Ken Mugridge at his radio station aboard CARONIA.
Ken Mugridge at his radio station aboard CARONIA.

By Ken Mugridge

Even venerable Cunard Line was involved in intelligence gathering. During my time aboard Caronia 1962-1965 we indulged in a bit of snooping.

Every year Caronia would do a 45 day, 11 country North Cape cruise. Prior to leaving Southampton for New York to pick up our (predominantly American) passengers for the cruise, extra radio receiving equipment was installed via UK Government personnel in the back of the Radio Room. A couple of VHF/HF receivers connected to a tape recorder.

Our cruise always went the same way. New York, Reykjavik, Hammerfest and then up to the North Cape of Norway, where we would do our listening. We had a list of VHF frequencies to monitor, so the duty Radio Officer would also have to check those frequencies and try to record anything he heard.

Although we obviously didnít speak Norwegian or Russian we sould still pretty much tell the difference, so we used to switch on when we thought it was Russian. We were given no other information as to where the Russians might be coming from (VHF had a range of about 80 miles), but we always used to think it was from around Kirkenes.

Anyrate, we would dutifully record anything we could and when we left the North Cape to continue the rest of the cruise we would switch it all off and put the tapes away in the Radio Office safe. (Not labelled Spy Material, either!)

When Caronia eventually terminated the cruise in Southampton, all the equipment would be removed.

This intelligence gathering was done in 1962 & 1963. After that year, the equipment failed to materialize, so either our efforts were successful or we overloaded [MI6] with useless material. Probably the latter.

Our biggest trauma connected with the Cold War was in late October 1962 when we were docked in Yalta on a long 50 day Mediterranean/Black Sea cruise. Right at the height of the Cuban missile crisis. Some of our elderly passengers were quite upset. We tried to relay to the public rooms any radio broadcasts we could (eventually settling on AFRTS - the American Armed Forces network in Europe). This was infinitely better than the BBC or Voice of America for understandable information.

We were not supposed to use the radio transmitters whilst in port, but the pressure to send telegrams was so great that we broke the rules and hoped that none of the shore officials would notice. We worked some long hours during that time!

Anyrate, nothing untoward happened and Caronia left Yalta on time and the rest of the cruise was uneventful.
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