ONCE WAS LOST

Australia’s wartime past, although relatively recent, has been instrumental in the development of the nation’s identity. When the First World War broke out, the Australian Navy was only three years old but it possessed one of the most technologically advanced weapon systems in the world in the form of the newly acquired submarines, AE1 and AE2.

AE2 is well known for the action it saw during the Gallipoli campaign. It was the first submarine to break through the Dardanelles Strait. Its fate was well documented and the site of the wreckage found, recorded and protected.

AE1 was assigned to support operations in German New Guinea. On 14 September 1914, AE1 was patrolling off Cape Gazelle. After making contact with HMAS Parramatta, AE1 continued the patrol. Instructions were to return to port in Rabaul by sundown.

AE1 never came back.

A contemporary search was mounted to locate the vessel which continued for 3 days – no sign was ever found. The fate of the vessel and the 35 men on board, comprising Australian, New Zealand and British subjects, remained a mystery for over a century.

Image: The Royal Australian Navy submarine AE1 comes into port at Sydney, 1915. A02551; Australian War Memorial.

FINDING AE1

AE1 expedition team.

Legacy Searches

It was not until decades later that the search was picked up again in earnest by Commander John Foster (OAM RAN Rtd.). His archival research was extensive but his efforts did not end there. Several attempts at physically locating the site of the submarine were made – a recount of these were published in his book, AE1 – Entombed But Not Forgotten, in 2006.

December 2017

Silentworld Foundation and the Australian Government, through the Royal Australian Navy, co-funded an expedition to once again search for AE1 – in collaboration with the Australian National Maritime Museum, FindAE1 Ltd. (a limited company established for the sole purpose of locating the vessel and comprised by the team that located AE2) and the Submarine Institute of Australia.

The team partnered with Fugro, international commercial surveying services company and aboard MV Fugro Equator set out to find the men of AE1.

This was achieved on the evening of 20 December 2017.

Armed with information gathered over several years, the most recent of which was multi-beam echo sounder data gathered by the team at IXSurvey (IXBlue) in 2015, the Fugro remote sensing team tackled the task with great skill and expertise with the invaluable aid of the vessel crew under the command of captain Andres Masloboev assisted by chief officer Ruslan Vakulyuk and 2nd officer Andriy Babushev.

Image: (Top) MV Fugro Equator

(Middle) The Fugro team of AUV engineers, data analysts and geophysicists on the AE1 expedition – Tanesh Thanapalan, Ali Faizal, Sudiyono, Zennezky, Chandran Karapiah, Jaayaprakash Narianan, Marlon Bravo, Walid Luqman, Gerry Galvan, Diensa Refranto, Jemual Rebong, Nugroho, Magnus Windle

(Bottom) Expedition team (left to right) – Tanesh Thanapalan (Fugro), Paul Hundley (SWF), Peter Briggs (FindAE1 Pty Ltd.), Roger Turner (FindAE1 Pty Ltd.), Chandran Karapiah (Fugro), James McPherson (RAN), Gus Mellon ((FindAE1 Pty Ltd.), Andres Masloboev (Fugro), Magnus Wndle (Fugro), Nigel Erskine (ANMM) and Irini Malliaros (SWF).

Followup Work

An expedition to record the submarine in greater detail was undertaken in April 2018 by FindAE1 Pty Ltd. and the Australian National Maritime Museum, along with Curtin University, aboard Vulcan Inc. vessel, Petrel. The company was owned by the late Microsoft co-founder, Paul Allen.

An ROV was launched at the site and was able to capture thousands of still images and video. This data is being compiled by the HIVE at Curtin University to construct a high resolution 3D model of the submarine wreck. The still and video footage were analysed by the team and a conclusion has been reached regarding the most probable cause of the disaster.

The ANMM states “the imagery reveals that a critical ventilation valve in the hull is partially open. The valve should have been closed before diving. When the submarine dived, the partially open valve would have allowed water to flood the engine room which may have resulted in a loss of control causing the submarine to descend below its crush depth of 100m. The resultant implosion would have killed the crew instantly. The reason why the valve is partially open is unknown”. The full report is made available by the ANMM.

WE WILL REMEMBER THEM

A short reception at the Australian National Maritime Museum took place on 12 March 2018 to present the findings of the expedition to the descendants of the 35 crewmen aboard AE1, the naval community, members of partner organisations and corporate sponsors. The Minister for Defence, Senator Marise Payne; PNG Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Rimbik Pato OB; and Chief of Navy, VADM Tim Barrett each made a short address followed by the presentation of expedition findings by Rear Admiral Peter Briggs RAN Rtd and an incredibly moving speech by Vera Ryan, descendant and representative of the AE1 crew descendants association. A meet and greet session followed in an exhibition space with information on the story of AE1 and the recent discovery including the photomosaic of the site produced with the imagery captured by Fugro. On show was also the ceremonial axe that launched both AE1 and AE2.

A formal function was organised by John Mullen, SWF and held at the Australian National Maritime Museum (ANMM) on 7 August 2018 to thank all the sponsors, individuals and organisations who supported the search and without whom it would not have been possible. Governor General, Peter Cosgrove opened the evening with a short address, followed by Minister Mitch Fifield; Chief of Navy, VADM Michael Noonan AO; with a deeply poignant speech delivered by Vera Ryan descendant and representative of the AE1 crew descendants association. John Mullen introduced a short film of the missions to conduct a search and follow-up recording of the submarine’s wreck site and the evening was concluded by an address from ANMM Chairman, Peter Dexter.

Video: A short feature that follows the team on the search mission in December 2017. Copyright: Australian National Maritime Museum.

Image: A photomosaic of AE1’s wreck site produced using the photos captured at the time of discovery, shown against the construction plans of the submarine. Image copyright: Australian National Maritime Museum

A photomosaic of AE1's wreck site produced using the photos captured at the time of discovery, shown against the construction plans of the submarine. Image copyright: Australian National Maritime Museum

Project Partners & Sponsors

Sponsorship

SWF founder and director John Mullen, as well as sponsoring the search personally, engaged the SWF team, with support from the Australian National Maritime Foundation, in a fundraising initiative during the lead up to the December 2017 search, gaining the generous support of corporate organisations and private sponsors. John and SWF would like to extend the deepest appreciation to all those who supported the search for a vessel of such extreme national significance. The project would, simply put, not have been possible without your support – thank you.

Major Sponsors

Individual Sponsors

Malcolm Broomhead

Michael Burn

Glen Butler

Peter Dexter

Helene & Dan Janes

Tim Joyce

Greg Levy

Nicholas Moore

John Pickhaver

Rob Sindel

Debbie & Guy Templeton

Project Supporters

AE1 Descendant Families’ Association

Defence Science and Technology Group

Government of Papua New Guinea

IX Blue

PNG National Museum and Art Gallery

Royal Australian Navy Historical Section

Royal Australian Navy Hydrographic Section

Sea Power Centre Australia

Submarine Association of Australia

Submariners Association