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THE RUSSIANS ARE COMING FOR PEACE: PENTAGON
[December 15, 2017]
Vasili Arkhipov: The Man Who Prevented World War Three
“This guy called Vasili Arkhipov saved the world.”
This is how the key United States organizer of the 2002 Havana conference on the Cuban Missile Crisis (CMC), Thomas Blanton, judged the part that Vasili Arkhipov played on Black Saturday, October 27, 1962.
Blanton is director of the private, non-profit, archival institution, National Security Archive (NS Archive). Founded in 1985 and located at George Washington University in Washington D.C., it is the largest repository of declassified U.S. documents outside of the federal government. It has the most extensive documentation on the CMC. http://nsarchive.gwu.edu/project/cuba-project .
In correspondence with me (June-July 2017) Blanton wrote that while Arkhipov helped to calm down the situation, he had “overstated Arkhipov’s role”. This was said in reference to the 2012 British Bedlam film: “Secrets of the Dead: The Man Who Saved the World”, which overdramatized a confrontation between Arkhipov and the B-59 submarine Captain Valentin Savitsky.
The exact details of what occurred deep down in the ocean aboard the Soviet submarine are not totally known since the official Soviet debriefing accounts are still secret. What can be pieced together indicates that there was a tense time in which the single nuclear torpedo the sub carried could have been launched as the captain feared the U.S. Navy’s grenade/depth charge attack on the sub indicated that the United States had begun warring against Russian and Cuba.
Captain Vasili Arkhipov
Regardless of the overdramatized Bedlam film, including some errors we come to later down, it resulted in many mass media publications taking the matter up, and even giving credit to at least this one Russian captain for saving the world from a possible apocalyptic catastrophe. I know of no other horrible event, war or possible war, in which anyone can assert that the United States leadership, or a single U.S. military person, has saved the world from catastrophe. On the contrary, the only time nuclear bombs were used was the U.S atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which, as we will see in a later chapter, was totally unnecessary to win that war.
Like Yuri Gagarin, Vasili, the man we owe so much was born to a poor, peasant family in a small town near Moscow (Staraya Kupavna), on January 30, 1926. At the age of 16, he began his sailing education at the Pacific Higher Naval School. Vasili saw his first military action as a minesweeper in the Pacific Theater at the end of World War II. In 1947, he graduated from the Caspian Higher Naval School and served on submarines in the Soviet Black Sea, Northern, and Baltic fleets.
What follows is how close we all came to not being alive today. As National Geographic writer Robert Krulwich put it in his March 25, 2016 article: “You (and Almost Everyone You Know) Owe Your Life to This Man.”
Another writing with this theme worth mentioning here is Edward Wilson’s “Guardian” piece, October 27, 2012, “Thank you Vasili Arkhipov, The Man Who Stopped Nuclear War.” https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/oct/27/vasili-arkhipov-stopped-nuclear-war
The NS Archive October 24, 2012 briefing posted many relevant documents on the crisis, and a reference to the controversial British film: http://nsarchive2.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/NSAEBB399/
“The underwater Cuban Missile Crisis received new attention this week with two PBS Television shows, one of which re-enacts as ‘overheated’ docudrama (in the words of The New York Times reviewer) the confrontation between U.S. Navy sub-chasing units and the Soviet submarine B-59, commanded by Valentin Savitsky, on the most dangerous day of the Crisis, October 27, 1962.” The PBS docudrama mentioned is the British film, which the U.S. TV channel showed.
The NS Archive posted short video excerpts from Vadim Orlov
and Captain John Peterson presentations at the 2002 Havana conference.
Orlov was signals intelligence officer on the B-59; Peterson was a lieutenant
on one of the attacking subs, USS Beale.
Another posting was Orlov’s account of sailing for weeks on B-59, according to Russian journalist Alexander Mozgovoi in his book, The Cuban Samba of the Quartet of Foxtrots: Soviet Submarines in the Caribbean Crisis of 1962 (Moscow, Military Parade, 2002). It was translated by NS Archive researcher and translator, Svetlana Savranskaya, a native of Russia.
The NS Archive was also able to reveal to the world the Soviet “After Action Report”, written by dated the USSR Northern Fleet Headquarters, December 1962, and translated by Savranskaya. Extensive excerpts:
“1. The Navy carried out preparations for operation “Anadyr” under the codename operation “Kama.” Preparations for the operation started in March-April, 1962.
“2. For participation in the operation the 20th operative squadron of submarines was formed consisting of: the 69th brigade of diesel torpedo submarines “B-4,” “B-36,” “B-59,” “B130” of project 641[known as Foxtrot according to NATO]…
[B-4 captained by Ryurik Ketov, B-36 Aleksei Dubivko, B-59 Valentin Savitsky, B-130 Nikolai Shumkov. The four made up the 69the brigade whose chief of staff was Vasili Arkhipov.]
“4. Preparations for the operation were completed on September 30, 1962 with loading 21torpedoes with conventional load and one torpedo with nuclear load onto each of the submarines.
“5. Instructions to the commanders of the submarines and ceremony of launch were conducted by first deputy of the Supreme Commander of the Navy Admiral Fokin V. A. and Chief of Staff of the Northern Fleet Vice Admiral Rassokho A. I.
“Admiral Fokin V. A. spoke to the personnel of the 69th submarine brigade and said that the brigade was given a special assignment of the Soviet government: to cross the ocean in secret and to arrive to a new basing point in one of fraternal countries. Several hours before the departure commanders of the submarines received ‘top secret’ envelopes, which they could open only after leaving the Kola Bay. They were instructed to inform the personnel of the submarines about the country of the new deployment only after the submarines reached the Atlantic Ocean…The shore submarine base of the 20th squadron was [to be] loaded onto the ships of the Merchant Marine Ministry, arrived in Cuba at Mariel harbor in October and remained there.
“6. Having overcome the obstacles of the Norwegian and the Faero-Icelandic submarine barriers, and the barrier between Newfoundland and the Azores islands, four submarines of the 69th brigade of the Northern Fleet arrived to the assigned positions in the Sargasso Sea, to the east of Cuba, in the week of the 20th of October.
“By the time of the submarines’ arrival to the assigned positions, the Americans had discovered the deployment of the Soviet missiles in Cuba and Soviet-American relations reached the critical moment.
“Beginning from October 22, a naval blockade of the island went into effect. To carry it out and to search for our submarines, the U.S. Navy employed over 200 combat surface ships, up to 200 planes of the base patrol aviation, four aircraft carrier search and assault groups with 50-60 planes on board and destroyers charged with discovering and destroying our submarines at the start of the military action. For discovering the brigade submarines they also used the stationary hydroacoustic system of underwater reconnaissance and observation ‘SOSUS’, as well as the shore means of radio-electric resistance to create radio interference in the command and control systems of our submarines. Practically on every bandwidth, interference transmitters were turned on at the start of transmission of information from Moscow, which resulted in delays of reception of orders from the Headquarters of the Navy from several hours to a full day.
“Therefore, the U.S. Navy concentrated forces, which were hundred times stronger than ours in their combat capabilities, to counter our four diesel submarines. It is natural that in the situation of such concentration of anti-submarine forces in a small area of the ocean, discovering the diesel submarines that had to surface to recharge their accumulator batteries was just a question of time, which happened soon. [author emphasis, also other italicized sentences below]
“Submarine “B-130,” which came to the surface for repairs of all three of its failed diesel engines (factory defects), was discovered by the anti-submarine aviation, and then also by the surface ships. When the fact of the presence of our submarines in the Sargasso Sea became obvious, the activity of anti-submarine warfare was stepped up even more.
“As a result, the following submarines were discovered, pursued for several days, and then came to the surface because of fully discharged accumulator batteries: --submarine “B-36” by the anti-submarine aviation and destroyer of the radiolocation patrol unit “Charles P. Cecil,” ship No. 545. --submarine “B-59” by carrier aviation and destroyers “Berry,” “Lowry,” “Beale,” “Beich,” “Bill,” “Eaton,” “Cony,” “Conway,” “Murray,” and the anti-submarine aircraft carrier “Randolph.” --submarine “B-4” was discovered by anti-submarine aviation, but thanks to having fully charged accumulator batteries, was able to evade the pursuit and did not come to the surface.
“In the course of search and pursuit of the submarines by anti-submarine warfare forces, they actively used explosive sources [sic] of the location systems ‘Julie-Jezebel’, the blasts of which are impossible to distinguish from explosions of depth bombs. It is possible that depth bombs were actually used because three of the submarines suffered damage to the parts of radio systems antennas, which made reception and transmission of information substantially more difficult.
“During one of the pursuit episodes, the hydroacoustic systems of submarine “B-36” identified the noise of torpedo propellers launched against the submarine, and when the torpedo did not home on the target because the submarine was submerging very fast, the destroyer attempted to ram [the submarine] and passed over the command room [rubka] and the conning tower of the boat. Luckily by that moment the boat already had submerged to the depth of 30 meters. When submarine “B-36” came up to the surface, the guns and the torpedo launchers of the destroyer were opened and aimed at the submarine.
“When submarine “B-59” came up to the surface, airplanes and helicopters from the aircraft carrier “Randolph” flew over the submarine 12 times at the altitude of 20-100 meters. With every over flight they fired their aviation cannons /there were about 300 shots altogether/, and in the course of the over flight above the boat, they turned on their search lights with the purpose of blinding the people on the bridge of the submarine.
“Helicopters lowered floating hydroacoustic stations along the route of the submarine and dropped explosive devices, hovered over the conning tower of the submarine and demonstratively conducted filming. The destroyers maneuvered around the submarine at a distance of 20-50 meters demonstratively aiming their guns at the submarine, dropped depth bombs and hydroacoustic buoys when they crossed the course of the submarine, lifted flag signals and shouted in the loudspeaker demanding that the[sub] stops. Similar actions were undertaken in regard to submarine “B-130.”
“The fact that the submarines of the 69th brigade were not designed [neprisposobleny] to be used in tropical conditions also contributed to their discovery: --absence of air conditioning systems when the outside temperature was above 30 C --absence of cooling systems for charging accumulator batteries --high humidity in the sections and the salinity of the outside water --temperature at some combat positions /hydroacoustics,
electricians, engine operators/ which reached 50-60 degrees.
“All this led to failure of the equipment /decrease in resistance of the insulation of the antennas, salinization of water refrigerators, unsealing of hermetic hull openings [orifices] and cable openings and other issues/, and also to heat strokes and fainting among the sailors. Limited reserves of fresh water did not permit us to give more than 250 grams of water per person per day—and that in the conditions of the strongest sweat production and dehydration of organism. The impossibility to wash off sweat and dirt led to 100% of personnel developing rashes in the most serious, infected form. To alleviate these conditions, the captains were forced to partially surface to ventilate the submarine sections [otsek] and the accumulator battery, which […] could lead to their discovery.”
The NS Archive October 31, 2002 briefing summarizes some of the most important developments during this crisis relating to the Soviet submarines.
“During the missile crisis, U.S. naval officers did not know about Soviet plans for a submarine base or that the Foxtrot submarines were nuclear-armed. Nevertheless, the Navy high command worried that the submarines, which had already been detected in the north Atlantic, could endanger enforcement of the blockade. Therefore, under orders from the Pentagon, U.S. Naval forces carried out systematic efforts to track Soviet submarines in tandem with the plans to blockade, and possibly invade, Cuba.” http://nsarchive2.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/NSAEBB75/#1
“While ordered not to attack the submarines, the Navy received instructions on 23 October from Secretary of Defense McNamara to signal Soviet submarines in order to induce them to surface and identify themselves. Soon messages conveying "Submarine Surfacing and Identification Procedures" were transmitted to Moscow [Russia said it never received them] and other governments around the world.
“The next morning, on 24 October, President Kennedy and the National Security Council's Executive Committee (ExCom) discussed the submarine threat and the dangers of an incident. According to Attorney General Robert Kennedy, when Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara reviewed the use of practice depth charges (PDCs), the size of hand grenades, to signal the submarines, ‘those few minutes were the time of greatest worry to the President. His hand went up to his face & he closed his fist’".
“The U.S. effort to surface the Soviet submarines involved considerable risk; exhausted by weeks undersea in difficult circumstances and worried that the U.S. Navy's practice depth charges were dangerous explosives, senior officers on several of the submarines, notably B-59 and B-130, were rattled enough to talk about firing nuclear torpedoes, whose 15 kiloton explosive yields approximated the bomb that devastated Hiroshima in August 1945. Huchthausen includes a disquieting account of an incident aboard submarine B-130, when U.S. destroyers were pitching PDCs at it. In a move to impress the Communist Party political officer, Captain Nikolai Shumkov ordered the preparations of torpedoes, including the tube holding the nuclear torpedo; the special weapon security officer then warned Shumkov that the torpedo could not be armed without permission from headquarters.
After hearing that the security officer had fainted, Shumkov told his subordinates that he had no intention to use the torpedo ‘because we would go up with it if we did.’ Peter Huchthausen, October Fury (New Jersey: John Wiley, 2002).”
U.S. Navy veteran Peter A. Huchthausen served on the USS Blandy, one of eight pursuing destroyers during the crisis. They surrounded the subs some 500 sea miles from Cuba. He became a captain and naval attaché in Moscow. (Accounts differ on how many destroyers pursued the submarines, from 8 to 14 at various points over several days.)
Huchthausen’s book is an extensive study of Soviet ships involved in Operation Anadyr (which was the name for the delivery and deployment of modern weapons systems—nuclear—to Cuba) and the United States quarantine process to stop it. Operation Anadyr was devised in May 1962 by a high command army general, Anatoly Gribkov, with the mission to prevent a U.S. invasion
General Gribkov attended the 30 year commemoratory conference of the CMS in Havana, in 1992. Here he told the world for the first time that Russia had deployed nine nuclear tipped Luna missiles in Cuba. Former Defense Secretary MacNamara also attended and he was shocked to hear this. The U.S. had no idea these advanced warheads had made it to Cuba. It was also unclear how much discretionary authority Soviet ground commanders in Cuba had to use those weapons.
By then, the U.S.-friendly Boris Yeltsin period had begun, and although Gribkov spoke on his own in Havana he was not punished for this revelation. On the contrary he co-authored a book, Operation Anadyr: U.S. and Soviet General Recount the Cuban Missile Crisis (Chicago, Edition q, 1994). His co-author was U.S. Air Force four-star General William Smith, who had served as chief of staff. Smith became a board member of NS Archive some years until his death, in 2016.
Svetlana Savranskaya wrote the preeminent article on what the decision-making process was concerning the use of the tactical nuclear weapons aboard the four submarines—“New Sources on the Role of Soviet Submarines in the Cuban Missile Crisis”. http://www.belfercenter.org/sites/default/files/legacy/files/CMC50/SavranskayaJSSNewsourcesonroleofSovietsubmarinesinCMC.pdf
“Her research reveals how a chain of inadvertent developments at sea could have precipitated global nuclear war,” wrote the publisher The Journal of Strategic Studies, April 2005.
The submarine captains apparently were unclear themselves as to what authority they had to fire the nuclear missile, especially if there was no contact with Soviet command, which was the case some of the time. Some of captains interviewed by Savranskaya meant that “no specific instructions were given about the use of the nuclear torpedoes.”
B-4 Captain Ryurik Ketov’s recollection during a 2001 Russian television interview was: “The only person who talked to us about those weapons was Vice-Admiral Rassokha. He said there were three scenarios: ‘First, if you get a hole under the water. A hole in your hull. Second, a hole above the water. If you have to come to the surface, and they shoot at you, and you get a hole in your hull. And the third case, when Moscow orders you to use these weapons.’” (1)
The captains received packets with secret orders, which they could only open at sea. “The weapons on the boats were to be in a state of full combat readiness. Conventional weapons could be used on the orders of the Commander-in-Chief of the USSR Naval Forces, and the nuclear weapons could be used only on special orders from the Defense Minister,” wrote Russian journalist Mozgovoi based on Ketov’s account.
Communications officer Vadim Orlov’s believed the missiles could only be launched on orders from Moscow. Most accounts agree that if there were no contact from Moscow then the nuclear warhead on flagship B-59 could be fired if all three top officers agreed. But Orlov’s greatest worry was that malfunctioning equipment or an accident could cause an unintentional nuclear explosion.
Savranskaya interviewed Orlov in Moscow, September 18, 2002. He confirmed the “crucial role played by brigade chief of staff Vasili Arkhipov in talking Captain Savitski out of any rash action.” The men highly respected the even-keeled Arkhipov, a trait he was known for on the K-19 submarine the previous year when it experienced a leak in the coolant system that threatened a meltdown of a nuclear reactor.
Savranskaya relates in her 2005 article that Arkhipov’s widow, Olga, stated, in 2004, that her husband had told her that officers on the B-59 “almost fired a nuclear torpedo at an American destroyer during the Cuban missile crisis.” (2)
A National Security Archive briefing cites excerpts from Mozgovoi’s book wherein he takes from Vadim Orlov’s recollections that B-59 Captain Valentin Savisky “became furious” and “ordered the nuclear torpedo assembled for battle readiness”. I use a larger account directly from the book.
“The anti-submarine forces of the opponent, especially the aviation, were ready for an encounter with us from the very beginning of our sail to the Cuban shores… [Yet] we could not have expected this kind of counteraction…A naval forward searching aircraft carrier group headed the aircraft carrier “Randolf” confronted submarine B-59. According to our hydro-acoustic specialists, 14 surface units were following our boat….they surrounded us and started to tighten the circle, practicing attacks and dropping depth charges. They exploded right next to the hull. It felt like you were sitting in a metal barrel, which somebody is constantly blasting with a sledgehammer. The situation was quite unusually, if not to say shocking—for the crew.
“…only emergency light was functioning. The temperature in the compartments was 45-50 C, up to 60C in the engine compartment. It was unbearably stuffy. The level of CO2 in the air reached a critical practically deadly for people mark. One of the duty officers fainted and fell down. Another followed, then the third one…They were falling like dominoes. But we were still holding on, trying to escape. We were suffering like this for about four hours. The Americans hit us with something stronger than grenades—apparently with a practical depth bomb. We thought—that’s it—the end!
“After this attack, the totally exhausted [Captain] Savitsky, who in addition to everything was not able to establish connection with the General Staff, became furious. He summoned the officer who was assigned to the nuclear torpedo, and ordered him to assemble it to battle readiness. (3)
“’Maybe the war has already started up there, while we are doing summersaults here’—screamed Valentine Grigorievich, trying to justify his order. ‘We’re going to blast them now! We will die, but we will sink them all—we will not disgrace our Navy’! [author emphasis]
“But we did not fire the nuclear torpedo—Savitsky was able to rein in his wrath. After consulting with Second Captain Vasili Alexandrovich Arkhipov [deceased] and Deputy political officer Ivan Semenovich Maslennikov, he made the decision to come to the surface. We gave an echo locator signal, which in international navigation rules means that, ‘the submarine is coming to the surface.’ Our pursuers slowed down.”
According to Lt. Peterson on USS Blandy, the U.S. ships stayed three kilometers away. After some strafing from aircraft, which did not hit anyone, the submarines sailed back to Russia.
Arkhipov and the K-19
Arkhipov was second in command on the K-19 when the leaking crisis occurred. He sided with the captain, Nikolai Zateeva, when some crewmen angrily demanded that he flood the ship and the crew would take life boats to nearby land. There was a danger that if a nuclear explosion happened, US Americans at a nearby NATO base could suspect that the Soviets had started a nuclear war and they might retaliate. The captain would not abandon ship. He thought it best to prevent the Soviet’s most advanced submarine from being discovered with nuclear weapons, a military secret NATO could use, and he insisted on trying to repair the damage done.
They respected Arkhipov’s support for that decision. He calmed them down and convinced them to go back to work. Makeshift repairs were made by eight divers who managed to stop the leak. They were overexposed to radiation and died from the poisoning within three weeks, followed by a score more deaths within a few years. A U.S. destroyer stood nearby ready to “help”. Fortunately a Soviet submarine arrived just in time and towed the damaged submarine back home.
In 2006, Mikhail Gorbachev nominated the crew for the Nobel Peace Prize.
The 2002 Hollywood film, K-19: The Widow-Maker is based
on this episode. After the fall of the Soviet Union, the silence imposed
upon the men about what occurred was lifted and Captain Zateeva wrote
his memoirs. Herein he criticized Soviet leadership for rushing the submarine’s
construction, which meant some things were not adequately tested, and
there was poor workmanship that could cause hazards. Several did occur,
including the inadequate installation of a cooling system piping that
burst. The tension Soviets felt from constant U.S. subversion and arms
escalation led them to make unwise decisions in trying to keep up with
K-19 film-makers used Zateeva’s memoirs as well as the book with the same title written by Captain Peter Huchthausen. K-19 experienced so many maladies that the crew nicknamed it “Hiroshima.” But the filmmakers and the U.S. naval officer-author perhaps didn’t want to use that, which implied an association with the United States genocidal crime.
The Saint Petersburg Submarine and Naval Veterans Club took part in the film. The club is dedicated to the memory of perished crew members. Harrison Ford plays the part of Captain Zateeva, and Liam Neeson plays Arkhipov. Of course, there is exaggerated drama and the scene of pistol-packing mutineers did not take place, but it seems this film has fewer errors than the English film, “Secrets of the Dead: The Man Who Saved the World.”
Olga and Vasili Arkhipov
Secrets of the Dead: The Man Who Saved The World
This Bedlam Production film was released on the 50 year commemoration of the CMC, October 2012, and shown on the U.S. Public Broadcasting Service television channel. The synopsis reads:
“In October 1962, the world held its breath. On the edge of the Caribbean Sea, just a few miles from the Florida coast, the two great superpowers were at a stand-off. Surrounded by twelve US destroyers, which were depth-charging his submarine to drive it to the surface, Captain Vitali Grigorievitch Savitsky panicked. Unable to contact Moscow and fearing war had begun he ordered the launch of his submarine’s nuclear torpedoes. As the two sides inched perilously close to nuclear war—far closer than we ever knew before—just one man stood between Captain Savitsky’s order and mutually assured destruction.”
What is quite interesting is the cooperation that Russians offered the film, which was shown in Russia. Even two of the actors were played by Russians who partook in the crisis: B-4 Captain Ryurik Ketov and Viktor Mikhailov, B-59 junior navigator. Olga Arkhipov also played herself.
On the U.S. side were Andy Bradick, an officer on one of the attacking destroyers, USS Cony and Gary Slaughter, communications officer on the same ship. NS Archive Director Thomas Blanton also played himself as archivist.
Another actual person who played himself was John G. Stoessinger, but falsely. He was cast as an alleged White House advisor.
I offer some of Blanton’s 12 objections to the film, which he sent me after he had sent them to National Geographic when it was considering using the film.
1. In perhaps the greatest inaccuracy in the film – repeated over and over – John Stoessinger is described and quoted on camera as a White House aide, a Kennedy aide, giving eyewitness testimony to the reactions of the Kennedy White House. This is just not true. Stoessinger never worked in the Kennedy White House. He was a New York-based professor at the time and only in the Johnson administration did he have any position at the White House. The only record of him in the JFK Library files is an acknowledgement note from Mac Bundy for a copy of a book Stoessinger sent to Bundy. Stoessinger is quoting liberally from other sources but presenting himself as an eyewitness. With the availability of the White House tapes giving Kennedy’s own voice and that of his real aides throughout the crisis, substituting a fake witness is inexcusable.
2. The subs had enough nuclear weapon power “to destroy the entire Atlantic fleet” – this statement is not true, a nuclear torpedo was enough to sink an aircraft carrier and close-by vessels, but even 4 of them would not be enough to take out the fleet. Unless it was all parked in the same harbor, say Pearl Harbor.
3. Captain Ketov’s cut and spliced and translated quotes in the film directly misrepresent what Ketov actually said on camera in Russian: “Savitsky was an emotional man but he had his head on his shoulders. He made the right decision.” The film presents this as Ketov saying Savitsky was right to arm the torpedo. In fact, Ketov means the opposite, that Savitsky was right not to launch the torpedo.
4. Vadim Orlov’s translated and edited quotes from
the 2002 Havana press conference footage directly misrepresent what Orlov
said in Russian: “It is exactly the courage and reasonableness of
the captain of the submarine and the chief of staff that prevented”
launch of the torpedo. In other words, not Arkhipov alone overruling Savitsky,
as the film’s dramatization and falsification puts it, but calming
the situation down so that Savitsky makes the right decision not to launch.
These criticisms make the film incredulous as far as they go. There were also accusations that some Soviet military leaders wished the submarine captains had used the nuclear missiles, and that the men should have drowned rather than surfacing. This is speculation and no evidence is offered.
The film, however, has some redeeming values. Statements made by Navy communications officer Gary Slaughter certainly are proof of how dangerous the Yankees were, especially in comparison to how cautious and responsible the Russians were.
“We were already prepared to use nuclear weapons. We had all our strategic aircraft ready to fly to Russia armed with nuclear weapons and, and ready to drop nuclear bombs on key targets, and, and, and Russia. So there was no doubt in my mind that we would have gone had this incident occurred and we would have nuclear exchange with the Russians if their nuclear ballistic missiles worked.”
He also said that the way the destroyers were treating the submarines was “basically applying passive torture,” making it hard for the men to breathe in the extreme heat. And it lasted for five hours before they finally surfaced.
Slaughter must have spoken his own words in the film. Here is what Slaughter said taken from my own notes and may not be verbatim: “The U.S. had invested billions, maybe trillions of dollars in beefing up its anti-submarine warfare capability and the only enemy that we were trying to suppress and confront and defeat was the Soviet Union.”
Back in the USSR
Once the Brigade 69 submarines made it back to Russia, the four captains and Arkhipov were debriefed at Main Navy Headquarters. The commission, headed by Rear Admiral P.K. Ivanov, was aimed at “uncovering violations of orders, documents, or instruction. The commanders were criticized for violating the conditions of secrecy by surfacing,” recalled B-36 Captain Dubivko.
During these “acrimonious sessions” there was talk of the need or not to use nuclear weapons. The captains, including Chief of Staff Vasili Arkhipov “were asked to present oral reports to the Defense Minister.”
No one was demoted or punished in any way. On the contrary, Arkhipov continued in the Navy with one promotion after another. He had been chief of staff of the 69th Brigade since December 1961 and in November 1964 he was made commander, and then commanded the 37th division of submarines. Next year he was promoted to Rear Admiral and made head of the Caspian Higher Naval School. In 1981, he was promoted to Vice-Admiral. Arkhipov was awarded the Order of the Red Banner, Red Star “For Service to Motherland in the USSR Armed Forces”, and several medals for valor, including for “Victory over Japan,” where he had served during the short-lived Soviet-Japanese War (August 9-September 2, 1945).
The man who, along other Russians, saved the world from a nuclear war died August 19, 1998 due to kidney cancer developed from the radiation he got on the K-19. Its captain, Nikolai Zateeva, died from radiation contamination eight days later. They both lived to be 72.
Vasili was posthumously awarded a replica of this National Prize of Italy “Angels of Our Time” for steadfastness, courage, endurance manifested in extreme conditions. It was given to his wife Olga, 2005.
“Soviet Foxtrot Submarines: The Cuban Missile Crisis” is the title of Air Force Lt. Colonel Edward Marek’s detailed study. The SIGINT officer (Signals Intelligence Officer) published it, May 3, 2017, on his very patriotic American website: http://www.talkingproud.us/Military/SovietFoxtrots/FoxtrotsCuba.html
Here is one assessment he made: “I would like to comment that after reading as much as I have read about these four Foxtrot captains, the captains and crews were under a massive amount of pressure. They did not expect half the Atlantic fleet to be above them, they did not know what was happening in the outside world, they had these nuclear torpedoes aboard guarded by a non-submarine special officer, they knew almost nothing about those torpedoes, the captains had conflicting orders on how and when to employ them, and their boats had undergone a long and stormy voyage. The submarines were jam packed inside, they had to stay submerged for long periods of time, the crews were tiring, sweaty, and often on the verge of fainting. My guess would be tempers were short as well. The USN would not make life for them any easier, especially given the zest for chasing Soviet submarines among American sailors…and employing depth charges…couple that with the fact the Foxtrots had received no intelligences, you have four submarine captains who were really on their own. It is a wonder that something very grave did not occur.”
In correspondence with me, he wrote his conclusion about Black Saturday:
“Arkhipov certainly played a lead role. But I do not think we would have gone to nuclear war. Neither JFK nor Khrushchev wanted that. Nikita wanted to call his boats home fairly early in the game, but JFK help hesitating. But my sense is Nikita did have a cooler head than the U.S. high officials.”
Of the many sources Marek used to come to his conclusion is the captain of B-4. Here is one quote from Captain Ryurik Ketov: “Vasili Arkhipov was a submariner and a close friend of mine. He was a family friend. He stood out for being cool-headed. He was in control.”
That assessment matches Arkhipov’s wife, Olga: “My husband was shy, intelligent, very polite, always in touch with the modern world, kind and calm.”
Olga understood how much the radiation leak on the K-19 could have escalated into a world-wide catastrophe from what her husband told her. “Vasili must have really felt it. It was a tragedy, a real tragedy. This tragedy was the reason that we could say no to nuclear war!” I think she meant the Russian people when referring to “we”.
It seems fair to say that a rational and moral person acts under pressure from attackers, like the ever hot-headed aggressive Yankees, to do what is necessary, in order to maintain world peace. Vasili Arkhipov had these qualities and values. This is exactly what the current Russian leader, Vladmir Putin, possesses in face of the ever hot-headed aggressive Yankee leaders of today.
1. Transcript of selections from Russian documentary program
“How It Happened” (VID, 30 Jan. 2001) ORT (Russian Television
Channel 1) with four submarine commanders who participated in Operation
2. 37 Sobesednik: Obscherossiiskaya Yezhednevnaya Gazeta, No. 10 (1012), 17–23 March 2004, Moscow.
3. I had an hour-long telephone interview with Savranskaya, the Mozgovoi book translator of this account. She said she didn’t think an actual “order” was given. The captain talked about it but the order never occurred, in part, because Arkhipov spoke against it and the three officers responsible for such an action agreed not to. She learned of this after having translated the book.
Savranskaya also said that some Russian officers judged that the depth charges were part of the beginning of a war the U.S. had initiated and thus it might be necessary to fire their nuclear-tipped torpedoes at them. But in Arkhipov’s judgment, the depth charges were aimed at their subs only to force them to surface and his argument ruled.
Svetlana’s study and interviews, including with the remaining three captains, in 2003, proved to her that all the Russians involved in these actions were restrained. The men who knew Arkhipov did view him as wise and calm, and they respected him. Any unique role he played in those acute moments, however, was not publicized in Russia.
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