Dive Into History: a 1914 E-class submarine

By Richard Taylor

Diving Officer for the Australian AE2 Expedition Dive Team. The author can be contacted in Australia on +61-2-9958 3469 or email:


This is the story of a little-known and unrecognised hero of the Gallipoli campaign. Lost since April 1915, the submarine AE2 is now the focus of a research project by a joint Australian and Turkish diving team.

The Australian Deep Water Research Team led by Dr Mark Spencer, and the Rami M Koc Industrial Museum of Istanbul, whose 29 metre research vessel MV Saros was used as the diving base, hope to find the remains of the submarine. Many historians say the AE2, with its historic penetration of the Dardanelles on the first day of the ANZAC landings, is the unrecognised hero of the campaign. She was one of two E-class subs bought in early 1914 to be the basis for the Royal Australian Navy.

With the outbreak of hostilities, the AE2 and her sister ship the AE1 were assigned to patrol for German shipping off New Britain, now part of Papua New Guinea. In September of that year, the AE1 disappeared without trace with all hands, a mystery that remains unsolved to this day. The AE2 was subsequently assigned to assist the Australian Expeditionary Force in the Mediterranean. On board were a mixed crew of Australian and English submariners, under the flamboyant Australian Lieutenant Commander Henry Stocker.

In April 1915 the submarine was ordered to attempt the near-impossible task of penetrating the Dardanelles, a narrow, heavily mined strip of water that separated the Gallipoli peninsula from the rest of Ottoman Turkey. At 0230 on the morning of 25 April the AE2 began her approach. After several hours of snagging the lines of moored mines, and shelling from the many shore batteries, the AE2 slipped through the Turkish and German sea defenses into the Sea of Marmara. Commander Stocker immediately made his presence known by attacking several targets. At one point, the AE2’s periscope was spotted by a Turkish ship engaged in shelling the ANZAC beaches. The ship ceased firing and withdrew, just as her shelling was becoming effective on the shore landing parties.

The successful penetration of the Dardanelles by the AE2 made such an impact on the British High Command that the British commander General Hamilton discarded any thoughts of withdrawing the battered troops. ‘Your news is indeed serious,’ he signalled, ‘but dig, dig, dig yourself in and stick it out.’ Thus the term ‘Digger’ was coined for the many men valiantly trying to gain a bridgehead on the ANZAC beaches. Over the next five days the AE2 continued to harass Turkish shipping, slowing the supply of men from Istanbul and severely demoralising the Turkish sailors. However, on April 30, the AE2 was attacked when she surfaced close to the Turkish torpedo boat Sultan Hissar. The 32 crew were taken prisoner before she was scuttled by Commander Stocker and made her last dive.

Selcuk Kolay, director of the Rami Koc Museum, began the search for the submarine after many years of discovering and diving on historical wrecks of the Ottoman Empire and early Turkish Republic. Following extensive research, which included reviews of British and Turkish naval archives and interviews with relatives of the submarine’s captain, Mr Kolay identified a possible site, with an object shown on side scan sonar lying upright in 86m of water (280 ft). Diving on the site in early 1997, Mr Kolay reported low visibility and was unable to identify the wreck. He contacted the Australian authorities, leading to Dr Spencer’s team making the journey to Turkey to help identify the wreck. The Australian team consisted of four divers trained in mixed gas diving, underwater photography and wreck survey techniques. I was the diving safety officer for the team. A maritime archeologist accompanied us to liaise with the two Turkish archeologists required to be present for diving on a historical site. In addition to the MV Saros, the Rami Koc Industrial Museum provided gas (trimix, nitrox and oxygen), an onboard recompression chamber with both heliox and oxygen treatment capability, and a diving and hyperbaric physician from Ankara, Dr Akin Toklu.

Abysmal Diving Inc of Boulder, Colorado provided two full Advanced Mixed Gas versions of the Abyss Dive Planner v1.7 to safely plan the various scenarios which were expected. At the depths we were required to dive, we were totally reliant on the dive models generated beforehand to safely plan our ascent to the surface. We needed the toughest and most versatile software support we could get. Running on two Compaq laptops, the Abyss Dive Planner enabled us to safely run the complex dive models and plan multiple scenarios right there on the boat. The dives were conducted using an ideal blend of trimix – 14% oxygen, 46% helium and 40% nitrogen – which gave an equivalent narcotic depth of 40 msw (140 fsw) and a maximum Oxygen Partial Pressure of 1.34 ata. For various local logistical reasons, nitrox for decompression was restricted to EAN32 used on scuba and 100% oxygen as surface supply. All divers were examined by Dr Toklu using Doppler ultrasonic monitoring equipment before and after the dives. He happily reported that none of the divers recorded even a Code 1, using the Kisman-Masurel Code for bubble grading.

The first dive was undertaken on 12 October 1997. The divers descended to 83m, arriving at the bow of the vessel. Visibility was four metres, about as good as it gets in the area. The shape of the bow, length of the bow stem, presence of portholes and the absence of torpedo tubes soon convinced the divers that the wreck was not a submarine. The weather prevented any more dives until October 17, when a second and last dive was made in rough conditions. The divers arrived at the same part of the stern area that Kolay had dived earlier on that year. Inspection of this site in the turbid water with only one metre visibility could easily have convinced anyone that they were on a submarine. Team member and shipwreck expert John Riley noticed the round hole on the deck which Kolay thought was the stern hatch. Closer inspection revealed a small gear to the side of the hole, which was used to turn a funnel to direct air into the engine room. Further inspection revealed more portholes, a ship’s compass and binnacle, and the shadowy outline of the ship’s boiler. The divers were able to conclude that the wreck was that of a steamship.

The AE2 search has been the main project for Selcuk Kolay and the Rami M Koc Industrial Museum. ‘The AE2 must be regarded as one of the most historic maritime ventures by Australians during WW1,’ said Mr Kolay. ‘We are extremely disappointed that the wreck turned out not to be the AE2 after all. However, we have a number of other sites and we are sure one will be the AE2. Maybe next year she will finally be seen again.’ The Australian Deep Water Research Team wish to thank all their sponsors for their generous assistance in making the AE2 Project possible: Abysmal Diving Inc, the Australian Navy, Australian Television Channel Nine, the Australian Woman’s Weekly, Pro Diving Services of Australia, and Compaq Computers. Research will continue until the AE2 is discovered. The Australian project leader, Dr Mark Spencer, can be contacted by email on markbecca@bigfoot.com or phone +61-2-9665 6890.

STOP PRESS: Since the above was written, the AE2 has been found. The Royal Australian Navy has set up a special web site to cover the expedition to the wreck site of the AE2 in Turkey. Visit it at:


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