The USS Beale Vs. The Soviet Submarine: Cuban Missile Crisis Caveat 2
At the time of the Missile Crisis in Cuba, there were other world events converging on that moment like a time vortex.
One of them was an encounter between the USS Beale and a Soviet submarine. The other case was the flight of Charles Maultsby, where he got lost flying a spy plane over Soviet territory.
The spy plane incident did not escalate, thanks to the efforts of a talented U.S. pilot and some help from the ground. The USS Beale incident did not escalate thanks to the efforts of a Soviet officer.
Both events, the lost spy plane, and the USS Beale incident almost pushed an otherwise tense situation to the brink. Unbelievably, both came and went without the public knowing about them for decades.
The Missile Crisis put us so close to nuclear holocaust but had the actions of one Soviet Naval officer not interceded, we would still be walking a scorched planet.
The USS Beale
On October 14, 1962, an American U-2 spy plane photographed the assembly of Soviet medium-range ballistic missiles in Cuba.
That was two days before President Kennedy knew about it. Six days later he would announce the blockade on Cuba as an act of protest.
Part of that blockade was the USS Beale, a Fletcher-class destroyer launched in ’42.
The Beale survived World War II and was enjoying her post-war life on the east coast, running fleet exercises and training. It was the perfect life for a veteran.
Then, the Cuban Missile Crisis hit and Beale joined the blockade.
The Soviet Subs
On October 1st, Moscow had sent an unknown number of sub flotillas towards Cuba, armed with nukes in the event that the situation escalated.
One of those flotillas was four subs, B-59 and three sister ships, B-36, B-4, and B-130.
The commander of the flotilla was Captain Vasili Arkhipov, who traveled on B-59 but did not captain the vessel. He did, however, have orders to make a judgment call using the “secret weapon,” should they lose contact with Moscow.
Guess what happened?
They lost contact, but they also ran close enough to the Beale to get her attention. The Beale dropped depth charges attempting to force B-59 to the surface with what they intended as warning shots.
They had no idea the what was happening in that sub.
Unbeknownst to the crew of the Beale, the Russian sub was taking hits like they were under attack. The bursts were close, rocking them like bass drum.
Without a connection to Moscow, the captain of B-59, Valentin Savitsky, imagined the surface was all-out WWIII. By crew accounts, he was losing his cool, which many believe is the reason he advised them to load the special weapon.
“We’re going to blast them now!” he said. “We will die, but we will sink them all – we will not disgrace our Navy!”
Captain Savitsky might have had his way, but protocols dictated that Arkhipov had a say in the matter. He blocked the launch, insisting that the submarine surface.
As the commander of the Flotilla, he outranked Savitsky. Under his orders, the ship surfaced without launching a nuke. They refused assistance from the U.S. blockade and sailed home.
Arkhipov would catch hell for his actions back in Moscow, but he was loyal to the Soviets, so much he almost died with his secret.
The truth about Arkhipov came out in 1998, shortly before his death, redeeming his name and actions.
Russia and the world finally learned just how close we’d come to the end, saved by the decision of one Soviet commander.