Collision happened during one of the most hot of the Cold War and was camouflaged by the British navy, who tried to return their vessel to the base of Devonport during the night to avoid being noticed. Version communicated to journalists was also not true.
In the 1980s, the world was witnessing one of the most critical periods of the Cold War, with the threat of a nuclear war around the corner. The military apparatus of the great powers was a reflection of this, with much of the atmosphere of tension escaping unnoticed by the majority of the population, as it took place in distant military bases or in the depths of the oceans.
In fact, it was in this environment that an episode took place between the marinas of the Soviet Union and the United Kingdom that could have influenced the course of world history.
In May 1981, the Soviet submarine K211 Petropavlovsk, 155 meters long and known for the large boxing compartment in its structure that was able to accommodate launch tubes of 16 R-29R ballistic missiles — each of them carrying three nuclear warheads —, sailed aimlessly and incognito, waiting only for a signal that would warn of a nuclear clash between the two powers and orders to unleash a large-scale attack against opponents.
On the other side of the barricade, the United States and the United Kingdom also had their own submarines, the SSN’s or the “hunter-killers, sent frequently to detect Soviet ballistic missiles, equally discreetly, while also waiting for indications to shoot and try to torpedo Soviet submarines.
Aware of this threat, at 7:30 pm, one of the K-211 commanders stopped the submarine so that the MGK-400 Rubikon Sound System it could detect possible boats that had crept into the dead end of its trail—a maneuver known as baffle cleaning. A goal that was not achieved, as no signal was detected.
However, an attack happened a few minutes later: three small impacts from the stern and from below, each with just a few seconds. The submarine immediately returned to periscope depth, with the sound team detecting the noise of a propeller at around 127 degrees. The collision, it was thought, was with a submarine.
After returning to the surface, they were identified in the coat of the Soviet submarine. marks that indicated a clash, as well as metal fragments that were embedded in a bolt and that had pierced a rear tank.
A subsequent investigation carried out by the Soviet authorities revealed that the remains belonged to a sturgeon class submarine of the United States Navy. That same year, British press reports reported the return of the hunter-killer submarine Sceptre with its structure damaged after colliding with a “cool glacier“.
The mystery would eventually be revealed when the British naval officer David Forghan, in an interview with the television program This Week, described the circumstances in which the accident actually happened.
The Scepter submarine in question was one of six Swiftsure-class nuclear attack submarines launched by Vickers in the 1970s. The Swifts were shorter and wider than the UK’s first-generation Churchill-class craft. All, with the exception of the lead ship, used a jet thruster instead of a conventional propeller for quieter operation and had their internal mechanisms insulated with rubber to further reduce the acoustic signature.
That May 1980, the Scepter was following the K-211 and using its 2011 type sound system with a 25 to 30 miles underwater detection range. In this context, it will have lost this capability at the same time that the Soviet Navy reported a change of position of the K-211 for maneuvers to clean its deflectors. The British submarine, meanwhile, continued to sail ahead when its bow hit the tail of the K-211.
One of five-blade propellers of the Soviet submarine it will also have damaged the Scepter’s front hull, ripping off a 23-foot long piece of its bow and ripping off the front of its cone tower, the website points out. Business Insider.
Normally, damage of this magnitude would mean the automatic shutdown of the reactor of the submarine, however, the captain of the Scepter will have unleashed a “short battle”, a maneuver that corresponds to the manual override of the security system, in order to keep the 5,500-ton submarine under control. The British vessel’s occupants even believed that they were being chased by Soviet forces for two days.
Once again, it wasn’t until the submarine reached the surface that it was possible to see the true consequences of the incident. “The fracture started with about three inches from the escape hatch forward. If this hatch had been hit or damaged, then the ends would have sent water, which would have made the boat very heavy. Most likely, we would have sunk“revealed the official Michael Cundell in the book The Silent Deep.
With some effort, the Scepter managed to return to the base in Devonport, with the dark of night at hide the damage, along with woven robes and black paint applied by the crew. At the port, the Russian propeller fragments that had partially penetrated the pressure hull had to be removed and the British navy set about fabricating the version of events which it later made known to the press.