Warships Pod

24: Cold War Secret Diesel Submarine Missions

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Episode notes

Our special guest for a deep dive into British naval espionage during the Cold War is Mike Hurley, a veteran of undersea deployments in dangerous waters.

As a very young submariner in the late 1950s Mike endured marathon patrols in diesel-electric submarines, most notably HMS Taciturn.

In this fascinating discussion with Warships Pod host Iain Ballantyne, Mike reveals how Taciturn ventured into Arctic waters to gather intelligence on Red Navy exercises and, potentially, the foe’s secret technology.

As a conventional (non-nuclear) submarine, Taciturn had to risk ‘snorting’ to vent diesel fumes while charging her battery and also to suck in fresh air. This could expose the boat to the Russians. She was on one occasion attacked by a Russian destroyer and even detected by a potentially hostile submarine.

With often grim conditions - going short of water, running out of fresh food and oxygen, not daring to make the slightest noise when in close company with the Soviets - HMS Taciturn’s submariners somehow got through 38 days dived. On another patrol, communications were lost and it was feared by the boss of the Royal Navy’s Submarine Service that Taciturn and her men might have disappeared.

Such missions into the High North to spy on the Soviets were top secret. Once home again, Royal Navy submariners were under threat of imprisonment if they told even their families and loved ones about what they had been up to. Mike did not dare tell his family anything for a quarter of a century. 

It is a privilege therefore to take Warships Pod listeners on a Cold War voyage with Mike Hurley aboard HMS Taciturn. Mike’s warts and all account can only be likened to a latter-day ‘Das Boot’ adventure due to its grungy details. Some of them are not for the faint-hearted!

• Warships IFR magazine is available in shops and direct as both a hard copy mag and digital edition. You can make sure that you receive a regular delivery of global naval news and features by subscribing bit.ly/wifrsub 
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• Iain Ballantyne is the founding and current Editor of Warships IFR. He is also author of the books ‘Hunter Killers (Orion) and ‘The Deadly Trade’ (Weidenfeld & Nicolson), both about submarine warfare, including the Cold War under the sea. 

For more details on Iain and his books visit the websites http://iainballantyne.com and https://www.bismarckbattle.com/

Follow him on the social media platform X (formerly known as Twitter) via @IBallantyn