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
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
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
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