Two Russian frigates and an anti-submarine aircraft are also thought to have been hunting for HMS Astute as it manoeuvred to put its Tomahawk cruise missiles within range of Syria.
Sources have told The Times the Royal Navy nuclear powered submarine is believed to have been stalked by at least one but possibly two Russian Kilo-class subs — dubbed “the Black Hole” because they are so quiet and hard to track.
Two Russian frigates and an anti-submarine aircraft are also thought to have joined the hunt.
The £1.2billion Astute-class boat is believed to have spent several days playing the kind of dangerous and tense game of hide-and-seek which characterised the Royal Navy’s Cold War activity.
Russian and Brit subs have increasingly been doing this out in the north Atlantic, North Sea and Mediterranean amid imploding relations between the two countries following chemical attacks in Salisbury and Syria.
But while the two nations have a long history of underwater duelling, it is thought this is the first time this has taken place in the build-up to strikes in Syria.
A US Navy P-8 maritime patrol aircraft, which has sensors that can find vessels and deploy mines and torpedoes, has been deployed to protect the HMS Astute and other NATO subs.
The Kilo-class hunter-killers are stationed at Russia’s naval base at Tartus in Syria.
Powered by two diesel generators and an electric drive, they can prowl the waters extremely quietly and can be armed with torpedoes, cruise and anti-ship missiles.
Nick Childs, a senior fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, told The Times that the Ministry of Defence was likely to have a stockpile of fewer than 100 Tomahawks which are used by the Astute class attack fleet
He said: “The Americans fired 59 last year when they attacked one airbase [in Syria] that’s a measure of what additional capability the UK is likely to bring.”
Submarine commanders are trained to fire only a small number of missiles at one time to avoid detection.
“The longer you stay in an area and you are firing off missiles, the more you are giving away your position,” Childs said.
“And as a submarine that makes you vulnerable.”