Australia Finds Wreck of World War I Submarine, Solving a 103-Year Enigma
Posted December 21, 2017 2:16 p.m. EST
LONDON — For more than a century, the fate of Australia’s first military submarine was one of the country’s enduring maritime mysteries.
The vessel, lost off Papua New Guinea in September 1914, barely seven months after being commissioned for service, disappeared with 35 crew members during operations to capture the German Pacific colonies in World War I.
Now the puzzle is solved.
The Australian navy announced Thursday the discovery of a wreck they identified as the submarine, the AE1. The discovery was made by a survey ship, the Fugro Equator, that was used in another seemingly impossible endeavor: the search for the remains of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, which disappeared during a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on March 8, 2014.
Images captured during the expedition suggested the submarine was well preserved and still in one piece.
Nobody knows what caused the AE1 to sink in 1914 — it had not been under attack at the time — though theories include an explosion of one of its torpedoes or a failure of a high-pressure air cylinder. It was one of the first Allied vessels to vanish in the war.
The submarine was found south of the Duke of York Islands at a depth of about 1,000 feet.
The AE1 and its sister vessel, the AE2, arrived in Australia in the spring of 1914, crossing half the globe after their construction in England. They soon joined the war, but neither lasted long. After the AE1 vanished, the AE2 was reported to have been sunk by Turkish warships near the Sea of Marmara in 1915, during the Gallipoli campaign. The AE2 was discovered in 1998, about 240 feet down.
Locating the AE1 proved more difficult: 13 previous attempts failed to find its final resting place. On Thursday, the Australian defense minister, Marise Payne, hailed the successful conclusion to the search, saying “Australia’s oldest naval mystery has been solved.” She said the loss of the submarine had been “a significant tragedy felt by our nation and our allies.”
The Australian navy said that it hoped investigators would be able to piece together the causes of the submarine’s demise and that the Australian government would work with authorities in Papua New Guinea to consider “a lasting commemoration and recognition” of the crew.