Turkey Expedition: 1998

In October 1998, a second expedition to Turkey and to the wreck of the AE2 was organised. It consisted of Tim Smith, one of the Heritage Office’s (NSW) maritime archaeologists, and an Australian team led by Tim Smith and Mark Spencer.

The following description of the expedition was written by Tim Smith.

In Istanbul we met our Turkish hosts led by Mr Selçuk Kolay. Mr Kolay, Director of the Rahmi M. Koç Museum in Istanbul, had discovered the wreck site after searching for the elusive remains since 1995. Earlier last year, the Australian team had inspected another wreck located nearby which proved to be the remains of a coastal steamer and not the AE2 (for a report on this expedition, see the April issue of Heritage NSW).

After traveling by boat to Karaburun Point, we reached the AE2‘s original rendezvous point, the last known location of the submarine. It was here in 1915 that AE2 encountered an Ottoman torpedo boat and crew members were forced to abandon the submarine, but not before deliberately scuttling it. Now, 83 years later, the search team donned dive gear and entered the water over the wreck.

Encumbered by up to 50 kilograms of mixed gas tanks and other equipment, the divers descended into the completely dark depths below. The only illumination was by torch light and the demanding depth of 73 metres meant that only ten minutes could be spent on the bottom. The divers had a slow 80-minute ascent to the safety of the surface.

For those of us waiting on the research vessel, the scene when the divers broke surface was one of jubilation and emotion. Landing near the conning tower, the divers had been able to confirm that the wreck was indeed the Australian submarine. Even the conning tower hatch by which the crew made their escape was still ajar. Boat horns echoed around the Sea of Marmara as the team signalled the success of the moment. The mystery of the AE2 was finally solved.

After over 80 years submerged, the submarine’s hull is in amazing condition. Lying upright on the sea floor, the hull is intact; the torpedo tubes, hydroplanes and propellers are clearly visible.

Work will now concentrate on the analysis of the discovery. I am completing an archaeological report for the Navy, based on the findings of the project’s divers. This involves using photographs taken by expedition director, Dr Mark Spencer, video footage and on-site measurements to provide an assessment of the site and to develop possible management models to ensure the long-term survival of the remains. This work will continue with discussion between the Heritage Office NSW and the Australian and Turkish governments.

The partly open conning tower hatch of AE2 in 1998. This is a starboard view, so the bow is to the right. Aft periscope nearest and forward periscope also in view. ID: 071010.029. Photo courtesy of Mark Spencer

The partly open conning tower hatch of AE2 in 1998. This is a starboard view, so the bow is to the right. Aft periscope nearest and forward periscope also in view. ID: 071010.029. Photo courtesy of Mark Spencer