Talking Proud Archives --- Military

Soviet Foxtrot Submarines: The Cuban Missile Crisis

And so much more about this crisis I for one did not know

May 3, 2017


I have read, "The 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis is probably the single most analyzed episode of the Cold War." Perhaps so, but until now, not by me.

Many people certainly know about or are aware of the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962 in which tensions between the US and the Soviet Union were about as high as they could be, edging toward the possibility of nuclear war. But most of us are not familiar with the tense encounters with Soviet submarines. This photo taken by a US Navy (USN) anti-submarine warfare (ASW) patrol aircraft shows Soviet Foxtrot submarine Hull Number 945 nearing Cuban waters during that crisis, one of four that made the transit. It is B-130, Captain Shumkov in command.

It is arguable when the US learned these submarines were on their way, as you will see later. For certain the US government did not know each of these submarines was carrying a single nuclear tipped torpedo that could destroy a Carrier Group. The Soviets called these "special weapons."

The US not only did not know they had these nuclear torpedoes aboard, the US also did not know the Soviet skippers arguably had the authority to employ them at will, with no command and control from Moscow. One of the skippers almost did.

Once I started studying this missile crisis I was flabbergasted by how much I did not know. As a result I went way beyond what I had originally intended to do. So, I cover the Foxtrot submarine issues in this section for those who only wish to know about them. But I have broken off other sub-sections that talk to other aspects of the crisis that may interest you. They most certainly startled me.

I commend two books to you. Read these two and you will get the "Full Monty" of what happened, and you will confirm I have only brushed the surface:

So let's get on with it. This section deals with these four Soviet Foxtrot submarines.

Fidel Castro, Cuba's leader, and Mikita Khrushchev, the Soviet leader

The Cuban Missile Crisis occurred about 55 years ago. Its roots go back almost 60 years, to at least 1959 when Fidel Castro took control over Cuba by means of a revolution. I was a freshman in college when all this happened. I recall knowing generally what was occurring and that this could have had a very bad outcome. But I had no idea about the enormity of the Soviet effort or the character of the US response.

The Cuban Missile Crisis can quickly subsume you in myriad and manifold events. It did that to me. It is an absorbing topic. I wish to underscore the major evolutions in train during the Cuban crisis that stood out in my mind. I have set up special sub-sections for each. This section will deal primarily with the submarines.

  • Roots of Cuban Crisis: This was a time when the Cold War was fully in train. The US felt like it was fighting against communism from all angles. The Soviets felt like they were surrounded and out-gunned. The Cubans were sure the US would invade. That's how the roots of this crisis evolved.
  • Operation Anadyr and Soviet ships on the move: "Operation Anadyr:" Soviet delivery and deployment of modern weapons systems in Cuba, most of which were nuclear capable, all of which were sent by ship. The challenge for the Soviets was getting those to Cuba as secretly as humanly possible.
  • Detection of the weapons in Cuba: The US employed about every technical means it had to detect the weapons coming to and being installed in Cuba. Human intelligence underscored what technical means could not uncover. A problem was accepting the human intelligence.
  • Operation Mongoose, Invasion: The US developed a plan to overthrow the Castro government through clandestine subversion. That was Operation Mongoose. But subversion would not unseat Castro or neutralize the weapons: only a full blown US invasion could do that.
  • The suits in Washington, a chronology. The Washington decision-making processes are mind-boggling. Subversion, a naval blockade, and invasion were on the America table. But Premier Khrushchev did not want war, nor did President Kennedy. My reading is Khrushchev let Kennedy off the hook, and Kennedy stumbled into a peaceful solution.

Soviet Foxtrot submarines

The US did not find out about the submarines until late in the game, and would much later learn about the catastrophe those submarines could have inflicted. I will address all that in this section.

Among others, I want to thank an old friend of mine, Peter Huchthausen, Captain, USN (Ret.), now deceased, for his book October Fury. His book reported on "the actions and maneuvers by the Soviet and US ships and submarines … (by) reconstructing interviews and conversations with members of the crews on both sides." He was also aboard the USS Blandy (DD-943) destroyer involved in ASW operations against the submarines during the Cuban Missile Crisis. I commend his book to you. This photo shows Pete consulting with Harrison Ford for the movie, “K-19: The Widowmaker," which played out Pete's book of the same title.

We also benefit from files of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the USSR released to the public in January 1962, numerous files released by the US Government and a plethora of books and papers written on the subject.

Introduction to the Soviet Foxtrot submarine


NATO assigned the name “Foxtrot” to this submarine type. The Soviets referred to them as Project 641 submarines. The first was laid down in 1957 and commissioned in 1958. I have seen numbers ranging from 58-74 of these having been built for the Soviet Navy.

They were powered by three Kolomna diesel engines and three electric motors driving three propeller shafts. They were noisy as a result. Submarine captains do not like noise. I’ll come back to the diesel-electric concept in a moment.

Huchthausen wrote:

"The Soviet Navy before the Cuban confrontation … included more than three hundred diesel-powered submarines, more than half of which were long-range attack boats. The Soviet Union already possessed more than the total number of diesel attack submarines Nazi Germany had operated at the peak of its strength in World War II."

The Foxtrot's maximum surface speed was 16 knots, maximum submerged speed was 15 knots, making the Foxtrot a relatively fast boat. She could stay submerged for about five days. But her underwater endurance could be extended to 7-10 days if traveling at a very slow speed of 1-2 knots. I think during the crisis they went at about seven knots submerged.

The Foxtrot was a long range submarine out to 2,200 nm. She carried a crew of about 78. She became a successful Soviet global patrol submarine. She was meant to intercept advancing warships and cut sea-lanes of communication.


The Foxtrot had 10 torpedo tubes, six at the bow and four at the stern. She could carry 22 twenty-one inch torpedoes or up to 44 AMD-1000 ground mines. She was also capable of carrying a standard 21 inch nuclear anti-shipping torpedo with a 15-kiloton yield. This latter weapon would make her effective against hostile carrier battle groups.

Let’s return to the fact that the Foxtrot was a diesel-electric boat. This is central to her story in the Cuban Missile Crisis.

I said earlier the Foxtrot used three diesel engines to drive three electric motors to drive three propeller shafts. When she was submerged, she ran on batteries. The batteries supplied the electricity to the electric motors to drive the propeller shafts. Eventually the batteries would run out of juice, so they had to be recharged.


At certain points in her voyage the skipper would have to surface and fire up the diesel engines. The diesel engines would recharge the batteries and run the propeller shafts. While on the surface, if the skipper wanted to recharge his batteries quickly, he would slow down so the power of the diesel engines could focus more on recharging the batteries. This photo shows Soviet Foxtrot submarine 911 on the surface.

A problem with diesel engines is they eat up a tremendous volume of air to operate, and exhaust an equally tremendous volume of fumes, making it impossible to use while fully submerged. They can get that air only when surfaced or through a snorkel, which would rise above the surface of the sea. The problem, of course, was the snorkel could be seen by surveillance ships and aircraft. This photo shows what a submarine might look like with the snorkel above the surface.

Snorkels were added to enable the diesel engines to take in air while operating at periscope depth and vent exhaust out. This tactic reduced the radar target area to only the periscope, exhaust pipe, and snorkel air intake. This in turn allowed underwater speeds to exceed surface speeds.


To save battery power, the diesel engines with the snorkel were used as long as possible to travel and make attacks. After the attack, they would use only battery-powered electric motors to escape quietly and deep. This photo shows a snorkel forward and a periscope behind it.

There are technical issues associated with using the snorkel this way, which is why most skippers preferred to surface to use the diesel engines, recharge the batteries and power the propellers.


The Foxtrot had three decks. She was a large submarine. That is why the Soviets designated their submarines with a “B” prefix. The “B” stands for “Большой” which translates to Bol’shoy, which in turn means big or large. The Russian letter “Б” equates to the English letter “B.”

Two of those decks held batteries, the bottom two. These batteries weighed a lot, which would slow the submarine when submerged. The fact that the batteries used two decks made the boat crowded. This, plus other factors we’ll touch on later made living conditions aboard these submarines quite bad. As you will see later, for the Cuban deployment, extra passengers were put aboard, whether political officers, commanders, or in the case of the Cuban deployment, special officers to watch over the nuclear torpedo and to conduct signals intelligence (SIGINT) operations against the USN forces trying to find them.

During the crisis, the USN assigned "C" prefixes to a target submarine. For example, the USN catalogued the Soviet B-59 submarine as C-19. When you study Soviet submarine movements during the Cuban crisis the interchange of "C" and "B" and use of different designation numbers can become a real chore.

Operation KAMA, the naval component of Operation Anadyr, ballistic missiles for Cuba

I discuss Soviet Operation Anadyr in greater detail in a sub-section of this report. It was the operation to deliver and install a host of modern weapons to Cuba, virtually all nuclear capable, including ballistic missiles. Operation KAMA was the navy component of the overall Operation Anadyr .


In May 1962 Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, while in Bulgaria, became keen on the idea of deploying Soviet intermediate-range nuclear ballistic missiles (IRBM) to Cuba. Such missiles in Cuba could hit the US, everything but the far northwest. Such a deployment he thought might also dissuade the US from invading Cuba. This gave birth to "Operation Anadyr."

Anadyr was to be a combined-arms operation involving all components of the Soviet military integrated into a single command structure. Norman Polmar, writing “The Soviet Navy’s Caribbean Outpost” published in the October 2012 edition of Naval History Magazine, described the breadth of this undertaking:

“Operation Anadyr—the Soviet codename for the movement of strategic missiles and protective air, ground, and naval forces almost 8,000 miles from the USSR to Cuba—was one of the most remarkable undertakings of the entire Cold War. Earlier, Great Britain, Japan, and the United States had on numerous occasions transported hundreds of thousands of troops and their weapons across oceans and seas, but they were traditional sea powers with large navies and merchant fleets.

“The Soviet Union had neither a major surface fleet nor a large merchant marine in 1962. Indeed, its navy did not possess a single oceangoing amphibious or landing ship. Further, beyond military advisers, the USSR had never sent troops great distances by sea. Under these severe limitations, the Soviet Union had begun the massive movement of troops and weapons from its home ports to Cuba. While the Soviet leadership realized that the shipments could not be hidden from the prying eyes of U.S. and other NATO nations’ intelligence services, Kremlin officials believed that their precise contents could be kept secret. Indeed, even after the weapons and troops arrived in Cuba special efforts would be made to keep their numbers and identification secret from Cubans as well as Americans.”

Vic Socotra, an American and military historian, reported:


“The Soviet Navy component of Operation Anadyr, the deployment of short-range nuclear missiles to Cuba, was code-named KAMA. It was to be initiated by a vanguard of four Project 641 Foxtrot (NATO designation) diesel attack submarines, sailing from the Kola Peninsula, and followed by seven Project 629 Golf-class ballistic missile submarines (graphic shown here), each carrying three SS-N-4 SARK nuclear missiles. The Soviet plan was to base these submarines in Cuba where they could threaten the southern United States, deterring US missiles then based in Turkey.”

The Soviets also intended to send two Project 68 cruisers, the
Mikhail Kutuzov of the Black Sea Fleet and Sverdlov of the Red Banner Baltic Sea Fleet, two Project 56 destroyers of the Northern Fleet, two submarine tenders and other auxiliary vessels.

To my knowledge, only the four Project 641 Foxtrots made the voyage. As you will see in the Detection sub-section, no one except the Soviets know exactly how many submarines went and of what kind. But we know the four Foxtrots went, so I focus on them.

The deployment of the Project 629 Golf-class ballistic missile submarines, the cruisers, destroyers, submarine tenders and auxiliary vessels did not happen. With regard to the Golf submarines, the senior Soviet naval leadership felt their nuclear submarines were not technically reliable, especially the nuclear plants. And this type submarine had never gone on such a great distance.

Jonn Lilyea's web site "This ain't hell, but you can see it from here," published an article
"Saving the World. Quietly" in which the author wrote:

"The submarines in this Soviet flotilla deployed in support of a secondary operation that was simultaneously part of Operation Anadyr – Operation Kama. The submarines comprising the flotilla – B-4, B-36, B-59, and B-130, with B-59 serving as the flotilla’s flagship – were Foxtrot-class diesel-electric attack submarines. They were being deployed to clear the way for the planned deployment of ballistic missile subs."


Lilyea added the Soviets intended to build a submarine base at Mariel, Cuba that could be used by ballistic missile submarines.

Foxtrots deploy to Cuba with nuclear torpedoes

With regard to submarines, however, Peter A. Huchthausen, in his book October Fury, wrote:

"The Soviet Navy before the Cuban confrontation consisted of twenty-five conventional cruisers, fewer than one hundred destroyers, and large numbers of small combatants. It also included more than three hundred diesel-powered submarines, more than half of which were long-range attack boats. The Soviet Union already possessed more than the total number of diesel attack submarines Nazi Germany had operated at the peak of its strength in World War II."


To my knowledge, the Soviets deployed only the four Foxtrot submarines from the 69th Submarine Brigade to Cuban waters from Sayda Bay, about 20 km northwest of Murmansk, on the northwestern Kola Peninsula on October 1, 1962. The Soviets called this unit the 20th Operative Squadron. The Soviets wanted to use nine Foxtrots, but could only find four able to handle the task. These four submarines were the last of the Soviet forces to deploy to Cuba.

The US did not know these submarines had deployed for Cuba. As you will see later, it is very hard to identify exactly when the US detected them. I will present several possibilities, one of which I find very credible.


The Foxtrots secretly deployed from their home base in Polyarny to Sayda Bay to disguise what they were doing. This deployment enabled the loading of the special nuclear-tipped torpedoes. No Soviet submarine had previously carried this kind of torpedo, and none of the captains knew how to use them. They were T-5, 533 mm torpedoes, such as shown here, marked with a purple nose to separate them from the conventional torpedoes. Furthermore, a single weapons security officer, not a submariner, was assigned to babysit these nuclear torpedoes. He spent most of the transit forward with his torpedo, even sleeping with it. They were 3.5 kiloton torpedoes, some say 5 kiloton. The torpedo was powerful enough to destroy a carrier group because of its wide blast kill zone.


The 69th Submarine Brigade consisted of these four Foxtrots and seven Golf class diesel-powered ballistic missile submarines, each of which carried three R-13, D-2 ballistic missiles. This photo shows a Golf class. As I mentioned, the Golf submarines did not go.

In its
"After Action Report," the Soviet Northern Fleet Headquarters said each submarine carried 21 conventional torpedoes. Furthermore, one torpedo "with nuclear load (was placed) onto each of the (four) submarines." Their "Special Assignment" was "to cross the ocean in secret and to arrive to a new basing point in one of fraternal countries." Each captain was given an envelop with Top Secret instructions which they were not to open until they departed the Kola Bay. They would be allowed to brief their crews once they reached the Atlantic Ocean. The 20th Squadron was to have a shore submarine base loaded onto merchant marine ships which were to arrive at Mariel, Cuba in October. I'm not certain that ever deployed. I do not think it did.


L-R Soviet Foxtrot submarine Captains Dubivko A.F., Shumkov N.A., Savitsky V.S., and Ketov R.A.

This photo shows the four Soviet captains of the Foxtrots, all Captain Second Rank, roughly equivalent to USN commander. Left to right in the photo, they are: Captain Aleksei Dubivko, B-36; Captain Nikolai Shumkov, B-130; Captain Vitali Savitsky, B-59; and Captain Ryurik Ketov, B-4.

Jan Drent, writing
"Confrontation in the Sargasso Sea: Soviet Submarines During the Cuban Missile Crisis," described the four captains as "tenacious and seasoned submariners. One (Dubivko) for example had nine years of command behind him."

Rear Admiral Leonid Rybalko commanded the 20th Squadron of four submarines. Captain Vasily Arkhipov, shown here, was second in command. You will hear more about him later. He was an important figure in the crisis.

Elroy M. Nelson, writing “
Cuban Missile Crisis Comes to the Front, Soviet Union Top Secret Plans released, wrote:

“On September 30th, 1962 all four submarine commanding officers were directed to attend a midnight meeting with their squadron commander in the small wooden shed at the foot of the piers. In this meeting, the four commanding officers were informed that they were to deploy at 4:00 A.M. (October 1). The details of their mission had been delivered to their ships in sealed packets, and they were directed to read them carefully to their officers after submerging. They were also told they possess the capability of inflicting lethal damage to the American forces, but were urged to use discretion. It was considered highly unlikely that the American ASW force would be at more than their usual state of alert, considered not much of a threat.”

I now need to highlight a few issues regarding the Soviet rules of engagement for employing the nuclear-tipped torpedoes.

Fleet Admiral of the Soviet Union Sergei Gorshkov, shown here, summoned Rear Admiral Rybalko, the 20th squadron commander, prior to the captains going to their boats at the Kola Peninsula. Gorshkov instructed Rybalko as follows:

"You are in no way to allow American antisubmarine forces to discover your submarines during the transit. Your assignment is to get to Mariel undetected by October 20 (1962) and to prepare for subsequent deployment of seven ballistic missile submarines, which will follow with their support ships. You are to reconnoiter the waters surrounding Mariel and ensure they are free of American antisubmarine forces, fixed acoustic arrays, and to survey and report hydroacoustic conditions of the area … What you don't know, Admiral Rybalko, is that the new elements … are the special torpedo warheads your submarines will carry … Your brigade commander and submarine commanding officers will have advance authorization to engage the special weapons without permission from fleet headquarters or the ministry in Moscow if attacked by American ships or aircraft … our rules of engagement are quite clear. You will use your weapons if American forces attack you submerged or force your units to surface and then attack, or upon receipt of orders from Moscow … Those rules have been approved by the Politburo, and the first secretary, and that is enough for us. We will follow orders."

Rybalko was stunned by Gorshkov's instructions. The submarine commanders, according to these instructions, had the authority to fire at will, on their own. That could have resulted in a nuclear war.

However, some days later, while gathered together prior to leaving port, Rybalko, their immediate commander, told his captains this:

"You each possess the capability of inflicting lethal damage to American forces, but I urge you to use discretion. It is considered highly unlikely that American ASW forces will be any more than at their usual state of alert, which isn't much of a threat. Study your mission closely, they are outlined in great detail … Each of you has in your hands the potential to start the next world war, and so, Comrades, do try to keep us out of war. Now, good sailing, and keep seven feet beneath the keel."

Captain Ketov was unsure about the orders, and asked:

"Comrade Admiral, I know our orders are detailed in the sealed packets already aboard, but we're all concerned about the rules governing the use of the special torpedoes. What exactly are we to expect? How and when may we use them?"

Admiral Vitaly Fokin, at the time first deputy to Admiral Gorshkov, stepped in and said:

"Comrade Commanders, we are still not fully prepared to address that issue, but to be sure …"

And then Vice Admiral Anatoly Rossokho, chief of staff and deputy commander of the Soviet Northern Fleet, came forth suddenly and told the four captains this:

"Comrade Commanders, enter these words in your logs when you return aboard: Use of the special weapons is authorized under the following conditions: first, in the event you are attacked with depth bombs and your pressure hull is ruptured; second if you surface and are taken under fire and hit; and third upon orders from Moscow."

Captain Ketov remembered more specific instructions, according to Svetlana V. Savranskay, in her paper
"New Sources on the Role of Soviet Submarines in the Cuban Missile Crisis. She quoted Captain Ketov saying:

"The only person who talked to us about those weapons was Vice-Admiral Rossokho. 'Write down when you should use
these. .. . In three cases. First, if you get a hole under the water. A hole in your hull. This is the first case. Second, a hole above the water. If you have to come to the surface, and they shoot at you, and you get a hole in your hull. And the third case – when
Moscow orders you to use these weapons’. These were our instructions … 'I suggest to you, commanders, that you use the nuclear weapons first, and then you will figure out what to do after that.' "

To complicate all this, Huchthausen then wrote that once the secret orders were opened, they read in part as follows:

"Torpedoes with atomic weapons may be used only as directed in instructions from the Ministry of Defense (MoD) or the Main Navy Staff."

So these captains had been given a variety of rules of engagement. I do not think this has been resolved to this date. Captain Shumkov would later order the nuclear torpedo's tube be flooded. He did not intend to use it. Ketov remarked he hoped he would not have to use it.

Admiral Rybalko understood this was all a mess. He knew there were problems uploading the torpedoes and he knew the captains had never fired them. He also knew his captains had not worked with atomic weapons before. And, he was uneasy about the variety of orders given his captains.


Huchthausen wrote:

"Captain Dubivko, B-36 skipper, watched the loading of the torpedoes in Sayda. A staff officer was helping, which he thought odd. That officer told Dubivko the torpedo that was being loaded had a 15 kilo-ton nuclear warhead, enough to destroy a US carrier group. The staff officer told him that he intended to load the torpedo into tube number 2 once they passed the Iceland-Faroe-Shetland UK gap, shown in the map above, at which point they would enter waters heavily patrolled by US aircraft. The staff officer was not submarine trained and expected to get on-the-job training while in transit."


The four submarines proceeded from Sayda one after the other in a column under the cover of a heavy fog. Foxtrot B-59 left first, followed by B-36, B-130 and B-4 in roughly 30 minute intervals. This is a rough map and I'm showing it to you way out of chronological sequence, but it shows the general route the Foxtrots most likely took. The upper red arrow shows the location of their base on the Kola Peninsula. The bottom red arrow shows Cuba's location. I have not talked about the US naval blockade yet, but the blue arrow points to the rough barricade line. This gives you an idea. That was a long transit for these Foxtrots, and their crews endured a most difficult voyage. It was October 1, and it would take nearly a Herculean effort, no contingencies and perfect seas to get to Cuba by October 20, which is what their initial orders were. The captains knew such a feat was almost impossible.

Please keep in mind the US knew nothing of any of this when it was happening, and would not know the details, if anything, until the files were released in 1991. I will discuss later whether any in the US government knew when the submarines were actually detected. Most sources I have seen say about October 24, 1962. The Soviet captains, and I, think they were detected much earlier.

The Foxtrot transit to Cuba —- The question of detection

Peter T. Haydon, shown here, is a Senior Research Fellow with the Centre for Foreign Policy Studies and an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Political Science at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada, specializing in naval and maritime security issues and Canadian defense policy. His paper, "Canadian Involvement in the Cuban Missile Crisis Re-considered," is very telling. I will refer to it several times. He wrote:

"The problem with the submarines is that no one, save the Russians of course, knows exactly how many Soviet submarines eventually took part in Operation 'Anadyr' or were already on patrol in North American waters in October and November 1962 … In 1962, ASW was barely out of its infancy. Western navies were just beginning to understand the more complex aspects of sound propagation through water and the effect on sound propagation of temperature layers in the ocean … In retrospect … The evidence seems to say that there were certainly six submarines and possibly a seventh. We will not know for certain until the Russians open the Soviet Navy archive."

I will only report on the four Foxtrots and mention one Zulu.

Huchthausen commented in his book:

“Prior to 1962, Soviet submarine presence in the Atlantic was minimal, and their nuclear submarines had seldom deployed. Finding a Soviet submarine in those years took a lot of luck and a great deal of tenacity … Finding and locking onto a solid Soviet submarine contact in the 1960s was a rare event.”


I showed you this map before. The USN started deploying maritime patrol aircraft to Naval Air Station (NAS) Kevlavik, Iceland in 1951, because of the large build-up of the Soviet Navy. On July 1, 1961, Commander Barrier Force Atlantic set up shop at Kevlavik.


Deployment of patrol squadron detachments, and later entire squadrons, started as early as 1951, with the P-2 "Neptune" leading the charge during this period.


As a reminder, the route expected for the Foxtrots would transit the Iceland-Faroe-Shetland, Scotland Gap. US Patrol aircraft would be flying from Iceland, while British and Norwegian patrol aircraft would do the same. The mysterious question for me, and it guided much of my research, is when did the US detect the Foxtrots? This is a captivating question and I believe I have found the answer, which I will discuss later in this report.


The only "for sure" fact I have about detecting the Foxtrots is that a VP-49 “Woodpeckers” P-5 Marlin Navy patrol aircraft reported he had a contact with a submarine, subsequently identified as C-18 (USN designation) which translated to Foxtrot submarine B-130 (Soviet designation), Captain Nikolai Shumkov in command. The detection report was issued on October 24, 1962 at flash precedence, indicating this was an extremely important detection. So remember that date: October 24, 1962.

As I did my research, and you will see this in the
Chronology sub-section, I learned the following. These too are facts:

  • CIA warned on October 20,1962 that Soviet submarines might be transporting nuclear warheads into Cuba. I do not think CIA was talking about the torpedoes — it did not know about those. Instead it was talking about nuclear warheads that could be carried by aircraft or by land-based missiles. The point is CIA was warning about submarines on October 20.

  • John_McCone
    On October 22 CIA Director John McCone, shown here, told President Kennedy that four Soviet Foxtrot submarines would probably make it to Cuba within a week (by October 27). So he knew on October 22 about four Foxtrots and when they would arrive.
  • As a result, on October 22 Admiral George Anderson, Chief of Naval Operations (CNO), warned fleet commanders to prepare for possible submarine attacks, saying: “I cannot emphasize too strongly how smart we must be to keep our heavy ships, particularly carriers, from being hit by surprise attack [sic] from Soviet Submarines. Use all available intelligence, deceptive tactics, and evasion during forthcoming days. Good luck.” So Admiral Anderson believed McCone to be right, or perhaps he told McCone, I don't know.

Anderson went further on October 22, demonstrating his deep-seated sense that the Soviets had sent submarines. The Navy History and Heritage Command wrote this:

"(The CNO) was particularly wary of the submarine menace. His early belief that Cuban contingency operations would result in increased Soviet submarine activity, particularly in the Caribbean, was borne out during the entire operation. He had directed special emphasis on submarine intelligence measures and received at least three status briefings a day, and often many more, so as to keep intimately informed on the worldwide submarine picture. To expand submarine intelligence capability, he solicited the assistance of the United Kingdom and Canadian Navies with: 'Although I am unaware of what the future political environment may be, I would greatly appreciate your giving us maximum intelligence support concerning potential undersea troublemakers. We have a big job to do and can use all the help we can get.'"

At this point in my research, I had found little hard evidence to underscore that the US knew about the submarines prior to a confirmed contact on October 24, 1962, though what I have just described was telling. So I spent some time trying to acquaint myself with possible intelligence sources that were kept close to the vest early on. And I believe I have found credible indications of detection very early on in their voyage.

I would like to highlight a few sources that could have learned about the Foxtrots' transit way before October 24, 1962. I pondered putting all this in the
Detection sub-section but I wanted to focus on the submarines in this section, so I'm covering what could have detected submarine activity here.


Let's start with the National Security Agency (NSA). NSA is an intelligence organization of the federal government responsible for global monitoring, collection, and processing of signals intelligence (SIGINT). The photo shows the newly completed NSA Headquarters at Ft. Meade, Maryland in the 1960s.


On July 19, 1962 NSA notified the CNO that the Secretary of Defense (SecDef) had directed it "to establish SIGINT collection capability in the vicinity of Havana Cuba as a matter of the highest intelligence priority and to initially divert the USS Oxford (shown here) for that purpose." NSA deployed a considerable capability around Cuba, land-based, shipborne and aircraft. The Oxford was specially configured for SIGINT collection and hugged as close to the coastline as it could to intercept radio communications from the island, yet remain in international waters.

NSA had many other stations and reconnaissance aircraft monitoring Soviet communications and electronic emissions able to eavesdrop on much of the Soviet Union. Just as the Soviet submarines were monitoring US communications, so too the US was doing the same to the USSR. There is no telling how leaks in Soviet security may have occurred. So it is possible NSA units picked up (the submarines) earlier than we know.

Furthermore, listening to Cuban communications, in my judgement, would have been a great source of intelligence. Soviet ships were coming to Cuba every day. They were unloading equipment and people and transporting all that every day, often to rural areas. While secrecy might have been important to the Soviets, it is unlikely the Cubans treated it as strictly. For example, the Soviets did want to use Mariel as a submarine base and it would take Cubans to build much of it.


The NSA had its own resources to collect SIGINT. It also had tasking authority over the service cryptologic elements (SCE), the Army Security Agency (ASA), the Naval Security Group (NSG), whose operators are shown here, and the USAF Security Service (USAFSS). All together, they covered nearly the entire Soviet Union like a glove, employing satellites, reconnaissance aircraft, ships and whatever. And during this period of time, they did the same for Cuba. While Anadyr and KAMA were to be kept highly secret, there is no telling where bits and pieces might have leaked out about the Foxtrots in radio transmissions between exuberant Soviet and Cuban operators.


During the Cold War, CIA had agents and spies everywhere. I believe that its human intelligence (HUMINT) gained from Soviets, Cubans or their allies for example, would have been a fabulous source. Even the greatest secrets can easily be compromised by people who want to do so or who don't know how to keep their mouths shut. It is incredible what one can pick up at an embassy cocktail party, for example. I'll mention here as well that the US and Canada shared intelligence on Cuba. The Canadians had an advantage because they had an embassy in Havana, and no doubt collected SIGINT from that embassy.

With regard to HUMINT, Jan Drent, writing
"Confrontation in the Sargasso Sea: Soviet Submarines During the Cuban Missile Crisis," cites Aleksandr Mozgovoi, an experienced military journalist. Mozgovoi wrote, Kubinskaya Samba Kvarteta "Fokstrotov" (A Cuban Samba), and said, "The planned destination (to Mariel, Cuba) was widely known in the various supporting bases." That creates a wide opening for HUMINT collection.

Allow me to introduce two other possible sources of early detection.


The Navy had a Sound Surveillance System known as SOSUS, speaking roughly, an acoustic sonar system. It was developed as a long-range early warning system for detecting Soviet ballistic missile submarines. The first SOSUS stations were established in the late 1950s forming an arc from Barbados to Nova Scotia designed to cover the mid-Atlantic Ridge, as shown by the red dots on the graphic. However, there was no SOSUS station in Iceland (green dot at top of graphic) until 1966.

Huchthausen wrote about SOSUS. He said:

"At the time, few of us aboard (the
Blandy) knew anything about the secret new US sophisticated passive underwater sound detection system called SOSUS. This vast system, consisting of large numbers of sensitive hydro-phones arranged in series on the seabed at strategic locations throughout the North Atlantic, and operated from an inner sanctum called Ocean Systems Atlantic in Norfolk, enabled the tracking of noisy objects moving in the ocean … In October 1962 the SOSUS system was still new, and the complex database required to correlate the sound levels of individual Soviet submarines was sparse. Soviet submarines had made relatively few deployments to the broad Atlantic in previous ears … Thus there was relatively little data on which to correlate and identify outbound Soviet submarines, including the diesel-powered Foxtrot class."


I'll get just a bit ahead of myself chronologically, but I wanted to note the first positive correlation of a Soviet Foxtrot between a SOSUS detection station and a visual sighting by an USN patrol aircraft was made on October 26 during the Cuban Missile Crisis. The patrol aircraft tracked her sporadically for 11 hours, sighting her 120 miles east of Grand Caicos island. The Navy’s base at Navy Facility (NAVFAC) 104 Turks and Caicos, shown here, which was part of the SOSUS system, had also detected this submarine. Of course we know the submarines were in that area and that one, B-36 skippered by Captain Dubivko was told on October 20 to go through the Caicos-Turks Passage not once but twice. We'll talk more about his little sail in a bit.

This station at the time was fairly new, and was linked to a chain of hydrophones by underwater cables. The staton analysts labeled the contact as C-20. I think this correlates to B-36, Captain Dubivko, whose submarine was actually carried by the Navy as C-26. He was close to this SOSUS facility around this time. That placed him inside the blockade boundary as he passed back and forth through the passage. That said, I am not certain it was B-36.

The following is another possible identification source, one that looks fairly concrete: NSA Project Boresight, followed by Clarinet Bullseye. I believe this to be the most credible early detection source.

William and Craig Reed wrote an interesting paper on
Project Boresight. There is some dispute as to the validity of Reed's report, however.

But what does seem certain is that some intercept operators assigned to the Naval Security Group (NSG), the Navy's element working with NSA, discovered Soviet burst signals associated with their submarines. The idea was to raise the antenna, and burst out a message in very short order, seconds, and then withdraw the antenna. NSG operators intercepted these short-lived signals, honed in on them, and were able to conduct direction finding against them; that is, locate their source. The project apparently was known as "Clarinet Bullseye." A Clarinet Bullseye Task Unit was set up, and was compartmentalized. One criticism of the Reed paper maintains "Boresight" was shut down in 1961 and replaced by "Clarinet Bullseye."

I will avoid the debate over Reed's paper. What I do know is that Soviet submarines began using these wide-band burst signals in the early 1960s, they could be located through high frequency (HF) direction finding (HF/DF), and technology was developed to build the AN/FRD-10 Circular Disposed Antenna Array (CDAA) that could do rapid triangulation. The submarines had to use HF because the communications were long haul. That meant ground stations could intercept them.

In his book, "One Minute to Midnight," by Michael Dobbs wrote:

"Since 27 September 1962, the U.S. Navy had been tracking the subs using listening posts that detected electronically-compressed 'burst radio transmissions' between Soviet Navy command posts and the submarines themselves. The messages could not be deciphered but the location from where they were transmitted could be identified. While U.S. Navy analysts had assumed that the subs were on their way to the Barents Sea for exercises they discovered that they were in the North Atlantic on their way to Cuba."


The FRD-10 was designed to locate HF transmissions especially from submarines and was managed by NSG. The AN/FRD-10 had an estimated range of 3,200 nautical miles (5,900 km) and was used to monitor and triangulate single or double hop high frequency (HF) signals between 2 and 32 MHz. Norman Freedman, writing "The Naval Institute Guide to World Naval Weapon Systems," said the signals were too rapid for Boresight but the AN/FRD-10 was able to handle them.


This global map shows where the stations were located with this FRD-10 capability. You can see they would have a good chance of spotting the Foxtrots if they used these bursts. The Navy built 14 CDAAs in the early 1960s, eight of which covered the Atlantic Ocean area.

William and Craig Reed claimed during the Cuban Missile Crisis that Boresight stations were getting locations on these bursts sent by Soviet submarines. They said USN ASW forces were then directed to those locations.

The USAF used the AN/FLR-9, which looked much like the AN/FRD-10. I was assigned to one of these sites. I can tell you the operators were very, very good. I am certain the NSG operators were very, very good as well.

It is my understanding that the Foxtrots were to report in as they reached certain way points. So this would make them vulnerable, even if using the burst transmissions. If there were submarine bursts out there, then I am certain the NSG operators would have located the Foxtrots during their transit. Whether NSG operators got those locations to ASW forces I cannot say.

I will add one caveat. Knowing NSA, and knowing how critical a breakthrough such as Clarinet Bullseye probably was, I suspect the fact that the NSG operators could do all this was compartmentalized. That said, there would be people at the upper echelons and analysts who would have this access. It is quite possible NSA, CIA and the Navy had the information early, albeit among a select group of people. If so, I think they found a way to cover the source and get the location information to airborne and seaborne surveillance elements.

I cover this next point again in the Soviet ships moving sub-section. But I want to highlight it here, and I'll have to jump way ahead of my attempted chronological order regarding dates.

On October 22, 1962, a SAC B-52 was ordered to fly surveillance of the Gagarin and Komiles because they were nearing the blockade line. They flew out of Loring AFB, Maine and easily found the two ships. However, Bill Hinterthan, a superb Bomb Nav Radar operator, said he had something odd, a strong radar return in the close vicinity of the two ships, and proceeding with the ships. The crew concluded it could only be a Soviet submarine.

On October 24 McNamara briefed the ExComm that the freighters Komiles and Gargarin were approaching the blockade line. Dobbs reported that a Foxtrot submarine was between the two, and he said it was B-130 Shumkov. Dobbs wrote that B-130 had been traveling with these two freighters in the Sargasso Sea, keeping an eye on them. However, they did turn back and as a result left B-130 out there all alone.

Nigel West, in his book "
Historical Dictionary of Naval Intelligence," which can in part can be seen on the internet, wrote:

"On October 30, the B-130 broke the surface alongside the destroyer USS
Blandy 300 miles northeast of the Caicos Passage, having exhausted her diesel engines and taken advantage of the presence of the Gagarin and Komiles."

I read that to imply B-130 was trying to sneak out of the region under the cover of those two freighters which were also going home.


Now nothing here is easy, so I have to point out a mixup of some sort. The SAC B-52 on surveillance was ordered to find the Gagarin and Komiles. And the official record does say that McNamara told the ExComm the two freighters Komiles and Gargarin were approaching the blockade line. And Nigel West identified them the same way. However, Dobbs said the two freighters approaching the blockade line were the Kimovsk and Gargarin. And he shows them the same way on his graphic, shown here. In the scheme of things, perhaps not an important point. But if you decided to research any of this, you'll come across this disparity.

I'll mention here that the Soviets, and many experts who haven studied the Cuban Missile Crisis in great depth, argue that the submarines that surfaced and were detected surfacing, and there were ultimately three of the four, did so because they needed to replenish their batteries, and did not surface because of the "practice" depth charges. Their batteries often ran so low while in the Caribbean area that the air conditioning inside did not work at all or was barely working, causing untenable heat levels and high levels of carbon dioxide inside. They had to surface.

In sum, I agree with Peter Haydon. I, like most, cannot say with certainty when the US knew the submarines were coming, where they were going, and when the US had a firm contact, other than the one I mentioned on October 24, 1962. But my instinct tells me the most likely sources were those NSA stations that intercepted and located some relevant radio transmissions, known as burst transmissions, to wit, "Clarinet Bullseye."

I have already reported that several of the Soviet submarine captains felt they had been detected as early as the Faroe Gap. It all fits.

I should note here that President Kennedy recalled General Maxwell Taylor, USA, and appoint him as the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff (CJCS). Kennedy previously had been using Taylor as a civilian adviser, in charge of "Operation Mongoose," the US counterinsurgency effort to destabilize the Castro government from within and cause it to fall. Both JFK and RFK held Taylor in high regard.

The US Defense Intelligence community was getting increasingly anxious with regard to the massive increase in Soviet shipping to Cuba. CIA Director John McCone was convinced the Soviets were sending ballistic missiles to Cuba. His is a fascinating story and I tell part of it in the Chronology section. On October 1, 1962 SecDef Robert McNamara, shown here, who had steadily doubted the Soviets were shipping ballistic missiles to Cuba, met with the JCS. Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) analysts told the group they believed it was possible that MRBMs were being positioned in Pinar del Rio Province, in the southwest of the island. Much of their information was gained from HUMINT intelligence gathered from Cubans. The DIA analysts were convincing, especially given McNamara was a skeptic.

As a result, on October 2, the next day, McNamara ordered Admiral Robert Dennison, Commander-in-Chief US Atlantic Command (CINCLANT), shown here, to prepare to blockade Cuba. The Air Force and Navy were also alerted to prepare to attack Cuba. McNamara did this weeks before a final decision had been made by President Kennedy, so the Navy was more than prepared. I will discuss this in the Soviet Ships on the Move and the Operation Mongoose-Invasion sub-sections.


I want to highlight here that the Foxtrots had a SIGINT capability aboard to monitor US voice radio traffic. This photo shows two crewmen listening to American military communications aboard B-59, Captain Savitsky's boat. You'll hear a lot more about Savitsky later. The officer looking over the two operators is Senior Lt. Vadim Orlov. He had spent may years in the US in his youth and had a good command of English. This was his operation to manage. He commanded a special OSNAZ group, the first time in Soviet naval practice. OSNAZ, osobogo naznacheniya, is the official name of the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD) special purpose force which I understand had heretofore been used mainly by the secret police for internal operations within the USSR. Drent wrote that Orlov had nine operators. He also said the Brigade Commander was embarked. So B-59 carried a load in addition to her normal complement of 70 crew.

Orlov would later say, “The antisubmarine forces of the opponent, especially the aviation, were ready for an encounter with us from the very beginning of our sail to Cuban waters … We could not have expected this kind of counteraction by an opponent.”

Orlov's great advantage was that the Navy fliers and those at various echelons did not practice very good communications security (COMSEC). Therefore the Foxtrots had a pretty good idea of what the Navy was up to during their transit.

The Foxtrots had another advantage. To the extent practicable, they would surface only at night. But even when surfaced, only about one-seventh of the submarine's pressure hull was above water. The Foxtrot captains knew they would be hard to see from a patrol aircraft in rough seas.

Rough seas struck the submarine flotilla quickly after they passed the Faroe gap. Huchthausen said Captain Dubivko for one felt the rough seas would disguise a visual sighting of his boat when surfaced and would cover the loud diesel engine noise, even when patrol aircraft dropped sonobuoys to pick up submarine noise.


Dubivko did observe a USN P2V Neptune long-range patrol aircraft when surfaced in the rough seas. His SIGINT operators warned him one was in the area. The operators told him the P2V was from NAS Kevlavik and that it was headed toward their submarine, B-36. While surfaced, his crew spotted P2Vs multiple times, flying on the same heading as the submarines were using. Dubivko worried the Americans had forewarning. According to Huchthausen's book, this event occurred on about October 3, 1962.

Lt. Orlov suspected they had been compromised by someone at Polyarny, the base from which they silently deployed to Sayda. Recall what I said about CIA. It had agents everywhere.

Captain Ketov's crew (B-4) had intercepted similar communications. Ketov also was convinced the Americans had forewarning since the US ad UK parol aircraft were patrolling up and down the exact course, 225 degrees true, that the submarines were taking.

Referring back to Peter T. Haydon, he reported Captain Ketov saying this:

"First, all detections of submarines in these regions were made by ASW aircraft while the boats were either snorkeling at periscope depth, or holding communications sessions while operating under electric motors. Second, all detections of submarines occurred during daylight hours. Third, the submarines were detected visually with the support ASW airplanes or helicopters sent to the region from shore-based command points or surface ships. Finally, the submarines that were forced to come to the surface submerged after having recharged their batteries and managed to break away from the US Navy's ASW aircraft and surface ships in pursuit, after which they were not detected anew."


Again on October 3, Captain Savitsky's crew, B-59, intercepted communications from a US long-range air patrol base, probably NAS Kevlavik as well. Savitsky had thought they made it covertly to the Faroe Islands area, but now was unsure. I would place the four Foxtrots somewhere in that area on or about October 3, 1962.

Also recall that USN forces would be ramping up their surveillance around this time. McNamara ordered Admiral Dennison on October 2 to prepare to blockade Cuba. You will see later that Dennison wasted no time to get forces out early. By October 3, 1962 the US was contemplating massive military action against Cuba and a naval blockade. One immediate result was the Navy stepped up its surveillance of the approaches to Cuba. So American vigilance from this point on was very high.


Lt. Orlov's intercepts indicated the Americans were looking out for a half dozen Soviet long-range diesel submarines. Orlov was sure the Americans had foreknowledge. The Soviets had sent a group of Zulu-class submarines to join with the Foxtrots as they rounded Norway. This was part of a Soviet deception to make the Americans think there was a large group of submarines, perhaps on a routine exercise. This photo shows a Zulu class boat in Amsterdam harbor.

The Zulu-class boats were among the first Soviet post-war attack submarines, and formed the basis for designing production of the Foxtrots.

For its part, the Soviet Northern Fleet said the submarines were able to pass through the "submarine barriers" between New Foundland and the Azores islands undetected. I'm not sure I believe that.


I'll go into detail on this next point in the Detection section, but U-2 high-altitude photo reconnaissance aircraft had been overflying Cuba since October 26-27, 1960, close to the end of the Eisenhower administration. On October 14, 1962, an USAF U-2 spotted Soviet SS-4 medium range nuclear ballistic missile (MRBM) sites under construction in Cuba. USAF U2-s would later spot SS-5 intermediate range nuclear missile sites (IRBM) in Cuba as well. Mostly certainly from this time on, the pressure was on. These photos were the first photo confirmations that ballistic missiles were in Cuba, though there was plenty of other indicators — CIA Director McCone would say the policymakers needed pictures!


One result was USN Polaris submarine launched ballistic missile (SLBM) boats left port and deployed to wartime stations. The photo shows the USS Washington (SSBN-598) Polaris SLBM submarine at sea to show you what they looked like.

It was now October 15, 1962. Orders came quite by surprise to the Foxtrots by radio that said there had been a change in plan. They were ordered to go to the Sargasso Sea instead of to Cuba. The message read in part:


"The 69th Brigade of submarines will modify track … The brigade will deploy in a barrier due north of the entrance to Turks Island Passage and take up combat positions in the Sargasso Sea."

In reading the "Soviet Northern Fleet After Action Report," it appears Moscow changed the order because the US had discovered the Soviet missile deployments and the situation was getting "critical." So the Foxtrots, instead of going to Mariel, Cuba, now faced the prospect of combat. Remember, each submarine had one nuclear torpedo, and the US did not know that.

Keep in mind the relationship between the location of the Sargasso Sea, the Turks Passage and Cuba.

Captain Shumkov was a bit startled by the order to "take up combat positions." The Foxtrots had had no communications from headquarters since they left, and had no idea what was going on. They did not know if they were at war, if so against whom?Indeed, they had no full knowledge of
Operation Anadyr when they left port. They left port on October 1 headed for Mariel, it's now October 15 and they had no idea what was happening outside, except that they knew those nuclear torpedoes were not loaded up for fun.

Captain Shumkov could not stand being out of the loop, so he broke the rules. He directed his crew to take the boat up so he could get his HF antenna above water. He wanted to listen to Voice of America (VOA), English or Russian, and find out what was going on in the world — was he at war?


Peter T. Haydon wrote, "The first indication of a higher-than-normal level of Soviet submarine activity in the North Atlantic came on October 13 when a submarine was sighted in the Caribbean … On 17 October, a Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) Canadair Argus patrol aircraft (such as shown here) gained contact with a possible Soviet submarine well to the West of the Azores, and contact was held for the next three days but without getting proof of identity." He did not provide further information.

On October 13, 1962, A US Military Sea Transportation Service (MSTS) tanker
Yerkon sights a surfaced submarine 130 miles north of Caracas, Venezuela. Whether this was one of the four Foxtrots, I do not know.


It so happens that on October 15, 1962 the USN-USMC conducted a major amphibious exercise, PHIBRIGLEX-62. It was scheduled to run from October 15-30. More than 40 USN ships were underway on October 15. The assault was to be conducted on Vieques Island, Puerto Rico, east of the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Cuba. It was deigned to overthrow an imaginary tyrant name "Ortsac," Castro spelled backwards. Some 20,000 Naval and 4,000 Marines took part. The photo shows Marines landing with their equipment. The exercise was suspended on October 20. The important point for the Foxtrots was that there were now more than 40 ships in waters near Cuba, along with their aircraft and submarines. So the Foxtrots sailed into a real hornet's nest, an unexpected hornet's nest. You will recall the Soviet admirals telling the captain before they left to expect very little USN ASW activity on their way to Cuba.

I would like to comment that after reading as much as I have read about these four Foxtrot captains, the captains and crews were under a massive amount of pressure. They did not expect half the Atlantic fleet to be above them, they did not know what was happening in the outside world, they had these nuclear torpedoes aboard guarded by a non-submarine special officer, they knew almost nothing about those torpedoes, the captains had conflicting orders on how and when to employ them, and their boats had undergone a long and stormy voyage. The submarines were jam packed inside, they had to stay submerged for long periods of time, the crews were tiring, sweaty, and often on the verge of fainting. My guess would be tempers were short as well. The USN would not make life for them any easier, especially given the zest for chasing Soviet submarines among American sailors.

A Navy patrol aircraft had spotted a Soviet oiler Terek on October 18, hanging around a position southwest of the Azores. Analysts assumed more submarines would be in this area.


On October 20, The Navy Staff in Moscow ordered Dubivko to take B-36 through the Caicos-Turks Passage but discontinue passage to Mariel. By this time, the Foxtrots had already passed through the Sargasso Sea, holding positions north of the Caicos-Turks Islands.

Huchthausen presents a great description of some events associated with Captain Dubivko and his B-36.

Dubivko knew going through the Turks Passage was going to be a risky effort. The waters in the Passage were shallow. One wonders whether he knew about the Navy's SOSUS site located on Turks Island. Dubivko was aware of the USN presence in nearby Florida, and figured there would be a heavy USN ASW effort in the area, including aircraft and destroyers. That is despite is leadership telling him at the start there would be little ASW activity. So he decided to use a cargo ship heading toward the passage as cover. He intended to transit underneath the cargo vessel.


Dubivko was correct. There were hundreds of USN ships and patrol aircraft in the area, yet he did not yet know precisely why. He was already worried the Foxtrots had been detected earlier. But he had not expected the kind of USN effort he was seeing and about which his crew was hearing through its SIGINT intercepts. Dubivko kept his B-36 north of the passage, and waited for the cargo ship. He intercepted the ship and after some hard and tense work got below her, but I believe he stayed below and just slightly behind her, keeping his boat in the ship's wake. Luckily she was not fully loaded so her propeller would break the surface and make a nice wake for him.

Ex cargo ship Gretl

The ship suddenly stopped and dropped anchor. That was a surprise. Dubivko took his boat to the bottom and sat there, as he said, in the mud. His crew detected an American destroyer coming. The B-36 crew listened to the communications between the destroyer and the cargo ship and learned the ship was Norwegian, the
Gretl. The destroyer was coming to see if she needed help, and then left, heading back to the north side of the passage. The ship hoisted anchor and pulled away, and B-36 stayed right with her. Dubivko broke away about 150 miles north of Haiti. That meant he had passed through the passage, so he headed west.

Then Dubivko was ordered to reverse course and go back through the passage to the north side and monitor USN activities. He found a Polish cargo ship coming up that way and used her as a mask back through the passage. This event, back and forth through passage, is curious. I do not know why Moscow ordered that.

Once in the Sargasso Sea, his crew had identified nearly all the USN ships operating in the region. Shumkov and B-136 were close by. The SIGINT efforts aboard the submarines enabled them to plot where the USN ships were and who they were. They even were able to stay on the edge of the USN's search patterns to avoid detection.

Captain Dubivko and his SIGINT crew were amazed at how undisciplined the American Navy was in its communications.


Finally, after listening to multiple news broadcasts, the Foxtrots learned that Anadyr had been compromised, the American Navy was in full reaction mode, and there was a plan in train to invade Cuba. They also learned that President Kennedy had set up a naval blockade, as shown in the graphic. Captain Dubivko said listening to these broadcasts was the only way they even knew that Kennedy had ordered a blockade and that the US was preparing to invade Cuba. Understandably, this put the Foxtrot captains more on edge; they viewed the USN's ASW forces as hostile threats.

Washington wakes up to the "submarine problem"

As you will learn in the
Chronology section, the National Security Council (NSC) decided on October 21 to impose a blockade and Kennedy announced it publicly on October 22.


An USN P2V ASW aircraft spotted B-75, a Zulu-class submarine on October 22 and photographed her. She was refueling at the Soviet oiler Terek in the mid-Atlantic, shown here. After being refueled, B-75 then quickly returned to the USSR following Kennedy's announcement of the blockade. That's good, because B-75 was armed and may have had two nuclear warheads. You'll recall this photo is of a Zulu submarine berthed in Amsterdam harbor. As an aside, Zulu submarine B-88, Captain Konstantin Kireev in command, was ordered to waters near Hawaii. He was to attack Pearl Harbor bases if the Cuban crisis demanded that. She arrived to her target area on November 10 and stayed until late November or early December 1962.

The Zulu-class were Soviet Project 611 submarines. They were ballistic missile capable, able to launch two R-11FM missiles. These missiles generally were not equipped with nuclear explosives on regular patrols. Their nuclear warheads were stored on land and would be uploaded during crisis. It was the first ballistic missile deployed by the Soviet Navy, and was an offshoot of the Scud surface-to-surface missile. I do to know whether B-75 had the warheads or not. I suspect B-88 on the way to Pearl Harbor did.

B-75 had been on patrol in the Atlantic with orders to conduct reconnaissance and report on warship movements along the American east coast. She worked her way south, staying close to the three-mile American territorial limit, and made her way to the windward passage between Haiti and eastern Cuba. She then was ordered to a new area to protect a Soviet vessel carrying nuclear warheads. She then went into the Sargasso Sea and was told to warn the Foxtrots of American movements. She was then told to return home, but she needed to stop at the Terek's "gas station" to refuel.

As an aside, Admiral Anderson, the CNO, was enthusiastic that the Zulu had been sighted, indeed that Soviet submarines might be involved. He would later say, "(This is) perhaps the finest opportunity since WWII for the US naval antisubmarine forces to exercise their trade (and) perfect their skills."

The ExComm was the Executive Committee of the National Security Council. It was convened to advise President Kennedy during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 and met several times per day during the crisis. Prior to roughly October 23, 1962, it had paid scant attention to the possible presence of Soviet submarines in the Caribbean area. The issue quickly rose to the top of the heap.

Admiral Anderson, the CNO, had long been concerned about the potential for Soviet submarines to intervene in attempts to intercept and board merchant ships. But he felt comfortable that USN Hunter-Killer Teams would intercept them nonetheless. He had little regard for Secretary McNamara and it is hard to tel how much Anderson told him about these Hunter-Killer teams, known as "HUK."

In their
"Chronology of Submarine Contact During the Cuban Missile Crisis," October 1, 1962 - November 14, 1962, Jeremy Robinson-Leon and William Burr wrote the following:

"On October 23, 1962 (Admiral) Anderson alerts Secretary of Defense McNamara of possible danger from Soviet submarines when U.S. ships intercept Soviet ships. Anderson noted that a Hunter/Killer group would carry out the interception operation. In search of a means to signal Soviet submarines to surface, Vice Admiral (Charles) Griffin (Anderson's Deputy for Fleet Operations and readiness) tells McNamara that practice depth charges would be the most effective means of signaling the submarines. McNamara intends to inform the Soviet government of the signaling technique. The 'Submarine Surfacing and Identification Procedures' were transmitted to the U.S. Naval fleet."

The CNO's instructions were:

"Practice Depth Charge

  • “Drop four or five harmless explosive sound signals (such as shown here) which may be accompanied by the international code signal quote I D K C A unquote meaning quote rise to the surface unquote.
  • “This sonar signal is made on underwater communication equipment in the 8 KC frequency range.
  • “Submerged submarines, on hearing this signal, should surface on Easterly course.
  • “Signals and procedures employed are harmless and are to guarantee the safety of the submerged submarines at sea in emergencies.”

The US passed the signaling instructions to the Russian embassy in Washington and the US embassy in Moscow. Moscow did not respond. The Soviet MoD had the instructions in hand, but did not send them to the Foxtrots. Couple that with the fact the Foxtrots had received no intelligence and they knew half the USN was above chasing after them and employing depth charges, you have four submarine captains who were really on their own. It is a wonder that something very grave did not occur.

The Pentagon on October 23 ordered USN units to track the submarines and “induce” them to surface and identify themselves. The inducement would be through employment of small "practice" depth charges, such as the one shown above. They were supposed to be harmless. SecDef McNamara called them “practice depth charges,” in other words small depth charges that can hit a submarine but not damage it. It would be dropped as a warning. When detonated in the ocean, their explosive fillings created noise that travelled through the water. Reflecting from the hull of a submarine, these sound waves could be picked up by sensitive microphones called sonobuoys that were also dropped into the water. Equipment on board the aircraft would use the echoes to calculate the submarine's likely position.

CIA Director McCone was in lock-step with Admiral Anderson. He told the ExComm on October 23 that Soviet submarines have unexpectedly been found moving in the Caribbean.

Raymond Garthoff, writing Reflections on the Cuban Missile Crisis: Revised to Include New Revelations, commented that JFK's Executive Committee (ExComm) really had not paid close attention to the submarines. He commented that the "president gave general orders to the US Navy to give 'highest priority to tracking the submarines and to put into effect the greatest possible safety measures to protect our own aircraft carriers and other vessels." Then Garthoff said:

"He (JFK) did not realize he was giving the Navy carte blanche to 'sit' on Soviet submarines once located and use low-power depth charges to force them to the surface — a procedure successfully pursued with such zest that one damaged Soviet submarine had to limp back to the Soviet Union on the surface escorted by a sub tender. The aggressive American measures to neutralize the Soviet submarine 'threat' were undoubtedly read in Moscow as a serious sign of American resolve, but the risks entailed had not been recognized or weighed by the ExComm and the president."

Now President Kennedy started expressing concerns about the submarines and their impact on events now in train.

He was concerned that a Soviet submarine might attempt to sink or actually sink the USN destroyer dropping the depth charges. For example, McNamara briefed the ExComm on October 24 that the Navy intended to intercept two Soviet ships, the
Gagarin and Komiles. They were only a few miles from the blockade line. He said Naval Intelligence believed a submarine had moved into position between the two ships. McNamara said the USS Essex was to make the first intercept, that it would use small explosives, and work to prevent the submarine from interfering with the blockade. Kennedy responded:

"Isn't there some way we can avoid our first exchange with a Russian submarine — almost anything but that?"

McNamara responded:

"No, there's too much danger to our ships … Our commanders have been instructed to avoid hostilities if at all possible, but this is what we must be prepared for, and this is what we must expect."

McNamara would also note they were “practice depth charges,” in other words small depth charges that can hit a submarine but not damage it, would be dropped as a warning. You'll see later the Soviet news in the submarines did not quite see it that way.

Kennedy turned his attention to, “what if” the submarine does not surface? Kennedy wanted to know specifically at what point the US would attack the submarine. He did not like the idea of attacking the submarine first, but preferred attacking the merchant ship first.

General Taylor said the Navy would not attack the submarine unless it were in a position to attack the US destroyer. McNamara did not quite agree with that. McNamara repeated the plan was to try to force the submarine away “by the pressure of potential destruction, and then make the intercept” of the merchant ship. He acknowledged there were many uncertainties.

Whatever the case, JFK called off all intercepts of ships for a while.


Huchthausen was a newly minted Ensign out of the Naval Academy and was aboard the USS Blandy (DD-943), shown here, during the crisis. Blandy was assigned to ASW Hunter-Killer (HUK) Group Bravo, one of eight ASW escorts in the group. Group Bravo also included the USS Keppler (DD-765), USS Sperry, (DD-697) and the aircraft carrier USS Essex (CV-9). As they left Newport, Rhode Island on October 22, the crews were anticipating contact with "several Soviet submarines reported to be in the area."


Huchthausen wrote ASW Group Bravo "was patrolling an arc outside a barrier called the Walnut Line … The Walnut line was the name in the operation order given to the arc northeast of Cuba defining the outer limits of the quarantine, spreading in arcs five hundred miles around Cuba. This was the line through which Soviet ships approaching Cuba would first encounter the US blockading forces." I love this graphic courtesy of George Mackey because at long last we get some definitive positions for the Foxtrots. B-36 got there on October 29, B-130 on October 30 and B-59 was just a way back.

As of October 23, according to Huchthausen, the skipper of the
Blandy was told only three contacts had been made, a submarine tender, tanker and the Zulu mentioned above. However, Huchthausen acknowledged "at the shipboard level we had no overall antisubmarine tactical intelligence picture."

Admiral Rybalko at Northern Fleet Headquarters at Severomorsk shared the concern of the
Blandy crew. His four submarine captains were headed straight at the Atlantic Fleet and were operating, as Huchthausen noted, "completely in the dark." Rybalko was unable to find out what intelligence Moscow had provided the Foxtrots. As we know, it provided them nothing. In fact the MoD had prohibited sending the Foxtrots any information for security reasons. The skippers had to tune in VOA!

Now here is a most interesting point not well known to the American public. In his paper, "One Minute to Midnight," by Michael Dobbs, the author wrote:

"Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev had ordered his missile-carrying ships to turn more than 24 hours before (the blockade announcement), on the morning of October 23, 1962 soon after Kennedy went on nationwide television to announce the discovery of Soviet missiles in Cuba."

Khrushchev exempted those ships already close to Cuba. He did this because they were unlikely to encounter US intercept. For the record, Dobbs said one of those "ships included the
Aleksandrovsk, which was carrying nuclear warheads to Cuba … According to Soviet records, the orders to 16 missile-carrying ships to reverse course went out early in the morning of October 23. This is consistent with a later reconstruction of the movement of Soviet ships by the U.S. Navy and the CIA."

So October 23, is an important date. While Khrushchev may have ordered his ships carrying military cargo to turn around, the Soviets and Cubans continued constructing, installing and readying the weapons that had already been delivered, including the ballistic missiles. My sense is the ExComm left the submarine problem and started focusing more and more on attacking and invading Cuba.

Confirmed detections

I want to say here there is an excellent summary of the US contacts made with Soviet submarines in the "Chronology of Submarine Contact During the Cuban Missile Crisis," October 1, 1962 - November 14, 1962, edited by Jeremy Robinson-Leon and William Burr. I intend to describe only a few here.


Dobbs wrote: "According to the Navy records, C-18/B-130 (shown here) was first spotted at 11:04 a.m. on October 23 (1504Z) but it had evidently been picked up earlier by NSA (National Security Agency) electronic eavesdropping techniques." CIA Director McCone told the ExComm on October 23 that Soviet submarines have unexpectedly been found moving in the Caribbean.

B-130 was Captain Shumkov's boat. You will recall when he was up in the area of the Faroe Gap, Shumkov had an uneasy feeling that the US expected the submarines in that area. That was about October 3, 1962. That Dobbs suggested the NSA might have picked up information about the submarines' transit "earlier" is most interesting and synchronizes with our earlier discussion of the Clarinet Bullseye HF/DF project. As it turns out, Dobbs comes right out and says the Navy had been tracking the Foxtrots ever since they left the Kola peninsula on October 1. He wrote:

"Electronic eavesdropper followed a flotilla as it rounded the coast of Norway and moved down into the Atlantic, between Iceland and the western coast of Scotland. Whenever one of the Foxtrots communicated with Moscow, which it was required to do at least one a day, it risked giving away its general location. The bursts of data, sometimes lasting just a few seconds, were intercepted by listening posts scattered across the Atlantic, from Scotland to New England, getting multiple fixes on the source of the signal, the submarine hunters could get a rough idea of the whereabouts of their prey."

So, those aboard the submarines who thought they might have been detected way back in the area of the Faroe Gap, appear to have been correct — Clarinet Bullseye caught them.

On October 24, 1962, the Commander Anti-Submarine Warfare Force Atlantic (COMASWFORLANT), Rear Admiral Elton W. "Joe" Grenfell, shown here, issued a flash message to Commander Task Group (CTG) 81.5, the Bermuda Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) Group and other addressees including those in Washington that a naval CTG 81.5 aircraft reported contact with a probable submarine not US or known friendly. The aircraft reported a "snort" and provided coordinates, which placed it about 400 miles north of the Puerto Rico and inside the blockade line. Navy people, especially the British, often refer to a snorkel as a "snort." CTG 81.5 was instructed to take this for action. CTG 81.5 assigned this sighting the “highest priority.” Patrol aircraft were told to find the submarine. CTG 81.5 designated the contact as C-18.

On October 25, 1962 CTG 81.5 informed all hands involved in the search up to and including Commander-in-Chief Atlantic Fleet (CINCLANTFLT) that two members of a VP-45 patrol aircraft , "Woodpecker Nine" home-based in Bermuda saw a snorkel or periscope of a probable Foxtrot submarine, probably C-18. A location for the sighting was provided. No photos were taken. The submarine immediately submerged. Surface units were told to go to the area and search. I placed this sighting about 500 miles northeast of the Dominican Republic. Please take note my locations are very rough. Finally, the message reported that surface units of TG 136.2 had entered the area, so the patrol aircraft left.

So, at long last, I have found a firm visual sighting of a Foxtrot. The hunt had been on, but was now full-scale as the submarine was sighted near Cuban waters. The Soviet submarine captains had not expected such attention, though down deep, they sensed they had been detected early on.


The message also said that Task Group (TG) 136.2 aircraft entered the area about an hour later and obtained “Madman.” “Madman” is USN terminology for the call of the Magnetic Anomaly Detector (MAD) operator when his gear detects an undersea object, ostensibly a submarine. This photo shows a Navy P2V Neptune with a MAD mounted on her tail.


A Magnetic Anomaly Detector is an instrument used to detect minute variations in the Earth’s magnetic field. This photo shows what a MAD recording might look like.

National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 75, "U.S. and Soviet Naval Encounters During the Cuban Missile Crisis," edited by William Burr and Thomas S. Blanton talks about the submarine issue at some length:

"During the missile crisis, U.S. naval officers did not know about Soviet plans for a submarine base or that the Foxtrot submarines were nuclear-armed. Nevertheless, the Navy high command worried that the submarines, which had already been detected in the north Atlantic, could endanger enforcement of the blockade. Therefore, under orders from the Pentagon, U.S. Naval forces carried out systematic efforts to track Soviet submarines in tandem with the plans to blockade, and possibly invade, Cuba. While ordered not to attack the submarines, the Navy received instructions on 23 October from Secretary of Defense McNamara to signal Soviet submarines in order to induce them to surface and identify themselves. Soon messages conveying "Submarine Surfacing and Identification Procedures" were transmitted to Moscow and other governments around the world.

"The next morning, on 24 October, President Kennedy and the National Security Council's Executive Committee (ExCom) discussed the submarine threat and the dangers of an incident. According to Attorney General Robert Kennedy, when Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara reviewed the use of practice depth charges (PDCs), the size of hand grenades, to signal the submarines, "those few minutes were the time of greatest worry to the President. His hand went up to his face & he closed his fist." Within a few days, U.S. navy task groups in the Caribbean had identified Soviet submarines in the approaches to Cuba and were tracking them with all of the detection technology that they had at their disposal.

"The U.S. effort to surface the Soviet submarines involved considerable risk; exhausted by weeks undersea in difficult circumstances and worried that the U.S. Navy's practice depth charges were dangerous explosives, senior officers on several of the submarines, notably B-59 and B-130, were rattled enough to talk about firing nuclear torpedoes, whose 15 kiloton explosive yields approximated the bomb that devastated Hiroshima in August 1945."


Again on October 25, a VP-45 P5M reported a Foxtrot surfacing.


COMASWFORLANT designated the submarine C-19. OPNAV believed this was previously erroneously identified as C-18. So at this point the Navy has made contact with only one of the four Foxtrots. I believe this is a photo of the submarine, taken on October 25, the first one seen by USN surveillance to surface, at least the first one I can validate. This is a USN photo, reported to be B-130, hull nr. 945. Shumkov's boat. It is near the blockade line.


On October 26 an ASW aircraft visually sighted a submarine on the surface with “bare steerageway,” which I believe means “the minimum rate of motion relative to the water required for a ship or boat to be maneuvered by the helm.” The photos confirmed it was a Soviet Foxtrot hull nr 945, B-130, again Shumkov. The report said the submarine was then closed and she dove. She would surface again. She had been suffering from numerous mechanical failures with it diesel engines, a sufficient problem that the crew determined she could only be repaired back in port. The Soviets dispatched a special tugboat, Pamir, to tow B-130 back home.


The ASW aircraft also obtained what is called a “lofargram,” which stands for Low Frequency Analysis and Recording on paper, which allows analysts to determine the source of an acoustic sound. This report continued to refer to the submarine as C-18 because they believed they had a confirmation based on the hull number. The graphic shows a typical Low Frequency Analysis and Recording gram used to analysis received sonar signals visually. Incredible business this.

You've got to hand it to Sailors. They can get pretty darn technical!

Again on October 26, 1962 a VP-45 aircraft reported a Magnetic Anomaly Detector (MAD) contact and opined it was Foxtrot C-19 (B-59), Captain Savitsky. You will learn later that B-59, unbeknownst to the US, was quite a dangerous threat. B-59 was the first submarine noted by the USN to surface.

I will say here reports kept coming in of submarine contacts and sightings, too numerous to attempt here. Sometimes a submarine would come to the surface, other times only the snorkel was spotted, and plenty of times the contacts went “cold.” Whatever the case, there was no question that Soviet submarines were in the area.

JCS summarized many contacts gained during the period October 24 through October 27, 1962. The JCS concluded they had “four positive conventionally powered long range submarines, three Foxtrots and one Zulu in the western Atlantic.” JCS said “there is no contact evidence to indicate that nuclear powered or missile configured submarines are deployed in the Western Atlantic.” As you know, there were actually four Foxtrots. B-4, Ketov, was never seen on the surface, and I do not think she was ever even detected.

October 27, 1962 has been called "Black Saturday" by some. Don North, writing "
Warnings from the Cuban Missile Crisis," said, "'Black Saturday' was the day I arrived in Havana to report on the Cuban missile crisis, completely oblivious that 50 years later it would be considered 'the most dangerous moment in human history,' the day we came closest to nuclear Armageddon."

Jonn Lilyea explained it this way:

"The 'pucker factor' at the beginning of the day was already extreme. The crisis had been ongoing for over almost 2 weeks; nerves on both sides were hugely frayed. The entire crisis was nearing resolution, one way or another: US forces were scheduled to invade within a few days (3 at most) if last-ditch diplomatic efforts failed. And on that day, several incidents occurred that ratcheted tensions up even higher:

  • "Khrushchev received a communications from Fidel Castro that appeared to urge preemptive use of nuclear weapons by the Soviet Union if US forces invaded Cuba.
  • "Cuban air defense batteries had begun firing at US low-level reconnaissance flights.
  • "A Soviet SAM battery downed a US U-2 overflying Cuba piloted by USAF Major Rudy Anderson, killing him.
  • "A second US U-2 flying a polar sampling mission ended up several hundred miles off course due to aurora-induced navigation error and overflew several hundred miles of Soviet territory without authority. Soviet aircraft scrambled from Wrangel Island and attempted unsuccessfully to shoot it down; the US scrambled F-102 interceptors equipped with nuclear air-to-air missiles over the Bering Sea in response.
  • "And, finally, the incident that nearly caused thermonuclear war: the US attempted to force Soviet submarine B-59 (Savitsky) to the surface."


On October 27, the USS Beale (DD-471) was in the company of many other ships pursuing an unidentified submarine contact. It and other ships would make what they called “BT drops.” A "BT" is a bathythermograph also known as a Mechanical Bathythermograph, MBT.


The Bathythermograph is a small torpedo-shaped device that holds a temperature sensor and a transducer to detect changes in water temperature versus depth which allows for understanding how temperature layers could affect sonar accuracy. This is a photo of one but taken in 2008.

Rendering-of-XBT-Expendable-Bathythermograph copy

This is a rendering of an expendable bathythermograph (XBT). In the early 1960s the Navy contracted with a sole supplier to develop this. Wikipedia described it this way:

"The unit is composed of a probe; a wire link; and a shipboard canister. Inside of the probe is a thermistor which is connected electronically to a chart recorder. The probe falls freely at 20 feet per second and that determines its depth and provides a temperature-depth trace on the recorder. A pair of fine copper wires which pay out from both a spool retained on the ship and one dropped with the instrument, provide a data transfer line to the ship for shipboard recording. Eventually, the wire runs out and breaks, and the XBT sinks to the ocean floor. Since the deployment of an XBT does not require the ship to slow down or otherwise interfere with normal operations, XBT's are often deployed from vessels of opportunity."

Capt. John Petersen, USN (ret.) was a lieutenant aboard the
Beale at the time. He said they had deployed in September 1962. He described the usual practice:

  • The SOSUS system would detect the submarine.
  • The information was passed off to patrol aircraft in order to localize the target area.
  • Once these patrol aircraft started zeroing in on an area near the HUK Group, aircraft from the HUK Group would then pick up the target.

Once the SOSUS made a contact, four destroyers from the HUK group were detached and went to the target area. These destroyers surrounded the target, circling at about a range of 3,000 yards. They would have liked to stay at a greater range but needed to be at 3,000 yards for their acoustics to work. The
Beal then dropped three "grenades," he later called "signaling charges." McNamara called them "practice depth charges."

A note here on these "grenades," which I think were actually practice depth charges. In its
"After Action Report," the Soviet Northern Fleet Headquarters said the US ASW forces used "explosive sources … the blasts of which were possible to distinguish from explosion of depth bombs. It is possible that depth bombs were actually used because three of the submarines suffered damage to parts of radio systems antennas, which made reception and transmission of information substantially more difficult." I will add that I have read that oft times crewmen in the Soviet submarine were shaken by the sound and vibrations.

The Beale
along with other ships in HUK Group Alpha had made contact with the unidentified submarine, and the Beale moved to close sonar contact. The Beale dropped five hand grenades as a challenge to the submarine, but there was no response. Beale then challenged by sonar, again with no response.


Several hours later, the submarine surfaced and was identified as Soviet Foxtrot C-19 (B-59), shown here, about halfway between Bermuda and the Dominican Republic. The aircraft made photo runs and the Beale approached to within 500 yards on a parallel course to take more photos. No further action was taken.

Cony (DD-508) was in the same group as Beale. She made sonar contact on October 27 as did Beale, stayed within 3,000 yrs of the contact, dropped five hand grenades and observed the submarine surfacing. Cony identified the sub as “Korblx” B-59 (C-19), the same submarine as seen by Beale. Cony moved to within 100 yards for improved identification and then backed off to 3,000 yards.

Bache (DD-470) was in the same group. Several ships continued tracking the submarine through October 28.


The USS Randolph (CV-15) aircraft carrier confronted B-59. B-59 could tell the USN force above had found them because B-59’s hydro-acoustics could tell there were 14 ships up there following B-59, they surrounded B-59, tightened their circle, and practiced attacks and dropped depth charges. Lt. Orlov said they exploded right next to their hull. I mentioned this once before, but to the sailors dropping these practice depth charges and grenades, the sounds and jolts appears to be nothing. But to the sailors aboard a submarine below, it was a different story. One's nerves could easily get stretched.

Orlov commented, "It felt like you were sitting in a metal barrel, which somebody is constantly blasting with a sledgehammer. The situation was quite unusual, if not to say shocking, for the crew."

Orlov also said:

"Judging by the events, they had not succeeded in discovering us. In any case, not until we reached the Sargasso Sea. There they got us. A naval forward searching aircraft carrier
Randolph confronted submarine B-59."

Temperatures in B-59 were rising as was the CO2 level. Sailors were fainting, “falling like dominoes.” Savitsky said the Americans kept up with the depth charges. He tried to contact Moscow but could not do it. He summoned the special officer assigned to the nuclear torpedo, and ordered him to assemble it and prepare it to be battle ready.

Orlov quoted Savitsky screaming:

“Maybe the war has already started up there, while we are doing summersaults here. We’re going to blast them now! We will die but we will sink them all. We will not disgrace our navy.”

Savitsky then calmed down a bit, consulted with some others, including Second captain Vasili Alexandrovich Arkhipov, shown here, and Deputy political officer Ivan Semenovich Maslennikov, and decided not to employ the nuclear torpedo, but instead rise to the surface. He ordered his men to signal they were coming up. B-59 was now the second Foxtrot to surface.

Arkhipov is said by many to be the man who stopped a nuclear war! Captain Ryurik Ketov (B-4) said: "Vasili Arkhipov was a submariner and a close friend of mine. He was a family friend. He stood out for being cool-headed. He was in control."

In a 40th Anniversary Conference on the missile crisis held in Havana in 2002, at which a
video excerpt of Vadim Orlov's recollections were made, Orlov said a couple intriguing things:

  • On October 27 B-59 was discovered by planes and then established contact with the American forces that were above.
  • Once B-59 surfaced, she was in "combat position. The torpedoes were ready, were in place, and after we saw that we had been discovered by a special group of ten destroyers and aircraft, and as a result we were forced…" I assume he went on to say B-59 had to capitulate.

In its "After Action Report," the Soviet Northern Fleet Headquarters said:

"When submarine 'B-59' came up to the surface, airplanes and helicopters from the aircraft carrier 'Randolph' flew over the submarine 12 times at the altitude of 20-100 meters. With every overflight they fired their aviation cannons /there were about 300 shots altogether/, and in the course of the overflight above the boat, they turned on their search lights with the purpose of blinding the people on the bridge of the submarine.

"Helicopters lowered floating hydroacoustic stations along the route of the submarine and dropped explosive devices, hovered over the conning tower of the submarine and demonstratively conducted filming. The destroyers maneuvered around the
submarine at a distance of 20-50 meters demonstratively aiming their guns at the submarine, dropped depth bombs and hydroacoustic buoys when they crossed the course of the submarine, lifted flag signals and shouted in the loudspeaker demanding that the[submarine] stops. Similar actions were undertaken also in regard to submarine 'B-130.' ”


This is another photo of B-59, Savitsky's boat, on the surface with a USN helicopter hovering over her. The photo was taken on October 28, 1962 as she was on her way back to the USSR. She surfaced as her batteries had run low. On October 29 she submerged "without warning" and was not detected again.


The USS Charles Cecil (DDR-835) chased Dubivko's boat, B-36, hull nr. 911. The USN knew he would have to surface at some point, so they stopped, turned off their engines, and set down their lights. The assessment was correct. On October 31 she surfaced to recharge is batteries in order to recharge his accumulators. Accumulators accumulate oil from the pump and create oil pressure needed by the overall system. One source said the crew accomplished that, and Dubivko immediately took her down and to my knowledge returned to Murmansk undetected. Another source said the Cecil followed her on the surface until November 2. In its "After Action Report," the Soviet Northern Fleet Headquarters said, "When submarine 'B-36' came up to the surface, the guns and torpedo launchers of the destroyer were opened and aimed at the submarine."

B-36 was the third submarine to surface, and the last.


This is another view of where everyone was on October 27, 1962, extracted from Hobbs book, One Minute to Midnight, You can see B-4 and B-36 are inside the blockade boundary, B-4 alone, USS Cecil not far from B-36 but not with him. B-130 and B-59 are outside, the former with the USS Essex and the latter with the USS Randolph "by their sides.

B-4 (C-21/C-23) presented a different problem. There is some debate as to whether B-4 was USN C-23 or C-21. Some say she escaped detection, others say she was detected and sonobuoys were dropped on her position. However she was not brought to the surface.


Huchthausen presented a map that showed B-4 south of Cuba and just south of Jamaica on November 2, 1962. Jan Drent, writing "Confrontation in the Sargasso Sea: Soviet Submarines During the Cuban Missile Crisis," said:

"The fourth Foxtrot, B-4, had made the quickest passage, going through the Windward Passage east of Cuba on 20 October, and was less than twenty-four hours from Mariel when ordered to take up a patrol position. Huchthausen said that B-4 retraced her passage back along the southern coast of Cuba and then used the Turks Passage through the eastern end of the Bahamas to return to the Sargasso Sea."

American ships continued tracking the submarines through early November, 1962. All were homeward bound.

Svetlana V. Savranskaya, writing
"New Sources on the Role of Soviet Submarines in the Cuban Missile Crisis," commented that when the four Soviet captains returned home they were not greeted with any great enthusiasm. Their leadership accused them of failing at their mission, failing to maintain secrecy, and violating their orders. There was some fear initially they would be punished. However, it has been learned their senior leadership did not realize they had employed the old Foxtrots, thinking instead they were sailing on Golf ballistic missile submarines. You'll recall the in was to send Golfs after the Foxtrots, but the naval leadership felt it was too early for the Golfs to get that kind of test. Some Soviet military officers were irritated the captains failed to employ their nuclear torpedoes. Marshal Andrei Grechko, the Minister of Defense, could not understand why they had to surface at all, and was upset they had violated their secrecy and been caught by the Americans.

I do not believe any adverse actions were taken other than what would normally happen to a senior officer who has lost the favor of his superiors.

Many clandestine reports had come to the US prior to the crisis talking about the plan to build a Soviet submarine base in Cuba, at either Mariel or Banes. As is always the case with these kinds of inputs, hard to assign credibility. Operation KAMA was definitely part of Operation Anadyr. It was not related to the blockade, which occurred several weeks after the submarines left the USSR. It appears in retrospect that the oiler
Terek was in place in the Atlantic to provide logistics support to the submarines. She was accompanied by a refrigerator ship, and the intelligence trawler Shkval.

It is arguable how many of the submarines were actually detected. Admiral Anderson wrote "all six diesel powered Soviet submarines in the area were detected, covered, trailed and surfaced." The Defense Department however said there were only five positive contacts excluding the Zulu. Vice Admiral Ward said there were five positive contacts made inside the blockade boundary.

The submarines left for the USSR in late November 1962.

The roots of the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962

Soviet “Operation Anadyr” - The plan

Soviet transport ships on the move and the US Naval Blockade

Detecting key Soviet weapons systems in Cuba

Operation Mongoose and the planned US forces invasion of Cuba

A chronology of events in Washington