The Man Who Saved the World: Part III

The Man Who Saved the World: Part III

by | published January 18th, 2019
Editor’s Note: Welcome to the third and final installment of Bill Patalon’s story, The Man Who Saved the World, a truly fascinating insight into what went on behind the scenes of the Cold War. And it’s not all that’s in store for you. Episode II of Spy Tales is coming soon, so stay tuned.

If you’d like to go back to Part I of this remarkable aquatic tale, just click here.

Disgraced But Not Out

Initially, Arkhipov’s courage wasn’t celebrated in his home country.

Indeed, he and his fellow B-59 submariners returned to the Soviet Union facing disgrace – and possibly even torture, imprisonment or execution.

As one Soviet admiral told them: “It would have been better if you’d gone down with your ship.”

Soviet Defense Minister Andrei Grechko required each captain to submit a written account of what had occurred. He was apparently livid the sub had violated the strict secrecy orders by surfacing – and upon learning what happened allegedly smashed his glasses on a table and stormed out of the room.

Fortunately, Arkhipov had a big factor working in his favor: He was already a hero.

In July 1961, he’d been appointed deputy commander and executive officer of the new Hotel-class ballistic-missile sub K-19.

While running through some exercises off the southeast coast of Greenland, the nuclear-powered “boomer” developed a leak in its reactor-cooling system – which then failed.

The radio system also failed, meaning the sub couldn’t contact Moscow.

The engineering crew eventually made the repairs – sacrificing themselves in the process – and a nuclear meltdown was averted. But the boat’s entire crew was irradiated. All the engineering officers and their divisional officer died within the month, and 15 more sailors died from the after-effects over the next two years.

Arkhipov, 36 years old at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis, was always known as a quiet, shy, unassuming man. His official portrait depicts a man with bushy, salt-and-pepper hair, a solemn, almost-baleful countenance – and a uniform covered with medals.

Arkhipov was born in 1926 to a peasant family near Moscow. In August 1945, he served aboard a minesweeper in Russia’s war against Japan.

As time passed, his contributions clearly became more appreciated.

He continued to serve in the Soviet Navy, first commanding submarines and then submarine squadrons. He became a rear admiral in 1975, a vice admiral in 1981 and later became head of the Kirov Naval Academy. He retired in the middle 1980s and settled in a town about 13 miles east of Moscow.

Arkhipov and his wife Olga Arkhipova had a daughter named Elena. And they remained married until he died of kidney cancer – likely related to the K-19 incident – in August 1998. Ironically, Nikolai Vladimirovich Zatevev, the commander of K-19, died just nine days later.

According to Olga, Arkhipov was intelligent, polite and very calm. On their vacations, he liked to search out newspapers – to stay as current on world events as possible.

Olga said he also had his superstitions. She once found him burning old love letters, claiming that keeping them would bring “bad luck.”

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Lessons From a Hero

Are there lessons to take from this tale?


And they’re just as useful in the financial markets as they are in your everyday life.

The first lesson is the most powerful.

Have the courage of your convictions.

Stick with what you believe.

In the near-term, that’s not always easy.

There will be obstacles. There will be doubters. They will try to wear you down.

Don’t let them.

Giving in – folding your tent – in such situations is the easy way out … at least in the near-term.

But quitting – when you know you’re right – can have tremendous consequences.

Besides, in the long run, the rewards will be there.

Just look at Vasili Arkhipov.

In the bowels of that submarine – roasting because of the failed air system and choking on the bad air and rising carbon dioxide – it would have been so simple to give in as his fellow officers screamed their case.

Making matters worse, while maintaining the “courage of his convictions,” he also had to understand the near-term potential “costs of his convictions.”

Moscow would likely not be happy with his “nay vote” on the nuke. He faced disgrace – and in a hardline Communist regime could very likely be putting his life on the line.

But Vasili Arkhipov understood the “long game.” He knew what would happen if the B-59 fired its nuke. It would set in motion a horrific chain of events – one that ended with a cataclysm we often refer to as “Armageddon.”

He also knew that there just wasn’t enough information at hand to make such an aggressive call – a call to fire that five-kiloton torpedo.

So Arkhipov stood his ground.

And the world is the better for it.

In 2017, when the American metalcore band Converge released its album “The Dusk in Us.” On it is a song titled “Arkhipov Calm.”

In 2002, in a documentary about the Cuban Missile Crisis, the BBC honored him in a documentary – dubbing him “The Man Who Saved the World.”

That’s the highest praise anyone can receive.


Bill Patalon

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  1. John stark
    January 18th, 2019 at 13:06 | #1

    Give me details

  2. January 18th, 2019 at 13:27 | #2

    Thanks for the update I will return

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