Military Aviation

Former U-2 pilot tells the story of the Soviet submarine that almost fired a nuclear torpedo at a US Navy ship during the Cuban Missile Crisis

‘Now let me say something about that Cuban Missile Crisis. This is probably as close as this nation has ever come to being in World War III,’ Buddy Brown, former U-2 and SR-71 pilot.

60 years ago this week the fear of World War III was on everyone’s mind. The island of Cuba just 90 miles from Florida had installed nuclear missiles capable of reaching the US.

On Oct. 23, 1962, I remember my father telling my mother to go to the commissary and buy as much food as possible. At that time we were living in Texas at Carswell Air Force Base (AFB). Dad, Butch Sheffield said as he was leaving, to fly the B-58 Hustler bomber on red alert.

Seven years later we were living at Beale AFB and Buddy Brown was our neighbor. He was one of the only 12 men in the world that flew both of U-2 and the SR-71. The following is an interview by Buddy Brown given ten years ago to Oakridger.

Buddy Brown in front of an SR-71 Blackbird Mach 3 spy plane

‘Now let me say something about that Cuban Missile Crisis. This is probably as close as this nation has ever come to being in World War III,’ Brown began. ‘When I say close, it was probably about that far from pushing a button to launch a nuclear torpedo,’ he stated, as he gestured with two of his fingers only a few inches apart.

‘I was at a 50-year thing at George Mason University about a year ago, and they were celebrating (the 50th anniversary of) the Cuban Missile Crisis. Since I was one of the pilots, they had me talk to the group there about that. I sat next to Sergei Khrushchev — (Soviet Premier Nikita) Khrushchev’s son — who was around 30 years old during the Cuban Missile Crisis and is now a professor at Brown University. But he was telling us that the Soviets had some diesel subs inside the line there in case nuclear war started.

‘Well this one person running the submarine thought we were, in fact, at war — because they didn’t have any contact,’ Brown recalled. ‘They had a bunch of naval ships out there and, fortunately, somebody with a cooler brain stopped him from doing that — but he was about three inches from pushing and launching one of those nuclear torpedoes at one of our naval ships out there.’ He paused and stated: ‘Now that would have started it right there.’ The Soviets had, in Cuba, about sixty 1-megaton weapons that were ready to go. Cruise missiles and a few other things.

Soviet submarine B-59, forced to the surface by U.S. Naval forces in the Caribbean near Cuba. 

Brown concludes;

‘To make a comparison, the ones that they set off during World War II at Nagasaki was about 15 kt (kiloton) — now we’re talking about 1 MEGAton and they were going to use them. Well, fortunately, none of that happened and it ended up that we didn’t go to war; but it was probably the closest this nation has ever been.’

Be sure to check out Linda Sheffield Miller (Col Richard (Butch) Sheffield’s daughter, Col. Sheffield was an SR-71 Reconnaissance Systems Officer) Facebook Page Habubrats for awesome Blackbird’s photos and stories.

This print is available in multiple sizes from – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. U-2S Dragon Lady “Senior Span”, 9th RW, 99th RS, 80-329

Photo credit: U.S. Air Force, CIA and U.S. Navy

Linda Sheffield Miller

Grew up at Beale Air Force Base, California. I am a Habubrat. Graduated from North Dakota State University. Former Public School Substitute Teacher, (all subjects all grades). Member of the DAR (Daughters of the Revolutionary War). I am interested in History, especially the history of SR-71. Married, Mother of three wonderful daughters and four extremely handsome grandsons. I live near Washington, DC.

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