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