HMS Conqueror stole Russian towed sonar array


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Claims in the Telegraph today that Conqueror stole a Russian towed sonar array.

HMS Conqueror’s biggest secret: a raid on Russia - Telegraph

The submarine that sank the Argentine cruiser General Belgrano during the Falklands war was involved in a much more daring and dangerous Cold War operation only weeks later.

Wreford-Brown’s target was a spy trawler – an AGI in Nato parlance, meaning Auxiliary General Intelligence. Crammed with interception and detection equipment, they were a ubiquitous presence during the Cold War, shadowing Nato exercises or loitering off naval bases.

This one was special: Polish-flagged, she was pulling a device long coveted by the British and Americans, a two-mile string of hydrophones known as a towed-array sonar. It was the latest thing in Soviet submarine-detection technology and Conqueror’s job was to steal it. To do so, the bow was equipped with electronically controlled pincers, provided by the Americans, to gnaw through the three-inch-thick steel cable connecting it to the trawler. The name of this audacious exercise in piracy? Operation Barmaid.

“There is a way of approaching the blind spot that involves going deep and then coming up at an angle, literally below the vessel.”

The trawler’s propeller was feet away from Conqueror’s hull. A momentary miscalculation and a collision was inevitable. But nerves held and a connection was made. The pincer blades gnawed, and in seconds that seemed like hours the array was freed. Clamps held on to the cable as Conqueror dropped away to a safe depth, trailing the array by her side.

“Everyone in the control room was tense,” says one of those present. “We were expecting at any time that we would be discovered and were ready to run, if necessary.”

None of the crewmen who spoke to Prebble was prepared to confirm Conqueror’s position but the suspicion is that the operation took place inside Soviet territorial waters, just three miles from the coast. If discovered, the sub would have faced attack from Russian air and naval units. Once Conqueror reached a safe distance, divers were sent out to secure the array. The submarine later surfaced so that they could swim out again to haul the device aboard and bundle it in the hull.
If true, very interesting...

Would that be why they drag a few hapless trawlers under from time to time, like the French sardine murderer "Bugaled Breizh" , opportunist training perhaps?
2 miles of 3 inch thick cable into a fast-attack sub?
They probably binned the majority of it. If you have 2 miles of identical cable you only need a small sample.


Perhaps to some but what happened to her log? This was a "rumour" (or possibly a trip to a location slightly more inshore?) from the early '80s and certainly within the sundodging community. It may have lost some impact with age but interesting nonetheless.

Can believe it -after all the sub would have had her own towed sonar array so she has the power to pull that weight of cable and will have the space, and her crew the skills, to stow it once got back on board.
Not saying it was a piece of cake -but by no means impossible/unbelievable
If they already knew how to manoeuvre into a blind spot to nick the array, what was the point in nicking it?

Wouldn't this just tell the Soviets that their array was no good?
Alternatively, somewhere near Murmansk there's a bitter old retired Soviet sailor or officer shouting "See! We didn't get p!ssed and drag it through shallow water, Court Martial my arrse".

Or perhaps he's OC Counting Trees and Stacking Blankets in Salekhard, and has just made the final payment after being forced to buy an Array, Towed, Sonar from the QM.
Some strange things end up on Mess walls...

...Belgrano lifebuoy, 2 miles of cable...
First red menace I ever saw was an AGI, used to be one on virtually permanent station off Donegal.
As a graduate student working on a related topic at the (former) Naval Research Establishment at Devonport in 1983-84, I recall seeing part of a Soviet towed array system (justthe harness connected to some multi-spectral hydrographs) thinking 'Where did that come from?'. Indeed, I asked one of the scientists who looked at me blankly ad 'Learn not to ask difficult questions'.
My question is "Why release this info now?"
Was the journalist just rehashing common knowledge? Who, in Russia or the West, benefits, or is damaged, by its dissemination?
He saw fit to make some adverse comment re sinking Belgrano at the beginning of his article. Hmm.
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