- Smythe, D.H.D., AO, Commodore, RAN
- Early warships, WWI operations
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Sydney I, HMAS Parramatta I, HMAS AE2, HMAS AE1, HMAS Encounter, HMAS Warrego I, HMAS Yarra I, HMAS Australia I
- October 1977 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
The landings had taken place, you’d recall, at dawn that day. It was now that evening, and at 10 p.m. a conference was held in a gully just off the beach, between General Birdwood, General Godley, General Bridges and their staffs. They had been becoming more and more anxious at the position. Units were disorganised, the men were utterly worn out, there were no reserves available, and the situation was perilous. Re-embarkation was being strongly recommended, and Birdwood sent a message to the Commander-in-Chief, Sir Ian Hamilton, in HMS Queen Elizabeth, which included the following phrases:
‘The men are thoroughly demoralised by shrapnel fire, to which they have been subjected all day after exhaustion and gallant work in the morning . . ., If they are subjected to shell fire again tomorrow morning, there is likely to be a fiasco. My representation is most serious, but if we are to re-embark it must be at once.’
On board Queen Elizabeth, Sir Ian Hamilton was roused at midnight and conferred with his staff. He was just taking up his pen to write his reply when a Commander Brodie came into the room with the signal from AE2 reporting her success. Ignoring furious gesticulations from Commodore Keyes, he insisted on reading the signal.
The effect was momentous, at that precise moment in history.
I don’t know what Sir Ian Hamilton had been about to write, but re-embarkation now became out of the question. The message he did send said, in part:
‘Your news is indeed serious, but dig yourselves right in and stick it out. The Australian submarine has got through the Narrows and torpedoed a cruiser. I appeal to your men to make a supreme effort to hold their ground . . . dig, dig, dig until you are safe.’
I wonder how much the story of Anzac, and of the whole war, would have been different, if AE2 had not sent that signal in time.
Back to her, now, as she cruised slowly on the surface up the Strait all that night, charging her batteries. At dawn she dived again, and shortly afterwards met two ships which she closed and fired a torpedo at from 500 yards. Stoker says that, even as he missed, he saw to his disgust that he’d fired at the smaller of the two, a cruiser; the other was a battleship, but he couldn’t get a second shot away.
At about seven o’clock, he approached Gallipoli Town, at the head of the Strait, and finally entered the Sea of Marmora at 0900 on 26th.
Their duty now, with the passage of the Dardanelles successfully made, was to prevent the passage of enemy troops and supplies to the Gallipoli Peninsula. They had no gun, and would have to conserve their six remaining torpedoes.
Before long they attacked a tramp steamer, but again missed. Seeing no other shipping they surfaced, and in fact spent the rest of the day on the surface, occasionally closing fishing boats to examine them and, at the same time, to advertise their presence in the Sea of Marmora.
That night they were attacked several times by small anti-submarine vessels, spending a most restless night dodging them.
At dawn on 27th April, AE2 sighted and attacked a ship escorted by two destroyers, but was forced to dive deeply by one of the destroyers trying to ram. The torpedo’s engine failed to start, and it floated away, watched through the periscope by a disheartened Stoker.
All that day, again, she saw nothing, as she patrolled the Sea of Marmora, and that night she rested on the bottom of Artaki Bay, to give her crew some undisturbed hours of much-needed sleep.
Twice the next day, the 28th, she attacked ships, and each time her torpedoes narrowly missed.
‘At dawn on the 29th,’ in Stoker’s words, ‘I dived towards Gallipoli and saw a gunboat patrolling the head of the Strait. I dived under the gunboat down the Strait, and returned up the Strait showing my periscope to give impression that another submarine had come through. Destroyers and torpedo boats came out in pursuit; having led them towards the Sea of Marmora, I dived back and examined the Gallipoli anchorage, but found nothing to attack.’
He then proceeded out into the Sea of Marmora, pursued by anti-submarine units. He surfaced half an hour later, spotted the gunboat, fired a torpedo at it and missed, as he learned later, by one yard.
Later that day another submarine did indeed come through, and AE2 by chance came upon E14 off Kara Burnu Point, exchanging cheery greetings and arranging a rendezvous at the same spot for the next forenoon at 1000.
That night AE2 again rested on the bottom, and at 1000 on 30th April, as she arrived at the rendezvous, a torpedo boat was seen approaching at high speed.
In Stoker’s words, mainly from his official report:
‘Dived to avoid a torpedo-boat; whilst dived, sighted smoke in Artaki Bay, so steered south to investigate. About 1030, boat’s nose suddenly rose (due to some strong underwater current) and she broke surface less than a mile from the torpedo-boat. Blew water forward but boat would not dive. Torpedo-boat firing very close and ship from Artaki Bay, a gun-boat, also firing; flooded a forward tank and boat suddenly assumed big inclination down by the bows, and dived very rapidly. AE2 was only fitted with 100-foot depth gauge. This depth was quickly reached and passed. After considerable descent the boat rose rapidly, past the 100 foot mark and, in spite of efforts to check her, broke surface stem first. Within seconds the engine room was hit and holed in three places. Owing to the inclination down by the bow, it was impossible to see the torpedo-boat through the periscope, and I considered any attempt to ram her would be useless. I therefore blew main ballast and ordered all hands on deck. Assisted by Lieutenant Haggard, I then went round opening all tanks to flood the sub. Cary, on the bridge, watched the rising water to give warning in time for our escape. A shout from him and we clambered up. ‘Hurry, Sir, she’s going down.‘ As I reached the bridge the water was about two feet from the top of the conning tower. Perhaps a minute passed and then, slowly and gracefully, AE2 slid away on her last and longest dive, in about 55 fathoms, four miles north of Kara Burnu Point, at 1045.’
That was on 30th April. All hands were picked up by the torpedo-boat.
AE2 had been in commission almost fourteen months, during which she’d travelled 35,000 miles.
The crew were taken by the torpedo-boat (the Sultan Hissar) to Constantinople, and spent the next three and a half years in a Turkish prison camp. At least half of Stoker’s book tells of this period, and of his own escape attempt in 1916, when he spent 16 days at large in Turkey before being recaptured. After the war he was promoted to Commander and awarded the DSO, but (despite being offered command of a cruiser) retired from the Navy in 1920 to follow a career on the London stage. I believe he died three or four years ago. Haggard was promoted to Lieutenant Commander and awarded the DSC. He also left the active Navy, and came out to Australia a few years later as an ADC to the Victorian Governor, and there he married Miss Marjory Syme, who is now my mother-in-law. He farmed at Woori Yallock in the Yarra Valley near Warburton until his death in 1939, when he was killed by a train on the very day he had received his call-up papers from the Navy, for the approaching war.