Copyright 2019 by M. H. Maggelet
Time and again we read stories about Soviet officers performing their internationalist and progressive duties, and in the face of overwhelming imperialist hegemony and provocation, they manage to save the world from a nuclear holocaust and restore collective peace and international justice, etc. That’s what the Left wing press would have us believe. As we used to say in the military, it’s pure “Bravo Sierra”.
As with other world nuclear forces, a single individual cannot authorize the launch of a nuclear weapon. It takes many individuals, ranging from security forces to authentication codes, to access nuclear weapons or to initiate the nuclear release process of a combat ready nuclear weapon system.
Such was the case during the Cuban Missile Crisis, when Soviet submarine B-59 (Project 641, NATO Foxtrot class) was detected by US anti-submarine forces and eventually surfaced after her batteries ran down. Just prior to surfacing, conditions inside the sub were extremely difficult with equipment breakdowns, and temperatures reaching 140 degrees Fahrenheit.
Several senior officers lost their bearing and argued about using a nuclear torpedo on board the sub (likely a 53-58 T-5 with RDS-9 warhead, 3 or 9 kilotons) on circling US destroyers. One Soviet officer aboard B-59, Vadim Orlov, recorded the incident, and notes Captain Savitsky angrily ordered the assembly of the torpedo to combat readiness, which takes a minimum of three individuals (team chief, and at least two team members to perform mechanical and final assembly tasks). Additionally, a KGB officer (and communist party representative) were on board, having the final word on preparing nuclear weapons for launch.
There were at least two versions of the RDS-9 warhead for the T-5, one mod with an internal neutron initiator that required extra steps for installation into the physics package, and a “sealed pit” version. Additionally, a nuclear armed torpedo would also have to be loaded into the tube, another time consuming task with a 24 foot long, 4400 pound weapon.
The story has been skewed by many in the media and the Left wing press, which continually ignore the facts regarding the incident. Orlov writes that after several moments, cooler heads prevailed and Second Captain V.A. Arkhipov and Deputy Political Officer I. S. Maslennnikov persuaded the captain to surface.
The story doesn’t end there of course, as some anti-nuclear activists have promoted a Soviet officer named Stanlislav Petrov with another glorious internationalist task of “saving the world” in 1983. Lt. Col Petrov was a duty officer in charge of an air defence (PVO-Strany) command center, which was alerted by orbiting Molniya early warning satellites of a missile launch towards the Soviet Union. Petrov ignored the indications, which were later proven erroneous. However, once the Left wing press learned of the incident after 1998, he was showered with awards from activist groups.
A statement released by the Permanent Mission of the Russian Federation to the UN noted that multiple sources are used to confirm an attack- “Under no circumstances a decision to use nuclear weapons could be made or even considered in the Soviet Union or in the United States on the basis of data from a single source or a system. For this to happen, a confirmation is necessary from several systems: ground based radars, early warning satellites, intelligence reports, etc.”