- Marsland, J
- Ship histories and stories
- None noted.
- RAN Ships
- AE2, AE1, HMAS Sydney I
- December 1974 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
Diaries, particularly those kept by seamen, are not only an important primary historical source but are first-class reading entertainment. The following extracts from the diary of AB J Marsland describe the passage of HMA submarines AE1 and AE2 from Portsmouth to Sydney in early 1914. The RAN’s first submarines were short lived. AE1, Lieut.-Commander T F Besant, RN, was lost with all hands six months after this diary was written, and AE2 (Lieut.-Commander H. G. D. Stoker, DSO, RN), was lost in the Sea of Marmora in 1915. AB Marsland is believed to have been one of the AE1’s passage only crew.
LEFT PORTSMOUTH for Sydney at 7.30 a.m. Monday, March 2nd 1914 with our escort HMS Eclipse, and entered the Bay of Biscay on the 3rd, the weather being fairly good and we had just got clear of the Bay when AE2 had the misfortune to lose a blade off her port propeller at 5 p.m. on the 4th, which caused so much vibration that it was deemed advisable to be taken in tow by HMS Eclipse, and we arrived in Gibraltar with our starboard engine running, at 2 p.m. on the 6th. By 3 o’clock a diver had been down to ascertain the extent of the damage, and reported one blade missing. The same day Docking Plans were being got ready, and the Dock and chocks and shores altered ready for us to be docked on Monday, and by 8 o’clock the same night, the old propeller had been taken off, and a spare one fitted in its place, which we considered a smart piece of work for the time allotted to do it in, seeing there were keeps and plates to be fitted. However, a good job finished, those who wished to replenish a thirst that had developed, we were allowed an hour to do so in, and by eleven p.m. we were on our way to Malta, hoping for better luck, although the engines had behaved admirably, and a propeller can easily be damaged, should you foul any floating debris.
We arrived at Malta at 9 p.m. on the 13th and berthed the boats alongside the Old Cruiser, a ship termed a receiving ship or overflow ship.
On Monday the 16th we left Malta at 5.30 p.m. for Port Said with AE2 in tow, and all went well until 3 a.m. on Wednesday, when unfortunately the tow-rope parted, and we were delayed 2 hours until it was renewed, at 5 o’clock we were off again, but not for long, for at 9.30 we parted company again to our sorrow, for we had just commenced a few minor jobs, our only chance is when on tow, so we quickly replaced them, and had both engines running, this time both submarines were on their own power and we made good speed in a very choppy sea until 7 a.m. on the 19th. The sea had now gone down, and AE1 was taken in tow, until we were just off Port Said, when she was cast off, and we arrived in the Harbour at 6 p.m. on Friday the 20th and berthed alongside the Eclipse, having had a fairly good run.
One of the most notable features on entering the Harbour was a very large monument of the engineer who constructed the Suez Canal, by the name of Ferdinand de Lesseps, it was a most imposing statue. There was also a large French liner being coaled, by Arabs, they make a frightful noise whilst working but get the coal in very smart, considering it has to be carried to the bunkers in baskets.
The next day, Saturday, a few of us landed for exercise and sightseeing, and were soon being pestered by guides, we selected one who said his father was a Scotsman from Dundee, he spoke fairly good, so we got him on the move, and were soon in Arab Town, a very dirty place and swarming with flies.
At 4.30 a.m. Monday morning we cast off from the Eclipse and entered the Suez Canal which is 88 miles long and is practically cut out of a desert, with the exception of two lakes called the Bitter Lakes, one being 15 miles long, the other only a few miles, whilst passing through these you are allowed to travel much faster although the submarines went through the Canal and were tied up in Suez Harbour in 8½ hours, quite a pretty sight to see them flying by the banks, which you could almost reach at times, the average speed for ships passing through being 6 knots and then they have to stop at different gearing-up stations to allow other ships to pass. Some idea can be formed of the way we dodged along, when the ship left soon after us and took 18 hours longer.
The Canal is undoubtedly a splendid piece of engineering and finds employment for at least 1,000 men, mostly Arabs on the banks and Frenchmen in the stations and dredgers and sand-suckers, we were highly amused by the Arabs, who looked quite bewildered and shook their fists at us, for the speed we were going was washing over the banks and some of them got wet.
It was here that we nearly had our first calamity, we had just cleared the Canal when the second coxswain of AE1 fell overboard, good luck favoured him, for he just cleared the propellers and was finally picked up about a quarter of a mile astern by some natives.
On the arrival of the Eclipse, we left Suez at 10 a.m. on Tuesday for Aden, with AE2 in tow, the weather was splendid, although rather too hot to be comfortable, but we must expect that now for we were in tropics and it is never very cool in the Red Sea.
Here I must state that we started away from Suez with a German steamer called Altmark and was travelling exactly the same speed as we were, and she remained abreast of us at a distance of 150 yards, so if bound for Aden we shall have company for five days, which seems to brighten you up a bit, to have something to look at. However it was not to be for at sunset on the 25th she altered her course towards the African coast, having been with us for 450 miles, even the porpoises would not remain with us for many minutes.
Up to the present, we have passed no ships of any tonnage, and we are nearly halfway through the Red Sea. The heat is terrific, the thermometer showing 120 degrees in the engine room, and the superstructure on deck you cannot bear your hands on, and yet we have awnings spread and the crew are drinking more lime juice and water than is good for you. We have also ten electric fans going night and day, not very large ones, but without them it would have been a veritable hothouse. Towards sunset the heat moderates, and any work that requires doing is either done then or early in the morning.
Today, Friday, is another scorcher, for we are getting nearer the Equator every hour, until we reach Aden, then we steer east, so remain in the same temperature long enough to try and get used to it, but I am diminishing in size already, soon be no crew left.
During the forenoon we passed the Zubayr Islands and also encountered very rough weather, having to ease down for fear of the towrope parting, at 6 p.m. the sea had moderated and we proceeded at our usual speed.
Nothing of any interest had been seen until 9 p.m. when a very large liner called the Marseilles from Sydney passed us, wished us good luck and was soon lost from sight, she looked very nice at night, being well illuminated, and the passengers could easily be seen.