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

HMS Holdfast /
CS Empire Taw
by Bill Glover


Built in 1921 by Hawthorns & Company Ltd., Leith

Length 250.0 ft  Breadth 35.0 ft  Depth 21.1 ft  Gross tonnage 1491

Used in the PLUTO operations during WWII.

Built as the SS London for the Dundee, Perth and London Steamship Company for passenger trade on the east coast of the UK. On 29 August 1937 sunk after a collision off the Humber and subsequently raised and repaired.

On 28 August 1939 first requisitioned, by the Admiralty, for use as an examination vessel, and in October 1939 was renamed Holdfast. Returned to its owners in August 1940 and then re-requisitioned in January 1942. Gutted and refitted by Green, Siley and Weir Ltd.; this involved the fitting of two 30 ft dia cable tanks each capable of holding 15 statute miles of 2 inch HAIS pipeline. Cable machinery loaned by the GPO was installed by Johnson and Phillips.

Following a series of tests it was finally decided to carry out a full trial with the laying of a pipeline across the Bristol Channel between Swansea and Ilfracombe, a distance of 45 miles. In charge of Holdfast was Captain Treby Heale RNR, former Master of CS Faraday (2). Laying commenced on 29 December 1942 from Swansea and was successfully completed at a laying rate of 5 knots.

For the actual laying of PLUTO across the English Channel, HMS Holdfast was under the command of Commander Bicker Carten RN, and Captain Treby Heale took command of HMS Latimer.

At the end of the war Holdfast was transferred to the Ministry of War Transport, renamed Empire Taw, and used along with other vessels in the recovery of the various pipes laid. At the time the scrap value of lead was £55 per ton and 23,000 tons had been used in the manufacture of the various pipes. In all 22,000 tons was recovered.

Sold in September 1952 for use as a hulk, being towed to Passage West, Cork, Ireland, where the ship was scrapped a year later.



Laid trial length of 2 inch dia HAIS pipeline across the Bristol Channel from Queens Dock, Swansea to Watermouth Bay, Ilfracombe, Devon, a distance of 45 miles.

1946 Engaged with other vessels on the recovery of the pipelines.

Corrections supplied by Mr. Leslie Mears, a former crew member of HMS Holdfast during the PLUTO operation.

Cableships Index Page

Last revised: 15 February, 2012

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