Shipping & Shipbuilding News - 1 March 2007
Object may be Barrow-built submarine lost since 1914
A submarine built in Barrow that disappeared without trace in WW1 may have been found.
The Australian submarine AE1 was built by Vickers Armstrong at Barrow-in-Furness. She was laid down 14th November 1911, launched on 22nd May 1913 and commissioned into the Royal Australian Navy on 28 February 1914.
After commissioning she and her sister HMAS AE2, the first Royal Australian Navy submarines, arrived at Sydney from England on 24th May 1914.
At the outbreak of World War 1 she was sent, under the command of Lieutenant Commander Thomas Besant, RN, along with her sister to capture German New Guinea. Both boats took part in the operations leading to the occupation of the German territory, including the surrender of Rabaul on the 13th of September 1914.
At 0700hrs on the morning following the surrender she departed Blanche Bay, Rabaul, to patrol off Cape Gazelle with HMAS PARRAMATTA, a River class torpedo boat destroyer built at Fairfield's on the Clyde in 1910. For some reason both units split up during their patrols and contact with the submarine was lost. No trace of her has ever found since and she was listed as lost with all hands. As well as Commander Besant, two other officers and 32 sailors disappeared with her, Australia's first major war loss of WW1.
Subsequent searches for the missing submarine have never borne fruit but last month a new effort to locate the submarine was mounted by the Royal Australian Navy with the vessels HMAS BENALLA and HMAS SHEPPARTON attempting to locate the boat off East New Britian. Their work is due in large part to the research of retired navy commander John Foster who for thirty years has tried to uncover the mysteries of her loss.
And they just might have found her.
Australian Veterans Affairs Minister Bruce Billson said he was "cautiously optimistic" an object detected by the BENALLA on the sea floor off the island was indeed the long sought-for wreckage of AE1.
"Further investigation using a remotely operated vehicle with imaging capabilities will be necessary to positively identify the object found by BENALL," he said, cautioning that it was still early days yet.
"The RAN is looking at options to deploy a mine hunting vessel to the area when operational commitments permit to determine whether the object is in fact a wreck."
If the object is indeed AE1 then an important part of Australia's, and Barrow's, history will have been found after 93 years.