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Missing WW1 submarine found after 103-year search

Missing WW1 submarine found after 103-year search
22 December 2017
A 103-year search for the first submarine lost in the Great War is over after HMAS AE1 was found off Papau New Guinea.

A specialist research vessel located the boat – crewed by 18 Australians, 16 Britons (all her officers, plus men who’d transferred from the RN to the RAN) and one New Zealander – in 1,000ft of water off the Duke of York Islands.

The E-class boat –the mainstay of the Silent Service through much of WW1 – was built in Barrow, given the prefix A for Australian and sent to the Dominion with her mixed crew, arriving in Sydney just a couple of months before the outbreak of war.

In September 1914 she and her sister AE2 were sent as part of the force dispatched to drive German forces out of New Guinea.

One day after the capture of the key port of Rabaul, AE1 headed out on patrol and was never seen again.

The Royal Australian Navy has made a concerted effort to find the boat – the very first vessel lost by the then fledgling navy – as part of 100th anniversary commemorations of WW1.

After a fruitless search in 2014, this autumn it joined forces with various search groups, historians and expert wreck hunters who provided the survey ship Fugro Equator, which is equipped with advanced search technology. 

She found a ‘contact of interest’ 300 metres down off the Duke of York Islands, which turned out to be the missing submarine upon closer inspection.

The first images captured by the expedition show the vessel is remarkably well preserved and apparently in one piece – although there’s no clear evidence of why the 800-tonne vessel sank with all hands in September 1914.

Once the wreck’s identity was confirmed, a short service of commemoration was held aboard the survey vessel to remember those officers and sailors who lost their lives in 1914.

In the longer term, investigations will continue into how the boat was lost and Australia’s government will work closely with its Papua New Guinean counterpart to consider a lasting commemoration and recognition of the crew of AE1 and to preserve the site.

You can read more about HMAS AE1 and her tragic fate at: www.navy.gov.au/hmas-ae1

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