Remembering Australia’s First Submarine


By Sub-Lieutenant Jacob von Marburg

19 September 2019

While conducting survey operations off the coast of Papua New Guinea, the crew of HMAS Melville took time to commemorate the first Australian casualties of WWI and the loss of the Australian submarine AE1.

Melville’s commanding officer, Lieutenant Commander Michael Kumpis, addressed the ship’s company, and spoke of the sacrifice of AE1 and her crew, who were last seen departing Blanche Bay, Papua New Guinea, on September 14, 1914, to conduct a patrol with HMAS Parramatta (I).

She was never seen again and presumed lost at sea.

“It was honour to be in Rabaul, Papua New Guinea, to commemorate AE1 and her ship’s company for the sacrifice they made to Australia,” Lieutenant Commander Kumpis said.

“And, with the recent discovery of her wreck, hopefully it will provide answers to their families and the nation, who still mourns the loss of her courageous crew.”

September 11 marked the anniversary of the capture of the German wireless station in Bita Pika, Papua New Guinea, in 1914.

The action involved the Australian naval task group, which included HMA Ships Australia (I) and Sydney (I), and the submarines AE1 and AE2.

Lieutenant Andrew Taylor gave a speech about the fierce fighting by the Australian sailors, who were deployed on land in order to capture the wireless station.

Over the course of one day they would succeed in their mission and Australia would suffer her first casualties of the World War I.

The memorial service ended with the singing of the Naval Hymn and the reading of The Ode.

Director General Submarines, Commodore Timothy Brown RAN, and Lieutenant Commander (Retired) Jim Smail laid wreaths at the last post ceremony at the Australian War Memorial to commemorate the 105th anniversary of the loss of the 35 officers and sailors from Australia’s first submarine, HMAS AE1. Lieutenant Commander Smail is the nephew of Petty Officer Robert Smail who was part of the AE1 ship’s company when she was lost.

September 17, 2019