New search hopeful of finding lost Australian submarine
12 September 2015
AUSTRALIA’S most enduring maritime mystery — the loss of the navy’s first submarine AE1 — could be solved in November when a hi-tech search is mounted in waters off Rabaul in Papua New Guinea.
The boat sank without a trace and with the loss of 35 lives 101 years ago on September 14, 1914 while pursuing German warships off German New Guinea following the declaration of World War 1.
Mystery ... One of the last known photographs taken of HMA Submarine AE1 prior to her disappearance on 14 September 1914 off Rabaul. Pic: SuppliedSource: Supplied
Her sister boat AE2 was sunk during the Gallipoli campaign in 1915 without loss of life and she was found on the bottom of the Dardanelles by Turkish searchers in 1998.
Numerous searches have been undertaken for AE1 but the latest effort will use a multi-bean echo sounder from a mining survey vessel that the experts say has a 95 per cent chance of success if the vessel is located inside the 200-metre deep line.
Where is she? ... Former Rear Admiral Peter Briggs now runs Find AE1 Limited. Pic: SuppliedSource: News Corp Australia
Chairman of the Find AE1 group retired submariner and Rear Admiral Peter Briggs said if the November search was unsuccessful his group would be seeking Commonwealth funds to mount an expensive and even more hi-tech search using equipment deployed in the search for Malaysian Airlines flight MH370.
“The equipment we will be using in November will give us very accurate bottom topography,” he said.
“If the submarine is intact and inside the 200 metre line we will find it.”
Not forgotten ... The evocative AE1 memorial sculpture by night. Pic: Courtesy of the Australian National Maritime Museum.Source: Supplied
Tragic loss ... AE1 in dry dock at Cockatoo Island in Sydney in June 1914. Experts believe her starboard hull was torn open. Photo: SuppliedSource: Supplied
Admiral Briggs said he was confident that the wreck and the 35 sailors were lying in waters near Mioko Island where local natives reported seeing a ‘devil fish’ on the day of the tragedy.
Sub Lieutenant Ivanka Zeko attends to the Mine Disposal Vehicle on board the HMAS Yarra in Rabaul Harbour, Papua New Guinea in September 2014. Pic: Calum RobertsonSource: News Corp Australia
If a later search is required using towed side scan sonars and unmanned underwater vehicles Find AE1 would require about $11 million to fund it.
“This is the last big unknown for the RAN and AE1 must be found,” Admiral Briggs said.
“Thirty five sailors didn’t come home and we don’t know where they are or what happened to their submarine.”
Commemorations ... Robyn Rosenstrauss, descendant of a missing submariner with husband Graham Rosenstrauss at the wreath laying service for the missing AE1 submarine from 1914 on board the HMAS Yarra in Rabaul Harbour, Papua New Guinea. Pic: Calum RobertsonSource: News Corp Australia
The anniversary of AE1’s tragic loss will be commemorated at the Australian National Maritime Museum in Sydney on Monday with the unveiling of a sculpture mounted in the water at the museum entitled ‘the ocean is their tomb’.
Its creator Sydney based artist Warren Langley said it was designed to evoke a wreath floating on the ocean following a burial at sea.
Lost soul ... AE1 crew member James Fettes, ERA, from Balmain. Pic: SuppliedSource: Supplied
The work is lit so at night the mangrove leaves, based on the leaves found on the mangroves along the Rabaul coastline, reflect evocatively on the smooth water.
By day the polished stainless steel structure shimmers and reflects its image upon the water surface.
“My father was in the navy so I wanted to create something that was pertinent to the tragedy of the loss of 35 men,” Mr Langley said.
“It is a very simple idea to reflect the words in the poem ‘the ocean bed their tomb’.”
My blog concentrates on submarine history and modern strategy. I plan to sprinkle in commentary on anything of interest. My publisher is the U.S. Naval Institute Press. Information about my books is available at USNI.com. I also have an interest in Bucks County, Pa. history and write a weekly column for the Bucks County Courier Times and The Intelligencer. My new book on the subject is "Bucks County Adventures" available through Amazon.com.