Vasili Arkhipov

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For a World War II Hero of the Soviet Union, see Vasili Sergeyevich Arkhipov.
Vasili Alexandrovich Arkhipov
Vasili Arkhipov.jpg
Native name Василий Александрович Архипов
Born (1926-01-30)30 January 1926
Zvorkovo, Moscow Oblast, Russian SFSR, Soviet Union
Died 19 August 1998(1998-08-19) (aged 72)
Zheleznodorozhny, Moscow Oblast, Russia
Allegiance  Union of Soviet Socialist Republics
Service/branch  Soviet Navy
Years of service 1945–1980s
Rank RAF N F7VicAdm since 2010par.svg Vice Admiral

Vasili Alexandrovich Arkhipov (Russian: Василий Александрович Архипов) (30 January 1926 – 19 August 1998) was a Soviet Navy officer. During the Cuban Missile Crisis, he prevented the launch of a nuclear torpedo and thereby prevented a nuclear war. Thomas Blanton (then director of the National Security Archive) said in 2002 that "a guy called Vasili Arkhipov saved the world".[1]

Early life[edit]

Arkhipov was born into a peasant family 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.[2]


After graduating in 1947, Arkhipov served in the submarine service aboard boats in the Black Sea, Northern and Baltic Fleets.[2]

K-19 accident[edit]

Main article: Soviet submarine K-19

In July 1961, Arkhipov was appointed deputy commander or executive officer of the new Hotel-class ballistic missile submarine K-19.[2] During its nuclear accident, he backed Captain Nikolai Vladimirovich Zateyev during the potential mutiny. While assisting with engineering work to deal with the overheating reactor, he was exposed to a harmful level of radiation.[3] This incident is depicted in the American film K-19: The Widowmaker.

Involvement in Cuban Missile Crisis[edit]

Main article: Cuban Missile Crisis
Soviet submarine B-59, in the Caribbean near Cuba.[4]

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 practice 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.[5][6] The captain of the submarine, Valentin Grigorievitch Savitsky, decided that a war might already have started and wanted to launch a nuclear torpedo.[3]

Unlike the other subs in the flotilla, three officers on board the 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. However, due to Arkhipov's position as flotilla commander, the B-59's captain also was required to gain Arkhipov's approval. An argument broke out, with only Arkhipov against the launch.[7]

Even though Arkhipov was only second-in-command of the submarine B-59, he was in fact commander of the entire submarine flotilla, including the 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.[3] 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.[8] The submarine's batteries had run very low and the air-conditioning had failed, so it was forced to surface amidst its U.S. pursuers and head home.[9] Washington's message that practice depth charges were being used to signal the submarine to surface never reached B-59, and Moscow claims it has no record of receiving it either.[citation needed]


When discussing the Cuban Missile Crisis in 2002, Robert McNamara, who had been U.S. Secretary of Defense at the time, stated "We came very close" to nuclear war, "closer than we knew at the time."[10]

In Aleksandr Mozgovoy's 2002 book, Kubinskaya Samba Kvarteta Fokstrotov (Cuban Samba of the Foxtrot Quartet), retired Commander Vadim Pavlovich Orlov, a participant in the events, presents them less dramatically, saying that Captain Savitsky lost his temper but eventually calmed down.[11]

Later life and death[edit]

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. He was promoted to vice admiral in 1981 and retired in the mid 1980s. He subsequently settled in Kupavna (incorporated into Zheleznodorozhny, Moscow Oblast, in 2004), where he died on 19 August 1998.[2] The radiation to which he had been exposed in 1961 contributed to his death.[3][12] Nikolai Vladimirovich Zateyev, commander of the submarine K-19 at the time of a nuclear accident aboard, died nine days later on 28 August 1998; both men were aged 72 at the time of their deaths.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ 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. 
  2. ^ a b c d 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. 
  3. ^ a b c d Edward Wilson (2012-10-27). "Thank you Vasili Arkhipov, the man who stopped nuclear war". The Guardian. Retrieved 2012-10-31. 
  4. ^ 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. 
  5. ^ Michael Dobbs, One Minute to Midnight, Vintage, Random House, 2009. Includes photograph of B-59 surfacing.
  6. ^ "Chronology of Submarine Contact During the Cuban Missile Crisis". National Security Archive of the George Washington University. Retrieved 15 November 2010. 
  7. ^ Noam Chomsky (2004). Hegemony or Survival: America's Quest for Global Dominance. New York: Henry Holt. p. 74. ISBN 0-8050-7688-3. 
  8. ^ Blanton, Thomas S. (October 2002). The Cuban Missile Crisis: 40 Years Later. Interview with The Washington Post; Forum users. Archived from the original on 2008-08-30. Retrieved 15 November 2010. 
  9. ^ Watson, Leon, & Duell, Mark (2012-09-25). "The Man Who Saved the World". Daily Mail. Retrieved 2012-10-12. 
  10. ^ "'I don't think anybody thought much about whether Agent Orange was against the rules of war'". May 19, 2002. Retrieved 22 June 2012. 
  11. ^ Isachsnkov, Vladimir (21 June 2002). "Russian Book Looks at Missile Crisis". johnson. Archived from the original on 2011-05-30. Retrieved 2008-05-03. 
  12. ^ "The Man Who Saved the World". Secrets of the Dead. PBS. 2012-10-24. 

External links[edit]