Australian submarine AE-1 discovered after 103 years.

The RAN Submarine Service has always been full of sun-dodging Poms. From memory, the 1st CO of each of the 6 Collins-class SSKs was ex-RN. In any case, proof of British, Australian or New Zealand 'nationality' in WWI was all a bit academic anyway as most would have had British passports (if any were issued at all).
I found out when I woke up, a family member of mine was lost with the AE1. I've grown up knowing that Grandad Fred was lost on an Australian submarine. I've followed the efforts of Cdr Foster RAN when he was alive and communicated with the families association. Met them at the unveiling of the memorial at Gosport in 2014.

I have to admit, I read a geological report which suggested that a volcanic eruption by Rabaul may have disturbed the sea bed and covered over the wreck and I figured, what with all the unsuccessful expeditions that maybe it was simply lost to the ages.

It's a little bit overwhelming that they've found her.
I can't attach the full 112 page document, but there was a fantastically insightful document into the possible causes of her loss. It analysed the evidence, witness testimony from other ships, the dynamics of the currents on Mioko Harbour and knowledge of how a submarine works, and concluded that she was probably lost to a Beam on Grounding.

Below is the relevant analysis: Beam on Grounding

A beam on grounding, damaging Main Ballast Tanks and resulting in loss of stability, combining

with another event leading to a loss of buoyancy could lead to an uncontrolled descent to the

bottom with the pressure hull intact and crew secured or trapped inside the flooded submarine

seems the more credible of these scenarios. Given the lack of debris field or oil slick it seems

more likely that the submarine bottomed with the conning tower hatch secured and did not exceed

its crush depth. It remained disabled and intact on the bottom, either fully flooded through the

conning tower hatch or a breach in the pressure hull, or if the crew survived (judged unlikely),

unable to achieve sufficient buoyancy to surface. Beam on Grounding Reconstruction of the Sequence of Events

A possible sequence of events may have been:-

x AE1 headed for Rabaul on the surface shortly after 1430, (say 1500) from the position

reported by PARRAMATTA.

x AE1 was under pressure to get back before dark and had about 30 minutes in hand to

make an ETA of 1750.

x The shortest route to the anchorage passed close by Mioko Harbour and the island of the

same name on the southern side of the Duke of York Island.

x AE1 had earlier deviated from the orders given for the day to patrol the southern

approaches to Rabaul, in order to check out a report on 13th September 1914 of a steamer

off the Duke of York Island - a final look through the entrance enroute Rabaul would have

been very tempting.

x Inexperienced in the local conditions, particularly the precautions necessary when

operating in proximity to coral reefs AE1 misjudged the strength of the current surging

NW towards the reefs and through the entrance to Mioko Harbour.

x As a result, AE1 found herself in a rapidly changing, dangerous situation, close in to the

reefs off the entrance, on a lee shore with the SE wind and strong NW current pushing

onto this hazard.

x Combined with the low height of eye and poor lighting to observe outlying reefs, defective

starboard shaft when running astern and the ever present possibility of a helm or

propulsion failure, AE1 was unwittingly standing into mortal danger.

x Looking up sun combined with the disturbed water arising from current hitting the near

vertical faces of the reefs (see Gus Mellon’s description of this at para above) the

reefs were difficult/impossible to see.

x Whilst still making headway AE1 was washed beam onto a reef outcrop, opening up

numbers 1 and 3 main ballast tanks forward of the broadside tube on the starboard side.

x The force of the grounding was arrested by the athwartships bulkhead on the leading

edge of the broadside tubes annulus in the pressure hull (para 3.7.2 refers).

x The current held the submarine there, grinding and pivoting against the bulkhead with the

diesels still propelling ahead.

x The crew was thrown from their feet by the impact and working with a developing list took

several minutes to stop the diesels and to engage astern power on the port shaft. 81

This exacerbated the damage already experienced.

x With difficulty she extracted herself, using full power astern on the one (port) shaft

available and moved astern off the reef.

x The natural tendency of the port shaft running astern to pull the stern towards the reefs

(to starboard) was probably offset by the wind – most submarines have a strong tendency

to swing into wind when going astern.

x As a result AE1 moved off and in what direction it went is not certain but may depend on

where it grounded. A likely scenario is that it moved to the NE swinging to starboard, i.e.

making sternway away from the reefs and to the east, swinging to the south east, at the

same time, assisted by the NE running current also moving away from the harbour


x In the process of moving clear it is possible that she struck a second time, adding to the

damage already experienced to her ballast tanks and pressure hull.

x A heavy list quickly developed as water flooded into the damaged ballast tanks, causing

difficulty for the crew trying to maintain their stations and regain control the submarine.

x A new factor or combination of factors then intervened, perhaps pressure hull was

breached at the broadside tube bulkhead leading to flooding and a loss of power as the

control room began to flood, with the starboard list channelling water towards the

switchboard and main batteries, perhaps the combined impact of astern power, rudder and

delicate state of stability combined to force the submarine onto her beam ends drawing the

conning tower hatch underwater, before the crew were able to close it, flooding the

submarine. We don’t know.

x As it sank it AE1 probably drifted further on the current before settling on the bottom.
A very interesting story. AE1's loss is covered in 'Beneath the Waves. A History of RN Submarine Losses'. The speculated cause of loss is close to that suspected as a result of the wreck being located. However, the following is provided mainly as background and the current findings, summarised by @moggy_cattermole, supercede those at the end of the text below:

'At 0700 on 19 September Lieutenant-Commander T. E. Besant, the captain of AE1, sailed Blanche Bay, New Britain, with the destroyer HMAS Parramatta to patrol off Cape Gazelle. In the hazy conditions visibility was reduced to between two and five miles; consequently Parramatta occasionally lost sight of AE1 as she scouted in advance of the submarine. At 14:30 that afternoon, Besant reported all well. An hour later the submarine was sighted by Parramatta to the west of Duke of York Island, and apparently en route for Blanche Bay in accordance with orders. After this sighting Parramatta remained at sea awhile before proceeding to Herbertshohe. This sighting by Parramatta was the last time AE1 was ever seen.

AE1 was not reported as missing until eight o'clock that evening. The Parramatta and Yarra put to sea in search of her, using flares and searchlights as an aid. Early the following morning more vessels joined the search. The entire coast of New Britain and New Ireland was searched but not even a tell-tale trace of oil was sighted to give a clue as to AE1's fate. As no claim for her sinking was made by the Germans, a submarine accident might have been the cause of her loss, though this is unlikely.
A favoured hypothesis for the loss of AE1 is that she dived for practice on approaching Blanche Bay and rolled so close to the coastal reef which formed the edge to the deep entrance channel, that her hull was pierced by sharp coral rock.'

AE1 was the first Allied submarine loss of WW1.

Ordered in 1913, AE1 had - between March and May 1914 - made a 13,000 mile delivery journey from Portsmouth to Darwin. The journey took 83 days.

In August 1914, AE1 was one of several Aussie ships sent to take part in the capture of Rabaul, the capital of the German overseas possessions New Britain and New Ireland.

The AE1 was an 'E' class submarine, one of two E class ordered by the RAN. Her sister, AE2, was scuttled in the Sea of Marmara when a mechanical fault forced her to surface, whereupon she was engaged by Turkish vessels and abandoned. Her crew were captured.
We have the last letter that Grandad Fred sent to his sister, back to England.

As mentioned above, the submarines made the 13,000 mile journey to Australia and it always amuses me one of the lines, " We arrived hear quite safe and we were not sorry .... " -- I've often wondered exactly how that phrasing would have changed if he was discussing it with his crew mates! A few lines presented as written.

Well Dear I am glad to tell you we have arrived hear x quite safe and we were not sorry for it’s a long way and x we struck rough weather the last couple of days but we x got along alright so Dear Sis your prayers as been answer. so far we have got a very nice place hear and we are all very comfortable

I am x waiting now very anxously for my Love Ones to arrive it’s a splendid place and x I am sure Flo will like x it its just the same as xx home all English people and everything is soplied x from England it’s a very busy place its much like London I have had a nice look around

no man could Love his wife and children more than I do mine

I may have already said this, but it means an awful lot that they found the vessel.
Could have been for the O-Boats too, but no, I meant the Collins'. I think they entered service (mid-90s) about the same time as the RN was retiring the last of its SSKs, so RN SSK drivers already in Oz on exchange, and others who didn't want to go nuclear, filled the first tranche of CO slots. Very content to be proven wrong though.


Could have been for the O-Boats too, but no, I meant the Collins'. I think they entered service (mid-90s) about the same time as the RN was retiring the last of its SSKs, so RN SSK drivers already in Oz on exchange, and others who didn't want to go nuclear, filled the first tranche of CO slots. Very content to be proven wrong though.

The 1st CO of HMAS Collins was Cdr (later Cdre) Peter Sinclair. His father was R-Adm Peter Sinclair. As the latter, according to the Interwebz, was born a New South Welshman who spent his entire naval career in the RAN, it seems unlikely that his son served in the RN before the RAN.
Not the first time my memory has failed me, and surely not the last!