Queensland Maritime Museum

Another great day with our Aussie family … this time at Brisbane’s Maritime Museum where there was an exhibition on the RAN in WWI which included details of HMAS AE2 – the first allied (& Australian) submarine to pierce the Turkish Dardanelle defences at the start of the 1915 Gallipoli campaign. On board was no less that Sylvan’s Great Grandfather Stoker Horace James Harding!


The 25th of April 1915 is famous as the first day of the disastrous Gallipoli campaign when allied troops, Australians and New Zealander’s amongst them landed on Turkish soil to force passage through the Daradanelles and knock the Ottoman Empire out of the war.

Less well known is that about 2.30 am that morning, the Australian submarine AE2 managed to sneak through the Turkish minefields and forts guarding the Dardanelles Strait.

By nightfall on the 25th, Allied forces on the Gallipoli shore were in chaos. While Allied commander General Hamilton was writing a note to the Australian commander on shore, he received a message that AE2 had made it through the deadly minefields and into the Sea of Marmara.

Hamilton’s orders to the Anzacs to ‘dig yourselves in and stick it out’ included the good news that an ‘Australian submarine has got through the Narrows and has torpedoed a gunboat‘ Commodore Keyes (RN) described it as ‘the finest feat in submarine history‘.

The Events of 25 April 1915

Lieutenant Commander Stoker, AE2’s commanding officer takes up the story:

‘Having proceeded from the anchorage off Tenedos, I lay at the entrance off the Dardanelles until moonset and at about 2:30am on 25th April entered the straits at 8 knots. Weather calm and clear. As the order to run amok in the Narrows precluded all possibility of passing through unseen, I decided to travel on the surface as far as possible.’

Throughout AE2’s passage, searchlights continually swept the strait but she avoided detection continuing unmolested until 4:30am when gun batteries opened fire from the northern shore. Stoker immediately dived, beginning an underwater passage through the minefields. Mooring wires tethering the mines continually scraped along AE2’s sides for the next half hour. Twice Stoker surfaced in the minefield to make navigational observations and at 6:00am AE2 was within two miles of the Narrows at Chanak, submerged at periscope depth with the sea flat and calm. Forts on both sides of the Narrows then sighted her and soon opened heavy fire. Meanwhile, Stoker, watching through his periscope, observed a number of ships and quickly determined to attack what he thought to be a small cruiser of the Peik e Shetrek type.

‘At a range of 3-400 yards I fired the bow torpedo, at the same moment ordering 70 feet in order to avoid a T.B.D. [torpedo boat destroyer] which was attempting to ram on the port side. As the vessel descended the T.B.D. passed overhead close, and the torpedo was heard to hit. As the cruiser, dead ahead, might be grounded on the Gallipoli shore, again exposing herself to the enemy.’

‘Through the periscope I judged the position to be immediately under Serina Burnu, and further observed two T.B.D.s, a gunboat, and several small craft standing close off in [the] Strait firing heavily and a cluster of small boats which I judged to be picking up survivors of the cruiser. In this position we remained for 5 minutes’.

‘As my vessel was lying with inclination down by the bows I went full speed ahead. Shortly afterwards she began to move down the bank, gave a slight bump, gathered way and then bumped very heavily. She, however, continued to descend and at 80 feet I dived off the bank. The last bump was calculated to considerably injure the vessel, and probably impaired the fighting efficiency, but as I considered my chief duty was to prove the passage through the Straits to be possible, I decided to continue on course.’

‘In connection with these two groundings, I have to report that the behaviour of the crew was exemplary. In these two highly dangerous situations it was only their cool and intelligent performance of their duties which enabled the vessel to be refloated’.

Shortly afterwards AE2 again rose to periscope depth where Stoker established his position as approaching Nagara Point. On all sides he was surrounded by pursuit craft and each time he showed AE2’s periscope the pursuing destroyers turned to ram. Consequently, in an attempt to shake off the enemy, Stoker bottomed the submarine on the Asiatic shore to await developments.

Throughout 25 April, AE2 lay in 80 feet of water while enemy ships continually searched overhead. Those of her crew who could be spared were ordered to rest but most found sleep impossible. On one occasion the AE2’s casing was struck by a heavy object being trailed along the bottom by one of the vessels above but fortunately it did not snag or critically damage the submarine.

At approximately 9:00 pm Stoker blew ballast tanks and surfaced having been submerged for over sixteen hours. All signs of shipping had vanished and the opportunity was taken to recharge the submarine’s batteries and to send a signal to the Commander-in-Chief notifying him of the successful passage through the ‘Narrows’ and past Nagara Point .

26 April 1915

By 3:00am the weather began to clear as Stoker and his crew continued their passage on the surface toward the Sea of Marmora before diving at dawn. As soon as light permitted, Stoker observed through his periscope, ‘two ships approaching, obviously men-of-war, one in front of the other’. Steering a parallel and opposite course to the enemy he approached before firing his port torpedo.

Only after making the attack did Stoker realise he had fired at the smaller leading ship, a cruiser, which successfully evaded his torpedo.

Finding it impossible to bring another torpedo tube to bear on the second ship, which he judged to be a battleship of the Barbarossa class, a further attempt was abandoned.

‘I continued on course through [the] Straits, examined the Gallipoli anchorage, found no ship worthy of attack and so proceeded in the Sea of Marmora, which was entered about 9:00am.’

‘About 9:30am AE2 sighted four ships, but since only six of her eight torpedoes remained Stoker decided not to fire unless he was certain his target was a troop transport.’

‘With this intention I dived close to the foremost ship – a tramp of about 2,000 tons. Passing about 200 yards abeam of her I could see no sign of troops or ammunition; but as I passed under her stern she ran up colours and opened rifle fire at [the] periscope. I then dived over to the next ship and attacked at 400 yards with starboard beam torpedo. The torpedo failed to hit. I was unable to get within range of the other two ships’.

The remainder of that day was spent on the surface recharging batteries and making good defects.

Shortly after dark, AE2 was attacked by a small Turkish vessel while again attempting to establish wireless communications with the fleet. The attacks continued whenever the submarine attempted to surface during the night of 26/27 April.

27-29 April 1915

At dawn on 27 April, while still dived, Stoker sighted a ship escorted by two torpedo boat destroyers. Evading the escort, he manoeuvred into a firing position at 300 yards but this time the torpedo refused to leave the tube, possibly due to a faulty engine. In response, one of the destroyers turned to ram, forcing a hurried dive. Nothing else was sighted that day and in order to give the crew some rest, the night of 27 April was spent on the bottom in Artaki Bay.

In the early hours of the morning of 28 April, in dead calm weather, AE2 attacked another small ship escorted by two small destroyers. Again the torpedo missed its intended target and retaliatory manoeuvres by the Turkish warships precluded a second attempt.

At dawn on 29 April Stoker shaped course towards Gallipoli observing a gunboat patrolling the head of the Strait off Eski Farnar Point.

‘Dived under gunboat down Strait, and returned up Strait showing periscope to give the impression that another submarine had come through. TBDs and TBs [torpedo boats] came out in pursuit, and having led them all up towards Sea of Marmora, I dived back and examined Gallipoli anchorage but found nothing to attack.’

AE2 then returned to the Sea of Marmora where Stoker later fired on a Turkish gunboat narrowly missing her. Later that afternoon, he rendezvoused with HMS E14 (Lieutenant Commander E.C. Boyle, RN) the second Allied submarine to successfully pass through the Dardanelles. The two submarines met at 5:00pm off Kara Burnu Point and following a brief conference between the two captains, a subsequent rendezvous was arranged for 10:00am the following day. On the night of 29/30 April, AE2 lay on the bottom, north of Marmora Island.

30 April 1915

Arriving at the rendezvous at 10:00am on 30 April, Stoker sighted a torpedo boat approaching at high speed.

‘Dived to avoid torpedo boat; whilst diving sighted smoke in Artaki Bay, so steered south to investigate. About 10:30 the boat’s nose suddenly rose and broke surface about 1 mile from TB Blew water forward but could not get boat to dive. TB firing, got very close, and ship from Artaki bay, a gunboat also firing; flooded a forward tank and boat suddenly took big inclination down by bows and dived rapidly. AE2 was only fitted with 100 foot depth gauges. This depth was quickly reached and passed. Went full speed astern and commenced to blow main ballast. After some interval boat came back to 100ft depth, so re-flooded and went ahead, but boat broke surface stern first.’

‘Within a few seconds the engine room was hit, and holed in three places. Owing to the great inclination down by the bow, it was impossible to see the TB through the periscope and I considered that any attempt to ram would be useless. I therefore blew main ballast and ordered all hands on deck. Assisted by Lieutenant Haggard, I then opened the tanks to flood and went on deck. The boat sank in a few minutes in about 55 fathoms, in approximate position 4 degrees north of Kara Burnu Point at 10:45am. All hands were picked up by the torpedo boat and no lives lost.’

Sylvan’s Great Grandfather Stoker Horace James Harding RAN 7216

In the Crews Own Words

As we lay at anchor awaiting [the raid] all hands in AE2 knew that the chances were in favour of tomorrow bringing their death. And so there were letters to be written…
Lieutenant Commander Henry Stoker (RN), submarine AE2, April 1915

in terror I counted 18 sets of scraping, menacing mine cables as I crouched in the darkness of the submarine
Harry Kinder, Stoker Petty Officer, submarine AE2

There was only one casualty, a large rat that the cat at Garden Island had chased on board one morning when we were lying alongside. He fell into the engine room and although he made several attempts to get out he never succeeded and no attempt was made to catch him. We fed him to stop him eating our foodstuff
Harry Kinder, Stoker Petty Officer, AE2

We went on deck the Captain said “Come on then, it is no use stopping here” I then dived and when in the water.I looked around but the boat had gone
Stephen Thomas Bell, chief Engineroom Artificer 2nd Class,AE2

Then [after the sinking of AE2] began a life for us which was nothing but a sorry existence, and I don’t think if we had known what was ahead… that one of us would have left the boat. And when we were released from Turkey three and a half years later, leaving four of our number behind, we were nothing more than living skeletons
Charles Suckling, Stoker,AE2