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The Barmaid's Arms
October 16, 2012 3:17 AM   Subscribe

The operation was called Operation Barmaid, and it was so called because the Conqueror was fitted with two pincer-like cutting devices like arms out of the front of the submarine, and the idea was that it would sneak up behind a submarine or trawler that was using the towed-array sonar, and cut through the cable and bring the thing back. (SLDaily Telegraph)

HMS Conqueror (the submarine that controversially sank the Argentine warship General Belgrano) was involved in a bizarre Cold War operation weeks later.
posted by Kiwi (31 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
Fun fact: Stuart Prebble, who talks in the video, is the man chosen to lead the BBC's enquiry into Jimmy Saville.
posted by MuffinMan at 3:35 AM on October 16, 2012


I know nothing about military weaponry so I judge all of these operations entirely by their names.

To me, "HMS Conqueror" is a good name, an auspicious name, with good conquering energy. The warship Belgrano is a weak name, if for no other reason than it is named after Belgrano, who has an entire Wikipedia section devoted to his diseases (syphilis and rheumatism and blood vomit, oh my!)

But Operation Barmaid is the best name of all, because every barmaid I've ever met would kick my ass if I pissed her off.
posted by twoleftfeet at 3:37 AM on October 16, 2012 [4 favorites]


pincer-like

That imagery just seems to stick to this vessel. Among the accusations made against the Thatcher government was that the claim by HMG that the Belgrano was "part of a ‘pincer movement’ attack on the task force" was untrue.

Controversially sank

The controversy at the time was that the Belgrano was steaming away from - and outside of - the British zone of exclusion.

"But Argentine naval chiefs have subsequently revealed that the cruiser was indeed part of an operation that did threaten the task force. It had pursued a jagged path, weaving in and out of the exclusion zone, but in any case both sides regarded the entire South Atlantic as an operational theatre."
posted by three blind mice at 3:49 AM on October 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


I can't find the quote at the link. And I'd like to, because it makes no sense to me. In what metaphorical way do barmaids have pincer-like cutting devices that sneak up behind something and cut cables?
posted by DU at 4:07 AM on October 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


In what metaphorical way do barmaids have pincer-like cutting devices that sneak up behind something and cut cables? The quote is at 5:50 in the video.
posted by Brent Parker at 4:22 AM on October 16, 2012


The Royal Navy's submarine force is something else -- they are widely considered to be the best underwater warfighters in the world.* To make it to command, you have to pass the British Submarine Command Course, better known as the Perisher. Typical failure rate is 25%, but there have been many courses where the entire class of 3-6 officers were failed.

It is an incredibly demanding four month course, culminating in a lengthy at-sea evaluation.

And failure during the course? This is how you find out. You're ordered to surface the boat. When you come to the conning tower, a small boat approaches. Your gear, having been packed by the crew, is handed to you, along with a bottle of whisky. You are put into the small boat, and the submarine dives away. It is the last time you will ever be on a Royal Navy submarine.

If you pass, you are posted to an Executive Officer slot on a serving submarine crew.

The point of the course is this -- you have risen as high as you can in the Royal Navy Submarine Service without actually commanding. The point of Perisher is to find out if you have what it takes to become a RN submarine commander. If you don't, then, well, there's not much point in you staying around.

The USN has been sending, as part of an exchange program, a few officers to both the RN's and the Koninklijke Marine (Royal Netherlands Navy's) Perisher Courses. One of the perceived problems with the USN's Submarine Force was the hyper-focus on reactor safety and not enough focus on combat ability. This was fine for boomers, which were supposed to dig a hole in the water and hide, but for fast attack boats, wasn't exactly the right attitude. Reactor Safety is still incredibly important, and the fastest way to the beach for a USN Submarine commander or engineering officer is to fail an ORSE, the Operation Reactor Safeguard Examination.

One of the exchange-backs for the RN is service on the USS Winston S. Churchill (DDG-81). Named after the WWII Prime Minister, the Churchill always has a RN officer onboard when at sea, and flies both the US Flag and the RN's White Ensign. RN officers are probably going to be coming over to learn carrier operations as well.


* The Netherlands Navy would like to argue this point. And, in all fairness, they have a right -- they have a very, very good submarine force, despite only have four boats. They, however, are very quiet boats, with very aggressive and competent commanders, and more than one NATO exercise has ended with a RNN submarine showing a US carrier commander a periscope picture of his ship.
posted by eriko at 4:34 AM on October 16, 2012 [28 favorites]


There's a video? I guess that explains the big white empty rectangle before the story. I wonder if that's Flash crapping out on me again or something else.
posted by DU at 4:47 AM on October 16, 2012


In what metaphorical way do barmaids have pincer-like cutting devices that sneak up behind something and cut cables?

You've never been round our pub on a Saturday night. It's no metaphor.
posted by pracowity at 4:50 AM on October 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


To make it to command, you have to pass the British Submarine Command Course, better known as the Perisher.

The Discovery channel had a documentary about it recently and there was indeed one USN officer there taking it. There was an interesting moment of doctrinal divergence when the USN officer spotted a nearby trawler with its lines out and ordered the boat deeper (USN doctrine). RN peacetime doctrine calls for surfacing in cases like that after a student on the Perisher snagged a trawler's nets and dragged it down.
Had he been RN, that would have been an automatic dismissal but he got a second chance because of the difference in regs (seems like a training oversight to be honest).
posted by atrazine at 4:52 AM on October 16, 2012


In what metaphorical way do barmaids have pincer-like cutting devices that sneak up behind something and cut cables?

Well, I have seen many times from the customer side of the bar how a bartender (or barmaid) wipes the bar with the rag in one hand and then lays the new pint where the old one that produced the ring was sitting. It's a thing of beauty.
posted by three blind mice at 4:55 AM on October 16, 2012


The... I don't know, nerve, or audacity maybe, to think you could even attempt to steal the very towed array sonar that was meant to be listening for you. Remarkable.
posted by adamt at 4:59 AM on October 16, 2012


St. Pauli Girl. Two arms out front, each with a big handful of stuff.

(Also, a couple of impressive sonar domes.)
posted by pracowity at 5:23 AM on October 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


And failure during the course? This is how you find out. You're ordered to surface the boat. When you come to the conning tower, a small boat approaches. Your gear, having been packed by the crew, is handed to you, along with a bottle of whisky. You are put into the small boat, and the submarine dives away. It is the last time you will ever be on a Royal Navy submarine.

That is remarkably kind-hearted for a course called "the Perisher." I would expect, based on the history of the Royal Navy, for there to be more perishing. You know as in "And failure during the course? This is how you find out. You wake up being loaded into a torpedo tube...."
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:24 AM on October 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


The barmaid is not the one doing the surreptitious pinch from behind.
posted by Authorized User at 5:28 AM on October 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


Fun facts of the day regarding the General Belgrano (the ship, not the dude): 1) She was the first (and remains the only) ship ever to be sunk by a nuclear-powered submarine in combat, and 2) She was sold to the Argentinians in 1951 by the US Navy; she was originally named the USS Phoenix and survived the Pear Harbor attack unscathed in 1941.

[Stephen Fry tried to tell me on QI one night that it was the "only" ship to survive the Pearl Harbor attack, but it didn't take me very long to find out that isn't true.]
posted by The Ultimate Olympian at 5:43 AM on October 16, 2012


This reminds me of Project Azorian. cstross should incorporate it into a Laundry novel as a secret project to amputate a sleeping Deep One's tentacle (I said TENTACLE, no sniggering at the back) for study.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 5:47 AM on October 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's funny how the Americans thought up the operation, but then let the Brits carry it out. The latter took it as an endorsement of their skills. The former probably didn't want to be the ones dealing with an angry Soviet sub...

The Royal Navy's submarine force is something else -- they are widely considered to be the best underwater warfighters in the world.

It wasn't always so...
posted by Skeptic at 6:06 AM on October 16, 2012


The Brits sure have a thing for offbeat projects involving submarines. Another is Operation Mincemeat (also a book).
posted by exogenous at 6:06 AM on October 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


...they are widely considered to be the best underwater warfighters in the world.

Sometimes not.
posted by Kiwi at 6:12 AM on October 16, 2012


The pincers were designed to gnaw rather than slice cleanly to give the impression that the array had snagged on an underwater obstacle and been torn off.

Good luck with that story when you get back to base, Oleg.
posted by Segundus at 6:17 AM on October 16, 2012


This is a remarkable story, thanks for posting.

Eriko, I really appreciate the color. Very interesting!
posted by staccato signals of constant information at 6:25 AM on October 16, 2012


Skeptic: "It wasn't always so..."
Sweet Jeebus.
[Depth keeping] was made worse by the estimated maximum diving depth of 200' / 60 m being much less than their 339' / 103 m length. Even a 10° angle would cause a 59' / 18 m difference in depth of the bow and stern, and 30° would produce 170' / 50 m which meant that while the stern would almost be on the surface, the bow would almost be at its maximum safe depth. The problems were made even more dangerous because the eight internal bulkheads were designed and tested during development to stand a pressure equivalent to only 70' / 20 m.
Also, Battle of May Island.
posted by brokkr at 6:45 AM on October 16, 2012


This is a very interesting story. Thanks for posting this. It reminds me of Operation Ivy Bells.

The story was definitely written from the British perspective though as evidenced by this little tidbit, "almost two months after the liberation of the Falklands." (emphasis added)
posted by caddis at 7:05 AM on October 16, 2012


Why not Zoidberg?
posted by Doroteo Arango II at 8:31 AM on October 16, 2012


Henning Mankell's The Troubled Man has a similar naval op as a key past precipitating event. But then I'm happy for any chance to bring Wallendar into a conversation.
posted by billsaysthis at 9:34 AM on October 16, 2012


And failure during the course? This is how you find out. You're ordered to surface the boat. When you come to the conning tower, a small boat approaches. Your gear, having been packed by the crew, is handed to you, along with a bottle of whisky. You are put into the small boat, and the submarine dives away. It is the last time you will ever be on a Royal Navy submarine.

What happens next? Are they still respected as Officers in a different naval role, or is it a permanent black mark?
posted by lstanley at 10:59 AM on October 16, 2012


And, speaking from experience, when on shore leave those guys can pack away the beer. We frequent a pub near the test range here in Florida for the boomers and when the Brits show up our money is no good.

Always a good time.
posted by jeporter99 at 12:01 PM on October 16, 2012


Great post. The BBC documentary on the Perisher course is on you tube. Well worth the watch.
posted by arcticseal at 12:02 PM on October 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


"What happens next? Are they still respected as Officers in a different naval role, or is it a permanent black mark?"

We don't know. They've never found any of the boats.
posted by Xoebe at 1:21 PM on October 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


Write up from the first USN officer to undergo the Perisher.

http://www.navy.mil/navydata/cno/n87/usw/issue_18/perisher.htm
posted by arcticseal at 4:01 PM on October 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Great post. The BBC documentary on the Perisher course is on you tube. Well worth the watch.

Watched the first two parts of that last night - really interesting. Even kind of surprising the level of access they have into the training/testing - you'd think that sort of stuff would have been top secret during the cold war era.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 2:17 AM on October 17, 2012


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