Posted: October 24th, 2012
The Man Who Saved the World
Watch the Full Episode

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.

Set over four hours on October 27, 1962, the tensest moments of the Cuban Missile Crisis, this program tells the powerful but forgotten story of Vasili Arkhipov and Soviet submarine B-59. With most of the action set in a claustrophobic submarine running out of air, “The Man Who Saved the World” combines tense drama with eyewitness accounts and expert testimony about some of the most critical events in the Cold War.

A Bedlam Production for THIRTEEN in association with WNET
Director: Eamon Fitzpatrick
Executive Producer, Bedlam: Simon Breen
Executive Producer, Thirteen: Steve Burns
Executive in Charge, WNET: Stephen Segaller

Copyright 2012 Bedlam Production Ltd.

  • john

    Very well made

  • Frank

    The video isn’t working :(

  • Raymond Sills

    This episode, “The Man Who Saved The World”, does not play on my computer. Other older episodes seem to play back just fine. I was able to see and hear the sponsorship video, however.

  • Albert

    Wow, there should be a statue of Vasili Arkhipov, the man who saved the world, on every city of every country on the planet! Without a doubt, he stands above any other historical figure past and lets hope, future. I say future since it is obviously not desirable for humanity to come this close to realizing MADD, or mutually assured destruction, again because who is to say that there will be another man of the stature of Vasili Arkhipov again to make all the difference and avoid NUCLEAR ARMAGEDDON?

  • Barry Downes

    I do remember those days very well. I was 28 at the time and in the Army Reserves in New York City. It was a very tense period, but with the choice of “mutual destruction” as a alternative, I felt quite sure calmer heads would avoid that sort of unthinkable calamity. The “powers that be” just couldn’t let such a thing happen. Now 50 years later I find those “powers that be” had no control over the actual players and circumstances where the issue of extinction would be decided.

    It really does seem that had the launching of that nuclear armed torpedo taken place with the resulting explosion to follow, there would have been no escape from the trigger fingers already nervously waiting to act. I’ve just clipped a picture of Vasili Arkhipova and will probably frame it. This, up to now, almost totally unknown Russian officer was directly responsible for me being alive today, as well as my wife, and my dog, and the city I live in and love, as well as the country and probably the world that exists, unmindful of what this obviously intelligent and certainly brave submariner did far under the waves near Cuba. Cheers to you Vasili, and I plan to raise my glass many times again to you over the months and years I may still have left. Hey, maybe we should have a parade? Who will or could ever do that much for any of us again?

    And thank you for the show fellas, Eamon, Simon, Steve et al

    Barry Downes

  • Adam McIntosh

    I remember that October very well.We lived just outside of New York City and everyone knew we would be a target of any nuclear war. When my father told me that I had to come downstairs and watch the president my childhood came to an end and I entered the world of megatons and fallout.

    Once again I am reminded that in times of crisis, the actions of individuals can make a difference. Vasili Arkhipov was an incredibly thoughtful and brave man to have recognized that the Americans above him were not trying to sink his boat but driving it to the surface and then acting on that realization when those around him wanted to dive into war, a war that certainly I (and many millions of others) would not have survived.

    I propose that on this upcoming Thanksgiving that everyone who remembers October 1962 raise a galss and gives thanks for Vasili Arkhipov.

  • Al Larson

    I went aboard the USS Cony about 6 months after this incident. I know alot of the people involved during the tracking and surfacing of the B59. A good friend is the person who shot the 8mm film refered to by Gary Slaughter who was still aboard while I was there. All of us found out about the nuclear armed torpedoes about 10 years ago I think at a reunion. We and all people on this earth should be thankful that someone had the wisdom to stop what would have been to my thinking a sure death to millions,. Mamking would probably have been sent back to the middle ages had that one warhead been set off. The coolheads aboard the US ships involved also contributed to the outcome. Had any of the 3 Subs who were intercepted attacked and an attempt made to sink them a torpedo would have been fired. There is a continuing story after the Subs were surfaced which also should be told. Perhaps someday it will be. There are also stories of the other ships involved with the subs which also need to be told.

  • Dale Dailey

    There were many details of the missile crisis that I had never heard before. This clearly could have been the end of the world as we know it. Thank-you for reminding us of the reality and futility of nuclear weapons. Vasili should be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize posthumously.

    An important show,

    Dale Dailey

  • ali

    Great show and a great man who kept his cool. Thank you Arkhipova.

  • Secrets of the Dead – The Man Who Saved the World (2010) | Movies Television Online – Retrovision

    [...] Watch this show on PBS [...]

  • Don Bishop

    No Parade, No Honor The episode in real life shows how little intelligence and (true ?) information the public has.. Thus any response would have been based on wild guesses. Any true democratic (one soul one vote) government has been demonstrably ruled beyond possibility and practical continued existence . All on the theory/basis of informed consent. Each soul is way beyond realistic, practical excercise of decision power .

    The actions by few peoiple making their best decisions with equally small and questionable information is the best we can do. Government remains an insoluble problem for humans. We wisely resist our loss of freedoms, and accept the necessary alternatives!

  • Bob Wilson

    I just watched this show, and there is at least one glaring technical error. In describing the missile arrays that Kennedy had deployed in Italy and Turkey, this episode uses stock footage of HAWK missile batteries, which are medium to high altitude, high performance, anti-aircraft missile systems. They did not have enough range to be used in a nuclear capacity, nor were they ever deployed with nuclear payloads.

  • Larry Chandler

    I too remember those days as a twenty one year old young sailor in the middle of this event at sea in the Caribbean. I was an E-5 enlisted man in VAH-1, which was an A3D (heavy bomber) squadron aboard the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Independence. Long before any news of the event we had been scrambled from our home base in Sanford, Florida and subsequently spent over 40 long days sailing around Cuba during the Crisis. I also remember a sub incident with U59. Our Captain announcing that one of our P2V sub chaser planes had spotted and was tracking a nuclear Russian submarine U59 which was following our aircraft carrier. A day or two later, the Captain announced that we had lost track of the submarine. It was very tense because we knew we were the number one target of the subs. I vividly remember waiting for President Kennedy’s announcement on TV and RADIO. We were listening to Radio Havana (which was close to our shop) and ten of my fellow green shirt flight deck electronics technicians who were huddled around a small radio on our electronics shop . We had planes in the air, planes loaded with bombs on the catapult with their engines running, and were anxiously awaiting Kennedy’s order to GO (attack Cuba). Thank God for Kennedy’s wisdom or my grandchildren would not exist.

  • Terry


    This is another example of why I ABSOLUTELY love PBS AND hate Mitt Romney for threatening to eliminate all government financial support for PBS.

    While my ABSOLUTELY favorite programs are NOVA, PBS News Hour and FRONTLIINE, Secrets of the Dead is rated right up there; ALL of my favorite, television, programs are on PBS.

    “The Man Who Saved the World” was absolutely fabulous, and I stayed-up late (1 am the nest day in Philadelphia, PA) to watch the rerun. Even “Dancing With the Stars” took a backseat when the original broadcast that Monday night (Reports about hurricane Sandy even became less of a priority, especially since they, all reports, were on every television channel all day.)

    Again, PBS provides a less known yet significant fact of history, reconfirming my my personal lifelong interests in maintaining THE significance of the importance of learning AND knowing as much history as possible.

    When i was briefly stationed overseas, in Japan, with the U.S. Navy, I became increasingly and gradually aware of many-MANY unreported important events that would ONLY be made public much-MUCH later, history permitting. My being personally involved in the 1983 KAL 007 incident is an example. Though my Russian was relegated to my two (2) +/- years in college study (I am still CONVERSANT not absolutely fluent), I was one of an extremely few people in the area who spoke and read ANY Russian, and (I) was shortly reassigned to a U.S. Navy ship monitoring the events in that area. The only mention of anything involving me was a notation that I was temporarily reassigned for two [2] weeks; that’s all). NO other mention (N)or recognition was ever made; YET I was PERSONALLY there. This mention of Vasili Arkhipov was another example of low-profile involvement in significant historical events.

    I praise you guys for this program, I’ll ALWAYS follow you/be a lifelong fan and Please-PLEASE keep-up the work.

  • Theodora

    I agree with Albert’s comments: The name Vasili Arkhipov should be well known, with statues of him or buildings named after him. We should have something to truly and sincerely honor this person without regard to country of origin. I watched and he really did save the world.
    God bless him and may he RIP.

  • JD Straw

    Too bad none of the websites that offer this video to be watched online aren’t really allowing the video to be watched. I’ve visited numerous such websites with that claim, however, none of them will actually allow the viewing of the video. They all are trying to sell the documentary, not let us really watch the video. Not ONE! I saw it fortunately, on PBS on Sunday night, October 28th and thoroughly enjoyed it. I was a teenager when all this was going on but I remember it well. I’m very thankful we had a man like John F. Kennedy as president at the time this occurred. He handled this VERY SERIOUS crisis MAGNIFICENTLY! He was one STRONG president. I couldn’t care less for what he was accused of doing in his personal life. What I cared about was that he was a strong president and was VERY intelligent. He kept America safe.

  • Janet Kay

    This was an excellent production and every school kid in every country of the world should look at it with his/her teachers. We need more people like Vasili in our world today and it is a sin that he was not proclaimed a hero during his lifetime. Once again, PBS, you are the best educator on the TV.

  • Bill

    I saw this on PBS … A very good dramatization. I had heard of the incident while in the Navy, but only in very sketchy bits and pieces.

  • Griff Winthrop

    Glad to see some credit where credit is due. I was on CONY years later as XO in 1968 after she came back from Vietnam and when was relegated to Reserve Training duty in Philly before being mothballed. Only could operate on one shaft and was mighty beat up. DID spend some time on USS MILLS DER 383 during and after the crisis, but do not think that any of that has been declassified. The Crisis did not just get over. The agreement to remove the missiles required monitoring for years.

    Still the closest we ever came to the prediction of Oppenhimer after first explosion in Nevada. Oppenheimer remarked later that it brought to mind words from the Bhagavad Gita: “Now, I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.”

    So we all had a hand in trying to put the genie back in the bottle. For awhile. There were MANY that saved the world, along with the Russian. And we had the right president at the right time, because LeMay was going to bomb us ALL back to the stone age. Makes you wonder some times. Churchill called the WWII invasion the Hinge of Fate. Maybe this was ours.

    All it takes for evil to succeed is for enough good folks to do nothing.

    Best to Gary Slaughter. Haven’t spoken to you via email in a long while. Hope all is well.

    To all of us: “Smooth sailing and following seas.”

  • Jay Graham

    During the Cuban Missile Crisis, I worked in the McClellan AFB, CA, Command Post. When we went on Defcon 2, we knew things were very sticky; the intel we got was downright grim.

    It wasn’t mentioned in the video, but when the final Soviet cargo vessels, carrying missiles/components, approached the quarantine line, there was real doubt that they would turn around, and anxiety of what would happen when we attempted to stop, board, and inspect them. It came down to just moments when they finally came about and turned back. We were very much on the edges of our seats during those moments.

    Later, I had opportunity to attend grad school at National Defense University (NDU: which includes National War College and Industrial College of the Armed Forces). We studied the crisis in detail, and found that the situation was even more dangerous than we knew in the McAFB CP. Even there, at that time and place, however, we didn’t know of the event depicted in this program.

    The study at NDU identified the “voice of reason” in the White House as Bobby Kennedy, who brought a reasonable balance between the overt hawks and doves there, and helped JFK confront the USSR in a direct way that brought down the threat, while avoiding war.

    Although I very strongly believe in a strong national defense (I was too young for WW II, but served as a Marine in Korea), I know there were extreme hawks who pressed JFK to nuke Cuba, or at least invade; and doves who advised against almost any action. I was not a JFK or RFK supporter at that time, but I must admit that they seem to have been the principal guides who got us through the crisis… I now accept that Vasili Arkhipov was also a key player, to whom we all owe an incredible debt of gratitude.

    Thank God for those who had the intelligence and courage to stand up to the extremists on both sides and get us through that scary and difficult time, and for the sailors, soldiers, airmen and Marines who helped draw the line “not to be crossed”. May we always be blessed with such men.

    “Semper Fi”, JLG

  • William H Warrick III MD

    There is a major distortion to the film. You implied and said that JFK put and wanted ICBMs in Turkey. That is a lie. He had ordered them removed BEFORE all this happened but the Pentagon DID NOT CARRY OUT THE ORDER. That is why the Soviets put missles in Cuba. They were completely justified in doing so because they were threatened. The PENTAGON WAS THE CAUSE OF THE CUBAN MISSLE CRISIS BECAUSE THEY DID NOT CARRY OUT A LAWFUL ORDER. Thirteen months later they were involved in his murder.


    [...] See full documentary on Vasili Arkhipoy on Secrets of the Dead [...]

  • Olaf Zertsy

    What the world did not know is that the Russians did not w/ draw all the missiles from Cuba. My parents worked for a secret agency hidden in the Library of Congress which evaluated the stereoscopic photos taken by U-2s before and after the crisis. They showed me the stereoscope when I was a child. They were recruited from LOC staff and returned to LOC staff shortly after the end of the crisis.

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