- Fuqua Chris S and Kennett, Rick
- WWI operations
- RAN Ships
- HMAS AE1
- June 1991 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
As Stoker suggested, assuming Besant did take AE 1 on a dive for reasons known only to himself, and assuming that the diving planes jammed, AE 1 may have slipped into a deep descent and eventually crushed. This theory has been posed before to explain an accident involving the British steam-driven submarine K 5 when she disappeared near the Scilly Isles on January 20, 1921. The problem when applying K 5 theory to the disappearance of AE 1 is that wreckage from K 5 was found, along with an oil slick – clear evidence of the disaster. On the same day K 5 disappeared, her sister K 22 (formerly K 13) added further credence to the theory for K 5 accident. Participating in the same exercises as K 5, K 22 took on such an alarming bow-down angle when she dived that her skipper promptly threw the motors into reverse and blew all tanks at full pressure to get her back to the surface as quickly as possible. Assuming such an accident occurred to AE 1, the method used by K 22 to save herself would have been partially denied to the Australian boat as her starboard electric motor was out of action.
As to the lack of evidence, it must be remembered that whatever accident overtook AE 1 probably happened no later than 6 p.m. and possibly as early as 3.30 p.m. The search did not get underway until eight that night – two ships using flares and searchlights to try and cover an area of over a hundred square miles of sea. By morning the strong currents in the area had had twelve hours or more – most of them in darkness – to disperse any wreckage.
Despite her mysterious fate, AE 1 must lie somewhere in the 25 mile stretch of water between the eastern side of Duke of York Island and Rabaul Harbour, most likely at an extreme depth. If the resources of someone like Dr. Robert Ballard who found TITANIC were applied to this short strip of water, the “where” aspect of the mystery would be cleared up, though the ”why” would remain forever the secret of Lieutenant-Commander Thomas F. Besant R.N.
“To us, their companion and fellows and jesting rivals over many a mile of sea”wrote Stoker in “Straws in the Wind”, “their friends and messmates in harbour; who had daily shared with them every interest, joy and sorrow of many months crowded with incident and adventure; who were also losing, in many cases, friends of long years’ standing; whose hopes and ambitions had framed no thoughts in which AE 1 did not share with AE 2 – our loss was a loss indeed. May their rest be peaceful”.