A is for Vasili Alexandrovich Arkhipov

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.

Vasili Alexandrovich ArkhipovThe name Vasili Alexandrovich Arkhipov may not mean much to you, but you have a lot to thank him for because he has also been called the man who saved the world.

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.

Arkhipov on boardArkhipov’s first made his reputation for coolness in a crisis in 1961 after he had been appointed deputy commander of the new Hotel-class ballistic missile submarine K-19.

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.

Vasili Alexandrovich ArkhipovThe 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.

Arkhipov and his wife Olga

Arkhipov and his wife Olga

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’.

Vasili Alexandrovich ArkhipovArkhipov 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 Zheleznodorozhny, Moscow, where he died in 1998.

Nobody’s prefect. If you find any spelling mistakes or other errors in this post, please let me know by highlighting the text and pressing Ctrl+Enter.

11 comments… Add yours
  • ROGER GREEN 16th January 2013

    ALWAYS interesting ADDITION to ABC Wednesday!

    Reply
  • Leslie 16th January 2013

    Fascinating history! I recall being a young girl during the Cuban Missile Crisis and how my parents listened intently to the radio, telling us to keep quiet. I never saw them so worried before or since. Thank goodness for Arkhipov!

    Leslie
    abcw team

    Reply
  • Katherine 16th January 2013

    Good old Arkhipov. He was rather an Adonis too. I wonder if good-looking people are more persuasive.

    Reply
  • Yorkshire Pudding 16th January 2013

    Lord knows how you manage to dredge up these obscure figures from history. Always very interesting but this post sort of proves that you are probably a communist sympathiser… and all those years working within the NHS makes me suspect that you are really a Russian spy… Ianov Parrotov from Rostov-on-Don. Mrs Parrots and the kids were just a cover for your espionage! Worse still, you support the Manchester Reds!

    Reply
  • Chrissy Brand 16th January 2013

    Ah, an agreeable admiral 😉

    Reply
  • rhymeswithplague 16th January 2013

    And so the cycle begins all over again. Where will it end?

    Reply
  • Richie 16th January 2013

    Great story, and definitely not one I was ever taught in school. He was a true hero!

    An Arkies Musings

    Reply
  • Joy 16th January 2013

    I remember the Cuban Missile Crisis as a child, and my friend’s young sister screaming we were all going to die. Now we know why she didn’t. He and his wife look a handsome couple.

    Reply
  • Melanie 16th January 2013

    I’m going to be sharing this with my brother. What an admirable man, and definitely one we should be hearing about more often. Thank you for writing this.

    Reply
  • John 16th January 2013

    A great story and a Russian pin up….two rarities today
    Ta muchly SP

    Reply

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