Her Majesty’s Silent Service


How the attack sub HMS Conqueror pulled off one of the most audacious heists of the Cold War. Thirty years later, the story of Operation Barmaid can finally be told.

“The British believed they were selected because they had more skilled submariners, and exercises do seem to bear this out. British submariners tend not to play by the book to the extent that the Americans do.

“The more cynical view has it that if a British sub was caught the diplomatic fall-out would be less severe than if an American one was involved. No one wanted to provoke a superpower confrontation.”

Cutting a towed-array cable and making it look like an accidental loss was no easy task. Before Conqueror was fitted with the television-guided pincers, her sister ship HMS Churchill had tried to steam through an array to sever it from the towing ship. She was damaged and depth-charged for her pains.

Submariners as a group did some pretty hairy stuff during the Cold War, but this took an iron will and brass giblets. For more stories like this, I highly recommend a book called Blind Man’s Bluff.

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