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History of the Atlantic Cable & Undersea Communications
from the first submarine cable of 1850 to the worldwide fiber optic network

French PTT
by Bill Glover

FRENCH PTT

In 1854 John Watkins Brett undertook the task of connecting France to Algeria. The route was to be Spezia, Italy - Corsica, a landline across the island, then a cable across the Strait of Bonifacio to Sardinia, another landline then a further cable to Bona, Algeria. Glass Elliot were contracted to supply the cable and they shipped the Spezia - Corsica and Corsica - Sardinia cables in the steamer Persian which had been equipped with a twin drum paying out machine at the stern. These two sections were laid successfully.

The following year using the sailing ship Result, which was towed by the steamer Tartar, the first attempt at laying the Sardinia - Bona cable took place. In places the depth of water reached 1800 fathoms and the weight of the cable proved too much for the braking system used and it was realised that there would be insufficient cable to complete the job so the attempt was abandoned. A second attempt in the same year using Dutchman also failed more or less for the same reason; too much slack was paid out and the expedition ran out of cable.

After this Brett gave his concession to R. S. Newall & Company who in 1857 laid a cable from Galita, Algeria to Cagliari, Sardinia using CS Elba. This cable also ran out and a temporary piece of cable was spliced on. This was later replaced by a new cable laid by Blazer (2).

Glass, Elliot and Company undertook the laying of a cable direct from Toulon, France to Algiers. Using CS William Cory, paying out started from Saltpetriere Bay on the 9th September 1860. A fault developed and three miles of cable had to be recovered before the fault could be cut out. When about sixty miles from Toulon the cable parted. The water was to deep at this point so William Cory returned to the shallow waters off the Balearic Islands, recovered the cable and laid it into Minorca where it was linked to the cable laid by W. T. Henley for the Spanish Government.

More cable was obtained and CS William Cory set off from Minorca for Toulon. Ninety miles of cable had been laid when William Cory was in collision with her escort. Buoying the cable she returned to Minorca for repairs. Returning to the buoy on the 13 January 1861, recovery of the cable was started but the cable broke and was lost in 1300 fathoms, to deep for recovery. Brunswick did manage to recover 28 miles of cable laid in shallow waters. She then proceeded to complete her original task: that of laying a cable from Corsica to Toulon. Brunswick laid another cable in 1861 from Port Vendres, France to Corsica and on the 19th September 1861 a link was established between France and Algeria.

Siemens and Halske, London were the next company to try, this being their first cable laying expedition. The French PTT purchased the Dix Décembre, sending her to England to be fitted out for cable laying. This time the route was Oran, Algeria - Cartagena, Spain. Laying commenced from Oran on the 12th January 1864 but the attempt was abandoned when the cable fouled the drum on which it was coiled. A second try started out on the 28th January but the cable parted in deep water. The third and final attempt took place in September and as the shore end was being landed in Spain a fault appeared ten miles from shore. All attempts to recover the faulty section failed and the cable was abandoned.

A direct link France - Algeria had to wait until 1870 when the Marseilles, Algiers and Malta Telegraph Company succeeded in laying a cable from Marseilles to Bona using CS William Cory and then CS La Plata laid a cable Bona - Malta.

In the following year the French PTT awarded the India Rubber, Gutta Percha and Telegraph Works Company a contract to lay a cable from Marseilles to Algiers; this they did using CS International.

In 1879 India Rubber duplicated this cable using CS's Dacia and Charente; this cable remained in use up until 1955. A triplicate cable was laid in 1880 by CS Dacia. In 1878 CS John Pender (1) laid a cable from Antibes to Corsica.

Following the laying of cables between Spain and the Canaries in 1883 by the Spanish National Telegraph Company, the French PTT secured an agreement to land a cable on Tenerife from St. Louis, Senegal. India Rubber manufactured and laid the cable using CS's Dacia and International.

In 1891 the French PTT awarded two contracts. The first was to La Société Générale des Téléphones for a cable from Marseilles to Oran. Their cable factory at Bezons produced the core which was then armoured at their factory at Calais. To lay the 638 nm cable they purchased CS Westmeath , renaming the ship to Francois Arago, and the laying took place in 1892. The second contract, from Marseilles to Tunis, was awarded to Monsieur Grammont, who built a factory at St. Tropez to manufacture the cable and chartered CS Calabria to lay the 553 nm cable in 1893. Foreign cable companies were not allowed to tender for these two cables. These two companies shared a contract in 1895 to lay a cable between Madagascar and Mozambique. CS Francois Arago laid the 371 nm cable.

In the early part of the 20th century the French PTT set about linking the rest of its colonies to France and so the following cables were laid. Tamative, Madagascar - St. Dennis, Reunion - Port Louis, Mauritius, the total length of cable laid being 1030 nm. Cap St. Jacques, French Indo China was linked to Pontianak, Borneo; Saigon - Tourane - Haiphong; Tourane - Amoy. All these cables were laid by CS Francois Arago. In 1905 a cable was laid from Brest to Dakar, Senegal a distance of 2847 nm.

In 1916 CS Dacia undertook the task of diverting the German South American cable into Brest, Casablanca and Dakar. She first picked up the intermediate cable in the English Channel, which had been cut the previous year, and relaid this as shore ends at Brest and Casablanca. She then diverted the main cable into Dakar. But while moored in Funchal harbour, CS Dacia, her armed escort, and her support vessel were sunk by a German U boat.

At the end of World War I the French PTT and the British GPO took over the two German Atlantic cables laid in 1900 and 1903-4 via the Azores. They were split as follows; Borkum - Azores section of the 1900 cable and the Azores - New York section of the 1904 cable were handed over to the GPO and the Borkum - Azores section of the 1903 cable and the Azores - New York section of the 1900 cable were handed over to the French PTT. CS Emile Baudot was launched in 1917 to maintain these cables.

CS Ampere (2) laid cables from Marseilles to Bizerta in 1931 and 1938 and Marseilles to Oran in 1932 and 1939. Another cable laid was that from Nabeul, Tunisia to Igalo, Yugoslavia a distance of 802 miles. During this period a number of cables were laid along the West African coast, including from Dakar to Conakry. Submarine Cables Ltd., manufactured and laid a cable between Nabeul and Beirut, Lebanon in 1938 using CS Faraday (2).

Following the end of World War II French PTT cables and the private cable and radio companies were nationalised, becoming part of a new company - La Compagnie Française des Câbles Sous-Marins et de Radio, better known as France Cable and Radio. Later the name was changed to France Telecom.

In 1949 CS D'Arsonval inserted the first French made repeater into a cable running between Toulon and Ajaccio. The rigid repeater was manufactured by La Compagnie Industrielle des Téléphones. This was followed by a new flexible repeater fitted to a cable laid in 1950 by CS D'Arsonval between Cannes and Nice. Though fatter than the American repeater it was bi-directional as opposed to the uni-directional American equipment. A new cable containing four of these repeaters was laid along the cost of Tunisia from Qelibia and Bou Ficha by CS Ampere (3).

The first deep water use of this repeater was in a cable laid in 1957 from Marseilles to Bordj el Kiffan, Algeria. CS Ampere (3) laid the 478 nm of cable and 28 repeaters. CS's Emile Baudot and Alsace acted as support vessels. In January 1962 CS Marcel Bayard on her maiden voyage laid another France - Algeria cable of 542 nm with 31 repeaters, which ran from Canet Plage, Perpignan to Mers el Qebir, Oran. The same ship laid one cable in 1966 from Ile Rousse to Cannes, 109 nm of cable and 5 repeaters and another in 1967, Canet Plage to Tetuan, Morocco consisting of 759 nm of cable and 39 repeaters. This was followed by Marseilles - Bizerta 466 nm of cable and 24 repeaters and in 1970 St. Raphael - St. Tropez, 15 nm of cable and 2 transistorised repeaters. This transistorised repeater was used in the following cables 1972 France - Algeria No 2 441 nm of cable and 53 repeaters; Penmarc'h, France - Casablanca, Morocco No 2 laid in 1973, 1035 nm of cable and 92 repeaters. All of these were laid by CS Marcel Bayard.

CS Marcel Bayard in a painting by P. Joubert

A new repeater providing 3440 4 kHz circuits was first used on a short cable running from St. Raphael and La Foux, a distance of 19 nm which included 5 repeaters. CS Vercors laid this cable on her maiden voyage. Other cables included ANNIBAL, Perpignan - Bizerta 501 nm of cable and 47 repeaters; MARPAL, Marseilles - Palo, Italy in 1976 371 nm of cable with 81 repeaters.

Of the early trans Atlantic cables, TAT 2, TAT 4 and TAT 6 all had landings in France and France Telecom has been involved in many international projects including SEA ME WE, PACRIM etc.

Peio Elissalde has created an interactive map of all current French cables using Google Maps.

CABLE SHIPS

AMPERE (1)

Built c. 1860

Built as the Dix Décembre and purchased by the French PTT to lay the Oran - Cartagena cable in 1864. Siemens and Halske of London were the contractors for the expedition. The cable was coiled on a large drum mounted vertically in the hold. On the first attempt the cable fouled the drum. In 1870 renamed Ampere (1) and in 1907 new cable gear was installed. Used to maintain Anglo-French cables until 1925 when she was scrapped.

Diagram of the Dix Décembre from
Traité de Télégraphie Sous-marine

CHARENTE

Built in 1862 in England

Length 213 ft 5 in. Breadth 29 ft. 9 in. Depth 10 ft. 1 in. Gross tonnage 1061

Purchased in 1874 by the French PTT and fitted out for cable repair work by La Compagnie des Forges et Chantiers de la Seyne. In service until 1931 when sold for scrap.

See also the main page for Charente.

EMILE BAUDOT

Built in 1917 by Swan, Hunter and Wigham Richardson Ltd.

Length 222.5 ft. Breadth 32.2 ft. Depth 19.2 ft. Gross tonnage 1049

The first ship to be designed and built for cable repair work for the French PTT. Fitted with three cable tanks with a storage capacity of 9712 cubic feet. The Telegraph Construction & Maintenance Company supplied the machinery which consisted of a double combined paying out-picking up machine, two dynamometers and three bow sheaves. No facilities for paying out astern were provided. Based at Le Havre maintaining French coastal and Anglo-French cables. Operated by the Royal Navy during World War II on harbour defence work. Returned to the French PTT in 1945 at Gibraltar. Then based at Brest maintaining Anglo-French cables and Atlantic cables. Sold for breaking up in 1962.

CABLE WORK

1957 France - Algeria

AMPERE (2)

Built in 1930 by Ste Provencale, La Ciotat.

Length 300.4 ft. Breadth 41.1 ft. Depth 23.7 ft. Gross tonnage 2434

The first French PTT vessel to fitted with aft paying out gear which was mounted on the port side. Cable from the forward tanks was guided to the stern gear by rollers mounted in the port alleyway which ran through the centre castle. The feed from the aft tank was guided by roller fairleads through 180 degrees to reach the paying out gear. The forward paying out gear consisted of two paying out-picking up machines supplied by the Telegraph Construction and Maintenance Company. Three cable tanks were fitted with a total capacity of 21189 cubic feet. Three bow sheaves and one stern sheave were also fitted. Based at La Seyne sur Mer up until 1939 maintaining the Mediterranean cables and the Brest - Casablanca - Dakar cables. Taken over by the Germans in 1942 and used as a naval auxiliary. Scuttled in Marseilles harbour in 1944.

CABLE WORK

1931 Marseilles - Bizerta
1932 Marseilles - Oran
1938 Marseilles - Bizerta
1939 Marseilles - Oran

ARAGO

Built in 1914 by Goole Shipbuilding and Repairing Company.

Length 208.4 ft. Breadth 30.1 ft. Depth 16.6 ft. Gross tonnage 901

Built for the Eastern Telegraph Company, as Transmitter, to maintain cables along the African coast. Fitted with a single combined paying out-picking up machine with two 5 ft. 8 in. diameter drums which were free running so one could be used to pay out cable while the other was picking up. Fitted with three tanks with a capacity of 240 nm of cable. Transferred to Imperial and International Communications in 1929. Sold in 1932 to the French PTT and renamed Arago.

ALSACE

Built in 1939 by Chantiers et Ateliers de St. Nazaire.

Length 288 ft 10 in. Breadth 39 ft. 9 in. Draught 17 ft. 6 in. Gross tonnage 2092

Completed just before the German occupation, she was laid up in Algiers until 1942 when based at Dakar to replace Arago. After World War II based at La Seyne sur Mer on maintenance duties in the Mediterranean. Fitted with three cable tanks with a capacity of 14500 cubic feet. Fitted only with a forward paying out-picking up machine. In service until 1974 when sold for scrap to N. V. Rijsdijk-Holland.

CABLE WORK

1957 Marseilles - Algiers

PIERRE PICARD

Built as Edouard Jeramec for La Compagnie Française des Câbles Télégraphiques. Sold to All America Cables in 1929 where it operated under the same name. Sold to the French PTT in 1946 and renamed Pierre Picard. Undertook major repair work on the Brest - Cape Cod cable. Sunk in Brest harbour on the 19th December 1952.

INGENIEUR EN-CHEF HANFF

Built as the Elveshorn (see Norddeutsche Seekabelwerke). Handed over to the Netherlands PTT in 1946 and renamed Poolster (1).

Handed over to the French PTT in June 1949 and renamed Ingenieur-en-Chef Hanff. Sold out of the cable industry in 1954. See the main page on this ship for further details.

D'ARSONVAL

Built in 1941 by Ansaldo Co., Genoa.

Length 251.3 ft. Breadth 33.1 ft. Depth 12.9 ft. Displacement 1715 tons

Built for the Italian Navy as Giasone (2) and used for among other work for harbour defence and cable laying. A twin paying out-picking up machine was fitted forward, no aft facilities were provided. Two cable tanks with a capacity of 3355 cubic feet were installed. Based at Genoa she was taken over by the Germans when the Italians surrendered. Sunk in Marseilles harbour and refloated and refitted by the French PTT at the end of World War II. Renamed D'Arsonval. Based at Brest until December 1964 when sold for scrap.

AMPERE (3)

Built 1951, Chantiers de Normandie, Grand Quevilly

Length 299 ft Breadth 41.4ft Depth 16.8 ft Gross tonnage 2100

CS Ampere (3)

Cable repair ship owned by the French PTT. Based at La Seyne sur Mer for the maintenance of French Atlantic cables. Fitted with three cable tanks with a storage capacity of 14500 cubic feet. Kept in service until 1983. It was intended to preserve the ship as a Telecommunications Museum at La Seyne sur Mer, but this idea was abandoned and the ship was scrapped in 1985.

CABLE WORK

1956 Tunisian coast Qelibia - Bou Ficha
1956 Denmark - Holland
1957 France - Algeria
1958 TAT-2 French shore ends
1958 Sardinia - Corsica two power cables
1961 UK - France two power cables

MARCEL BAYARD

Built 1961, Chantiers et Ateliers Angustin Normand

Length 387.1 ft. Breadth 51.3 ft. Depth 21.6 ft. Gross tonnage 4500

Named after a Submarine Cable Department chief engineer. Owned by the French PTT and used to maintain the French Atlantic cable network. In 1982 the ship caught fire and was completely gutted whilst undergoing repairs at La Seyne sur Mer. It happened the day before she was due to sail to Bermuda for maintenance work on the Atlantic cables. Sold to Spanish shipbreakers.

CABLE WORK

1962 Oran - Perpignan
1965 TAT 4 French shore ends
1967 France - Morocco
1968 France - Israel
1969 France - Tunisia
1970 St Raphael - St Tropez
1970 France - Lebanon
1972 France - Algeria
1973 France - Morocco
1974 ARIANE France - Greece
1974 APHRODITE Greece - Cyprus
1974 ADONIS Cyprus - Lebanon
1976 Palma - Algeria

The following were or are operated by France Telecom Marine

VERCORS - See separate page for this ship

LEON THEVENIN - See separate page for this ship

RAYMOND CROZE - See separate page for this ship

RENÉ DESCARTES

Length 144.5 m Breadth 22 m Draught 7.4 m Gross tonnage 8200

Delivered to France Telecom Marine in 2002 as their main cable layer. Fitted with 3 main tanks capable of holding 5500 tonnes of cable. Storage area for 210 repeaters.

CHAMAREL

Length 136 m Breadth 18.2 m 7.3 m Gross tonnage 5900

Based in Cape Town, operated by France Telecom Marine subsidiary Chamarel Marine Services for maintenance work on SAT 3, WASC and SAFE cables. Two linear paying out-picking up cable engines fitted forward and one paying out cable engine fitted aft and three bow sheaves 3 m diameter one 'V' and two flat.

Last revised: 15 March, 2014

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