Do submarines ever crash into each other?

AFAIK, subs have no windows; the helmsman navigates with sonar. During wargame exercises…or actual combat with the enemy…one runs silently. Isn’t possible, if not likely, one bumps into something else if you’re both blind and deaf?



The USS Baton Rouge hit a Soviet sub in Feb of 1992. A guy that works for us was an officer onboard at the time. He said it scared the crap out of everyone.
Wiki link
Also this accident is covered in the book Blind Man’s Bluff

Good book, though necessarily it concerns older subs.

Some comments:

  1. Indeed, subs do not have any windows, because they would be useless underwater.

  2. The helmsman doesn’t navigate at all. The helmsman merely keeps the submarine on the course ordered by the Officer of the Deck. (The Quartermaster of the Watch navigates. He doesn’t use sonar, either, though, except for the fathometer. He uses charts. The sonar operators use sonar. They pass their information on to the fire control system, manned by the Fire Controlman of the Watch.)

  3. Allied subs get depth restrictions when they are operating in the same area, including exercises (e.g. one sub has the depth 0-200 feet, while another sub gets 200-400 feet.)

  4. Some subs run more silently than others.

  5. While it happens, it’s certainly not at all likely that submarines will have collisions with other vessels. I’ve steamed hundreds of thousands of miles on 3 different subs and never experienced a collision. Also, the U.S. Navy does not look kindly upon such an occurrence. Along with grounding the sub, it’s the quickest way for a commanding officer to be relieved of command.

Crazy Ivan

When a Russian sub would execute a 90 degree turn to clear the baffles , leaving innocent tail gating american fast attack boats to curse crazy ivan


The book Hostile Waters also concerns an American / Soviet sub collision.

Actually, there’s always a “cushion” of space between the depth restrictions as well. So it would be something like one sub gets 0-200 feet, and another sub gets 300-500 feet.

Here’s a tale told to me by an ex-Navy guy, and it might even be true. During the Soviet era, each side knew where the other’s submarine harbors were. Tracking the other side’s subs in the open ocean was nearly impossible; the best chance was to spot one leaving the harbor and tail it. When a sub left, and a Soviet sub tried to fall in behind it, another US sub would run right at the following sub, “playing chicken.” The Soviet sub would have to veer off to avoid a collision, and it would lose track of the departing sub. Like in any game of chicken, somebody occasionally dodges too late.

Some collisions just traded paint, but some caused serious damage.

It happens not just during wartime. Submarines have collided with each other and with surface ships. Here are two collisions between a US nuclear submarine and a surface ship:

BTW if by “running silently” you mean don’t use active sonar “pings”, that’s standard procedure. By using passive sonar combined with acoustic processing and computers, submarines can often identify ships and other subs many miles away. By passive listening alone they can often determine the exact ship or sub, since each one has a unique acoustic signature.

The fictional Tom Clancy book “Hunt for Red October” accurately portrays some of these items. It contains many more details than the movie version.

You’re going to have to cite the “playing chicken” story. I find it unlikely to the point of fancy that a US sub commander would intentionally lay a collision course for a Russian sub, risking not only the lives of the 80-120 men on crew and a $200M+ asset but also an international incident.

It is true that SSBNs were escorted out of their “pens” by one or more Sturgeon- or Los Angeles-class attack submarines (and occasionally a surface frigate equipped for submarine hunting), which would “slam” (Yankee search or active sonar pulse) a trailling attack Soviet submarine in order to drive it off course and allow the boomer to get into mesopelagic conditions in which it is essentially undetectable by passive sonar (under normal cruising condition).