AE1 - Missing Sub

HMAS AE1 was lost with all hands in unknown circumstances in the South Pacific off of what was at that time German New Guinea on 14th September 1914.


On 9th September 1914 the Australian Fleet with Submarine AE1 (Lt Cdr Thomas F Besant) and AE2 (Lt Cdr Henry H G D Stoker) was dispatched to assist in an action at the German Territory of New Britain in the Bismarck Archipelago with orders to capture the capital - Rabaul. This town was the administrative centre of the German possessions in the Pacific Islands. On arrival at Rabaul on 11th September there were no German warships in the harbour and, the following day Australian troops were landed. Some fighting ensued and two Australian Officers and four seamen were killed before the German garrison was subdued.

At Rabaul AE1 and AE2 were, with the destroyers HMAS Parramatta (Lieutenant William H F Warren, RAN) and HMAS Yarra (Lieutenant Stewart Keightley, RAN) allocated the task of patrolling the St George’s Straits between the islands of New Britain and New Ireland. On the first day (13th September 1914) it was AE2 which was allocated the patrolling duties with the destroyer scouting ahead. On the second day AE1 left harbour at Simpsonhaven, Blanche Bay, New Britain and took over the patrol off Cape Gazelle with the destroyer HMAS Parramatta scouting.

In the afternoon of 14th September Submarine AE1 and the Destroyer parted company at about 1430. This was just after AE1 had reported ‘all normal’ with Parramatta then heading off to the south-east.

The Officer of the Watch in Parramatta noted in the Log that he lost sight of AE1 at approximately 1530 off Duke of York Island, approximately one and a half miles south south east of Bernard point and presumed that Besant would return to Blanche Bay. After Parramatta returned to harbour at Herbertshohe (now Kokopo) Lieutenant Warren became concerned that AE1 was overdue. The submarine was reported missing at about 2000.

Parramatta and HMAS Yarra left harbour to search for AE1 and the 5,600 ton Light Cruiser HMAS Sydney (under the command of Captain John C T Glossop, Royal Navy), which was also in the area kept a lookout. The next day the searchers were joined by the 700 ton Torpedo Boat Destroyer HMAS Warrego (Commander Claude L Cumberledge, RN) and HMAS Encounter. Despite all the searching over the next three days AE1 was never seen or heard of again! Henry Kinder of Submarine AE2 in his diary reports that a patch of oil was seen near where the submarine was last sighted. The date was 14th September 1914 and this was the first submarine loss of the Great War for the Allies.

With the AE1 were lost the Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Commander Thomas Fleming Besant, his Second Captain, Lieutenant Charles Lewis Moore and Third Hand, Lieutenant the Honourable Leopold Scarlett. Also lost were thirty-two ratings seventeen of whom were Australian and fifteen British. A full list of the Officers and Ratings lost follows.

Roll of Honour

Name Rank Number Hons Age
Baker, Cyril Lefroy  Telegraphist (RAN)  1268    21
At birth Baker, Cyril from Lefroy, Tasmania. Served as Baker, Cyril Lefroy.
Barton, Sidney Charles  Leading Stoker (8288)  309518    29
In CWGC Sidney changed to Sydney on widow Mrs Fullicks request. (Circa 1918)
Besant, Thomas Fleming  Lieutenant Commander      30
Blake, Ernest  Stoker (RAN)  7876    22
At birth Blake, Ernest Robert served as Blake, Ernest
Bray, John James  Stoker (RAN)  1604    23
Corbould, Gordon Clarence  Leading Seaman (RAN)  7297    27
Dance, George  Signalman (8262)  230063    26
Dennis, Frederick George  Able Seaman (8281)  220438    29
Fettes, James Alexander  Engine Room Artificer 3rd Class (RAN)  7290    29
Fisher, Arthur Henry  Able Seaman (8191)  208546    30
Gough, Henry Joseph  Stoker (8292)  204767    31
Guilbert, Thomas Martin  Petty Officer (8279)  208663    29
Guild, James  Stoker (8267)  302880    30
Guy, William Elliot  Stoker (8291)  290601    34
Hodge, Henry  Petty Officer (8260)  196497    33
At birth Hodges, Henry served as Hodge, Henry, Father Edward (Eduard) Hodges.
Hodgkin, George  Able Seaman (8283)  226508    27
Holt, Richard Baines  Stoker (8266)  300667    32
Jarman, Jack  Able Seaman (RAN)  1138    21
Lowe, Thomas Frederick  Chief Engine Room Artificer 1st Class (8263)  271421    38
Marsland, John Albert  Chief Engine Room Artificer 2nd Class (8274)  270573    33
Meek, John  Leading Stoker (8290)  218676    27
At birth Meek, John William, Served as John Meek
Messenger, John  Engine Room Artificer 3rd Class (RAN)  7291    27
Moloney, John Joseph  Stoker Petty Officer (RAN)  7299    25
Moore, Charles Lewis  Lieutenant      26
Reardon, John  Able Seaman (RAN)  7474    23
Scarlett, Leopold Florence  Lieutenant      25
The Right Hon. Retired.
Smail, Robert  Petty Officer (RAN)  1068    26
Stretch, Harry  Chief Stoker (8265)  278358    38
Thomas, James Benjamin  Able Seaman (8111)  207516    31
Tribe, William  Petty Officer (8261)  191329    33
Waddilove, William Alfred  Stoker Petty Officer (RAN)  7300    29
Wilson, Joseph William  Chief Engine Room Artificer 2nd Class (8284)  270296    34
Wilson, Percy Lawrence  Stoker (RAN)  7182    25
Woodland, Frederick William  Able Seaman (7597)  208916    32
Wright, Charles Frederick  Stoker Petty Officer (RAN)      25

HMAS AE1 and her crew members, listed above, are commemorated on the AE1/AE2 Memorial established in Ramsden Square jointly by the Barrow Branch and the AE1 Descendant families in May 2013 and on Memorials in Sydney and on the Island of Rabaul

No claim was made for the sinking by the German authorities, and although there have been many theories as to the loss of the submarine, the reason remains a mystery to the present day. In August 2000 it was thought that the wreck might have been located but this was not so and there was some more excitement in 2011 when a likely looking wreck was discovered in Rabaul Harbour. Again this was not AE1 but a Japanese wreck from WWII

The whereabouts of a Vickers built submarine sunk during the First World War remained a mystery for nine decades.

Past searches for the missing sub have never borne fruit until a new effort was mounted by the RAN with vessels HMAS Benalla and HMAS Shepparto in 2007, nearly 93 years after the AE1 disappeared, the Australian Navy believed it had found an object on the seabed which is almost certainly the AE1. A remotely-operated underwater vehicle was deployed but fialed to confirm the find, thousands of miles off the coast of Papua New Guinea.

If the AE1 is ever found, the discovery will be an important part of Australian, and Barrovian maritime history. Both E-Boats built for the Australians proved unlucky, with AE2 being sunk in the Sea of Marmara in the Dardonelles on April 25, 1915.



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