Revealed for the first time: How HMS Conqueror submarine which sank the Belgrano was sent on spy ship interception mission just weeks later
- HMS Conqueror was tasked with stealing a two-mile string of hydrophones from a Polish-flagged spy trawler
- It didn't emit a signal and was designed to subtly listen to enemy submarines
- The Anglo-Americans wanted to find out how the enemy had managed to develop it
- The crew got perilously close to the trawler to cut through a three-inch-thick steel cable without being seen
The submarine that sank Argentine warship the Belgrano during the Falklands war was involved in a top secret raid to steal a state-of-the-art listening device from the Russians just weeks later, it has emerged.
Details of the daring mission in the Barents Sea, involving the notorious HMS Conqueror, have remained under-wraps for almost 30 years - until now.
The nuclear-powered attack submarine famously sank the General Belgrano on May 2 1982, killing 323 men, the day the Falklands war began.
Daring mission: HMS Conqueror, a nuclear-powered attack submarine, (pictured) was tasked with stealing a two-mile string of hydrophones, known as a towed array sonar, from a Polish-flagged spy trawler
But just eight weeks later, the submarine was tasked with stealing a two-mile string of hydrophones, known as a towed array sonar, from a Polish-flagged spy trawler, close to Russian waters.
These trawlers, known as AGIs, or Auxiliary General Intelligence, were dedicated to gathering intelligence and were common during the Cold War, often masquerading as fishing trawlers.
The device attached to this particular trawler was wanted by the British and the Americans as it was regarded as the most up-to-date device in Soviet submarine detection technology, the Daily Telegraph said.
It was designed to subtly listen to enemy submarines and the Anglo-Americans wanted to find out how the enemy had managed to develop it.
During the 1970s they had begun to notice that Russian submarines were becoming quieter and faster, and had started to fear that they weren't making as much progress in naval technology as they should be.
Sunk: HMS Conqueror famously sank the General Belgrano (pictured) on May 2 1982, killing 323 men, the day the Falklands war began - but it was involved in another daring mission two months later
Going under: Footage of the Belgrano in flames as it sinks after being hit by HMS Conqueror
Known as Operation Barmaid, the crew, captained by Christopher Wreford-Brown, had been ordered to cut through a three-inch-thick steel cable in order to release it from the trawler, without being seen.
They used special pincers, designed by the Americans to do this, in a bid to make it look like it had snagged accidentally and been torn off.
After hauling the cable on board the plan was to send it to the U.S. for analysis.
The operation required skillful seamanship as the Conqueror had to emerge from below into the ship's blind spot and cut the cable just yards from the vessel and its propeller.
Stuart Prebble revealed the operation's details in his book Secrets of the Conqueror and said just one minor miscalculation could have spelled disaster for the whole operation.
One of the crew said: 'Everyone in the control room was tense. We were expecting at any time that we would be discovered and were ready to run, if necessary.'
Captain: Commander Christopher Wreford-Brown, RN, outside Buckingham Palace with his son, Paul, aged 10, after being presented with the Distinguished Service Medal
The Conqueror, based on the Clyde, had tried twice before to severe the cable from the boat before her final, successful attempt in August 1982.
After releasing the cable the vessel sank into the depths of the freezing Arctic water without being seen. Had they been caught the crew would have risked immediate attack.
None of the crew interviewed for Mr Prebble's book have revealed the location of the operation, but it is believed to have occurred in Russian waters just three miles from the coast.
He wanted the Ministry of Defence to release the details under the 30-year rule but they refused. However, they said they wouldn't stop him writing about it.
Mr Prebble said: 'This was a quite remarkable feat, a daring exploit that carried with it immense risk'.