Cuban Missile Crisis - how Close Were We to Nuclear War?

Apr 2016
1,646
United Kingdom
This happened twice. Stanislav Petrov, in 1983, judged a warning of a nuclear strike by the United States to be a malfunction. He was right, and we're all alive. Over the years, his awards and prize money have almost equalled the value of one Kardashian butt-cheek.
 
Sep 2016
125
Prague
I would like to know how many people at that time knew that we were close to the nuclear war?
people in the west and in the east.
There is a saying that 'Ignorance is Bliss'. Were Soviet citizens in ignorant bliss?
 

Matthew Amt

Ad Honorem
Jan 2015
3,008
MD, USA
I believe it was in the book "Deep Black" that there is an account of the *American* alert system detecting a Soviet attack, about 1984, as I recall. Bombers were launched, missile silos were notified, and launch keys were actually in the slots, ready to turn and launch, when it was found that the alert was due to a malfunction.

Yeah, that was a close one, too!

But I had never heard before that we were actually dropping depth charges on a Soviet sub! Maybe not too huge a deal considering all the American spy planes that were shot at or shot down over the years, but at *that* point it was certainly more than just sniping.

Matthew
 
Sep 2013
910
Chattanooga, TN
We came very close to nuclear war during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

I always mention this anecdote when someone brings up how close we were to nuclear war in the Cuban Missile Crisis. My grandfather worked as a civilian for the U.S. Air Force at Brookley Air Force Base from the early 1950s to around 1970. His job at Brookley Air Force Base during that entire time period was to repair & maintain the Air Force's telephone lines. His job was normally a daytime job from about 08:00 a.m. to 05:00 p.m. During the Cuban Missile Crisis, my grandfather had to go back to work due to an emergency around midnight. During the middle of the night, people were cutting the telephone lines at Brookley Air Force base. Disabling your enemy's communications is a classic tactic that a military will do at the beginning of a war. The Soviets apparently had spies on Brookley air force base cutting the telephone lines. The Soviets did this clandestinely. Cutting the phone lines was not a bluff to scare people. The soviets were seriously preparing for war.
 
Dec 2011
1,367
Belgium
I read about another close to nuclear war in the Cuba crisis.
Tried to find it back, but found only this:
Cuban Missile Crisis | Brown University

"Newly discovered evidence suggests that their fears of a nuclear war were justified. At a 1992 meeting in Havana, Cuba, General Anatoly Gribkov, the head of operational planning for the Soviet General Staff in 1962, disclosed information that shocked United States officials at the meeting.
"It wasn't until January, 1992, in a meeting chaired by Castro in Havana, Cuba, that I learned 162 nuclear warheads, including 90 tactical warheads, were on the island at the time of this critical moment of the crisis. I couldn't believe what I was hearing, and Castro got very angry with me because I said, "Mr. President, let's stop this meeting. This is totally new to me, I'm not sure I got the translation right."
-Robert McNamara, The Fog of War
Gribkov confirmed that there were not only missiles on the island of Cuba in 1962 but that some of them (approximately 90) were short-range tactical nuclear warheads and that, it the expected U.S. attack and invasion had come, they could have-and probably would have-been launched by the Soviet commander in Cuba without authorization from Moscow. Although the members of President Kennedy's ExComm had debated the possibility that medium range missiles might be on the island and potentially operational, they had not considered the possibility that there were tactical nuclear weapons on the island at the time. Americans at the 1992 meeting knew that the attack may have been just hours away. What they had not known at the time was that ships carrying the invading forces would likely have been destroyed and any U.S. marines making it to the beaches would have been incinerated."

In my version of the time, Castro had urged the local Russian commander to launch the warheads. And a certain time the local commander could do that without authorisation from Moscow. But the local commander refused and didn't listen to Castro...

And yes it was a dangerous time:
https://www.reddit.com/r/AskHistorians/comments/18ye6f/during_the_cuban_missile_crisis_were_russias/
Frequently Asked Questions | Cuban Missile Crisis
https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/oct/15/cuban-missile-crisis-russian-roulette
The Cuban Missile Crisis | History Today

Kind regards, Paul.
 

johnincornwall

Ad Honorem
Nov 2010
7,865
Cornwall
I would like to know how many people at that time knew that we were close to the nuclear war?
people in the west and in the east.
There is a saying that 'Ignorance is Bliss'. Were Soviet citizens in ignorant bliss?
It was played out on the news here, more or less. Not sure anything like that happened in Soviet Russia.


Not as close as we are today..
Really?
 

AlpinLuke

Forum Staff
Oct 2011
27,385
Italy, Lago Maggiore
Actually that crisis was under the light of the sun, so evident that it was impossible to keep it reserved. It was public and the world public opinion saw, for the first time, an event which was going to carry the planet towards a devastating nuclear war.

But during the Cold War, the MDS [Mutual Destruction Strategy] kept in a state of absolute alert the nuclear offensive systems of the two superpowers for decades. So it was enough a little event to unleash the hell.

Doubtful situations have been probably not that rare and we should thank all those military operators [and they procedures of control] which have avoided to take hasty decisions.

Simply we don't know.
 

AlpinLuke

Forum Staff
Oct 2011
27,385
Italy, Lago Maggiore
1983: last risk of nuclear war during the Cold War

It's not that known around, but in 1983 we have been again really near to an atom conflict between the two superpowers.

The National Security Archive [and academical organization c/o George Washington University] thanks to FOIA has obtained documents about what happened.

I quote the article
According to the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board (PFIAB), the United States "may have inadvertently placed our relations with the Soviet Union on a hair trigger" during the 1983 NATO nuclear release exercise, Able Archer 83.

Policymakers, and now historians have had vehement disagreements about the War Scare, leading some to describe the debate as "an echo chamber of inadequate research and misguided analysis," and the CIA itself to downplay the danger in its 1984 review. This newly declassified PFIAB document, however, provides the strongest evidence to date that the danger of the War Scare was real, as the only study written with access to all US intelligence files on US/NATO actions and the Soviet response in the fall of 1983.
[Sources:
The Able Archer War Scare Declassified PFIAB Report Released

The Able Archer 83 Sourcebook]

In good substance the exercise had misinterpreted by the Russians who thought to a real war operation. Politicians minimized, but the risk was real and concrete.