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.
Those lost in AE1 were:
- Lieutenant Commander Thomas F Besant, RN
- Lieutenant Charles L Moore, RN
- Lieutenant the Hon. Leopold F Scarlett, RAN (ex RN)
- PO Thomas Guilbert RAN 8279 RN 208663
- PO Henry Hodge RAN 8260 RN 196497
- PO William Tribe RAN 8261 RN 191329
- PO Robert Smail RAN 1068
- LSea Gordon Corbould RAN 7292
- AB Frederick Woodland RAN 7579 RN 208916
- AB Frederick Dennis RAN 8281 RN 220438
- AB George Hodgkin RAN 8283 RN 226508
- AB John Reardon RAN 7474
- AB Arthur Fisher RAN 8191
- AB Jack Jarman RAN 1138
- AB James Thomas RAN 8111
- Tel Cyril Baker RAN 1268
- Sig George Dance RAN 8262 RN 230063
- CERA John Marsland RAN 8274 RN 270573
- CERA Thomas Lowe RAN 8263 RN 271421
- CERA Joseph Wilson RAN 8284 RN 270296
- ERA3 James Fettes RAN7290
- ERA3 John Messenger RAN 7291
- Ch Sto Harry Stretch RAN 8265 RN 278358
- SPO John Moloney RAN 7299
- SPO William Waddilove RAN 7300
- SPO Charles Wright RAN 7395
- LSto William Guy RAN 8291 RN 290601
- A/LSto John Meek RAN 8290 RN 218676
- A/LSto Sidney Barton RAN 8288
- Sto James Guild RAN 8267 RN 302880
- Sto Percy Wilson RAN 7182
- Sto Henry J Gough RAN 8292 RN 204767
- Sto Ernest Blake RAN 7876
- Sto John James Bray RAN 1604
- Sto Richard Holt RAN 8266
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.