- Staal, A.J., BE (Hons), Sub-Lieutenant, RAN
- Ship design and development, Naval technology
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- December 1991 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
The advantages of the modern conventional submarine have been made evident with increased world interest in their manufacture. Indeed, emphasis is moving back towards the cheaper conventional submarine made highly capable through advancements in propulsion technology (eg Stirling system), combat systems and hull design. The Kockums Type 471 is a good example of such a submarine.
Now that the history of the submarine has been outlined, one can begin to relate it to the development of the Australian submarine force.
WORLD WAR ONE
Australia first ventured into the realm of submarine warfare in 1914 with the purchase of two E-type submarines, the AEI and the AE2. As previously stated, by 1914 submarines had developed into more reliable platforms, and to combat the increasing naval threat from Germany, Britain had built the ‘C’ Class and then the improved E-type. It should be noted that these designs preceded the huge K-class submersible warships.
Upon arriving in Sydney on the 24 May 1914, the AE 1 and AE2 were both overhauled at Cockatoo Island to repair defects resulting from the delivery voyage and to fit torpedo tubes. These boats displaced 725 tons (surfaced) and had a length of 181 feet. They had limited endurance under the water and the torpedoes carried were poor quality. The complement of each submarine was 35, and consisted of three Royal Navy officers with a mixture of Australian and British sailors. This represented the beginning of training for Australians in undersea warfare. The role of the submarines, as consistent with that previously discussed, was to support the allied fleet operating in the western Pacific. However, the AEI was tragically lost when it failed to surface off New Britain on 14 September 1914. It has been postulated that she sank while diving. The AE2 was then towed across the Indian Ocean and attached to the British forces involved in the Gallipoli campaign. During a delicate and hazardous operation in the Dardanelles, where she was instructed to harass Turkish traffic, the AE2 sank after numerous attacks from land and sea gunfire. The exemplary performance of the submarine’s crew most certainly had an effect in developing the traditions of teamwork and dedication seen today in Australia’s submarine force. The operation of our first two submarines in WW1 was regarded as a start in submarine operations, opening the way for further training and procurement.
THE ‘J’ AND ‘O’ CLASS SUBMARINES
In 1919, the British Admiralty donated a number of destroyers, sloops, and submarines to the fledgling Royal Australian Navy. The six submarines donated were of the ‘J’ Class type. These were designed as an ocean going submarine of length 275 feet and surfaced displacement of 1210 tons. All the boats were of poor condition and required immediate refitting in Sydney. However, the government was willing to commit itself to the establishment of a submarine base in Geelong, Victoria. The acquisition of these submarines helped form the first Australian Submarine Squadron. Within three years, all the ‘J’ Class boats had paid off due to reasons of economy. The first five were sold in 1924, and J7 in 1929. J3 and J7 are used as breakwaters in Port Phillip.
The ‘J’ boats were accompanied to Australia by the submarine depot ship, HMAS Platypus. When the ‘J’ boats were decommissioned, she operated as a destroyer tender until the implementation of the next generation of submarines into the RAN.
In 1928, a five-year construction contract was placed for two ‘O’ Class British submarines. The British now insisted that ‘colonial’ nations purchase their own naval defences, and the Australian government at the time was mindful of the poor quality ‘J’ boats donated nine years previously.
After an arduous journey, the two ‘O’ boats, Oxley and Otway, arrived in Sydney in 1929. These submarines were approximately the same size as the ‘J’ boats, however, they featured a larger deck gun and more torpedo tubes. Both boats were to be placed in reserve and transferred back to the Royal Navy in 1931 due to the effects of the worldwide economic depression.
THE K9 AND WORLD WAR TWO
During the late 1930s and early war years, the RAN realised the importance of training our personnel in the field of Anti-Submarine Warfare. A school for this purpose was built in 1938 in Sydney, however, the availability of RN submarines for practical training during this tense period was poor. A Royal Netherlands Navy submarine, N39, was bought 1943 to overcome this problem. Renamed K9, this submarine was in service for only nine months due to its high maintenance requirements. However, the K9 proved valuable as a training vessel, being manned by both Australian and British personnel.