Running amok

The submarine AE2

Stirring up a hornets’ nest

At this point, the captain of AE2, Commander Henry Stoker, saw several Turkish cruisers at anchor and decided to ‘have a shot’. Kinder wrote:

The bow torpedo tube was got ready but just as the torpedo was discharged a mine layer steamed across the cruiser’s bows and got in our line of fire. Unfortunately for her, she stopped the torpedo. It must have been an unpleasant surprise for them so early in the morning. As soon as the torpedo was fired the captain ordered the sub down to 80ft to get away from the hornets’ nest we had stirred up on top.

But the discharge of the torpedo had affected the vessel’s compass and AE2 was 80 feet under water and running blind. Surfacing to gain bearings was too dangerous, as they were in front of the Turkish forts, but the narrows forced their hand – as the bottom was felt, AE2 rose but became stuck on a bank and surfaced right under Turkish guns.

Photograph of Lieutenant Geoffrey Haggard and Commander Henry G. Stoker of the AE2
Photograph of Lieutenant Geoffrey Haggard and Commander Henry G. Stoker of the AE2

Australian National Maritime Museum Collection

Kinder noted that in one sense they were fortunate, being so close inshore that the forts’ guns could not be successfully trained on them. With all the ballast tanks blown and the motor full speed astern, gradually AE2 bumped off the bank. The tanks were again flooded and slowly the vessel sank back down to 80 feet.

To Kinder, it had seemed AE2 had been on the surface an hour rather than just a few minutes. ‘At ordinary times I didn’t care to be down under water but I was thankful to see the gauge registering 80ft once more’.

Yet after escaping one side, and still travelling blind, AE2 careened into the opposite bank – again forcing its way off and gaining bearings before Turkish gunfire could target it. Their luck continued as the compass ‘became sensible again’ and Commander Stoker continued towards their goal of the more open Sea of Marmara.

1915 topographic map of 'the narrows' of the Dardanelles Strait showing the series of forts at this point near the town of Çanakkale
1915 topographic map of 'the narrows' of the Dardanelles Strait showing the series of forts at this point near the town of Çanakkale.

Australian National Maritime Museum

Lying low and running amok

AE2 had indeed stirred up a hornets’ nest. With an array of Turkish vessels desperately searching for it, Stoker decided to rest the vessel on the bottom. It was 8 am on Sunday morning. The crew had breakfast and some sleep, then rose for morning prayers at 11 am. Kinder wrote, ‘I dare say it was the first time prayers were read on the bottom of the sea.’

Crew of the AE2
The crew of the Australian Naval submarine AE2 grouped on the deck. The photograph was probably taken in the Gallipoli area.

Australian War Memorial, H18370

Commander Stoker decided to wait for nightfall so they might surface with less risk. Turkish vessels dragged lines searching for the submarine throughout the day. A destroyer passed only a few feet over their position – so close the AE2 crew could ‘hear the stokers opening the furnace door and shovelling coal into the fires’. Kinder continued:

There was no more sleep for us as it got on our nerves to hear the boat persistently going backwards and forwards. Once the drag hit the boat and for one awful moment we waited anxiously to see if the destroyer would stop but when we heard her continue on her way we knew the drag had not caught. If the drag had held it would have been the end of AE2 and her crew as a depth charge would most likely have been our fate.

Towards the end of the day the air inside the submarine was ‘getting thick’. AE2 had been submerged for 14 hours and carried no oxygen to renew the air.

At 10.30 pm Commander Stoker decided it was quiet enough above to continue. For Kinder, ‘action was far better than lying on the bottom imagining all sorts of things happening’. When the vessel surfaced after 18 hours submerged, the crew were joyous. ‘What a relief it was … How nice that fresh air tasted.’

AE2 in the Sea of Mamara
AE2 in the Sea of Marmara, April 1915, Charles Bryant, 1925.

Australian War Memorial, ART09016

After sitting on the surface and recharging batteries, finally, at daylight on 26 April, AE2 headed into the Sea of Marmara and a sense of security, with open water to escape in. Kinder recorded the moment:

It was a beautiful day and the Sea of Marmara was like a sheet of glass … it was lovely to sit on the saddle tanks in the sunshine … We seemed to have the Sea of Marmara to ourselves.

Now, out of the dangers of the narrows, mines, current, forts and depth charges, AE2 was in the box seat – brazenly travelling on the surface scaring off local shipping and turning back transports with enemy troops heading towards Gallipoli. Stoker had been ordered to ‘run amuck’ [sic] if he made it through.