Topic: BatzN - Marmara
Sea of Marmara
Turkey, 25 - 30 April 1915
Sea of Marmara, a naval episode on 25-30 April 1915 in which the Australian submarine AE2 succeeded in penetrating Turkish defences and passing the length of the Dardanelles, the 60-kilometre channel linking the Sea of Marmara with the Aegean Sea, at the same time that an Allied expeditionary force was attempting to seize the Turkish land forts controlling the southern entrance to this strategic waterway (see Anzac). Two submarines (one French, one British) had previously been lost to the strait's hazards which----apart. from natural obstacles such as an unpredictable outward current which could render a submarine almost uncontrollable-included minefields, searchlights, shore batteries and naval patrols. If able to reach Chanak, on the eastern shore of the stretch known as the Narrows, the boat's captain, Lieut.-Commander Henry Stoker, RN, was ordered to 'run amok generally' by interfering with enemy shipping moving to support Turkish forces on the Gallipoli Peninsula.
An initial attempt made during the early morning hours of 24 April turned into a false start, after damage sustained to a hydroplane shaft during a hurried dive forced the submarine to return to base at Tenedos (an island near the mouth of the Dardanelles). Repairs were carried out in time to enable a second attempt to be made at the same time the next day. Cruising slowly on the surface under cover of darkness, AE2 made its way into the entrance of the strait at 2.30 a.m. Two hours later, after about nine kilometres had been covered, the boat's wash was spotted in the flat calm water by enemy lookouts on the north bank, a gun opened fire and it became necessary to dive.
Stoker proceeded through the enemy minefields while still submerged, with tethering wires constantly scraping against the submarine's hull. By 6 a.m., while approaching the Narrows off Chanak at periscope depth, the boat was engaged by gunfire from forts on both sides of the waterway, and by warships which attempted to ram it. AE2 sank a gunboat with a torpedo before again being forced to submerge during the rest of this critical part of the passage. Twice the vessel hit bottom and slid up on the bank, exposing part of its conning tower to enemy observation and fire, but the crew was able to extricate it on each occasion.
When Stoker rose to periscope depth to check position a short time after the second grounding episode, he discovered that the Narrows were well behind but that AE2 was now at the centre of a flotilla of enemy craft which included destroyers and gunboats. At 8.30 a.m. he attempted to throw off his pursuers by lying submerged on the bottom, staying thus concealed until the movement of searching vessels overhead ceased during the early hours of the evening. After surfacing during the night to recharge batteries, by 9 a.m. the next day, 26 April, AE2 was able to complete its passage of the Dardanelles and gained the wider spaces of the Sea of Marmara.
For the next four days AE2 remained at large within waters which then formed vital lines of internal communication for the Turks. It several times made torpedo attacks on vessels-both warships and freighters -which were encountered, although without succeeding in sinking any of these. The submarine was itself frequently forced to take evasive action against small enemy craft which attacked it, since it lacked a gun with which to defend itself. On the morning of 29 April AE2 was joined off Kara Burnu (at the western end of Artaki Bay) by E14, a British submarine commanded by Lieut.-Commander Edward Boyle, which had followed the Australian boat in making the difficult passage. An arrangement was made to rendezvous again at 10 a.m. the next day, before Stoker took his vessel to a bay north of Marmara Island where the night was spent resting on the bottom.
When AE2 arrived at the rendezvous point the next morning, 30 April, it was approached by a torpedo-boat (Sultan Hissar) and forced to dive. At about 10.30 a.m. the submarine inexplicably lost trim, its nose suddenly rising to break the surface about 1.5 kilometres from its original pursuer and a gunboat which had come to its assistance. An attempt to dive became uncontrollable, and efforts to arrest what had become an alarming plummet only led to the submarine again bursting to the surface stern first. Enemy fire quickly holed the engine room, and with no ability to either resist or escape Stoker considered that he had no choice but to scuttle the vessel. After ordering his men onto the deck to be taken off by the Turkish torpedo-boat, he took action to flood AE2's tanks and send it to the bottom in 55 fathoms some 5.5 kilometres north of Kara Burnu at 10.45 a.m. The twenty-man crew became prisoners of the Turks for the next three years.
Although AE2 had caused little real damage before being sunk, its penetration of the Dardanelles was of immense psychological importance both for the Turks and the Allies-and notwithstanding that the feat was quickly duplicated by Boyle's boat, and also E11 commanded by Lieut.-Commander Martin Nasmith. Although the next two submarines were far more effective in disrupting Turkish maritime traffic, the fact is that Stoker's presence in the Sea of Marmara undoubtedly began that process. Strangely, though, while Boyle and Nasmith were both immediately awarded the Victoria Cross and promoted for their exploits, Stoker's achievement was recognised with only the Distinguished Service Order, belatedly awarded in 1919.
The success of AE2 in getting through had also played an indirect part in influencing the army operation at Gallipoli, being specifically mentioned on 26 April by General Sir Ian Hamilton, the commander of the army expedition, in refusing to countenance proposals from subordinates that his force should be immediately taken back off the peninsula. Although Hamilton had already made his decision to stay, the news of the Australian boat's success helped to lighten the gloom of events immediately following the Gallipoli landing.
Extracted from the book produced by Chris Coulthard-Clark, Where Australians Fought - The Encyclopaedia of Australia's Battles, Allen and Unwin, Sydney, 1998, pp. 103-104.
Additional References cited by Chris Coulthard-Clark:
Robert Rhodes James, (1974), Gallipoli, London: Pan Books.
T.R. Frame & G.J. Swinden (1990), First In, Last Out: The Navy at Gallipoli, Kenthurst, NSW: Kangaroo Press.
Citation: Sea of Marmara, Turkey, April 25 to 30, 1915