AE1: never forgotten

Published on SBLT Jacob von Marburg (author), ABML-C Leon Dafonte Fernandez (photographer)

Topic(s): HMAS AE1, Naval Heritage and History, Commemoration

Executive Officer HMAS Melville, Lieutenant Commander Sara Barnett, speaks to her ship’s company during a service held off the coast of Papua New Guinea to commemorate the Australian submarine AE1, which was sunk during WWI. (photo: Leon Dafonte Fernandez)
Executive Officer HMAS Melville, Lieutenant Commander Sara Barnett, speaks to her ship’s company during a service held off the coast of Papua New Guinea to commemorate the Australian submarine AE1, which was sunk during WWI.

While conducting survey operations off the coast of Papua New Guinea, the crew of HMAS Melville took time to commemorate the first Australian casualties of WWI and the loss of the Australian submarine AE1.

September 11 marks the anniversary of the capture of the German wireless station in Bita Pika, Papua New Guinea, in 1914.

The action involved the Australian naval task group, which included HMA Ships Australia (I) and Sydney (I), and the submarines AE1 and AE2.

Lieutenant Andrew Taylor gave a speech describing the fierce fighting undertaken by the Australian sailors, who were deployed on land in order to capture the wireless station.

Over the course of one day they would succeed in their mission, and Australia would suffer her first casualties of the First World War.

Melville’s Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Commander Michael Kumpis, then addressed the ship’s company, speaking of the sacrifice of AE1 and her crew, who were last seen departing Blanche Bay, Papua New Guinea on 14 September 1914 to conduct patrol with HMAS Parramatta (I).

She was never seen again and presumed lost at sea.

The memorial service was concluded with the singing of the Naval Hymn and the reading of The Ode.

The wreck of AE1 has only recently been discovered in vicinity of Rabaul, Papua New Guinea and is of significant importance to the Royal Australian Navy, in particular the submarine community.

While an Australian submarine was unable to be present for this important anniversary, HMAS Melville was able to conduct this service on behalf of the Australian Submarine Squadron.

Lieutenant Commander Kumpis said it was a special occasion.  

“It was honour to be in Rabaul, Papua New Guinea, to commemorate AE1 and her ship’s company for the sacrifice they made to Australia.

“And, with the recent discovery of her wreck, hopefully it will provide answers to their families and the nation, who still mourns the loss of her courageous crew,” Lieutenant Commander Kumpis said.

Lest we forget.