A Royal Navy submarine carrying nuclear weapons was just moments from disaster after it began sinking before being saved at the last minute.
The depth gauge, responsible for telling sailors how far below the waves they are, failed on the decades-old Trident submarine as it carried 140 crew members and Trident 2 missiles through the Atlantic.
Trident is Britain’s nuclear weapons system. It is made up of four nuclear submarines. Each sub carries up to eight missiles on board, and each missile carries up to five nuclear bombs – or warheads – on top.
If the Vanguard class vessel had sunk, a desperate mission to recover the top-secret vessel and its nuclear reactor would have been sparked.
The submarine was about to go on a patrol when the dials stopped working. Commanders thought the ship was level when it was in fact still diving towards the sea floor.
Thankfully, engineers at the other side of the 500ft vessel noticed a second dial and raised the alarm as it plummeted towards the “danger zone”.
Speaking to The Sun, a source said: “It’s not the engineers’ job to control the sub’s depth but they saw how deep they were and realised something was wrong. Technically the sub was still at a depth where we know it can operate, but if it ever has to go that deep the whole crew is piped to action-stations. That hadn’t happened. The sub wasn’t supposed to be there, and it was still diving. And if it had carried on going, it doesn’t really bear thinking about.”
The sub or the depths involved have not been named for security reasons. But the fact that the disaster was saved indicates that safety systems aboard the Vanguard-class vessel are functioning properly.
An urgent safety probe has been launched by the Naval top brass, but sources say the near-miss did not interrupt the UK’s nuclear deterrent.
Since 1969, at least one Royal Navy submarine has been patrolling the world’s waters to strike back should a doomsday attack be launched against UK interests or the British mainland.
At present, the UK has four Vanguard-class submarines. Only two of them are operational as one is being renovated and the other is on sea trials. The latter ship recently had repairs that cost £300million over budget.
A Royal Navy spokesperson said: “We do not comment on operations. Our submarines continue to be deployed globally, protecting national interests.”