- Smythe, D.H.D., AO, Commodore, RAN
- Early warships, WWI operations
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Australia I, HMAS Sydney I, HMAS Parramatta I, HMAS AE2, HMAS AE1, HMAS Encounter I, HMAS Warrego I, HMAS Yarra I
- October 1977 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
Stoker’s plan, as he says in his book, was ‘to enter the Strait after the moon had set, and proceed slowly along on the surface – slowly, so that our wash would not attract attention from the shore; and on the surface, so as to conserve electric power. We hoped in this manner to complete some miles without being discovered by the enemy. Then, at the break of day, we would dive.‘
She moved in at seven knots, against the strong current, watching the Turkish searchlights sweep the waters ahead. As she approached the big light at Kaphez, it suddenly went out, and she crept past with a sigh of relief. Suddenly the light came on again, astern of her, and its beam came sweeping round towards her. She dived and, as she did so the shaft to the foremost diving rudders (or hydroplanes) broke. Frustrated she had to turn, not without difficulty, and withdraw to rejoin the fleet for repairs. These fortunately only took a few hours.
That evening the flagship, Queen Elizabeth, arrived at the anchorage, on the eve of the landings that were to take place next morning. The Admiral sent for a very disconsolate Stoker. ‘Bad luck,’ he said, ‘but you did well to get so far. Try again tomorrow. If you succeed in getting through there is nothing we will not do for you.’
So off they went again at 0300 on Sunday, 25th April 1915, only hours before the famous landings took place all along the Gallipoli Peninsula.
Again the searchlights sought them out. Again they crept past safely until, at about 0430, they were sighted and fired upon near Suandere River. They submerged and proceeded at dead slow speed at seventy feet.
For nearly an hour they moved blindly through a minefield, with the rappings and scrapings on the hull, of the mooring wires held taut by the mines overhead, seeming almost continuous. Getting at last through that obstacle Stoker, at 0600, went up to periscope depth and raised his periscope. It was immediately sighted from the forts and fired upon. Through the periscope, as he says in his book, ‘the water, lashed by shot and shell into white spray, caused a curiously pretty effect, but added little to the ease of taking observations, whilst some sounds as of hailstones were presumably caused by shrapnel failing through the water onto the boat’s deck’.
Incidentally, there were no fewer than 107 guns in the forts spread along the channel, ranging from 8 to 14 inches in calibre.
Abreast Chanak he again took a look, and saw an old battleship, a small cruiser and, higher up the Narrows, a number of destroyers and small craft approaching at great speed. At a range of 300 yards he fired a torpedo at the small craft, diving at once to avoid a destroyer trying to ram on the port side. The noise of the destroyer passing close overhead was temporarily blotted out by the noise of the torpedo hitting.
To avoid running into the sinking cruiser he altered course a point to starboard. Three minutes later he altered back to port and started to come up to periscope depth, but as he did so he hit bottom and slid up on to a bank to a depth of only ten feet, with most of his conning tower above water. He saw through the periscope that he was close in under the guns of the fort on the eastern shore. ‘As I looked,’ he said, ‘one of the guns fired, apparently right into my eye, and seemingly so close that I involuntarily jumped back from the eyepiece.’ The fort concerned was Andolu Medjidieh, equipped with three 11 inch guns and a number of 10 and 6 inch guns, and AE2 was only 200 yards from it.
Somehow they avoided being hit, and after five minutes they were able to back off into deeper water, where they straightened up for another go, with ‘propellers of ships rushing overhead,’ only to run aground again almost at once, this time in eight feet of water on the western shore. The current swung the submarine round so that she was pointing downhill, as it were. She went full ahead on both motors and, after four minutes of this, all the time being fired at by a gunboat and two destroyers, somehow bumped her way off into 80 feet again. She had been so close to the Fort, Derina Bernu, on that western shore, that the guns there could not depress enough to hit her.
Shortly afterwards AE2 again rose to periscope depth near Nagara Point. Every time she showed her periscope the destroyers tried to ram her, and every time she eluded them.
Past Nagara Point the Strait widened, the navigation became less tricky and the need to come up to look less pressing. For three-quarters, of an hour she ran up the Strait at seventy feet, but when next she came up she found to her horror that there were still just as many small craft all around her, and in addition two tugs towing a wire snare between them, right across her track.
She dived again and went off at right angles towards a shallow bank half a mile from the Asiatic shore, where she bottomed at 70 feet. There she waited all day. Ships passed over her several times, obviously looking for her, and once at about noon she was hit by a heavy object being towed along the bottom, but eventually all was quiet and she was able to surface at 2100 (after being submerged for over sixteen hours) to charge her batteries, mercifully with no ships in sight.
She signalled the fleet to tell them of her success, in a message that proved to have tremendous effects.
I’d like to divert for a moment, to have a look at what was happening at this time on the other side of the Peninsula.