Vasili Arkhipov

What if I told you that World War three was stopped by one man saying “no”? Its true. That man was one Vasili Arkhipov, a Russian submarine officer who served on a Russian submarine armed with nuclear weapons during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Vasili Arkhipov
Vasili Arkhipov

Vasili was born to a poor, peasant family near the Russian capital, Moscow on 30th January 1926. He joined the Soviet navy at 16 and attended the Pacific Higher Naval School. During World War two he served on a minesweeper fighting against the Japanese in the Pacific and after attending the Caspian Higher Naval School from which he graduated in 1947.

After finishing at the Caspian Higher Naval School he served in the Soviet Union’s submarine service and served in the Black Sea Fleet, the Northern Fleet and the Baltic Fleet.

Fast forwarding to 1st October 1962, submarine B-59 (on which Vasili served) received its orders to escort a delivery of nuclear weapons to Cuba from a sub base in the Kola Peninsula. B-59 was captained by one Valentin Savitsky but since it was the flag ship of the flotilla assigned to escort the delivery it also carried the flotilla commander, our good friend, Vasili Arkhipov. All the submarines in the flotilla (4 in total) were armed with nuclear weapons in the form of one nuclear armed torpedo each.

In response to the Soviets putting nuclear weapons on Cuba, President Kennedy took the decision to authorise the US Navy to quarentine Cuba to stop more nuclear weapons being stationed there. On 27th October 1962, the US Navy detected Submarine B-59 heading towards Cuba and as such attempted to stop the submarine so they could ascertain whether the submarine was carrying nuclear weapons or not. In order to do this the US fleet started dropping practice depth charges to try to force the sub to surface.

Despite the US notifying the Soviet Union of their intention to use practice charges, this important piece of information never made it to Submarine B-59.

On board the submarine all hell broke loose. It had been under water for days and had no way of contacting home due to the uncertainty of what was going on above them. With the sound of the depth charges above their heads its easy to see why Captain Savitsky thought the USA and Soveit Union were at war. Both the Captain and the submarine’s political officer, Ivan Semonovich Maslennikov, agreed to fire their nuclear armed torpedo at the USS Randolph, an aircraft carrier leading the US task force.

Vasili disagreed.

And here’s why we are so lucky. Had it been any of the other three subs in the flotilla (who had all capitulated by this point) then that would have been the start of World War Three because the use of the nuclear armed torpedos only required the authorisation of the Captain and the Political Officer. However, Vasili was flotilla commander and equaled the Captain in rank. Using his cool headedness he managed to calm the Captain down and pursuaded him to surface the submarine and wait for further orders.

Had a nuclear weapon been launched that day it is entirely possible that I would not be sitting here now writing this blog post nor you, as a reader, would be reading it. We have a lot to thank Vasili for as he not only saved our lives but I think its fair to say he saved the human race that day too.

Vasili continued to serve in the Soviet Navy after the Cuban Missile Crisis, attaining the rank of Vice Admiral before retiring in the 1980’s. He died on 19th August 1998. He was aged 72.


William Walker

In this article I shall be telling the story of a man called William Walker. Anyone from Latin America, specifically Mexico, Nicaragua or Honduras, who is reading this article may already know this name so if I leave anything important out then please feel free to add the information in the comments section at the bottom of the page. There’s a lot to get through so this is going to be a long one I’m afraid.

When researching Mr Walker I found out that he was quite the genius. Born in 1824 in Nashville, Tennessee, by the time he was 25 he had two degrees, one in law and one in medicine. He first graduated the University of Nashville when he was just 14 years old and also studied at the Universities of Heidelberg, Edinburgh and Paris.

William Walker
William Walker

For anyone who doesn’t know who William Walker is or what he achieved you might be expecting me to tell you about his contributions to medicine or law right now. Believe it or not he was what is known as a filibuster. A filibuster is a type of irregular soldier who acts (goes to war) without the authorisation of their government with the intention of causing independence or revolution. This is not the same as a mercenary though because while a mercenary works for an employer, a filibuster works for him or herself.

Initially, in 1853, he set off from the USA with fourty five men with the intention of capturing land in Mexico and setting up his own republic. Incredibly, he was successful and named himself president of the new Republic of Lower California (renamed later to the Republic of Sonora). Fortunately for him, by 1854, his somewhat small army had been reinforced by two hundred Mexicans and a further two hundred Americans from San Francisco.

Of course, the Mexican government at the time did not take to the idea of having some of their territory taken in this manner and eventually sent some troops to skirmish with Walker and his men. By this point Walker had also decided to march onwards and claim more territory for his expedition and headed for the city of Senora. He failed due mainly to many (read most) of his men deserting him so much so that by May 1854 he had but thirty five men remaining in his army.

It is at this point he gave up on his expedition and marched the remainder of his force and himself back to the US border. When he arrived on 8th May 1854 (his birthday), he surrendered to Major J. McKinstry of the US Army and was placed under arrest. Long story short, he was tried at a Federal court in San Francisco and acquitted after only eight minutes of deliberation by the jury.

His story doesn’t end here though…

In less than a year he was on the war path once more but this time in Nicaragua. At this point in history, Nicaragua was in the middle of a civil war between the legitimists of León and the democrats of Grenada. León (the losing side at this point) asked him to help them against Grenada. He accepted and he managed to lead León to victory in October 1855 and set himself up as President of Nicaragua. In May 1856 the US government officially recognised his presidency.

Now, one does not simply rampage round Latin America, raising all kinds of hell without making some enemies along the way. One such enemy was Cornelius Vanderbilt (only the most richest and powerful businessman in America) who sent agents to start uprsings, sent supplies to Walker’s enemies and bolstered the armies of unfriendly countries with US mercenaries, particularly the army of Costa Rica. Eventually Walker was again forced to return to the USA where once again he found himself on trial in New York and where once again he was acquitted fairly swiftly.

His story still doesn’t end here…

Immediately after his second trial his raised another army and headed for the Costa Rican coast where he landed his force in Punta Arenas in November 1857. He didn’t get much further though as his efforts this time were stopped by Commodore Hiram Paulding of the US Navy who once more arrested Walker and sent him back to the US where once more he faced a third trial in New Orleans and was acquitted for third time.

I’ll give you three guesses what the guy did next…

Yep, thats right, he assembles another army and heads off once more for Latin America. He wasn’t so lucky this time as the ship he was travelling on struck a reef just off Belize and sunk. Fortunately for Walker, he and his army were rescued by a British warship and sent back to the USA.

This did not stop him from making a fourth attempt to retake Nicaragua though. He landed in Honduras and on 6th August 1859 he captured the city of Truxillo and began his advance to Nicaragua but did not succeed in taking back the country. Instead his force was obliterated by the Honduran Army and he had to be rescued once more by the British Royal Navy, who despite promising him safe passage, instead handed him over to the Honduran authorities who executed Walker on 12th September 1860.

Admiral Collingwood

I think most people in the UK, even if they don’t have much knowledge of British history, have heard of the exploits of Admiral Horatio Nelson at the battle of Trafalgar. I also think that most people also know that he died during that battle from a shot fired by a French marksman from a French warship. However, there was another Admiral at the battle of Trafalgar who, in my view, does not get the credit he deserves for his crucial role during the battle.

Admiral Cuthbert Collingwood

That Admiral is none other than Vice Admiral Cuthbert Collingwood, the Northumbrian who saved the nation.

Collingwood was born in the English town Morpeth, near Newcastle in 1748. He was educated at the Royal Free Grammar School in Newcastle. During his naval career, his visits home to see his wife and family were rare and on one occasion his family had to travel four hundred miles to see him in Portsmouth (which in those days would have taken about two weeks).

He joined the Navy in 1761 when he was twelve years old as a midshipman on the HMS Shannon under Captain Braithwaite, who was also his uncle. In 1772 he met his lifelong friend and later commander, Horatio Nelson, in Jamaica while the both of them were still midshipmen. He served in both the American War of Independence and the Napoleonic wars where he displayed his aptitude for naval warfare and rose quickly through the ranks.

Nelson quite commonly gets a lot of the glory for the British victory at Trafalgar but what a lot of people don’t know is that it was Admiral Collingwood who took command of the fleet after Nelson had been hit by that French marksman. He was also in command of the ship (HMS Royal Sovereign) that fired the first shots against the enemy armada. In fact, thanks to his leadership, the British fleet did not lose a single warship while French-Spanish armada lost nineteen ships in total which meant a resounding success for the Royal Navy and ensured Britain’s dominance of the seas for the next century.

After the battle of Trafalgar, Admiral Collingwood was made Baron Collingwood and received a pension of £2000 per year (which was a lot of money back then). It is said he was very fond of his Northumbrian heritage but sadly he was never to see his hometown ever again. He died at sea near the island of Menorca (an awesome holiday destination that has a hotel named after him about ten minutes walk outside the capital) in 1810. He was finally laid to rest at Saint Paul’s Cathedral in London right beside his commander, comrade and friend, Admiral Horatio Nelson.

In 1845 a monument was erected to honour the memory of Collingwood in North Shields, near to where his living decendents reside today. The monument is surrounded by four cannons which came from his ship HMS Royal Sovereign and were added in 1848. The monument is visible from both the nearby river and the sea.

Thanks for reading and as always, feel free to comment.