The very first Cableship "Alert" was originally named "Lady Carmichael" and was bought from the Submarine Telegraph Company in 1889.  In 1894 she was formally re-named.

She was a small paddle steamer fitted with disconnecting paddle-wheels.  The bow sheaves were carried on oak beams on the forecastle head and her displacement was 760 tons.    After being employed on the maintenance of submarine cables across the Straits of Dover, she was eventually sold out of service in 1915.

During the First World War the number of vessels required to upkeep and maintain the submarine cables had been increasing.  In anticipation of this the Post Office had already prepared plans and specifications to replace the first "Alert".  However, because the second Cableship "Monarch" was sunk before the "Alert" was sold, the proposed new ship was subsequently named "Monarch".

Eventually the second Cableship "Alert" was launched in 1918 after being constructed by Messrs Swan, Hunter and Wigham Richardson.  Along with the new Cableship "Monarch" the "Alert" was designed to operate in shallow waters only.  Her gross tonnage was 941 and the 105 horse power engines were able to drive the twin-screws up to a maximum speed of 10.5 knots.  The ship was constructed from steel and had a clipper stem with cable sheaves and a cruiser type stern.  Originally she was coal-fired, but was converted to oil fuel in 1920.  Three cable tanks of 10160 cubic feet total capacity were fitted.  These could hold up to 81 miles of single core cable, 54 of 4 core or 35 of 6 or 7 core.

As a result of other demands during World War I she had to be equipped with the very old and almost broken down cable gear from the first Cableship "Alert".  This largely impeded her operational capabilities until it was replaced in 1921 by more modern gear.

After 27 years service, on 24 February 1945, shortly before VE Day, the Cableship "Alert" was sunk while repairing the Dumpton Gap - La Panne cable in the Straits of Dover.  All 59 hands—officers and men— were lost.

The third Cableship "Alert" was originally a German cable ship called "Norderney" which had been bombed in a raid on Kiel in 1940.  In June 1945 the "Norderney" was brought over from Germany by her German crew to Methil on the Firth of Forth, together with other German ships that were taken over as prizes.On arrival the German crew were placed on another ship for transfer back to Germany and the "Nordeney" was taken over by the Post Office.

After the "Norderney" had sailed from Methil to the Post Office cable depot at Woolwich, where all the prize cable on board was landed, she was taken to Southampton and handed over to Messrs J & I Thornycroft for a major overhaul and refit to bring her up to Post Office standards.

When the work had been completed the "Norderney" was re-named "Alert" and had a gross tonnage of 1487 and a length of 255ft.  The 3 cable holds in the ship were able to accommodate up to 600 tons of cable which was used to lay and maintain the network of submarine cables around the British Isles.  Because she was only a coal-fired ship with rather cramped accommodation, the radius in which she could operate had to be restricted to coastal waters.

This third Cableship "Alert" served for 15 years from the Post Office cable depot at Woolwich, but was eventually sold out of service in August 1960, soon after her last voyage.  At the age of 45 years, she was considered to be past her prime.

Cable ship "Alert" number 4 was constructed by the Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Co Ltd, and launched on 7 November 1960 at Govan, Glasgow by Mrs Bevins, wife of the then Postmaster General. The vessel was finally completed in April 1961 and after extensive sea trials, was formally accepted by the Post Office on 21 April 1961.

Most of the superstructure is constructed from steel and the aft end is sufficiently stiffened to support cable machinery weighing up to 120 tons.  With an overall length of 417ft and a gross tonnage of 6200 the new ship is by far the largest "Alert" to date.  The diesel electric engines are capable of producing 4400 bhp and a maximum service speed of 15 knots.

This latest ship is primarily designed to maintain the transatlantic cables in the North Atlantic working up to depths measuring 3 1/2 miles.  With this in mind she has been especially strengthened for navigation in ice, class 3.  Because she was intended to work in the North Atlantic her base was initially at the Dalmuir depot, on the Clyde.

Her first operational voyage took place when she left Greenwich on 25 June 1961.  She was used to lay the St Lawrence section of the CANTAT cable between Corner Brook, Newfoundland and Grosses Roches which commenced on 16 July 1961.  She was also used to lay the first section of TAT 3 which connected the US to England directly.

In 1969 the Cableship "Alert" was repainted from having a white hull with buff funnels to International Orange for the hull, Light Admiralty Grey for the superstructure and Golden Yellow for masts, cranes, funnels and lifeboats.  This was done because the previous white became very difficult to keep clean and it was decided that the ship should be made to look more conspicuous at sea.  Therefore, the shade of orange used was chosen because it is internationally recognised as a colour easily seen at sea.

[This article was kindly contributed by the BT Archives and Historical Information Centre]

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