Russian Book Looks at Missile Crisis
June 21, 2002
By VLADIMIR ISACHENKOV
MOSCOW (AP) - Hunted down by the U.S. Navy off Cuba during the 1962 missile crisis, a furious Soviet submarine commander ordered a nuclear-tipped torpedo armed for action but then controlled his anger and brought the sub to the surface, where American ships were waiting.
The previously unknown incident - which might have pushed the two superpowers closer to nuclear war - is disclosed in a book released this week.
The book, written by Russian journalist Alexander Mozgovoi, tells the story of four Soviet submarines engaged in a cat-and-mouse game with the U.S. Navy off Cuba at the height of the Cuban missile crisis. It is based on interviews with former submariners.
The four diesel submarines, which were armed with both conventional and nuclear-tipped torpedoes, sailed from the Arctic Kola Peninsula. They managed to pass unnoticed through U.S. and NATO cordons in the northern Atlantic, but were spotted by the Navy as they approached Cuba. The submarines needed to come to the surface often to charge their batteries, and that made them easy marks for the U.S. anti-submarine cordons around the communist island.
Capt. Valentin Savitsky's B-59 submarine was quickly spotted by Navy patrol aircraft when it appeared on the surface. American destroyers rushed to block the submarine and began dropping stun grenades to force it to resurface, said Vadim Orlov, who was in charge of the submarine's radio intelligence at the time.
``The Americans encircled us and began dropping grenades that were exploding right next to us,'' Orlov was quoted as saying in the book. ``It felt like sitting in a metal barrel with someone hitting it with a sledgehammer. The crew was in shock.''
The bombardment went on for several hours and some sailors lost consciousness as oxygen ran low and temperatures inside the submarine soared above 122 degrees.
After an especially strong explosion shook the submarine, ``Savitsky got furious and ordered an officer in charge of a nuclear-tipped torpedo to arm the weapon,'' Orlov said in the book.
``There may be a war raging up there and we are trapped here turning somersaults!'' Savitsky cried, according to Orlov. ``We are going to hit them hard. We shall die ourselves, sink them all but not stain the navy's honor!''
The submarines' commanders could use conventional torpedoes only on order from the navy chief, and the use of nuclear torpedoes could only be authorized by direct order from the Soviet defense minister, the book said. However, the close surveillance by the U.S. Navy made it hard for submarines to resurface for scheduled communications sessions.
Savitsky eventually controlled his anger and ordered the submarine to the surface. It was dark but the area was brightly lit by searchlights from U.S. ships and a U.S. helicopter buzzing overhead. ``We felt like a wolf hunted down,'' Orlov remembered. ``It was a beautiful but frightful scene.''
The book has not been translated into English. Its Russian title, ``Kubinskaya Samba Kvarteta Fokstrotov,'' translates to ``Cuban Samba of the Foxtrot Quartet.''
A spokesman for the Russian Defense Ministry on Friday refused to comment on the incident described in the book. However, Mozgovoi is deputy editor of Russia's military trade magazine, Military Parade, the mouthpiece of the military-industrial complex and his book is considered quite credible.
Mozgovoi said that according to his conversations with submariners, Savitsky was the only one of four submarine commanders to consider unauthorized use of a weapon, but added that it was hard to blame him.
``Savitsky's crew was under terrible pressure at the moment, both psychologically and physically,'' Mozgovoi said by telephone.
Savitsky himself is not quoted in the book; he had died by the time Mozgovoi began work on it.
The Cuban missile crisis was triggered by the U.S. discovery in the fall of 1962 that Moscow had sent nuclear missiles to Cuba. The disclosure sent the two superpowers closer to nuclear war than at any time in their 46-year Cold War rivalry.
The crisis ended with Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev's agreement to withdraw the missiles in exchange for President Kennedy's no-invasion pledge.Back to the Top Next Article
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