Portsmouth to Singapore

The Royal Australian Navy finally accepted AE1 and AE2 from Vickers, by commissioning them at Portsmouth as tenders to HMAS Penguin under Navy Order 36, on Saturday, 28th February 1914.

AE1 under Lieutenant-Commander Thomas Fleming BESANT, and AE2 under Lieutenant Henry H G D STOKER.

At 0730 hours on the bleak and overcast morning of Monday, 2nd March, the submarines left Portsmouth in the company of the Light Cruiser 'Eclipse'


HMS Eclipse - captained by Francis H. Mitchell - was to escort the two boats to Ceylon (Sri Lanka). HMS Eclipse carried spare relief crews for HMS Yarmouth, now stationed in Colombo, spare crews for the submarines and related ordinance. Her main task was to alternatively tow AE1 and AE2 during the open sea voyages and allow her crews maintenance time while under tow. The schedule issued by the Admiralty allowed three days in each port, to facilitate maintenance, but this proved to be a little short.

After completing final preparations, the three vessels left a bleak and overcast Portsmouth at 0730 hours on Monday, 2nd March 1914. Tuesday, 3rd March saw the trio sailing in good weather through the Bay of Biscay, when on the 4th, just clear of the Bay, at 1700 hours - the AE2 lost the first of two propeller blades. This was a blade from the port propeller boss. the vibration was so bad, AE2 was taken in tow by Eclipse.

They arrived in Gibraltar at 1400 hours on Friday, 6th March.
By 1500 hours, a ship's diver had surveyed the damage and reported a blade missing. The AE2 was then booked into the dock for Monday, 9th, with chocks and shores being altered and made ready.
At 2000 hours on Monday night, the job was complete with the spare port propeller in place. The crew had a quiet beer ashore and the two boats, with Eclipse were leaving Gibraltar for Malta at 2300 hours.

The boats berthed in Valetta Harbour alongside the 'Old Cruiser' (a receiving or overflow ship) at 2100 on Friday, 13th March. The following day was shore leave for a number of the crew and John Marsland, an engine room artificer on AE2, with a number of mates spent the day traveling to Citta Vacchia, sight seeing the churches, convents and catacombs before returning to Valetta.

Leaving Malta at 1730 on Monday, 16th, with AE2 on a tow line from Eclipse, all went well until the tow parted for the first time at 0300, Wednesday, 18th. It parted again at 0930 that same morning, much to the engineers' chagrin as minor repairs had been commenced on the engines. The parts were replaced and both AE1 and AE2 continued under their own power until AE1 was taken in tow at 0700 hours on the 19th. AE1 was cast off just short of Port Said, Aden, and the small fleet arrived at 1800, Friday, 20th March.

Next morning saw crew members ashore for exercise and sight-seeing. That night was spent in a hotel being back onboard the submarines by 0700.

On Monday, at 0430, AE1 and AE2 cast off from Eclipse and entered the Suez Canal, taking eight and a half hours through the canal and tying up in Suez Harbour. The only mishap being the second coxswain of AE1, ............... falling overboard to be picked up by some passing Arabs.

The three vessels left Suez at 1000 hours, Tuesday, sailing through the Red sea for Aden. Understandably, the heat inside the boats was almost unbearable with 50C being recorded in the engine room. Awnings were rigged on deck to provide some relief. In his voyage summary Lieutenant-Commander Besant commented on the excessive battery temperatures.

Awaiting the arrival of the small fleet in Colombo, Ceylon was the HMS Yarmouth. The next few days were taken up with the transfer of men and equipment - with the returning sailors aboard HMS Eclipse having the widest smiles.

Much time was spent in Colombo by the submariners of the AE1 and AE2. The exotic sights and smells of Colombo were a fore taste of what they could expect as they passed through the Far East on their way to Australia via Singapore and Batavia. Their time spent in Colombo helped heal the depression of the nine day sail from Aden.

HMS Yarmouth took AE1 in tow, and once again the erstwhile submariners were on their way to Sydney. Proceeding out of Colombo Harbour at 1800 hours on Tuesday, 14th April, all three vessels arrived without incident at Singapore roads during the early morning of the 21st. Miles covered 1,505.

The crews were soon ashore - after making the boats presentable for inspection - as an all night leave had been granted. The submariners were soon in awe of Singapore's diverse culture mixing, and taking in all the sights, including the Botanic Gardens and Chinatown by night.

They quickly made friends and had dinner and drinks at the Engineers mess. These same engineers organised a Whist Drive and a dance for the crews of the two boats on the night prior to their departure for Batavia.

The Straits Times Newspaper (Singapore) for April 21st 1914, gave the submarines a fair write up under the sub-heading "Record Voyage of Australian Craft".  HMAS Sydney, a cruiser, had been in Singapore for several days awaiting the arrival of the submarines.

Contrary to the article stating that the submarines had "made the voyage from home under their own motive power" and "They have guns on disappearing mountings," it otherwise contained useful facts, of interest to the general public and naval buffs.