Thursday, November 8, 2012

A Royal Australian Navy Mystery Lives On!

During the past decade, the ocean has yielded a conclusion to several of Australia's enduring maritime mysteries. The naval wrecks of the HMAS Sydney, HMAS AE2 and the Centaur have been found. HMAS Sydney was sunk in 1941 with the loss of 645 lives. The Australian Hospital ship Centaur was sunk two years later with a further 268 deaths. Studying the wrecks with remote deep-sea submarines has revealed much evidence to solve the mystery. A clearer picture can be painted as to what happened to love ones in the last minutes before the sinking of the vessel.
One of the oldest Royal Australian Navy mysteries still remains unsolved.

The AE1, the Royal Australian Navy's first submarine, was commissioned in the United Kingdom on Saturday 28th February 1914. Along with her sister submarine the AE2, they set off for Australian waters on the 2nd March 1914. After a journey, plagued with mechanical problems, they sailed through Sydney Heads on the 24th May 1914.

Following the outbreak of war on 5th August 1914, Australia was requested by Britain to capture German interests in New Guinea. The Australian Naval Board deemed it important to destroy the German Navy in the Pacific Ocean. The Admiralty suspected that at least five German Naval ships were located near New Guinea.

The Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force (ANMEF) a small contingent of approximately 2,000 men, was raised in Australia to attack the German Base at Rabaul in New Guinea. Australia also sent a large proportion of its fledging Navy. On the 11th September 1914 the ANMEF and the main naval force comprising the Navy ships, Australia, Sydney, Encounter, Warrego, Yarra, Parramatta, Berrima and the two submarines AE1 & AE2 were located off of Rabual New Guinea. The German wireless station that was located 7kms inland from Rabual was to be destroyed. Initially, only 100 men from the Naval contingent landed. They succeeded in destroying the wireless station and the next day the ANMEF took complete control of Rabual. The success was not without the cost of 6 Australian lives.

Although history is not always kind to remember the Australian action at Rabual it's interesting to reflect a number of 'firsts' were recorded for World War One.

*First time any Australian or British force fought the Germans on their own Territory.
*The ANMEF secured the 1st surrender of WWI.
*The Naval Men conducted the 1st bayonet charge of WWI.
* The first decorations of WWI were awarded for action at Rabual.

The Navy immediately turned their attention to finding the German Capital Ships of Gneisenau and Scharnhorst. On the 14th September 1914 the Australian submarine AE1 set sail with the Destroyer HMAS Parramatta to reconnoitre. At 3.20 pm the Destroyer lost sight of AE1. Nothing was ever seen of AE1 again, disappearing with her full compliment of 35 souls. No SOS wireless message was ever received, no oil, bodies or wreckage ever sighted. What happened to AE1 has remained a mystery to this day.

There have been several attempts to locate the AE1 wreck in Papua New Guinea waters. One attempt was carried out by the famous French oceanographer Jacques Costeau. However, all attempts have failed to locate the wreck and solve this enduring Royal Australian Navy mystery.

No comments:

Post a Comment