war memorial at dusk, photographed by Michelle Cooper


Notes on the Cable Ship "Alert"


List of Casualties

Mar 13 1945.Dover reports: Alert left Plymouth for repair work on the Broadstairs-La Panne cable. She left anchorage off Ramsgate at 7am Feb 24 and was last seen by HM ship at 10.5 am between Elbow Buoy and South Falls Buoy. At 11.5 am this HM ship found a wreck which 30 hours later was identified as the Alert. No explosion was heard by HM ship and the weather at 1.45 was wind W by N force 2, visibility one mile. Master of Alert is stated to have been in touch with Canterbury GPO and at about 1030 am Feb 24 said he would ring again shortly but did not do so. It can only be resumed that she was torpedoed by a U boat or midget submarine or possibly fouled an old mine in her own or the telegraph cable (Adm n LL  14/3/45)

A raft marked Alert washed ashore on Mar 6 1945 near De Haan between Ostend and Blankenbughe. The bodies showed no sign of wounding, death evidently due to exposure having occurred about a week previously and clothing was that of naval ratings (adm) see LL and SG June 19 1945 p 2


Three bodies, with death possibly caused by exposure, were later discovered from a raft which drifted ashore at De Haan, Belgium. They may have been 2nd Officer James Dixon, Chief Engineer Herbert Charles, from Dover, and John Crosby Taws, the 4th Officer. All are now buried at Oye-Place, France. One body, that of Norman MacLeod, Radio Officer, was recovered from the sea and now lies at Calais There were also two bodies washed up at Harwich  

Two crew members of the Alert, who had been off duty when she was sunk, became two of the only three casualties out of 69 men when the sister ship, Monarch, was sunk two months later off Orford Ness. Information received


A lifebuoy also marked Alert, was washed up on the Belgian coast Unsourced document received


I very much regret to have to inform you that the enquiry has shown that certain Naval Officers failed to keep themselves and others properly informed of the movements of the Alert, which resulted in delay in recognising that she had been lost and in searching for any survivors. I can only say that the Board of Admiralty are deeply distressed by the findings of the enquiry, and they have taken disciplinary action against the officers who failed in their duty. Extract from letter dated July 1945 from Admiralty, Whitehall to the Postmaster General


Close escort was not provided for the Alert as she was working within seven miles of Ramsgate, it was daylight, and a motor launch was on patrol in the vicinity. Shortly after the sinking is presumed to have taken place a new wreck was sighted by one of HM Ships but it was not reported until later in the day. The Commanding Officer of HM Ship concerned did not connect the wreck with HMTS Alert as visibility was low and no explosion had been heard. Extract from letter March 15 1945 to Postmaster General from Admiralty, Whitehall

The letter concludes, "Will you please accept my very deep regret that so many valuable lives should have been lost"


The cause of the loss is not definitely known but the evidence points to it having been an explosion  of such force as to prevent distress signals being sent and to account for the absence of any survivors. Extract from letter dated July 1945 from Admiralty, Whitehall to the Postmaster General


Chief Officer Evans of the Alert, who named himself the only survivor of the Alert, and later became captain of the Aerial, had been on leave sick when she was sunk, had later flown over the wreck, discovering that she was split in two, with the two sections at an angle to each other, the bow pointing north and the stern half to the east. At around 10.30 to 11.00 on the fatal morning, the official report stated that the Alert may have been torpedoed, or may have struck a mine unretrieved by the minesweepers. All 59 hands, officers and men were lost. "Seehunds" were operative off Ramsgate that morning. Information received


The Alert was the second of that name. She was launched  in 1918, constructed by Swan Hunter and Wigham Richardson . Fowey was on place where she attended refits. Information received

with thanks to Malcolm Ellis

Copyright 2011-13 Marilyn Stephenson-Knight. All Rights Reserved