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.
Secrets of The Dead: The Man Who Saved the World
1962 – America and the Soviet Union, two superpowers with enough weaponry to destroy the world twenty times over, faced off…
Everybody’s got a nuke in their pocket. One spark would set it off.
That spark would come in the autumn of that year…
Dive 100 meters
The world held its breath as four Soviet submarines, armed to the teeth with nuclear weapons, set off for Cuba while the US Atlantic fleet went on the hunt.
We were looking toward Russia and seeing a country that wanted to destroy us.
The purpose of these bases can be none other than to provide a nuclear strike capability against the Western Hemisphere…
During these few days, the survival of the world as we know it depended on three individuals under enormous pressure.
But just how close the world came to complete destruction during those dark October days has only recently come to light.
I had a written order that I could release it. And if there was an order to fire the torpedo I would do it without a second thought.
The idea that a sub commander, could launch a WW3 was, yet another layer, of the ultimate danger.
I now believe that it could have meant the end of humanity
This is the story of how one man pushed the world to the brink of destruction……
…and how another saved us all from nuclear apocalypse.
It’s better than fiction.
At a top-secret naval base in the Arctic Circle, four Soviet submarines prepare for a mission known only to a handful of Communist party officials. The men on board have no idea where they are being sent.
When we were at the base, we were preparing for the voyage. Where exactly? That kind of information they didn't tell us, only that it would be out at sea…
Their orders, the course of their journey, and the timetable are contained in an envelope to be opened only when they are out to sea.
Valentin Savitski is commander of one of the subs—B59--and until he opens his orders, the destination remains a mystery.
We had maps to all the oceans of the world. We could go anywhere. Wherever they told us to go we would alter the course and we’d go there…
One of the only men who knows about the mission in advance is the captain of the entire submarine fleet. He will also be making the journey on board sub B59.
My husband was a very shy and modest person, intelligent and smart, very polite. When we used to go on holiday wherever he was, he was always trying to find fresh newspapers, he was always in touch with the modern world.
His character was very kind and calm…
He was a real human being…
And like many submariners, he has his own rituals.
Well, I don’t know whether to call it a superstition, but one day when I came home there was the smell of paper… I asked what was going on did something burn in the house? No he replied I’ve just burned all our letters. Why? I asked with tears in my eyes. He replied that if you keep the letters then that it is bad luck.
And luck is something Vasili Arkhipov will rely on. He will be part of an operation that will bring the world to the very brink of complete and utter destruction.
By the autumn of 1962, relations between Moscow and Washington haveall but collapsed…
The Communist East and Capitalist West stand toe to toe…
The Commies were bad guys, we all knew that, and we were the good guys. We wore white hats and they wore black hats.
They were the enemy.
Everyone in America had no love lost for the, for the Soviet Union and we didn’t trust them and we were fearful. We were looking toward Russia and seeing a country that wanted to destroy us. And it was our duty to make sure they didn’t prevail
The Americans for the first time felt vulnerable. And you had the beginning, of the back yard bomb shelter craze where people in this leafy suburbs of Washington DC were building bomb shelters, back in their back yard, stocking it with canned goods and they were teaching school kids how to duck and cover under their desks. There was a level of paranoia.
Kennedy’s administration has stationed missile arrays in Turkey and Italy that are capable of destroying the people of Moscow in 16 minutes…
When we found out that America had built rocket launchers against us, that wasn’t a pleasant thing to know. Our country wasn’t preparing for any wars. It was always everybody else who was attacking us.
Adding to the tension is the revolution in Cuba.
Castro’s takeover means that a regime sympathetic to Russia now stands at America’s door-step.
I think the Cuban revolution was the first genuine communist revolution that didn’t come, from Stalin’s tanks doing the take over. So the old commies in Moscow, looked at the young commies in Cuba and said yeah, hooray the new generation this is great.
Throughout 1962, the Soviet Union secretly smuggled 42 mid-range nuclear missiles into Castro’s Cuba using commercial shipping…
But with no proof, the Americans can only air their suspicions at a meeting at the UN.
Archive: UN meeting
Do you, Ambassador Zorin, deny that the USSR has placed and is placing missiles in Cuba. Yes or no…
You will have your answer in due course…
I am prepared to wait for my answer until hell freezes over if that’s your decision…
“If you have your missiles in Turkey, we have our missile in Cuba” and that was the game.
The Cuban missiles mean the Soviets can now annihilate Los Angeles, Washington and New York within just 30 minutes…
And Russia does not intend to stop there…
As part of the next stage of militarizing Cuba, the four subs slip their anchors and leave Russian waters…
But what only a handful of the submariners aboard know is that each sub carries a top-secret cargo…
Except for the weapon officers and commanders, nobody else was allowed to go in there. The commander, second in command, special officer… Nobody else was allowed in this room.
The special cargo in each of the subs is a single nuclear torpedo of extraordinary power…
Weapons with the same strength as the bomb dropped on Hiroshima.
At that period of time, it was called 'special weapon' not 'nuclear torpedo', but 'special weapon'.
At that time we couldn’t even imagine a nuclear torpedo.
The commander of each of the four submarines has permission to act without Moscow’s order…
Ryurik Ketov was commander of one of the other subs…
I had a written order that I could release it. And if there was an order to fire the torpedo I would do it without a second thought. For the first time in life a commander of a submarine had a nuclear weapon and had the authority to fire the missile on his command.
Each sub must follow a strict safety protocol…
Your key Masslenikov...
The nuclear torpedo can only be launched if both the sub’s captain and its political officer are in agreement.
Each has one half of a key, that when joined, will unlock the firing mechanism…
A signal is then transmitted to the torpedo bay.
All correct sir…
On this voyage, the B59 requires an additional step. Vasili Arkhipov—the head of the fleet—has the power of veto.
If these three men agree, they can unleash Armageddon.
The world was protected only by the policy of mutually assured destruction--a deterrent meant to scare Russia and America from firing on one another.
It means that if we have the capability of wiping out every meaningful target in the Soviet Union and they have the capability of wiping out any every meaningful target in our country, that we both launched our missiles at the same time and both countries are destroyed.
…One single Soviet nuclear torpedo would trigger a response from the Americans leading to a cascade of destruction.
The answer to the fist was to hold our own fist. That’s how it was.
Everybody’s got a nuke in their pocket. One spark would set it off.
50 miles from port, each commander is instructed to read his orders.
Comrades. We have been asked to take part in a special mission for the Soviet Union…
We will be transiting across the Atlantic and then be permanently stationed in Mariel, Cuba…
Under their orders, the submariners will travel 7,000 miles from the safety of the Arctic Ocean, past Scandinavia and Iceland, south into the Caribbean, where they will reinforce the secret Soviet forces in Cuba…
…only 90 miles from mainland America.
The plan is for these four submarines to serve as the vanguard of a Soviet force that will make Cuba one of the most militarized places on earth.
Of course if I knew he was going there, to Cuba I’d be a hundred times more worried…
This is a most important mission assigned by the Party and the Government. I am sure we will accomplish it. I rely upon you.
But, getting to Cuba is a journey fraught with difficulty and constant danger of detection. Hunting them will be the most advanced fleet of American sub-hunters … destroyers, helicopters, surveillance planes all armed with the latest technology.
Communications officer Gary Slaughter was on the USS Cony.
Starting in 1952 America 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
We could not have been better prepared for their decision to bring those submarines to Cuba.
Two weeks after leaving home, the four Russian subs safely reach the mid-Atlantic without incident…they have made it more than halfway to Cuba, undetected and without arousing the suspicions of the Americans…
John Stoessinger was an advisor to President Kennedy – he witnessed the inner workings of JFK’s government during the Cuban Missile Crisis. He was there when U2 spy planes returned with photographic proof that the Soviets had smuggled missiles into Cuba.
They began to swear and cuss because, they didn't know a thing about it. And, quite frankly they swore like a bunch of unhappy truck drivers. That's the language they used.
The Americans now have concrete proof that Soviet missiles could be launched from Cuba.
Most Americans were outraged, but also very frightened. Very frightened.
On October 14th the weather starts to change. Hurricane Ella begins forming in the Caribbean.
It will be the biggest storm of the season…
At that moment the Atlantic was very disturbed a storm after a storm. The waves were going up to 5-7 meters. And the wind was making it even worse… But the ship sits low in the water up to 5 meters high and it was completely covered by the waves. We were going through with the hatch closed, because if you open it the water will get in immediately.
The low cloud cover means American spotter planes are grounded.
For us perfect weather is when there are waves, when there’s a storm. These conditi ons are ideal.
But the conditions inside the submarines are appalling.
During this storm we just couldn’t stand on our feet.
In conditions like this you have to put your legs against the bulkhead and keep your back pressed against the fittings just to keep yourself stable.
Otherwise the waves can swing the ship around and you can break your head or damage something…
There is no radio contact from Moscow.
While negotiations have started at the highest level…
…nothing is passed on to the four submarines.
It is as if they have been forgotten…
And then, on the 15th of October, Naval Command in Moscow finally makes contact.
It seems Moscow is changing the mission.
We have just received word from Moscow… some new orders…
We are to be stationed in the Sargasso Sea until we are advised otherwise…
A little more than 2 weeks after leaving Mother Russia, the four submarines are ordered to hold their position in the Sargasso Sea and wait for instructions.
But more time at sea means more chances for the Americans to find them.
A thousand miles away from Cuba, Kennedy decides to speak to the nation about the discovery of Soviet missile bases on Cuba…
It shall be the policy of this nation to regard any nuclear missile lodged from Cuba against any nation in the western hemisphere as an attack by the soviet union on the united states requiring a full retaliatory response on the soviet union.
So far everything had been kept secret. But, going public meant, that the whole country, would know about it. But also Prime Minister Khrushchev would know about it.
I patched it through the public address system, all through the ship and it was sobering.
I call upon Chairman Kruschev to halt and eliminate this clandestine and reckless and provocative threat to world peace and to stable relations between our two nations.
Kennedy announces that going forward Cuba will be under “quarantine.”
We should not call it a blockade,” the President said. “We should call it a quarantine.”
And somebody shouted, “What's the difference Mister President?” “It sounds better,” President Kennedy said. “It does not sound as threatening, as a blockade and that is a good thing.”
We knew that this was the real thing that this was not an exercise. And so our attitudes changed we became more determined more professional we focused and we went to our stations, ready for action.
Kennedy orders a ring of ships to surround Cuba and the Caribbean and stop the flow of any more Soviet weaponry.
News that the Soviets smuggled nuclear weapons into Cuba explodes across the nation.
And at the time, I was a school kid in 3rd grade in Elsmil Mississippi, they had me go under my desk, multiple times, that week in October 1962 because we were within range of those medium range missiles from Cuba.
But the rising tensions are not reported in Russia.
Life continues as normal…
October 22nd 1962…
Kennedy increases America’s defense readiness condition from four to DEFCON 3 for the first time in history.
22 interceptor aircraft are ordered to patrol the seas.
We never underestimated the Russians we always assumed that they were strong as we were and it was our job to outwit them to out train them. It would be like two prize fighters knowing that nominally they had the same capabilities to knock the other guy out.
Below the waves, the crew of B59 has been away from home for three and a half weeks.
And they are feeling more and more isolated and cut off from Moscow…
Radio operator Vadim Orlov would later describe the situation to Tom Blanton at the US National Security Archives…
They weren’t getting communications from Moscow, they were listening to Miami radio stations. They were really cut off. On Miami radio the stories are about impending, US invasion of Cuba. On Miami radio it’s, descriptions of the flotilla off shore. It’s descriptions of total mobilization.
American radio even speculates that there might be enemy submarine activity in the area...
We could not get any contact with Moscow and we had no idea what was going on.
Everything I knew and everything I did was by listening to Kennedy on the radio.
While the lack of contact with Moscow is a problem, the men are facing a more serious risk.
A previous disaster aboard another submarine has made the chances of discovery much greater.
A year before, a nuclear reactor on board the sub K19 – one of the first Russian nuclear subs –failed catastrophically… eight men died from radiation poisoning as they tried to fix the problem.
Vasili Arkhipov was aboard the K19 and witnessed the disaster.
He must have really felt it. He had seen what radiation had done to people. He had seen it with his own eyes when some of those people who had been in the nuclear reactor were carried out… It was a tragedy, a real tragedy… This tragedy was the reason that we would say no to nuclear war…
Following the K19 disaster, the Soviet Navy mothballed their nuclear subs. The only subs now available for this mission are diesel electrics…
And diesel electrics must surface to charge their batteries…
Batteries down to 20% – preparations to surface…
But despite the shortcomings of their equipment, the captains of the Soviet subs have one trick up their sleeves…they can perform magic….
And make a hundred meter steel hulk just disappear…
The oceans are naturally broken down into layers of different temperatures…and these different layers break up the speed of sonar waves, making submarines impossible to track…
The ocean is never consistent in its temperature. As you, if you took a thermometer and you, and you swam down to the bottom of the sea, erm as you would go down you would notice that the temperature changes.
These are known as isothermal layers and diving underneath one makes a sub harder to track…
Dive 300 feet…
As anti-submarine warfare hunter we were always focused on the water conditions. The thermal conditions of the water.
A cool layer of water has a different density than a warmer layer. A sonar ping literally bounces off the line between the two…
It’s the most, difficult thing to deal with when you’re in the anti submarine warfare business.
So if a submarine can get below that thermal layer, they’re better off hiding under there.
85 percent of the entire Atlantic fleet is now on the hunt for any vessels that might attempt to break Kennedy’s blockade.
Kruschev counters Kennedy’s quarantine with the threat that stopping and searching of any Russian ship will be considered an act of piracy.
40 destroyers, four aircraft carriers and 358 aircraft are now effectively hunting for any Soviet vessel that might be smuggling weapons.
It has become the most dangerous game of cat and mouse in history…
On October 24th Kennedy pushes America’s war readiness alert up to DEFCON 2.
According to these ratings, the next stop is nuclear war…
On board the sub, the time spent in the warmer waters of the Sargasso Sea has caused conditions to deteriorate even further…
The air conditioning fails and temperatures are rising…
The temperature went up to 60-65 degrees. In the diesel section it was over 70 degrees. And it wasn’t just for 5 or 10 minutes, it was for hours, all the time the crew were under these conditions.
Russia’s diesel electric fleet is designed to function in the cold arctic seas… temperatures of 37 degrees.
The water temperature in the Sargasso Sea is in the mid-80s. The subs are beginning to overheat.
The coolest part of the sub is at each end by the torpedo pods. There, it is only around 110 degrees. Crew members are allowed there for short periods of time.
When I was at anti-submarine warfare school was the only time I was on-board a diesel powered submarine, for a period of just a day and it was awful, the stink of diesel oil and the smell of acid from the batteries and we were out just for the day and it was quite enough for me, thank you.
Rations are diminishing. Each man is limited to a single glass of water per day…
The radio operator of B59, Vadim Orlov… told his story to the US National Security Archive in the years before his death…
Vadim Orlov was describing terrible conditions or a lot of us was describing, the terrible conditions on these submarines. That they were not made for, warm waters and they were terrible equipment that should never have been deployed and it was a height of recklessness to send this equipment off with nuclear capacity.
What man in his right mind would send a diesel submarine on that kind of mission? Only a madman, only someone who doesn’t know the situation at all.
And still – a week after arriving in the Sargasso sea – B59 has not received any new orders from Moscow…
The daily routine consists of staying hidden from American sub hunters…
How much charge?
Barely twenty per cent…
That’s only 6 hours
Emergency dive, if you are surfaced takes about 30 seconds. Part of the ship takes on water and the ship practically sinks like a rock till a certain depth.
With spotter planes overhead, B59 is forced to dive with only enough charge in its batteries to stay hidden for six hours…
Is it still in range?
That’s why the situation was getting harder, and we couldn’t charge our batteries anymore.
The sailors on B59 have no idea whether their cover has been blown…
But back in Washington communication systems explode into life. The sub has been spotted…
We had so many weapons and so many sonar’s... He was like a rabbit inside a small cage, and 15 of us hounds outside the cage, and 15 hawks above the cage that rabbit was dead.
The US Fleet is trying to get a lock on the sub…
Sonar buoys – listening devices - are thrown into the sea. And the temperature of the Atlantic is continually analyzed.
With the weather settling down, the ocean has become a stable, single body of water…with no isothermal layers…The Soviet’s invisibility cloak has started to fail them…
Our equipment was working perfectly, our, my sailors were doing a marvellous job of tracking this guy um, the water conditions were good so by the end of two hours, we really knew we had him.
While the pressure on the Russian submariners intensifies, things are about to go very wrong for the Americans…
I remember seeing, an aide come in to the Oval Office, And the aide whispered into the presidents ear. And then he drew himself up to his full height and said, the President said, “We've had a casualty.”
Flying at 70,000 feet over Cuba, a spy plane is shot down, killing the pilot.
President Kennedy turned visibly white. He went pale. It was an act of war, by the Russians.
ExComm recording Maxwell Taylor
The pilot’s body is in the plane
The missile fired is one of those secretly supplied to Castro by the Soviets…
Archive: Recording of JFK
Well now, this is much of an escalation by them, isn’t it?
Major Rudolph Anderson is the first person to die in the conflict. All-out war is now a step closer.
The USS Cony continues scouring the seas…
We got our solid contact at, roughly four or five in the afternoon.
American reconnaissance reveals the possible presence of three enemy subs.
What they don’t know is that their targets carry enough nuclear weaponry to destroy the entire Atlantic fleet.
We were all exhilarated, there was no fear, err we knew our jobs, and we were just kind of rubbing our hands saying god we at last get a chance to, play what we’ve been practicing to do for all these years. And that’s what if felt like. We felt privileged, to be able to show our stuff.
No submariner likes to be detected, period. Their business is stealth. When you found them they didn’t like it.
As the men of B59 suffer in the heat, the sub has little power to escape the world’s most advanced naval fleet.
‘Hunt to exhaustion’. You would keep contact on the submarine until he had to surface because his batteries are going flat.
So when his batteries were exhausted, he had to come to the surface and recharge his batteries.
Frankly I don’t think we felt very sympathetic at all. Err they were the enemy,
Kennedy has already ordered strict protocol upon finding an enemy sub. On no account should it be attacked, rather they should drive it to the surface.
Mcnamara and JFK
Here is the exact situation. We have depth charges that have such a small charge that they can be dropped and they can actually hit the submarine, without damaging the submarine…
…We propose to use those as warning depth charges.
I think we ought to wait on that today. We don’t want to have the first thing we attack as a Soviet submarine.
Kennedy sends a message to Moscow: his Navy will now attempt to surface a Soviet sub.
But Kennedy doesn’t have the entire story: Moscow has had no contact with her subs.
We could only guess what was going on by watching what the Americans were doing. Only by what we saw could we judge what was going on.
Is there a war? What’s happening?
The subhunters have sonar devices capable of generating extreme, localized sounds.
the sonar itself is like a big speaker, like you have in your house
Our sonar could essentially be used as a an offensive weapon,
it was like, there are five huge men, pounding on the barrel
and every destroyer within any close proximity and there were three or four sort of circling around, us, were doing the same thing.
it’s got to drive them crazy
In Washington, it’s late afternoon.…
The entire crisis is now focused on a single Soviet submarine, cornered and unpredictable.
Tensions are at their breaking point…
I saw Defence Secretary McNamara, take Dean Rusk to the side and said “The sun is setting, it could be the last sunset we will ever see.” And that's when I got scared.
The Americans have been tracking B59 for two hours…
We weren’t’ trying to kill them we could we could have very easily killed that submarine, we wanted to harass it. We knew they were probably having difficulty breathing it was hot as hell in there, it was miserable, they were cramped together, and they had been under great strain for a long time. So what we were trying to do is basically apply passive torture.
The typical response would be if he wanted to come to the surface, eh would fire a flare and we would say you’re clear to surface but that didn’t happen.
The men aboard B59 are frightened and confused.
With no new orders in over a week, B59 has no idea the depth charges are meant as a warning.
we dropped the five practice depth charges to invite the submarine to come to the surface.
There is a specific signal that we have, and that is 3 explosions, grenade explosions, which means you have to surface.
I don’t know what the Americans were doing, but it wasn’t three…
The American signal to surface is different from the Russians …
Any news from Moscow?
Communications have completely broken down...
The Cony’s slow torture of B59 continues for five hours…
We can’t do anything until we hear from Moscow…
(on the ship’s radio)
Leonenko, get to the bridge…
He never lost it, he just made a decision.
Prepare for battle-stations… the special weapons.
Give me your key Masslenikov…
Withering temperatures exceeding 120 degrees... no contact with home… A ship virtually out of power
It’s time to load the special weapon...
…and now seemingly under attack...
We will sink all the fleet, but we will not humiliate Russia…
Savitski was an impulsive man but in his mind - at that moment - he made a correct decision.
What are you thinking?
Your key, Masslenikov …
Give me your key!
He had no right because Vasili was in charge. He was the commander of the fleet of all the ships. But Savitski was the commander of this ship.
the commander is the second in command after God” these are the rules the submarines live by.
We don’t know that this is an attack – for all we know they are trying to surface us…
The future of the world now rests on Vasili Arkhipov’s shoulders…
We have orders to defend ourselves…
You may be captain of the ship but I am commander of this fleet and you need my permission…
Vasili Arkhipov was our commander of the fleet. He 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, he was a real submariner.
Two of have agreed; do I have your permission?
You need all three of us.
He knew that it was madness to fire a nuclear torpedo…
Place the special weapon in the initial position and restore protection...
and especially that he lived through that and saw it. He didn’t hesitate to say No!
God only bless the man because err, what would have happened after that? We would have been a nuclear war with Soviet Russia, and there would maybe perhaps not be a world.
Prepare to surface…
We were already prepared to use nuclear weapons. We, had all of 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.
Their cover blown, the ordeal for the men of B59 is finally over.
Each takes time to leave the sub and breathe fresh air…
We were steaming very close to the submarine, he was on our, the port side, the left side of the ship, steaming along in the dark with the night lights on, I would say it was about midnight when I finally got up there to have a look at em
They weren’t six feet tall, seven feet tall and they didn’t have, have fangs coming out of their mouth.
Now I personally never, had seen a Russian naval officer and as far as I was concerned and he was from central casting. Dour, squatty faced, and err, he, he was he looked pretty mean actually!
The US Navy makes no attempt to board B59 as it lies outside Kennedy’s quarantine line. Instead, they point her in the direction of home…
This never-before-seen footage shot from on board the Cony shows the stricken sub…
one of the second class fire control technician was able to shoot some 8 mm film, and to see that film and that, that submarine going off away from our err control err was somewhat saddening, erm, because he was, he was our catch.
Of the four subs that left Russia a month earlier, only one escaped detection.
And none of the others came close to firing on the Americans.
By the end of October, a peace deal was brokered between Washington and Moscow…
At the beginning of November, Russian missiles, hidden under tarpaulins were filmed being withdrawn from Cuba…
…America agreed to remove her missiles from Turkey…
The Cuban missile crisis was over…
But for the submariners arriving home, there was ignominy…
What heroism, what, duty they fulfilled, to go half way across the world and back and survive! And they were treated really shabbily in fact I think one of the Admirals or Russian and Soviet admirals told them at some point told the commanders it would have been better if you’d gone down with your ship. Extraordinary.
“it would have been better had they drowned”, you see this is what they call a welcome. That’s why Vasili didn’t like talking about it; he felt they hadn’t appreciated what they had gone through. When I asked him about it he said “that’s enough”.
Arkhipov – the man who saved the world - eventually succumbed to radiation poisoning from the K19 disaster. He became ill and died of kidney cancer – an affliction that took many others who served on the sub.
It’s taken 40 years for the true danger the world faced to come to light.
In 2002, Vadim Orlov, the radio operator from B59 told his story at a press conference.
partial upsync It was specifically the nerve of the sub commander – head of the fleet – allowed us, well to prevent actually if you think about it, the start of warfare between… of this crisis.
Before this, no one had any idea the subs were even armed with atomic weapons…
…Let alone that the actions of a single man prevented one from being launched.
In Cuba, in honour of the 40th anniversary of the crisis, people gathered, there was the American minister of defense, McNamara, there were representatives from Russia. And they were talking about that, and they said that: the person who prevented a nuclear war was a Russian submariner, Vasili Arkhipov.
I was proud and I am proud of my husband. Always.
Announcer: COMING UP ON 'SECRETS OF THE DEAD'... OCTOBER 1962--AMERICA AND THE SOVIET UNION, FACE OFF IN THE WATERS BETWEEN FLORIDA AND CUBA.
Man: EVERYBODY'S GOT A NUKE IN THEIR POCKET.
ONE SPARK WOULD SET IT OFF.
Announcer: 50 YEARS LATER, THE STUNNING REVELATION THAT THE WORLD WAS CLOSER TO NUCLEAR DESTRUCTION THAN WE KNEW.
Man: IT COULD HAVE VERY WELL MEANT THE END OF HUMANITY.
Announcer: BUT ONE SOVIET REFUSED TO PUSH THE BUTTON.
YOU MAY BE CAPTAIN OF THIS SHIP, BUT I AM COMMANDER OF THIS FLEET, AND YOU NEED MY PERMISSION.
Announcer: 'THE MAN WHO SAVED THE WORLD.'
CAPTIONING MADE POSSIBLE BY FRIENDS OF NCI Narrator: 1962-- AMERICA AND THE SOVIET UNION, TWO SUPERPOWERS WITH ENOUGH WEAPONRY TO DESTROY THE WORLD 20 TIMES OVER, FACED OFF.
Man: EVERYBODY'S GOT A NUKE IN THEIR POCKET.
ONE SPARK WOULD SET IT OFF.
Narrator: THAT SPARK WOULD COME IN THE AUTUMN OF THAT YEAR.
DIVE 100 METERS.
THE WORLD HELD ITS BREATH AS 4 SOVIET SUBMARINES, ARMED TO THE TEETH WITH NUCLEAR WEAPONS, SET OFF FOR CUBA WHILE THE U.S. ATLANTIC FLEET WENT ON THE HUNT.
Man: WE WERE LOOKING TOWARD RUSSIA AND SEEING A COUNTRY THAT WANTED TO DESTROY US.
I CALL UPON CHAIRMAN KHRUSHCHEV TO HALT AND ELIMINATE THIS CLANDESTINE, RECKLESS, AND PROVOCATIVE THREAT TO WORLD PEACE.
Narrator: DURING THESE FEW DAYS, THE SURVIVAL OF THE WORLD AS WE KNOW IT DEPENDED ON 3 INDIVIDUALS UNDER ENORMOUS PRESSURE.
LOAD THE SPECIAL WEAPON.
Narrator: BUT JUST HOW CLOSE THE WORLD CAME TO COMPLETE DESTRUCTION DURING THOSE DARK OCTOBER DAYS HAS ONLY RECENTLY COME TO LIGHT.
Man: I HAD A WRITTEN ORDER THAT I COULD RELEASE IT, AND IF THERE WAS AN ORDER TO FIRE THE TORPEDO, I WOULD DO IT WITHOUT A SECOND THOUGHT.
Different man: THE IDEA THAT A SUB COMMANDER COULD LAUNCH WORLD WAR III WAS YET ANOTHER LAYER OF THE ULTIMATE DANGER.
Different man: I NOW BELIEVE THAT IT COULD HAVE MEANT THE END OF HUMANITY.
Narrator: THIS IS THE STORY OF HOW ONE MAN PUSHED THE WORLD TO THE BRINK OF DESTRUCTION AND HOW ANOTHER SAVED US ALL FROM NUCLEAR APOCALYPSE.
IT'S BETTER THAN FICTION.
LET'S GO. COME ON. LET'S GO. COME ON.
Narrator: AT A TOP-SECRET NAVAL BASE IN THE ARCTIC CIRCLE, 4 SOVIET SUBMARINES PREPARE FOR A MISSION KNOWN ONLY TO A HANDFUL OF COMMUNIST PARTY OFFICIALS.
THE MEN ON BOARD HAVE NO IDEA WHERE THEY ARE BEING SENT.
[MAN SPEAKING RUSSIAN] WHEN WE WERE AT THE BASE, WE WERE PREPARING FOR THE VOYAGE.
THAT KIND OF INFORMATION THEY DIDN'T TELL US, ONLY THAT IT WOULD BE OUT AT SEA.
Narrator: THEIR ORDERS, THE COURSE OF THEIR JOURNEY, AND THE TIMETABLE ARE CONTAINED IN AN ENVELOPE TO BE OPENED ONLY WHEN THEY ARE OUT TO SEA.
VALENTIN SAVITSKI IS THE COMMANDER OF ONE OF THE SUBS--B-59-- AND UNTIL HE OPENS HIS ORDERS, THE DESTINATION REMAINS A MYSTERY.
[SPEAKING RUSSIAN] WE HAD MAPS TO ALL THE OCEANS OF THE WORLD.
WE COULD GO ANYWHERE.
WHEREVER THEY TOLD US TO GO WE WOULD ALTER THE COURSE, AND WE'D GO THERE.
[BLOWS] Narrator: ONE OF THE ONLY MEN WHO KNOWS ABOUT THE MISSION IN ADVANCE IS THE CAPTAIN OF THE ENTIRE SUBMARINE FLEET.
HE WILL ALSO BE MAKING THE JOURNEY ON BOARD SUB B-59.
[WOMAN SPEAKING RUSSIAN] MY HUSBAND WAS A VERY SHY AND MODEST PERSON, INTELLIGENT AND SMART, VERY POLITE.
WHEN WE USED TO GO ON HOLIDAY, WHEREVER HE WAS, HE WAS ALWAYS TRYING TO FIND FRESH NEWSPAPERS.
HE WAS ALWAYS IN TOUCH WITH THE MODERN WORLD.
HIS CHARACTER WAS VERY KIND AND CALM.
HE WAS A REAL HUMAN BEING.
Narrator: AND LIKE MANY SUBMARINERS, HE HAS HIS OWN RITUALS.
Arkhipova: WELL, I DON'T KNOW WHETHER TO CALL IT A SUPERSTITION, BUT ONE DAY WHEN I CAME HOME, THERE WAS THE SMELL OF PAPER.
I ASKED WHAT WAS GOING ON.
DID SOMETHING BURN IN THE HOUSE?
'NO,' HE REPLIED. 'I'VE JUST BURNED ALL OUR LETTERS.'
'WHY?' I ASKED WITH TEARS IN MY EYES.
HE REPLIED THAT 'IF YOU KEEP THE LETTERS, THEN THAT IS BAD LUCK.'
Narrator: AND LUCK IS SOMETHING VASILI ARKHIPOV WILL RELY ON.
HE WILL BE PART OF AN OPERATION THAT WILL BRING THE WORLD TO THE VERY BRINK OF COMPLETE AND UTTER DESTRUCTION.
BY THE AUTUMN OF 1962, RELATIONS BETWEEN MOSCOW AND WASHINGTON HAVE ALL BUT COLLAPSED.
THE COMMUNIST EAST AND CAPITALIST WEST STAND TOE TO TOE.
Man: THE COMMIES WERE BAD GUYS, WE ALL KNEW THAT, AND WE WERE THE GOOD GUYS.
WE WORE WHITE HATS, AND THEY WORE BLACK HATS.
Man: THEY WERE THE ENEMY.
EVERYONE IN AMERICA HAD NO LOVE LOST FOR THE SOVIET UNION, AND WE DIDN'T TRUST THEM, AND WE WERE FEARFUL.
WE WERE LOOKING TOWARD RUSSIA AND SEEING A COUNTRY THAT WANTED TO DESTROY US, AND IT WAS OUR DUTY TO MAKE SURE THEY DIDN'T PREVAIL.
Man: THE AMERICANS FOR THE FIRST TIME FELT VULNERABLE.
AND YOU HAD THE BEGINNING OF THE BACKYARD BOMB SHELTER CRAZE, WHERE PEOPLE IN THE LEAFY SUBURBS OF WASHINGTON, D.C., WERE BUILDING BOMB SHELTERS BACK IN THEIR BACKYARD, STOCKING IT WITH CANNED GOODS, AND THEY WERE TEACHING SCHOOL KIDS HOW TO DUCK AND COVER UNDER THEIR DESKS.
THERE WAS A LEVEL OF PARANOIA.
Narrator: KENNEDY'S ADMINISTRATION HAS STATIONED MISSILE ARRAYS IN TURKEY AND ITALY THAT ARE CAPABLE OF DESTROYING THE PEOPLE OF MOSCOW IN 16 MINUTES.
[ARKHIPOVA SPEAKING RUSSIAN] WHEN WE FOUND OUT THAT AMERICA HAD BUILT ROCKET LAUNCHERS AGAINST US, THAT WASN'T A PLEASANT THING TO KNOW.
OUR COUNTRY WASN'T PREPARING FOR ANY WARS.
IT WAS ALWAYS EVERYONE ELSE WHO WAS ATTACKING US.
Narrator: ADDING TO THE TENSION IS THE REVOLUTION IN CUBA.
CASTRO'S TAKEOVER MEANS THAT A REGIME SYMPATHETIC TO RUSSIA NOW STANDS AT AMERICA'S DOORSTEP.
Blanton: I THINK THE CUBAN REVOLUTION WAS THE FIRST GENUINE COMMUNIST REVOLUTION THAT DIDN'T COME FROM STALIN'S TANKS DOING A TAKEOVER.
SO THE OLD COMMIES IN MOSCOW LOOKED AT THE YOUNG COMMIES IN CUBA AND SAID, 'YEAH. RIGHT! THE NEW GENERATION!
THIS IS GREAT!'
Narrator: THROUGHOUT 1962, THE SOVIET UNION SECRETLY SMUGGLED 42 MID-RANGE NUCLEAR MISSILES INTO CASTRO'S CUBA USING COMMERCIAL SHIPPING... BUT WITH NO PROOF, THE AMERICANS CAN ONLY AIR THEIR SUSPICIONS AT A U.N. MEETING.
DO YOU, AMBASSADOR ZORIN, DENY THAT THE U.S.S.R.
HAS PLACED AND IS PLACING MEDIUM- AND INTERMEDIATE-RANGE MISSILES AND SITES IN CUBA?
YES OR NO.
[LAUGHTER] Translator: YOU WILL HAVE YOUR ANSWER IN DUE COURSE.
I AM PREPARED TO WAIT FOR MY ANSWER UNTIL HELL FREEZES OVER IF THAT'S YOUR DECISION.
Man: 'IF YOU HAVE YOUR MISSILES IN TURKEY, WE HAVE OUR MISSILE IN CUBA,' AND THAT WAS THE GAME.
Narrator: THE CUBAN MISSILES MEAN THE SOVIETS CAN NOW ANNIHILATE LOS ANGELES, WASHINGTON, AND NEW YORK WITHIN JUST 30 MINUTES, AND RUSSIA DOES NOT INTEND TO STOP THERE.
AS PART OF THE NEXT STAGE OF MILITARIZING CUBA, THE 4 SUBS SLIP THEIR ANCHORS AND LEAVE RUSSIAN WATERS... BUT WHAT ONLY A HANDFUL OF THE SUBMARINERS ABOARD KNOW IS THAT EACH SUB CARRIES A TOP-SECRET CARGO.
EXCEPT FOR THE WEAPON OFFICERS AND COMMANDERS, NOBODY ELSE WAS ALLOWED TO GO IN THERE.
THE COMMANDER, SECOND IN COMMAND, SPECIAL OFFICER.
NOBODY ELSE WAS ALLOWED IN THIS ROOM.
Narrator: THE SPECIAL CARGO IN EACH OF THE SUBS IS A SINGLE NUCLEAR TORPEDO OF EXTRAORDINARY POWER, WEAPONS WITH THE SAME STRENGTH AS THE BOMB DROPPED ON HIROSHIMA.
Mikhailov: AT THAT PERIOD OF TIME, IT WAS CALLED 'SPECIAL WEAPON,' NOT 'NUCLEAR TORPEDO,' BUT 'SPECIAL WEAPON.'
AT THAT TIME, WE COULDN'T EVEN IMAGINE A NUCLEAR TORPEDO.
Narrator: THE COMMANDER OF EACH OF THE 4 SUBMARINES HAS PERMISSION TO ACT WITHOUT MOSCOW'S ORDER.
RYURIK KETOV WAS COMMANDER OF ONE OF THE OTHER SUBS.
Ketov: I HAD A WRITTEN ORDER THAT I COULD RELEASE IT, AND IF THERE WAS AN ORDER TO FIRE THE TORPEDO, I WOULD DO IT WITHOUT A SECOND THOUGHT.
FOR THE FIRST TIME IN LIFE, A COMMANDER OF A SUBMARINE HAD A NUCLEAR WEAPON AND HAD THE AUTHORITY TO FIRE THE MISSILE ON HIS COMMAND.
Narrator: EACH SUB MUST FOLLOW A STRICT SAFETY PROTOCOL.
GOOD. MASSLENIKOV, YOUR KEY.
Narrator: THE NUCLEAR TORPEDO CAN ONLY BE LAUNCHED IF BOTH THE SUB'S CAPTAIN AND ITS POLITICAL OFFICER ARE IN AGREEMENT.
EACH HAS ONE HALF OF A KEY THAT WHEN JOINED WILL UNLOCK THE FIRING MECHANISM.
[BUZZING] A SIGNAL IS THEN TRANSMITTED TO THE TORPEDO BAY.
ALL CORRECT, SIR.
Narrator: ON THIS VOYAGE, THE B-59 REQUIRES AN ADDITIONAL STEP.
VASILI ARKHIPOV, THE HEAD OF THE FLEET, HAS THE POWER OF VETO.
Narrator: IF THESE 3 MEN AGREE, THEY CAN UNLEASH ARMAGEDDON.
THE WORLD WAS PROTECTED ONLY BY THE POLICY OF MUTUALLY ASSURED DESTRUCTION, A DETERRENT MEANT TO SCARE RUSSIA AND AMERICA FROM FIRING ON ONE ANOTHER.
Slaughter: IT MEANS THAT IF WE HAVE THE CAPABILITY OF WIPING OUT EVERY MEANINGFUL TARGET IN THE SOVIET UNION AND THEY HAVE THE CAPABILITY OF WIPING OUT ANY EVERY MEANINGFUL TARGET IN OUR COUNTRY, THAT WE BOTH LAUNCHED OUR MISSILES AT THE SAME TIME AND BOTH COUNTRIES ARE DESTROYED.
ONE SINGLE SOVIET NUCLEAR TORPEDO WOULD TRIGGER A RESPONSE FROM THE AMERICANS LEADING TO A CASCADE OF DESTRUCTION.
THE ANSWER TO THE FIST WAS TO HOLD OUR OWN FIST.
THAT'S HOW IT WAS.
EVERYBODY'S GOT A NUKE IN THEIR POCKET.
ONE SPARK WOULD SET IT OFF.
Narrator: 50 MILES FROM PORT, EACH COMMANDER IS INSTRUCTED TO READ HIS ORDERS.
WE HAVE BEEN ASKED TO TAKE PART IN A SPECIAL MISSION FOR THE SOVIET UNION.
THE 69th BRIGADE OF LONG-RANGE DIESEL ATTACK SUBMARINES WILL MAKE BEST SPEED AND REMAIN UNDETECTED AS WE TRANSIT ACROSS THE ATLANTIC AND THEN BE PERMANENTLY STATIONED IN MARIEL, CUBA.
Narrator: UNDER THEIR ORDERS, THE SUBMARINERS WILL TRAVEL 7,000 MILES FROM THE SAFETY OF THE ARCTIC OCEAN, PAST SCANDINAVIA AND ICELAND, SOUTH INTO THE CARIBBEAN, WHERE THEY WILL REINFORCE THE SECRET SOVIET FORCES IN CUBA... ONLY 90 MILES FROM MAINLAND AMERICA.
THE PLAN IS FOR THESE 4 SUBMARINES TO SERVE AS THE VANGUARD OF A SOVIET FORCE THAT WILL MAKE CUBA ONE OF THE MOST MILITARIZED PLACES ON EARTH.
OF COURSE IF I KNEW HE WAS GOING THERE, TO CUBA, I'D BE A HUNDRED TIMES MORE WORRIED.
THIS IS A MOST IMPORTANT MISSION ASSIGNED BY THE PARTY AND THE GOVERNMENT.
I AM SURE WE WILL ACCOMPLISH IT.
I RELY UPON YOU.
Narrator: BUT GETTING TO CUBA IS A JOURNEY FRAUGHT WITH DIFFICULTY AND CONSTANT DANGER OF DETECTION.
HUNTING THEM WILL BE THE MOST ADVANCED FLEET OF AMERICAN SUB HUNTERS... DESTROYERS, HELICOPTERS, SURVEILLANCE PLANES ALL ARMED WITH THE LATEST TECHNOLOGY.
COMMUNICATIONS OFFICER GARY SLAUGHTER WAS ON THE U.S.S. CONY.
Slaughter, voice-over: STARTING IN 1952, AMERICA 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.
WE COULD NOT HAVE BEEN BETTER PREPARED FOR THEIR DECISION TO BRING THOSE SUBMARINES TO CUBA.
TWO WEEKS AFTER LEAVING HOME, THE 4 RUSSIAN SUBS SAFELY REACH THE MID-ATLANTIC WITHOUT INCIDENT.
THEY HAVE MADE IT MORE THAN HALFWAY TO CUBA UNDETECTED AND WITHOUT AROUSING THE SUSPICIONS OF THE AMERICANS.
JOHN STOESSINGER, AN ADVISOR TO PRESIDENT KENNEDY, WITNESSED THE GOVERNMENT'S INNER WORKINGS DURING THE CRISIS AND WAS THERE WHEN U-2 SPY PLANES RETURNED WITH PHOTOGRAPHIC PROOF THAT THE SOVIETS HAD SMUGGLED MISSILES INTO CUBA.
Stoessinger: THEY BEGAN TO SWEAR AND CUSS BECAUSE THEY DIDN'T KNOW A THING ABOUT IT, AND QUITE FRANKLY, THEY SWORE LIKE A BUNCH OF UNHAPPY TRUCK DRIVERS.
THAT'S THE LANGUAGE THEY USED.
Narrator: THE AMERICANS NOW HAVE CONCRETE PROOF THAT SOVIET MISSILES COULD BE LAUNCHED FROM CUBA.
Stoessinger: MOST AMERICANS WERE OUTRAGED BUT ALSO VERY FRIGHTENED.
Narrator: ON OCTOBER 14, THE WEATHER STARTS TO CHANGE.
HURRICANE ELLA BEGINS FORMING IN THE CARIBBEAN.
IT WILL BE THE BIGGEST STORM OF THE SEASON.
[KETOV SPEAKING RUSSIAN] AT THAT MOMENT, THE ATLANTIC WAS VERY DISTURBED, A STORM AFTER A STORM.
THE WAVES WERE GOING UP TO 5-7 METERS, AND THE WIND WAS MAKING IT EVEN WORSE, BUT THE SHIP SITS LOW IN THE WATER, UP TO 5 METERS HIGH, AND IT WAS COMPLETELY COVERED BY THE WAVES.
WE WERE GOING THROUGH WITH THE HATCH CLOSED BECAUSE IF YOU OPEN IT, THE WATER WILL GET IN IMMEDIATELY.
Narrator: THE LOW CLOUD COVER MEANS AMERICAN SPOTTER PLANES ARE GROUNDED.
FOR US PERFECT WEATHER IS WHEN THERE ARE WAVES, WHEN THERE'S A STORM.
THESE CONDITIONS ARE IDEAL.
Narrator: BUT THE CONDITIONS INSIDE THE SUBMARINES ARE APPALLING.
[MIKHAILOV SPEAKING RUSSIAN] DURING THIS STORM, WE JUST COULDN'T STAND ON OUR FEET.
IN CONDITIONS LIKE THIS, YOU HAVE TO PUT YOUR LEGS AGAINST THE BULKHEAD AND KEEP YOUR BACK PRESSED AGAINST THE FITTINGS JUST TO KEEP YOURSELF STABLE.
OTHERWISE THE WAVES CAN SWING THE SHIP AROUND, AND YOU CAN BREAK YOUR HEAD OR DAMAGE SOMETHING.
Narrator: THERE IS NO RADIO CONTACT FROM MOSCOW.
WHILE NEGOTIATIONS HAVE STARTED AT THE HIGHEST LEVEL, NOTHING IS PASSED ON TO THE 4 SUBMARINES.
[STATIC CRACKLING] IT IS AS IF THEY HAVE BEEN FORGOTTEN.
[STATIC] AND THEN ON THE 15th OF OCTOBER, NAVAL COMMAND IN MOSCOW FINALLY MAKES CONTACT.
Narrator: IT SEEMS MOSCOW IS CHANGING THE MISSION.
COMRADES, WE HAVE JUST RECEIVED WORD FROM MOSCOW, SOME NEW ORDERS.
WE ARE TO BE STATIONED IN THE SARGASSO SEA UNTIL ADVISED OTHERWISE.
Narrator: A LITTLE MORE THAN TWO WEEKS AFTER LEAVING MOTHER RUSSIA, THE 4 SUBMARINES ARE ORDERED TO HOLD THEIR POSITION IN THE SARGASSO SEA AND WAIT FOR INSTRUCTIONS, BUT MORE TIME AT SEA MEANS MORE CHANCES FOR THE AMERICANS TO FIND THEM.
A THOUSAND MILES AWAY FROM CUBA, KENNEDY DECIDES TO SPEAK TO THE NATION ABOUT THE DISCOVERY OF SOVIET MISSILE BASES.
IT SHALL BE THE POLICY OF THIS NATION TO REGARD ANY NUCLEAR MISSILE LAUNCHED FROM CUBA AGAINST ANY NATION IN THE WESTERN HEMISPHERE AS AN ATTACK BY THE SOVIET UNION ON THE UNITED STATES REQUIRING A FULL RETALIATORY RESPONSE UPON THE SOVIET UNION.
OUR GOAL IS... Stoessinger: SO FAR EVERYTHING HAD BEEN KEPT SECRET, BUT GOING PUBLIC MEANT THAT THE WHOLE COUNTRY WOULD KNOW ABOUT IT BUT ALSO PRIME MINISTER KHRUSHCHEV WOULD KNOW ABOUT IT.
Slaughter: I PATCHED IT THROUGH THE PUBLIC ADDRESS SYSTEM ALL THROUGH THE SHIP, AND IT WAS SOBERING.
I CALL UPON CHAIRMAN KHRUSHCHEV TO HALT AND ELIMINATE THIS CLANDESTINE, RECKLESS, AND PROVOCATIVE THREAT TO WORLD PEACE AND TO STABLE RELATIONS BETWEEN OUR TWO NATIONS.
I CALL UPON HIM FURTHER... Narrator: KENNEDY ANNOUNCES THAT GOING FORWARD CUBA WILL BE UNDER QUARANTINE.
Stoessinger: 'WE SHOULD NOT CALL IT A BLOCKADE,' THE PRESIDENT SAID.
'WE SHOULD CALL IT A QUARANTINE.'
AND SOMEBODY SHOUTED, 'WHAT'S THE DIFFERENCE, MR. PRESIDENT?'
'IT SOUNDS BETTER,' PRESIDENT KENNEDY SAID.
'IT DOES NOT SOUND AS THREATENING AS A BLOCKADE, AND THAT IS A GOOD THING.'
Slaughter: WE KNEW THAT THIS WAS THE REAL THING, THAT THIS WAS NOT AN EXERCISE, AND SO OUR ATTITUDES CHANGED, WE BECAME MORE DETERMINED, MORE PROFESSIONAL, WE FOCUSED, AND WE WENT TO OUR STATIONS READY FOR ACTION.
Narrator: KENNEDY ORDERS A RING OF SHIPS TO SURROUND CUBA AND THE CARIBBEAN AND STOP THE FLOW OF ANY MORE SOVIET WEAPONRY.
NEWS THAT THE SOVIETS SMUGGLED NUCLEAR WEAPONS INTO CUBA EXPLODES ACROSS THE NATION.
I'D HATE LIKE HECK TO SEE US GO TO WAR, BUT IF IT'S NECESSARY TO PREVENT A NUCLEAR WAR, I THINK THE ACTION HAS TO BE TAKEN AT THIS TIME.
WELL, I THINK IT'S HIGH TIME WE STOPPED RUSSIA FROM HAVING THINGS HER OWN WAY.
I KNOW THAT SOME ACTION SHOULD BE TAKEN... Blanton: AND AT THE TIME, I WAS A SCHOOL KID IN THIRD GRADE IN ELLISVILLE, MISSISSIPPI.
THEY HAD ME GO UNDER MY DESK MULTIPLE TIMES THAT WEEK IN OCTOBER 1962 BECAUSE WE WERE WITHIN RANGE OF THOSE MEDIUM-RANGE MISSILES FROM CUBA.
Narrator: BUT THE RISING TENSIONS ARE NOT REPORTED IN RUSSIA.
LIFE CONTINUES AS NORMAL.
OCTOBER 22, 1962.
KENNEDY INCREASES AMERICA'S DEFENSE READINESS CONDITION FROM 4 TO DEFCON 3 FOR THE FIRST TIME IN HISTORY.
22 INTERCEPTOR AIRCRAFT ARE ORDERED TO PATROL THE SEA.
WE NEVER UNDERESTIMATED THE RUSSIANS.
WE ALWAYS ASSUMED THAT THEY WERE STRONG AS WE WERE AND IT WAS OUR JOB TO OUTWIT THEM, TO OUTTRAIN THEM.
IT WOULD BE LIKE TWO PRIZE FIGHTERS KNOWING THAT NOMINALLY THEY HAD THE SAME CAPABILITIES TO KNOCK THE OTHER GUY OUT.
Narrator: BELOW THE WAVES, THE CREW OF B-59 HAS BEEN AWAY FROM HOME FOR 3 1/2 WEEKS... AND THEY ARE FEELING MORE AND MORE ISOLATED AND CUT OFF FROM MOSCOW.
RADIO OPERATOR VADIM ORLOV WOULD LATER DESCRIBE THE SITUATION TO TOM BLANTON AT THE U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY ARCHIVES.
Blanton: THEY WEREN'T GETTING COMMUNICATIONS FROM MOSCOW.
THEY WERE LISTENING TO MIAMI RADIO STATIONS.
Man on radio: THE 'WASHINGTON POST' SAYS THIS MORNING THAT RUSSIAN MILITARY ATTACHS AT A SOVIET EMBASSY RECEPTION... ON MIAMI RADIO, THE STORIES ARE ABOUT IMPENDING U.S. INVASION OF CUBA.
ON MIAMI RADIO IT'S DESCRIPTIONS OF THE FLOTILLA OFFSHORE, IT'S DESCRIPTIONS OF TOTAL MOBILIZATION.
[SONAR PINGING] Man on radio: NBC RADIO NEWS ON THE HOUR, BROUGHT TO YOU BY TOTAL.
Narrator: AMERICAN RADIO EVEN SPECULATES THAT THERE MIGHT BE ENEMY SUBMARINE ACTIVITY IN THE AREA.
Ketov: WE COULD NOT GET ANY CONTACT WITH MOSCOW, AND WE HAD NO IDEA WHAT WAS GOING ON.
EVERYTHING I KNEW AND EVERYTHING I DID WAS BY LISTENING TO KENNEDY ON THE RADIO.
[RADIO CHATTER] Narrator: WHILE THE LACK OF CONTACT WITH MOSCOW IS A PROBLEM, THE MEN ARE FACING A MORE SERIOUS RISK.
A PREVIOUS DISASTER ABOARD ANOTHER SUBMARINE HAS MADE THE CHANCES OF DISCOVERY MUCH GREATER.
A YEAR BEFORE, A NUCLEAR REACTOR ON BOARD THE SUB K-19, ONE OF THE FIRST RUSSIAN NUCLEAR SUBS, FAILED CATASTROPHICALLY.
8 MEN DIED FROM RADIATION POISONING AS THEY TRIED TO FIX THE PROBLEM.
VASILI ARKHIPOV WAS ABOARD THE K-19 AND WITNESSED THE DISASTER.
[ARKHIPOVA SPEAKING RUSSIAN] HE MUST HAVE REALLY FELT IT.
HE HAD SEEN WHAT RADIATION HAD DONE TO PEOPLE.
HE HAD SEEN IT WITH HIS OWN EYES WHEN SOME OF THOSE PEOPLE WHO'D BEEN IN THE NUCLEAR REACTOR WERE CARRIED OUT.
IT WAS A TRAGEDY, A REAL TRAGEDY.
THIS TRAGEDY WAS THE REASON THAT WE WOULD SAY NO TO NUCLEAR WAR.
Narrator: FOLLOWING THE K-19 DISASTER, THE SOVIET NAVY MOTHBALLED THEIR NUCLEAR SUBS.
THE ONLY SUBS NOW AVAILABLE FOR THIS MISSION ARE DIESEL ELECTRICS, AND DIESEL ELECTRICS MUST SURFACE TO CHARGE THEIR BATTERIES.
BATTERIES ARE DOWN TO 20%. BEGIN PREPARATIONS TO SURFACE.
Narrator: BUT DESPITE THE SHORTCOMINGS OF THEIR EQUIPMENT, THE CAPTAINS OF THE SOVIET SUBS HAVE ONE TRICK UP THEIR SLEEVES.
THEY CAN PERFORM MAGIC... AND MAKE A 330-FOOT STEEL HULK JUST DISAPPEAR.
THE OCEANS ARE NATURALLY BROKEN DOWN INTO LAYERS OF DIFFERENT TEMPERATURES, AND THESE DIFFERENT LAYERS BREAK UP THE SPEED OF SONAR WAVES, MAKING SUBMARINES IMPOSSIBLE TO TRACK.
Bradick: THE OCEAN IS NEVER CONSISTENT IN ITS TEMPERATURE.
IF YOU TOOK A THERMOMETER AND YOU AND YOU SWAM DOWN TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA, AS YOU WOULD GO DOWN, YOU WOULD NOTICE THAT THE TEMPERATURE CHANGES.
THESE ARE KNOWN AS ISOTHERMAL LAYERS, AND DIVING UNDERNEATH ONE MAKES A SUB HARDER TO TRACK.
DIVE 100 METERS.
Slaughter: AS ANTI-SUBMARINE WARFARE HUNTERS, WE WERE ALWAYS FOCUSED ON THE THERMAL CONDITIONS OF THE WATER.
Narrator: A COOL LAYER OF WATER HAS A DIFFERENT DENSITY THAN A WARMER LAYER.
A SONAR PING LITERALLY BOUNCES OFF THE LINE BETWEEN THE TWO.
Slaughter: IT'S THE MOST DIFFICULT THING TO DEAL WITH WHEN YOU'RE IN THE ANTI-SUBMARINE WARFARE BUSINESS.
IF A SUBMARINE CAN GET BELOW THAT THERMAL LAYER, THEY'RE BETTER OFF HIDING UNDER THERE.
Narrator: 85% OF THE ENTIRE ATLANTIC FLEET IS NOW ON THE HUNT FOR ANY VESSEL THAT MIGHT ATTEMPT TO BREAK KENNEDY'S BLOCKADE.
[SPEAKING RUSSIAN] KHRUSHCHEV COUNTERS KENNEDY'S QUARANTINE WITH THE THREAT THAT STOPPING AND SEARCHING OF ANY RUSSIAN SHIP WILL BE CONSIDERED AN ACT OF PIRACY.
40 DESTROYERS, 4 AIRCRAFT CARRIERS, AND 358 AIRCRAFT ARE NOW EFFECTIVELY HUNTING FOR ANY SOVIET VESSEL THAT MIGHT BE SMUGGLING WEAPONS.
IT HAS BECOME THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME OF CAT AND MOUSE IN HISTORY.
ON OCTOBER 24, KENNEDY PUSHES AMERICA'S WAR READINESS ALERT UP TO DEFCON 2.
ACCORDING TO THESE RATINGS, THE NEXT STOP IS NUCLEAR WAR.
ON BOARD THE SUB, THE TIME SPENT IN THE WARMER WATERS OF THE SARGASSO SEA HAS CAUSED CONDITIONS TO DETERIORATE EVEN FURTHER.
THE AIR CONDITIONING HAS FAILED, AND TEMPERATURES ARE RISING.
Ketov: THE TEMPERATURE WENT UP TO 60-65 DEGREES.
IN THE DIESEL SECTION, IT WAS OVER 70 DEGREES, AND IT WASN'T JUST FOR 5 OR 10 MINUTES.
IT WAS FOR HOURS.
ALL THE TIME THE CREW WERE UNDER THESE CONDITIONS.
Narrator: RUSSIA'S DIESEL ELECTRIC FLEET IS DESIGNED TO FUNCTION IN THE COLD ARCTIC SEAS, TEMPERATURES OF 37 DEGREES.
THE WATER TEMPERATURE IN THE SARGASSO SEA IS IN THE MID-80s.
THE SUBS ARE BEGINNING TO OVERHEAT.
THE COOLEST PART OF THE SUB IS AT EACH END BY THE TORPEDO PODS.
THERE IT IS ONLY AROUND 110 DEGREES.
CREW MEMBERS ARE ALLOWED THERE FOR SHORT PERIODS OF TIME.
Bradick: WHEN I WAS IN ANTI-SUBMARINE WARFARE SCHOOL, IT WAS THE ONLY TIME I WAS ON BOARD A DIESEL-POWERED SUBMARINE FOR A PERIOD OF JUST A DAY, AND IT WAS AWFUL-- THE STINK OF DIESEL OIL AND THE SMELL OF ACID FROM THE BATTERIES AND STUFF LIKE THAT, AND WE WERE OUT JUST FOR THE DAY, AND IT WAS QUITE ENOUGH FOR ME, THANK YOU.
Narrator: RATIONS ARE DIMINISHING.
EACH MAN IS LIMITED TO A SINGLE GLASS OF WATER PER DAY.
THE RADIO OPERATOR OF B-59 VADIM ORLOV TOLD HIS STORY TO THE U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY ARCHIVE IN THE YEARS BEFORE HIS DEATH.
ORLOV WAS DESCRIBING TERRIBLE CONDITIONS ON THESE SUBMARINES.
THEY WERE NOT MADE FOR WARM WATERS, AND THEY WERE TERRIBLE EQUIPMENT THAT SHOULD NEVER HAVE BEEN DEPLOYED, AND IT WAS A HEIGHT OF RECKLESSNESS TO SEND THIS EQUIPMENT OFF WITH NUCLEAR CAPACITY.
Ketov: WHAT MAN IN HIS RIGHT MIND WOULD SEND A DIESEL SUBMARINE ON THAT KIND OF MISSION?
ONLY A MADMAN, ONLY SOMEONE WHO DOESN'T KNOW THE SITUATION AT ALL.
Narrator: AND STILL A WEEK AFTER ARRIVING IN THE SARGASSO SEA, B-59 HAS NOT RECEIVED ANY NEW ORDERS FROM MOSCOW.
THE DAILY ROUTINE CONSISTS OF STAYING HIDDEN FROM AMERICAN SUB HUNTERS.
[SONAR PINGS] [STATIC CRACKLING] [AIRPLANE FLYING] PLANE OVERHEAD! PLANE OVERHEAD!
CRASH DIVE! CRASH DIVE! CRASH DIVE!
HOW MUCH CHARGE?
BARELY 5%. [ALARM BLARING] THAT'S ONLY 6 HOURS.
BATTERY ROOM, CAN YOU CONFIRM THE CHARGE?
[SPEAKING RUSSIAN] EMERGENCY DIVE IF YOU ARE SURFACED TAKES ABOUT 30 SECONDS.
PART OF THE SHIP TAKES ON WATER, AND THE SHIP PRACTICALLY SINKS LIKE A ROCK TILL A CERTAIN DEPTH.
Narrator: WITH SPOTTER PLANES OVERHEAD, B-59 IS FORCED TO DIVE WITH ONLY ENOUGH CHARGE IN ITS BATTERIES TO STAY HIDDEN FOR 6 HOURS.
IS IT STILL IN RANGE?
THAT'S WHY THE SITUATION WAS GETTING HARDER, AND WE COULDN'T CHARGE OUR BATTERIES ANYMORE.
Narrator: THE SAILORS ON B-59 HAVE NO IDEA WHETHER THEIR COVER HAS BEEN BLOWN, BUT BACK IN WASHINGTON, COMMUNICATION SYSTEMS EXPLODE INTO LIFE.
THE SUB HAS BEEN SPOTTED.
Slaughter: WE HAD SO MANY WEAPONS AND SO MANY SONARS.
HE WAS LIKE A RABBIT INSIDE A SMALL CAGE, AND 15 OF US HOUNDS OUTSIDE THE CAGE AND 15 HAWKS ABOVE THE CAGE.
THAT RABBIT WAS DEAD.
Narrator: THE U.S. FLEET IS TRYING TO GET A LOCK ON THE SUB.
SONAR BUOYS, LISTENING DEVICES, ARE THROWN INTO THE SEA, AND THE TEMPERATURE OF THE ATLANTIC IS CONTINUALLY ANALYZED.
WITH THE WEATHER SETTLING DOWN, THE OCEAN HAS BECOME A STABLE, SINGLE BODY OF WATER WITH NO ISOTHERMAL LAYERS.
THE SOVIETS' INVISIBILITY CLOAK HAS STARTED TO FAIL THEM.
Bradick: OUR EQUIPMENT WAS WORKING PERFECTLY, MY SAILORS WERE DOING A MARVELOUS JOB OF TRACKING THIS GUY.
THE WATER CONDITIONS WERE GOOD, SO BY THE END OF TWO HOURS, WE REALLY KNEW WE HAD HIM.
WHILE THE PRESSURE ON THE RUSSIAN SUBMARINERS INTENSIFIES, THINGS ARE ABOUT TO GO VERY WRONG FOR THE AMERICANS.
Stoessinger: I REMEMBER SEEING AN AIDE COME IN TO THE OVAL OFFICE, AND THE AIDE WHISPERED INTO THE PRESIDENT'S EAR, AND THEN HE DREW HIMSELF UP TO HIS FULL HEIGHT, AND SAID, THE PRESIDENT SAID, 'WE'VE HAD A CASUALTY.'
Narrator: FLYING AT 70,000 FEET OVER CUBA, A SPY PLANE IS SHOT DOWN, KILLING THE PILOT.
Stoessinger: PRESIDENT KENNEDY TURNED VISIBLY WHITE.
HE GOT PALE.
IT WAS AN ACT OF WAR.
Man: WAS SHOT DOWN OVER BANES, WHICH IS RIGHT NEAR A U-2 SITE, IN EASTERN CUBA.
Narrator: THE MISSILE FIRED IS ONE OF THOSE SECRETLY SUPPLIED TO CASTRO BY THE SOVIETS.
Kennedy: WELL, THIS IS MUCH OF AN ESCALATION BY THEM, ISN'T IT?
Narrator: MAJOR RUDOLF ANDERSON IS THE FIRST PERSON TO DIE IN THE CONFLICT.
ALL-OUT WAR IS NOW A STEP CLOSER.
THE U.S.S. CONY CONTINUES SCOURING THE SEAS.
WE GOT OUR SOLID CONTACT AT ROUGHLY 4:00 OR 5:00 IN THE AFTERNOON.
Narrator: AMERICAN RECONNAISSANCE REVEALS THE POSSIBLE PRESENCE OF 3 ENEMY SUBS.
WHAT THEY DON'T KNOW IS THAT THEIR TARGETS CARRY ENOUGH NUCLEAR WEAPONRY TO DESTROY THE ENTIRE ATLANTIC FLEET.
Slaughter: WE WERE ALL EXHILARATED, THERE WAS NO FEAR, WE KNEW OUR JOBS, AND WE WERE JUST KIND OF RUBBING OUR HANDS, SAYING, 'GOD, WE AT LAST GET A CHANCE TO PLAY WHAT WE'VE BEEN PRACTICING TO DO FOR ALL THESE YEARS,' AND THAT'S WHAT IF FELT LIKE.
WE FELT PRIVILEGED TO BE ABLE TO SHOW OUR STUFF.
Bradick: NO SUBMARINER LIKES TO BE DETECTED PERIOD.
THEIR BUSINESS IS STEALTH.
WHEN YOU FOUND THEM, THEY DIDN'T LIKE IT.
THEY DON'T LIKE THAT.
Narrator: AS THE MEN OF B-59 SUFFER IN THE HEAT, THE SUB HAS LITTLE POWER TO ESCAPE THE WORLD'S MOST ADVANCED NAVAL FLEET.
Bradick: HUNT TO EXHAUSTION.
YOU WOULD KEEP CONTACT ON THE SUBMARINE UNTIL HE HAD TO SURFACE BECAUSE HIS BATTERIES ARE GOING FLAT.
SO WHEN HIS BATTERIES WERE EXHAUSTED, HE HAD TO COME TO THE SURFACE AND RECHARGE HIS BATTERIES.
Slaughter: FRANKLY I DON'T THINK WE FELT VERY SYMPATHETIC AT ALL.
THEY WERE THE ENEMY.
Narrator: KENNEDY HAS ALREADY ORDERED STRICT PROTOCOL UPON FINDING AN ENEMY SUB.
ON NO ACCOUNT SHOULD IT BE ATTACKED.
RATHER THEY SHOULD DRIVE IT TO THE SURFACE.
Man: HERE IS THE EXACT SITUATION.
WE HAVE DEPTH CHARGES THAT HAVE SUCH A SMALL CHARGE THAT THEY CAN BE DROPPED AND THEY CAN ACTUALLY HIT THE SUBMARINE WITHOUT DAMAGING THE SUBMARINE.
THEY'RE PRACTICE DEPTH CHARGES.
Kennedy: THINK WE OUGHT TO WAIT ON THAT TODAY.
WE DON'T WANT TO HAVE THE FIRST THING WE ATTACK AS A SOVIET SUBMARINE.
Narrator: KENNEDY SENDS A MESSAGE TO MOSCOW.
HIS NAVY WILL NOW ATTEMPT TO SURFACE A SOVIET SUB, BUT KENNEDY DOESN'T HAVE THE WHOLE STORY.
MOSCOW HAS HAD NO CONTACT WITH HER SUBS.
Ketov: WE COULD ONLY GUESS WHAT WAS GOING ON BY WATCHING WHAT THE AMERICANS WERE DOING.
ONLY BY WHAT WE SAW COULD WE JUDGE WHAT WAS GOING ON.
IS THERE A WAR? WHAT'S HAPPENING?
Narrator: THE SUB HUNTERS HAVE SONAR DEVICES CAPABLE OF GENERATING EXTREME, LOCALIZED SOUNDS.
[LOUD CLANG] Bradick: THE SONAR ITSELF IS LIKE A BIG SPEAKER LIKE YOU HAVE IN YOUR HOUSE.
[CLANG, FEEDBACK] Slaughter: OUR SONAR COULD ESSENTIALLY BE USED AS AN OFFENSIVE WEAPON.
[CLANG] IT WAS LIKE THERE ARE 5 HUGE MEN POUNDING ON THE BARREL, AND EVERY DESTROYER IN ANY CLOSE PROXIMITY-- AND THERE WERE 3 OR 4 SORT OF CIRCLING ROUND US-- WERE DOING THE SAME THING.
IT'S GOT TO DRIVE THEM CRAZY.
[CLANG] Narrator: IN WASHINGTON, IT'S LATE AFTERNOON.
THE ENTIRE CRISIS IS NOW FOCUSED ON A SINGLE SOVIET SUBMARINE, CORNERED AND UNPREDICTABLE.
TENSIONS ARE AT THEIR BREAKING POINT.
Stoessinger: I SAW DEFENSE SECRETARY McNAMARA TAKE DEAN RUSK TO THE SIDE AND SAID, 'THE SUN IS SETTING.
IT COULD BE THE LAST SUNSET WE WILL EVER SEE,' AND THAT'S WHEN I GOT SCARED.
Narrator: THE AMERICANS HAVE BEEN TRACKING B-59 FOR TWO HOURS.
[CLANG] Slaughter: WE WEREN'T TRYING TO KILL THEM.
WE COULD WE COULD HAVE VERY EASILY KILLED THAT SUBMARINE.
WE WANTED TO HARASS IT.
WE KNEW THEY WERE PROBABLY HAVING DIFFICULTY BREATHING.
IT WAS HOT AS HELL IN THERE, IT WAS MISERABLE, THEY WERE CRAMPED TOGETHER, AND THEY HAD BEEN UNDER GREAT STRAIN FOR A LONG TIME.
SO WHAT WE WERE TRYING TO DO IS BASICALLY APPLY PASSIVE TORTURE.
[CLANG] Bradick: THE TYPICAL RESPONSE WOULD BE IF HE WANTED TO COME TO THE SURFACE HE WOULD FIRE A FLARE, AND WE WOULD SAY, 'YOU'RE CLEAR TO SURFACE,' BUT THAT DIDN'T HAPPEN.
Narrator: THE MEN ABOARD B-59 ARE FRIGHTENED AND CONFUSED.
[BOOM] WITH NO NEW ORDERS IN OVER A WEEK, B-59 HAS NO IDEA THE DEPTH CHARGES ARE MEANT AS A WARNING.
Slaughter: WE DROPPED THE 5 PRACTICE DEPTH CHARGES TO INVITE THE SUBMARINE TO COME TO THE SURFACE.
[SPEAKING RUSSIAN] THERE IS A SPECIFIC SIGNAL THAT WE HAVE, AND THAT IS 3 EXPLOSIONS, GRENADE EXPLOSIONS, WHICH MEANS YOU HAVE TO SURFACE.
I DON'T KNOW WHAT THE AMERICANS WERE DOING, BUT IT WASN'T 3.
Narrator: THE AMERICAN SIGNAL TO SURFACE IS DIFFERENT FROM THE RUSSIANS'. ANY WORD FROM MOSCOW?
Narrator: COMMUNICATIONS HAVE COMPLETELY BROKEN DOWN.
THE CONY'S SLOW TORTURE OF B-59 CONTINUES FOR 5 HOURS.
[EXPLOSIONS] [BEEPING] WE CAN'T DO ANYTHING UNTIL WE HEAR FROM MOSCOW.
LEONENKO, GET TO THE BRIDGE.
Mikhailov: SAVITSKI NEVER LOST IT.
HE JUST MADE A DECISION.
IT'S TIME TO LOAD THE SPECIAL WEAPON.
GIVE ME YOUR KEY, MASSLENIKOV.
Narrator: WITHERING TEMPERATURES EXCEEDING 120 DEGREES, NO CONTACT WITH HOME... A SHIP VIRTUALLY OUT OF POWER... IT'S TIME TO LOAD THE SPECIAL WEAPON.
AND NOW SEEMINGLY UNDER ATTACK.
WE WILL SINK ALL THE FLEET, BUT WE WILL NOT HUMILIATE RUSSIA.
[KETOV SPEAKING RUSSIAN] SAVITSKI WAS AN IMPULSIVE MAN, BUT IN HIS MIND AT THAT MOMENT, HE MADE A CORRECT DECISION.
GIVE ME YOUR KEY, MASSLENIKOV.
WHAT ARE YOU THINKING?
YOUR KEY, MASSLENIKOV.
Arkhipova: HE HAD NO RIGHTS BECAUSE VASILI WAS IN CHARGE.
HE WAS THE COMMANDER OF THE FLEET OF ALL THE SHIPS, BUT SAVITSKI WAS THE COMMANDER OF THIS SHIP.
'THE COMMANDER IS THE SECOND IN COMMAND AFTER GOD.'
THESE ARE THE RULES THE SUBMARINES LIVE BY.
[EXPLOSION] WE DON'T KNOW THAT THIS IS AN ATTACK.
FOR ALL WE KNOW, THEY ARE TRYING TO SURFACE US.
Narrator: THE FUTURE OF THE WORLD NOW RESTS ON VASILI ARKHIPOV'S SHOULDERS.
WE HAVE ORDERS TO DEFEND OURSELVES.
YOU MAY BE CAPTAIN OF THIS SHIP, BUT I AM COMMANDER OF THIS FLEET, AND YOU NEED MY PERMISSION.
Ketov: VASILI ARKHIPOV WAS OUR COMMANDER OF THE FLEET.
HE 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, HE WAS A REAL SUBMARINER.
TWO OF US HAVE AGREED.
DO I HAVE YOUR PERMISSION?
YOU NEED ALL 3 OF US.
[ARKHIPOVA SPEAKING RUSSIAN] HE KNEW THAT IT WAS MADNESS TO FIRE A NUCLEAR TORPEDO.
PLACE THE SPECIAL WEAPON IN THE INITIAL POSITION AND RESTORE PROTECTION.
[ARKHIPOVA SPEAKING RUSSIAN] AND ESPECIALLY THAT HE LIVED THROUGH THAT AND SAW IT.
HE DIDN'T HESITATE TO SAY NO.
Slaughter: GOD ONLY BLESS THE MAN BECAUSE WHAT WOULD HAVE HAPPENED AFTER THAT?
WE WOULD HAVE BEEN A NUCLEAR WAR WITH SOVIET RUSSIA, AND THERE WOULD MAYBE PERHAPS NOT BE A WORLD.
IT'S TIME TO MAKE CONTACT WITH THE AMERICANS.
Slaughter: WE WERE ALREADY PREPARED TO USE NUCLEAR WEAPONS.
WE HAD ALL OF OUR STRATEGIC AIRCRAFT READY TO FLY TO RUSSIA ARMED WITH NUCLEAR WEAPONS, SO THERE WAS NO DOUBT IN MY MIND THAT WE WOULD HAVE NUCLEAR EXCHANGE WITH THE RUSSIANS IF THEIR NUCLEAR BALLISTIC MISSILES WORKED.
Narrator: THEIR COVER BLOWN, THE ORDEAL FOR THE MEN OF B-59 IS FINALLY OVER.
EACH TAKES TIME TO LEAVE THE SUB AND BREATHE FRESH AIR.
WE WERE STEAMING VERY CLOSE TO THE SUBMARINE.
HE WAS ON OUR-- THE PORT SIDE, THE LEFT SIDE OF THE SHIP IN THE DARK WITH THE NIGHT LIGHTS ON.
I WOULD SAY IT WAS ABOUT MIDNIGHT WHEN I FINALLY GOT UP THERE TO HAVE A LOOK AT THEM.
THEY WEREN'T 7 FEET TALL, AND THEY DIDN'T HAVE FANGS COMING OUT OF THEIR MOUTH.
Slaughter: NOW I PERSONALLY NEVER HAD SEEN A RUSSIAN NAVAL OFFICER, AND AS FAR AS I WAS CONCERNED, HE WAS FROM CENTRAL CASTING.
DOUR, SQUATTY FACED, AND HE WAS HE LOOKED PRETTY MEAN ACTUALLY.
Narrator: THE U.S. NAVY MAKES NO ATTEMPT TO BOARD B-59 AS IT LIES OUTSIDE KENNEDY'S QUARANTINE LINE.
INSTEAD, THEY POINT HER IN THE DIRECTION OF HOME.
THIS NEVER-BEFORE-SEEN FOOTAGE SHOT FROM ON BOARD THE CONY SHOWS THE STRICKEN SUB.
Slaughter: ONE OF THE SECOND-CLASS FIRE CONTROL TECHNICIAN, HE WAS ABLE TO SHOOT SOME 8 MILLIMETER FILM, AND TO SEE THAT FILM AND THAT SUBMARINE GOING OFF AWAY FROM OUR CONTROL WAS SOMEWHAT SADDENING BECAUSE HE WAS OUR CATCH.
ONLY 1 OF THE 4 SUBS ESCAPED DETECTION, AND NONE OF THE OTHERS CAME CLOSE TO FIRING ON THE AMERICANS, BY THE END OF OCTOBER, A PEACE DEAL WAS BROKERED BETWEEN WASHINGTON AND MOSCOW.
AT THE BEGINNING OF NOVEMBER, RUSSIAN MISSILES, HIDDEN UNDER TARPAULINS, WERE FILMED BEING WITHDRAWN FROM CUBA.
AMERICA AGREED TO REMOVE HER MISSILES FROM TURKEY.
THE CUBAN MISSILE CRISIS WAS OVER... BUT FOR THE SUBMARINERS ARRIVING HOME, THERE WAS DISGRACE.
Blanton: WHAT HEROISM, WHAT DUTY THEY FULFILLED TO GO HALFWAY ACROSS THE WORLD AND BACK AND SURVIVE, AND THEY WERE TREATED REALLY SHABBILY.
IN FACT, I THINK ONE OF THE SOVIET ADMIRALS TOLD THE COMMANDERS 'IT WOULD HAVE BEEN BETTER IF YOU'D GONE DOWN WITH YOUR SHIP.'
'IT WOULD HAVE BEEN BETTER HAD THEY DROWNED.'
YOU SEE, THIS IS WHAT THEY CALL A WELCOME.
THAT'S WHY VASILI DIDN'T LIKE TALKING ABOUT IT.
HE FELT THEY HADN'T APPRECIATED WHAT THEY HAD GONE THROUGH.
WHEN I ASKED HIM ABOUT IT, HE SAID, 'THAT'S ENOUGH'. Narrator: ARKHIPOV, THE MAN WHO SAVED THE WORLD, EVENTUALLY SUCCUMBED TO RADIATION POISONING FROM THE K-19 DISASTER.
HE BECAME ILL AND DIED OF KIDNEY CANCER, AN AFFLICTION THAT TOOK MANY OTHERS WHO SERVED ON THE SUB.
IT'S TAKEN 40 YEARS FOR THE TRUE DANGER THE WORLD FACED TO COME TO LIGHT.
IN 2002, VADIM ORLOV, TOLD HIS STORY AT A PRESS CONFERENCE.
[ORLOV SPEAKING RUSSIAN] Narrator: BEFORE THIS, NO ONE HAD ANY IDEA THE SUBS WERE EVEN ARMED WITH ATOMIC WEAPONS LET ALONE THAT THE ACTIONS OF A SINGLE MAN PREVENTED ONE FROM BEING LAUNCHED.
[ARKHIPOVA SPEAKING RUSSIAN] IN CUBA, IN HONOR OF THE 40th ANNIVERSARY OF THE CRISIS, PEOPLE GATHERED.
THERE WAS THE AMERICAN MINISTER OF DEFENSE McNAMARA, THERE WERE REPRESENTATIVES FROM RUSSIA, AND THEY WERE TALKING ABOUT THAT, AND THEY SAID THAT THE PERSON WHO PREVENTED A NUCLEAR WAR WAS THE RUSSIAN SUBMARINER, VASILI ARKHIPOV.
I WAS PROUD, AND I AM PROUD OF MY HUSBAND.
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