- Spencer, Mark
- Biographies and personal histories, History - WW1, WWI operations
- RAN Ships
- HMAS AE2
- December 2008 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
The AE2 is intact and ostensibly in excellent condition. There are areas of considerable corrosion in the casing and especially on the side of the conning tower, which has broad, thin, riveted plates. We have no idea what the condition of the wreck is under the mud. Might the original leaking of acid from those heavy batteries have done some damage?
What Happens Next?
This of course raises the question of its eventual disposition. Since it is not a war grave, will AE2 eventually be raised? Raising it may not be the ultimate problem. Conserving it adequately is a problem, given the very limited experience world-wide with the conservation of iron and steel wrecks. As Tim Smith said on one occasion, ‘The world will be watching very closely if AE2 is raised’. Are we prepared to be the guinea-pigs? Clearly, corrosion testing, hull thickness measurements with sonic devices, ROV inspection of AE2‘s interior, substrate examination and more sonar and photographic coverage would be needed before any final decisions regarding raising the AE2.
No-one disputes the benefits AE2 would provide if she was raised and displayed. It would be the biggest, most tangible relic of the First World War and a reminder to young Australians of the courage, endurance and sacrifices of their forbears. For the Turks, it represents the first enemy warship to successfully penetrate the Dardanelles into the heart of their country for over 500 years. The display of AE2 would also promote tourism and awareness between the two countries – Turkey and Australia. Ironically, AE2, once an instrument of war and conflict, could provide a new role in enhancing those bonds that have existed since that war.
Who owns AE2? Who pays for a recovery effort and the subsequent conservation and display? Where will it be displayed? Assuming it is decided that AE2 should be raised, these questions also need to be worked out. The burden of responsibility has now shifted to the shoulders of many – in Government, Navy, other organisations and individuals here and in Turkey. Even acknowledging that the sea will eventually consume all man-made objects in her depths, the understandable enthusiasm to see AE2 raised must be tempered with the realisation that current knowledge and experience with wreck retrieval does not guarantee the wreck the same integrity she now displays on the sea-bed inside Turkey.
Note: The opinions and interpretations found in this article are those of the author only and do not as yet represent the official conclusions of expedition archaeologist Tim Smith or wreck expert John Riley. The official report of ‘Project AE2’ is soon to be published.
Editor’s note: This article is taken, with the kind permission of the Editor, from Volume 3, April-June 1999, of The Australian Warship Review.