Conditions aboard the Soviet B-59 submarine are reaching critical levels. The temperature has climbed to over 100 °F, while American destroyers are dropping depth charges that repeatedly rock the vessel. Fearing that World War III has broken out, the captain prepares to fire a nuclear missile. It is at this key moment that one Soviet naval officer takes action that is to change the course of history.
That commander was one Vasili Arkhipov, a man born into a poor family in a small town near Moscow in January 1926. Arkhipov underwent naval training at Pacific Higher Naval School before serving in the short-lived Soviet-Japanese War of 1945. He subsequently spent the next 15 years serving on various submarines in the Black Sea, Northern and Baltic fleets.
Arkhipov’s first moment to shine came in 1961 when he served as deputy commander aboard the Hotel-class K-19 submarine. In fact, this was one of the earliest nuclear-powered submarines developed by the Soviets. However, the vessel’s coolant system failed, putting the reactor at risk of meltdown. Arkhipov not only helped prevent a mutiny, but he also conducted repair works that exposed him to dangerous levels of radiation.