Operation Pluto (Pipeline Under The Ocean)

Part 1 – The H.A.I.S. Cable

By Bill Burns and Stewart Ash
September 28, 2021

In September 1941, the United Kingdom stood virtually alone against the advances of the Third Reich.  They had survived the humiliation of Dunkirk, which Winston Churchill (1874-1965) described as ‘a colossal military disaster’.  However, 338,226 Belgium and British troops had been rescued from the beaches between 26 May and 4 June 1940.  This led to Churchill’s famous ‘We will fight them on the beaches…’ speech.  Immediately afterwards, the conflict for control of the skies over Europe known as the ‘Battle of Britain’ ensued.  It lasted from 7 June 1940 until 11 May 1941, when the RAF secured victory and the Luftwaffe reverted to night bombing raids on British cities.  At this time, public opinion in the USA was strongly against joining the war in Europe, and it wasn’t until the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Sunday 7 December 1941 that this changed.  The USA formally entered the war in Europe on 11 December 1941.  Almost immediately, military strategists switched their thoughts from defence and began thinking about the liberation of Europe.  To this end a British submarine cable manufacturing company with German roots would play a crucial role in these plans, and at the same time it would arguably take the first steps towards a subsea oil industry.  That company was Siemens Brothers Ltd.

The Siemens Brothers factory was established in 1863 by Charles William Siemens (1823-83), on land leased from the Bowater Estate, and the site is still situated on the south bank of the River Thames, at the border of Charlton and Woolwich in southeast London.  It is bounded on the other three sides by Eastmoor Street, Warspite Road, and the Woolwich Road.  Charles was born Carl Wilhelm Siemens on 4 April 1823 in Berlin, and he came to England in March 1848 to set up a branch of Siemens & Halske.  This company had been founded in Berlin by his elder brother, Ernst Werner Siemens (1816-92), and Johann Georg Halske (1814-90).   By 1858, Carl Wilhelm had registered the Siemens & Halske Agency in London, providing engineering consultancy to the emerging telegraph market.  Its clients included the British Government, for both the terrestrial electrical telegraph and the pioneering submarine telegraph cables markets.  At the same time, another brother, Karl Heinrich Von Siemens (1829-1906), set up a Siemens & Halske factory in St Petersburg to sell telegraph equipment and cables to the Russians.

On 19 March 1859, Carl Wilhelm became a naturalized British subject under a warrant granted by Queen Victoria, changing his name to Charles William Siemens.  This was in preparation for his marriage to Anne Gordon (1821-1901) on 23 July that year.  She was the sister of Lewis Brodie Gordon (1815-76), Professor of Civil Engineering and Mechanics at Glasgow University.  In 1865, a rift developed between William Siemens and Johann Halske over the submarine telegraph cable market, which Halske considered too risky, so they went their separate ways.  Halske retained a large equity stake in the London company, but it was re-registered as Siemens Brothers.  In 1869, Karl Hendrich came to join William in London, and he too would later become a naturalised British citizen.

To continue reading the rest of this article, please read it in Issue 120 of the SubTel Forum Magazine on page 39 or on our archive site here.