Australian War Memorial commemorates 105 years since the loss of AE1

Published on Mr Josh Williams (author), CPO Cameron Martin (photographer)

Location(s): Canberra, ACT

Topic(s): HMAS AE1, Commemoration

Director General Submarines, Commodore Timothy Brown RAN, and Lieutenant Commander (Ret'd) Jim Smail with a photograph of Lieutenant Commander Smail's uncle, Petty Officer Robert Smail, who was lost when the submarine HMAS AE1 sank. (photo: CPO Cameron Martin)
Director General Submarines, Commodore Timothy Brown RAN, and Lieutenant Commander (Ret'd) Jim Smail with a photograph of Lieutenant Commander Smail's uncle, Petty Officer Robert Smail, who was lost when the submarine HMAS AE1 sank.

The Australian War Memorial hosted a solemn service last week to commemorate the 105th anniversary of the loss of 35 officers and sailors in HMAS AE1, Australia’s first submarine.

It has been almost two years since the discovery of the submarine’s wreck, which was found off the Duke of York Islands, near Rabaul, Papua New Guinea, in December 2017.

The service was attended by retired Lieutenant Commander Jim Smail, nephew of Petty Officer Robert Smail who was part of AE1 ship’s company when she was lost. Lieutenant Commander Smail and Director General Submarines, Commodore Tim Brown, laid wreaths at the last post ceremony to commemorate the anniversary.

Commodore Brown shared his respect for those lost in the tragedy as well as all those who have served and continue to serve in the Royal Australian Navy.

“The AE1 was our first submarine and losing all hands was a great tragedy.

“Today, 105 years later, we still remember those Australian submariners who served their country and gave great sacrifice.

“It’s important we remember days like today, and the people that have served beforehand, to know what we stand for and what the mission of our service is,” Commodore Brown said.

The submarine was tragically lost during the First World War. A report released last year by the Australian National Maritime Museum revealed that a critical ventilation valve in the hull was partially open. This valve allowed water to flood the engine room which would have resulted in a loss of controls, causing the submarine to descend below its crush depth of 100m. The resultant implosion would have killed the crew instantly.

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