‘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.
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.
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)
- Deep bowl or pot of water
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
You can find more information about Onslow HERE.
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.
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).
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.
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.
Lindsey Shaw, senior curator
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
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.
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.
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.
With Remembrance Day coming up on Friday 11 November, it’s a good time to look at one of the Royal Australian Navy’s successes in World War I.
AE2 was an E class submarine (previous classes were A, B, C and D) – one of two ordered in 1911 by the Australian government for its fledgling navy – the very finest of the day. The A stood proudly for Australia and our two submarines AE1 and AE2 were commissioned at Portsmouth in February 1914. AE1 was lost with all hands off German New Guinea in September 1914 and AE2 was scuttled by the captain in May 1915, after being hit by enemy shellfire while attacking Turkish ships in the Sea of Marmara. AE2‘s story is full of action and heroic deeds.
As part of the naval operations during the Dardanelles/Gallipoli Campaign, AE2 made its first offensive foray into the Dardanelles on 24 April, penetrating nearly six nautical miles (11 km) before being forced back with mechanical problems.
At 2.30 am on 25 April 1915 AE2 again attempted to get through the strait. At approximately 4.30 am, Stoker dived the boat in response to fire from Turkish gun crews that had spotted her. By 6.00 am, AE2 had reached Chanak, at the narrowest part of the strait, and then fired a torpedo at the Turkish gunboat Peyk I Sevket, while simultaneously taking evasive action to avoid an enemy destroyer. During this action, the boat ran aground directly under one of the Turkish forts; fortunately the fort was unable to lower its guns far enough to hit AE2 and after four minutes in an exposed position on the bank, it slid back into deeper safer water.
Shortly after grounding a second time, AE2‘s periscope was sighted by a Turkish battleship firing over the peninsular at British positions on Cape Hellas, causing it to cease shelling, withdraw and relocate to a safer position. AE2 continued to advance toward the Sea of Marmara. At 8.30 am Stoker decided to rest the boat on the sea-floor during daytime, and attack at night – which he successfully did, becoming the first Allied submarine to breach Turkish defences in the Dardanelles. Stoker signalled his success to HQ, where discussions were being held about the possibility of retreat by re-embarking the land force, but the news of AE2’s success changed attitudes to the extent that talk of withdrawal ceased. Stoker received orders to attack as he saw fit. His tactics were to give the impression that several submarines were in the area, however, due to mechanical problems, and in spite of several attacks, AE2 managed to create mayhem but no hits on Turkish vessels.
On 30 April, mechanical problems caused AE2 to rise to the surface; about 1 mile (1.8 km) from the Turkish torpedo boat Sultanhisar. In an attempt to avoid it, AE2 dived below a safe diving depth; frantic and hasty attempts to correct this caused the submarine’s stern to break the surface, which was immediately fired on again by the Sultanhisar. Stoker ordered his crew to abandon the submarine and, destroying sensitive documents and opening the sea cocks, AE2 sank to the bottom. All 35 members of the boat’s company survived the action, although three men died during the three and a half years they subsequently spent as prisoners of war in Turkey.
The wreck of AE2 was located in 1998 at a depth of 72 m and is now the subject of a joint Australian-Turkish project – Silent ANZAC – which aims to protect the remains from future damage and to promote the history of this daredevil submarine.
Lindsey Shaw, Senior Curator