Captain Vasili Alexandrovich Arkhipov spared humanity from extinction on what has been called “the most dangerous moment in human history.”
By Ray McGovern
Special to Consortium News
Oct. 27, 1962, is the date on which we humans were spared extinction thanks to Soviet Navy submarine Captain Vasili Alexandrovich Arkhipov.
Arkhipov insisted on following the book on using nuclear weapons. He overruled his colleagues on Soviet submarine B-59, who were readying a 10-kiloton nuclear torpedo to fire at the USS Randolph task force near Cuba without the required authorization from Moscow.
Communications links with naval headquarters were down, and Arkhipov’s colleagues were convinced WWIII had already begun. After hours of battering by depth charges from U.S. warships, the captain of B-59, Valentin Grigorievich Savitsky, screamed, “We’re going to blast them now! We will die, but we will sink them all — we will not disgrace our Navy!” But Captain Arkipov’s permission was also required. He countermanded Savitsky and B-59 came to the surface.
Much of this account of what happened on submarine B-59 is drawn from Daniel Ellsberg’s masterful book, “The Doomsday Machine” — one of the most gripping and important books I have ever read. Dan explains, inter alia, on pages 216-217 the curious circumstance whereby the approval of Arkhipov, chief of staff of the submarine brigade at the time, was also required.
Ellsberg adds that had Arkhipov been stationed on one of the other submarines (for example, B-4, which was never located by the Americans), there is every reason to believe that the carrier USS Randolph and several, perhaps all, of its accompanying destroyers would have been destroyed by a nuclear explosion.
Equally chilling, says Dan:
“The source of this explosion would have been mysterious to other commanders in the Navy and officials on the ExComm, since no submarines known to be in the region were believed to carry nuclear warheads. The clear implication on the cause of the nuclear destruction of this antisubmarine hunter-killer group would have been a medium-range missile from Cuba whose launch had not been detected. That is the event that President Kennedy had announced on October 22 would lead to a full-scale nuclear attack on the Soviet Union.”
‘The Most Dangerous Moment in Human History’
Historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr., a close adviser to President John F. Kennedy, later described Oct. 27, 1962, as Black Saturday, calling it “the most dangerous moment in human history.” On that same day, the Joint Chiefs of Staff recommended an all-out invasion of Cuba to destroy the newly emplaced Soviet missile bases there. Kennedy, who insisted that former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Llewelyn Thompson attend the meetings of the crisis planning group, rejected the advice of the military and, with the help of his brother Robert, Ambassador Thompson, and other sane minds, was able to work out a compromise with Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev.
As for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the president had already concluded that the top military were unhinged Russophobes, and that they deserved the kind of sobriquet used by Under Secretary of State George Ball applied to them — a “sewer of deceit.” As Ellsberg writes (in his Prologue, p. 3): “The total death toll as calculated by the Joint Chiefs, from a U.S. first strike aimed at the Soviet Union, its Warsaw Pact satellites, and China, would be roughly six hundred million dead. A hundred Holocausts.” And yet the fools pressed on, as in trying to cross “The Big Muddy.”
Intelligence Not So Good
The pre-Cuban-missile crisis performance of the intelligence community, including Pentagon intelligence, turned out to hugely inept. The U.S. military, for example, was blissfully unaware that the Soviet submarines loitering in the Caribbean were equipped with nuclear-armed torpedoes. Nor did U.S. intelligence know that the Russians had already mounted nuclear warheads on some of the missiles installed in Cuba and aimed at the U.S. (The U.S. assumption on Oct. 27 was that the warheads had not been mounted.)
It was not until 40 years later, at a Cuban crisis “anniversary” conference in Havana, that former U.S. officials like Defense Secretary Robert McNamara and National Security Advisor McGeorge Bundy learned that some of their key assumptions were dead and dangerously wrong. (Ellsberg p. 215ff)
Today the Establishment media has inculcated into American brains that it is a calumny to criticize the “intelligence community.” This is despite the relatively recent example of the concocting of outright fraudulent “intelligence” to “justify” the attack on Iraq in 2003, followed even more recently, sans evidence, falsely accusing Putin himself of ordering Russian intelligence to “hack” the computers of the Democratic National Committee. True, the U.S. intelligence performance on Russia and Cuba in 1962 came close to getting us all killed in 1962, but back then in my view it was more a case of ineptitude and arrogance than outright dishonesty.
As for Cuba, one of the most consequential CIA failures was the formal Special National Intelligence Estimate (SNIE) of Sept. 19, 1962, which advised President Kennedy that Russia would not risk trying to put nuclear-armed missiles in Cuba. To a large extent this judgment was a consequence of one of the cardinal sins of intelligence analysis — “mirror imaging.” That is, we had warned the Russians strongly against putting missiles in Cuba; they knew the U.S., in those years would not take that kind of risk; ergo, they would take us at our word and avoid blowing up the world over Cuba. Or so the esteemed NIE estimators thought.
The Russians, too, were mirror imaging. Khrushchev and his advisers regarded U.S. nuclear war planners as rational actors acutely aware of the risks of escalation, who would shy away from ending life immediately for hundreds of millions of human beings. Their intelligence was not very good on the degree of Russophobia infecting Air Force General Curtis LeMay and others on the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who were prepared to countenance hundreds of millions of deaths in order “to end the Soviet threat.” (Ellsberg was there; he provides a first-hand account of the craziness in “The Doomsday Machine.”)
Where Did the Grenade Launchers Go?
I reported for active duty at Infantry Officers School at Fort Benning, Georgia, on Nov. 3, 1962, six days after the incident. Most of us new lieutenants had heard about a new weapon, the grenade launcher, and were eager to try it out. There were none to be found. Lots of other weapons normally used for training were also missing.
After we made numerous inquiries, the brass admitted that virtually all the grenade launchers and much of the other missing arms and vehicles had been swept up and carried south by a division coming through Georgia a week or so before. All of it was still down in the Key West area, we were told. Tangible signs as to how ready the JCS and Army brass were to attack Cuba, were President Kennedy to have acceded to their wishes.
Had that happened, it is likely that neither you nor I would be reading this. Yet, down at Benning, there were moans and groans complaining that we let the Commies off too easy.
Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. He was an Army infantry/intelligence officer from 1962-64 and later served as Chief of CIA’s Soviet Foreign Policy Branch and morning briefer of the President’s Daily Brief. He is co-founder of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).
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Nixon, upon whom “they” had blackmail (financial, signed cashed check), was White House head of Plans to invade Cuba…he would have won the election except (they say) for mob help in Chicago (and elsewhere?) with some vote rigging…
Now then, assuming this is true (which is “highly likely” (it’s true))… Assuming that,
what would Nixon have done…
JFK, for all his failings, fubared the CIA/Nixon plan that would absolutle have fried and frozen our parents and some of us…(if you’re old ‘nuf, you’d a died)
Now then….what does this say about the Federal System, when it worked, sorta…and what about now…and mostly What About Elections and “Democracy”…I mean, if an honest election would have resulted in mass murder…
Ray (and others) may also wish to know the name of the man on Okinawa who stopped the MACE B launches, at gunpoint, which took place at the same time.
“If he tries to launch, shoot him.”
See Japan Times : japantimes.co.jp/life/2012/07/08/general/okinawas-first-nuclear-missile-men-break-silence/
The MACE B targets were Chinese, no Ruski…
What I want to know is WHO gave the order to fire that they got on Okinawa…
has the story
“airmen were holding an Air Force nuclear missile crew at gunpoint deep in a top-secret bunker on Okinawa.
The crew had just been ordered to launch the island’s missiles at targets in the Soviet Union and Asia, just as the Cuban Missile Crisis was reaching a harrowing climax in October 1962. But an Air Force launch officer was opposing the order.
The officer sent “two men over there with .45’s and [they were] told to shoot anybody who tried to launch until the situation was resolved … so those two men kept that whole crew at bay while we made a decision of what to do,” said John Bordne, a nuclear missile mechanic for the Okinawa-based 873rd Tactical Missile Squadron who was on duty Oct. 28, 1962.”
Arkhipov was not the only Russian to save the world from nuclear Armageddon.
See this article: vox.com/2018/9/26/17905796/nuclear-war-1983-stanislav-petrov-soviet-union?fbclid=IwAR3XZREPaiekG2ncpUOUGkzppOqs9102z4pityZtIjvi19tWsHD4CLf3h4s
for a few other cases of Russians who kept their cool during mistaken perceptions when the protocol would have been to launch nuclear war.
A huge thank you for the many informative comments. Ray
Remembering the time and remembering it was like watching children playing chicken. Remember to0 the country was ingrained with the belief that mankind could be destroyed. Movies like On the Beach and Dr. Strangelove(that may not have been the title) made America conscious of the real threat of extinction out there and equally serious that there might be a Doctor Strangelove near the trigger. So as I and others watched and read we were torn between fear and the sense that it was unreal. The former Lieutenant Ray McGovern reminds us it was. And yes, a Russian of all things saved our behinds. Back to game seven of the World Series.
Mr. Ray McGovern, your article is a ray of light, no pun intended, shining brightly on the heart of darkness we live in. A MAD rule keeps the clock ticking two minutes to midnight, and there is no hope in sight of moving it backwards. All for what? Greed and possessiveness. What is the winner going to inherit after a nuclear war? A nuclear winter? How can they market that? Summer in Venus? Retirement on the moon? Tanning rooms galore? Just FYI, survivors might not have a skin to tan. The empire is reaching sunset, and it is threatening to take humanity with it into a long nuclear night…mare. We can’t let them.
PS: A new abnormal: It is still two minutes to midnight – See: thebulletin.org/doomsday-clock/current-time/
A Tribute to Vasily Arkhipov (Who Saved the World in October of 1962)
(b. 30 January 1926 d. 19 August 1998)
Vice Admiral, Russian Navy
By Dave Evans
Today, as I sense the earth awakening
Under an umbrella of dueling pear trees,
I inhale the sweet esters of spring
Assuaging all my mortal fears.
So much beauty in a simple flower
Cast away those jaded eyes!
To see the art of a higher power
In the tears the racing clouds cry.
The universe has for many eons labored
To produce a blushing plum,
As the mountains were skillfully chiseled
With the rays of the rising sun.
Ours is a blue green gem hanging in the sky
Home to so many great aspirations,
Of generations gone by and by
Rising above our pitiful lamentations.
And what of our tumultuous history
Frozen in amber teardrop,
We are the offspring of a great mystery
Whose outcome we know not.
The world goes round and round
On this the eve of destruction,
As we are oblivion bound
Unknown actors in a tragic production.
Once before in history we were on the brink
Verily, verily, verily!
We have but one man to thank
Vasily, Vasily, Vasily!
Thank you for preserving Sophia’s dream
Beyond the Warmongers’ guile,
As the angry Generals screamed
With a blood-lust most vile.
Vasily, you have saved all mankind
We owe you a great debt of gratitude,
As we part the mists of time
And pay homage to your infinitude.
Bless the wake of your fair heart
That gave us our world back,
With the rays of a brand new start
Stopping the final attack!
I wish I could thank you to your face
Vasily my dear friend,
For saving the human race
And to our noble destiny defend!
To say the proper words to thank you
They are indeed hard to find,
As we were trapped in annihilation’s queue
You saved all mankind!
Ray, thank you for rewriting the old propaganda story that claimed humanity was saved by JFK s diplomatic negotiations and unique skills during the Cuban missile crisis. Here’s a cut n paste reprint of a few comments I made a few years ago, regarding the heroism of one, Vice Admiral Vasili Arkhipov and it is paraphrased here. I wish to pause, take a moment to extend the warmest thanks to Soviet Naval officer, Vasili Alexandrovich Arkhipov and his extended family. He, who single handed-ly prevented WW III during the crisis by refusing to launch a nuclear tipped torpedo into one of our U.S. battle cruisers.
Vice Admiral Arkhipov, if you can hear us from the grave, we award you the real “Nobel Peace Prize” not a piece of paper, not a figurine, not a check for one million dollars but a peace prize from our hearts, from those of us who truly understand, what is meant by military leadership and just how lonely, unrewarding, that place of authority and decision was for you! The world will NEVER be so lucky again!
A FB friend filled me in on the following “rest of the story” re Arkhipov who was also on the the Soviet submarine K-19:
(From Wikipedia) “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.”
Yes, but Kennedy was also a big factor.
He was able to resist pressure to invade Cuba and so the Luna tactical nuclear missiles in Cuba were not used. We owe both Kennedy and Arkhipov a great deal.
now wth the dumbest is president of the usa
remember the usa is only on of 35 independent countries
i worry more than i did in from 1950 to 1963
but i realise it is hard to open any pressure cooker under full pressure
also the now totally useless un is degraded to an puppy of the usa
all the hope we had with the un is not lost i hope they wake and rise up
I remember those days well as I was on a temporary assignment in Washington, D.C. Nerve-wracking period in history!
It is truly frightening to think of what would have happened if Lyndon Johnson had been president at the time.
He bombed Hanoi at around the time that Soviet premier Kosygin was there!
We need to eliminate nuclear weapons before they eliminate us. That is the very clear message coming from Ellsberg’s book.
Incidentally, the Bay of Pigs was deliberately set up by the CIA to fail. It was in order to force JFK to invade Cuba.
Good point, it is even more frightening to contemplate if Richard Nixon had defeated Kennedy and was President then.
Let us not forget that Kennedy refused to follow up war in Laos and Cambodia and had ordered the withdrawal of 1000 US troops(stymied by the Pentagon) from Vietnam; a precursor to complete withdrawal.
LBJ immediately reversed the order after JFK’s death and then sent in combat troops after an election in which he promised …”I’ll not send Amurican(sic) boys to do what Asian boys ought to do for themselves”.
I remember working on National Estimates in the late 1970s when the Pentagon was still pushing the idea that we could fight and win a nuclear war with the Soviets. Then CIA director, Stansfield Turner strongly disagreed with the analysis and successfully convinced people in power not to entertain such an idea. I believe military and civilian leaders, especially after Chernobyl, have come to realize that nuclear war would be catastrophic for all participants. But, I am concerned that President Trump does not fully understand the consequences of using nuclear weapons…He supposedly asked in a Pentagon briefing why we had nuclear weapons if we don’t use them.
Words mean everything.
We always call it the Cuban missile crisis, not the Turkish missile crisis and that betrays our prejudice.
Meaning that it was perfectly okay for the U.S. Air Force to handover nuclear capable Jupiter missiles that could reach Moscow to the Italian and Turkish air force to be installed at Bari and Izmir, but when Khrushchev reacted and installed Soviet missiles in Cuba this created the crisis.
The real origins of this crisis lie in the fact that the real enemy of the U.S. Army was never the Red Army it was always the U.S. Navy and the US Air Force. The U.S. Army developed the Jupiter missile so that it would possess its own nuclear deterrent but then lost control of it to the U.S. Air Force.
The U.S. Air Force and its preferred contractors were not missile friendly at the time as they wanted to build as many bombers as possible and had invented the “bomber gap” to enable this. So given the U.S. Army’s Jupiter program was an anathema to the U.S. Air Force as they represented a potential threat to the bomber budget, the missiles were parked on Italian and Turkish air force bases with the local air force being responsible for the missiles (to ensure there would be problems with the Army developed missiles) and the U.S. Air Force controlling the nuclear warheads.
A brilliant plan, sure to win victory in the war of inter-service rivalry but which failed to take into account the fact that what the Soviet leadership saw were missiles that could reach Moscow being placed into the hands of the Italians who had participated in Operation Barbarossa and their traditional enemies the Turks with whom Russia had fought an endless series of wars and who had so recently facilitated the Nazi invasion of the USSR by allowing access through the Dardanelles.
In April 1959, the Secretary of the Air Force issued instructions to deploy two Jupiter squadrons to Italy to be operated by Italian Air Force crews with USAF personnel controlling the arming of the nuclear warheads. In October 1959, a government-to-government agreement was signed with Turkey and resulted in a third Jupiter squadron being deployed in and around ?zmir, Turkey. In October 1962 a first flight of three Jupiter missiles was handed over to control of the Turkish Air Force again with USAF personnel supposedly controlling the arming of the nuclear warheads.
How are the Soviets to know that the USAF personnel were really in control and an Italian or Turkish equivalent of General Ripper did not have access to the keys? You cannot overfly with a U2 to find that out.
Real equivalence in the so-called Cuban missile crisis would be if the Soviet Union had installed medium-range missiles that could hit Los Angeles, Chicago and New York at a base in Sinaloa Mexico, then handed over the keys to the missiles to the Mexicans while insisting that everything was hunky-dory because a Soviet officer with known drug problems had the keys to the nuclear warhead.
Great article Ray! And absolutely necessary for the American people, meaning all of us in this hemisphere, to know how close millions of us came to being incinerated by the criminality of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff and their allies in government who saw the Cuban Crisis as an “opportunity” to launch our own “preemptive” nuclear attack on the USSR, and the JCS willingness to accept a reciprocal attack in retaliation which would predictably kill at least 20 million people in this hemisphere, as a “fair exchange” for the hundreds of millions of human beings the US nuclear attack would incinerate in the USSR. That’s how “Mad” the US military was then, and is today, if one reads current doctrine. William R. Polk was there in the White House as McGeorge Bundy’s advisor, and has written of this and told me details in a lengthy oral history. He tells of how angry at Kennedy the JCS were, so much that he feared a military coup, as did Kennedy, as explained in this video:
`JFK wanted movie “Seven Days in May” made’ [youtube.com/watch?v=fRiZtqVPJ9U]
But Americans have this placid confidence, similar to the “What, me worry” attitude of the Holstein cows I once dealt with in my youth, even as we would be preparing them for a ride to the stockyards, that the threat or possibility of nuclear war/accident is a thing of the past, even while we, the US, under three administrations now, has been hard at work to increase the possibility of some sort of nuclear conflagration in our lifetimes.
The Soviets also had atomic artillery which could have been used to repel a US invasion, which would also have started WW3. The bullet was dodged twice – first by JFK NOT invading, then by Arkhipov by not allowing the launch of a nuclear torpedo.
As Ray has said, now there are no adults in the room.
Our military is no less crazy today. Subtext of Putin’s March 1, 2018 address on new strategic nuclear weapons … ‘nuclear war is unthinkable, so kindly stop thinking about it’.
Those moans and groans weren’t just happening in Georgia, Ray.
Hats off again to Mr. McGovern for calling balls and strikes with uncanny precision .
I’m sure of that moaning and groaning at Ft. Benning seeing as how those folks had no clue to what had really happened and would have moaned and groaned even had they known. After all Ray it was OCS.
Ray I’m recommending that everyone listen to the interview of Edward Snowden by Joe Rogan. In fact get a hold of Bill Binney, Tom Drake, J. Kurt Wiebe and Ed Loomis and let them know about it. Some fascinating stuff for me and it could be a major eye opener for those naive individuals who believe cell phones in their current configuration are great tools. I’m betting 90% of those who would watch this would want that, “I own my data not ( the cell phone company name goes here), “button” Snowden talked about.
I’m I wrong here or can everyone who agrees that the “Orange Apocalypse” could shoot someone on 5th Avenue and be above prosecution be tried on conspiring to give the ” fake potus” dictatorial powers and removed from office?
Thanks again Ray for your great work
As for Mr. Snowden, I happened to watch the video, ‘Citizenfour’, last night on Roku. If you’re not aware of it, it’s certainly worth trying to view: citizenfourfilm.com
Ray- Great article. I hope those in the Administration and Congress read it- and read Ellsberg’s book.
Now the lines of communication between the Kremlin and Washington are all but severed. Any current or future U.S. president who merely wants to sit down for two minutes and discuss Russian hockey with Lavrov will be immediately branded a Putin puppet or Moscow stooge. If we experience a Cuban missile crisis type scenario today we could all be pulverized into dust thanks to Maddow, Clapper, Brennan, Podesta, NPR, Fred Hiatt and the other establishment Russophobes in our midst.
This madness must stop.
I feel that the unspoken consensus among high CIA officials and warmongering US military brass was that the Bay of Pigs was a win-win for them, regardless of how it played out. The CIA had to know Castro’s immense popularity among the Cuban population, so long impoverished by American corporations under Batista. To think that a man like Castro would have to face a “Cuban uprising” when a beachhead was secured by a small contingent of about 1300 anti-Castro mercenaries(trained by the CIA) is laughable when looking back. JFK was between a rock and a hard place and he NEVER promised any air support should this small brigade come under attack by Castro small Cuban air force of a few planes! He even had to deal with a lying Adlai Stevenson at the UN, who stated that the USA was NOT involved in the Bay of Pigs attack. That ammunition ship off shore that blew up could easily have been a CIA op expediting what it really wanted- a crushing and embarrassing defeat for the new President(who wasn’t supposed to be President in the first place- sound familiar?) JFK quickly accepted responsibility for this defeat but was now intent on paying back those in the CIA who had set him up. Much of what we think we know about wars is just the “smoke” that comes out of the fire, while the fire generally gets swept under the rug of “history”. Kennedy stood up to the Deep State in the early 60’s much like Trump advertised his intention to during his campaign, but it was certainly easier to convince a gullible public that “Oswald did it” in 1963 than it would be to set someone up for Trump’s assassination nowadays! Hence, we have the CONSTANT media/Deep State CHARACTER assassination of Trump 24/7.
I completely agree with you DH .