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  HMAS AE1 (AE1)
HMAS
E-Class Submarine

750 Tons
760 Tons (surfaced)
181' x 22' 6" x 12' 6"
4 x 18" torpedo tubes
Click For Enlargement
RAN c1914

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RAN Sept 9, 1914

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RAN Dec 21, 2017

Captain  Lt Cdr Thomas Fleming Besant (MIA / KIA)
Crew  Telegraphist Cyril Lefroy Baker, 1268 (MIA / KIA) TAS
Crew  Stoker Ernest Fleming Blake, 7876 (MIA / KIA)
Crew  Stoker John James Bray, 1604 (MIA / KIA) Eaglehawk, VIC
Crew  Leading Seaman Gordon Clarence Corbould, 7297 (MIA / KIA) Sydney, NSW
Crew  Engine Room Artificer 3rd Class James Alexander Fettes, 7290 (MIA / KIA) Sydney, NSW
Crew  Able Seaman Arthur H. Fisher, 8191 (MIA / KIA)
Crew  Stoker Richard B. Holt, 8266 (MIA / KIA)
Crew  Able Seaman Jack Jarman, 1138 (MIA / KIA) St Kilda, VIC
Crew  Stoker 1st Class John Joseph Maloney, 7299 (MIA / KIA) Chase, Southend-on-Sea, UK
Crew  John Messenger, 7291 (MIA / KIA) Ballarat East, VIC
Crew  John Reardon, 7474 (MIA / KIA)
Crew  Robert Smail, 1068 (MIA / KIA)
Crew  James Benjamin Thonas, 8111 (MIA / KIA) Sydney, NSW
Crew  William A. Waddilove, 7300 (MIA / KIA)
Crew  Percy L. Wilson, 7182 (MIA / KIA)
Crew  Charles F. Wright, 7395 (MIA / KIA) North Kensington, UK
Missing  September 14, 1914

Ship History
Built by Vickers Armstrong in Barrow-in-Furness, England. Laid down on November 14, 1911. Launched May 22, 1913. Commissioned into the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) as H.M.A. S/M. "AE1" (Australia E-Class 1) on February 28, 1914 under the command of Lieutenant Commander Thomas F Besant, RN with a mixed crew of Royal Navy (RN) and Royal Australian Navy (RAN) personnel. AE1 and her sister ship AE2 departed England bound for Sydney on May 24, 1914.

World War I
After the outbreak of the World War I, the AE1 joined Australian naval forces assigned to capture German colonies in the Pacific. Departed Sydney to take part in the Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force (AN&MEF) operations against German New Guinea. On September 9, 1914, AE1 rendezvoused with other RAN warships including the HMAS Australia and HMAS Encounter off Rossel Island (Yela) then proceeded to Rabaul arriving on September 13, 1914.

Sinking History
On September 14, 1914 AE1 and HMAS Parramatta (D55) departed Blanche Bay to patrol off Cape Gazelle at the eastern tip of East New Britain. At 2:30pm she signaled HMAS Parramatta (D55) for visibility conditions then continued her patrol. Last seen at approximately 3:30pm. This was the last communication from the submarine and was never seen again.

When AE1 did not return, the entire crew was lost and and were officially declared Missing In Action (MIA). The loss of AE1 was the first Royal Australian Navy vessel lost and the first Allied submarine loss during World War I.

Search
Immediately after being declared missing, Royal Australian Navy warships HMAS Parramatta (D55), HMAS Yarra (D79), HMAS Encounter and HMAS Warrego (D70) searched for AE1 unsuccessfully. No trace of the submarine was ever found. The submarine was presumed lost off the Duke of York Islands.

As a historic submarine with missing aboard, renewed efforts to search for the AE1 were undertaken between 2003-2014. None of these efforts were successful and several premature claims that the submarine may have been found were reported the proved untrue.

During November 2003, the Maritime Museum of Western Australia, sponsored by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) unsuccessfully searched an area southeast of the Duke of York Islands.

During February 2007, a new effort to locate the submarine was mounted by the RAN, when the survey ships Benalla and Shepparton attempted to locate the submarine off East New Britain, based on data compiled over the previous 30 years. Benalla located an object of the appropriate dimensions using sonar on March 1, 2007 that was reported prematurely in the The Sydney Morning Herald as "Missing WWI sub may have been found". Later identification conducted by HMAS Yarra confirmed that the find was a rock with the same approximate dimensions.

During October 2011 "Operation Render Safe" a joint Royal Australian Navy (RAN) and Royal New Zealand Navy (RNZN) to locate and dispose of unexploded ordnance from World War II in Papua New Guinea a submarine was located by HMAS Gascoyne (M 85) located a partially buried submarine upright with the periscope extended at a depth of 55m in Simpson Harbor. Using a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) to the submarine documented and the hull was estimated to be 20m (66') in length. Initially, some hoped this submarine might be AE1, but the footage was studied by RAN historical staff that determined the submarine to be a Japanese Navy HA-53 Type B Midget Submarine sunk postwar based on the size, features and location.

During September 2014, HMAS Yarra again searched the area with a group of descendants of the crew aboard and at Rabaul in hopes of a discovery and to preform a wreath laying ceremony on the 100th anniversary of the sinking.

Memorials
The entire crew was officially declared dead on September 14, 1914. The entire crew is memorialized at the Plymouth Naval Memorial on panel 4 in Devon, UK. A memorial plaque to the crew of the AE1 is located in Bitapaka Cemetery.

During 1933 a a stained-glass window commemorating the loss of AE1 and AE2 was added to the Naval Chapel at Garden Island in Sydney Harbor.

In 2008 a plague was dedicated to HMAS AE1 was added to the Tasmanian Seafarers' Memorial at Triabunna in Tasmania dedicated to L.S. Cyril Lefroy Baker, telegraphist aboard the submarine who was the first Tasmanian killed during World War I.

On September 14, 2015 a floating memorial dedicated to AE1 was unveiled outside the Australian National Maritime Museum. The memorial is in the shape of a stainless steel wreath with light projections onto the water below.

Shipwreck
During December 2017 another sonar search was conducted by MV Fugro Equator off the Duke of York Islands with a team including maritime surveyors, marine archaeologists and naval historians.

During December 2017 another search was undertaken by Find AE1 Limited funded by the Australian Government and Silentworld Foundation with additional assistance from the Submarine Institute of Australia and Australian National Maritime Museum, Fugro Survey and the Papua New Guinea Government.

The search was conducted by MV Fugro Equator with a team including maritime surveyors, marine archaeologists and naval historians. An underwater drone hovering 40m above the sea floor surveyed preprogrammed areas for 20 hours at a time using a multi-beam echo sounder and side-scan sonar. Afterwards, the data was analyzed and a three-dimensional rendering was created.

This effort resulted in the discovery of AE1 intact at a depth of 300m / 984' off the Duke of York Islands. After the discovery, a small commemorative service was held by those on-board to commemorate those who died in the sinking.

On December 21, 2017 the Australian Navy reported and confirmed the discovery and sonar images and underwater photographs of the submarine were released to the public. The exact location will not be published to protect the site as a war grave and to prevent any unauthorized salvage attempts or tampering of the site.

Relatives
Family members of the deceased crew members created the AE1 Descendant Families' Association.

Vera Ryan (niece Jack Messenger)
David Messenger (great nephew Jack Messenger)

References
CWGC - Thomas Fleming Besant
CWGC - Cyril Lefroy Baker
CWGC - Ernest Fleming Blake
CWGC - John James Bray
CWGC - Gordon Clarence Corbould
CWGC - James Alexander Fettes
CWGC - Arthur H. Fisher
CWGC - Richard B. Holt
CWGC - Jack Jarman
CWGC - John Joseph Maloney
CWGC - John Messenger
CWGC - John Reardon
CWGC - Robert Smail
CWGC - James Benjamin Thonas
CWGC - William A. Waddilove
CWGC - Percy L. Wilson
CWGC - Charles F. Wright
AWM - HMAS AE1
AWM Medals of Petty Officer P J Kempster, Royal Australian Navy" REL/10568.001
AWM Medals of Stoker Petty Officer J J Moloney, Submarine AE1, RAN" REL39990.001
HMA Submarine AE1 - Australia's First Submarine via Wayback Machine May 16, 2017
AE1 Entombed: But Not Forgotten by John Foster
The Sydney Morning Herald "Missing WWI sub may have been found" March 1, 2007
The National "Missing WWI sub may have been found" March 2, 2007
The Sydney Morning Herald "Australian navy search for missing WW1 submarine starts this week" September 7, 2014
The Sydney Morning Herald "A century on and a sonar blip: has navy found WWI submarine" September 10, 2014
YouTube "Help us find the lost men of AE1" November 26, 2017
Navy Daily "‘FOUND’ - Australian Navy Submarine HMAS AE1 located after 103 years" December 21, 2017
Australian Navy - Image Search AE1 (20 images)

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Last Updated
February 4, 2018

 

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