Singapore to Sydney
Shipping incident near Lombok

HMAS Sydney and the two 'E' boats departed at 0830 hours on the 28th April. It was to be exactly a year later that the AE2 became the first submarine to break through the Dardanelles water and shore defenses into the Sea of Mamora. (Marmara)

From Singapore, the vessels headed through the Straits of Banka and crossed the equator at 1855 hours that day. Now heading south, they were looking forward to more temperate climates.

At noon on Monday the 27th, HMAS Sydney dropped anchor about a mile out from Tanjung Priok (Jakarta) and the submarines tied alongside.
  A number of submariners went ashore knowing that they had to be back onboard by 2300 hours that evening. They found Batavia (Jakarta) more interesting than they had hoped, even though they were having communication problems, not being able to converse in either Bahasa or Dutch languages.

By 1800 hours on the 28th, with AE1 in tow, the vessels had departed Tanjung Priok for Port Darwin.
At 0130 hours on Friday, May 1st, AE2's tow rope parted. So began a short series of events that nearly spelled disaster for the two boats, and a hair-raising experience for HMAS Sydney. The tow rope had parted in the notorious Sunda Strait, which runs between Sumatra and java.

The AE2 drifted out of control in the current straight toward the AE1. The HMAS Sydney, with the tow rope wrapped around a rudder lost steerage way until corrected at the bridge.

The AE2 captain had this to say,

"An incident occurred after leaving Batavia which almost resulted in a calamity. The cruiser Sydney (afterwards to become famous as destroyer of the Emden) was escorting the two submarines for the remainder of the trip to Australia. After proceeding along the north coast of Java, we turned to the southward into the entrance of the narrow Lombok Strait. There is a very strong current in this neighbourhood, which runs directly across the course of a vessel passing through the strait, and which calls for much extra caution in navigation - especially as there are no lights on land to assist in fixing the position of the ship.

It was midnight, pitch dark, cloudy and moonless, when we approached the southern and most narrow part of the strait; and the cross-current was causing swirls and eddies in the water which made steering a good course very difficult. AE1 was being towed by the Sydney, with AE2 following astern of AE1 and out to port of her.

In a particularly violent eddie AE1 swung off so suddenly and jerkily to port that the tow-rope parted, leaving her drifting right across AE2's course, little more than a boat's length away. In AE2 we immediately put the helm hard a-starboard so as to pass ahead of her; but, being caught by the eddie, the boat did not diverge one iota from her course, and held straight on for the centre of the other submarine.

It looked as if a collision was absolutely inevitable, as there could be no hope of the engines answering to the order of "Full speed astern" before the boats struck. As a last resort, we in AE2 put the helm hard over the other way; a lucky swirl caught the boat's nose at the same moment, helping to swing her off to starboard - and we whizzed past AE1's stern at a distance of some three feet.

This, of course, all happened in much less time than it takes to tell; and, had AE2 run straight into the other boat at the speed she was then going, certainly AE1 and probably AE2 would have gone immediately to the bottom with all hands, A close shave.
AE2's helm was then found to be jammed and we proceeded to drift towards Lombok Island at a rocky and steep-to point.

I signaled AE1 saying we were not under control and might want assistance; only to receive the reply that she, too, was out of control. The Sydney was too far off to help. By moving our propellers now ahead and now astern, according as the submarine's stern or head swung towards the land, we just managed to keep clear of the rocks until the helm was again working properly.

AE1 got under control at the same time, and we both passed ahead of the Sydney and stopped to wait for her. After a time she got under way, and shaped a course to pass a hundred yards off us in AE2. She was, perhaps, two hundred yards away when, to our alarmed surprise, she altered course and came straight at us.

By going full speed ahead immediately, we got out of the way in time to avoid being run down, but not by a sufficient margin to make one feel very comfortable. It then transpired the broken tow-rope was foul of the Sydney's rudder."

At 1000 hours HMAS Sydney's ship's divers cleared the obstruction, and by 1330, AE2 was again in tow. Rough weather was experienced while passing through the Rotti Strait with the sea washing over the bridge of the AE2, and it is quite possible that it was this rough sea that washed AE1's wooden wireless telegraph mast overboard.

On the 5th, the tow to AE2 was let go at 0700 hours, and the boats were anchored off Palmeston by 0830 hours. Leave was given from 1630 hours that day until 0700 hours of the following morning, and nearly all of the crew took the opportunity of stepping ashore onto Australian soil for the first time.

"Australia Welcomes Her Defenders" was proudly displayed and everyone adjourned to a hotel where thirsts were quenched and the submariners were told that a day of Sports and an Evening of concert had been arranged for the next day.

Wednesday, May 6th, saw the boats open for visitors, and a Royal Salute was fired from HMAS Sydney to commemorate the Anniversary of Ascension Day. By 1400, the Sports day had begun with about 300 sailors taking part. In the evening the concert was held, after which the Aboriginals treated the sailors to a corroboree. he evening's entertainment being completed, the sailors gave a hearty three cheers for the locals and returned to the boats.

They were underway by 0730 the following morning on their way to Cairns via Thursday Island, in the Torres Strait, which was reached at noon on Sunday, 10th May. AE1 was still under tow when a motor launch arrived and delivered mail. By 1600 hours, the vessels were heading inside the Great Barrier Reef that runs down the eastern coastline of Australia.

Good speed was made to Cairns and anchors were dropped at 2130 on Friday 15th. Next morning saw the boats anchored 200 yards from the pier at 1030. A number of men went on an organised tour of sight-seeing to Barrow Falls. The rest taking refuge in the Mining Exchange Hotel.

The vessels left Cairns on Monday, 18th May, for Sydney with ample time to reach the harbour by noon of May 23rd. However, violent storms with raging winds and hail slowed progress and as the seas became worse, refuge was taken inside Moreton bay and anchors were dropped for the night. Weighing anchor the next morning, the boats headed into the gale and finally on Saturday the 23rd, the weather moderated.

The small fleet arrived in Sydney Harbour at 0600 hours on Sunday 24th, May and berthed at garden Island "having completed a most wonderful journey of endurance, both for men and engines."8