Welcome to European Tribune. It's gone a bit quiet around here these days, but it's still going.
I've consulted several sources on the technical aspects of nuclear torpedoes at the time of the Cuban missile crisis (Cold War Submarines by Norman Polmar & K J Moore; Reflections on the Cuban Missile Crisis by Raymond L Garthoff; Russian Strategic Nuclear Forces edited by Pavel Podvig).

There were six Foxtrot class assault submarines in the crisis area at the time, each carrying one nuclear warhead (and 21 conventional torpedoes). It is not specified whether the torpedoes were the nuclear torpedo T-5 or the ASB-30 warhead which could be fitted onto a conventional torpedo, both deployed at the time. The T-5 had reportedly a 10 kiloton yield. In order to fire a nuclear device, central command authorization was necessary. And effectively the submarine had to surface to fire the nuclear weapon.

The primary aim of the US forces vis-à-vis the Soviet submarines was to individuate them and force them to surface. A week-long pursuit was engaged between the adversaries until all Soviet units were surfaced and identified. Since the two powers were effectively acting out a war game because both parties had no intention of starting hostilities, both actors in the field resorted to ploys that would not have been used in a real-case war. The depth charges used by the Americans were deliberately off target and of low potential, while the cat-and-mouse manoeuvres of the Foxtrots were unduly "noisy" by real war criteria.

Indeed nerves may have been frayed at times and conceivably there was more potential for a dangerous accident. A possible explanation for the Arkhipov- Savistky episode may have been to mount the nuclear torpedo to expedite usage once the Foxtrot surfaced on the off chance authorization came through. The rest is hype, whether from the media or some of the more glamorous actors in the drama.

Both parties had to save face on the stage for domestic and political reasons by taking home a victory. Khrushchev tacitly got the Jupiter missiles removed in Turkey after a while and a confidential pledge that the US would never invade Cuba. The Americans got the Russian missiles out of Cuba. A fair enough exchange.

An amusing note was Kennedy's misgivings on blockade protocol and international procedure. He was worried about what language(s) were to be used and if Russian were necessary, were there any Russian-speaking hands on board American vessels. In order to allay his fears, a direct line was set up between himself and the commander of operations.

I want to reassure Katrin that there were some damned good minds on both sides of the fence.

by de Gondi (publiobestia aaaatttthotmaildaughtusual) on Fri Sep 27th, 2013 at 06:20:57 PM EST
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When it comes to nuclear weapons I am not so easily reassured. My point wasn't about playing by the rules, though. Not even about playing provocation by the rules. Even if the stories were made more dramatic as they were processed, both Petrov and Arkhipov at some point used their brains independently of groupthink. If all officers on the submarine wanted the same and there was only one dissenter, this dissenter needed a lot of courage not to give in to the majority. We know of several instances where Soviet militaries behaved like that, but we don't know if there was similar independence of mind on the western side, the one which has not yet collapsed. Perhaps we just don't know about behaviour that was there. Or else, the US and their satellites are very successful in suppressing all independent thought in their military, much more successful than the very authoritarian Soviet Union. That's a very scary thought.
by Katrin on Sat Sep 28th, 2013 at 05:03:40 AM EST
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I'll be glad to furnish several examples during the Cuban crisis that were objectively far more dangerous than the Arkhipov incident and were resolved by the sober intelligence and calm of those involved on both sides. Off hand- I do not have documentation with me right now- I would mention the accidental explosion of a munitions deposit in Cuba that killed numerous Soviet military that could have been construed as an attack, the downing of a U2 over Cuba by two Soviet officers in an extreme act of insubordination, the accidental violation of Soviet airspace by another U2, and the message of an American spy asserting that the Soviets had opted for nuclear war. All of these events happened in a matter of days while tension was at its highest under a 48 hour ultimatum to cease installation of nuclear missiles in Cuba. Any one of those incidents could have triggered a conflict and degenerated into a nuclear exchange. We can not only thank the Kennedys and Krushchev for their calm in the face of numerous conflicting reports but the number of anonymous professionals who just did their job and made snap decisions that added up to keeping the peace. At the bottom both adversaries were committed to negotiations and neither allowed the many grave incidents that occurred to compromise their committments.

As for Arkhipov, I believe that he was the only one who was really following orders in front of an act of insubordination. The Soviets had ordered that no arms were to be put into firing position and American reconnaisance had the capacity to verify this fact on land through overflight missions. It certainly would have been impossible for the Americans to verify that a nuclear torpedo had been put into firing position by insubordinate officers but the order applied to all.(In fact it seems that it happened on another occasion.) The downing of the U2 over Cuba by two Soviet officers was perhaps the most dangerous event of all precisely because the Americans were aware that the SAM batteries were not in firing position. In fact the Joint Chief of Staff lobbied for an immediate invasion in the wake of the downing with State not far behind. It was the two Kennedys in permanent Executive Command that saved the day.

by de Gondi (publiobestia aaaatttthotmaildaughtusual) on Sat Sep 28th, 2013 at 06:24:17 AM EST
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