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

HMTS/CS Alert (4)
by Bill Glover


Built in 1961 by Fairfield Ship Building & Engineering

Length 417 ft Breadth 54.7 ft Depth 22.6 ft Gross tonnage 6413

CS Alert as built

Owned by the General Post Office, and so carried the prefix HMTS. In 1969 when the GPO ceased to be a Government department the prefix was changed to CS. The ship was transferred to British Telecom Marine when privatised. Based at Southampton for maintenance of Atlantic cables. Fitted with three cable tanks capable of holding 58000 cubic feet of cable.

CS Alert after refit

Cable handling machinery was supplied and fitted by the Telegraph Construction and Maintenance Company and consisted of two forward paying out-picking up machines. One standard aft gear was fitted which was replaced in 1971 with a Dowty linear engine when the vessel underwent a refit. A Voith-Schneider bow propeller was fitted which could be controlled from the bridge, bow or stern. Bow sheaves of 8.0 ft diameter were fitted and a gantry for laying rigid repeaters was also provided. Scrapped in 1995 when Cable & Wireless (Marine) Ltd. took over the assets of British Telecom Marine.

CS Alert laying an STC repeater, 1974
Image courtesy of David Watson

A view from Alert (whose bow is visible in the foreground)
of the Canadian icebreaker Labrador, clearing a passage
off St John's, Newfoundland, 1969-70.
Image courtesy of George Smith

George Smith, who served on the ship as 3rd engineer from January 1967 to October 1973, notes that Alert was the first cableship to use the cable plough, developed so that shore-end cable could be trenched into the sea bed for protection against hazards such as ship anchors and fishermen's trawls. Use of the plough is now common practice.

See also George's technical note on the Flume Tank used to stabilize the Alert when at sea.

Commemorative plaque for CS Alert
Image courtesy of Mark Bridger


1961 CANTAT B Corner Brook NL - Grosses Roches PQ, Canada section
1962 Lancaster - Colwyn Bay (UK)
1962 SCOTICE Gairloch, Scotland - Thorshavn, Faroe Islands - Vestmannaeyjar, Iceland
1962 The Ships of the Clyde site has a record of Alert loading telephone cable for the route Scotland - Donaghadee in October 1962, but there is no record for this cable.
1963 Covehithe, England - Katwijk, Holland
1963 TAT 3: Tuckerton, New Jersey - Widemouth Bay, England
1966 St Thomas, US Virgin Islands - Maiquetie, Venezuela
1968 Covehithe, England - Katwijk, Holland
1968 Inverary - Loch Gair, Scotland
1969 MED 3 Catanzaro, Italy - Lekhaina, Greece
1969 Sesimbra, Portugal - Goonhilly, England (shore ends)
CS Monarch (4) laid the main cable
1970 Goonhilly, England - Algorta, Spain
1971 Winterton, England - Fedderwarden, Germany
1971 Scotland - Shetland Islands
1972 Aldeburgh, England - Domburgh, Holland No 7
1972 Broadstairs, England - Ostende, Belgium
1972 Tuckerton Bridge, England - St Peter Port, Guernsey
1972 West Palm Beach, Florida - Brandie Point, Grand Bahama Island - Goodman Bay, Bahamas
1973 CANTAT 2 Beaver Harbour, Canada - Widemouth Bay, England UK shore ends
1973 Scarborough, England - Thisted, Denmark
1975 Broadstairs, England - Domburg, Holland
1975 TELPAL: Palo, Italy – Tel Aviv, Israel
1977 England - Belgium
1981 TAT 7 Surveyed route
1986 Broadstairs, England - Ostende, Belgium No 5 (First commercial fibre optic cable)

TAT 8 UK shore end and intermediate cable

1989 Brighton, England - Dieppe, France No 3

Alert at the GPO cable depot in the Gare Loch.
This was situated about 200 yards before the entrance
to what is now the nuclear submarine base at Faslane.
Image courtesy of George Smith

The next group of photographs came in a small album titled:

St. Thomas - Venezuela Telephone Cable
June 30 - July 7, 1966
H.M.T.S. Alert

The photographs were not captioned, but George Smith, whose service on the ship began the following year, has provided descriptions where possible. Thanks also to Mark Bridger for additional identifications on pictures 14 and 24.

1. Alert at sea

2. Working cable on the main deck. The man on the left is standing between, and possibly operating, the remote engine controls. Red for the port screw, green for starboard. The repeaters/ indicators for the controls are housed in the large round fittings at his feet. They will show what he is asking for and what the engines are actually giving. If they don't agree you have a major disaster in the making.

3. Close up of the signal pennants, two round balls separated by a diamond: "Keep clear I'm engaged in underwater operations"

4. Mike Landis, 2nd Officer, taking a bearing on the bridge, probably for a shore end. Mike was Polish by birth.

5. Cable work on deck.The man at the right foreground wearing a grey shirt is the bosun, Jimmy Logie. It looks like they have started taking off, or are replacing, the steel wire armouring round the cable.
2012 update: Martin Bridges, who worked on Alert as an assistant cable jointer at this time, notes that the bosun's name was Bob Westwood. To his left, bending over the cable, is Bob Strachan.

6. Cable being paid out. I think a repeater is about to come along, the red ball is an indicator.

7. Aft cable engine

8. Another view of the cable engine

9. Unidentified man in the "laying office" I forget the offical name for the place. It was off the starboard side of the centre castle.

10. Inside the test room

11. Repeater opened up for adjustment/calibration inside the clean room. This was air conditioned and sterile.

12. Repeater about to go over the stern. The man in the whites is Captain John Ruddock. I think he is speaking into a hand held mike, maybe to the bridge?

13. Cable going over the stern. Man in black shorts is Mike Landis, white shorts Captain Ruddock, unknown between. As the cable is showing as polythene and not "armoured" it must be going over in deep water.

14. Captain Ruddock and bosun Jimmy Logie.
2012 update: Martin Bridges, who worked on Alert as an assistant cable jointer at this time, notes that the bosun's name was Bob Westwood.

15. Repeater coming aft, man in white is Captain Ruddock.

16. Captain Ruddock watching a repeater going over.

17. Shore end being floated ashore. The cable will be suspended beneath the orange floats on short lengths of hemp rope. Once in position a cable hand in a launch will cut the ropes, allowing the cable to fall onto the sea bed.

18. Captain Ruddock in the centre castle having his hair cut by the donkeyman, Bill Currie.

19. Officers in the lounge; Mike Landis drinking a pint.


20. Group photo, man on the left in shorts is called Chisolm (I think). I believe he was normally Chief Officer on the Monarch. Captain Ruddock is wearing long white trousers and short sleeved shirt..



Detail1 Detail 2



24. Captain Ruddock in uniform (second from left), Victor (Withold) Kimoke  3rd engineer (fourth from left, in background), rest unknown.


25. Shore end buoyed off, ready to be cut free from its floats. They were also known as "pebbles"


26. View of the shore end landing

27. View of the shore end landing

28. View of the shore end landing

Last revised: 17 April, 2021

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