Five cases when the world was on the verge of destruction

October 27, 1962

It is well known that “during the Caribbean crisis, the world came close to nuclear war.” But the Caribbean crisis lasted for almost two weeks, from October 16 to October 28, 1962. Does this mean that Kennedy and Khrushchev had been standing over their nuclear buttons all this time, trying to push them? Definitely not. However, even without the participation of the two leaders, and even against their will, the war could begin.

On October 27, 1962, the crisis reached its peak. Over Cuba, Soviet anti-aircraft gunners shot down a U-2 reconnaissance plane, and the hawks surrounded by Kennedy fiercely pressed the president to use force, but he resisted. And the Soviet submarine B-59 was doing its job – trying to break the naval blockade of Cuba and go inside the cordon established by the US Navy. The US ships quickly spotted the submarine and began to “process” the water area near depth charges.

The commander of the B-59, captain of the second rank Valentin Savitsky, did not want to surface and surrender — on the contrary, the boat crew was ordered to dive deeper, where the boat would be harder to detect. However, radio waves from the surface to break through the water column also became harder, or rather, nothing. The boat was left in an information vacuum, completely cut off from the outside world. The crew knew only two things: that the Third World War is on the nose and that depth charges are falling and falling from above.

At one point, Savitsky got tired of such a “one-goal game.” And he ordered to prepare for the launch of the most powerful weapon of the submarine-atomic torpedoes. An explosion of ten kilotons was guaranteed to kill almost any American ship up to and including an aircraft carrier. True, this same explosion was also guaranteed to start a nuclear war: Kennedy would not have forgiven the use of atomic weapons by a Soviet submarine. But Savitsky decided to act — he had the right to do so.


Fortunately, oddly enough, Valentin Savitsky was not the most important person on his boat. On the submarine was the chief of staff of the entire brigade of submarines, including the B-59, — Vasily Arkhipov. He banned the use of atomic torpedoes, preventing a global catastrophe that would almost certainly have destroyed the USSR and Europe (but not the United States, the Soviet Union had too few warheads capable of reaching the United States and causing irreparable damage to the States — although millions of Americans would certainly have died).

October 28, 1962

The next time it almost came to a nuclear conflict was… the day after the B-59 incident. On the other side of the world from Cuba — on the island of Okinawa. This small island, which belongs to Japan, was completely controlled by the US military in the sixties — and there were nuclear missiles there.

And so on October 28, when Nikita Khrushchev and John F. Kennedy had already agreed and were able to prevent the start of a new world war, the encryption came to the Okinawa base. The content was very concise: nuclear war has begun, launch missiles at Vladivostok, Beijing, and Pyongyang. The missile launch manager, William Basset, could only obey without reasoning.

Instead, however, Bassett did not obey and began to reason. Once a nuclear war begins, it means DEFCON (the level of readiness of the US Armed Forces) should be 1. And for some reason, it is at the level of 2. The Caribbean crisis is not the Third World War; no one from the great powers took an active part in it, except for the USSR and the United States. And here, it is proposed to spread China and North Korea into radioactive ash. A very, very strange order.

In fact, Basset went to the court case — he refused to launch missiles on his own responsibility, said that the order was unclear (which was a lie, there was nothing unclear, except for blatant illogic, in the encryption), and demanded to send the order again. And the soldiers at the base were ordered to immediately kill the lieutenant, who was directly supposed to press the red button if he suddenly decided to become a hero and start a war.

Basset took a risk, but he was absolutely right: no one duplicated the order to launch the missiles, it turned out to be a mistake. We don’t know what it is yet, and the reason for sending the wrong order is still secret.

May 23, 1967

In May 1967, the situation changed dramatically from the Caribbean crisis. The Soviet Union’s nuclear arsenal now numbered not a few hundred but thousands of warheads. It was no longer necessary to carry missiles to Cuba to somehow threaten the United States. And in Washington, it was very much feared that the Soviet Union would suddenly launch a swarm of missiles that would send the United States straight into the Stone Age. To prevent the strike from becoming sudden, the Americans built an excellent early warning radar network-the BMEOWS system.

And on May 23, 1967, the radars of the three stations suddenly went out. One of them — Thule-was located on Greenland. Other locators showed very strong interference. There was a huge hole in the US missile warning system. The military understood what was happening unequivocally: the Communists somehow learned to blind the radars of the United States, now it is worth waiting for the same swarm of missiles from the north.

The alarm was immediately sounded — the American nuclear arsenal was about to be activated. The pilots were preparing to bomb Soviet targets, and the rocket men were preparing to launch their ICBMs.

The world was only a few minutes away from nuclear war again, but someone in the Air Defense Command had the nerve to think about it and contact the meteorologists. At that time, it was no longer a secret that solar flares can cause geomagnetic fluctuations that affect radars.

And the weather service was asked: has there been anything like this recently? It turned out that it was still as it was; the flash on the Sun that day was simply monstrous — it extinguished the stations’ signals. Calmed down, the military decided not to launch missiles yet and not to send planes into battle. This time, too, it passed.

November 9, 1979

The policy of detente in international relations pursued by the superpowers throughout the seventies was bearing fruit. There were no major conflicts, and there were no threats of nuclear war, even false ones. Ironically, the next such incident occurred almost simultaneously with the collapse of the detente.

In the early morning of November 9, 1979, the three main strategic command posts of the American army received a concise warning: the Soviet Union launched a whole cloud of nuclear missiles towards the United States, it would be necessary to respond somehow. The US Air Force was put on alert, and several planes even managed to take to the air. When President Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, learned about what was happening, he did not wake his wife in the belief that in a few minutes, they would both die anyway; there was no great point in leaving the bed.

Fortunately, it did not come to the launch of missiles. But there was a “Doomsday plane” in the sky — the command post from which the President of the United States would have to rule the country in the event of a real nuclear war.

The alarm was canceled again quickly when it turned out that American satellites did not see a single “soared” Soviet rocket. The solution was simple; even the Sun had nothing to do with it — just someone careless downloaded a program to simulate a real “rocket” alarm into a computer that was on combat duty. It turned out to be a drawing with an ultra-high bet in the form of the destruction of humanity.

September 26, 1983

If almost all previous cases were associated with the actions of the US military, then here the Soviet ones made a mistake (although in general, the warning system adopted in the Soviet Union failed less often than the American one). The year 1983 was extremely unfavorable in political terms. The detente collapsed, the USSR got bogged down in Afghanistan, US President Ronald Reagan declared the Union an “Evil Empire” and launched the” Star Wars” program of the SDI. The superpowers flooded Europe with their medium-range missiles — but they could not reach Washington, but NATO missiles covered Moscow six minutes after launch.

On September 26, 1983, the command post “Serpukhov-15” in the Moscow region received a message: ballistic missiles were launched from the United States. Either two or three. Their appearance was reported by the Soviet system Oko, from highly elliptical orbits, to determine the infrared radiation of the engines of the rockets that took off.

The rest is known: Lieutenant Colonel Stanislav Petrov was on duty at the checkpoint on September 26. And he, like William Basset, turned on the logic in time. If the United States decided to start a war, why did only an unfortunate couple of missiles take off? Therefore, he did not inform his superiors that intercontinental missiles were flying at the USSR at his own risk.

After 15 minutes, Petrov was finally able to calm down — other warning systems should have already detected the nuclear “gifts” during this time, but this did not happen. The lieutenant colonel was right: no one in the United States launched missiles. The sun’s rays reflected off the clouds gave a signal that the Oko system took for a rocket engine.

No one then began to reward Petrov for the prevented nuclear war — it was inconvenient to admit to the punctures of the Soviet missile warning system. The officer received his award in the XXI century at the UN headquarters.

Thus, despite all the” shoals” of systems and unforeseen circumstances, a nuclear war never began. And “Closer, Lord, to you” was never shown on the CNN screen about this.



Author: Steve Cowan
Graduated From Princeton University. He has been at the Free Press since October 2014. Previously worked as a regional entertainment editor.
Function: Chief-Editor