Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Underwater Cuban Missile Crisis: Soviet Submarines and the Risk of Nuclear War



National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 399

Posted - October 24, 2012

Edited by William Burr, Svetlana Savranskaya and Thomas Blanton

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Washington, D.C., October 24, 2012 -- Extreme temperatures, equipment breakdowns, and the reckless deployment of nuclear torpedoes aboard Soviet submarines near the quarantine line during the Cuban Missile Crisis 50 years ago this week elevated the already-high danger factor in the Crisis, according to Soviet and American documents and testimonies included in a new Web posting by the National Security Archive (www.nsarchive.org).

The underwater Cuban Missile Crisis received new attention this week with two PBS Television shows, one of which re-enacts as "overheated" docudrama (in the words of The New York Times reviewer) the confrontation between U.S. Navy sub-chasing units and the Soviet submarine B-59, commanded by Vitali Savitsky, on the most dangerous day of the Crisis, October 27, 1962.

The newly published documents in the posting include the original Soviet Navy map of the Caribbean showing the locations of the four "Foxtrot" diesel submarines that had deployed from the Kola peninsula northwest of Murmansk on October 1, 1962, bound for Mariel port in Cuba to establish a submarine base there. Unknown to the U.S. Navy, each of the subs carried a nuclear-tipped torpedo, with oral instructions to the captains to use them if attacked by the Americans and hulled either above or below the waterline.

The documents include the never-before-published after-action report prepared by Soviet Northern Fleet Headquarters after the four commanders' return to Murmansk in November 1962, describing the atrocious conditions aboard the subs, which were not designed for operations in tropical waters.

The posting also includes the U.S. Navy message on October 24, 1962, detailing the "Submarine Surfacing and Identification Procedures" to be followed by U.S. forces enforcing the quarantine of Cuba, including dropping "four or five harmless explosive sound signals" after which "Submerged submarines, on hearing this signal, should surface on Easterly course." The State Department communicated this procedure to "other Governments" including the Soviet Foreign Ministry, but the Soviet submarine commanders, in a series of interviews in recent years, report they never received the message.


Read today's posting at the National Security Archive website - http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB399

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Sean Eagan

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