Skip to content
Recruiting now.Explore navy careers

British and Australian sailors remember tragic World War 1 submarine loss

British and Australian sailors remember tragic World War 1 submarine loss
23 March 2018
With the sun setting over the tropical waters off Papua New Guinea, sailors on frigates HMS Sutherland and HMAS Toowoomba line up on their flight decks over the wreck of Australia’s first submarine.

British and Australian sailors remember tragic World War 1 submarine lossFor the first time since the remains of HMAS AE1 were discovered, Britons and Australians have held a joint service of remembrance in honour of 35 men killed in the first days of World War 1.

A 103-year search for the 181ft boot ended in December last year when a specialist research vessel located the shattered hull around 1,000ft down 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 a mixed crew of 18 Australians, 16 Britons (all her officers, plus men who’d transferred from the Royal to the Royal Australian Navy) and one New Zealander – 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.

It is a rare opportunity and honour to be able to commemorate those 35 servicemen from the Royal Navy and the Royal Australian Navy

Commander Andrew Canale, HMS Sutherland’s Commanding Officer

Plymouth-based HMS Sutherland has spent the past month in Australia on the first stage of her Far East deployment and, after leaving Sydney a week ago, has been exercising with the Australian frigate Toowoomba as she makes her way north to Guam and then on to Japan for the next phase of the Pacific Rim mission.

Those exercises were put on hold as the two ships approached the wreck site, sailors put on their smart, white tropical uniforms and formed up on the flight deck decks for a combined act of commemoration.

For the four submariners serving aboard Sutherland, the event was especially significant.

“Being a submariner means being part of a family, no matter what navy you belong to.  Rest in Peace, crew of RAN Submarine AE1,” said Leading Regulator Kevin Lewis – one of HMS Sutherland’s policemen.

“It’s an honour and a privilege to be here to recognise the lives lost on board AE1. It hits home with me, understanding the unique life led by submariners.”

His ship is a dedicated submarine hunter, but Commander Andrew Canale, HMS Sutherland’s Commanding Officer, said that all 220 souls aboard his frigate was touched by the terrible fate of the AE1’s crew.

“The service provides a solemn reminder of the sacrifices made by those who went to sea in submarines for the first time,” he added.

“It is a rare opportunity and honour to be able to commemorate those 35 servicemen from the Royal Navy and the Royal Australian Navy.”

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

Related articles

Navy News Magazine

We bring you the latest news, features and award-winning photographs from the front-line. Navy News has been reporting on all that happens in the Royal Navy and its wider community since 1954.