World War I submarines forgotten

Media release: Monday, 13 October 2014

A small park in Kallangur, just outside of Brisbane, is one of the few places in the world to pay tribute to Australia's first submarines, both lost during World War I. Greg Cope from the National Archives, who has been delving into the submarines' records, says that, as a nation, we've done little to recognise their sacrifice.

Greg Cope and colleague Eve Crithary are sharing their findings in two free public talks at the National Archives in Brisbane later this week.

'Australia's first submarines were known as AE1 and AE2, both launched in 1913,' said Greg. 'At the outbreak of the World War I, they were sent from Sydney to German New Guinea with the Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force. On 14 September 1914, a day after the official German surrender of the colony, the AE1 left Rabaul Harbour but never returned. The fate of the submarine and its crew of 35 is still a mystery – and the Royal Australian Navy's first major tragedy.'

The AE2 achieved fame for its operations in the Dardanelles. It was the first submarine to breach the Turkish defences in the Sea of Marmora on 25 April 2015, as Anzac troops landed at Gallipoli. Negotiating the underwater minefields, AE2 fired on several ships but was eventually hit herself.

Knowing she was beyond help, Lieutenant Commander Stoker ordered all hands on deck and scuttled the submarine. The crew were captured and spent three and a half years in a Turkish prison camp where four died during captivity. The wreck of AE2 was located in June 1998. The Ruth Whitfield Park, Kallangur, has a replica of the submarine and a plaque describing its history.

'When these submarines were built in England in 1913, the experimental craft were still largely top secret, with a need for constant attention to their defects,' said Greg Cope. 'It is amazing that they ever made it to Australia, as they suffered many mishaps along the way. The trip was a world record at the time.'

The free public talks are at 10am on Wednesday 15 October and 2pm on Friday 17 October at the National Archives of Australia, 16 Corporate Drive, Cannon Hill. More information is available on (07) 3249 4200.

Contact information

  • Elizabeth Masters (Media Officer)
    t (02) 6212 3957 m 0427 853 664 e elizabeth.masters@naa.gov.au
  • Greg Cope (Director, Queensland State Office)
    t (07) 3249 4224 m 0400 753 854
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