Maxim Nordenfeldt 5-Barrel Mark II


The decision to scuttle the 'Kolonial Gesselschaft' seems more likely than not.

"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.

I 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 anything, intensified.

There have been a number of reports that referred to the possible sinking of the AE1 by an enemy vessel.

To date, 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 Lloyd) 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."


Writing from Rabaul on 27th September, the special correspondent of the
"Sydney Morning Herald" says:-

"The 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.

"On the 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.

"A strange 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 conclusive.

"Whether 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 the issue.

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 Simpsonhafen.

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 arms.

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 anchorage.