After reading an old account of the loss of the Australian Submarine AE1 in the mid 1980's, my interest was re-ignited and I decided to conduct my own research into the submarine that went down so near my home town - Rabaul.

My original interest was due to an article in the Sydney Morning Herald in 1975 that stated that the HMAS Flinders might have located the AE1 near the Credner Islands while surveying the approaches to Simpson Harbour. As we were constantly diving the Rabaul environs - this was interesting news.

I grew up in the Gazelle Peninsula area of the East New Britain Province in Papua New Guinea. Never did I realise what a treasure trove of historical events this small area could claim; Queen Emma, German Colonial Possessions, World War One, World War Two and constant volcanic activity to name but a few.

  From the time I was a small boy I knew of Bitapaka, the war cemetery that my father and I would visit for Dawn Service on ANZAC Day, celebrated each year on the 25th April. Later, I was to associate the area with the capture of the German wireless / telegraph station that had been sited at Bitapaka.

Of the many war stories associated with Rabaul, one related an Australian submarine that had disappeared in 1914. I had been told that the submarine had disappeared somewhere between Kokopo (known as Herbertshöhe to the German colonials) and Rabaul.

When I became a member of the Rabaul Dive Club in 1974, our main interest was diving on the Japanese wrecks in the harbour and nearby waters. The whereabouts of the AE1 remained a mystery.

In October 1976 an Australian hydrographic survey vessel, the HMAS Flinders, was re-charting the waters around the Duke of York and Credner (Pigeon) Islands. These islands are located to the east of Rabaul in the Saint George's Channel and Blanche Bay.

A newspaper article by James Prior in the 'Weekend Magazine' of the Sydney Morning Herald on 28th, May 1977 claimed that, "Last October, the survey ship HMAS Flinders detected an unnatural object on the seabed 18km from Rabaul. At a depth of 210 metres, the contact could not be checked visually and flinders may return soon to New Guinea with deep-towed side-scan sonar to establish positively if AE1 has at long last been found."

At the time I did not think much of the incident. However in February 1988 - in Singapore - I bought a book entitled 'Few Survived' by Edwin Grey. In this book was a reference to the AE1, listed as the first allied submarine sunk in World War I, without trace and with the loss of all men. After reading this account of the AE1's loss my interest was re-awakened. I decided to conduct my own research into the submarine that went down so near my home town.

By this time I was well into my career as a commercial diver and the thought crossed my mind that AE1 might be found using more modern diving techniques - sub-bottom profiling - or using an ROV (remotely operated vehicle).

A year later I knew that I had opened AE1's own "Pandora's Box". I now knew where the AE1 was last seen by the HMAS Parramatta, but was no closer to solving the mystery of her disappearance. I was naive enough to think that an amateur sleuth of my limited resources could find an answer - where the Australian Navy had failed. The deeper I researched the more intriguing the mystery became.

Indeed, it was a 'mystery' - and not just a case of simple disappearance. For many years the official version of the submarine's loss and possible reasons for its demise - had not been questioned. I felt that questions needed to be asked and started looking for answers. The more I looked, the more complex AE1's disappearance became. The whole episode did not sit well with the official line.

In 1989 I knew that I must return to Papua New Guinea and locate the AE1. It was not until 1994 that I sought sponsorship from various companies to help me in this quest. With the twin volcanic eruptions of 'Vulcan' and 'Tavurvur' in the September of 1994, my plans were put on hold. The unstable state of these volcanoes prevented entry into Simpson Harbour at that time.

I continued to campaign for support discussing with various authorities my wish to locate the final resting place of the AE1. My belief was - and still is - that when the AE1 is found, we have a good chance of knowing what caused her loss.

The story enclosed in this web site is an account of the AE1's career. From the laying down of her keel at Vickers, Son and Maxim in 1913, her service in Rabaul, the possible reasons for her total loss and current efforts for her re-discovery are told.

This web site is the product of many years research and gathering of material related to the AE1. I take this opportunity to thank all of the people who have helped with this project and provided support over the years.
 

Peter Richardson 2004