The decision to
scuttle the 'Kolonial Gesselschaft' seems more likely
"She was set afire using petrol, and the five-barreled
Nordenfeldt quick-firing gun, using 1 lb (one pound)
cartridges, was found in the hold."1 To my knowledge
this gun was never retrieved by the Australians. There
is no official evidence of this gun reaching Rabaul
although Aubrey Hodgson, in his diary, said otherwise.2
How does this evidence effect the original premise that
the 'Kolonial Gesselschaft' may well have been
responsible for the AE1's loss? With the lack of
evidence seemingly rife during the Navy's first
exploits, one can not dismiss the 'Kolonial Gesselschaft'
so easily - just on the strength of the Admirals
report3, I think not. Even though Vice-Admiral Patey
said that he had been told that she was coming from the
mainland, this information may well have been false.
say this because the HMAS Sydney had cruised the north
coast only recently and during the days that a ship
would have been coming around that way, but she was
never sighted. So, was the 'Kolonial Gesselschaft' lying
up in the Duke of York islands all the while??
The Admiral had already shown a lack of understanding
for submarines, and chose to reject Lieutenant Stoker's
report virtually out of hand.
It was too easy to report the incidents as we read them
today. We must continually ask "how capable was this
first squadron" particularly at this very early stage.
No one had any war experience. And, if they were
capable, could they have initiated the cover-up that
seems to be ever present.
Admittedly, the involvement of the 'Kolonial
Gesselschaft' in the loss of the AE1 would now seem to
be at an end. However, until we can prove beyond all
reasonable doubt that the events portrayed in the
reports and written evidence available to us, I feel
that there is still enough circumstantial evidence
pointing toward the scenario that the 'Kolonial
Gesselschaft' may have been responsible for the
disappearance of the submarine.
Leaving all this postulation aside, we would - in any
case - have to beg to differ from the Admiral's point of
view that the AE1 sank while making a practice dive.
The Admiral, over-awed by young Besant's past record may
have given Besant just a little too much rope. Why did
Besant veer off to the North just after 9 am on that
fateful Monday morning? To say only that "...he seems to
have gone rather north of his beat", was as lenient a
reprimand (posthumously recorded) that the Admiral could
possibly have given.
Also, by brushing aside the submarine's total lack of
etiquette in not replying to the signaled messages with
the comment that "... he was the most senior officer". (
in this case between Besant and Lieutenant Warren of
'Parramatta' ) is, in my view irresponsible. By letting
the incident go, it is possible that the Admiral may
have turned a blind eye to other indiscretions further
on in the campaign.
No doubt the nationalistic rivalry between the Aussies
and the Brits would not have improved after the sinking
of the AE1. As noted in the letter written by
Engineer-Lieutenant Alec Broughton Doyle (later in his
career Admiral, Sir Alec) "... these scum of the British
Navy ..." shows that inter-country rivalry had, if
There have been a number of reports that referred to the
possible sinking of the AE1 by an enemy vessel.
four have turned up. Two personal accounts, one official
and one newspaper account, as reported by a journalist
living with the troops in Rabaul.
None of these four alluded to what name this enemy
vessel may have had but the only vessel that had
remained unaccounted for during the period 9th September
1914 to the 23rd of that month, was the steamer "Meklong",
found in Mioko Harbour, Duke of York Island, by foot
soldiers returning to the anchored HMAS Parramatta.
This discovery of the 'Meklong', is an irony. The 'Meklong'
was a 450 ton German registered (Norddeutscher
vessel. She remained undetected in the main Harbour of
the duke of York Island. So well camouflaged was the 'Meklong',
up a creek, that when the 'Parramatta' dropped anchor
within 50 yards of her cleverly arranged disguise, no
one onboard the 'Parramatta' spotted her!!!!!
One has to
ask, "How could this be so?" Not only had the 'Meklong'
survived capture for two weeks after the submarine had
disappeared, but she had escaped the harried attention
of HMAS Yarra on the 15th September, when the 'Yarra'
was again searching for clues. On this day she struck
rocks in the shallow northeast passage of Mioko Harbour.
Too shallow for a naval vessel, but plenty deep enough
for a crafty German wanting to make a quick getaway to
the Baining Mountains on the north Coast of New
Britain!! Was it possibly the 'Meklong' that Alec Doyle
referred to in his letter to Guy? "... in The Duke of
Yorks, watching our toing & froing."
SUBMARINE AE 1
WAS SHE SUNK ?
Writing from Rabaul on 27th September, the
special correspondent of the
"Sydney Morning Herald" says:-
tragedy of the AE1 is the first loss that
the Australian Navy has sustained, and the
magnitude seems all the grimmer for the
atmosphere of mystery which surrounds it.
afternoon of 15th September the submarine
was sighted off Gazelle Point, south of
Herbertshohe, heading in the direction of
Rabaul. She was never seen again.
patch of oil floating on the quiet surface
of the water, a nameless schooner, with a
gun mounting from which the gun was missing,
discovered on the coast in flames and
sinking - these are the only clues we
possess to the manner in which the AE1 came
to her end, and they are by no means
she was actually sunk by a shot from the
enemy, whether an unseen pinnacle of coral
ripped open her plates, or the pumps refused
to do their work in bringing the vessel
again to the surface after a dive, will
probably remain forever unknown."
The Germans knew that the British - Australian
Squadron were coming back to Rabaul to finish the job
they had begun in August when using only the Navy they
tried to locate the Telegraph / Wireless Station. The
Germans never volunteered this information of course and
the fleet was ill-equipped on this expedition to force
However, the intentions of the allies were plain enough
for the German Colonists to make war plans. Of the
contingencies proposed, a lookout based in Mioko Harbour
was pretty obvious as the Allied Fleet was assuredly
going to sail back to Rabaul using a northerly tack up
the Saint George's Channel and turning northwest at cape
Gazelle to enter Blanche Bay and thereby secure
The Germans needed the lookout to relay information (via
the wireless telegraph at Bitapaka) to the Governor and
the German Military commander, Von Klewitz, so that
their plans for a retreat could be initiated with enough
time to spare.
A second battle line had been prepared at Toma Mountain
near 'Varsin' or Mount Vunakokor and joined by a saddle
between the two. This was where the temporary German HQ
was located. Toma is approximately the same distance
from Kokopo (Herbertshöhe) as it is from Rabaul, except
that the retreat over the mountain range from the Rabaul
direction was far more strenuous than from the other
main battle-ground of Kokopo - Bitapaka.
Reports would indicate that the steamer 'Kolonial
Gesselschaft' had left Madang ( Fredrisch Willemshaven)
at about the same time as the first squadron entered
Blanche bay. Her mission seems to have been that of
depositing reservists (with a machine-gun) somewhere on
the north coast Baining plantations, hoping for a call to
The intended landing location was to have been near the
German Tidal Station of Massava Bay. modern Charts do
not show this, but in 1914 this bay was also used as an