On October 27, 1962, in the most tense moments of the Cuban Missile Crisis, the American destroyer USS Beale tried to warn off the Soviet submarine B-59 and inadvertently brought the world to what was, arguably, the closest it has come to nuclear war.
The incident occurred when the Soviet sub was identified near the U.S. blockade line around Cuba. In an effort to warn the sub away, the commander of the Beale ordered non-lethal depth charges to be dropped near the sub. The commander intended them to be warning shots, but the sub’s captain, Valentin Savitsky, thought they were live explosives and thought they were the first shots of World War III and ordered a launch of their nuclear-tipped torpedo.
Fortunately the launch procedures required the concurrence of the top three officers of the submarine. Vasili Arkhipov, the second-in-command of B-59, was not convinced war had broken out and refused to give his consent to the launch. At Arkhipov’s suggestion, the sub surfaced so it could establish communication with Moscow, and the officers were assured that war had not yet been declared.
It was over forty years after the incident before the details of the incident were made public.