AE1 remembered 104 years on

This article has photo gallery Published on LEUT Dave Devlin (author), POIS Paul Berry (photographer)

Location(s): Australian War Memorial, Canberra

Topic(s): HMAS AE1, Commemoration

Royal Australian Navy sailors from Australia's Federation Guard salute during a commemorative service for those who served in HMAS AE1 at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra. (photo: POIS Paul Berry)
Royal Australian Navy sailors from Australia's Federation Guard salute during a commemorative service for those who served in HMAS AE1 at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.

A small but moving service held at the Australian War Memorial on 14 September commemorated the 104th anniversary of the loss of the 35 officers and sailors from Australia’s first submarine, HMAS AE1.

The anniversary service had increased significance, as it was the first held since the discovery in December 2017 of the submarine’s final resting place off the Duke of York Island, near Rabaul, Papua New Guinea.

Approximately 80 people, including family and descendants of the AE1’s ship's company paused to remember and lay wreaths in a moment of reflection. 

Director General Submarines, Commodore Tim Brown delivered the commemorative address, speaking of the unquestioned bravery shown by the crew. 

“For us, who know infinitely more about submarines and the undersea domain than was the case in 1914, the mettle and the resolution of our forebears is astonishing,” he said.

“These men were keenly aware of the risks, they served all of us, as one of us.”

The loss of the submarine and all of its crew remains a significant tragedy in the Royal Australian Navy’s wartime maritime history. 

“Despite the mists of time and the vagaries of the sea, we found them. 

“We did not leave them behind, forgotten. We found them, and we remember them.

“AE1 continues to stand watch in our North. She will continue to be remembered, and her brave company will remain, heroes all,” CDRE Brown said.

Coinciding with the 104th anniversary, a new report released by the Australian National Maritime Museum reveals new evidence into the circumstances surrounding the submarine’s tragic loss during WWI. 

The report details the findings of a team of experts from the Australian National Maritime Museum, Find AE1 Ltd, Curtin University, as well as independent experts from Australia and the UK who have closely examined high-resolution imagery of the wreck site to piece together what caused the submarine to be lost with all hands. The Defence Science and Technology Group confirmed the resultant hypothesis is consistent with the facts. 

The team’s analysis reveals that a critical ventilation valve in the hull is partially open. 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 report also reveals the rudder has broken away and it appears the submarine first landed on it before pitching forward onto its keel, displacing the fin (the vertical structure that contained the submarine’s conning tower) into the wreckage of the control room. 

The full report can be read at
https://www.anmm.gov.au/about/media/media-releases/media/2018/09/13/05/12/ae1-survey-report