Vasili Alexandrovich Arkhipov was born January 30th, 1926 in Zvorkovo near Moscow in the Soviet Union. Arkhipov was born into a peasant family but received a reliable education from the Pacific Higher Naval School. He was a part of the Soviet-Japanese War in August 1945, serving aboard a minesweeper while being educated by the Naval School. He eventually transferred to the Caspian Higher Naval School and graduated in mid-1947 at age 21. He served on submarines in the Black Sea with the Northern and Baltic fleets.
In July 1961, Arkhipov was appointed as the deputy commander of the new Hotel-class ballistic missile submarine K-19. The K-19 was one of two in the first generation of nuclear submarine equipped with nuclear ballistic missiles, specifically the R-13 SLBM, or the high grade submarine launched ballistic missile. The K-19 suffered a major leak in its reactor coolant system which caused the entire coolant system to fail. The sub’s radios were down as well after a separate incident that occurred earlier so they could not contact Moscow. There was no back-up cooling system installed in the submarine even after protests by the Captain Nikolai Vladimirovich Zateyev. The temperature of the sub continued to rise until a drastic decision was made. Zateyev and eight other engineers, including Arkhipov, went down into the contaminated area and built a replacement cooling system that helped them survive for the moment. The majority of K-19 was exposed to harmful levels of radiation, including Arkhipov. The other seven that accompanied Arkhipov and Zateyev died from radiation within a month of the incident. After forsaking their journey for a trip home, many of the men were angry and sickly from the radiation. Fears of mutiny coursed through Zateyev. But Arkhipv backed him up and was one of the five deputy officers entrusted with one of the only guns left on the ship. he made sure the Captain was safe until they reached Moscow.
On October 27th, 1962, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, twelve US Navy ships found the diesel-powered, nuclear-armed submarine B-59 near Cuba. Despite being in international water, the Americans began dropping charges, trying to force the submarine to surface for identification. The B-59 was forced to drop even lower to avoid being destroyed and, in the course of this action, they lost communications with Moscow (they hadn’t contacted the home nation for several days as it was). Being too deep to monitor radio broadcasts, the crew had no idea if war had broken out between the USSR and the USA. Aboard the sub, there were three officers: Valentin Grigorievitch Savitsky (the Captain of the submarine), Ivan Semonovich Maslennikov (a political officer), and Vasili Arkhipov (second-in-command). These officers were authorized to use the nuclear torpedoes if they were unanimously in favor of doing so. An argument broke between them as Arkhipov was the only one against launching the torpedoes. Although only second in command of B-59, Arkhipov was actually commander of the flotilla of submarines, including B-4, B-36 and B-130, and of equal rank to Captain Savitsky. That factor, and his courageous actions on the K-19 less than two years before, reportedly led Arkhipov to become victorious in the argument and the submarine surfaced to be identified by the Americans. It is said that Vasili Akhipov single-handedly saved the world from World War III, which would have surely meant the elimination of either the American or the Russian civilizations.
Arkhipov was eventually promoted to rear admiral in 1975 and became the head of the Kirov Naval Academy. He was promoted again to vice admiral in 1981 and retired in the mid-1980s. He settled in Kupavna until his death on August 19, 1998 after the radiation he was exposed to on the K-19 finally caught up to him.