The Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 was a critical moment in history when the world was at risk of nuclear destruction. During this time, a Soviet submarine had a tense encounter with an American warship near Cuba.
In this article, we will explore the frightening events that occurred during this period of the Cold War. We will begin by discussing the encounter between the submarine and the warship and how it unfolded.
The Anadyr Campaign
In 1962, the Soviet Union launched a covert operation called the Anadyr campaign in response to the Bay of Pigs incident and the deployment of US nuclear missiles in Italy and Turkey. They sent a significant military force to Cuba, including a mechanized infantry division, air defense missile groups, fighters, and ballistic missile launchers with nuclear warheads.
Cat and Mouse Pursuit
During the Cuban Missile Crisis, the US Navy played a game of cat and mouse with a Soviet submarine. This was a crucial moment in history, as the risk of nuclear conflict was very high. The situation was extremely tense, and both sides were on the brink of disaster.
The Kama Campaign and Project 641 Submarines
Simultaneously, the Soviet Union launched the Kama campaign, deploying four Project 641 diesel-electric submarines—B-4, B-36, B-59, and B-130—to seek access to Cuba’s Mariel port. Each submarine was armed with conventional torpedoes and a T-5 nuclear warhead with the potential to cause catastrophic damage.
In 1962, a group of submarines known as Project 641 set out on a risky mission. They left the Kola Peninsula and traveled through the North Atlantic, avoiding detection from NATO’s anti-submarine aircraft squadrons. The submarines could travel up to 20,000 km and operated near the surface, using snorkels to maintain stealth. They had to balance the risk of detection with their need for secrecy.
Challenges and Compromises
Operating underwater for extended periods posed challenges, including damaged cooling systems in warm waters, rising submarine temperatures, and scarce resources. The crews faced physical and psychological strain while navigating the treacherous journey to Cuba.
In 1962, the US responded to approaching Soviet submarines by authorizing the use of depth training bombs (PDC) to force them to surface. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara made this decision, but it unknowingly escalated the tension between the two countries.
The B-59 Incident
The most critical incident unfolded on October 27, 1962, when American warships pursued the B-59 submarine. Forced to dive hastily and unable to fully charge its batteries, the submarine faced continuous PDC attacks, intensifying the crew’s stress and anxiety.
The Brink of Nuclear War
Captain Valentin Savitsky, fearing an imminent war, ordered the preparation of nuclear torpedoes to retaliate against the aircraft carrier USS Randolph. Under the belief that conflict had erupted, the crew faced a difficult decision that could have triggered a chain reaction of nuclear retaliation.
Amidst the tension, Vasili Arkhipov, the chief of staff of the 69th Brigade, opposed the decision to launch nuclear torpedoes. His intervention and persuasive efforts led to a heated debate in the command room. Ultimately, Captain Savitsky yielded, and the B-59 surfaced, avoiding a catastrophic escalation.
Resolution and Historical Impact
The Cuban Missile Crisis concluded with a secret agreement between President Kennedy and the Soviet leader, averting a nuclear catastrophe. The removal of missiles from Turkey and a pledge not to invade Cuba marked the end of one of the most serious nuclear crises in history.
Reflecting on History
As we reflect on the Cuban Missile Crisis, it’s essential to appreciate the gravity of the situation faced by those aboard the submarines—a stark reminder that the decisions made in the cramped confines of a steel vessel could determine the fate of nations.
In revisiting this historic event, we gain insights into the complexities and perils of the Cold War era. The Cuban Missile Crisis serves as a testament to the delicate balance between global powers and the pivotal role played by individuals like Vasili Arkhipov in preventing a catastrophic escalation. As we navigate the present, understanding these historical moments underscores the importance of diplomacy and restraint in averting the specter of nuclear conflict.