Captain Vasily Arkhipov was the Brigade Chief of Staff aboard the Soviet submarine designated B-59 who, on October 27, 1962, personally prevented a probable nuclear war.
Sub B-59 was in the waters off of Cuba that day due to the tensions created between the United States and the Soviet Union as a result of the superpowers' opposing visions for the future of the island nation. The United States desired "regime change" in Cuba and had been carrying out covert terrorist activities and overt military operations designed to oust Cuban leader Fidel Castro for a number of years. The Soviet Union wished to use Cuba as a strategic platform to counterbalance the United States militarily and, as such, decided to place nuclear missiles in the country. This touched off what came to be known as the Cuban Missile Crisis which many people point to as the closest the world ever came to full-on nuclear war.
The United States had established a "quarantine line" around Cuba, enforced by Naval warships, across which no Soviet surface ship or submarine was to be permitted. B-59's presense in the forbidden zone was detected by the USS Randolph carrier group just south of Bermuda and the chase was on.
The B-59 was tracked all over the Sargasso Sea by helicopters, airplanes and destroyers, including the USS Cony. The Cony, once in range, began dropping "practice" (supposedly) depth charges around the B-59 in groups of five, which were meant to be the equivalent of warning shots. However, for a harried crew, the difference between "real" and "warning" weapons exploding around them was difficult to determine.
The Commanding Officer of the B-59, Captain Second Rank Vitali Savitsky, decided his vessel was under deadly attack and ordered the assembly of a nuclear-tipped torpedo to be used against the aggressors.
At the time, the United States was quite open about its policy of nuclear retaliation should any nuclear weapons be used against it or its allies. The destruction of a US Navy vessel by a Soviet nuclear weapon would assuredly have set off a nuclear exchange probably leading to the destruction of most of the human race.
Arkhipov must, surely, have been aware of the potential consequences of his commander's decision and blocked the order, preventing the deployment of the nuclear-tipped torpedo.
Yet more evidence that it will be the consciences of individuals that will prevent the barbaric inhumanity of power-mad governments.
Sources: www.findmyfriend.org/Cony/ConyChronology/ConyChronology.html, http://discuss.washingtonpost.com/zforum/02/sp_world_blanton101602.htm