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

U.S. Armed Forces Cables
by Bill Glover

UNITED STATES ARMY

The first submarine telegraph cable laid by the United States Signal Corps was in the Philippines in 1899 after the Spanish ceded the islands to the USA. CS Hooker was to lay the cable but she ran aground.

HOOKER’S NAVIGATOR CARELESS.
Board Finds Ship Grounded in Daylight on a Chartered Reef.

MANILA, Aug. 19 - 6 P.M. - The board appointed to examine into the causes of the grounding of the United States cableship Hooker, which recently went ashore
near the mouth of Corregidor Harbor, at the entrance of Manila Bay, finds that the accident occurred in daylight, on a reef shown on the chart, and that there were evidences of carelessness on the part of the navigator of the vessel.

The cable instruments and other property have been removed from the Hooker, and the cable is now being removed. If no storm intervenes hopes are entertained that the vessel may be hauled off and repaired. Her hull has been badly torn by the coral reef on which she struck.

New York Times, Aug 20, 1899

The work was then carried out by CS Burnside and CS Romulus. The 240 nm of cable was manufactured by the Safety Insulated Wire and Cable Company. CS Burnside remained in the Philippines on maintenance duties until 1903, when she was replaced by CS Liscum.

The Army was responsible for harbour defence work and the Signal Corps carried out the necessary work up until 1914, when it was taken over by the Coast Artillery. Two ships were built for this work: CS Cyrus W. Field and CS Joseph Henry (1). One exception to this was cable work to and from Alaska.

The first cable laid in Alaskan waters was in 1900, when CS Orizaba connected Unalakik to St. Michael and St. Michael to Safety Island, Cape Nome, the distances being 55 nm and 132 nm. The cable was manufactured at Seymour, Connecticut, transported by rail to San Francisco, spliced into the required lengths and loaded aboard the cable ship. While laying the St Michael - Cape Nome section Orizaba ran aground and the cable had to off loaded onto a barge. The remaining cable was laid from the barge while being towed by a tug.

In 1903 CS Burnside laid a cable between Sitka and Juneau of 291 nm, and in 1904 between Sitka and Seattle, 1070 nm, and Sitka and Valdez, 640 nm. These cables and the one laid in 1900 were operated by the US Army Signals Corps, for the Washington - Alaska Military Cable and Telegraph System (WAMCATS), authorised by an Act of Congress on the 29th May 1900. CS Dellwood undertook the laying of a new cable in 1924 between Seattle and Alaska with a landing at Ketchikan; a total length of 1894 nm.

From 1931 the Army Signal Corps did not own a cable ship and so the system deteriorated until 1941, when the Officer in Charge chartered CS Restorer from the Commercial Pacific Cable Company to repair the network. Following Pearl Harbor, CS Dellwood was repurchased and fitted out for cable repair work; after her sinking, maintenance work was undertaken by CS Silverado, Brico (a barge), and CS’s Glassford and Basil O. Lenoir.

The first telephone cable was laid in 1956 with CS’s Albert J. Myer and Basil O. Lenoir undertaking the work. The Arthur M. Huddell acted as cable carrier. The first section from Port Angeles, Washington State to Ketchikan was a two cable system similar to TAT 1, each cable being 750 nm long; this section was owned by AT&T. The second section was a single cable of 346 nm from Ketchikan to Skagway, this section owned by the Alaskan Communication System. Repeaters on this section were land-based and the cable came ashore at around 40 mile intervals. The first section is leased to the Army Signals Corps which operates the whole cable. The cable was manufactured by the Simplex Wire and Cable Company and the repeaters by the Western Electric Company.

U.S. ARMY CABLE SHIPS

ORIZABA

Built in 1883 by Harlan and Hillingsworth, Wilmington

Length 205 ft Breadth 34 ft Depth 16.1 ft Gross tonnage 967

Named Willamette Valley when launched, then Kate Carroll, and finally Orizaba. Chartered from the Pacific Coast Steamship Company and fitted out to lay the 1900 cables. A paying-out machine was fitted on the forward well and tanks were built within the holds.


HOOKER

Built in 1875 by the London and Glasgow Company

Length 333 ft Breadth 33 ft Depth 24.1 ft Gross tonnage 2000

Launched as the Branksome and then renamed Panama. Owned by the Compania Transatlantica Espanola and operated between the West Indies, Cuba and Spain. Captured by the US cruiser Mangrove during the US-Spanish war. Used by the Army as a troop transport and then converted for cable work by the Morse Shipyard, Brooklyn.

The first and last cable expedition undertaken was to lay cables in the Philippines. Leaving New York the ship had to call in at Gibraltar for boiler repairs. She then proceeded through the Suez Canal and on to the Philippines. During the laying of the cable Hooker ran aground on Corregidor Island in Manila Bay and became a total loss. The work was completed by CS Burnside.


ROMULUS

Built in 1879 by H. MacIntyre, Paisley, Scotland for Mcleod & Company, Manila

Length 210 ft Breadth 29.2 ft Depth 15.3 ft Gross tonnage 809

Converted to a cable ship in 1900 to assist CS Burnside. Returned to its new owners, Cia Maritama, Manila, in 1901.


BURNSIDE

See details on the CS Burnside page

Life on board a cable ship consisted of alternating periods of intense activity and nothing to do. Some crew members amused themselves with handicrafts, such as this shell carved by R.A. Howard.

LISCUM

Fitted out as a cable ship in 1905 and used to maintain the Philippine cables after the withdrawal of CS Burnside.

It’s not clear how much cable work the Liscum actually performed. A New York Times story datelined March 4, 1906 describes Liscum as a transport, sent to recover material from a wrecked inter-island transport off Luzon. Another story dated 1912 reports that the “United States transport” Liscum sank in forty feet of water at Shanghai, where she was undergoing repairs, but was expected to be re-floated. In the US War Department Annual Reports for 1914, the Liscum is listed as a Troop Ship in the Philippine Fleet, used for inter-island service. And in 1916, the Times again reports the Liscum as an Army transport, boarded and searched off Manila by an Australian ship. This suggests that the Liscum spent most of her career as a transport.


CYRUS W. FIELD

Built in 1901

Gross tonnage 235

Used for harbour defence work on the east coast. Based in Cristobal, Panama Canal Zone from 1917 to 1920.

The following information on the crew of the Cyrus W Field is taken from Circular Relative to the Pay of Officers and Enlisted Men of the Army, Washington, Government Printing Office, 1907:

There are 12 enlisted men of the Signal Corps, U.S. Army, on the cable boat Cyrus W. Field, and have been since the boat went into commission three years ago; only two of these men have ever reenlisted and one of those soon bought himself out of the service.

The rule is that as soon as these men begin to know something of their duties, they quit. Already in 1907 three men who have succeeded each other as first sergeant of the detachment have left the service. The present first sergeant is now making similar preparations; hence, the difficulty of carrying on technical work. Lack of pay as compared to civil life is the cause.

On board the U.S. cable boat Cyrus W. Field there are 12 signal corps men who work in conjunction with the crew of the boat. Privates on the cable boat receive $17 per month; working alongside of men in corresponding rank in the crew who get $45 per month, and who are hard to get even at that price. The highest ranking noncommissioned officers receive $37 per month, who work alongside of men in corresponding rank of the crew who receive from $55 to $80 per month.

The salary, both in cases of crew and enlisted men serving on board, is in addition to quarters and rations, as all men live on board the vessel.


JOSEPH HENRY (1)

Built in 1909 by the Newport News SB & DD Co.

Length 142 ft Breadth 32 ft depth 11.8 ft Gross tonnage 601

CS Thalis o Milissios, formerly CS Joseph Henry

Photographed by David Watson in Kalamata, June 1975, from the deck of CS John W. Mackay while off-loading the spare cable for the AEGEUS (Greece - Crete) system. David notes that the Thalis o Milissios was the oldest cable ship still in operation at that time, and was just getting underway to go out on a repair.

In addition to a cable tank a large horizontal drum was fitted on the forecastle. Two small bow sheaves were fitted. Used for harbour defence work on the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coasts.

Sold to the Greek Government in 1947, renamed Thalis o Milissios (Thales from Militos), and used for cable maintenance. Withdrawn from service in 1991 and converted into a floating museum for the Greek Merchant Navy.

The following three photographs of Thalis o Milissios were taken in May 2009 by site visitor Aris Bilalis, and are reproduced here by his kind permission.

See Ramon Jackson’s site for more information on the Thalis o Milissios.


DELLWOOD

Built in 1919 by Hanlon SB & DD Co., Oakland

Length 320.7 ft Breadth 46 ft Depth 24.5 ft Gross tonnage 3478

Purchased by the US army in 1921 and equipped by Johnson and Phillips. Laid a single-wire 7-circuit telephone cable in 1923 from San Pedro, California to Avalon, Catalina Island.

CS Dellwood laying the 1923 San Pedro - Catalina cable

In 1924 laid an Alaska cable manufactured by Siemens Bros., who supplied 1894 nm of cable. Returned to commercial trading in 1931 as a cannery ship for the Alaska Trading Company. Requisitioned again in 1942 and fitted with new cable equipment which had been developed by the Sundfelt company from a sawmill winch. Used for both cable laying and harbour defence work, the latter on the US west coast and in Alaska. Sank at Attu, Alaska on 19th July 1943.

CS Dellwood


SILVERADO

Built in 1918 by the Long Beach SB Co., California

Length 245.6 ft Breadth 42 ft Depth 24.1 ft Gross tonnage 2298

Requisitioned in 1943 to replace CS Dellwood on maintaining the Alaska cable network. Taken out of service in the early 1950s and scrapped.


WILLIAM A. GLASSFORD

Built in 1943 by Seattle Ship Building & Dry Docking Co.

Length 155 ft Breadth 37 ft Depth 6.8 ft Gross tonnage 575

See the William A. Glassford main page for further details.


BASIL O. LENOIR

Identical to CS William A. Glassford; used to maintain cables of the Alaskan Communication System. See the Basil O. Lenoir main page for further details.


ALBERT J. MYER

See the Albert J. Myer main page for detailed specifications, and Ramon Jackson’s page for more information on the ship.


WILLIAM G. BULLARD

Sister ship to Albert J. Myer. See the William G. Bullard / Neptune main page for detailed specifications,.


ELLERY W. NILES

Built in 1937 by Pusey and Jones, Wilmington, Delaware

Length 184.5 ft Breadth 35 ft Depth 12.5 ft Gross tonnage 840

Built as a minelayer for the Army Transportation Corps and then in 1945 transferred to the Army Signals Corps and converted for cable work. Cable was stored on a drum mounted near the bows, the hold providing additional cable storage space. Sold to Marine Acoustical Services, Miami in January 1965, who fitted two cable tanks and new cable machinery and renamed the ship F. V. Hunt. Converted into a salvage ship in 1978 and renamed Cayman Salvage Master.


SAMUEL MILLS (2)

Built in 1942 by Marietta Shipyard, Point Pleasant, West Virginia

Length 188 ft Breadth 38 ft Depth 18 ft Gross tonnage 885

Built as a minelayer and converted to cable work in 1945. No cable machinery was fitted and the cable was stored on a drum capable of holding around 45 tons of cable. Further storage space for cable wound on drums was provided by the hold, and loose cable storage was provided on deck between the superstructure and forecastle. Sold in 1960 and converted for commercial work. Scrapped in 1975.

 


 

UNITED STATES COAST GUARD

U.S. COAST GUARD CABLE SHIPS

JOHN A PALMER [later PEQUOT]

Confusingly, the Coast Guard had two cable ships named Pequot. The first was converted fishing trawler, originally named the John A Palmer. In between catching menhaden and being a USCG cable ship, she was a US Navy Patrol Boat. The first US Coast Guard ship Pequot served as a cable layer from 1919 until 1922. Further information on this ship may be found on Chip Calamaio’s website.

John A. Palmer in 1911
Image courtesy of Chip Calamaio
from Delaware Public Archives

SAMUEL MILLS (1) [later PEQUOT]

The second Pequot was built in 1909 as the Samuel Mills (1).

Length 166.5 ft Breadth 32.5 ft Depth 11.5 ft Gross tonnage 750

Samuel Mills (1)
Image courtesy of Chip Calamaio from
Independence Seaport Museum Archives

Used for coastal cable laying until 1922 when transferred to the US Coast Guard and subsequently renamed Pequot. The bow sheave was not fitted until this time. Pequot was used in the laying of the 1931 cable from Miami - Key Biscayne - Fowey Rock Light.

Chip Calamaio’s page on the USCG Pequot at Richard Walding’s Indicator Loop website has more photographs and a detailed history of the ship and her crew. Chip notes that prior to 1922 the Mills was primarily an Army mine planter, and also did some general cable laying work. After the transfer to the Coast Guard, and until WWII, as Pequot the ship maintained the coastal communications network of undersea cables that connected life-saving stations all along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts.

USCG Pequot, early 1940s
Image courtesy of Chip Calamaio

 


 

UNITED STATES NAVY

U.S. NAVY CABLE SHIPS

NEPTUNE

See William G. Bullard in the US Army section above.


AEOLUS

Built in 1945 by Walsh Kaiser Co., Providence

Length 438 ft Breadth 58.2 ft Depth 19.25 ft Displacement 7040 tons

Built as an attack ship named Turandot. In service with the US Navy from June 1945 to March 1946. Recommissioned for the US Navy after conversion to a cable ship in 1954, and renamed Aeolus. The conversion work was undertaken by the Bethlehem Steel Corporation, Key Highway Division, Baltimore. Cable machinery was supplied by the General Electric Corporation. Deleted from the Navy list in 1985 and sunk as an artificial reef in 1988.

THOR

Sister ship to Aeolus. Also built as an attack ship and used by the Navy from July 1945 to March 1946.

USS Thor (ARC-4)
Image courtesy of Ramon Jackson
See Ramon’s website for further ship photos

Recommissioned in April 1955 after conversion to a cable ship. Sold in 1977.


PORTUNUS

Built in 1944 by Federal SB and DD Co., Newark, New Jersey

Built as landing craft LSM 275. Converted for cable repair work in 1952 and named Portunus. Sold to the Portuguese Government in 1959 and used as a diving tender with the name Medusa.


NASHAWENA

See Glassford in the US Army section.


YAMACRAW

Built in 1942 by the Marietta Manufacturing Co., Point Pleasant, West Virginia

Length 216 ft Breadth 34.2 ft Depth 18 ft Gross tonnage 1054

Launched in August 1942 as Army minelayer Murray. Sank on the 1st February 1944 after hitting a mine. Refloated by the Navy, repaired and renamed Trapper and used as a minelayer. Transferred to the US Coast Guard in 1948 for cable repair work and renamed Yamacraw. Fitted with two bow sheaves and one stern sheave and one cable tank. Handed back to the Navy in May 1959 and used up until 1965. Sold for scrap to the North American Smelting Co., in late 1967.


ALBERT J. MYER

See the US Army section


JOSEPH HENRY (2); ARTHUR M.HUDDELL

Two Liberty ships fitted as cable carriers.

 


 

UNITED STATES AIR FORCE

The first submarine cable laid for the US Air Force was in connection with the Atlantic Missile Range. Western Electric Company were awarded the contract for the installation and Simplex Wire and Cable manufactured the cable using the type of cable later used in TAT 1. No submerged repeaters were fitted all amplifiers were land based. HMTS Monarch (4) laid the cable during 1952-4, the route being, Cape Canaveral - Vero Beach - Jupiter Inlet, Florida - Grand Bahama Island (two landings) - Great Stirrup Cay - Great Egg Island - Eleuthera Island (two landings) - Cat Island - San Salvador - Long Island - Acklins Island - Mayaguana Island - North Caicos - Grand Turk. From Grand Turk two cables ran to Port Daiman, Dominican Republic and from there one cable to Cape La Roca - Grand Estero River - Savana La Mer - Port Macao all in the Domincan Republic. Final section was Port Macao - Desecheo Island - Guanajibo Point, Puerto Rico.

Private Line for a Guided Missile
1956 Western Electric magazine advertisement

This special cable on the ocean floor stretches 1370 nautical
miles from Cape Canaveral in Florida to Puerto Rico. The Air Force asked Western Electric to design, produce and supervise installation of a communications system for a guided missile test range extending out to sea. The cable is the backbone of this system.

It provides an instant, secret, weatherproof way of transmitting back to the test center in Florida a steady stream of data on missiles in flight. At certain island points along the way, radar installations spot the missile’s position— flash it to Florida via the cable. Signals transmitted by the missile itself — about fuel consumption, skin temperature, internal temperature, flight attitude and the like — are picked up by radio receivers, and relayed instantaneously to Florida by the new cable.

Western Electric was asked to do this job because, basically, it was a problem in communications requiring the special experience and skills we’ve developed in Bell telephone work as the manufacturing and supply unit of the Bell System. Also, we could (and did) draw extensively upon the combined skills of other Bell System units as well as our suppliers.

Route of the undersea cable for the Air Force’s new guided missile testing range. It comes ashore at 23 points to have its current “boosted”.

One of the early warning stations in the “DEW Line” chain was in Greenland and a cable was laid between Thule, Greenland and Cape Dyer, Baffin Island. A system the same as TAT 1 was used. A ‘go’ and ‘return’ cable each 720 nm in length plus 15 repeaters were laid by CS Albert J. Myer in 1957. Thule was also one of the sites for the USAF's Ballistic Missile Early Warning System (BMEWS).

In 1961 an extension of the cable from Baffin Island to White Bay, Newfoundland was made by HMTS Monarch (4) and CS Albert J. Myer, laying ‘go’ and ‘return’ cables of 1020 nm each and with 22 repeaters in each cable. Problems occurred at Cape Dyer due to grounding icebergs and the landing was bypassed by CS Albert J. Myer in 1964. Both cables were manufactured by the Simplex Wire and Cable Company.

Problems with shore ends on the Grand Turk - Puerto Rico section brought about the decision to lay a cable with submerged repeaters and at the same time extend the cable to Antigua. The contract was awarded to the United States Underseas Cable Corporation in 1963 who used CS Omega to lay the shore ends at Grand Turk, Puerto Rico and Antigua in 1962. CS Neptun (3) laid 336 nm of cable and 19 repeaters between Grand Turk and Ramey Air Force Base, Puerto Rico and 377 nm of cable and 21 repeaters from Ramey to Coolidge Air Force Facility, Antigua in 1963. The cable was manufactured by Norddeutsche Seekabelwerke, Nordenham, with Felten and Guilleaume manufacturing the repeaters. This part of the system became known as Eastern Test Range No 1.

The United States Underseas Cable Corporation were awarded two more contracts. The first, known as “Wet Wash A”, ran between the Philippines and Vietnam and was laid in 1964 by CS Neptun (3). 696 nm of cable and 41 repeaters were laid between the US Naval Station, San Miguel and Nha Trang, Vietnam. CS Store Nordiske (2) belonging to the Great Northern Telegraph Company surveyed the route. The second cable laid in 1966 and known as “Wet Wash C” ran between Makua, Oahu, Hawaii and the US Air Force base on Johnston Island. CS Neptun (3) surveyed the route and laid 769 nm of cable and 45 repeaters. These cables were manufactured by the Simplex Wire and Cable Company with the repeaters being supplied by Felten and Guilleaume.

The next contract was awarded to Standard Telephones & Cables Ltd to lay a cable from Cape Kennedy to Grand Turk. CS John W. Mackay carried out the work, laying 275 nm of cable and 9 repeaters between Grand Bahama Island and USAF Facility, San Salvador and then on to USAF Facility, Grand Turk, laying 285 nm of cable and 9 repeaters. Both were laid in 1966. The final section Cape Kennedy - Grand Bahama Island consisted of 203 nm of cable and 21 repeaters was laid in 1967. The system was designated Eastern Test Range No 2.

The United States Underseas Cable Corporation were awarded a contract to lay a series of cables making up the Vietnam Coastal Network. All were laid by CS Neptun (3) during 1967 with CS Omega laying the shore ends. All of these cables were manufactured by the Simplex Wire and Cable Company. The repeaters were supplied by Underseas Cable who had taken a lease on the Felten and Guilleaume repeater factory in 1964.

Da Nang - Qui Nhon: 202 nm of cable and 12 repeaters
Qui Nhon - Nha Trang: 122 nm of cable and 7 repeaters
Qui Nhon - Cam Rahn Bay: 144 nm of cable and 8 repeaters
Nha Trang - Vung Tau: 290 nm of cable and 17 repeaters
Cam Rahn Bay - Vung Tau: 206 nm of cable and 12 repeaters
Vung Tau - Ban Sattahip, Thailand: 607 nm of cable and 37 repeaters

The final cable laid in the Pacific area was once again undertaken by the United States Underseas Cable Corporation in 1971, with the Simplex Wire and Cable Company manufacturing the 363 nm of cable and Underseas Cable supplying the repeaters from the Felten and Guilleaume factory in Cologne. CS Neptun (3) laid the cable and 21 repeaters.

See also the United States Underseas Cable Corporation page

Last revised: 10 August, 2013

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