Day we rammed a Cold War Russian sub

A sailor who was on board a British submarine when it accidentally rammed a Russian sub at the height of the Cold War has spoken of the incident.

Yorkshire submariners Frank Pas (Sheffield branch), Mike Cundall (Barrow), Rob Simpsosn (Hull) and Dave Hallas (Sheffield ).

Leeds-born Michael Cundell, 66, was chief petty officer aboard HMS Sceptre when the collision happened during a covert operation off the Russian coast in 1981.

The sudden impact left the Russian submarine without the use of one of a propeller and put a large hole in the outer hull of the Sceptre, whose crew were forced to make a swift getaway under a nearby ice sheet.

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The story at the time was that HMS Sceptre had struck an iceberg.

Mr Cundell, who is in Leeds this weekend as part of the annual Submariners Association reunion, took up the story.

“I couldn’t talk about it for a lot of years but it has been made public now. We were aboard HMS Sceptre, it was 1981 and we basically hit a Russian sub. It took a big chunk out of our casing. Luckily, the inner hull remained intact.”

In fact, he had to make a snap life or death decision in the moments immediately after impact.

“We had been travelling at periscope depth at something like 16 knots, which is pretty fast, for a long while and at that speed you cannot put up your periscope because the force of water will just bend it. That’s when we hit the other sub.

“I knew we’d impacted something straight away. I ran out of the mess and alerted someone to shut one of the bulkhead doors, number 29, even though I knew there were people inside in the sleeping accommodation – I had to do it, because at that point we didn’t know if the hull had a leak and not doing so would have compromised the rest of the submarine.

“As things turned out, there were no leaks and we were able to open the hatch again.

“As regards hitting the Russian sub, we just made a sharp exit and escaped under the ice without trace. The impact badly damaged their propeller but they were able to make it back to port. I remember digging a lot of the propeller out of our hull and although most of it went to the Ministry of Defence, I still have a piece.”

Mr Cundell, who began his Naval career aboard the now decommissioned HMS Ark Royal – the ship paid for by Leeds taxpayers during the Second World War – spent 20 years in the Royal Navy.