A ROYAL Navy warship hit a submerged Russian submarine in a high-stakes chase in the icy north Atlantic.
The Russian hunter-killer – which can carry nuclear tipped torpedoes – smashed into a sonar line towed behind by HMS Northumberland.
It is thought to be the first collision between Russian and Royal Navy vessels since the end of the Cold War.
The British Type 23 frigate had been scrambled to search for the Russian sub around 200 miles north of Scotland.
It let out its towed array sonar – a cable covered in hydrophones – to listen for sounds from sub.
But the crew were forced to abort their mission and return to port for repairs after the cable, as thick as a drainpipe, was “dragged over the submarine’s hull”.
“It was badly chewed up and unusable,” a source said.
Former frigate captain Commander Tom Sharpe said: “The question is was it deliberate or was it an accident.
“Ship and submarine detection is not an exact science. It could have been a close pass gone wrong.”
The collision was caught on film by a Channel 5 TV crew, whilst they were shooting for the show Warship: Life At Sea, which airs on Mondays at 9pm.
In the video a crew member can be heard shouting “what the f*** have I just hit?”
But a Navy source said they believed it was a “million-to-one chance event”.
“The crew of the submarine would have sh*t themselves,” he said.
“They would have heard a very sudden and unexpected noise like a fork being dragged over a cheese grater.”
He said it was highly likely the Russian sub would also have been damaged.
Vladimir Putin’s shadowy fleet of submarines with robotic arms are dedicated to tampering with the vital cables that could cripple the country.
Moscow has developed cable-cutting drones to sever undersea internet lines.
Cutting enough of the network in the Atlantic could cause chaos for Britain by shutting down the internet, paralysing financial transactions, and damaging communications with the military overseas.
One of the spy ships, carrying state-of-the-art stealth subs beneath, was spotted in the English Channel in September.
It had been seen off the Irish coastline the previous month, in what was being viewed as a push from Putin to scare the West.
RUSSIA ‘IS THE AGGRESSOR’
The Royal Navy said it shadowed nine Russian warships around the UK in just two weeks in December 2020.
The subs are operated by a covert branch of the Russian military that answers directly to Putin.
Details emerged as Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said “the free world must rise” to meet the threats from Russia.
Moscow has massed 100,000 troops with tanks and missiles batteries in a threat to invade Ukraine.
“Any Russian military incursion would be a massive strategic mistake,” Truss told MPs.
“Russia is the aggressor here – we urge them to end their malign activity and stick to what they have agreed.
“The only way forward is for Russia to de-escalate and pursue a path of diplomacy.
“The free world must rise to meet this moment.”
The Russian embassy in London declined to comment.
An MoD spokesman said: “In late 2020 a Russian submarine being tracked by HMS Northumberland came into contact with her towed array sonar.
“The Royal Navy regularly tracks foreign ships and submarines in order to ensure the defence of the United Kingdom.”