Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Looking beneath the surface of the Gallipoli campaign

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ABC News
September 11, 2007




Most Australians know about the Anzac campaign on the beaches of Gallipoli in 1915.

But what is sunk beneath the surface of our memories is the historic role played by a submarine, HMAS AE2.

For five days, the submarine disrupted Turkish supply lines before it was damaged by enemy fire and had to be scuttled in the Sea of Marmara.

Now 92 years on, an underwater survey has been launched, involving Australian scientists, historians, and a lot of technology, including a remotely operated camera.

This plunge into the past will help determine the wreck's future.

The AE2 was the first Allied submarine to penetrate the Dardanelles. Two previous attempts by two other submarines had resulted in their destruction, so AE2 was going into a very risky situation.

Not only were there minefields blocking the entrance to the Narrows, but there was also a large current flowing out from the Sea of Marmara.

Nevertheless, in following his instructions to create a diversion as the Australian soldiers were landing at Anzac Cove, Lieutenant-Commander Henry Stoker exposed himself in the Narrows, drew the fire of forts along the coastline, and torpedoed a Turkish ship.

The expedition's director of operations, Terry Roach, told Lateline that the AE2 led the way for "the first successful submarine campaign in history in which a series of 15 patrols by British and French submarines sank over 230 Ottoman [Turkish] ships, and completely cut the supply lines of the Ottoman forces on the Gallipoli Peninsula.".

Mr Roach says the AE2 was sunk after buoyancy problems.

"It surfaced inadvertently in front of a Turkish gunboat, and the Ottoman gunboat put three 37-millimetre shells into the engine room," he said.

"So the captain ordered abandon ship, and scuttled the submarine to prevent it falling into enemy hands.

"The crew all got out and they were rescued by the Turkish gunboat, and spent the rest of the war in captivity."

The dive survey will assess the structural integrity of the AE2's hull, so that a recommendation can be made to the Turkish and Australian governments on the future management of the wreck.

Mr Roach says there are a range of options open.

"They range from doing nothing, which is obviously highly unlikely, to a full-scale recovery," he said.

"But if it is a full-scale recovery, it will have to be carefully preserved ashore because the submarine, once it's exposed to the air, will start corroding very rapidly, much more rapidly than it has in the last 92 years at the bottom of the ocean."

The survey team has been diving for two days, and Mr Roach says the team has captured some excellent footage of the wreck.

"It still has the classic shape. I regret to say that since the last expedition in 1998, which identified it, there's been that significant damage to the casing of the submarine," he said.

"This is the superstructure which provides streamlining of the apparatus that is on outside the pressure hull.

"Fishing nets have obviously dragged at the casing and dislodged some of it, and it is markedly different from what it was before."

Mr Roach says the expedition is pivotal to raising consciousness of a little-known chapter in Australian history.

"We want all Australians to be aware of the exploits of AE2," he said.

"We would like to think that it's a tale that could rival the heroism of Simpson and his donkey, the exploits of AE2 and the crew in penetrating the Narrows and starting this campaign."


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