The Australian submarine AE2 was sunk by a Turkish torpido boat during the Galiipoli campaign. It was recently discovered lying in soft mud on the seabed of the Marmara Sea where it has been for the past 83 years. Above is the submarine before the war in Sydney Harbour, and top is the bow as seen underwater
The friendship between Turkey and Australia was strenghtened by the incongruous conflict between these two nations during the so called "Great War" of 1914-1918. This of course, was not a battle over territory or ethnic difference. There was no historical reason to cause one party to hate the other. The Turks were defending their territory. The Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (Anzacs) that stormed the beaches at the Galiipoli Peninsula were there for a specific goal to disable the forts and gun batteries alongside the Dard anelles Strait. This would allow the passage of allied British and French ships into the Sea of Marmara with the ultimate goal of besieging Istanbul. It was hoped that removing Turkey from the war would ease the pressure on Russia, which in turn would greatly assist ending the war with Germany.
Turkey proved itself a stubborn and courageous fighter. The Dardanelles Campaign and the associated Gallipoli infantry campaign was a disastrous failure. Many British and allied ships were sunk in their efforts to penetrate the Dardanelles. The submarine, a relatively new machine in warfare, was considered to be the only hope. But the Dardanelles Strait was 64 kilometres long, had currents reaching 4 knots for the submarines to push against, was narrow and posed difficult navigational hazards, and was carefully guarded with forts and gun-boats, floating and fixed minefields, and nets. No enemy craft had traversed the Dardanelles passage for over five hundred years, and many had tried! After unsuccessful attempts by both British and French submarines, Australia's only submarine the AE2 (who had a sister submarine the AE1, which was mysteriously lost off New Guinea with all hands) was given the chance - and succeeded!
The story of the AE2's harrowing passage through the strait in the early morning hours of April 25 (the same day that troops landed on the beaches at Gal-
lipoli - 'Anzac Day'), as told by its Irish commander Henry Stoker in his later hook "Straws in the Wind", was the stuff of a great feature film. She literally scraped along the wires holding the floating mines taut at the surface, three times dragging something heavy onto her hull to the stern. Mines that miraculously did not detonate? Having extricated herself from that predicament, she then beached herself high and dry twice at the dog-leg turn in the Dardanelles passage known as the "Narrows" where the city of Qanakkale sits. Both these course deviations resulted in her being beached and well exposed right under the foundations of Turkish forts. So close was the submarine to the forts on both occasions that the Turks could not depress the guns enough to hit their target! It took four and five agonising minutes consecutively for the AE2 to wriggle herself back into deeper water and continue her course. Then, on her way along the straight part of
the passage into the Sea of Marmara, she nearly suffered irreparable damage forcing her to lie on the bottom for 13 hours. At the end of this time the stale air, which would not allow a match to be ignited, could barely sustain life. Eventually, the AE2 entered the wider Sea of Marmara and createdgeneral havoc for a further five days. She telegraphed the news of her success the SS Queen Elizabeth and this convinced the allied navies that submarines could indeed negotiate the Dardanelles. Amongst those British E-class submarines that subsequently entered the Sea of Marmara and sank many Turkish and German naval craft were the Ell commanded by Martin Dunbar-Nasmith and the E14 commanded by E.C. Boyle. News of the AE2's success reached the troops at Gallipoli and buoyed their hopes. Indeed, it is very probable that Sir Ian Hamilton's decision not to disembark the troops after the disastrous first day at Gallipoli was influenced by the AE2's success. On April 30. the AE2. intending to rendezvous with Boyle's the E14 off Karaburun Point, hit a denser layer of water at such an angle that she surfaced unintentionally. Her exposure to the surface was ill timed, and after a dangerous series of yo-yo ascents and descents beyond her tested depth of 100 feet (30 metres), a Turkish gun-boat, the Sultanhisar, was waiting for them to surface again. The Sultanhisar fired a torpedo at the AE2 which fortunately missed, but shell fire peiwtrated the pressure hull rendering the submarine useless. Twenty nine ratings (half British, half Australian) and three British officers surrendered, but not before Stoker sent the AE2 on her "last and deepest dive".
For 83 years, the AE2 lay on the soft mud floor of the Marmara largely forgotten. Her epic story and her likely impact on the perpetuation of the Gallipoli fighting has never really been appreciated by the Australian public, who mostly were not even aware of submarines' existence in the First World War. Australian Ambassador in Ankara, David Evans, ivas well aware of the AE2 however, and suggested tounderwater explorer Selcuk Kolay, director of both the
Rahmi Kog Museum in Istanbul and the Rahmi
Kog Cultural Foundation, that he search for the AE2. Mr Kolay, using
sophisticated sonar and magne-tometric apparatus, had been successful
in the location of other wartime wrecks of
significance in and around Turkey. Mr. Kolay took on this assignment,
and in 1996, located a wreck at a depth of 86 metres strongly suspected of
being the AE2. A group of Australian divers and maritime archaeologists led by
underwater explorer and part-time dentist Mark Spencer from Sydney investigated the wreck later in 1997. Their
expedition was supported by Turkish Airlines and the Royal Australian Navy and also had the blessing of the Turkish Ministry
of Culture. The wreck, much to the surprise of the joint Australian/Turkish
team, turned out to be an old steam ship which had collapsed in such a way that
she deceived everyone into thinking that she was a submarine wreck. Selguk Kolay continued his search, and in
June 1998, was rewarded with a sonar image of a wreck at 72 metres depth that
did indeed fit that of an early E-Class submarine. Aware of possible scepticism
from the 'land down-under', he sent a short video tape to Mark Spencer back in
Sydney of his dive on the wreck in company with fellow Turkish divers Kaya
Yanar and Levent Yiiksel. It was fairly
conclusive evidence that the wreck was indeed the AE2. Dr. Spencer
again organised his team and returned to Istanbul in late September that year.
With the support of the Rahmi Kog Muse-urn's considerable resources, the joint Turkish and Australian
expedition to further document and inspect the AE2 brought back irrefutable
evidence of its identity. Subsequent media interest in Australia reminded the
public of the significant role played by their navy in the legendary Gallipoli
Campaign. Similar media interest in Turkey and even larger Europe reminded
people of the potent capability of the early submarines and the fact that the
AE2 was the first enemy craft in five hundred years to successfully transit
the Dardanelles Strait.
The submarine wreck is remarkably intact, at least ostensibly. "Standing on the aft casing (deck) of the AE2 somehow brought me closer to the Anzacs at Gal lipoli than Yd been before," said Dr. Spencer. "The sub marine is more exposed above the soft mud bottom than we had expected", he said. The divers used spe cial mixtures of gases con taining helium on the bot tom and higher oxygen mixes for decompressing nearer the surface. The depths are beyond safe and effective working condi tions breathing normal air. The Rahmi Koc Museum's specially fitted-out research and salvage vessel MV Saros had a recompression chamber on board and the attendance of a well-quali fied physician, Dr. Akin Toklu. a specialist in hyperbaric medicine. More work will need to be done in examining the AE2 on the bottom before any efforts are made to raise her, which is the intention of Mr Kolay. "Once brought back to the surface, it is going to be the only WWI E-class submarine on display anywhere in the world!" he says. Whatever becomes of the AE2, her role for the future should now he clearly defined. She was once an instalment of war, a symbol of conflict between two nations that now have an amicable affinity towards each other. She should now be a symbol of that friendship and mutual co-operation so apparent at this time. Stoker and his crew would surely approve.
With the rising interest in scuba diving has come discovery of many fascinating natural and manmade sights of the underwater world. Numerous diving schools now operate along Turkey's coasts, particularly in the Aegean and Mediterranean, and during the summer months around a thousand people go diving each day. Like diving for the sport alone, as in the case of current diving and deep diving, diving to explore caves and wrecks are branches of this sport which demand special knowledge and techniques. Wreck diving gives a fascinating glimpse into history which divers alone have the chance to see for themselves. The sight of a ship, submarine or aircraft which was wrecked decades ago lying on the seabed is a thrilling experience. What
is more wrecks attract a host offish,
crustaceans and marine plants which make their home in the nooks and crannies of the wreck and on its surface, Wreck diving has become so popular around the
world, that in places where there are no convenient real wrecks, old boats are deliberately wrecked for the sport. In the United States old tanks and trucks are also sunk for the benefit of divers. In Europe the English Channel and
Baltic Sea provide plenty of sunken ships and submarines dating from World War II, but the low visibility, often
rough seas and high winds make diving here extremely difficult. In the North Aegean, however, mild temperatures
for much of the year make it far easier for even fairly inexperienced
divers to explore the large number of
British, French and Italian ships sunk around Gallipoli and the Dardanelles during World War I. Many Turkish
and foreign divers are attracted to this
area for the same reason. The Gallipoli campaign commenced on 18 March 1915 when the British navy sought to
attack Istanbul via the Çanakkale Strait, or ancient Dardanelles. When their
attempt to getthrough
the strait failed, a joint offensive by British, French and Italian fleets was launched on 25 April 1915. As well as bombard-ment from the sea, thousands I of
troops were landed on the Gallipoli peninsular.The unexpected Turkish resistance led
to the failure of this campaign, and the Allies withdrew from Gallipoli on 9
January 1916. Over that period of nearly
a year several hundred ships and boats sunk in the coastal waters between Anzac Cove and Suvla Bay on
the western side of the peninsular. These
included several war ships, landing craft, and lighters carrying troops and provisions. Today the locations of 216 of these wrecks have been
identified, the most important being the British
warships Irresistible. Triumph, Ocean, Majestic andGoliathandthe French Bouvet. In recent
years Neptun Div-ing Club has
specialised in wreck diving expeditions around Gallipoli in north-west Turkey. Their boat has an open and closed deck, a powerful engine
and facili- ties for 15 divers. Based
at Kocatepe harbour.
the boat takes just 20
minutes to an hour to
reach the diving areas, so
that two dives can be
completed in a day.
Accommodation can also
Of the ships which are at an accessible depth, one of the most important is the Lundi, which was sunk by torpedo fire on 15 April 1915. This wreck lies on sand at 21 metres in Suvla Bey, between the Büyük Kemikli and Küçük Kemikli headlands. Despite the intervening 81 years, this cargo ship carrying supplies and ammunition is largely intact and is home to a wide variety of marine life. The spaces between the sandy bottom and the ship's hull are a favourite haunt for lobsters and other crustaceans. On the deck just in front of the bridge is a colony of conger eels up to one metre in length. The hatch covers have rotted away giving easy access to the hold towards the bow. and inside are shoals of bream and goby. The iron beams of the hold are covered with pink and yellow sponges. The enclosed spaces are inhabited by corb fish (Corvina nigra).
The British warship HMS Majestic sank at rightangles to the shore in Morto Cove, so while its bow lies in 18 metres of water, its stern lies on sand at a depth of 29 metres. In the 1960s divers unfortunately dismantled the most interesting sections of the wreck, but the crow's nest can still be seen lying 10 metres off. There is a cannon on the deck which is so encrusted with barnacles that it has grown into the structure. Large numbers of bream, dentex and other fish frolic happily in the interior sections which are inaccessible to
A knowledge of lighters is useful for anyone investigating the wrecks around Gallipoli. These were sheet iron boats about 20 metres in length used by the British fleet to cany provisions and landing troops between their base on Gökçeadi (Imroz) and Gallipoli. Since they were open many of them were sunk by gunfire or storms, and several are to be seen at depths of 28 to 30 metres. A lighter lying off Anzak Cove west of Kocatepe harbour is one of those most often visited by divers, both because it is within easy reach and because of its proximity to the other wrecks in Suvla Bay. Two other lighters at a depth of 30 metres and 15 metres apart lying parallel to the southern shore of Morto Cove provide interesting dives. One was carrying a wheeled steam boiler which now lies on its side in the sand on the port side of the bow. Shoals of liche he (Turkish akya). a large silver fish with a dark back often exceeding 1.5 metres in length, are one of the main attractions of the lighter wrecks. These curious and lovely fish swim to meet divers and circle around them. They are sensitive to sound, and if divers tap their diving knives on metal as they swim, the liche will rush out to investigate the intruders.
Another interesting wreck is a steam ship in Suvla Bay near Büyük Kemikli headland. Lying at 15 metres and largely buried under sand, the most notable feature of this wreck is its thickly armoured steam boiler which exploded when the ship sunk and broke into three sections. The proximity of this wreck to the shore in shallow water means that even inexperienced divers are able to explore it. The experience of witnessing historical evidence which divers alone can reach, combined with many varieties of marine creatures in their natural habitat is a fascinating one, and brings both ama teurs and professionals back to this area time after time.