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Oceans: AE-2: Subsunk—Subfound

By Don Walsh

It was 24 April when the AE-2 started her run up the strait. First she passed submerged through a minefield, hearing the cables scrape along the hull. Then the sub grounded twice in water so shallow (8-10 feet) that the conning tower was exposed to intense shore fire. Later she was caught on the surface several times and driven down by fire from warships. Yet the AE-2 suffered no damage. In fact, she inflicted damage by torpedoing and sinking a small cruiser. She also fired torpedoes at a cargo ship and a gunboat; both were missed.

Early the morning of the 26 April the AE-2 passed into the Sea of Marmora. She radioed a report to the British flagship and began a deliberate show of force by surfacing and submerging in different locations to give the impression that several submarines were operating in the area. There was only one other: the E-14 had come into the sea just behind the AE-2. The two made contact, agreeing to rendezvous later; that was not to be.

While submerged, searching for targets for the four remaining torpedoes, the AE-2 suddenly broached to the surface. Desperate attempts were made to gain control as the sub alternatively plunged beyond test depth and then back to the surface. It ended when a Turkish gunboat fired three shells into the engine room. Stoker ordered his crew topside while he and his first officer scuttled the ship. At 1030 on 30 April, the AE-2 slipped into the depths. Stoker and his crew were unharmed, but became prisoners of war.

In 1997, Selcuk Kolay, director of Turkey's Kog Museum, was searching for the AE-2. Using 1915 position data from historical records, he did side-scan sonar searches of the seafloor in that part of the Sea of Marmora. A promising target was found where the AE-2 should have bottomed. After making three dives in July, he was convinced he had found the submarine. In Australia, press coverage of this historical find was exuberant.

It caught the attention of Dr. Mark Spencer, a dentist living near Sydney—arguably one of Australia's finest underwater photographers. Spencer organized a team to survey and photograph the famous wreck. Then he quickly set about solving the most difficult tasks of any expedition: finding money and getting necessary government permissions. By October 1997 the Australians were in Turkey. Kolay's Turkish team dove three times, the Australians twice, to the wreck at nearly 290 feet. Diving here required special gas mixtures and bottom time was limited. And the divers found an old steamship, not the AE-2.

But Kolay did not give up. In June 1998, he made additional surveys. Again he found a sonar target and magnetic signature that seemed to be a submarine at 240 feet. He dove to videotape his discovery. Kolay was now certain: it was the AE-2.

Organizational agonies arose again, but Spencer prevailed. In late September 1998, the team was back on site. Through 9 October the Australian-Turkish team made six difficult dives. It was definitely confirmed—this was the AE-2. "Subsunk" was now "Subfound," after 83 years on the seafloor.

The Australian Navy has an excellent website with the AE-2's history, the story of the expeditions, and related photos at http://www.navy.gov.au/9_sites/ae2/default.htm .

 

Dr. Walsh is neither marine archaeologist nor treasure hunter. He has spent the past four decades involved with design, manufacture, and operation of submersible systems. A retired naval officer (submarines) he was designated U.S. Navy deep submersible pilot #1 in the early 1970s. During 2001, in addition to Atlantic Sands, hehas participated in diving operations at the battleship Bismarck (16,000 feet) and RMS Titanic (12,500 feet). On 20 July 2001, he had lunch on board the Titanic, when the Mir 2 landed on the bridge so the sub crew could eat.

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