Report released into fate of Australia’s first submarine, lost for 103 years

Published: 13 March 2018 Image credit: Department of Defence


A new report has shed light on one of Australia’s greatest naval mysteries – the fate of the HMAS AE1, Australia’s first submarine to disappear during World War 1.

The findings, which came from the expedition that located the wreck of the vessel more than a century after it went missing, indicate the HMAS AE1 was most likely lost during an underwater operation off the coast of Papua New Guinea as it returned to Rabaul.

The submarine was discovered in December last year after it disappeared near the Duke of York Islands in Papua New Guinea.

Minister for Defence Senator Marise Payne said images from the search expedition show the boat’s guardrails were stowed and the hatches appeared to be shut, indicating it was in a state for underwater operations.

“The report indicates that the AE1 was probably submerged or diving while she was returning to Rabaul, after a patrol looking for enemy activity around the Duke of York Islands, when tragedy struck,” Ms Payne said.

The Defence Minister acknowledged the efforts of the search teams Find AE1 Limited and Silentworld Foundation, saying the discovery of the long-missing vessel filled an “important gap in what was one of our most enduring naval mysteries of the First World War.”

“Through the tireless efforts of many, we have discovered the final resting place of the 35 souls who gave everything in service to the Allied cause,” Ms Payne said.

“We are pleased to be able to provide closure for the families and the entire Navy community by identifying the resting place of the lost shipmates.”

HMAS AE1 disappeared on 14 September 1914– it was the first Allied submarine to be lost in the First World War.

Last year’s successful million-dollar search operation was funded by the Australian Government, the Silentworld Foundation, the Australian National Maritime Museum and Find AE1 Ltd, and used Furgo Survery’s ‘Furgo Equator’ vessel and search technology.

Equipped with state-of-the-art gas exploration equipment, Furgo Equator – the same vessel used in the hunt for MH370 – was able to confirm HMAS AE1 had been found, more than 300 metres below the surface.

A small commemorative service was held by those on board the search vessel following the discovery of the submarine.

Ms Payne today also thanked the government of Papua New Guinea for its support during the search.