Prior to World War II, the remark was often made, and is believed to have been true, that the U. S. Army, with its fleet of Army transports and auxiliary vessels, had more ships than the Navy. But with the implementation of former Secretary of Defense Louis Johnson’s 1949 directive establishing a unified sea transportation organization—Military Sea Transportation Service—the Navy of the Army has been reduced to the 7,444-ton displacement cable ship Albert J. Myer, plus a few ships for use in harbors and inland waterways.
The Albert J. Myer, named for the founder of the Signal Corps and its first Chief Signal Officer, operates out of the port of Seattle, Washington, maintaining underwater communication lines between strategic Alaska and the United States mainland. The Myer is under the technical control and maintenance of the Army Transportation Corps but operates under orders from the Signal Corps’ Alaska Communications System. The ACS handles commercial as well as military messages between Alaska and the United States, and between points in Alaska.
The Albert J. Myer was designed as a cable ship, the need for a vessel of this type having become apparent during the Japanese occupation of two of the Aleutian Islands. The Signal Corps laid more than 2,000 miles of cable during the time the Japanese held their foothold in the Aleutians. The Navy provided a constant destroyer or DE escort during the “sitting duck” phase of this cable laying and repair work.
The keel for the Albert J. Myer and a sister ship, the William H. G. Bullard, were laid in April, 1945, at the Pusey & Jones Shipyards in Wilmington, Delaware. Both the Myer and the Bullard were launched in November, 1945, and delivered in May, 1946. Soon afterwards, the two cable-layers were towed to the James River and placed side-by-side in the mothball fleet.
The Myer was reactivated in February, 1952, for work in Alaskan waters. She was towed back to Baltimore and delivered into ' the custody of the U. S. Army. A Civil Service crew, recruited on the West Coast, came aboard the vessel in Baltimore and took her to Seattle.
The Army’s first ship designed for cable operations is 362 feet long; beam, 47 feet; gross tonnage, 3,930; draft, 25 feet. The Myer’s 7,000 barrel fuel capacity gives her a cruising range of 8,250 miles at her operating speed of fourteen knots. She is powered by two Skinner Uniflow reciprocating steam engines of 2,170 indicated horsepower each, using steam from a pair of two-drum water tube boilers. In addition to her own water tanks, the Myer is equipped to evaporate sea water to refill these tanks.
Navigation in the frequently fog-bound waters off Alaska is an art, calling for the utmost in precision. To meet this requirement, the Myer is loaded with navigation devices seldom found on a ship of her size. The Myer is equipped with radar, loran, gyro compass, magnetic compass, radio direction finder, regular radio telegraph, ship-to-shore telephone, fathometer, and a few classified devices.
The Myer carries a wide variety of specialized equipment to enable her to carry out her cable-laying and repair mission. On the ship’s bridge are a pair of repeaters, port and starboard, which relay the cable tension and length, as measured by instruments on the cable engines. This equipment shows the strain in thousands of pounds on the cable or rope being worked and also measures its length as it is being picked up or paid out by the ship.
Special steam-driven cable engines for paying out cable occupy the greater part of the deck area. Holds of the Myer are called “cable tanks.” They carry the huge buoys used to indicate where the cable work is in progress. These buoys have a diameter of nine feet and will support six tons of cable length. They can be located by the ship’s radar. The cable tanks of the Myer will hold 1,200 miles of 1-inch cable. On land, this would stretch from New York to Miami.
Special cable-testing equipment enables the cable engineer to send and receive a message from the middle of the ocean to the land end of the cable. This can only be done when the damaged end of the cable is found and brought aboard and the cable’s core connected with the instruments. Other devices test the cable electrically during cable laying and repair operations.
The Myer has a normal complement of 84 men. Nineteen of these are licensed by the U. S. Coast Guard. The unlicensed crew consists of one civilian cable engineer, 62 petty officers and men, an Army “medic,” and a cable joiner, the latter two both non-commissioned officers. The skipper of the Albert J. Myer is Captain James H. Connelly, a graduate of the New York State Maritime College. Captain Connelly spent several years with All-American Cables, Inc. acquiring experience in the submarine cablelaying business. During World War II, he served as cable superintendent of the cable ship Restorer, the Army vessel which operated in the Aleutians.
The Albert J. Myer is presently engaged in laying a 370-mile long submarine cable system linking Skagway and Ketchikan, and other Alaskan points. When completed, the new cable will be joined at Ketchikan with an 800-mile submarine cable being constructed by the American Telephone & Telegraph Co. to furnish additional communications between Alaska and Port Angeles, Washington. Both the Signal Corps and the A.T. & T. cables are expected to be completed by early 1956. They will provide a capacity of 36 telephone circuits. Telephone service between Alaska and the United States is currently handled over fourteen radio and land line circuits operated by the Alaska Communications System.
The Albert J. Myer is available for lease to private commercial cable companies when the Signal Corps has no job on hand for the ship. In fact, negotiations are now taking place between the Signal Corps and the American Telephone & Telegraph Co. which might result in the lease of the Myer to A.T. & T. for work on the cable between Port Angeles and Alaska.
In December, 1953, the Navy acquired on a loan basis from the Signal Corps, the William H. G. Bullard, sister ship of the Myer. The Navy has repainted the vessel and renamed her the USS Neptune. In all probability, this vessel will remain in the custody of the Navy. In May, 1955, the Navy commissioned the USS Aeolus, a converted merchant ship, as a cable-laying vessel. The Navy’s announcement at the time said: “Naval cable-laying ships are auxiliary vessels that perform a variety of support duties. These include laying cables for telephone and other communication purposes at advanced bases and at other Navy continental and overseas bases.” The exact mission and equipment of Navy cable ships are listed as classified information.