WW3 fears: Navy told to ‘pull punches’ after Soviet submarine ‘humiliated’ in UK waters | UK | News (Reports)


During the Cold War, Washington and Moscow came within touching distance of nuclear war in a bitter spat that would last more than four decades. Most historians agree this threatened to boil over during the Cuban Missile Crisis when Nikita Khrushchev fulfilled Fidel Castro’s request to place nuclear weapons on the island. The missile preparations were spotted by a US Air Force U-2 spy plane, sparking fury in the West and leading President John F. Kennedy to order a naval blockade on October 22 – that led to 13 days of ferocious trepidation.

But the author of ‘Hunter Killers,’ Ian Ballantyne, revealed how the Royal Navy also got their own taste of close calls with the Soviet Union in UK waters during his appearance on the ‘Cold War Conversations’ podcast.

He said to host and producer Ian Sanders: “Across the course of the Cold War, things happened that would surprise many people.

“Whether it was a British submarine up in the North, or with Russian submarines or spy ships coming in very close to UK shores.

“The first incident in 1966 was a Romeo-class diesel sub that was trying to get in as close as possible to UK waters to snoop on what the Americans were doing with their ballistic missile submarines going in and out of the Holy Loch submarine base.

“But also trying to find what the Royal Navy’s first nuclear-powered submarine, HMS Dreadnought, was up to and whether or not she was armed with a new nuclear missile and what sound she made to identify her during a new war.” 

Mr Ballantyne went on to explain how the submarine was caught out and chased down.

But it was not the last of the events.

He added: “So this Romeo-class diesel boat comes in and has a snoop around and basically gets caught on SOSUS (Sound Surveillance System) then British warships and Shackleton maritime patrol units go after this unfortunate Romeo.

“They chase the submarine out of the Clyde and into the open sea, before pursuing her and making her surface – very humiliating – before escorting her out of UK waters.

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“Things like that happened more than once and the other incident I’d mention is in 1967, when Alexei Kosygin was visiting the UK to talk to Harold Wilson about peace efforts in Vietnam. 

“At the same time as he was touching down for talks of peace, there was a Whiskey-class Russian submarine that left the Baltic to come and spy on what the British were up to as an exercise or to keep tabs during the visit.”

The expert explained how the Navy was warned to approach the submarine with caution.

He added: “But it was detected and three British frigates, a couple of diesel submarines and Dreadnought, broke off from their exercise and ordered to close the submarine for the purpose of hunting.

“As they were pursuing it, the British forces were told by Defence Secretary Denis Healey to be careful, they didn’t want an incident with the Russian premier ashore.

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“They were told to back off, and it’s the kind of thing that went on frequently, where navies that were well-armed and ready to go, had to pull their punches.

“Any mistake at sea could lead to a collision or an exchange of fire. It did go on.”

Despite the rhetorics of both the USSR and the West during the Cold War, Mr Ballantyne said both sides feared provoking such a war.

He continued: “With the Whiskey or the Romeo, the main weapon is to keep the boat down for hours, days – until it runs out of air and is forced to surface.

“There was never any intention from either side to go all out and kill the submarines, everyone was well aware of the nuclear weapons and the nuclear-powered submarines. 

“You had to be very careful.”


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