Cold War history: How one man stopped World War III.

To the Brink of WAR. A sound and light exhibit at the Maritime Museum of San Diego based on true Cold War events during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
To the Brink of WAR. A sound and light exhibit at the Maritime Museum of San Diego based on a true Cold War event during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

A fantastic exhibit recently opened at the Maritime Museum of San Diego. You’ll find it aboard their B-39 Foxtrot-class Soviet submarine. The exhibit, using videos, a light show and other exciting effects, tells the story of how one man likely saved the world.

At the height of the Cold War, during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, a Soviet commander on the B-59, another Foxtrot-class submarine, spoke a few cautious words. Those words might have averted World War III and worldwide nuclear destruction.

The B-59 was one of four Soviet submarines that were sent to the Caribbean Sea to support ships delivering arms to Cuba. In October of 1962 the B-59 was detected by the United States, and Navy destroyers began dropping the sort of depth charges that are used for training–practice depth charges with very little explosive impact. It was the US Navy’s intention to have the sub surface in order to gain positive identification.

Aboard the B-59, however, batteries were running critically low, the air-conditioning had ceased working, and if the submarine didn’t surface eventually the crew would perish. They hadn’t had radio communication with Moscow for several days. The captain of the submarine, Valentin Grigorievitch Savitsky, believed that war had probably begun. He wanted to launch their T-5 nuclear torpedo at the USS Randolph aircraft carrier.

The exhibit inside the Maritime Museum of San Diego’s Foxtrot-class Soviet submarine allows visitors to relive those tense moments. They’ll hear how sub-flotilla commander Vasili Arkhipov, also on the B-59, reasoned that a conflict might not have started, and that firing their “Special Weapon” nuclear torpedo would certainly result in World War III. His calm words of council prevailed, the sub surfaced peacefully, and today visitors to the museum can appreciate his level-headed wisdom, and the extreme pressure that the crew of the B-59 felt on that fateful day.

Anyone visiting the exhibit should be prepared for very close quarters. Ducking and engaging in a variety of pretzel-like contortions while moving along the length of the submarine, one can appreciate how life must have been as a crewmember, even under normal circumstances. It’s definitely not a place for those who have claustrophobia!

Here are a few photos that give you a taste of what you’ll experience. Of course, enjoying the exhibit in person is a thousand times more interesting!

This man might have literally saved the world. Vasili Arkhipov argued against the B-59 captain's wishes to fire a nuclear torpedo against the U.S. aircraft carrier USS Randolph.
This man might have literally saved the world. Vasili Arkhipov argued against the B-59 captain’s determination to fire a nuclear torpedo against the U.S. aircraft carrier USS Randolph.
Today, the Maritime Museum of San Diego's B-39 Foxtrot-class Soviet submarine allows visitors to see what sub warfare was like during the Cold War, and to relive the crisis.
Today, the Maritime Museum of San Diego’s B-39 Foxtrot-class Soviet submarine allows visitors to see what sub warfare was like during the Cold War, and to relive the crisis.
Many signs containing interesting info can be read before boarding the B-39.
Many signs containing interesting info can be read before boarding the B-39.
Sign provides some details about the B-39. It could cruise 20,000 miles on diesel-electric power. It was built in Leningrad. It's design was generally based on late World War II German u-boats.
Sign provides some details about the B-39. It could cruise 20,000 miles on diesel-electric power. It was built in Leningrad. It’s design was generally based on late World War II German u-boats.
Life aboard a Foxtrot-class Soviet submarine is briefly described. Duty aboard a Foxtrot was not considered bad, but was often quite boring.
Life aboard a Foxtrot-class Soviet submarine is briefly described. Duty aboard a Foxtrot was not considered bad, but was often quite boring.
Sign shows main parts of the museum's current Cuban Missile Crisis exhibit. Inside the sub, one must nimbly climb through small circular openings!
Sign shows main parts of the museum’s current Cuban Missile Crisis exhibit. Inside the sub, one must nimbly climb through rather small circular openings!
I've ascended the gangway and I'm standing forward of the submarine's sail. I'll enter the forward torpedo room via some steps behind me.
I’ve ascended the gangway and I’m standing forward of the submarine’s sail (or fin). I’ll enter the forward torpedo room via some steps behind me.
Enter Here! And prepare to relive a tense moment in history, when the future of humankind teetered on the brink.
Enter Here! And prepare to relive a tense moment in history, when the future of humankind teetered on the brink.
Just inside the old Soviet sub. There's a video explaining the Cold War and beginning of the Cuban Missile Crisis, and many signs nearby. The B-59 was armed with a Special Weapon--one nuclear torpedo.
Just inside the old Soviet sub. There’s a video explaining the Cold War and beginning of the Cuban Missile Crisis, and many signs nearby. The B-59 was armed with a Special Weapon: one nuclear torpedo.
This museum torpedo represents what the B-59 Foxtrot carried back in 1962. A purple tip meant a particular torpedo had a nuclear warhead.
This museum torpedo represents what the B-59 Foxtrot carried back in 1962. A purple tip meant a particular torpedo had a nuclear warhead.
You might note this torpedo has a purple tip! To fire a nuclear weapon during the Cuban Missile Crisis would have certainly resulted in World War III.
You might note this torpedo has a purple tip! To fire a nuclear weapon during the Cuban Missile Crisis would have certainly resulted in World War III.
A Hair's Breadth from Nuclear War. President John F. Kennedy dealt with an extremely difficult crisis. Common sense, decisive action--and possibly some luck--helped the world avoid catastrophe.
A Hair’s Breadth from Nuclear War. President John F. Kennedy dealt with an extremely difficult crisis. Common sense, decisive action–and possibly some luck–helped the world avoid catastrophe.
It's no easy feat going from one section of the sub to another! A visitor is about to head into a narrow corridor enroute to the Control Room.
It’s no easy feat going from one section of the sub to another! A visitor is about to head into a narrow corridor en route to the Control Room.
Heading through the Foxtrot-class Soviet submarine. Tiny rooms on either side include the Captain's Cabin, the Officer's Wardroom, and Medical Exam Room.
Heading through the Foxtrot-class Soviet submarine. Tiny rooms on either side include the Captain’s Cabin, the Officer’s Wardroom, and Medical Exam Room.
A look into the Electronic Officer Cabin.
A look into the Electronic Officer Cabin.
The sonar room was critical to the safety of the submarine. Without sonar, the underwater vessel had no eyes.
The sonar room was critical to the safety of the submarine. Without sonar, the underwater vessel had no eyes.
A photo of equipment in one corner of the sonar room.
A photo of equipment in one corner of the sonar room.
Into the Main Control Room we go, the scene of a sound and light show reenacting those tense minutes before the B-59 chose to surface peacefully without firing their nuclear torpedo.
Into the Main Control Room we go, the scene of a sound and light show reenacting those tense minutes before the B-59 chose to surface peacefully without firing their nuclear torpedo.
Signs throughout the Maritime Museum of San Diego's Cuban Missile Crisis exhibit help visitors understand their position in the Foxtrot submarine.
Signs throughout the Maritime Museum of San Diego’s Cuban Missile Crisis exhibit help visitors understand their position in the Foxtrot submarine.
Photo includes the Foxtrot's helm, where a Soviet sailor steered the submarine by moving a lever left and right.
Photo includes the Foxtrot’s helm, where a Soviet sailor steered the submarine by moving a lever left and right.
Visitor inside the Maritime Museum of San Diego's B-39 submarine looks through the periscope. Red lights come on as depth charges are heard. A fateful decision must be quickly made.
Visitor inside the Maritime Museum of San Diego’s B-39 submarine looks through the periscope. Red lights come on as depth charges are heard. A fateful decision must be quickly made.
Voices from nearby speakers reenact tense discussions, then orders to the crew. The submarine captain wished to fire a nuclear torpedo; the level-headed flotilla commander convinced him not to.
Voices from nearby speakers reenact tense discussions, then orders to the crew. The submarine captain wished to fire a nuclear torpedo; the level-headed flotilla commander convinced him not to.
We've left the Control Room and are continuing along the center of the submarine. Here's part of the galley. The crew ate well by Soviet standards.
We’ve left the Control Room and are continuing along the center of the submarine. Here’s part of the galley. The crew ate well by Soviet standards–better than most ordinary citizens.
More knobs, switches, levers, buttons, dials, gauges and whatnot on the way to the Engine Room.
More knobs, switches, levers, buttons, dials, gauges and whatnot on the way to the Engine Room.
The engine room contains three turbo diesel engines that each put out 2000 horsepower. They drove three shafts connected to six-blade propellers.
The engine room contains three turbo diesel engines that each put out 2000 horsepower. They drove three shafts connected to six-blade propellers.
Another photo inside the museum's B-39 engine room. During the 1962 events, the B-59's batteries were low and the air conditioning had failed. Their hot engine room must have been intolerable.
Another photo inside the museum’s B-39 engine room. During the 1962 events, the B-59’s batteries were low and the air conditioning had failed. Their hot engine room must have been intolerable.
Now we're heading to the Motor Control Room.
Now we’re heading to the Motor Control Room.
Bunks for Enlisted Ratings line the corridor. These were shared by the crew and in constant use. No room to spare!
Bunks for Enlisted Ratings line the corridor. These were shared by the crew and in constant use. No room to spare!
A very tight squeeze!
A very tight squeeze!
And finally we've made our way into the After Torpedo Room, where visitors can watch a concluding video documentary. After surfacing peacefully, the B-59 eventually resubmerged and vanished.
And finally we’ve made our way into the After Torpedo Room, where visitors can watch a concluding video documentary. After surfacing peacefully, the B-59 eventually re-submerged and vanished.
School students left notes. It seems most really liked the tour! It's not every day one can see the interior of a Cold War Soviet submarine!
School students left notes. It seems most really liked the tour! It’s not every day one can see the interior of a Cold War Soviet submarine!
Climbing back out of the B-39 Foxtrot-class Soviet submarine, one of many vessels that are part of the Maritime Museum of San Diego.
Climbing back out of the B-39 Foxtrot-class Soviet submarine, one of many historic vessels that are part of the Maritime Museum of San Diego.

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Richard Schulte

Downtown San Diego has been my home for many years. My online activities reflect my love for writing, blogging, walking and photography.

11 thoughts on “Cold War history: How one man stopped World War III.”

  1. Oh! I would love to see this one. I am really amazed by submarines. It must have been quite a man, going against his superior in a time of the cold war. Really interesting and strange this stoty isn’t more widly spread around the western world. Thanks a lot for all photos!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The two were actually equal in rank, but it was up to the submarine captain to make the decision to surface. I believe the information about this event was released in recent years. I hadn’t heard about it myself! It seems to me the intense drama, based on a real event, would make for a really good movie!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Aha, I see. I guess it might have been classified as secret information and therefore not been reveald earlier.
        I agree, it would make a very exciting movie.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. It must be a thousand of those stories. I’ll never forget when I red about the Russian K-219 that sunk outside the American coast in the 1980’s the first time. So interesting.

        Liked by 1 person

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