• Russian vessel detected 30 miles away from Scotland last night
  • Only ship available to respond was on south coast of England
  • Tensions heightened when aerial photos showed ship full of missiles

By Mark Nicol

 

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A Russian cruiser came within 30 miles of the British coast but the Navy only had one ship to respond (file image)

A Russian cruiser came within 30 miles of the British coast but the Navy only had one ship to respond (file image)

 

 

A fully armed Royal Navy warship was scrambled to challenge a missile-carrying Russian vessel  in the waters off Britain just days before Christmas, defence sources revealed last night.

In a calculated test of Britain’s reduced naval capacity in the North Sea, the Russian warship came within 30 miles of the coast.

It was detected nearing Scotland, but the only ship the Royal Navy had available to respond after Ministry of Defence cuts was in Portsmouth, resulting in a delay of 24 hours until it was in position.

The threatening approach towards Britain’s territorial waters triggered a top-secret Navy and Air Force operation co-ordinated by the military top brass at the Permanent Joint Headquarters (PJHQ) bunker at Northwood, just outside London.

RAF reconnaissance aircraft tracked the progress of the Russian warship as it neared north-east Scotland, and the tension heightened when aerial photographs revealed the ship was carrying a full payload of guided missiles.

Commanders at PJHQ decided to send the new Type 45 destroyer HMS Defender, which is Britain’s immediate-response ship during a national security crisis.

The Russian ship waited in the Moray Forth, a stretch of water  that flows into Loch Ness, for Defender to arrive, as if her captain were recording the Navy’s response times.

At the time, Defender was in dock at Portsmouth. Her crew were forced to make the 600-mile journey around the coastline, because budget cutbacks mean there are no maritime patrol vessels sailing off Scotland.

 A defence source said: ‘This was no exercise – the Russian ship was behaving very aggressively in a stretch of water bordering Britain’s territorial waters.

‘They were watched very closely by the RAF and it was agreed that HMS Defender should block the Russians’  passage.

A tense stand-off ensued when Defender reached the Moray Firth as crews tried to establish intentions

A tense stand-off ensued when Defender reached the Moray Firth as crews tried to establish intentions

 

‘Defender was fully equipped with Sea Viper surface-to-air missiles and guns capable of firing 40kg shells as far as 18 miles. Her captain and crew knew this was the real deal and were prepared to engage.’

 

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