WW1 Submarine Found

A specialist research vessel located the boat – crewed by 18 Australians, 16 Britons (all her officers, plus men who’d transferred from the RN to the RAN) and one New Zealander – in 1,000ft of water off the Duke of York Islands.


The E-class boat, was built in Barrow, given the prefix A for Australian and sent to the Dominion with her mixed

crew, arriving in Sydney just a couple of months before the outbreak of war.

At the outbreak of WWI, AE1 joined the naval forces assigned to the capture of the German Pacific colonies. With AE2, she took part in the operations leading to the occupation of German New Guinea, including the surrender of Rabaul on 13 September 1914.


The following day, at 7:00am the destroyer HMAS Parramatta left her night patrol to rendezvous with AE1 and conduct a patrol in St George’s Channel to the south and east of the Duke of York Islands. The two vessels met at 8:00am and exchanged signals before proceeding to Cape Gazelle. A further exchange of signals followed during which Parramatta advised AE1 that her orders were to search to the south’ard with submarine AE1and anchor off Herbertshohe at 5:30pm’.

Parramatta then proceeded independently in a southerly direction while AE1 advanced in a NE direction. The weather was hazy and visibility was observed to be between 9 and 10 nautical miles, at times decreasing to 5 miles. Parramatta reported that AE1 was obscured by the haze for some time, as was the nearest land. Given these conditions, Parramatta’s Commanding Officer, Lieutenant William Warren, RAN, considered it advisable not to lose sight of the submarine for too long.


At 12:30pm Parramatta turned to the NW and by 2:30pm she was close to AE1 when the submarine asked by signal: ‘What is the distance of visibility?’ Parramatta responded: ‘About 5 miles’. At 3:20pm the submarine was lost sight of and Parramatta altered course and steamed in the direction she was last seen.

No sign of AE1 was found and it was considered that she must have steamed back to harbour without informing Parramatta.


Consequently, Parramatta proceeded to the NW heading, anchoring off Herbertshohe at 7:00pm.


By 8:00pm the submarine had not returned and Parramatta and her sister ship HMAS Yarra were ordered to search for the submarine. The light cruiser HMAS Sydney, on her way to the west coast, also received instructions to keep a lookout. No trace of AE1 was found, not even the tell-tale shimmer of escaping oil floating on the surface of the water.


The loss of AE1 with her entire complement of three officers and 32 sailors was the RAN’s first major tragedy and it marred an otherwise successful operation to seize the German colonies in New Guinea and the South Pacific. It is not known what caused AE1 to disappear without trace and the first of several new searches was conducted in 1976 to establish her location; but until 2017 none of these had been successful.


In December 2017 a new search, using the vessel Fugro Equator located the wreck of AE1 in 300 metres of water off the Duke of York Island group. On 21 December 2017 the Australian Government formally announced that the exact location of the wreck would not be publicly disclosed.

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