Sub­ma­rine he­roes emerge from the shad­ows

The Weekend Australian - Review - - BOOKS - Ross Fitzger­ald

Stoker’s Sub­ma­rine: Aus­tralia’s Dar­ing Raid on the Dar­danelles on the Day of the Gal­lipoli Land­ing, An­zac Cen­te­nary Edi­tion By Fred and El­iz­a­beth Brench­ley Aus­tralia Teach­ers of Me­dia, $280pp, $49.95 THE lit­tle-known sto­ries of war are an im­por­tant part of our on­go­ing fas­ci­na­tion with the two global con­flicts of the 20th century. The ad­ven­tures of an Aus­tralian sub­ma­rine in the Dar­danelles on the eve of the Gal­lipoli cam­paign is one such story, and in Fred and El­iz­a­beth Brench­ley’s hands it is a rip­ping yarn in­deed.

The story be­gins on the morn­ing of April 25, 1915, the day the An­zacs landed at Gal­lipoli. On that day a debonair, pipe-smok­ing Ir­ish­man, Lieu­tenant-Com­man­der Dacre Stoker, cap­tained the Aus­tralian sub­ma­rine HMAS AE2 on a mis­sion to breach the treach­er­ous Dar­danelles Strait. The ob­jec­tive was to dis­rupt Turk­ish sup­ply lines from the rear.

Against the odds, in the face of dan­ger­ous cur­rents, com­pli­cated mine­fields and with­er­ing en­emy fire, Stoker and his men man­aged to ful­fil “their kamikaze or­ders” to “run amok” in the treach­er­ous nar­rows. Af­ter suc­ceed­ing in pass­ing through the straits, the AE2’s ex­ploits in­cluded sink­ing a Turk­ish cruiser and mak­ing life some­what dif­fi­cult for other en­emy ships. This was some­thing that Bri­tish and French subma-

May 17-18, 2014 rines had been un­able to achieve.

Then, on April 30, 1915, Stoker’s sub­ma­rine was hit by the Turk­ish tor­pedo boat Sul­tan­hisar. Stoker is­sued or­ders to scut­tle the AE2 in the Sea of Mar­mara — where it still lies at the bot­tom of the ocean — and all hands were or­dered on deck and then over­board. The en­tire crew of 32 (three of­fi­cers and 29 sea­men) sur­vived to be taken on board the Sul­tan­hisar on the or­ders of its thor­oughly de­cent com­man­der, Cap­tain Ali Riza. Ac­cord­ing to his bi­og­ra­phy, Riza told his crew “to re­mem­ber their duty to hu­mankind by pick­ing up all the sur­vivors and mak­ing sure no one was treated badly”. As Stoker strug­gled in the wa­ter clutch­ing his dis­patch case, the Ir­ish cap­tain saw that his beloved sub­ma­rine had slipped be­neath the sur­face.

The wreck was found in 1997 and af­ter­wards the AE2 be­came per­haps the most tan­gi­ble relic of Aus­tralian naval ac­tion at Gal­lipoli, which had be­come an al­most en­tirely army af­fair. In­trigu­ingly, un­til rel­a­tively re­cently the re­mark­able achieve­ments of Stoker and his re­doubtable crew re­mained un­sung, even in Aus­tralia. In part this was be­cause for 3½ years all 32 men of the AE2 lan­guished as pris­on­ers of war in Turkey, mostly in the re­mote Tau­rus Moun­tains, and hence were out of ac­tion and un­able to tell their story.

In fact it was not un­til 2001, when jour­nal­ist Fred Brench­ley pub­lished the first edi­tion of this fine book, that the dar­ing ex­ploits of the AE2 were widely ex­posed. Be­fore then, few were aware an Aus­tralian sub­ma­rine had played any part in our­cam­paign at Gal­lipoli.

It is pleas­ing to re­port that this thor­oughly re­vised and up­dated edi­tion of Stoker’s Sub­ma­rine does full jus­tice to what was pro­claimed at the time as “the finest feat in (our) sub­ma­rine his­tory”. Brench­ley died in 2009 and this edi­tion was com­pleted by his widow. It places the ex­ploits of the AE2 in proper his­tor­i­cal per­spec­tive as we pre­pare to com­mem­o­rate the cen­te­nary of the out­break of the Great War.

With a half-Bri­tish, half-Aus­tralian crew, and built in Eng­land, the AE2 was one of Aus­tralia’s two sub­marines bought be­fore World War I. On Septem­ber 14, 1914, its sis­ter sub­ma­rine, AE1, mys­te­ri­ously dis­ap­peared, los­ing all hands, off Rabaul in what was then Ger­man New Guinea. This tragedy did not di­min­ish the enthusiasm for cap­tain­ing the AE2 of Stoker, who was born in Dublin on Fe­bru­ary 2, 1885.

Led by Stoker, the AE2 pulled off one of the most re­mark­able feats in sub­ma­rine his­tory, one that may have been for­got­ten with­out this im­por­tant book. Stoker wrote in his diary at the time that “no cap­tain has ever been more proud of the men un­der his com­mand than I was whilst com­mand­ing that Aus­tralian sub­ma­rine”. De­spite all the dan­gers and de­pri­va­tions fac­ing its heroic crew, dur­ing its rel­a­tively short life, the AE2 achieved some­thing quite ex­tra­or­di­nary. And the tac­ti­cal and sym­bolic im­por­tance of its breach­ing of the nar­rows should never be un­der­es­ti­mated.

Lieu­tenant-Com­man­der Dacre Stoker, who cap­tained the Aus­tralian sub­ma­rine HMAS AE2

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