Finding AE1

Part of <em>AE1</em>'s hull, showing extensive corrosion. After 103 years since her loss, <em>AE1</em> was located in waters off the Duke of York Island group in Papua New Guinea in December 2017. Image: Find the Men of <em>AE1</em> Ltd.

Part of AE1‘s hull, showing extensive corrosion. After 103 years since her loss, AE1 was located in waters off the Duke of York Island group in Papua New Guinea in December 2017. Image: Find the Men of AE1 Ltd.

Australia’s greatest naval mystery is solved at last

It is more than a century since Australia’s first submarine, HMAS AE1, disappeared without trace in the waters off Papua New Guinea. Its fate remained a mystery until late last year, when the most recent of many searches finally found its wreck.

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Year 9 students remember submarine AE1

Student speech competition winners Emelia Rose Haskey and Catherine McClymont with ANMM Director Kevin Sumption (centre back) and judges Jeff Fletcher and Daina Fletcher.

Student speech competition winners Emelia Rose Haskey and Catherine McClymont with ANMM Director Kevin Sumption (centre back) and judges Jeff Fletcher and Daina Fletcher. Photo: Andrew Frolows

‘Remembering AE1’ … a deceptively simple title that invites a sense of reflection and commemoration. This was the topic set before Year 9 history students in a national speech competition to help mark 101 years since AE1, Australia’s first submarine, disappeared with all hands at the start of World War I, never to be found. The occasion to deliver that speech would be the unveiling ceremony of Warren Langley’s wonderful artwork ‘…The Ocean Bed their Tomb’, a stainless steel wreath sculpture that now hovers over the water outside the museum.

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Remembering submarine AE1: ‘…the ocean bed their tomb’

Artist’s view of the work in the museum basin, courtesy Warren Langley

Artist’s view of the work in the museum basin, courtesy Warren Langley Artist: Warren Langley Materials: stainless steel, LED lighting, PVC piping 2015. Supported by a grant from the Federal Government’s Anzac Centenary Arts and Culture Fund.

On 14 September 1914 the 55 metre submarine HMAS AE1 disappeared with all hands, 35 Australian and British sailors, while patrolling German waters off Duke of York Island in present day Papua New Guinea.

On 14 September this year, 101 years on, a major art installation will be unveiled at the Australian National Maritime Museum to commemorate the loss in a work entitled ‘…the ocean bed their tomb’. The work is currently under construction at the workshop of the artist Warren Langley where descendants of those officers and crew, submariners and naval historians gathered recently to view it.

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Make your own carrot submarine

This month’s hands-on activity is inspired by our new interactive exhibition, Voyage to the Deep, featuring the fantastical steampunk Nautilus submarine. In this activity you’ll get to the root of how submarines work.

What you’ll need:

  • 1 carrot – fairly straight, not too tapered (If you don’t have a carrot; cut down a potato)
  • Baking powder (not baking soda)
  • Toothpicks
  • Deep bowl or pot of water

Materials needed to make a carrot submarine

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The man who lived underwater

What do you say to someone who has lived underwater?

Or has propelled himself through the Greek islands in a human-powered submarine, visited Antarctica and even holds a Guinness World Record for the most electricity generated by pedalling underwater?

Strangely enough meeting underwater pioneer Lloyd Godson led to one of the most interesting and fascinating conversations of my life.

Lloyd Godson

Image courtesy Lloyd Godson

Lloyd Godson

Image courtesy Lloyd Godson

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Silent Anzac – Inside submarine AE2 for the first time in 100 years

Officers and crew on deck of the newly commissioned submarine AE2 at Portsmouth, England, 1912  ANMM Collection

Officers and crew on deck of the newly commissioned submarine AE2 at Portsmouth, England, 1912 ANMM Collection

The Royal Australian Navy submarine AE2 was scuttled in deep water in the Sea of Marmara on 30 April 1915 after it had run the gauntlet of Turkish minefields, warships and forts in the Dardanelles Straits. AE2 was behind Turkish lines the night before the Anzacs landed at Gallipoli.

Last month, for the first time in almost 100 years the conning tower hatch of submarine AE2 was opened. High definition cameras and imaging sonar were inserted through the opening and an ROV (Remotely Operated Vehicle) surveyed inside the submarine.

AE2 has remained underwater relatively untouched since Commander Stoker ordered the crew to dive overboard and left the hatch slightly ajar to assist in quickly scuttling the vessel. It has since been a home to marine growth, fish and a large conga eel.

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Warships, storyworlds and the story so far

I’ve walked through our Oberon-class submarine many times. Before the visitors arrive, it’s quiet. You can hear the creaking of the ropes that secure the sub to the wharf, and sometimes the far away voices of people in Darling Harbour. Remnants of life onboard remain – the boardgames in the mess, the roster on the wall and the ingredients in the kitchen – settled and silent. I’ve also been onboard the patrol boat Advance and climbed up and down from the bridge to the kitchen, avoiding its sharp corners and examining the menacing-looking Bofors guns on deck. I’ve walked onboard our destroyer HMAS Vampire many times before too. It smells like the 70s. There’s linoleum throughout, a faint scent of oil and what might be the remaining tendrils of thousands of cooked dinners served in the mess. There’s a sense of chasing someone else’s long-forgotten memories down the lengthy corridors and through the maze of tunnels and ladders.

In the past nine months, in the course of researching these three vessels, I’ve also spent many hours speaking with naval personnel about their time serving on HMAS Onslow, Advance and Vampire. Through their stories, photographs and records, I got glimpses of three very alive, very dangerous and very exciting worlds. One submariner described to me the sounds that the ocean makes when it wakes in the morning, how you can hear the animals stir and react to the sun the same way that birds do at dawn. Another described the feeling, through your feet, of the submarine dashing away from the surface and diving beneath the waves. It sounded to me like the feeling of taking off in a small airplane – just going in the other direction. One ex-submarine commander talked sparingly of his involvement in covert operations onboard Oberon submarines, responding to our questions with silence and a smile.

HMAS VAMPIRE at sea, image courtesy of the Sea Power Centre Australia

HMAS VAMPIRE at sea, image courtesy of the Sea Power Centre Australia

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A Nautical Name

2014 marks 100 years of submarine service in Australia. It’ll also mark the launch of a new interactive family exhibition with a submarine theme.

Concept sketch for exhibition

Concept sketch for exhibition


When asked to develop an exhibition with the working title Nautilus, I was familiar with Nemo’s fantastical submarine from Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, but I didn’t appreciate how many real submarines have been called Nautilus, their impressive list of achievements, or the role of an Australian adventurer in one of them. Continue reading

Men of the ‘Silent Anzac’

When I first came across this photo of Commander Henry Stoker and Lieutenant Geoffrey Haggard of the AE2 submarine in the museum’s collection, I was struck by how confident and relaxed both men look, quite different to other military portraits I had seen. 
Lieutenant Geoffrey Haggard and Commander Henry Stoker who were responsible for taking the AE2 through the Dardenelle Straits and into the Sea of Marmara in April 1915.

Lieutenant Geoffrey Haggard and Commander Henry Stoker who were responsible for taking the AE2 through the Dardenelle Straits and into the Sea of Marmara in April 1915..

Once I looked into the story of the AE2 I began to think of the extraordinary experience these men had shared side by side. They had bought the AE2 out from England together just prior to WW1, at the time the longest voyage ever undertaken by a submarine. So confident in his crew and sub, it was Stoker who argued in April 1915, that the AE2 could breach the Dardanelles and enter the Sea of Marmora, despite previous failed Allied attempts. The Admiralty gave authority to do so and the general order to ‘run amok’.

All the crew must have felt the trepidation and fear as they entered the Dardanelles, being hunted by Turkish forces from above, and the quiet jubilation of entering the Sea of Marmora. But the disappointment and agonizing decision to sink the submarine must have been particularly wrenching for Haggard and Stoker.I can only imagine the frustration and despair as they realized there was no way out.The two men managed to save the lives of the rest of the crew and were the last to leave the AE2 as she was scuttled. By one account, they escaped only just in time.

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Drebbel’s submarine

Inventor of the first navigable submarine, Cornelius Drebbel died 7 November 1633. Drebbel was born in the Netherlands in 1572 and while working with the English Royal Navy, became well known for his work in chemistry, optics, measurement and even dabbled in the dye industry.

Cornelius Drebbel

Cornelius Drebbel

Drebbel had a basic education and was originally a painter and engravers apprentice, until his interest in inventions attracted the attention of King James I, who invited him to England. During his time there he presented many of his ideas and inventions to the court, including his famous perpetual motion machine that told the time, date and season.

It was around this time that Drebbel began working on his submarine. The vessel appears to have been based on a row boat design, and had a wooden frame completely covered in waterproof leather. Pigskin bladders connected to pipes leading out of the cabin controlled depth; to dive the bladders were filled with water by releasing a rope that controlled the opening and closing of the pipes. In order to surface, the rowers squeezed all the water out of the bladders and tied them off with rope again. This enabled the submarine to safely dive to depths of 4 to 5 metres.

Drebbel's submarine

Drebbel’s submarine

The vessel was steered by a rudder, and powered by four oars which were fed into the water through leather seals. Air tubes led from the cabin to the waters surface and were kept in place by the use of floats – submarine was able to be underwater for several hours at a time.

Drebbel’s submarine was tested several times, and it was reported that even King James I was on board during one of the tests, becoming the first monarch to travel under water! However, the submarine appears to have been well ahead of its time and was not of any interest to the English Royal Navy.

This design and the capabilities of Drebbel’s submarine are a far cry from that of the Oberon-class submarine, HMAS Onslow, which is permanently on display to the public at the museum. She was commissioned during the cold war (1968) and served Australia for 30 years before coming to the Australian National Maritime Museum in 1999.

HMAS Onslow during service

HMAS Onslow during service

The Onslow is 90 metres long and powered by V16 diesel generators. Her motor provides 3,500 brake horsepower and 4,500 shaft horsepower, which allows speeds of up to 12 knots (22km per hour) on the surface and 17 knots (31km per hour) when submerged.  Onslow’s maximum range was 9000 nautical miles (17000km) at 12 knots, and a depth of 200 metres. She was able to carry 64 – 68 personnel, plus an additional 16 trainees.

During service she carried six 21 inch bow torpedo tubes, which could fire torpedos or deploy sea mines, in addition to anti-ship missiles, and further stern mounted torpedo tubes for use against other submarines.

HMAS Onslow today

HMAS Onslow today

You can find more information about Onslow HERE.

Siobhan McKenna

References and further reading:

Brough, Neil. Onslow in dry dock 2002″ (PDF). Signals, Sydney, NSW: Australian National Maritime Museum, 2003.

Shaw, Lindsey. HMAS Onslow: cold war warrior. Sydney, NSW: Australian National Maritime Museum, 2005.

The Sleeping Beauties

War, for all of its awful consequences, produces some fascinating advances in technology and some very curious inventions. Some have transferred their purposes to civilian society (the modern computer, the humble slinky) but others are too strange, too specialised to have ever left the realm of warfare.

Meet the Sleeping Beauty.

Designed in WWII by prolific British inventor Major H. Quentin Reeves (said to be the inspiration for Ian Fleming’s character ‘Q’ in the James Bond series) of the top-secret research centre Station IX – the Sleeping Beauties were submersible one-man canoes created specifically for the clandestine activities of the Special Operations Executive (SOE) and its offshoot Special Operations Australia (SOA).

Popular Science, March 1947, page 80

Popular Science, March 1947, page 80

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Sometimes, being negative isn’t so bad…

This is something I discovered recently during the process of registering part of the large collection of photographic negatives, taken by photographer Gervaise Purcell, and acquired by the Australian National Maritime Museum.

Cruise ship circular quay

View of the passenger ship CANBERRA at Circular Quay. ANMM Collection. Reproduced courtesy of Leigh Purcell

Man and woman on deck of cruise ship

Example of promotional cruise ship images produced by Purcell.
ANMM Collection. Reproduced courtesy of Leigh Purcell

Photo of cruise liner from wharf, people waving from deck

Example of promotional cruise ship images produced by Purcell. ANMM Collection. Reproduced courtesy of Leigh Purcell

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Submarine ONSLOW sets sail

Today was not just another day at the office. As senior curator of the Australian naval history collection here at the museum I was very lucky indeed to have the opportunity to leave the desk and computer behind and enjoy Sydney’s autumnal weather! Our Oberon class submarine, the former HMAS Onslow is due for her four-yearly check and major maintenance at Thales Garden Island.

Boarding the submarine at 7.45 am we were soon in the capable hands of Navy’s Master Attendant Commander Glenn Thompson, who was ably assisted by Lieutenant Peter Dargan, most recently navigator on HMAS Parramatta. Three tugs masterly manoeuvred us away from the museum and we gently and gracefully headed to Garden Island – with a short interlude waiting for a large tanker to pass by.

ONSLOW is carefully pulled away from her mooring beside HMAS VAMPIRE

The view from the conning tower is nothing short of magnificent.

We head into the Captain Cook Graving Dock; HMAS PARRAMATTA is already there undergoing a refit.

ONSLOW is safely in the dock, joined by our lightship CLS4, waiting for the dock to be drained and the work to commence.

Thanks Glenn for our safe delivery to Thales.

Thanks Peter!

Lindsey Shaw, senior curator

Sydney under attack!

Under the cover of darkness Japanese submarines stand north-east of Sydney ready to send three midget submarines with their two-man crews to victory and possible certain death. The date? 31 May 1942. The time? 8.01 pm and the first of the three submarines enters Sydney Harbour undetected.

In the hours that followed there was panic, indecision, bravery and death. One midget submarine became entangled in the boom nets – anti-submarine nets positioned across the inner harbour entrance; unable to release itself, the submariners blew the submarine and themselves up. A second submarine successfully fired two torpedoes, one of which struck the sea wall of Garden Island beneath the barracks ship HMAS Kuttabul. Twenty-one sleeping ratings were killed and another 10 injured. The third Japanese midget submarine was sunk by depth charges.

The mystery of what happened to the second submarine – M24 – was finally solved in November 2006 when its wreck was found off Sydney’s northern beaches. But what happened to the remains of the two submarines destroyed during the raid?

Their wrecked remains were recovered from the waters and the bow section of one was rebuilt into the stern section of the other. This largely intact composite submarine was then toured SW, Victoria and South Australia to raise money for the naval relief fund. Today it is magnificently displayed at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra. The second remaining conning tower can be seen at the Naval Heritage Centre on Garden Island, Sydney.

With the 70th anniversary of the attack looming large it offers us a time to reflect and to remember the bravery of those involved – the sailors, the submariners, the volunteers, the civilians. And there is an opportunity for you to commemorate this important anniversary – join us on a harbour cruise on Saturday 2 June as we visit important sites connected with the attack.

Lindsey Shaw, senior curator

Work experience with the fleet team

My name is Joel and I’m a 16 year old from Picnic Point High School. Over the past week I have been doing some work experience at the Australian National Maritime Museum as a way to learn more about my hopeful career in the Navy. For the past week I have been observing and helping, where I can, the fleet crew and numerous volunteers. The people have been so helpful, welcoming and willing to share their vast knowledge with me.

Joel onboard Advance

Joel onboard patrol vessel Advance

I spent my first day working on a World War II raider ship cleaning, learning different knots and rope techniques, as well as getting to know everyone there. There’s a really interesting history to the ship and the guys were very welcoming and a lot of fun.

The next day I spent most of my time on HMAS Onslow submarine and HMAS Vampire destroyer with the guys that keep it running and the volunteers that run the tours and share their knowledge with visitors and me, as some of them are themselves ex-Navy.

Joel helping place the gangway to RV Whale Song

Joel helping place the gangway to RV Whale Song

I have spent some time learning the unique and interesting history behind the vessels I have been working on. I have experienced how dockyards work when observing the mast of Thistle, a ship from the 1900’s, being unstepped and craned up to the docks for further restoration. Later that day the fleet manager Phil took me around the harbour on a RHIB (rigid-hulled inflatable boat) to see some of the Naval ports and stations. As this was one of my first real maritime experience, it was a lot of fun. I will also be accompanying an old Navy patrol vessel across the harbour, which will be a memorable experience.

I also got to have a look around the museum and the other Navy patrol boats learning all the maritime rules and little techniques from the shipwrights and workers. It has been a great and rewarding experience and I would like to say thank you to everyone that helped me: Phillip McKendrick, Jim, Jeff, Michael, Peter, Lee, Ben, Joe, Warrick, all the volunteers, and Gemma who made it possible for me to spend time here.

Joel.