A Russian submarine collided with a British warship’s sonar as it was tracking its movements in the North Atlantic, in the first collision between Russian and Royal Navy vessels since the end of the Cold War.
Following the collision in late 2020, HMS Northumberland was forced to abort its 48-hour mission to find the Russian submarine by using a towed array sonar.
The device, which uses hundreds of microphones attached to a cable, was trailed behind the Type 23 frigate in order to subtly detect submarines. However, it was damaged to such an extent that the warship had to return to port in order for the sonar to be replaced.
One Navy source told The Telegraph that the noise made when the submarine collided with the towed array would have been so powerful that “they probably would have scared themselves shitless when they did it”.
They added that the probability of a submarine hitting the towed array was “infinitely tiny”.
“The ocean is a huge place and the towed body is so small that the likelihood of interaction is so low, this is just unfortunate and unintentional. The Russians would not have tried to do this on purpose.”
After the incident crew launched a Merlin helicopter to try and find the submarine.
Footage captures moment crew spot Russian submarine’s periscope
The collision was captured in a Channel 5 documentary for its series Warship: Life at Sea.
The footage captures the moment the crew spot what they think is a Russian submarine’s periscope and a communication mast peaking above the surface of the water.
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Commander Thom Hobbs, the warship’s captain, is heard on camera saying: “We are very close to the submarine — we are probably parallel. If they were on the surface we would definitely see faces.”
The submarine then turns sharply in what was described as an “aggressive move”.
Russian threat to national undersea communications ‘is real’
Former frigate captain Commander Tom Sharpe told The Telegraph that the “Russian threat to our national undersea communications is real, on our doorstep and ever increasing”.
“It’s hard to overstate the effect a major disruption of it would cause,” he said, adding that while “forcing the ship to return to port for array repairs would be a significant escalation” it was “ultimately fruitless because all that happens then is the rest of the team closes in and carries on the mission”.
While Navy sources insisted there was nothing to suggest the collision was “deliberate”, Mr Sharpe cautioned that “it’s unlikely that a T23, even running in silent mode, would be totally invisible to the Russian sub”. However, he added it was “perfectly possible that the sub didn’t know exactly where the ship was and in which direction it was heading”.
News of the incident came as Liz Truss, the Foreign Secretary, told the House of Commons that “the free world must rise” to meet the threats from Russia.
Moscow has massed 100,000 troops with tanks and missiles batteries in a threat to invade Ukraine.
She told MPs: “Any Russian military incursion would be a massive strategic mistake.
“Russia is the aggressor here – we urge them to end their malign activity and stick to what they have agreed.
“The only way forward is for Russia to de-escalate and pursue a path of diplomacy.
“The free world must rise to meet this moment.”
A Ministry of Defence spokesman said: “In late 2020 a Russian submarine being tracked by HMS Northumberland came into contact with her towed array sonar.
“The Royal Navy regularly tracks foreign ships and submarines in order to ensure the defence of the United Kingdom.”