Shipwreck Databases Western Australian Museum

The search for the AE1 : Duke of York Islands, East New Britain, November 2003

Author/s J.N. Green

Year of publication 2003

Report Number: 174

The Department of Maritime Archaeology of the Western Australian Maritime Museum was invited to assist in a project to locate the RAN submarine AE1 lost in East New Britain in 1914. The AE1, the Royal Australian Navy’s first submarine, was commissioned in the United Kingdom on 28 February 1914. After commissioning, AE1 accompanied by AE2, sailed to Australia crewed jointly by British and Australian sailors, arriving at Sydney in May 1914. Following the outbreak of war in August 1914, both submarines proceeded to New Guinea for operations against the German colonies. On 14 September, the AE1, accompanied by HMAS Parramatta, left Blanche Bay, New Britain, to patrol off Cape Gazelle. She was last seen by Parramatta at 3.30pm that day and no trace has been found of her, or her company, since. It has been presumed that AE1 struck an uncharted reef in the Duke of York Islands (see Figure 1–3) and sank.

The project to search for the AE1 was sponsored by the Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC), the project leader and coordinator was Commander John Foster RAN (rtd.). The team consisted of Richard Smith of the ABC together with Peter West of NUMA, Queensland together with this author. The 14-m survey vessel, J Michelan was provided by Simon Foo of Rabal. The project was initiated following information by a local trocus shell diver that about 10 years ago he had sighted a submarine in about 60 m of water off Mioko Island. This was thought to be the AE1.

Surveys using a high resolution Marine Sonic side scan sonar and an ELSEC proton magnetometer were undertaken over a 5-day period in and around Mioko Island and is the subject of this report.