Sea of Marmara

I had no intelligence as to the nature of ship likely to be met with ... I considered that until another submarine joined me in the Sea of Marmora, it was necessary to exercise great care in the expenditure of torpedoes. I therefore decided not to fire unless I was certain of troops being on board...

Lieutenant Commander Henry (H.G.D.) Stoker, Commander, Submarine AE2 {AWM: 36/49]

Flat calm days and moonlight nights reduce a submarine’s natural defence, her invisibility.[1]

Lieutenant Commander Charles G. Brodie RN

Of AE2’s entry into the Sea of Marmara on the morning of 26 April, 1915, crewman Stoker Petty Officer Henry (J.E.) Kinder wrote:

It was a beautiful day and the Sea of Marmara was like a sheet of glass and after the weather we had been experiencing, it was lovely to sit on the saddle tanks in the sunshine. Just near the town of Gallipoli there are several forts which opened fire on us, but it was long distance shooting and we kept out of range. AE2 was now on the surface and running on engine power as we seemed to have the Sea of Marmara to ourselves.[AWM:PRO1466]

Picture of Henry James Elly Kinder
Kinder: AE2 in the Sea of Marmara [1/3]
[AWM: PR01466]
Picture of Able Seaman John Harrison Wheat
Wheat: AE2 in the Sea of Marmara [2/3]
[AWM: 3DRL/2965]
Picture of Commander Stoker
Stoker: AE2 in the Sea of Marmara [3/3]
[AWM: 36/49]

Stoker believed that the execution of orders to disrupt Turkish troop and supply links to the Gallipoli Peninsula had been left to his “own discretion.” Consequently, once clear of the confines of the Dardanelles, he resolved to patrol the area south from Marmara Island to the Gallipoli anchorage, attacking priority targets such as troopships. [AWM: 36/49]

AE2 had a limited supply of torpedoes and no deck gun. To make each attack count, Stoker had to be certain of the value of a target, an assessment made by periscope. This involved risk of detection since AE2’s periscope could be easily seen in the prevailing calm conditions. [AWM: 36/49] On one occasion, just after entering the Sea of Marmara on 26 April, AE2 closed on several ships in an attempt to see if any were troop-bearing. Able Seaman John H. Wheat noted in his diary that “while we were dodging around to see if she had troops” AE2’s periscope was seen leading to an attack by small arms fire. [AWM: 3DRL/2965] Sighting of a periscope wake could also make a submarine vulnerable to ramming by pursuing surface vessels.

Getting the strategy right for an attack in calm conditions posed a conundrum to Stoker. Moving in to attack the periscope would be down. He had to then estimate the moment to raise the periscope, take sight on the target ship, and fire, all within a relatively short space of time. The submarine’s presence could be revealed to the target ship if the periscope was raised too early. The tell-tale signs of a torpedo launch (expended air rising to surface; visible trail) could also give away the presence of a submarine. In either case, the target ship might have sufficient time to take evasive action. Stoker concluded that small ships, well handled, and with enough warning could readily evade a torpedo attack by AE2. [2] To Stoker’s dismay this occurred on 26th April, 1915 just before entering the Sea of Marmara, when he fired at a target ship thinking it the larger of two vessels; only to find it took evasive action and the torpedo missed – in reality, he had targeted the smaller ship. [3]

Torpedo reliability was another issue for 1915 English submariners. [4] Stoker experienced a torpedo failure early on 27 April when in an ideal attack position [5] on a ship escorted by two destroyers. [AWM: 36/49] In total, seven of the eight torpedoes AE2 carried were fired [AWM: 3DRL/2965]; of these only one found its target. One contemporary submariner speculates that at least some of AE2’s misses could be attributed to torpedo “faulty running”. [6]

Attack could quickly turn into defence as Turkish vessels tried to ram AE2 – aiming for her periscope. She had a close call early on 27 April after attacking a transport ship (torpedo failed to run) when one of the two escorting destroyers attempted to ram her. Kinder recalled the destroyer’s “propellers sounded so close that one ducked their head to allow it to pass and we expected to hear it strike the conning tower”. [AWM: PR01466]

Stoker later discovered that from the time of passing the Narrows, six Turkish vessels had been given the sole duty of harassing AE2. [7]According to the historian and former submariner Michael White, Turkish forces were well aware that a submarine would normally come to the surface under the cover of darkness to both recharge the batteries and refresh the air. [8] Disrupting these vital activities could severely limit the efficient running of the boat. Over the night and early morning of 26 and 27 April, AE2 was continually harassed by patrol craft. [AWM: 36/49] Stoker kept AE2 submerged until first light on 27 April, when he surfaced safely to refresh the air. [AWM: PR01466] Harassment also forced Stoker to reconsider how his crew would rest – he decided to let AE2 lay on the sea bottom at Artaki Bay the next night. [AWM: 36/49] As Wheat concluded: “we did not want anymore experiences like we had on the previous night.” [AWM: 3DRL/2965] But even when at rest on the bottom, fear remained a constant and gut wrenching companion. Kinder described the experience in his memoirs:

When the boat is lying on the bottom with only a pilot light on, one begins to imagine all sorts of things happening to the boat and perhaps not being able to rise again and the crew being caught like rats in a trap with no hope of escape. If you let your imagination run too long, you can feel your hair rising. Even the heavy breathing of your mates who are more fortunate and able to sleep does not dispel this horrid feeling and sometimes the sound of a voice is a welcome sound. [AWM: PR01466]

With a diminishing supply of torpedos and insufficient strength to seriously challenge Turkish forces, Stoker sought to communicate AE2’s success in penetrating the Narrows to Allied High Command. This was the agreed trigger for further Allied submarines to be brought into the contest. Beginning on 25 April, while surfaced at night, AE2 used her wireless for the first time, as per the agreed mission plan. Frustratingly, no confirmation could be received of a successful transmission. In his official report, Stoker reported that the many efforts made by AE2 to establish a connection “were never successful.” [AWM: 36/49, folio 4] However, the unheralded appearance of submarine E14 under the command of Lieutenant Commander Edward C. Boyle RN on 29 April, belied Stoker’s pessimism about the value of the new technology. The wireless message had indeed gotten through.

In their respective accounts of the AE2 mission, the historians White [9] and Rudenno [10], attribute a pivotal role in the Gallipoli campaign to the communication of 25 April, 1915. White reports a conference of Army commanders held ashore at 10:00 p.m., when the difficulties encountered on the first day of the Gallipoli campaign were frankly discussed. [11] Consequently, General Birdwood dictated a message for despatch to the Allied Commander in Chief, Sir Ian Hamilton:

Both my divisional generals and brigadiers have represented to me that they fear their men are thoroughly demoralized by shrapnel fire to which they have been subjected all day after exhausting and gallant work in the morning. Numbers have dribbled back from firing lines and cannot be collected in this difficult country. Even the New Zealand Brigade, which has only recently been engaged, lost heavily, and is to some extent demoralized. If troops are subjected to shell fire again tomorrow morning there is likely to be a fiasco, as I have no fresh troops with which to replace those in the firing line. I know my representation is most serious, but if we are to re-embark it must be at once. [12]

The message was received by Allied High Command on Queen Elizabeth around midnight and a conference immediately convened. Rudenno [13] and White [14] describe the prevailing gloom. As Hamilton began to pen a reply, Lieutenant Commander G. Brodie, assistant to Commodore Keyes, read a message received from AE2. [15] According to White:

Ignoring furious signals from the Chief of Staff, Commodore Keyes, to retire, Brodie insisted on reading out the signal to the assembled officers. The effect of the news was enlivening and the psychological impact at that precise time in history was momentous. Further discussion ensued but now in a more optimistic tone and with the view of the staff officers fortified that there could be no question of re-embarkation. [16]

Consequently, Hamilton wrote the following reply to Birdwood:

Your news is indeed serious. But there is nothing for it but to dig yourselves right in and stick it out. It would take at least two days to re-embark you, as Admiral Thursby will explain to you. Meanwhile the Australian submarine has got up through the Narrows and has torpedoed a gunboat at Chanak. Hunter-Weston, despite his heavy losses, will be advancing tomorrow which should divert pressure from you. Make an appeal to your men and Bodley's to take a supreme effort to hold their ground. P.S. You have got through the difficult business. Now you have only to dig, dig, dig, until you are safe. [17]

Three days later, on 29 April, Stoker rendezvoused with submarine E14, 5’ North of Kara Burnu Pt. [AWM: 36/49]. In his account of the AE2 mission, Henry James Kinder wrote of the serendipitous nature of the encounter with E14:

On Thursday, 29 April, imagine our surprise to see the periscope and a conning tower of a submarine rising about a quarter of a mile away when E14 made her appearance. The Captain ran over close to her as we could get no communication by wireless..[AWM: PR01466]

Fellow crewman, John Harrison Wheat wrote of the psychological relief of sighting submarine E14:

She like ourselves had just come to the surface. This was indeed a delightful sight for us as it meant company. We ran up close to her and exchanged greetings. She had come through two days after us on 27th April. It was then getting late, so making a rendezvous for the following day we parted. We proceed[ed] to a small bay on the European shore to lay on the bottom for the night. [AWM: 3DRL/2965, folio 14]

As AE2 rested for the night on the bottom of a bay “North of Marmara Island’ [AWM: 36/49], Stoker knew nothing of the role played by his wireless message in the fateful conferences held in the evening of the 25th April. According to his autobiography, Straws in the Wind, he did not find out about Brodie’s reading of the message until a chance meeting with Commodore Keyes, many years later. [18]

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References:

  1. ^ a Brodie, C.G. (1956). Forlorn Hope 1915: The Submarine Passage of the Dardanelles. London. Frederick Books. p. 72..
  2. ^ a Stoker, H.G.D. (1925). Straws in the Wind. London. Herbert Jenkins. pp. 128-129.
  3. ^ a Ibid., p. 121
  4. ^ a Brodie, C.G. (1956). op.cit., p. 73.
  5. ^ a White, M.W.D. (1992). Australian Submarines: A History. Canberra. AGPS. p. 62.
  6. ^ a Brodie, C.G. (1956). op. cit., p. 73.
  7. ^ a Stoker, H.G. (1925). op. cit., p. 127.
  8. ^ a White, M.W.D. (1992). op. cit., p. 62.
  9. ^ a White, M.W. D. (1987). The Role of Submarine AE2 in the Gallipoli Campaign. Journal of the Royal Historical Society of Queensland. 13(4).,pp. 113-132
  10. ^ a Rudenno, V. (2008). Gallipoli: Attack from the Sea. Sydney. University of New South Wales Press Ltd.
  11. ^ a White, M.W. D. (1987). op.cit. p.128
  12. ^ a Ibid.
  13. ^ a Rudenno, V. (2008). op.cit. pp.83-85
  14. ^ a White, M. W.D. (1987). op.cit., pp.127-128
  15. ^ a Ibid., p.128
  16. ^ a Ibid.
  17. ^ a Ibid.
  18. ^ a Stoker, H.G. (1925). op.cit., p.120.