Global Affairs April 27, 2024 by

Hasan Sevilir Aşan

The tragic end of the Anzac submarine

The AE2 submarine sank deep into the Sea of Marmara when Captain Stoker (uncertain cause, possibly mechanical failure) opened the pressurized water valves while the vessel was being overtaken by the Turkish Sultanhisar torpedo boat.

The AE2, manned by an Australian and British crew, was the first Allied Powers navy ship to penetrate the Sea of Marmara during the Dardanelles Naval Battles. Its mission was to disrupt the Ottoman navy and sever supply routes, thereby hindering logistical support to Mustafa Kemal at the Gallipoli front.

“Anzac” commonly refers to the Australian and New Zealand military units attached to the British armies in World War I. The AE2 was part of the world’s largest multinational navy, assembled by the British with aspirations of capturing Istanbul and linking up with Russia in warmer waters. Anzac forces sent from distant shores to Gallipoli, aimed to invade a land unfamiliar to them, yet many would never return home.

When the Allied Powers’ naval operations to capture Istanbul via the Dardanelles failed, they shifted their strategy to land operations.

On the morning of April 25, 1915, Anzac soldiers landed at a bay in Gallipoli, later named ANZAC Cove, where they faced heavy casualties against a defence front orchestrated by Mustafa Kemal.

AE2’s Mission

The AE2 submarine, belonging to the Royal Australian Navy, was notable for being the first Allied ship to navigate the Sea of Marmara during the Dardanelles battles. As the ANZAC landing commenced, the AE2 emerged in the Marmara Sea, aiming to disrupt Ottoman supply lines with harassing fire.

However, the AE2’s mission was short-lived. After just a few days, it surfaced (likely due to mechanical problems) and was captured by the Sultanhisar torpedo boat. While the entire crew was taken aboard by Captain Ali Rıza Bey, Captain Stoker (cause unclear) caused the submarine to sink by opening the pressurized water valves. The Sultanhisar’s engagement is chronicled in Turkish maritime history as the first successful “anti-submarine warfare operation” using a torpedo boat.

Notably, the AE2 did not inflict any fatal damage on Turkish forces nor suffer any casualties of its own crew (during the encounter).

The submarine’s wreckage was discovered 83 years later, in 2007, lying 72 meters beneath the surface off the coast of Kara Biga. Discussions continue regarding the fate of the wreck, with proposals ranging from raising it for exhibition to preserving it as an underwater museum.

Labour Camps

The 32 military crew members captured from the AE2 were initially detained in prisoner-of-war camps in Istanbul and Afyonkarahisar before some were transferred to the Adana Belemedik Labour Camp. There, they laboured on the Taurus Mountains tunnels of the Baghdad Railway, under German construction.

It is recorded that, aside from three British and one Australian soldier who perished due to accidents or illness in the camps, all prisoners were released at the end of World War I in 1918.

One of the soldiers who perished at the Belemedik Camp was the Australian prisoner of war, Michael Williams. He passed away in 1916 at the age of 22 during a typhoid epidemic, and his burial site in Belemedik remains unidentified.

In memory of the AE2 Submarine and its crew’s role in the Gallipoli Campaign, Australian ANZAC authorities have established memorials at naval museums in Sydney, Albany, Dunkeld, Istanbul, and Çanakkale. Additionally, a memorial for Williams has been erected in Dunkeld, his birthplace, and Australian officials have submitted a diplomatic request to install a memorial plaque in Belemedik, where he died.

In 2017, with backing from the Friends of Gallipoli Association in Australia and Adana businessmen, a plaque relief was crafted in Melbourne and sent to Adana.

The peace plaque relief, commemorating the tragic fate of the Anzac submarine and its crew, is presently exhibited at the Adana Journalists Association while awaiting official authorization for installation in Belemedik.

About the author

Hasan Sevilir Aşan

Hasan Sevilir Aşan