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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 Ariel and Ron Woodland
by Bill Glover and Bill Burns


HMTS Ariel at launch
Photo courtesy of John Cooper

Length 251 ft. 8 in. Breadth 35 ft. 3 in. Draught 16 ft. 4 in. Gross tonnage 1,479. Built 1939 by Swan, Hunter and Wigham Richardson Ltd.

Twin screws. Triple expansion engines of 1,400 i.h.p. speed 12 knots.

Swan, Hunter Builder’s Plate for HMTS Ariel, No 1626, 1939
48cm x 36cm
From the estate of Captain Kitchin
Image courtesy of John Gunstone

The first of six cable ships built to the same design: two for the GPO, the other being HMTS Iris (2); and four for the Admiralty. The HMTS Iris (2) page has cutaway diagrams of Iris and Ariel from a 1946 article on the ships in The Post Office Electrical Engineers’ Journal.

Used for cable repair work in British and Continental waters. Fitted with three tanks with a capacity of 16110 cubic feet equivalent to about 700 tons of telegraph cable. Double combined picking up-paying out machinery was supplied by Johnson & Phillips along with two 3 ft 6 in diameter flat bow sheaves. Two swinging davits were fitted originally but these were later replaced with a bow gantry for handling rigid repeaters.

CS Ariel, probably at Southampton

Withdrawn from service and scrapped in 1976 along with CS Iris (2) when replaced by CS Monarch (5) and CS Iris (3). As with other vessels in the fleet the prefix changed from HMTS to CS on the 1st October 1969 when the GPO ceased to be a Government department.

Builder's model of Ariel, on display at the
Goonhilly Satellite Earth Station
Photograph copyright © 2005 by Keith Hawkins


1940 Jersey - Pirou Paragutta coaxial telephone cable
1940 Dartmouth - Jersey - Guernsey Paragutta coaxial telephone cable
1954 Lowestoft, England - Scheveningen, Holland ( 2 cables laid with four repeaters each)
1954 Sicily - Malta cable for NATO. Chartered by Cable & Wireless for the laying
1958 Bournemouth - Jersey - Guernsey cable plus 10 repeaters
1960 Marske by the Sea, England - Gothenburg, Sweden shore ends
1961 CANTAT 1 Oban shore ends
1962 Colwyn Bay, Wales - Isle of Man
1973 CANTAT 2 Widemouth Bay, Cornwall shore ends

See the Stamps page on Ariel for additional information.

Ron Woodland Sr. on board Ariel, probably at Malta

Ron Woodland and HMTS Ariel

Ron Woodland of Dover, whose father, Ron Woodland Sr., was the cable engine driver on Ariel until 1970, shares the following photographs and information on the ship and its berth at the Dover cable depot:

The GPO cable ship depot was an impressive and substantial building at the Eastern Docks, built we think in 1920 (it had been at the Western Docks since 1890). In 1953 Dover Harbour Board began its car ferry terminal at the Eastern docks, next to the GPO building. This rapidly expanded and the GPO Depot was soon in the way. It closed at the end of 1974, the Ariel leaving on 2 January 1975 for her new berth at Southampton. The depot was then levelled for a new lorry car park.

The block construction in the top right hand side of the photograph below housed MTB's during the war and the uprights running along the eastern arm are what was left of the coaling station. This was a continuous loop of buckets direct from the Kent coalfield.

This 1953 photograph shows the two 'new'
car ferry terminals being built at the
Eastern Docks in Dover, England.
Ariel is at her berth near the top left of the photo.

This area of Dover harbour was known as the camber, and it also housed the Trinity House pilot tenders. The tenders cruised off Dungeness with a full complement of pilots and as ships passed they stopped to pick up their pilot, dropping them off in turn at Gravesend where the London river pilots took over.

HMTS Ariel at Dover

HMTS Ariel inboard of HMTS Monarch,
believed to be at Gibraltar

HMTS Ariel at sea

Photographs and Dover information courtesy of Ronald Woodland

Cableships Index Page

Last revised: 19 January, 2022

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