After World War II was the era of spying in the ongoing political rivalry between the two superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union, and their respective allies in what was called the Cold War, although the beginning and end of this Cold War were up for debate, many agreed that it ended with the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. This, however, did not really just end the tensions that were built up over the past 45 years. The US, for instance, was still keen to know the nitty-gritty details of the fallen union, and so the spying continued.
Spying Never Stopped
Although Russia fell into a political and financial whirlwind after the Soviet “hammer and sickle flag lowered for the last time over the Kremlin” on December 25, 1991, and Mikhail Gorbachev stepped down as the Soviet Union’s president, among the many changes in the country, one thing that did not change was their strong military forces. Their Navy, in particular, was still as powerful and deadly as it was. The United States wanted to know the movement and communications of their Navy, so they set out what was known as “Operation Holy Stone,” where they basically listened for vessels and tapped into the communication cables of the Russians on the seabed to get the juiciest of information.
Part of these intelligence-gathering operations was the USS Baton Rouge, a US Los Angeles-class nuclear attack submarine deployed near the Russian port of Severmorsk in February 1992 to either collect or place listening devices on the seabed.
The USS Baton Rouge knew better than to cross the Russian territory of waters, so they were about 12 miles from the shore, which the US considered international waters, when their submarine suddenly rocked, clearly colliding with something. Upon checking, they found out that they crashed with a Russian B-276 Kostroma submarine, a huge 9,000-ton Sierra-class nuclear-powered vessel.
The Kostroma was trying to surface when it unexpectedly hit Baton Rouge at about a slow speed of 8 MPH. Even with this speed, the Russian vessel still meant a significant impact on the US submarine due to its weight and inertia. Fortunately, both submarines managed to return to their respective ports, even when they both suffered extensive damage.
As for the Russian submarine, the damage was on its conning tower as it was moving upward when it hit the bottom of the US sub. The American submarine, on the other hand, suffered from heavy scratches and had a torn ballast tank. Baton Rouge was lucky as its pressure hull could’ve ruptured from the impact, and water would immediately rush in.
The collision ended with the USS Baton Rouge circling around the Russian sub to check if they needed assistance before they went their separate ways.
The collision exposed the United States’ activities of still keeping track of the Russian activities. Although the United States considered the area of collision as international waters, Russia thought otherwise and insisted that the US vessel illegally entered the Russian waters.
The United States’ alibi was that Baton Rouge was only in the area to manage listening devices, a reason that Russia obviously did not buy. They instead believed that the two submarines were aware of each other’s presence and were just playing a game of cat-and-mouse. A suspicion that was supported by the analysts, as it was unlikely that the US vessel was not able to detect the Russian anti-submarine systems.
Because of what happened, US Secretary of State James Baker and Russian President Boris Yeltsin prompted a meeting to discuss the whole fiasco.
As for the submarines, the B-276 Kostroma continued with its career after the collision. The USS Baton Rouge, on the other hand, was not so lucky and it was decided that the cost of repairs along with refueling her nuclear reactor was too much and she was scrapped after more than 17 years of service.