Beneath the Dardanelles
By Vehici and Hatice Basarin
Published by Allen and Unwin in paperback, rrp $24.95.
Reviewed by Barry Nobes
This unusual book purports to present the sinking of the AE2 from both the British/Australian and Turkish points of view. This is achieved, but it does more than that. It gives a brief summary of the history of the development of submarines, their introduction into the RAN, the reformation of the Ottoman navy and the events leading to the entry of the Ottoman Empire into WWI. All this is under the heading ‘Story of Submarines’. It follows this with the events leading to the assault on Gallipoli and naval activity in the Dardanelles and the Sea of Marmora.
At the back of the book under ‘Background Notes’ there are more brief details on the Ottoman Empire and the founding of the modern state of Turkey. Near the end of the book is a brief overview on recent developments into research on the wreck of the submarine. Much of this mixture of odds and ends seems to be an effort to just fill the pages but is more likely an attempt to cover the whole story.
The main part of the book reprints some of the narrative provided by Henry Stoker, captain of AE2 (some 50 pages) and Ali Riza, captain of the torpedo boat Sultanhisar, which sank the AE2 (some 80 pages). Stoker’s brief and laconic narrative comes from his memoir Straws in the Wind, published in 1925. That of Ali Riza is taken from a book published in 1947: How I Sank the AE2 Submarine in Marmara. This story seems to be a literal translation, containing as it does some strange English constructions and vocabulary. The eccentric and self-opinionated language of this story gives flavour to a different and, to Anglo perception, a quaint, even aberrant, culture which, given the political circumstances of the time and the much disliked German ‘interference’, is not surprising. Also not surprising is that the two stories do not tally in detail and this is commented on in the Foreword by Rear Admiral Peter Briggs. For a detailed and credible analysis of the action the reader would do well to read Stoker’s Submarine by Fred and Elizabeth Brenchley.
There are some obvious errors in the text, e.g. on p.16 Winston Churchill is named as the ‘First Sea Lord’, the professional head of the Navy, instead of ‘First Lord of the Admiralty’, the political head; on p.30 calling the opposing commanding officers, Stoker and Ali Riza, both ‘submarine captains’; and on p.82 referring to ‘Zincirbozan’ and ‘Dogan Arslan’ on Map 3 but neither are marked on that map. Indeed the quality of the maps leaves much to be desired. One large map with all the places mentioned in the text, with an adjacent table of English/Turkish name equivalents as per p.197, would be helpful.
In summary, I enjoyed reading the book, and can recommend it as an unusual Turkish view of the events surrounding the loss of AE2.
About the Authors:
Vecihi Basarin was born in Istanbul, Turkey. He trained as a Chemical Engineer and migrated to Australia. He has co-authored four books with his wife, Hatice. Vehici’s involvement with the AE2 goes back about a decade. He is the Turkish advisor for the AE2 Commemoration Foundation.
Hatice Basarin was also born in Turkey, and migrated to Australia with her husband in 1979. After receiving a Master’s degree in Urban Planning, she worked in the Victorian public service in areas related to urban planning, local government and public housing. Hatice is currently working as a freelance translator and author.