Stanislav Petrov, the man who prevented World War III, dies aged 77

Ross McGuinness

The man credited with preventing World War III has died.

Former Soviet military officer Stanislav Petrov died at the age of 77 in May, but his death was only reported on Monday.

He was widely credited for preventing all-out nuclear war between the Soviet Union and the US because of a piece of outstanding quick-thinking during the Cold War.

He was on duty at a secret command centre outside Moscow on September 26, 1983, when Russian computers mistakenly detected incoming missiles from the US.

A radar screen showed that five Minuteman intercontinental ballistic missiles had been launched towards the Soviet Union.

Instead of following Red Army protocol to order a retaliatory strike, Petrov ignored the warning, saying later that he had a ‘gut instinct’ that it was a false alarm.

Then a 44-year-old lieutenant colonel, Petrov did not report the incident to his superiors, and the details about his calmness under extreme pressure didn’t emerge until years later.

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In an interview with the BBC in 2013, Petrov said: ‘The siren howled, but I just sat there for a few seconds, staring at the big, back-lit, red screen with the word “launch” on it.

‘All I had to do was to reach for the phone; to raise the direct line to our top commanders – but I couldn’t move. I felt like I was sitting on a hot frying pan.’

Instead of contacting the Soviet military immediately in line with his training, he called the duty officer at army headquarters and reported a system malfunction.

‘Twenty-three minutes later I realised that nothing had happened,’ he said. ‘If there had been a real strike, then I would already know about it. It was such a relief.’

Later, it emerged the false alarm had been triggered by a satellite mistaking the reflection of the sun’s rays off clouds for a missile launch.

Petrov wasn’t given any accolade for his quick-thinking by the Soviet Union, who reprimanded him for not detailing the incident correctly in a logbook.

His actions weren’t known publicly until 1998, when they were detailed in the memoirs of retired Soviet missile defence commander Yury Votintsev.

In 2006, the Association of World Citizens honoured Petrov at the United Nations headquarters as ‘the man who averted a nuclear war’.

He was the subject of a 2014 documentary The Man who Saved the World.

He died on May 19 in Fryazino, a suburb of Moscow, where he lived alone on a state pension. His cause of death has not been announced and he is survived by a son and a daughter.

(Picture: AP)