Egypt and Israel went to war in October 1956 in what came to be known as the Second Arab-Israeli war in general, the Tripartite Aggression in the Arab world, the Sinai War in Israel, and later gained currency as the euphemism, Suez Crisis.
The conflict, running less than 10 days, was between Israel (and Britain and France) and Egypt. But as with everything during the Cold War, it very quickly roped in 2 uninvited participants, the US and the USSR.
What made the Suez Crisis special though is that unlike other Cold War events, the 2 heavyweights this time weren't rivals but allies. And the US wasn't allies with Britain, France, and Israel this time but rivals. What sorcery was that?

Suez Canal.
Britain and France had invaded Egypt because they didn't wanna lose the Canal, something that had become the new reality after its nationalization by Egypt's Nasser. Americans had no skin in the game really. They were anyway busy in Hungary at the time.
But they stepped in anyway because for the US, it was a moral imperative. Condemning the Soviets for meddling in Hungary's affairs and then keeping quiet over their own allies doing the same in Egypt would've been terrible optics. Funnily, Russia agreed with the US here.
So on Nov 5, Communist Khrushchev suggested teaming up with better-dead-than-red Eisenhower in Non-aligned Nasser's defense.

That night something happened. The North American Aerospace Defense Command or NORAD received a series of messages.
These messages were:
- Unidentified aircraft over Turkey
- 100 MiG-15s over Syria
- British Canberra bomber downed in Syria
- Soviet Black Sea Fleet in the Dardanelles

Only days earlier, Khrushchev had warned of air raids over London and Paris, so the concern was real.
In light of these threats, NATO protocols mandated a very clear course of action.

A preemptive nuclear strike against the USSR.

But the fact that you're breathing is indication someone prevented that from happening.

White House Staff Secretary Gen. Andrew Goodpaster.
A quick investigation followed and found that the unidentified aircraft over Turkey was a flight of swans, the MiGs flight escorts for the Syrian President returning from Moscow, the Canberra downing a mechanical snag, and the Dardanelles maneuver a routine naval exercise.
So what if Goodpaster hadn't gambled his odds? Well, nuclear was NATO's PRIMARY mode of retaliation in such an event. How much was there, I don't know, but both W. German and British sites were fusion-ready at the time. Draw your own inferences.
In October 1960, on Eisenhower's orders, an array of USAF radars came up near the Thule Air Base in Greenland to track Soviet missiles and other flying objects. This was the Thule Site J. These radars were part of a bigger Ballistic Missile Early Warning System (BMEWS).
The early warning system involved a graded alarm protocol on a scale of 0 thru 5, 5 being the highest possible threat and 0 being none. Elsewhere, nukes were (still are) kept on hair-trigger alert to launch within minutes of any such alarm. But there's a bottleneck.
Should the Soviets actually launch a missile, it'd be only 30 minutes to strike by the time these radars confirmed it. This severely limits response time as by the time the alerts made it up the chain and reach the President, he'd have 10 minutes tops to make a decision.
On October 5, 1960, Site J reported dozens of incoming Soviet missiles. Strike time, 20 minutes if credible. An alarm was raised and received at the NORAD command center in Colorado. The display read 1, implying a low-risk unidentified flying object. No need to panic.
And then the number started climbing. 2...3...4...5. This was the upper end of the scale. An attack was imminent. The time to panic was now. Immediately the alert was forwarded to the White House. Then it dawned on someone that Khrushchev was visiting DC at the time!
It'd be absurd and suicidal of Khrushchev to physically be in the US after having authorized a nuclear strike on the country. The retaliation was shelved. It was a risky gambit, but one that paid off, for 30 minutes down the line there was no mushroom cloud.
Relief. But what were those flying objects if not Soviet nukes? A later investigation pointed to a moonrise above Norway. What the radar signals had actually hit and bounced off wasn't a missile but the moon itself. Rising above the horizon unaware of what just happened.
So, what if Khrushchev weren't in the US at the time? Well, it was 1960, the year America had peaked on nuclear stockpile with the equivalent of 1.35 million Hiroshima vaporizers, a vast majority of those pointed at the USSR. Do the maths.
On the morning of Jan 23, 1962 a B-52 Stratofortress crashed in a tobacco field at Faro, some 12 miles north of Goldsboro, North Carolina. It essentially began gyrating and broke up mid-air, at around 1,000-2,000 feet, killing 3 of the 8 crewmembers. Reason, fuel leak.
The wreckage covered an area of over 1,200 acres, but only 3 casualties out of 8. Impressive, right? A quick Pentagon report said that too. Except one problem (and it came out only when the documents were declassified in 2013): The payload.

3.8-megaton Mark 39.

2 of them.
Mark 39 was no ordinary weapon, it was one of America's first thermonuclear bombs. You know them as H bombs. Running on fusion, H bombs have a destructive power orders of magnitude higher than their fission counterparts, the kind that had ended WW2 only 15 years earlier.
The crashed bomber had 2 of those. A combined firepower of 7.6 megatons. Little Boy, the Hiroshima bomb, was about 18 kiloton.

A 2013 FOIA request declassified exactly what happened that day. Of the 2 bombs, one ended up buried under 200 feet of loose mud.
This bomb physically disintegrated upon impact which is why the high-voltage switch meant to fire a conventional trigger explosion failed to work even though it was partially on when it left the aircraft.

The second landed upright as its chute got stuck in a tree.
Of the 4 failsafe mechanisms, 3 went off on this one. The 4th that didn't, and hence saved the day, was essentially due to a very tiny separation between 2 wires, an overwhelmingly rare stroke of luck.
Had the 2 wires managed to connect on one bomb, as was extremely likely, nor the swamp killed the switch on the other, the equivalent of 422 Hiroshimas would've evaporated that day. Let's not even talk about the nuclear winter that would've followed. https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/command-and-control-goldsboro-1961/
The Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 was a 13 day staredown between the two Cold War heavyweights between October 16 and 28. These 13 days witnessed several close shaves but one in particular is by far the closest we've ever come to omnicide.
The USAF had just finished installing brand new PGM-19 Jupiter missiles, its first nuclear-tipped MRBMs in Turkey and Italy. Each of these devils was armed with a 1.44 MT W49 fusion warhead. In short, H bombs. The installation in Turkey made Khrushchev very uneasy.
So, as a deterrent, Khrushchev had a little talk with Castro and proceeded to install its own weaponry in Cuba, some 90 miles from Florida. This went undetected until a U-2 spy plane produced photographic evidences of Soviet SS-5 Skean installations in Cuba.
SS-5 Skean was NATO codename for R-14 Chusovaya. These were intermediate-range ballistic missiles with a range of up to 2,800 miles. Each of these was tipped with a fusion warhead between 2 and 2.3 megatons in yield. In the thick of Cold War this was very bad new.
Kennedy ordered an immediate naval quarantine of Cuba in order to prevent more Soviet missiles from reaching its shores. The official teen used was "blockade." This was October 21. From this point on, the US and the USSR were "technically" at war.
6 days into the standoff, USS Randolph and an assortment of destroyers, while patrolling the waters around Cuba, detected a submarine. It was a B-59, a diesel-electric Foxtrot-class (also called Project 641) sub.

It was the Soviets.
These were international waters so there were no real laws preventing anyone from enjoying a swim. But that's not how the Americans saw it. They knew B-59s were capable of nuclear attacks. So they started dropping depth charges to signal the sub to the surface.
The sub was too deep in the waters to know what was going on in the world. They'd been out of radio for days now and had no means of contacting Moscow or knowing if a real war had broken out. So the captain, Valentin Grigorievitch Savitsky, read these charges as attacks.
And if they were attacks, a response was necessary. So he decided to launch a T-5. This was bad news. T-5 was a nuclear-ready torpedo tipped with an RDS-9 warhead. A 5-kiloton payload. Might not sound much but things are different underwater.
The good news was that unlike other subs in the flotilla, this one has a protocol that mandated any launch to be approved by 2 seniormost officers on board besides the captain:

Political commissar Ivan Semonovich Maslennikov and flotilla commodore Vasily Arkhipov.
Of the 3 men, only Arkhipov refused to approve. His suggestion was to surface and await Moscow's confirmation as even the slightest judgment error meant a war in case there wasn't one already. They had to surface anyway as they were running out of power.
After much argument and deliberation, Arkhipov finally managed to convince the captain to abort the launch, thus preventing a full-blown global nuclear war. And apocalypse had to be rescheduled.


Not cancelled.
The US Air Force Ballistic Missile Early Warning System or BMEWS comprised of 3 radar sites in the far northern hemisphere — Greenland, Alaska, and the UK. Remember the Thule incident involving the Moon? Yeah, that was one of these.
This network, also called Project 474L, was designed to flag an inbound ballistic offensive with a 20-30 minute response time. Not much but critical nonetheless.

Each site was independently hooked up with a NORAD command center in Colorado via redundant channels.
On May 23, 1967, all 3 went off the grid. At once. This was the rarest of the rare coincidence. Like 3 independent individuals falling sick at the same time with the same ailment in 3 completely unrelated parts of the world. Incredibly unlikely. Unless...

The Russians.
Those days, there were several lines of defense for occasions like this. One of those involved a swarm of perpetually-airborne nuke-bearing bombers ready to drop the payload within moments of go-ahead. They even refueled mid-air and only ever touched down in case of snags.
This blackout came with too many coincidences to be likely. So the elders of the USAF concluded it had to be the Soviets. Jamming military radars like this was considered an act of war those days, so the next step was obvious. A bunch of nuclear bombers were scrambled.
These bombers were in addition to the ones already hovering up in the skies. WW3, ergo a comprehensive nuclear armageddon, was imminent. Then something happened.

In near-literal nick of time.

A note arrived from NORAD.

And the charge was canceled.
A team of researchers in the US military had been watching the Sun for years now. They were studying solar storms and their effects on our planet. Each day, the team would prepare a report of their findings and forward it to NORAD.
This system of daily briefing to NORAD only started in 1967. On May 18 that year, they noticed a large cluster of sunspots on the solar disk. Theoretically it was known that they are regions of exceptionally strong magnetic fields and can trigger massive storms.
But this was the first time they were directly observing it in action. Besides solar flares, these fields also trigger giant plasma eruptions known as coronal mass ejection or CME. Researchers knew they were about to witness one such CME any day now.
These ejections are not good news for humanity as should they reach our ionosphere, which they absolutely do, they are capable of knocking out all kinds of communication system for days or even months. Power grid, satellites, airplanes...they're all vulnerable.
Toward the last decade of the Cold War, the warfare was more psychological than military. Part of the game was American squadrons flying right up to the Soviet airspace, coming within miles, and retreat having triggered their alarm systems.
This may sound puerile but the exercise rode on the back of solid pragmatism. Not only was it effective in breaking enemy morale, it also served to expose immensely crucial Soviet radar vulnerabilities.

It can backfire too though.

Almost did.
September 26, 2983. The sun wasn't up yet. Lieutenant colonel Stanislav Petrov received an alert. As an officer on duty at a command center in Serpukhov-15, his responsibilities included relaying any such alert to his superiors for further deliberation.
Serpukhov-15 is a military town outside Moscow and serves as the western command center for Russia's Oko satellites. As part of the Main Centre for Missile Attack Warning, these satellites watch out for ballistic missiles and issue warnings in case of sightings.
An alert meant American nuclear missiles were inbound and if so, likely to strike in less than 30 minutes. The course of action in such an event was clearly laid out in the doctrine of mutually assured destruction or MAD: An immediate nuclear response.
That night, the computers at Serpukhov-15 reported one Russia-bound ICBM. This was hours before daybreak. Petrov deliberated. Should he escalate, a counter-attack was inevitable. Should he not, it was treason.

Finally he chose the latter.
Must be a malfunction, he reasoned, for an actual first strike would involve a swarm of missiles to kill any possibility of a Soviet counter-attack. But here we had just one solitary ICBM! Got to be an error. Petrov took his chances. If wrong, he wouldn't be alive to know.
Soon there were 4 more. Petrov persisted. There should be hundreds of'em. Just 5 didn't make sense.

A whole tense hour later, Petrov was still breathing.

Russia was still breathing.

And there was no nuclear apocalypse.

Petrov was right! Hunch won that day.
These are just 6, there are many more such stories. Stories of how apocalypse brushed past us and we didn't even notice. Not all stories are this ancient either. In a separate thread some other day, we'll see how we're STILL inches away from extinction.

Even today.
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