We Came VERY Close To Nuclear War In 1962


Robert McNamara, who was U.S. Secretary of Defense during the Cuban Missile Crisis, stated that “we came very close” to nuclear war, “closer than we knew at the time.”

How close were we? Terrifyingly close. If it were not for the non-action of this one submarine ‘second-in-command’ deputy commander, the world would have likely lost 100 million people.

Here’s the short story, and a caution to those who think you’re safe from nuclear war –

During the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, the deputy Commander (Vasili Arkhipov) on a nuclear-armed Soviet Foxtrot-class submarine B-59 near Cuba, refused an order to launch a nuclear-torpedo against the US aircraft carrier USS Randolph. If that torpedo would have been fired, it would have started World War III.

Following a failed CIA operation (the Bay of Pigs) to invade Cuba (to overthrow Fidel Castro’s Marxist government) and the subsequent installation (by the USSR) of 42 medium-ranged missiles and tactical nuclear weapons (discovered by US U-2 spy planes), the Cuban missile crisis erupted.

US forces went to DEFCON 2 — the highest readiness stage before all-out war. Six US Army and Marine divisions moved to South Florida and nearly 600 US warplanes were readied to attack – while nuclear weapons were loaded onto US B-47 and B-52 bombers. Seventy five percent of the Strategic Air Command’s bombers were airborne or poised to attack.

As Khrushchev sent Soviet ships steaming towards Cuba, president John Kennedy imposed a blockade on Cuba (naval and air) to stop further armament from the USSR.

The situation escalated further when a Soviet SA-2 anti-aircraft missile battery shot down a US U-2 over Cuba and a Soviet submarine was detected by US warships as it was heading for Cuba. What we later learned was that on the submarine, a firing order was given to launch a torpedo with a nuclear warhead at the USS Randolph – and apparently the launch was refused within 2 minutes of having to surface.

You see there had been no contact from Moscow (to the submarine) for a number of days once it had begun hiding from its U.S. Navy pursuers – it was too deep to monitor any radio traffic. Those on board did not know whether war had broken out. The ‘political’ captain of the submarine, Valentin Grigorievitch Savitsky, believing that a war might already have started, wanted to launch a nuclear torpedo. But he needed the additional agreement with deputy Commander Vasili Arkhipov. Arkhipov was against the launch and eventually won the argument. The submarine then surfaced and Khrushchev finally backed down.

We were very, very close. For more reasons than just this one…

For those of you who remember this time in our history, I would be very interested to hear your recounting of the situation back then. Apparently there was great fear that nuclear war was truly at our doorstep (which it was!). Curious about preparedness actions during that time…

Unlike that time period, today’s Americans are completely convinced that a nuclear war (even a limited one – if that’s even possible) would never ever happen. It seems completely preposterous to them. Because it’s not logical. Because they’ve never perceived any apparent real nuclear threat in their lifetime. Because even the thoughts of any such thing has never entered their psyche. Because they believe cooler heads will always prevail. Because they believe that we can successfully shoot down every ICBM or other such missile launched our way. Because they believe that the world’s leaders are all ‘sane’.

What about the apparent and controversial (conspiratorial) agenda of ‘the global elite’ to reduce the world population back down to 500 million? (not saying I believe it – just saying…)

Do you remember 1962? What are your memories? (I was only 3 ;) )


  1. I know a guy that sacked out on the tarmac of Eglin AFB for a couples days when he was in the 82nd ABN Division, waiting to board a air transport to make a parachute drop into Cuba that never happened. The whole division was on that tarmac. They were packed and stacked, waiting for orders.

  2. I was only 3 at the time,and do not remember it.My dad was in the Royal Canadian Navy at the time,and they were being prepared to standby in case they had to support the Americans,if it was needed.Thankfully it wasn’t! But shortly after that members of the Canadian Armed Forces were given manuals on building basement bomb shelters,and what to do in the event of nuclear attack.I still have those old manuals of my fathers around somewhere.My basement would be perfect to build a shelter in-and sadly,I think it might be done in the near future!

    1. I was 5 years old and lived in upstate New York. I can remember sitting in the living room with all the lights off (as we were told it was blackout time) the night Kennedy gave the ultimatum to Russia to either withdraw or go to war. I obviously didn’t really understand what was going on just that it was bad.

  3. I remember how dangerous we came to war with Russia not long after the incident happened and was kept secret while it was happening. It was about that time we did “duck and cover drills” at school. I was in the 5th grade. It wasn’t only for tornadoes, it was preparing for a nuclear strike on US soil. We had a picture at school of Kruchev with the words under it, “We will bury you”.

    Today I look at it as a form of terrorism, making US kids hide under their desks in fear of being bombed. A friend had a modified fruit cellar as a bomb cellar. I also found an old coal mine shaft I would hide in if I was close to the area playing in case a bomb fell. It was a scary time, and we are still facing war threats of nuclear weapons from mentally unstable leaders.

  4. Back during the Cuban missile crisis the news media and the U.S. Govt. was far more transparent than today. Yes, there were cover ups, when it came to President Kennedys’ love affairs, the press turned a blind eye. However today most of the American people don’t relize just how close we might very well be to a nuclear war.Back in the 60’s people were told about the Russian missles in Cuba. The propaganda machine today churns out the govt. narrative fed to them weeks in advance. We are left with no news just lies. Most Americans will find out about WWIII when the sirens start howling and they look up to see fighter jets zooming across the skies over their house.

  5. I was in the 4th grade. Duck and cover, right. We had two neighbors on our block who purchased and installed the pre-fab bomb shelters in their backyards. LOL. In retrospect, more of a roasting oven than a bomb shelter. With the advance in technology, unless your shelter is at least 100′ reinforced concrete with many years of supplies, don’t bother. It was all rather exciting until the next year. Been down hill ever since.

  6. I was in the 3rd grade. I remember duck and cover, under flimsy desks and lots of windows along one whole wall of our classroom. Of course, our teacher never got under her desk. I think most teacher’s used this drill as an opportunity to smoke in the hallway! I remember a poster about a nuclear bomb somewhere in the school. I asked my Dad what would we do if we were bombed and how could we survive? Should we go in the basement, etc. He said, “I don’t know, I just hope it lands right on my head”. No more discussion.

  7. I was in the Marine Corps, stationed on the East Coast. We were preparing to invade Cuba. Elements of the second division were aboard ship and could have been there pretty quickly. I’m not sure how much would have been left to invade if there had been a nuclear exchange, but our job was not to figure things like that out, just to follow orders.

    1. My Dad was an 18 year old Marine on the ship headed to Cuba that day. He would tell me a lot of stories about it, and how close we were to having war!!! Semper Fi. Rip to my dad Ernest Tucker I..

  8. remember the duck an cover in school we got under our desk. all the schools had the fall out shelter signs on them. thinking back an knowing today the duck an cover would not have done a thing we would all off been gone

  9. My dominant memories of those very scary days were the soberness of my parents’ faces…more serious than I had ever seen them, before or after; and wondering each night if we were going to wake up the next morning, and would it hurt. Heavy thoughts for an 11 year old girl. My husband and son are both veteran nuclear submarine sailors and at no times in their many, many patrols did I ever have similar fears or feelings.

  10. I don’t remember any duck & cover but I do remember walking from our high school to get behind a hill that would be mass between us & the city.

  11. I was a teenager then.
    We mostly did not understand nor realize the peril we were in.
    There were a lot of bomb shelters constructed in our area, (for all the good they would have done).
    Scary times.
    Scray times now too.

  12. This was the fault of an inexperienced and cocky president (not unlike the present one). Kennedy was sending mixed messages to Krushev and acting weak. Krushev thought Kennedy would fold so he took advantage of the situation. In international diplomacy you can’t afford to act or be weak. We are doing it again.

    I worked in the Air Force with a guy who had been stationed at Eglin at the time of the crisis. They had B52s sitting there with the engines running and loaded with nukes. When it all got serious no one could leave base or make calls off base. This guy claimed he sneak called his wife and told her to get the kids out of school, get in the car and drive immediately to her mothers somewhere in the Midwest and not to tell anyone anything. He was pretty sure Eglin was ground zero.

    1. I wasn’t criticizing JFK for being cautious I was criticizing him for allowing the situation to get to where it was. It was Krushev who said JFK was inexperienced, not paying attention and inept and it was for that reason that he felt emboldened to threaten us. I have seen the movies where all the generals were made to look like imbiciles and JFK made to look like a saint but that’s just Hollywood doing what Hollywood does.

  13. Yes I lived through it,
    I remember it very well,
    And Nam,
    And Afghanistan,
    And Iraq,
    And you friggen name it.
    BUT guess what, nothing scares me 1/1000000000 as much as the idiot in the Whitehouse
    He WILL do anything to destroy this country.
    Look at his history, and what he is doing now.
    You think “the Cuban Missile Crisis” was bad?
    You have not seen anything yet.
    God, or anything else, PLEASE save this once great country of OURS.
    They have forgotten this is OUR country!!!!!!! Not theirs to destroy

  14. We did the stupid duck & cover drills at school but the school also had a fallout shelter that we practiced going to a few times. There was one drill to take cover at school and another if there was time to go home. My parents had turned a small fruit room (couldn’t have all hardly fit) into a fallout shelter as it was mostly cement next to the house foundation. We also had a camper packed & full of gas ready to flee to my older brother’s Wyoming ranch (1 1/2 hr drive) as we lived 15 minutes from an air force base. My parents were scared but they took action & prepared. There wasn’t a lot of notice like we have had now.

  15. I was 6 and I remember bring canned food and extra clothes to school. I also remember those duck and cover drills too.

  16. I was 8 during the Cuban missile crisis, but even before this my handyman dad began building a fallout shelter. His version had many similarities to archived plans I’ve seen online. He used a pickax to remove the basement cement floor, then dug down many feet before laying a new floor and concrete block walls filled with rebar and dirt. We had a HUGE pile of dirt in another corner which he slowly removed to our yard and who knows where else. He did not want the neighbors to have any reason to wonder what he was doing so that dirt took awhile in leaving.

    Absolutely no one was to be told about this project. He was normally never stern, but I listened when he spoke to me in this new voice. When I asked about my cat and the family dog he hesitated before answering. I wish I could remember how he finally answered. I figured out that he meant we would do the best we could but it was a very small space and he expected us to be there a very long time. The fallout shelter that was installed in my grade school had no meaning for me without my understanding of what would be needed to survive in our home shelter.

    Out of the hundreds and hundreds of huge projects that my dad did over his lifetime the bomb shelter was the only one that I am aware of that was not completed. He finally gave up in frustration after receiving numerous conflicting advice and plans from the government. He had gone back and done minor remodeling and upgrades as new plans came out. Also, I think at the time the experts began to claim that survival just really wasn’t possible, especially living in a large metro area as we did. My dad was a planner and fighter but grew to believe that this was one area that at that time had no solution.

    I think he’d be proud to know that his family prepares today, to include plans to survive nuclear war.

  17. I was living in Southern California in the mid-1950’s and the community we lived in still participated in civil defense drills. At my elementary school, everyone was taught to duck and cover. In retrospect, these drills were most likely related to the immediate post-WWII and Korean War eras. But the prevailing thought was that we were vulnerable to attack and we had to be ready. Though the civil defense drills stopped in the late 50’s, the duck and cover drills continued and we became aware of the global nuclear threat. So our thinking simply transitioned from conventional bombs falling on our heads to nuclear missiles raining down on our homes. Crazy stuff.

    From what you saw on television and read in the newspapers you were led to believe that everyone was building nuclear fallout shelters. About 14 years old at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis, I can remember being scared s**tless that all hell was going to break loose at any time. In my memory, that’s what the news reports of the day would have us believe.

    Of course my family couldn’t afford to build a fallout shelter. And like it was yesterday, I remember looking at our backyard wondering how I was going to build a shelter for my family. Without any means whatsoever, I never got beyond the planning stages. But the thought is still in back of my mind.

    You know, things really haven’t changed that much except in terms of intensity. Think about it. Didn’t we just read an article on this website about targets in the United States and areas of nuclear fallout?

    U.S. Nuclear Target Map

    The threat mutually assured destruction is always there. At the moment, it’s just not in our faces every night like it was in the early 60’s. But that could change…!!

  18. I was six at the time going to Catholic school , we were thought to go to the basement where it had been declared to be a Fallout shelter , we were trained on how to turn toward the walls and cover our heads and close our eyes , we were also dismissed from school at lunch time during the tense times of the blockade . My Mom was always afraid that someone would push the button , my Dad though , being a veteran of WW2 , kept telling my Mom that the politicians would work it out , I am sure he was also glad when it came out that way . Now in this day and time it seems that those politicians in DC , are pushing for a nuclear confrontation with more than one nation , I just hope one of the politicians with enough sense can head off a nuclear war . Be prepared and ready . Keep your powder dry .

  19. The USA & Russia are on the brink of nuclear war now! Our good president has put crippling economic sanctions on Russia to the point that Russia’s economy is falling apart and the Russian people are desperate. Their Ruble is worthless except as tissue paper. The Russian politicians can not and will not tolerate this much longer. Our president does not understand how protective the Russian politician is of foreign intervention into Russian affairs. Their first strike will be massive and their military generals do not fear the U.S. at all. Just think about this; if the Russian military decides to strike then in less than one hour the U.S. will be a complete wasteland. What in the hell is our president thinking or is he thinking at all.

  20. I was in the Navy, aboard ship, and off the coast of Cuba patrolling for what seemed an eternity. At 18, I really didn’t realize the magnitude of this situation, but now thank God someone decided not to act.

  21. I was 10 at that time. My Dad said the missiles in Cuba could not reach us in Northern Michigan. So, he wasn’t too worried right then. But, he didn’t say anything about Soviet bombers that could either…………


  22. I was in the third grade at the time, and although I didn’t really understand much of what was going on, I knew it was serious by the way my parents stayed glued to the news every night. It was around that time that I started leaning towards prepping. Yes even in the third grade I knew how important fire was and started saving matchbooks. That was how I started.

  23. Live in Florida, went thru the drills and the scares.
    Served in the Navy until the 80’s, saw a lot.
    Nothing has ever scared me as much as now–!

  24. My grandfather made WWII & Korea (Infantry..got shot in the leg). My grandfather was cross trained to logistics/supply (after injury)for wait for it….Nuke silos! My mother & Grandmother both commented that he didn’t ever show much fear, worry, except during the Cuban missile crisis. Grandfather was a great guy, not the most out going/emotion type but his word was Platinum. He had told family later “we came a lot closer than most will ever know”. He retired shortly after.

  25. How close did we come to launching a nuclear strike on Cuba…????

    The USAF had nuke loaded B47’s ready to go, on airfields in Florida. The pilots were not allowed to get out of their planes. They were waiting for the go code…..

    1. I worked on a B52 program back in the 80’s. One of my co-workers was a B47 EWO and he told me he was on the tarmac with the engines running back then. They were ready to go…. It would have been a mess….

  26. I wasn’t alive at the time, but worked with a man who was a ship fitter aboard the destroyer USS Blandy during the crisis. He told me of an incident where they were “escorting” a Soviet submarine when the sub “put something in the water” and general quarters was sounded. Thankfully, the Blandy’s captain was a cool headed ww2 vet and didn’t blast the submarine out of the water maybe triggering ww3. Turned out the sub launched a buoy if I remember correctly. I wonder how many unknown incidents like this took place?

  27. As a result of the crisis, Russia began an enormous naval building program. Kruschev didn’t have enough military ships to escort his transports carrying the nukes to cuba. Plus his “backing down” was instrumental in his being removed from the Premiership.

    Even though he did get the US to remove our ICBMs out of Turkey (as mentioned by a prior poster). I can’t remember if our Turkey actions were mentioned in the press at the time. I don’t remember it being mentioned, and Kennedy was praised as forcing the Russians to back down.

    Since then, we have lived in interesting times. Think MAD.

    I believe our main worry today would be from North Korea, who has a madman for a leader, and the Iranians, who I feel will drop an atomic bomb on Tel Aviv as soon as they get one, and I have no doubt they will in the near future.

    This agreement they agreed to today, April 2, will prove not to be worth the paper it is printed on. Remember “Peace in our time!” and the waving of that treaty by the British Prime Minister? Just before Hitler started WWII. Appeasement never works, and millions will die because of it.

    Plus the Iranians seem to view the entire world as their enemy, even their Arab neighbors. But the Persians have always hated the Arabs.

    The Cuban Missle crisis has been forgotten, if they ever knew about it, by the majority of the American People. Something very similar will probably
    come along and reeducate them.

    Though I doubt if the results will be similar. I was 18 at the time, and I can still remember a WWII veteran school teacher telling us to forget about duck & cover. He said to “bend over, stick your head through your legs, and kiss your ass goodby!”

  28. @ H. Nelson – – – Ready Force, A Company, of the 82d Airborne Division, U.S. Army, was deployed to Eglin AFB, Florida from Fort Benning, Georgia, for a possible jump into Havana to seize the airport.

  29. I was 16, living right outside of Washington DC and I was terrified. The skies were full of planes heading south – constant waves of them which made it all that much more ominous.

  30. I was in the Navy Submarine Service and we off loaded practice torpedo’s and replaced them with live ones. We left the sub base at Groton and when we made open ocean we dove and stayed down for three weeks. Anyone who has served on a conventional boat knows that is a long time We were never informed as to where we were heading but I have always felt we were part of that blockade.

  31. i remember the cuban missle crisis. i was 8 years old. my dad came home from work. he looked at me and mom. he said man theirs going to be a war. he was a ww2 navy veteran. thats when u.s. and russian ships were steaming toward each other. very very scary.

  32. From mid 1962 through July 4th 1964 I was stationed at the Radar Site atop Crane Hill as an RD3 Radarman. As such as was VERY aware of what was happening in and around Cuba during the Crisis. While all that is available on the subject of the Crisis on the internet is interesting it tells only a part of the story. The entire world should get on it’s knees and THANK GOD we accidently avoided a Nuclear WW3! You have no idea how close we came to Armageddon! I was there, and while I knew a great deal as it was unfolding, I did not know how close until my discharge debriefing and years later when I worked for the CIA.

  33. you have no idea what you are talking about. read my post later on.

  34. Serving aboard USS Waller DDE466, I was the sonarman who gained contact with Soviet submarine B-59. Captain Savitsky tried to evade but was hampered by the low state of his batteries. After dropping three gernades I received an order from the bridge to send “India Kelo Delta Alfa” via CW key which was code for “surface on an easterly course”. There was no response, after some minutes the gunnery officer standing next to me at the console was given the same order. Shortly thereafter I detected Doppler, he was coming up. The world was very very lucky that October night/morning of 1962.

    1. SOG2 Spagnola,
      Thank you for your service. 1983-85 I was an AC2 stationed at NAS Cubi Point, Philippines with a LT. Spagnola that flew for VRC-50. I know it’s a long shot but any relations?

    2. To Ed Spagnolo,
      Assuming you are who you say you are… thanks for your input here. I researched the validity of your statement, and indeed it is true. Wow – how close we came! Sure glad you were at the right place at the right time to make first contact with that Soviet sub – which apparently had a nuclear tipped torpedo ready to fire!

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