- Smythe, D.H.D., AO, Commodore, RAN
- Early warships, WWI operations
- RAN Ships
- AE2, AE1, HMAS Encounter, HMAS Warrego I, HMAS Yarra I, HMAS Australia I, HMAS Sydney I, HMAS Parramatta I
- October 1977 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
WHEN OUR COMMONWEALTH was proclaimed in 1901, submarines were about to begin appearing in the Royal Navy, where their introduction had been opposed for a long time. Captain Creswell, the new Director of Commonwealth Naval Forces, was very much against them, and up until 1906 his view prevailed in Australia.
In 1907, however, the Prime Minister, Alfred Deakin, attended a colonial conference in London, and came home convinced that the submarine was not only a potent weapon but also one that was suitable for Australia. He proposed buying three a year, plus two torpedo boats, for three years.
By the next year Deakin was replaced by Andrew Fisher, and the new government shelved Deakin’s idea and ordered three Torpedo Boat Destroyers instead.
In 1909, the German Navy’s growth began causing increasing concern, and the Admiralty came up with a proposal for an Australian Fleet, of a battle cruiser, three light cruisers, six destroyers and three submarines. These three proposed submarines were to be the fairly small ‘C’ class, but later it was decided that two ‘E’ class, which were twice the size of the ‘C’s’ would suit our conditions better, and late in 1910 tenders were accepted for the construction, at Barrow-in-Furness, of AE1 and AE2 (the ‘A’ being for Australia).
These ‘E’ class were the latest type, of 725 tons displacement on the surface and 810 tons submerged. With five 18 inch torpedo tubes, (2 bow, 2 beam, 1 stern) and developing 1,750 horse-power from two 8-cylinder diesel engines, they could do 15 knots on the surface and 10 knots submerged. They were 176 feet long, had a beam of 22½ feet, and cost £105,000 each.
Early in 1914 they were finished, and they were both commissioned on 28th February 1914, when they immediately prepared for the long hazardous voyage to Australia. They sailed from Portsmouth only two days later, on 2nd March, and they reached Sydney on Empire Day (24th May), each manned by three RN officers and a crew of about 30 mixed English and Australian ratings.
I haven’t yet mentioned much about AE2’s officers, but here I’d like to bring them into the story. The Captain was Lieutenant Commander Henry Hugh Gordon Dacre Stoker (and I must say that he is one of the few people I know with the same Christian name as myself, Dacre; in fact he has two of my names, Dacre and Henry!) He was at that time just about to turn thirty.
The First Lieutenant was Lieutenant Geoffrey Arthur Gordon Haggard, three years younger than Stoker, nephew of Rider Haggard, and later to be my wife’s father. The third hand was Sub-Lieutenant John Pitt Cary.
The Captain, Lieutenant Commander Stoker, later wrote a book about his life in general, and his time in command of AE2 in particular. It was called Straws in the Wind, and he gave one of two original manuscripts to his ex-First Lieutenant, whose son, Geoffrey Haggard, my brother-in-law, now owns it. I shall unashamedly quote from it from time to time.
Perhaps as a sample of his style, I’ll quote two passages from the part describing the original trip to Australia:
‘On then from Colombo, with the beautifully calm weather still holding. The nights, with their starlit sky, dead smooth sea, and phosphorescent water swishing musically by, used greatly to affect our red-haired, but sentimental, Sub-Lieutenant; every evening, on coming on deck to smoke an after dinner pipe, he would lean on the rails, look around, and deliver himself of the same remark: ‘This is a night on which every woman wishes to be loved’. Such great thoughts lose their value when in a submarine one thousand miles from the nearest point of land.’