First in at Gallipoli: the harrowing voyage of submarine AE2

By Australian National Maritime Museum

Australian National Maritime Museum

Australian submarine AE2 with crew on deck at Portsmouth (1914) by Stephen CribbAustralian National Maritime Museum

On 25 April 1915 as Anzacs were preparing for their dawn landings on
the Gallipoli peninsula, an Australian submarine had already silently
made an advance into the Dardanelles Strait.

At 4.30am that morning, just as the first wave of Australian soldiers splashed ashore from their boats, submarine AE2 had been creeping past Turkish forts and underwater minefields for several hours. After the German Pacific colonies were quickly taken by the Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force, AE2 was directed to the Mediterranean where a grand naval assault was planned on the Dardanelles Strait prior to the Gallipoli Campaign – a campaign that might not be needed if the Allied fleet managed to break through the heavily mined and fortified strait.

Dinner menu from SS ORONSAY (16/08/1973)Australian National Maritime Museum

But this assault on 18 March failed and the Turkish celebrated a great victory against the might of Britain. Concealed minefields destroyed several Allied ships.

AE2’s Stoker Petty Officer Henry (Harry) James Elly Kinder recalled: "…it wasn’t a bad day’s work for the Turks although they too suffered as a lot of their forts were blown up. It showed that the forcing of the Dardanelles wasn’t going to be an easy job as it was well fortified by land and water."

WWI scarf with a map of the Turkish Empire and an inset map of the Dardanelles (1914 - 1915)Australian National Maritime Museum

The job of forcing the straits was given to the submarines.

Just as the Gallipoli landings on 25 April were about to commence, AE2 was tasked with trying to get through to create havoc among Turkish shipping in the Sea of Marmara and assist with delaying reinforcements from eastern Turkey crossing to the Gallipoli peninsula. The dangers were immense. Several submarine attempts had already failed.

Dardanelles and Gallipoli peninsula (1915)Australian National Maritime Museum

Kinder recalled: "At 6am the captain remarked that the next few minutes might see us sailing off for Kingdom Come after our halos and wings...

...we were approaching the place marked on the chart where there were two stationary mine fields, each containing nine rows of mines. Mines are one of the most dreaded things in submarines. It was not pleasant to know that we had to face eighteen rows of them." Just after 6am AE2 scraped the first wire. Kinder recalled that ‘it was enough to stop one’s heart beating to hear it sliding over the steel deck’. He kept count of the wires as the boat hit them and ‘on the eighteenth we guessed we had passed through our first danger’.

Topographic map of Gallipoli (1915) by Survey DepartmentAustralian National Maritime Museum

next thing was to pass the ‘narrows’ with its swift current, banks, shallows
and overlooking forts.

At this point, the captain of AE2, Commander Henry Stoker, saw several Turkish cruisers at anchor and decided to ‘have a shot’. But the discharge of the torpedo had affected the vessel’s compass and AE2 was 80 feet under water and running blind. Surfacing to gain bearings was too dangerous, as they were in front of the Turkish forts, but the narrows forced their hand – as the bottom was felt, AE2 rose but became stuck on a bank and surfaced right under Turkish guns.

In one sense they were fortunate, being so close inshore that the forts’ guns could not be successfully trained on them. With all the ballast tanks blown and the motor full speed astern, gradually AE2 bumped off the bank. The tanks were again flooded and slowly the vessel sank back down to 80 feet.

HMA Submarine AE2 ship's company at Malta (1915)Australian National Maritime Museum

Yet after escaping one side, and still travelling blind, AE2 careened into the opposite bank - again forcing its way off and gaining bearings before Turkish gunfire could target it.

Their luck continued as the compass ‘became sensible again’ and Commander Stoker continued towards their goal of the more open Sea of Marmara.

With an array of Turkish vessels desperately searching for it, Stoker decided to rest the vessel on the bottom. It was 8 am on Sunday morning. The crew had breakfast and some sleep, then rose for morning prayers at 11 am. Kinder wrote, ‘I dare say it was the first time prayers were read on the bottom of the sea.’

Commander Stoker decided to wait for nightfall so they might surface with less risk. Turkish vessels dragged lines searching for the submarine throughout the day. A destroyer passed only a few feet over their position – so close the AE2 crew could ‘hear the stokers opening the furnace door and shovelling coal into the fires’.

Towards the end of the day the air inside the submarine was ‘getting thick’. AE2 had been submerged for 14 hours and carried no oxygen to renew the air.

At 10.30 pm Commander Stoker decided it was quiet enough above to continue.

After sitting on the surface and recharging batteries, finally, at daylight on 26 April, AE2 headed into the Sea of Marmara and a sense of security, with open water to escape in.

Kinder recorded the moment: "It was a beautiful day and the Sea of Marmara was like a sheet of glass … it was lovely to sit on the saddle tanks in the sunshine … We seemed to have the Sea of Marmara to ourselves."

Crew of submarine AE2 fitting on a new propeller (1914)Australian National Maritime Museum

Now, out of the dangers of the narrows, mines, current, forts and depth charges, AE2 was in the box seat.

Brazenly travelling on the surface scaring off local shipping and turning back transports with enemy troops heading towards Gallipoli. Stoker had been ordered to ‘run amuck’ [sic] if he made it through.

Submarine AE2 (1914-1915)Australian National Maritime Museum

spending the next night submerged, then scaring off several more transports the
next day, Stoker saw an opportunity and fired a torpedo at a transport vessel.

Its escorting destroyers then attempted to ram AE2 and as the submarine dived, a destroyer’s propellers sounded so close that ‘we ducked our heads to allow it to pass’.

Another night was spent lying on the bottom. Kinder reflected that: "When the boat is lying on the bottom with only a pilot light on, one begins to imagine all sorts of things happening… Perhaps it would not be able to rise again with the crew caught like rats in a trap with no hope of escape. If you let your imagination run too long you can feel your hair rising … Sometimes the sound of a voice is a welcome sound."

HMA Submarine AE2 (2000) by Tiffanie BrownAustralian National Maritime Museum

Then on 29 April, in a moment of utter surprise and almost disbelief, a British submarine was spotted.

E14 had also run the gauntlet in AE2’s wake. The two commanders then agreed to separate and rendezvous the next day. But this meeting was not to occur. The next day, on nearing the appointed rendezvous, two Turkish gunboats and a destroyer were sighted making a bee-line for AE2. When the vessel dived, something was wrong – the boat started to go down by the bow. It was impossible to stand; ‘everything moveable in the boat started to slide and roll to the bows’. 

Submarine AE2 with crew on deck, Portsmouth (17/02/1914) by Stephen CribbAustralian National Maritime Museum

Eventually, after all the ballast tanks were blown and with the engines full astern, AE2 began to rise. But circling above were Turkish warships. 

AE2 surfaced with a ‘whoosh’ and Stoker quickly flooded the tanks in order to dive again, hoping this time to dive correctly. But luck had seemed to finally desert AE2. Just as it was about to submerge, three shells hit the vessel. Water was flooding the engine room. AE2 descended and after a hard struggle, the watertight doors to the engine room were closed. The vessel went down to 80 feet and then stopped. Would the flooded engines keep going? Without them AE2 could not surface.

Australian submarine AE2 with crew on deck at Portsmouth (1914) by Stephen CribbAustralian National Maritime Museum

Then AE2 began to rise. Perhaps luck was still with them. But on the surface the crew soon realised AE2’s end had come. While Stoker gave the order to abandon ship, the two gunboats were still firing and shells were falling all around.

Henry Kinder spent his last few minutes looking around the boat. He noticed the clock at five minutes to 12, and recalled there was a rabbit pie in the oven. He left the pie and went to his ditty box to retrieve 16 shillings and a photograph of his wife. On deck, Kinder saw Commander Stoker come up after opening the kingston valves to scuttle the vessel. They then dived overboard with the rest of the crew. For a few seconds Kinder saw AE2 ‘moving through the water like a big, wounded fish, gradually disappearing from sight’.There was only one casualty – a large rat that the cat at Garden Island in Sydney had chased on board one morning when the submarine was lying alongside. The rat took up residence in the engine room and the crew fed him to stop him eating their own food.

A page from a Turkish newspaper from 1915. In Turkish, the story relates the capturing of the crew of the AE2 by the torpedo boat SULTAN HISSAR in the Sea of Marmara. (1915)Australian National Maritime Museum

Turkish torpedo boat Sultanhisar under Captain Riza took the crew
prisoner. They remained in captivity for the rest of the war.

Riza later wrote his own version of events in his book 'How I sank the AE2'. Henry Kinder recounted much of his time in the camps in his memoir, but said ‘there were many incidents that happened during the time that we were prisoners that I will not be able to write down here’.

Envelope addressed to Geoffrey Haggard, Laurie Haggard, 06/06/1915, From the collection of: Australian National Maritime Museum
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2IC Lieutenant Geoffrey Haggard kept a ‘black book of notes’ after the war, though he never published them. According to his daughter, Haggard remained deeply troubled by the events of 1915.

Photograph of Lieutenant Geoffrey Haggard and Commander Henry G. Stoker of the AE2, Geoffrey Arthur G Haggard, 1919, From the collection of: Australian National Maritime Museum
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AE2 sent a wireless signal through to say the vessel had breached the Dardanelles Strait, and it has been argued that this news had a role in firming the Allied commanders’ resolve to continue the Gallipoli invasion, rather than evacuate in the early stages. The resulting carnage haunted Haggard for the rest of his life, resulting in a long personal silence for this crew member of submarine AE2, the so-called ‘Silent Anzac’.

Archaeological survey of the Australian submarine AE2 (2014)Australian National Maritime Museum

AE2’s final resting place was
located in 1998 by a Turkish dive team led by Selçuk Kolay, OAM.

The submarine’s identity was confirmed later the same year by a team of Australian archaeologists led by Dr Mark Spencer and Tim Smith. The initial site survey provided critical information about the submarine’s condition, clarified its historical and archaeological significance, and proposed options for its long-term management.

Archaeological survey of the Australian submarine AE2 (2014)Australian National Maritime Museum

In September 2007, an archaeological assessment was conducted inside AE2’s
conning tower and control room via use of a specially developed drop

The camera was inserted through the submarine’s partially-open conning tower hatch, and provided the first images of the interior hull since AE2’s loss in April 1915. These images revealed that the submarine’s internal components are in an excellent state of preservation, and that high potential exists for the retention of intact artefacts.

Archaeological survey of the Australian submarine AE2 (2014)Australian National Maritime Museum

Between AE2’s discovery in 1998 and the
follow-up assessment of the site in 2007, exposed sections of the hull
sustained considerable damage.

Loss of material from the submarine occurred prior to 1998, but was relatively minimal in scope and caused by natural corrosion processes and intermittent fouling of fishing nets. For example, sections of the casing that extends the length of the hull were damaged by net entrapments. However, damage to AE2 caused by anchor drags or trawling gear increased exponentially in the wake of its discovery. By 2007 this resulted in complete destruction of the bow section of the submarine’s hull casing, as well as deterioration of the after structure of the conning tower. Despite the damage, AE2’s overall condition is very good, and it remains the world’s best preserved example of an early E-class submarine.

Archaeological survey of the Australian submarine AE2 (2014)Australian National Maritime Museum

A second comprehensive archaeological survey of AE2 was carried out in
June 2014, the primary goal of which was to acquire video footage, still
photographs, and sonar imagery of the submarine’s interior conning
tower and control room.

This was accomplished via a drop camera and remotely operated vehicle. The other primary objective was placement on site of a cathodic protection system designed to inhibit future corrosion of AE2’s steel hull. At the conclusion of the project, a secure closure system was placed over the conning tower hatch as a means to prevent unauthorised access to the submarine’s interior.

Archaeological survey of the Australian submarine AE2 (2014)Australian National Maritime Museum

Because AE2 is located within Turkish internal
waters (the Sea of Marmara), it is considered the cultural property of the
Republic of Turkey and subject to its heritage legislation and controls.

As a military shipwreck, it is also subject to the authority of the Turkish General Staff. AE2 has obvious heritage significance to Australia, but is also important to Turkey because of its role in the Allied invasion of the Gallipoli Peninsula during the First World War. Both the Australian and Turkish governments have acknowledged the submarine’s significance by enacting measures to safeguard it.

The Silent Anzac – inside the submarine AE2Australian National Maritime Museum

Credits: Story

Curators: Dr Stephen Gapps and Dr James Hunter
Producer: Michelle Mortimer

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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