From 1–24 September 2007, the AE2 Commemorative Foundation Ltd (AE2CF), in conjunction with the Turkish Institute of Nautical Archaeology (TINA), mounted an expedition named ‘Silent Anzac’ to the Sea of Marmara, to conduct a survey of the wreck of AE2. The aim of the expedition was to conduct a Maritime Archaeological Assessment (MAA) to allow the governments of Turkey and Australia to make informed decisions about the future of the wreck.
The planning for the expedition took nine months. In February 2007, a Mission Rehearsal training exercise was conducted in the deep waters off the Victorian coast. The 13 divers and two film crew had the chance to dive with technical equipment on a scuttled J-class submarine in deep water, as well as to discuss details of the mission with the scientists, marine archaeologists and engineers who would make recommendations as to whether the AE2 is intact enough to attempt to raise her to the surface or if she should be left in her silent resting place.
In September 2007, the team made up of divers, scientists, administrators, documentary-makers and supporters from all around Australia gathered in Karabiga, Turkey. On 18 September, Peter Briggs, Chairman of the AE2CF, was able to sum up the events of the expedition as follows:
For eight days the team has awakened to the pre-dawn call to the faithful, operations have ended only when the diving bottles had been recharged – normally in the early hours of the cool autumn nights. Today, the Australian team of 21 is cleaning and packing its complex diving and technical equipment for transport back to Australia. The objectives set for the AE2 Expedition have been achieved. The data collected from the World War I Australian submarine AE2 and the environment surrounding her will enable us to evaluate its residual strength and recommend practical option for its future preservation.
Filming the AE2
[Firstly, a] video camera was inserted into the submarine’s control providing the first images since her valiant crew scurried to safety 92 years ago, and the mystery of its remarkably good state of preservation has been unravelled. Taking advantage of particularly calm weather and good underwater visibility, one team of AE2 divers descended early on Tuesday morning and rigged the drop camera above the conning tower hatch before commencing their two-hour trip back to the surface, entailing eight long decompression stops over 73 metres of depth. Immediately the images started to flow back to the control display manned by the scientists from the Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO) who have developed the camera and its control arrangements. A second team of divers descended into the depth for their 35-minute time on the bottom. Avoiding ‘Bunts’, the conger eel who had been watching developments from his vantage point at the upper conning tower hatch, they lowered the camera past the obstructions of the ladders and lower hatch into the centre of AE2’s control room. The water is clear and pristine, with little silt or growth evident on the multitude of gauges and equipments. The view is a narrow field – through an underwater keyhole – a time machine to take us back to AE2 92 years ago. The jubilation in the control centre on the diving support ship was discernible in the hasty reports relayed ashore to the headquarters in Karabiga by UHF radio – ‘We’re in!‘ Reviewing footage it is obvious that we have some amazing shots. When combined with the computer generated imagery of the AE2 control room, developed by the team of DSTO scientists, and a portfolio of excellent black and white photographs from E-class submarines, we have a unique insight into the heart of AE2.
The second breakthrough came from on-site analysis of the concretion samples obtained from the hull of the submarine and samples from the silt surrounding her. These have yielded the secret of AE2’s relatively good condition. It appears that the hull has been submerged in silt on four occasions during its 92 years on the bottom. The fin has stayed above the silt line, keeping the interior free from silt. The low oxygen environment of the silt and burial of the submarine in its protective coating explains the slow corrosion rate of the hull.
Diving at this depth is a serious business and not without risks. A serious diving incident occurred on Wednesday afternoon resulting in the near drowning of one of the team’s divers. Shortly after the two divers entered the water to dive on the submarine, it became apparent that one was in difficulties with equipment. The second diver provided support and air from his own emergency supply. Two surface support divers standing by on the diving support vessel entered the water and brought the unconscious casualty to the ladder … hoisting (him) onboard. The embarked medical staff immediately began resuscitation and succeeded in reviving and stabilising the casualty. The pre-planned emergency procedures for a medical evacuation were implemented and proved highly effective. The Turkish Navy quickly coordinated … a high speed Coastguard cutter, a Turkish Navy helicopter and a waiting ambulance to convey the casualty to hospital. Although this incident could have had very serious consequences, this was avoided by the rapid and highly effective response by the expedition team and the Turkish authorities. Happily, the casualty has recovered well and was discharged from hospital on Monday and plans to rejoin the team prior to their departure on Wednesday.
Tomorrow the team will complete their packing and farewell the many newly made friends in the little fishing village of Karabiga in Turkey where the Expedition was based for the last ten days. A fitting end to a joint Turkish and Australian expedition, made possible by the Commonwealth Government and Australian industry sponsors, to record and tell the story of the brave and daring action of the crew of the Australian submarine AE2 – Australia’s ‘Silent Anzac’.
Source: Peter Briggs, Chairman: AE2 Commemorative Foundation Ltd., 18 September 2007
Mission Rehearsal and Training Exercise, Queenscliff 04-07 Feb 2007: Report of Activities