The first Submarine through the Dardanelles

Laid Down 10 February 1912
Displacement 725 tons
Length 181
Average Speed surfaced: 15 knots
submerged: 10 knots
Range 3,000 miles
Power 1,600 h.p. diesels for surface cruising
840 h.p. electric motors when submerged

Built in Harrow, England and commissioned in Portsmouth, the AE2 and her sister submarine the AE1, were the first submarines of the Royal Australian Navy. They were the latest in submarine technology at a time when horse-drawn carts were still a common mode of civilian transport.They sailed from England on March 2 1914 and arrived in Sydney on the May 24.

Early in the war the AE1 and AE2 had joined the naval forces assigned to the capture of Germany’s Pacific colonies including the occupation of German New Guinea and the surrender of Rabaul. During this period AE1, the sister submarine of AE2 was lost on the September 14 1914, off the cost of Rabaul.


AE2, was threading her way through the minefields and currents of the Dardanelles. Unfortunately, the story of this incedible adventure was overshadowed by the events at Gallipoli. She was crewed by three officers and 29 sailors, weighed 725 tonnes and carried eight torpedoes. Her Commanding Officer Lieutenant Commander Harry Stoker, had written orders to penetrate the Dardanelles, the narrow and relatively shallow channel linking the Bosphorus and the Sea of Marmara. He was to‘...take measures necessary to block enemy traffic’ and, if he succeeded in reaching Canakkale (opposite Gallipoli), he should try to sink any mine-dropping vessels and ‘run amok generally’.

On the 24th, AE2 had attempted the passage but failed due to a broken rudder shaft.

On the 25th at 2.30am Stoker and his crew moved into the Straits at periscope depth creeping past the Turkish searchlights. They were sighted and fired upon at 4.30am and spent the next hour moving blindly through the minefield listening to the mooring lines of the mines scraping against the hull.

At 6am Stoker saw a small cruiser, at a range of 300 yards he fired a torpedo and then dived to avoid a destroyer attempting to ram them. The noise of the destroyer passing close overhead was temporarily blotted out by the noise of the torpedo hitting.

AE2 and her crew continued, playing hide and seek with the forts and ships guarding the Narrows. Whenever they surfaced they were pursued by enemy craft trying to ram them and battered by fire from the 100 plus guns lining the cliffs along the Straits.

At 9pm the AE2 rose from ocean floor to recharge her batteries and to radio her success to the fleet, AE2 was the first allied vessel which succeeded in making the dangerous passage.

When, the commanders in charge of the assault on Gallipoli received it they were reviewing their perilous situation. On hearing of AE2’s successful penetration of the Narrows the Commander-in-Chief General Sir Ian Hamilton, sent out his now famous message:
"Your situation is indeed serious, but dig yourselves right in and stick it out. The Australian submarine has got up through the Narrows and torpedoed a cruiser...dig, dig, dig until you are safe."

On April 26 AE2 proceeded on the surface up the Straits, Stoker and his crew entered the harbour of Gallipoli and finding no ships worthy of attack proceeded to the Sea of Marmara.

There AE2 continued to harass enemy shipping, firing and charging at craft. Enemy vessels attacked her on a number of occasions necessitating crash dives and hours of concealment on the bottom.

On April 29 Stoker and his crew met the British submarine, E14, the second submarine to pass through the Dardanelles. They arranged to meet at 10am the next day Kara Burnu Point.

But the bay was occupied by enemy forces and as AE2 surfaced she came under attack. AE2 suddenly surfaced in Artaki Bay about a mile from a 93 ton Turkish torpedo boat called Sultanhisar. The crew hurried to dive again as the torpedo boat drew closer.

Turkish Torpedo Boat Sultanhisar

The submarine sank quickly to a 100ft, its depth limit and the crew fought again to raise the vessel. ‘Within seconds the Sultanhisar two torpedoes from the missed the submarine, but 37mm shells fired from one of her two canons successfully penetrated the hull of the submarine without causing human injury.. In the words of Commander Henry Stoker in his book "Straws in the Wind': "Bang!... A cloud of smoke in the engine room. We were hit and holed! And again in quick succession two more holes." Stoker added: "The holes in the hull were all above water, and therefore not in themselves sufficient to sink the boat, though preventing all possibility of diving."

Stoker ordered all hands on deck, and assisted by his first officer, Lieutenant Haggard, opened all the tanks to flood AE2 and sink her.

Torpedo boat Sultanhisar rescued and took prisoner the entire crew of 32. They spent the next three and a half years in a Turkish prison camp. Four died while prisoners.

Recently divers have discovered the wreck of AE2 lying in 72 meters in the Sea of Marmara. She is fully intact with about a third of her hull imbedded in mud.

The role of the AE2 and its courageous crew in the Gallipoli campaign is little appreciated by most Australians, and underplayed even by many historians. For that matter, the Australian Navy generally is not given enough credit for its significant role in that campaign at Gallipoli, for which Australia celebrates a national remembrance holiday.


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