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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 / HMCS / ACS / RMAS St Margarets
by Bill Glover


Built in 1944 by Swan, Hunter and Wigham Richardson Ltd.

Length 260.0 ft.  Breadth 36 ft. 5 in.  Depth 16 ft. 4 in.  Gross tonnage 1524

Named after St. Margarets Bay, Dover where cables from France come ashore, St. Margarets was one of five cable ships ordered by the Admiralty before WW2, Bullfinch, Bullfrog, Bullhead and Bullseye being the others. Bullseye completed after the end of the war in Europe was sold to Trinity House and used as a lighthouse tender.

Fitted with three cable tanks having a capacity of 3930, 4010 and 3835 cubic feet, respectively, a cargo hold for grapnels, ropes etc., was placed forward of No 1 tank. Three 3 ft. 6 ins. diameter bow sheaves were fitted, these were later replaced with 6 ft 0 ins diameter sheaves. A gantry for laying rigid repeaters was also added in a later refit. Johnson and Phillips supplied the original machinery which consisted of a double combined paying out-picking up machine mounted on the main deck, with the controls and draw off gear on the weather deck. This equipment was later upgraded by Telcon.

Launched  on the 10th October 1943 and commissioned in January 1944, St. Margarets was fitted with one 4 inch gun mounted on the aft deckhouse, an Oerlikon on each bridge wing, with two more mounted one on each side of the galley, and a 12 pounder was mounted just behind the funnel. Her pennant number was Z259. After trials she moved to Spithead to prepare for the D-Day landings. At this time she was given the prefix HMS and flew the White Ensign, with a crew of merchant seamen and officers who were either RNR or RNVR. After the end of the war St. Margarets began the first of a number of charters to various cable companies carrying out repair work in Australasian waters. On the way home she recovered harbour defence cables at Port Said and Alexandria. Then it was back home via Malta and Gibraltar. On arrival in July 1947 the White Ensign was lowered for the last time and the Blue Ensign took its place and her prefix changed to HMCS. A major refit at Sheerness followed which included installing running water to the cabins, removal of all the guns, fitting of range finders, gyro compass, new radio equipment, echo sounder and radar. Finally her battleship grey paint was replaced by a black hull, white upper decks and a buff funnel. All of this took until March 1948.

The prefix HMCS was changed, following an objection from the Canadian Government, whose Navy vessels all carried the prefix HMCS (His Majesty’s Canadian Ship). It was decided to change the cable service into a civilian organisation with the title Admiralty Cable Service, and so the prefix was changed to ACS (Admiralty Cable Ship).

Following the refit and subsequent trials St. Margarets moved to Plymouth and from there at the request of Cable & Wireless she sailed for the Mediterranean to carry out repairs. The biggest task was the renewal of the Barcelona - Marseilles telephone cable. Work commenced at Barcelona and on arrival at Marseilles St. Margarets went into Marseilles harbour for supplies. Whilst there the weather took a turn for the worse and during the storm the liner Ville d’Ajjacio with 600 passengers on board was blown onto a breakwater and her owners the Compagnie General Transatlantique approached St. Margarets Captain to see if he would tow her off. The Captain agreed and the Ville d’Ajjacio was towed off safely and was able to enter port without further help. St. Margarets crew were given the freedom of Marseilles along with the added bonus of salvage money.

From 1949 to 1951 St. Margarets was based at Malta carrying out both charter and Admiralty work and from 1951 to 1958 she carried out similar duties in the Mediterranean, Red Sea and UK waters. Following a  review in 1958 it was decided that only two cable ships would be needed by the Admiralty, one at work and one in reserve. So ACS Lasso was effectively mothballed (sold for scrap in 1959), St. Margarets was to be the reserve vessel and Bullfinch would be operational. This situation lasted for less than a year. Bullfinch was badly damaged while in Gibraltar and had to return to England for repairs, St. Margarets was sent out as replacement.

In 1961 St. Margarets underwent a further refit which included converting No 3 cable tank into a research laboratory. Extra accommodation for the scientists was added and the existing crews quarters were upgraded. The next twenty years was spent in cable laying/repairing and ocean research and underwater experiments.

In 1975 the Admiralty Cable Service and the Port Auxiliary Service were amalgamated to form the Royal Maritime Auxiliary Service and again the ships prefix changed this time to RMAS.

Following a 22 week refit at Devonport in 1981 St. Margarets again returned to cable laying and research work around the UK, Gibraltar, North Atlantic and the Azores. In 1985 she was laid up and on the 7th February 1986 arrived under tow at Portsmouth, Pounds of Portsmouth having bought her for scrapping.

HMCS/ACS St Margarets at Pounds Scrapyard, Tipner
© Copyright Chris Allen and licensed for reuse
under this Creative Commons Licence.

See also Eric Tate's story of life on the Admiralty cableships

Cableships Index Page

Last revised: 16 February, 2013

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