Australia’s submarine history


The first Australian submarines, HMAS AE1 and HMAS AE2, were commissioned into the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) in 1914.  

They were deployed during World War I, but both were lost during combat. HMAS AE1 was lost at sea with all hands near East New Britain, Papua New Guinea, on 14 September 1914. 

HMAS AE2 was the first Allied submarine to break through Turkish defences during the Dardanelles campaign, before sustaining irreparable damage and sinking on 30 April 1915. All hands were picked up by a Turkish torpedo boat and no lives were lost.

J Class submarines

In 1919, six ‘J’ Class submarines were commissioned into the RAN.  

The second hand boats, received from the British Royal Navy, were in such bad condition they were immediately placed into refit on reaching Sydney.  Even after extensive work, the boats spent very little time in the water and, except for J7, all were decommissioned in 1924.

Under the RAN's post World War I development program, two submarines - HMAS Otway and HMAS Oxley - were ordered from the Royal Navy.  They arrived in Sydney in 1929, but due to maintenance problems and the depressed economy, they were returned to Britain in 1931.

During World War II, the RAN obtained the ex-Dutch submarine K9, which was used for training surface ships in submarine detection.

Oberon Class Submarines

It wasn't until the 1960s and the commissioning of four Oberon Class submarines that Australia began to build a strong submarine fleet. The Oberon class was one of the most advanced type of conventional submarines at the time.

Four Australian submarines were commissioned initially, built by Scotts Shipbuilding in Greenock, Scotland. HMAS Oxley (March 1967), HMAS Otway (March 1968), HMAS Ovens (April 1969) and HMAS Onslow (December 1969).

HMAS Oxley's arrival in Sydney coincided with the commissioning of the submarine base - HMAS Platypus - at Neutral Bay, Sydney.

In 1977 and 1978 two more Oberon Class submarines were commissioned - HMAS Orion and HMAS Otama.

The Oberons were attack submarines, with both anti-surface and anti-submarine capabilities and were an invaluable part of the Navy.

In 1985, off the island of Kauai in Hawaii, HMAS Ovens became only the second conventional submarine in the world—and the first Oberon—to fire a subsurface-launched Harpoon missile, successfully hitting the target over the horizon. Consequently, the designation for the Australian Oberons changed from SS (Submarine) to SSG (Guided Missile Submarine).

By the 1980s the necessity of replacing the aging Oberon Class fleet was becoming increasingly clear. The new era of the Collins Class submarine was about to begin.

Back to top