|This is my contribution to Round Twelve of ABC Wednesday and again I am focusing on people, some famous, some infamous and some half-forgotten.|
Arkhipov was born to a peasant family near Moscow in 1926. He was educated at the Pacific Higher Naval School and served on board a minesweeper in the war with Japan in 1945.
He transferred to the Caspian Higher Naval School and graduated in 1947, serving in the Russian submarine service in the Black Sea, Northern and Baltic Fleets.
The Hotel-class sub was prone to problems and an explosion on board almost disabled the K-19 while off the coast of Greenland and the sub was only saved by the self-sacrifice of seven crew members who died in preventing the reactors from exploding.
The rest of the crew feared radiation poisoning and were on the verge of rioting and it was only the cool headedness of Arkhipov and his personal backing of the captain that saved the sub from a mutiny.
But it was the following year that Arkhipov made his mark on history. He was the executive officer on board the Foxtrot-class submarine B-59 during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
The sub and three others had orders to sneak past the American naval blockade to set up a secret submarine base at Cuba and while attempting to make land, the B-59 became trapped by the aircraft carrier USS Randolph and eleven US Navy destroyers.
Despite being in international waters, the Americans began to drop practice depth charges to force the sub to the surface.
The sub had been out of radio contact with Moscow for several days and had no idea whether war had broken out or not, but believing that it had, the captain wanted to retaliate by launching a nuclear-tipped torpedo.
The Soviet protocol decreed that such action could only be sanctioned with the unanimous agreement of the three senior officers. The captain and the political officer were in favour, but Arkhipov argued against.
Although he was second-in-command on the B-59, Arkhipov was the commander of the flotilla and it was this, plus the reputation gained the previous year, that swung the debate. He persuaded the captain to surface and await orders from Moscow which the B-59 did in the midst of the American fleet before it returned to Russia.
Arkhipov’s action in preventing a first nuclear strike almost certainly averted all-out nuclear war, at least that was the view of Thomas Blanton, director of the National Security Archive, who in 2002 said ‘a guy called Vasili Arkhipov saved the world’.
He was promoted to vice admiral in 1981 and retired in the mid 1980s. He subsequently settled in Zheleznodorozhny, Moscow, where he died in 1998.