Often referred to as the “silent service,” submarines have always been deployed on intelligence-gathering missions, and their covert nature make them ideal vehicles for conducting surveillance, collecting signals intelligence, and clandestinely infiltrating agents and saboteurs. The use of submarines as a means of delivering
secret agents and special forces developed during World War II, and both the Axis and the Allies relied upon them to undertake clandestine missions. U-boats carried Abwehr agents across the Atlantic to Canada and the United States, while British submarines were active on similar assignments in French waters, the Mediterranean, and the Far East.
During the Cold War, British and American submarines shared intelligence collection duties in or near Soviet harbors, acting as pickets to monitor the movement of Soviet submarines and engaging in occasionally dangerous “cat-and-mouse” tactics, shadowing target hostiles. When collisions sporadically occurred, no public protests were made by either side, and the consequent damage was usually attributed to “ice damage,” which became a euphemism.
The advent of nuclear propulsion allowed submarine endurance to be limited only by the amount of food stored aboard and enabled specially adapted hunter-killers to undertake long patrols permanently submerged to complete highly classified tasks, such as the servicing of IVY BELLS intercept equipment.
During the Falklands Conflict, which was the first time nuclear submarines had been deployed in anger or had sunk a surface vessel (other than on exercise), three hunter-killers patrolled the South Atlantic and performed various duties, including acting as air-raid warning pickets, lying submerged off Argentine airfields, and monitoring enemy air movement and wireless traffic