• 2. März 2020

Vasili Arkhipov (†72), Chief of Staff of the 69th Submarine Brigade of the Northern Fleet

“My Father Knew What He Was Doing!”

Vasili Arkhipov (†72), Chief of Staff of the 69th Submarine Brigade of the Northern Fleet

Vasili Arkhipov (†72), Chief of Staff of the 69th Submarine Brigade of the Northern Fleet 150 150 Sven Lilienström

“My Father Knew What He Was Doing!”

During the Cuban Missile Crisis 58 years ago the world was facing nuclear war. In reaction to the bombardment of the U.S. Navy, two of the three officers in command of the Soviet “B-59” submarine decided to launch a nuclear torpedo. Only Vasili Arkhipov, Chief of Staff of the 69th Submarine Brigade of the Northern Fleet, hesitated, before taking probably the most difficult and momentous decision of his life: On October 27, 1962, he refused to press the “red button”, thereby preventing a nuclear chain reaction – leading to all-out nuclear war. Sven Lilienström, founder of the Faces of Peace initiative, spoke to the daughter of the man – whose tragic past is still largely unknown 21 years after his death – about the person behind the uniform, the role of the mother and the desire for peace.

Vasili Arkhipov (†72), Chief of Staff of the 69th Submarine Brigade of the Northern Fleet

Vasili Arkhipov (†72), Chief of Staff of the 69th Submarine Brigade of the Northern Fleet | © Private

Ms. Andriukova, during the “Cuban Missile Crisis” your father, Vasili Arkhipov, prevented a nuclear war. What can you tell us about the events of fall 1962 aboard the “B-59” submarine?

Elena Andriukova: Thank you very much for not forgetting the events or my father. My father, Vasili Arkhipov, was Chief of Staff of the 69th Submarine Brigade of the Northern Fleet when, in October 1962, he was commissioned by the Navy High Command to undertake a top secret mission. No one knew that he had been commissioned, not even my mother.

“He’s going to sea!” was all he added.

One evening she was preparing dinner, as she waited for my father, when the doorbell rang. A midshipman stood there with my father’s uniform jacket – a warm leather military jacket that was lined with fur. It was fall and it was cold. Nevertheless, my mother wondered why she had been brought his jacket. But the midshipman said nothing, only suggesting that Vasili Arkhipov would not be coming home today. “He’s going to sea!” was all he added.

Everything was top secret!

You must understand that everything was top secret. My mother had no idea – either of where my father had been sent or of what his orders were. Moreover, I was still small at the time and I practically never saw my father. When he was home he would return very late, and then he’d leave the house very early again the next morning in his military capacity.

“B-59” was under attack. No one aboard suspected that “non-lethal depth charges” were being used – they were in fear of their lives. Was your father aware of the consequences of his decision at that moment?

Elena Andriukova: When my father was commissioned in 1962 he was a person of strong character. He had previously experienced very hard times. Think of the radiation accident aboard the “K-19” submarine, for instance. The 139-man-strong crew – among whom was my father – prevented an ecological catastrophe of unimaginable magnitude and saved the world from nuclear disaster. Or take the war against Japan in 1945. He could have died there.

He knew what he was doing. My father’s decision is a sign of his strength, not his weakness!

I can therefore say, without doubt, that of course my father was aware of the consequences of his decision. He already had most of the formative moments of his personal development behind him. He knew what he was doing. My father’s decision to save the lives of his detachment and to ensure world peace is a sign of his strength, not his weakness!

In the 1960s neither the Internet nor cellphones existed. When did your mother first hear of the events of October 27, 1962, and what was her initial reaction?

Elena Andriukova: My father never talked about what happened during his military deployments. The operation was top secret and took around two months. They set out on October 1, 1962, and returned at the beginning of December 1962. Only after his return did my father tell my mother where he had been, but without giving any details. It was anyway forbidden to talk about this subject.

My mother always protected him with her love. She was his lifelong guardian angel!

So nothing further was said at home about his deployment. My mother was simply happy that he had returned. She always awaited him with love in her heart and protected him with her love. She was his lifelong guardian angel!

The weapons carried by “B-59” – 21 torpedos with conventional warheads and one torpedo with a nuclear warhead – were top secret. Your father only spoke in public about the events 40 years later. Did this change your life?

Elena Andriukova: That’s right, my father spoke in public about the events aboard the “B-59” for the first time on October 14, 1997, at the Institute of Military History of the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation. I still have the invitation today. He was invited to speak at the scientific-practical conference “1962 Cuban Missile Crisis: The Strategic Military Operation Anadyr”. In his lecture my father spoke about the submarine escort deployments in connection with operation “Kama”. Whether my life has changed since then? No, not at all really.

With his courageous decision Vasili Arkhipov prevented a nuclear chain reaction, effectively averting a third world war. For many your father is a hero – for some a coward. Why is there such a discrepancy?

Elena Andriukova: To those people who consider my father a coward I want to say: You haven’t experienced what he had to go through. Already at 19 years of age Vasili Arkhipov was fighting in the war against Japan. That was 1945 and my father was deputy commander of “Military Brigade 1”. This period made a strong impression on him and it made a significant contribution to the development of his personality, the formation of his character and his feeling of responsibility towards the lives of other people.

To those people who consider my father a coward I want to say: You haven’t experienced what he had to go through!

As I already mentioned at the beginning, my father was also able to demonstrate precisely these character traits during the accident aboard the “K-19” submarine during the “Polar Circle” exercise. My father was deputy commander under the command of Nikolai Zateyev. At that time eight people died as a result of the radioactivity that was released. Many others became ill – including my father.

He lay in a Navy hospital in Leningrad, having survived the events unhurt. That gave him strength! In 2006, former President of the USSR, Mikhail Gorbachev, nominated the whole crew of K-19 for the Nobel Peace Prize for preventing a nuclear disaster.

Following the collapse of the INF Treaty we are now facing the impending expiration of the New START Treaty in 2021. This means that the risk of a nuclear weapon being used is increasing once again, 30 years after the end of the Cold War. Does this development worry you?

Elena Andriukova: I’m actually very worried – as are all peace-loving people. Nuclear war is a threat to the whole of humanity. I worry when I see news about the arms race escalating. The escalation of military tensions and conflicts in which people are killed also unsettles me. So yes, I do worry – just like practically all of the other inhabitants of our planet!

Ms. Andriukova, our last question is always a personal one: What are your wishes for the coming years and is there anything you would like to say to the “most powerful leaders in the world”?

Elena Andriukova: I wish for peace, mutual understanding and friendship between nations – for myself and for people worldwide. At this point I would like to quote the Russian author Ivan Turgenev, who said: “Love alone sustains and touches our lives.”

To the “most powerful leaders in the world” I want to say: Stop the nuclear arms race!

To the “most powerful leaders in the world” I want to say: Stop the nuclear arms race! So much money has already been spent on armaments. That money should be used to improve people’s lives. It is a great miracle that life exists in our universe, that life exists on Earth. We should not destroy this life. Consequently, nuclear technology should be used solely for peaceful purposes – namely purposes that benefit mankind!

My father was the conscience of our homeland!

To close I would like to add a few words: The history of the Russian State demonstrates the peaceful nature of our people. Russia was never an aggressor – and never will be. My father was the conscience of our homeland. As such, he shared all of his knowledge and experience with people – irrespective of their nationality and origin. For world peace!

Ms. Andriukova, thank you very much for the interview!

The photograph above shows Vasili Arkhipov in 1953 when he was officer aboard the M-104 submarine (private album).

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