dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima in 1945.
The journey to Cuba was fraught with danger. Helicopters, aeroplanes and battleships were scouring the ocean for Russian subs.
The American hunt for the Soviet submarines became a game of cat and mouse — and it wasn’t long before the mouse was spotted.
Arkhipov’s sub, B59, was forced to make an emergency dive. As the submariners tried to stay hidden from their American hunters, conditions in the sub deteriorated.
For a week they stayed under water, in sweltering 60 degree heat, rationed to just one glass of water a day.
Above them, the US navy were “hunting by exhaustion” — trying to force the Soviet sub to come to the surface to recharge its batteries. They had no idea that on board the submarines were weapons capable of destroying the entire American fleet.
Gary Slaughter, a signalman on board the USS Cony battleship, said: “We knew they were probably having trouble breathing. It was hot as hell in there, they were miserable, they were cramped together and they had been under great stress for a long time.
“Basically what we were trying to do was apply passive torture. Frankly I don’t think we felt any sympathy for them at all. They were the enemy.”
The Americans decided to ratchet up the pressure, and dropped warning grenades into the sea. Inside the sub, the Soviet submariners thought they were under attack.
Valentin Savitsky, the captain of B59, was convinced the nuclear war had already started. He demanded that the submariners launch their torpedo — and save some of Russia’s pride.
In any normal circumstances, Savitsky’s orders would have been followed — and World War 3 would have been unleashed.
But Savitsky hadn’t counted on Arkhipov. As commander of the fleet, Arkhipov had the last veto. And although his men were against him, he insisted that they must not fire — and instead surrender to the Americans.
It was a humiliating move — but one that saved the world. The Soviet submariners were forced to return to their native Russia, where they were given the opposite of a hero’s welcome.
Historian Thomas Blanton explains: “What heroism, what duty, they fulfilled to go halfway across the world and come back, and survive. But in fact, one of the Russian admirals told the submariners; ‘It would have been better if you’d gone down with your ship.' Extraordinary.”
It took years before the story of what really happened on the B59 sub was discovered — and by then, Arkipov was dead.
But to his widow Olga, he was always a hero.
She said: “The man who prevented a nuclear war was a Russian submariner. His name was Vasili Arkhipov. I was proud and I am proud of my husband, always.”
PBS aired the documentary in the US on October 23, 2012. PBS's introduction to the documentary says there were three, instead of two, decision-makers on board B59 submarine:
Four Soviet submarines were sent on a mission known only to a handful of Communist party officials. Their destination was a mystery to be revealed once they were at sea. Under their orders, each submarine was to travel 7,000 miles from a top secret naval base in the Arctic Circle across the Atlantic to be permanently stationed in Mariel, Cuba where they would serve as the vanguard of a Soviet force a mere 90 miles from mainland America.
The commander of each submarine had permission to act without direct orders from Moscow if they believed they were under threat. Each of the four subs was carrying what the Soviets called a ‘special weapon’, a single nuclear torpedo, comparable in strength to the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. The torpedo could only be fired if the submarine captain and political officer were in agreement. Each had one half of a key which, when joined, unlocked the firing mechanism.
Ryurik Ketov, who is interviewed in The Man Who Saved the World, commanded one of the four subs. “I had a written order that I could release it,” says Ketov. “And if there was an order to fire the torpedo I would do it without a second thought. For the first time in life a commander of a submarine had a nuclear weapon and had the authority to fire the missile at his command.”
However, aboard the B-59, three men—not two—needed to be in agreement. As commander of the entire submarine fleet, Arkhipov had the power to veto firing the missile and was one of the only men who knew about the mission in advance.
Courage of one person to say "no" saved the world. A lesson for us all.