More than 99 years after it was scuttled in the First World War, a project to record, preserve and tell the story of the wreck of Australian submarine AE2, laying at the bottom of Turkey’s Sea of Marmara, is underway. AE2 is one of the last untouched Gallipoli battlefield sites, and with the dedicated work of a team of Australian submariners, scientists from the Defence Science and Technology Organisation and US Remotely Operated Vehicle designers, SeaBotix, the submarine will be protected and preserved on the sea floor for many years to come.
The Defence Science and Technology Organisation has developed new and novel solutions to support the current expedition; including the high-definition camera and sophisticated lighting system. The camera inspected the wreck and successfully captured its entire length, including her forward and aft hydroplanes, rudder and tops of her propellers. A protection system has also been installed around the wreck to control corrosion and a marker buoy to protect it from shipping traffic, anchors and fishing nets. Named ‘Silent ANZAC,’ the project is a joint Australian and Turkish initiative, led by a team from the AE2 Commemorative Foundation and Submarine Institute of Australia.
The team comprises 16 Australians, 19 Turks and two Americans including scientists, divers, academics, maritime archaeologists, film makers, submariners and historians. Project leader and Chair of the Foundation, Rear Admiral Peter Briggs AO CSC (Ret’d), said the submarine is in amazingly good condition.
“We can see the original paint, signalman’s sand shoes – plimsolls – still stowed in the flag locker in the conning tower along with the flags and what we believe was the battle ensign used by the Submarine’s Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Commander, Henry ‘Dacre’ Stoker, 99 years ago,” he said.
“The Turkish Government will ensure ongoing maintenance of the buoy laid over AE2 – to protect her from further damage – acknowledging the importance of preserving this shared piece of Turkey’s and Australia’s maritime military heritage.”
Rear Admiral Briggs said one of the most significant discoveries was a portable Wireless Telegraph pole and antenna wire, the existence of which had long been the subject of discussion of military historians.
“It is most likely that it was this telegraph which transmitted the message to Army headquarters that AE2 had torpedoed an Ottoman gunboat at Çanakkale,” he said.
2014 is an important year for the Royal Australian Navy as the organisation recently celebrated the centenary of the nation’s first Submarine Service, established in May 1914 with the arrival AE1 and AE2.
Commander of the Navy’s modern day Submarine Force, Captain Mark Potter, said the first generation submarines served with distinction in the First World War.
“The nation’s early submariners were brave pioneers who fought valiantly, and this spirit of bravery and adventure set the tenor for today’s Navy submarine force.
“The bravery and skills of the men who crewed these vessels created a lasting legacy for all later submariners.
“AE1 and AE2 made a significant contribution to naval history and are an important element of the ANZAC heritage,” Captain Potter said.
On the morning of the ANZAC landings, 25 April 1915, AE2 became the first Allied submarine to penetrate the defences of the Dardanelle Strait and ‘run amok’ in the Sea of Marmara. The submarine effectively disrupted Turkish sea lines of communication, influencing the course of the military campaign. On 30 April 1915, AE2 was attacked with gunfire from Ottoman torpedo boat Sultanhisar and scuttled by her commanding officer, Lieutenant Commander Stoker. All of AE2’s crew were rescued by the Sultanhisar as the submarine slid silently to the sea floor.
Up to the time of her loss, AE2 had logged some 35,000 nautical miles, mostly under war conditions. The wreck of AE2 was discovered in 73 meters of water in the Sea of Marmara in 1998 by Turkish maritime historian Selçuk Kolay OAM. The Silent ANZAC project is an initiative of the Anzac Centenary Program 2014-2018, funded by the Australian Government Department of Veterans’ Affairs in partnership with the Turkish Government Ministry of Culture and Tourism and the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs.