The Narrows

AE2 was at periscope depth as she approached the Narrows on the morning of 25 April, 1915. Stoker wanted to “take stock of the situation” in and around the port of Chanak. AE2 was also on the lookout to attack Turkish ships with mine-laying potential. [AWM: 36/49] But undertaking periscope observations in the prevailing calm increased the risk of detection. Misgivings of this kind were soon realised, as wash from AE2's raised periscope was sighted. [AWM: 3DRL/2965] Stoker reported “heavy fire” from surrounding forts. In his autobiography he later described the sensation:

The shock of projectiles striking the water overhead caused subdued thuds in the submarine, whilst sounds as of hailstones `were presumably caused by shrapnel bullets falling through the water on the boat’s deck.[1]

Attack in these situations was no easy matter. The “accuracy” of enemy fire, he reported, “made observation through the periscope difficult” [AWM: 36/49]; he later explained that around the “top of the periscope, the water, lashed into white spray, caused a curiously pretty effect, but added little to the ease of taking observations.” [2] According to his report written in 1919, Stoker initially targeted an “old battleship hulk”, but eventually settled on attacking a “small cruiser” which had suddenly appeared from behind the hulk. [3] [AWM: 36/49] The bow torpedo was fired at a range of “3-400 yards”, and a dive ordered. Stoker reported that the torpedo was “heard to hit” [AWM: 36/49] Crewman Able Seaman John H. Wheat recalled in his diary that the “silence” was broken when “a heavy concussion” shook AE2. [AWM: 3DRL/2965] Stoker then altered course to avoid collision with the cruiser that he imagined might be sinking.

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

In The Royal Australian Navy - A History, [4] David Stevens concluded that AE2 had struck the Turkish torpedo boat Peyk-i Sevket, inflicting severe damage, but failing to sink her. In The Role of Submarine AE2 on Anzac Day, fellow historian and former submariner, M. W. D. White refers to a Turkish account of the attack:

She [Peyk-i Sevket] was sailing in zig-zag fashion in order to find the submarine which could have been hidden in a small bay and busy with repairs when, near Bagados, all of a sudden the crew saw a torpedo coming towards them from the right hand side. They tried to turn to right quickly, but failed to escape from the torpedo. About 5 or 10 sailors were thrown overboard by the explosion. A life-boat was lowered and picked the sailors up. After the hit of the torpedo, the rudder-rod of the gunboat was bent and the wheel-gears and rudder were jammed in right hand turn position.

After this incident the Peyki Sevket sailed slowly towards the coast, listing to her left. Since there was no connection between the rudder and the engine room, she made a complete turn and was stranded on the coast. The ship was secured with anchors both from the rear and front near the coast. At the same time, the submarine fired another torpedo, but this did not hit the ship and passed underneath, striking the coast without exploding. As a result of the hit by the first torpedo a torpedo of Peyki Sevket gunboat was dislodged and hung on the left side of the boat. After several efforts the torpedo was released and it struck the coast and exploded. The crew then abandoned the gunboat. Later the ship was brought to the military dock in Istanbul and repaired in three months.[5]

After a short time, Stoker ordered AE2 back to periscope depth and a return to her “original course.” But the gyro compass had malfunctioned, leaving the helmsman “nothing to steer the boat by.” [AWM: PR01466] With no reliable way to judge her position, buffeted by currents, AE2 ran aground with a good part of her conning tower exposed. [AWM: 36/49] By periscope observation, Stoker reckoned AE2’s position to be “immediately under Fort Anatoli Mejidieh.” With the “sound of shell falling around the boat”, AE2’s situation appeared grim.

Stoker gave orders to blow the ballast tanks and for full speed astern on AE2’s electric motors. [AWM: PR01466] From the grounding of AE2 on the approaches to Port Mudros in 10 March, 1915, Stoker knew that under its own power, AE2 would struggle to free itself. [NAA: MP472/1, 16/15/4192] But to the relief of all, Petty Officer Kinder was able to report that AE2 refloated after "some four minutes." In his official account, Stoker later attributed AE2’s survival of this near death experience to the fact that the Turkish guns could not be depressed sufficiently by their crews to directly sight on the stricken boat. [AWM: PR01466]

Picture of the Board of Inquiry into Port Mudros Grounding's report
Board of Inquiry into Port Mudros Grounding on 10 March, 1915
[NAA: MP472/1, 16/15/4192]

With the presence of a submarine now firmly established, Stoker could not risk further action in the confines of the Narrows. In the plan agreed with Admiral de Robeck, AE2 would negotiate the Narrows and proceed up the Strait to the Sea of Marmara. There she would send a wireless message communicating the success of the mission and await the arrival of further submarines. Consequently, Stoker now attempted to position AE2 for the run around Nagara Point, the place that marked the divide between the lower 'narrow' and 'wider' northern reaches of the Strait. A further grounding followed- this time on the opposite “Gallipoli” shore, directly under another the Turkish fort “Derina Burnu.” [AWM: 36/49] Displaying presence of mind, Stoker ascertained that AE2 was positioned “down by the bows” [AWM: 36/49]. To refloat her this time, he ordered full speed ahead together with blowing of the main ballast tanks. [AWM: PR01466] In this second grounding, AE2 was once more fired upon, but took no damage in the five minutes she was aground. In his official report, Stoker observed:

In connection with these two groundings, I have to report that the behaviour of the crew was exemplary. In these two highly dangerous situations it was only their cool and intelligent performance of their duties which enabled the vessel to be refloated. [AWM: 36/49]

With Turkish torpedo and gun boats now surrounding AE2, Stoker attempted to round Nagara Point without further visual sightings. [AWM: 36/49] Observing Turkish vessels still in “close attendance”, and with insufficient battery power to allow submerged running into the Sea of Marmara, Stoker then decided to rest AE2 on the bottom. He chose a location close to the “Asiatic shore” just around from the point. Upon nightfall, they would surface and begin recharging the submarines batteries, now low from the minefield passage and subsequent action in the Narrows. At 8.30AM Stoker had AE2 positioned on the bottom and the crew had a chance to rest. [AWM: 36/49]

Shortly after enemy vessels were heard overhead “at frequent intervals.” Stoker concluded that AE2 was being hunted. [AWM: 36/49] For the crew of AE2, this proved every bit as stressful as the mine hawser scrapings earlier in the day. Kinder remembers how “it got on one’s nerves to hear the boat persistently going backward and forward.” [AWM: PR01466] When “something struck the outside of the boat making a loud report in the stillness”, fellow crewman John Harrison Wheat imagined it to be an “explosive sweep” which could be detonated against AE2’s hull. He remarked that the crew “didn’t need smelling salts to keep ... awake.” [AWM: 3DRL/2965]

About 11:00 AM, in the face of such persistent enemy activity, Stoker decided to shift AE2’s position. But she could not be successfully moved owing to a loss of trim. The sound of overhead vessels eventually stopped at 7:00 PM. Two hours later, Stoker was able to bring AE2 to the surface. [AWM: 36/49] AE2 had been submerged for over sixteen hours, the crew “breathing the same air with no renewal.” Kinder remarked:

After all the tanks were blown, it took a fair amount of slewing to get AE2’s nose out of the mud bank, but at least the depth gauges indicated that the boat was rising and what a relief it was when she broke the surface and the conning tower was opened to admit fresh air and how nice that fresh air tasted. [AWM: PR01466]

AE2 left her position around 4:00 AM on 26 April 1915 and continued up the Dardanelles Strait. Although Stoker did not know it at the time, the presence of AE2 and her attack on the Peyk-i Sevket, had important and immediate consequences for the land campaign. In his account, White claims that events in the Narrows caused the Turks to withdraw at risk naval forces charged with the task of bombarding Allied landings on Gallipoli Peninsula. AE2 had provided valuable relief to ground forces from the heavy guns of the Turkish Navy.[6]

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  1. ^ a Stoker, H.G. (1925). Straws in the Wind. London. Herbert Jenkins. p. 110.
  2. ^ a Ibid.
  3. ^ a Ibid.
  4. ^ a David, Stevens (2001). The Royal Australian Navy - A History. Oxford University Press.
  5. ^ a White, M.W.D. (1987). The Role of Submarine A.E.2 on Anzac Day. Journal of the Royal Historical Society of Queensland. vol.13, no.4. p.122.
  6. ^ a Ibid.