Australia Searches for the HMAS AE1

The HMAS AE1 was the first submarine to ever serve in the Australian navy. The sub was first sent into action following the outbreak of the First World War. Not long after, she disappeared without a trace. It was known that the sub disappeared somewhere off the coast of New Guinea, but the wreckage was never found. The Australian navy is now revisiting the mystery of the HMAS AE1, hoping to find answers after one hundred years.

Many consider the disappearance of the sub to be Australia’s biggest maritime mystery. The legend of the missing vessel has garnered enough fame that even renowned oceanographer Jacques Cousteau has attempted to solve the enigma of how the sub met its end. Ultimately, Cousteau’s search for the remains of HMAS AE1 proved to be unsuccessful. A search was also conducted aboard the Yarra, but once again all efforts to discover the sub’s fate turned out to be fruitless. Now, a modern ship (also called the Yarra) has been deployed to New Guinea to look for clues as to what befell the legendary submarine.

The loss of Australia’s first submarine was the first major loss suffered by Australia during the First World War. Australia’s first major military action during the war was to deploy the HMAS AE1 (as well as her sister sub, the AE2) to New Guinea in hopes of clearing out the Germans. There were more than thirty crew members aboard when the sub disappeared. The last sighting of the sub took place nearly one and a half nautical miles from Duke of York Island, with another vessel (the Parramatta) sailing nearby. After this sighting, no clues were ever discovered as to the sub’s location.

Naturally, the lack of clear evidence has not stopped some people from postulating theories as to the sub’s fate. Some believe that the sub encountered a German steamer, following which the HMAS AE1 was rammed and destroyed. Of course, the quickest way to discover whether or not this theory is true would be to discover the vessel’s ocean grave and use the wreckage to provide clues as to how the sub was destroyed, the Yahoo News reports.

Although the HMAS AE1 was lost, the campaign to oust the Germans from New Guinea was successful. The Southwest Pacific was freed of German control, marking one of the first Allied successes of the First World War. While the campaign was one of the first Allied successes, the loss of the HMAS AE1 was the first Australian tragedy. The Australian navy is hoping that the voyage of the modern Yarra will finally uncover some answers after one hundred years of mystery.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE