Everyone should know what the Cuban Missile Crisis is, but in case you don’t it was the closest the world has ever come to nuclear war. The U.S. and the U.S.S.R. were the two super powers in the world at this time after WWII and it just so happened that American capitalism and Soviet Communism made for an unhappy living arrangement causing the world to be on high alert for WWIII. Most people though don’t know how close we came to fighting a nuclear war. The decision to abstain from war actually rested on one officer’s command.
He was the man who saved the world by single-handedly averting World War Three. At the height of the Cold War, when paranoia on both sides meant the slightest mistake could spark nuclear war, four submarines secretly set sail from Russia to communist Cuba.Only a handful of the submariners on board knew that their ships carried nuclear weapons with them, each with the strength of the bombs dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima in 1945.
Vasili Arkhipov, aboard the sub B59, was one of them. As his craft neared Cuba, U.S. helicopters, aeroplanes and battleships were scouring the ocean for Russian subs. In a game of high stakes cat and mouse it wasn't long before the Russians were spotted. Arkhipov's sub was forced to make an emergency dive. As the submariners tried to stay hidden from their US hunters, conditions in the sub deteriorated. For a week they stayed underwater, in sweltering 60C heat, rationed to just one glass of water a day.
Above them, the U.S. 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. 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 to save some of Russia's pride.
The programme on Channel 5 revealed how in any normal circumstances Savitsky's orders would have been followed, and World War Three would have been unleashed. And although his men were against him, he insisted that they must not fire - and instead surrender. 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.