HMA Submarine AE2 in the Dardanelles

 

The Royal Australian Navy (RAN) submarine, AE2, was commanded by the British Royal Navy's Captain Henry Stoker, with a crew of 35 submariners. AE2 was the first Allied submarine to navigate the Dardanelles into the Sea of Marmara on the day of the Anzac landings at Gallipoli. It was sunk on 30 April 1915. All crew survived and were captured by the Turks.

A combination of technical difficulties and action by Turkish forces sank the AE2 in April 1915. AWM H10720

First submarine to breach the Narrows

An Australian submarine was the first to breach the narrow Straits of the Dardanelles, in present-day Turkey.

Previously, the HMA Submarine AE2 had participated in operations at New Guinea. Then it was part of the 2nd convoy to escort Australian troops from Australia to Egypt, departing on 31 December 1914.

AE2 left the 2nd convoy at Port Said on 28 January 1915. It joined the British 2nd Submarine Squadron to prepare for naval operations as part of the Dardanelles Strategy.

On 25 April 1915, the day of the Anzac landings at Gallipoli, AE2 was ordered to penetrate the Dardanelles. The Dardanelles are 59km in length and only 0.8km wide at the Narrows of Çanakkale. On board was the Royal Navy's Captain Henry Stoker and his mostly Australian crew.

AE2 damaged the Ottoman gunboat Peyk-i-Şevket. Then it navigated a perilous path through the minefields and treacherous currents, up through the Narrows, pursued by enemy vessels on the surface.

Despite running aground twice, AE2 became the first submarine to enter the Sea of Marmara. For the next 4 days, AE2 attacked Ottoman shipping bound for the Gallipoli Peninsula.

As AE2 surfaced on 30 April, the Ottoman torpedo boat Sultanhisar opened fire and fatally damaged the submarine. None of the crew died when AE2 sank. They were all taken as prisoners of war, but four died in captivity.

Charles Bryant, AE2 in the Sea of Marmora, April 1915 (1925, oil on canvas, 122.6 x 183 cm, AWM ART09016)

A message of success from the AE2

On the night of 25 April 1915, the UK's greatest dreadnought battleship, the HMS Queen Elizabeth, cruised up the western coast of the Gallipoli Peninsula, near where the Australians had landed earlier that day.

On board was General Sir Ian Hamilton, the commander of the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force (MEF), who had retired to bed. At midnight, Hamilton was shaken awake by his Chief-of-Staff, Major-General Walter Braithwaite, who told him that an important message had arrived from the force ashore at Anzac.

Hamilton followed Braithwaite to the battleship's dining saloon where he found a group of Royal Navy officers and others. He recalled that 'a cold hand clutched my heart as I scanned their faces'. He was handed a note from Lieutenant-General William Birdwood, the Anzac Corps commander. Birdwood wrote that his generals, after the setbacks and chaos of the first day's fighting during which they had failed to take their objectives, recommended evacuation.

Birdwood himself was not convinced they should leave, but he had passed on the opinions of the commanders on the spot for Hamilton to decide.

A 'yes' from Hamilton would have altered what we now call 'the Anzac legend'.

Hamilton faced an awful decision. To withdraw would upset the whole Gallipoli invasion plan before it had really been tested. He asked the man in charge of the Royal Navy invasion fleet, Rear-Admiral Cecil Thursby, for his opinion. Thursby told him that it might take up to 3 days to withdraw the force — and casualties would be high.

The Admiral recommended the Anzacs stick it out.

Hamilton was on the point of dictating his reply. Then Lieutenant-Commander Charles Brodie came into the saloon with a message for his superior, Commodore Roger Keyes. Keyes tried to shoo him away at such a vital moment. But Brodie insisted he come outside and read the signal he had just received. It was from an Australian submarine, sent from a position well north of Nara Burnu towards the Sea of Marmara.

Keyes was delighted and went straight back into Hamilton with the message. While it might not have changed the general's mind, here was a piece of news telling of Australian success. His note to Birdwood, in part, reflected the optimism of the moment:

...there is nothing for it but to dig yourselves right in and stick it out. It would take at least two days to re-embark you as Admiral Thursby will explain to you. Meanwhile, the Australian submarine has got up through the Narrows and has torpedoed a gun boat... you have got through the difficult business, now you have only to dig, dig, dig, until you are safe.

[Hamilton, quoted by Rhodes James, Gallipoli, London, 1999, p.130]

The Australian submarine, the first Allied warship to make it through the Narrows, was the AE2. Commanded by Irishman Lieutenant-Commander Henry Stoker.

Ability of 'E' Class submarines in the Dardanelles

AE2 was an 'E' class submarine, a more modern craft than Holbrook's HMS Submarine B11. It had diesel engines not petrol, better batteries with a longer range submerged, and twice the number of torpedoes.

Four 'E' class submarines had arrived to serve with the Royal Navy fleet off the Dardanelles. Stoker's AE2 arrived from Australia in early March 1915.

It was uncertain whether an 'E' class vessel could pass through the Narrows and operate in the Sea of Marmara. This question became even more significant after the failure of the Allied warships to silence the Turkish coastal artillery during the great attack of 18 March 1915. If there was now to be a military landing on Gallipoli, with the aim of seizing the peninsula and putting the Turkish guns out of action, it would be a great help to have submarines operating against Turkish military transports in the Sea of Marmara.

The main problem for the submarines was the strength of the current at the Narrows. To make progress required running at full speed, which drained the battery power. Moreover, 2 sharp bends in the coastline at the Narrows had to be negotiated and the unpredictability of the currents there was notorious. A submarine would have to come to periscope depth frequently to stay on the right course.

The first to try, on 17 April 1915, was Lieutenant-Commander Theodore Brodie in HMS E15. His submarine was caught in a violent eddy off Kepez Point and forced ashore. Brodie and 5 others were killed by a Turkish shell, and the rest of the crew was captured. Royal Navy gunboats later sunk the submarine to stop it falling into enemy hands.

Breaching the Narrows

After Brodie's failure, Stoker begged to be allowed to try in AE2. The date for the great Allied invasion was fast approaching and the admirals were keen to get the submarines through to cause maximum disruption in the Turkish rear areas. The AE2's first attempt on 23 April failed due to faulty machinery. But, on the evening of 24 April, Stoker was again given the go-ahead, being told by Admiral de Robeck that if they got through, then 'there is nothing we will not do for you'. Commodore Keys issued more dramatic instructions. Stoker was to sink any minelayers he saw in the Narrows and, as the landings were due at dawn the next day, to 'generally run amok' around Çannakale and cause maximum disruption to the Turks.

At 2:30am on 25 April 1915, as the men of the Anzac Corps approached the west coast of Gallipoli in the ships of the invasion fleet, the AE2 entered the Dardanelles. According to Stoker's report, the moon had just set and searchlights played across the dark waters:

As the order to run amok at in the Narrows precluded all possibility of making the passage unseen, I decided to hold on the surface as far as possible ... at about 4.30 am ... a gun opened fire at about one and a half miles [2km] range... immediately dived and ... proceeded through the minefield.

[Stoker, quoted in The Royal Australian Navy, 1914-1918, 1943, pp.241-242]

For half an hour, the crew listened as mine cables scraped the sides of AE2 and Stoker brought the submarine up through the minefield to check his position. He was aware that E15 had been caught by the currents in this area and driven ashore so he took every precaution to ensure that AE2 was well out into the channel.

At 6am, Stoker took AE2 up to periscope depth. By that time, Australian soldiers had been ashore on the other side of the peninsula for about an hour and a half. The submarine's periscope was spotted and heavy fire opened up from Fort Chemenlik at Çannakale and from Kilitbahir on the other side of the Narrows while gunboats and destroyers began the hunt for AE2. Seeing a suitable target, the small Ottoman cruiser Peyk-i Şevket, Stoker fired a torpedo and managed to submerge just before the AE2 would have been rammed by an enemy destroyer. The cruiser was badly damaged and later taken to Constantinople (Istanbul) for repairs. At this point AE2's presence became of some value to the Anzacs fighting kilometres away. An Ottoman battleship, which had been firing across the peninsula at the invasion fleet causing considerable disruption, sighted the submarine's periscope and was forced to cease its shelling and move rapidly away.

By this time AE2 was north of Çannakale. Stoker took AE2 up again and discovered he was close inshore. Suddenly, the vessel ran aground directly under the guns of an Ottoman fort. Much of AE2's conning tower was showing above the surface. They were so close that Stoker could see the flashes from the enemy guns almost reaching his periscope. Luckily, the Turks were unable to depress their guns sufficiently to hit AE2 and other batteries were too far away for accurate shooting. However, Stoker and the crew spent an anxious 4 minutes while the submarine worked itself off the shore and shells fell all around them. They had now certainly breached the Narrows and Stoker set off to try and get away.

Official documents and reports

Original documents about the AE2 are held by the Australian War Memorial in two files:

  • Submarine AE2: Loss of (September) — 18/3 AWM 50
  • [HMA Submarine AE2 Lieutenant Commander Henry Stoker] — Bundle 49 AWM 36

Sinking of the AE2 — confirmation and acceptance

The first official document in the series is a telegram request from the Navy Office in Australia to the Admiralty Office in London asking for confirmation of a press report of the sinking.

Official documents to confirm the AE2's sinking in the Sea of Marmara

 

The last document in the series praises the commander of the AE2 and its crew. It was written in 1916 after the end of the Gallipoli Campaign by Admiral John de Robeck, who was commander of the Royal Navy forces in the Dardanelles.

AE2's passage of the Dardanelles on 25 April 1915 [AWM 36]

Lieutenant Commander Henry Stoker wrote a detailed report of the AE2's breach of the Dardanelles on 9 January 1919, after his release from prison camp.

First page of Lieutenant Commander Henry Stoker's original report of the AE2's passage of the Dardanelles

Ill-treatment as a prisoner of war [AWM 36]

Lieutenant Commander Henry Stoker wrote a report in 1919 about his alleged ill-treatment while a prisoner of war in the Ottoman Empire between 1915 and 1918, at the hands of an officer named Colonel Djevad Bey (who later became first Ambassador of the Republic of Turkey to France):

The prison contained civilian prisoners under sentence for all types of crimes. It was filthy and filled with many kinds of vermin – but chiefly with bugs of which there were legion. These loathesome creatures made sleep impossible at night. In order to get a place in the W.C. I had to wait amongst a crowd of ordinary criminals, generally fighting for my place at the end. In order to force information of military value from me I was subjected to all sorts of threats and offers of a humiliating nature, separated from my brother officers, placed in a room of approximately 20 ft by 8 ft with 4 Turks, and finally placed in solitary confinement …
First page of Lieutenant Commander Henry Stoker's report concerning his alleged ill-treatment as a prisoner of war.

Stoker's story

After his capture, Stoker was an Ottoman prisoner of war for more than 3 years. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) for his actions in 1915. He reverted to the Royal Navy in 1919 but retired from service in 1920 and pursued an acting career. He served in the Royal Navy again during World War II and died in London in 1966.

Studio portrait of Henry Stoker. Image: Straws in the Wind, 1925

 

Stoker was an Irishman born in Dublin in 1885. Without any family connection to the navy, he decided to join the Royal Navy simply he heard a friend talking about it. He was sent to an English school that specialised in preparing boys for entry to the Royal Naval College at Dartmouth:

Life at the new school ... was misery. The strange English boys seemed so queerly stolid and placid, except when poking fun at me and my brogue. The head master thought I was being impertinent when I only meant to be friendly; the matron laughed at my wardrobe, collected Irish fashion, in bits and pieces from any old place; I made my first acquaintance with the demon Homesickness. Work got his first hold on me; and I was helplessly and gloriously miserable. The head master reported that I had little chance of getting through the examination, which again riled my Irish ire, and I persuaded my father to let me try. Whereat, to the astonishment of everyone, myself included, I was successful at the first attempt, and blossomed out in all the glory of one of His Majesty's Naval Cadets.

In the mid-1920s, after he had left the Royal Navy, Stoker wrote his first public account of the passage of the AE2 on the Dardanelles: a book, Straws in the Wind.

Stoker and his mixed British and Australian crew were captured by the Ottoman Turks.

Three a.m. on Sunday, 25 April. It was absolutely dark, still, and dead calm as AE2 entered the Dardanelles Strait and, following the same plan as on the previous night,* crept slowly along on the surface. With broken clouds shutting out such light as a moonless sky even yet contrives to give, the searchlight seemed more powerful than before. As we neared the white cliffs one felt forced to edge away from the light and nearer and nearer to the European shore.

The long beam of light swept slowly along over the water, searching from the southern shore towards the entrance, and then along the gloom under the steepness of the northern shore. Each time, as it touched AE2 with brighter and yet brighter finger, one held for the instant one's breath, lest the steady sweep, arrested for a moment, would show a suspicion of our shadowy presence. But as the minutes passed by and custom eased the eerie feeling caused by the passing light, a necessitous boldness forced us farther and farther along, now at a dead slow speed on one engine.

BANG! Tsh, tsh, tsh, tsh, tsh. . . .

Mighty close was the bang of that gun, and mighty close to my head the broken swish of the shell as it hurtled past. With too much thought for the eyes of watchers by the searchlights, we had edged to within a mile of the European shore, and had been sighted by the look-outs of a battery of guns near Suandere River. Within a minute we were submerged, with above us the darkness preventing sight through the periscope, but a faint glimmer of light in the eastern sky giving promise of the quickly approaching day. At dead slow speed, and at twenty feet, we dived along on our course, until the gathering light showed faint contours of the hills on the northern shore, and then lowering the periscope, we plunged to seventy feet for the passage through the main minefield.

For nearly an hour the ensuing experiences provided feelings difficult to describe. The rapping's and scrapings on the hull of the boat by the mooring wires of the mines, held taut by the buoyancy of the mines themselves overhead, seemed most damnably continuous. Choose a wrong moment to rise for observation through the periscope and you choose a moment to hit a mine—so choose as few of these moments for observation as possible. Feel as safe as you care to when well submerged, and do not think of the result should one of the wires, catching on a projection of the boat's side, drag its mine, with a bang, down on the top of you. On two occasions something hard—much harder than the wires—hit the bows and rattled away astern; were they mines which failed to explode? And once some object seemed to catch up forward and remained knocking insistently for several minutes, before it broke away and followed the rest of our enemies astern.

Twice we rose in the minefield for hasty observation, quick correction of course, and then away to the safer depths. The observations showed that we were progressing at a faster speed than I had anticipated.

Even so, I was surprised on rising the third time to find that we were through the minefield, and already as far as three hundred yards below the famous Narrows.

In order to comply with the revised order to attack mine-droppers it was necessary to keep the periscope up for a considerable time to take stock of the situation; the surface of the water was an absolute flat and oily calm, therefore the periscope was immediately sighted, and a heavy fire opened from the forts on either side. The shock of projectiles striking the water overhead caused subdued thuds in the submarine, whilst sounds as of hailstones were presumably caused by shrapnel bullets falling through the water on the boat's deck. Around the top of the periscope the water, lashed into white spray, caused a curiously pretty effect, but added little to the ease of taking observations.

Anchored abreast Chanak I observed an old battleship hulk, from which mines might be dropped. Higher up the Narrows, approaching at great speed, were a number of destroyers and small craft. I decided to attack the old battle-ship and, lowering the periscope, edged towards her.

Hoisting the periscope again, the hail of fire immediately reopened, and I found, hurrying out from behind the battleship, a small cruiser.

Now this was identically the kind of vessel that would be fitted as a mine-dropper, and from that course she was following it seemed most likely she was endeavouring to drop mines across our bows. So this was obviously a better quarry than the old battleship, and at a range of three hundred yards I fired the bow tube at her. One of the destroyers was now very close, attempting to ram us on the port side, so at the moment of firing I ordered seventy feet. A last glance as the periscope dipped slewed the destroyer apparently right on top of us, and then, amidst the noise of her propeller whizzing overhead, we heard the big explosion as the torpedo struck. The latter recalled one's mind from considering the danger of not being deep enough to avoid the destroyer, to the danger of becoming entangled in the sinking ship ahead—as a ship of that size must be expected to sink very rapidly. To avoid this we altered course a point to starboard, with the object of passing astern of her.

The danger of remaining off one's true course for any length of time in such narrow and fast-running waters was obvious, and after three minutes we altered back to what I considered the correct course for regaining the centre of the Strait, at the same time ordering a rise to twenty feet for another observation. We had risen to perhaps forty feet when the submarine struck bottom hard, and slid quickly up to a depth of ten feet. Through the periscope I observed that the position was on the eastern shore very close in, right under the guns of a fort. As I looked, one of the guns fired, apparently right into my eye, and seemingly so close that I involuntarily jumped back from the eyepiece of the periscope. Quickly lowering the latter, we proceeded with attempts to refloat the boat.

Now, when the depth gauges indicated ten feet there was a very consider- able amount of the conning tower and bridge of AE2 above water; indeed, the tops of the periscope pedestals, being the highest objects, were quite ten feet clear of the surface. With the boat apparently fast aground and a continued din of falling shell, the situation looked as unpleasant as it well could be.

An eternity of time seemed to pass. … In reality it was only five minutes before the boat began to move; but it is inconceivable how, even in this time, the conning tower or, at any rate, the periscope pedestals were not hit. I after-wards learned that the guns of the fort could not be depressed sufficiently to bear on us, but surely the other forts and ships must have made very bad shooting to miss this standing target.

The efforts which eventually proved successful in sliding the submarine down the bank left her pointing down the Strait. At a depth of seventy feet we went ahead on the port propeller, helm hard a-port, with the object of turning as quickly as possible into the centre of the Strait. A few minutes passed, during which the propellers or ships rushing over-head caused pleasant thoughts of the trouble we were making, and then, swinging rapidly to our proper course, we went ahead on the starboard propeller.

Bump! From a depth of seventy feet, if you please, we slid gracefully to a miserable eight feet. Where on earth were we now? Through the periscope I observed that AE2, with an apparent liking for forts, had chosen one on the western shore under which to run. The cursed current, which had swept us across to this point, for a moment relented and gave us its aid by swinging the boat's stern round to port, which left her touching more aft than forward, and with an inclination down by the bows. A quick glance round showed a gun-boat and some destroyers, little more than a hundred yards off, blazing hard with all their broadsides, a cluster of small boats which we guessed were picking up the survivors of the sunk cruiser, and then, best of all, a clear view of the Strait showing that if we could only get off we were heading on the correct course. Full speed ahead on both motors! Ominous noises from aft made one fear the propellers would get smashed. But on we must go; and, after a shake, then a move, then another shake, AE2 gave two great bumps and slithered down to thirty feet—having been four minutes at the eight-foot depth. Again the escape must be considered little short of miraculous; and particularly on this occasion the enemy lost an easy chance of destroying us by ramming while aground. But presumably they imagined they had us safe.

Away, then, at seventy feet, with a host of small vessels in close pursuit. The two severe bumps were likely to have caused leaks, and we feared the submarine might not be under sufficient control diving; but all seemed well, and, after a spell, we rose to twenty feet to observe.

Right ahead was Nagara Point—Nagara, the last of our great navigational obstacles, from which the Strait widens and becomes comparatively easy. Surrounding us were the pursuing vessels—a gunboat, some destroyers, and 3 number of tugs and small craft. An accurate fix of position occupied all the time granted before the destroyers, in attempts to ram, became dangerous; and then away to seventy feet.

Consideration of the problem of rounding Nagara resulted in two thoughts. Firstly, that if we grounded while near the surface for observation, we could not well hope again to escape; secondly, that near the surface we would be in more danger of being caught by swirls and eddies of current. These, with the obvious danger and difficulty of rising for observation amidst so many pursuing craft, decided us to attempt the turn at ninety feet without making any observation at all.

To ninety feet then we went, and, fortune favouring us, when we rose again Nagara Point—the place, it is said, from which Leander's semi-submarine efforts commenced—was abaft the beam, we were heading into the wider reaches, and below the point still hurried and scurried the enemy ships. But even as I looked the periscope was sighted, the guns spoke, and the chase was resumed. The damnable calmness of water did not permit of even the shortest spell of observation without the periscope being seen.

To seventy feet we dived, and made away up the Strait. This time, with a clear run, we could safely remain below for a longer period; it was three-quarters of an hour before we rose, hoping to find the pursuit well shaken off. But no such luck—the chasseurs were still in close attendance, so close indeed that the fear arose that we might have caught an observation net and be now towing a tell-tale buoy above our heads all the time we thought to be hidden by the friendly waters.

Through the periscope I could see no such buoy, but another disturbing sight met the eye. Just ahead, not one hundred yards from us, were two tugs, one on either bow, and stretching between them, right across our track, a wire rope. We immediately dived to eighty feet, and turned off to starboard to consider the situation.

The more one considered, the less pleasant it seemed. Whatever the trap these tugs were laying, when we escaped it would only be to encounter more such traps during the twenty-odd miles still to be passed before we would reach waters wide enough in which to shake off our pursuers. The longer we remained in their unpleasant company the more chance was there of some ordinary diving accident forcing us to the surface and to instant destruction. Had we caught an observation net our end was certain in any case, and so it was delaying the inevitable to go on.

With these thoughts, we turned at right angles to our course and ran direct for the Asiatic shore. Here we knew was a bank which shoaled slowly, and so, approaching it at dead slow speed, we grounded and rested on the bottom at a depth of seventy feet.

Then ensued the most anxious period of the day. If we had caught an observation net the end must come soon. Again, if the enemy, failing to see us in the higher reaches of the Strait, carried out intelligent sweeping operations of the few places a submarine could hide on the bottom, they would have only too good a chance of finding us.

After about an hour a ship passed overhead, and was immediately followed by a knock at the boat's side as something hit and jumped over. If this was a sweep we were excessively lucky it did not catch up.

After a short time other ships passed, and at regular intervals this went on recurring. One of these vessels was obviously a single-engine ship, whose solitary screw made a noise distinguishing it from all others—and him we dubbed 'Percival'. But Percival's repeated passages were trying for the nerves, and the fact that we were well out of the track of ships following their ordinary course up and down the Strait proved that Percival and his friends were searching for us.

After a few hours I decided that we must move to another place in the hope that the passage of ships overhead would not recur. With the memory that this 'day of peace' was a Sunday, prayers were read, and then the crew went to their diving stations.

Moving down to eighty feet we attempted to dive off at this depth, only to find that the diving control of the boat had been lost. The bumps from the last grounding had evidently so strained her that several of the ballast tanks were leaking. To regain the diving control whilst lying at this depth on the bottom was most difficult.

Two attempts we made, both unsuccessful, as each time we tried to dive off the boat simply slid down the mud beyond the hundred-foot depth which was the limit marking of AE2's depth gauges. We had, perforce, to go astern and pull her back up on the mud. And so at a depth of eighty feet we settled ourselves to remain, helpless, until darkness could permit us to rise to the surface and—enemy also permitting—readjust the ballast tanks.

Have you ever known time move slowly? Can you imagine the speed it had for us? Percival passed and repassed at steady intervals. Some of the crew— lucky creatures—succeeded in going to sleep. Attempted jokes as to Percival's reappearance fell mighty flat. As the day wore on, lying in my bunk, I will most unashamedly confess to a feeling of quivering funk each time he passed over-head. Sometimes he was accompanied by a fussy motor boat, sometimes alone. The few moments immediately after his passing were the bad ones. If any sweep he was dragging after him were to catch up, it would only be a short time before the side of our boat would be blown in upon us.

All things have their ending. At 6.45 p.m. Percival passed to pass no more. At 9.45 AE2 rose to the surface, having been submerged over sixteen hours.

A bright moonlight night, indeed, too bright for our comfort; but no enemy ships in sight. The crew swarmed on deck, eager for the clean night air, after having passed the only twenty-four hours of their life without a sight of the light of God's day.

Our position was about half-a-mile from the Asiatic shore, in the sweep of the bay which lies above Nagara Point; marshy swamp land, devoid of habitation, ensured safety from observation from shoreward.

It was unlikely that ships in the ordinary track up and down the Strait could see us against the land. The only danger of discovery lay in being found by a vessel patrolling the coast during the three or four hours necessary for us to remain on the surface for recharging the batteries. The engines were started and charging commenced.

Now, too, we could signal to the Fleet. A dramatic moment this, while one watched the damp aerial wire throwing purply blue sparks as the longs and shorts of the call sign were flashed. But—myriads of maledictions—the answering call never came. Obviously there was something the matter with our receiving instruments, and possibly with the sending too. It was of the utmost importance that we should establish communication with the Admiral to tell him that all was well and the most difficult part of the task accomplished. On the success or failure of our attempt depended whether any other submarines would be risked, so he must know as quickly as possible that we had now practically succeeded. This wireless failure was a very great disappointment. All that we could do was to flash out our signal in the hope that some ship would pick it up. And this we did.

(Years afterwards I learnt from Admiral Keyes that our signal was received, and delivered to him at a critical moment during a Council of War on board the Queen Elizabeth. The council was discussing the question whether the troops could hold on shore or must be evacuated—this less than twenty-four hours after the Landing—and had almost decided for evacuation, when receipt of the news that a submarine had got through altered the whole tide of the discussion, and it was decided to hold on.)

Towards n p.m. some friendly clouds, wandering up from the east, shaded the moon's too enquiring eye; and then, as Sunday turned to Monday, the rain commenced to fall, bringing with it a cloak of darkness so complete that a vessel passing twenty yards off might well have missed seeing us. With a resulting sense of security we lay on the surface, finishing the batteries' charge at our leisure.

About 3 a.m. the weather cleared and clouds broke, but the moon had long since dipped behind the hills of the peninsula. Half-an-hour later we readjusted our lost diving trim, and then resumed our passage up the Strait, proceeding slowly on the surface. When the grey of dawn showed clear enough for an observer to sight us from the shore we dived.

Objects were just beginning to take a definite form through the periscope when I sighted ahead two ships approaching, obviously men-of-war, one in front of the other; the leader, as far as I could judge in the bad light, was the smaller, both had two funnels. They were not far off, and the periscope, which was making a big white wash, must be lowered, for the water was still absolutely calm, unmarked by a ripple.

Steering a parallel and opposite course to the enemy, we approached, and, when judgment estimated us to be within torpedo range, hoisted the peri-scope. Right abeam was a ship, looking mighty big at a range of five hundred yards, and I jumped to the conclusion that she was the second, or rearmost ship. The bearing for firing the port torpedo was on, and we fired. The ship dodged, the torpedo passed ahead of her; and then, looking round, I found to my disgust I had fired at the smaller of the two ships, a cruiser. The other, a battleship—either the Barbarossa or Turgood Reis—was following, but it was now too late to bring any of the other tubes to bear with good chance of the torpedo hitting. We had lost a glorious chance, and through my fault alone. Of little use to think that two sleepless nights and the experiences of the previous day hardly tended to produce the even, balanced mind necessary to successful submarine attacks in these unsuitable conditions of bad light and smooth sea. We had had a glorious chance, and it was gone.

Sick at heart, we dived on along our course, forming the resolve to find a quiet spot for rest before carrying out another attack.

It must have been towards seven o'clock when we approached Gallipoli town, at the head of the Strait. Stretching across our course, from shore to shore, was a vast quantity of fishing boats, so many that one was led to think that it was by design in connection with us they were there. Plunging to seventy feet we passed peaceably beneath them, and so dived out into the Sea of Marmora.

Our great wish was realized. The submarine passage of the Dardanelles Strait was made...

Grave of Petty Officer Stephen John Gilbert

Petty Officer Stephen Gilbert was an Englishman who enlisted in the Royal Navy at age 17 and became an expert in the electrical circuity of torpedoes. He transferred to the RAN to the submarine AE2 and sailed with the warship to Australia in 1914.

Captured by the Turks with the AE2's crew in April 1915, he worked in a number of Ottoman prisoner-of-war (POW) camps on roads and other work. During the winter of 1915 to 1916, he was in Belemedik, in the Taurus Mountains, working on the Berlin to Baghdad railway line. In the summer of 1916, malaria and typhoid swept the POW camp and Gilbert died of malaria on 26 September 1916.

Initially, he was buried in the local Christian cemetery but, in 1922, Gilbert's remains were disinterred by the Imperial War Graves Commission and reburied in the Baghdad North Military Cemetery where they remain to this day.

The Commission considered that it was impossible to look after the many isolated graves of British and Commonwealth servicemen buried in many locations in Turkey so their remains were removed to cemeteries like Baghdad North.


Last updated: 28 April 2021

Cite this page

DVA (Department of Veterans' Affairs) (2021), HMA Submarine AE2 in the Dardanelles, DVA Anzac Portal, accessed 8 December 2021, https://anzacportal.dva.gov.au/wars-and-missions/ww1/where-australians-served/gallipoli/dardanelles-strategy/submarine-ae2
Was this page helpful?