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In this case I suggest for starts the following questions:
As we know now, Foxtrots carried atleast one or two nuclear warheads to be mounted on a torpedo by the Seventies. It is questionable in 1962.
In order to arm and launch a nuclear torpedo according to procedure, three codes were needed: one communicated by Central Command, one in the hands of the commanding officer and the last in the hands of another officer. There was no way a nuclear torpedo could have been armed and fired without all three codes.
Despite hardliner allegations to the contrary, the launching of a nuclear device by a submarine could never have been undertaken without central command authorization. It goes for both players in the ball game.
Let's throw in some more question: Since assault submarines have a variety of flexible options, was it not more "logical" to use conventional warheads if at all? Was it not plain that the US Navy's depth charges were merely tactical harassment of the kind that have occured constantly between rival powers? What's the use of launching a nuclear torpedo with a very limited strike range and low tonnage?
By the 1980's at the height of the Cold War there were nearly 200 incidents at sea per year between the two superpowers. Unreported. This alleged incident in 1962 was not uncommon at the time and it strikes as strange that an officer would overreact to provocation.
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.
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.
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