In October 1962, the entire world was on stand by holding its breath because just a few miles from the Florida coast, the two great superpowers were at a stand-off.
On the edge of the Caribbean Sea, surrounded by twelve US destroyers, Captain Vitali Grigorievitch Savitsky panicked. His life and the lives of his crew were in danger. The four Soviet submarines he commanded were armed to the teeth in nuclear weapons en route to Cuba in what President John Fitzgerald Kennedy called a clandestine, reckless and provocative threat to world peace. Each sub contained a single nuclear torpedo of extraordinary power. In fact these weapons had the same strength as the bomb dropped on Hiroshima.
Only a handful of communist party officials knew about this special mission and the men on board, except for the Captain, had no idea about where they were being sent. Their orders were contained in a sealed envelope that should be opened only while they were out at sea. The Cuban missiles meant that the Soviet Union was setting up to annihilate Washington, Los Angeles, and New York within just 30 minutes.
When the US destroyers positioned themselves to stop the Soviet submarines, Captain Savitsky tried desperately to contact his headquarters in Moscow, but to no avail. He had been given permission to act without Moscow’s authority, so he then ordered the launch of his submarine’s nuclear torpedo because he feared that war had already begun.
However, each submarine had to follow strict security protocols; the torpedoes could only be launched if both the captain and the political officer were in agreement. Each had one half of a key that needed to be joined in order for the firing mechanism to be unlocked. As the two sides inched perilously close to a nuclear war, one brave man stood between Captain Savitsky’s order and total destruction. He had the power of veto.
This episode tells the forgotten story of Vasili Arkhipov and Soviet submarine B-59: a submerged death trap that was running out of air. The film has been set over four hours on October 27, 1962, the tensest moments of the Cuban Missile Crisis.
This thought-provoking documentary combines suspense with eyewitness accounts and expert testimony about some of the most critical events in the Cold War. This is the story of how one man pushed the world to the very brink of destruction and how another saved us all from what could have become a nuclear apocalypse. Watch it now.