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A poor kid from the outskirts of Moscow, Vasili Alexandrovich Arkhipov got his start in the Soviet Navy during its brief war with Japan at the tail end of WWII. From there he eventually transferred to submarines, and then to the Black Sea, Baltic, and North Sea fleets, where he ended up executive officer of the pride of the Soviet Navy, the brand-new Hotel-class nuclear submarine K-19, which Americans know of as “The Widowmaker” while Russians always just called it by the pithier nickname “Hiroshima.”
After successfully handling K-19’s first and most famous accident, the newly respected and mildly radioactive Arkhipov was dispatched to the Caribbean to command a quartet of nuke-armed Foxtrot-class patrol subs. There he found himself in yet another sticky situation, as his Foxtrot came under what seemed very much like an American attack (supposedly, the Navy was only dropping “practice” depth charges in an ill-considered attempt to flush the sub to the surface) and the sub’s captain and political officer both demanded that they retaliate with nuclear torpedoes.
They hadn’t had contact with Moscow for days and had no idea whether or not World War III had actually started or would simply start as soon as they fired back, but Arkhipov refused to authorize the launch with the sort of determined resistance to nuclear war one can only find in somebody that glows in the dark.
Eventually, the sub surfaced and scampered away from the American task force with no further violent action. Vasili Alexandrovich continued to make his way through the Russian submarine service, retiring a vice-admiral and dying peacefully in 1998, four years before former NSA head Thomas Blanton called him “the guy who saved the world” and Liam Neeson played him in an unsuccessful movie.