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  • Foto do escritorRuy Cézar Campos

[Cables Archives] Submarine cables and war vibes in Brazilian press (1898-1948)

Atualizado: 11 de jul. de 2023

Recently, there has been international media coverage of Western fears that Russia may spy on or sabotage the submarine cables that connect European countries and the US. This tension was more common during the Cold War period, but over the past decade it has returned amid the tensions that have arisen and intensified in the global geopolitical context.

I have been researching archives of submarine cables in Brazil for several years and I thought it might be an interesting opportunity to share historical material related to the climate of war and submarine cables. Whether in the case of actual sabotage or exaggerated fears,

I have selected some news articles, the oldest from 1898 and the most recent from 1948. Most of them announce the sabotage of submarine cables:


On August 8, 1914, for example, the newspaper O Dia (SC) announces that "the English have cut the only German submarine cable that connected America to Europe, so today all communications are in the hands of the English. They exercise strict censorship, so only news from the theater of war will come from England."

On March 31, 1916, O Jornal (MA) announces that communications between England and the Netherlands were interrupted by German sabotage of a submarine cable that existed between the two countries.

On December 11, 1941, it was announced in Estado (SC) and Diário de Pernambuco (PE) that the Japanese had cut the only submarine cable, located in Midway, that connected the United States to Hong Kong.



On July 14, 1944, Diário de Pernambuco (PE) reported that "French internal forces cut the underground cable that connects Paris to Berlin at a point near Nancy, according to authoritative French sources in this capital."


Interestingly, on July 11, 1898, Jornal Pequeno (PE) published information on how to sabotage a submarine cable:




"It is curious how one fishes and cuts a submarine cable, an operation that is now talked about a lot due to the war between Spain and the United States.

The weight of a cable is 600 to 700 kilograms per kilometer. It is conceivable that in times of war, it is not easy to cut it at any point. In places of great depth, this kind of sounding is not even attempted. Naturally, near the coasts, the operation of lifting a cable presents fewer difficulties, but the ship is more exposed to the enemy there.

It is necessary for the ship in charge of this service to carry on board cables of great length and of unquestionable solidity.

These cables, braided with the most resistant steel wire, covered all in hemp, have a diameter of six centimeters and can support a weight of 30 tons.

To this must be added a veritable arsenal of hooks with the most different shapes, but which can be classified into three main species. Some have their own shape for digging into the sea floor and catching the cable.

Others, like pliers, are used to grip them more tightly after being lifted by the hooks of the first model. The only thing missing is the director hook. It has a shape similar to that of a cap, with a thin steel rim, but insufficiently powerful to destroy the cable.

A single cut is never enough to separate a metal bar of this quality and 26 millimeters in diameter. The crew, the strength of the arms, operates this cutting instrument, which tightens the lifted cable until it breaks in two."


In addition, on June 4, 1942, O Dia (PR) reports that "Nazi-Fascist spies are operating in our country, transmitting information through the Italian submarine cable."


Finally, I share a complaint published in A Federação on April 26, 1916.


"The state of war in which the old world finds itself has completely disrupted international trade, not only between belligerents and neutrals but also among the neutrals themselves.

Maritime warfare has hindered commercial transactions, almost impeding transoceanic traffic. But, in addition to that, the abnormal situation in which all means of communication between countries of the new and old continents find themselves has, in turn, extraordinarily prejudiced the commercial interests of neutrals and interests of various kinds, even those of the sole allied belligerents who suffer from it, since the central empires have their trade with us and with the rest of the world completely paralyzed.

Even now, the probable result of a misunderstanding brings considerable losses to our journalistic enterprises, enterprises that are frankly on the side of the allies in assessing the European conflagration: the Levy Leite company has an order for printing paper, urgently requested by telegraph, from Christianis, which was not delivered to the Norwegian factory. Why? The telegram was written in English, clearly, and accepted by the Western. A second telegram sent nine days later arrived at its destination... There is no other explanation except for a misunderstanding, a misinterpretation. In any case, the allies themselves will be harmed by the difficulties that sympathetic journalistic enterprises may encounter due to the lack of printing paper.

There is a reason that should weigh on the minds of the worthy directors of the Western, so that any measures could be taken to prevent such cases. And, unfortunately, if they occur, it would not be their policy - on the contrary - to act in a way that would avoid the harms that may result from them."



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