AE1 Submarine

*Note: It was recently Discovered

My favourite project, the search for Australia’s first submarine the AE1 lost near Rabaul, New Guinea, during the opening stages of WW1.

This is a rare opportunity for a financier and adventurer to be involved in an exciting documentary project to solve Australia’s last great maritime mystery, and that is the loss of the submarine, the AE1 near Rabaul in 1914.

I have researched this project for over 45 years and am recognised as one of Australia’s foremost authorities on the loss of the AE1. My research is not limited to Australian records but extends to New Guinea, Germany and America.

I had an interesting conversation with a Catholic father in 1968, a survivor of WW1 in Kokopo, who claimed the wreck was visible from the surface for many years but slipped into deeper water.

Then there is the confession of William Reuchel a German sailor who claimed to be in charge of the SS KolonialGessellschaft,a German axillary patrol boat which was fitted with Maxim Nordenfelt 37mm quick firing automatic cannon, easily capable of causing immense damage. Reuchel openly boasted about sinking the AE1.

It must be said that in the past few years there have been several highly publicised attempts to locate the AE1. The survey ship HMAS Flinders conducted a search of this area using her side-scanning sonar in 1976 but without success.

In 2003 a well documented attempt by John Foster RAN (rtd) and the ABC in conjunction with Jeremy Green of the WA Maritime Museum conducted a search in the vicinity of Duke of York Islands again without success.

More recently in 2007 the Australian Navy again in conjunction with John Foster, found a suspect object in 240 foot of water but it too unfortunately turned out to be a fals alarm. It would appear the Fosters biggest problem was the severe time limit imposed by the charter and Naval vessels.We will not have this problem.

After 100 years, the AE1 still remains an intriguing but largely-forgotten mystery. Given a modern side-scan sonar and omni-directional magnetometer we have a better then good chance of solving this mystery and rewriting the history books.

Briefly the AE1 story

The AE1: A – for Australia, E -for ‘E’ Class submarine and the number 1, as in the first submarine for the Royal Australian Navy. The submarine was built by Vickers Son & Maxim at the Naval Construction Works, Barrow-in-Furness, County Lancashire, England.

At the outbreak of WW1, the AE1 commanded by Lieutenant Commander Thomas Besant, RN; in company with AE2 joined the naval forces assigned to capture of the German colonies of New Guinea. The AE1 was on hand at the surrender of Rabaul on 13 September 1914.

At 0700hrs on 14 September 1914, the AE1 departed Rabaul with the HMAS Parramatta from Herbertshohe (now Kokopo) to patrol off Cape Gazelle. At 2:30 pm they were in communication and at 3:30 pm the submarine was seen by the Parramatta to the south west of Duke of York Island, apparently on her way back into harbour.

At 8:00 pm the submarine had not returned and HMAS Parramatta and Yarra, together with launches from Rabaul and Herbertshohe were sent to search for her. HMAS Encounter and Warrego also joined the searched but no trace of AE1 was ever found, not even the tell-tale shimmer of escaping oil on the water.

AE1 was the first unit of the Australian Fleet to be lost and the first allied submarine loss of the war, mysteriously disappearing without trace. The cause of her loss remains unknown and unsolved. Sadly the incident is almost forgotten today, at the time however it was a dreadful blow for the fledgling Australian Navy, depriving it of 35 brave men and what amounted to half its submarine force.

There can be no greater reward then to finally give closure to the family and friends of the 35 sailors who lost their lives and even more meaningful if we discover, as I believe, they lost their lives in battle.

 AE1 Statistics
Type E Class Submarine
Displacement 660 tons (surfaced), 800 tons (submerged)
Length 181 feet
Beam 22 feet 6 inches
Draught 12 feet 6 inches
Builder Vickers Ltd, Barrow-in-Furness, England
Laid Down 14-Nov-11
Launched 22-May-13
Machinery 2 sets of 8 cylinder diesel engines, battery driven electric motors
Horsepower 1,750 (surfaced), 550 (submerged)
Speed 15 knots (surfaced), 10 knots (submerged)
Armament 4 x 18-inch torpedo tubes
Complement 35

Be part of The Project

If solving this mystery appeals to you, and would like to be part of it and as a bonus get your name in the history books, and you think having your children pay for it out of their inherence is a good thing, please give me a call. A lousy $100/150,000 for a Digital Sonar and Magnetometer will do it.

Money is essential for the equipment and of prime importance for the project, but then we also need people, everyone is important in a mission like this and it takes a multitude of skills, from the skipper, researchers, divers, cameraman, editors and cook. So don’t be shy and give me a call.

Rabaul is a spectacular place, safe, friendly people, smoking volcanoes and with some of the best diving in the world, just another reason to do this.