First through

On 25 April 1915, just as the Anzacs were landing on Gallipoli, the Australian submarine AE2 created history by becoming the first submarine to penetrate the Straits of the Dardanelles. Four years later, another Australian vessel, the coastal liner SS Katoomba, became the first British troopship to pass through the Dardanelles since the outbreak of the war.

During the war merchant vessels were pressed into service to ferry troops or supplies to the main theatres of war. Katoomba’s war started late, when it was requisitioned by the British government in 1918 to convey American troops to Britain. Despite the dangers posed by German submarines, Katoomba successfully completed two Atlantic crossings before being sent to the Mediterranean, where the submarine threat was so great that ships’ masters were ordered to fire upon any vessel showing a light.

Katoomba was at Salonika on 11 November for the armistice celebrations. Three days later, it left for Constantinople carrying more than 2,000 troops of the Essex and Middlesex Regiments. It was present for the official landing of Admiral Seymour, there to take over the city for the allies. For Captain E. Moodie-Heddle, Katoomba’s master, however, “a far more pathetic sight” was “the parade of the remnants of the released men from Kut”, 26 of whom were afterwards embarked on the Katoomba. They were in “a dejected and emaciated condition, due to long confinement and heart-breaking treatment by the Turks”.

The ship eventually made six trips to the Black Sea, landing 14,000 troops and repatriating large numbers of Turks. Following a voyage to Bombay in April 1919, the ship sailed for Britain. Katoomba finally returned to Australia in August, where it was refitted and returned to its owner, McIlwraith, McEacharn’s Line Pty Ltd.

Moodie-Heddle’s log records that during their time in the Mediterranean they had sighted four floating mines, “two of which were accounted for by our gunfire, and we thus won the Admiralty’s award of £10 – £5 for each mine”. Long after that award, the distinction of being first through the infamous Dardanelles at war’s end abides, if only as a small footnote to history.


Captain Little’s propeller

Australia’s highest-scoring fighter pilot of the First World War was Captain Robert Little. He flew with Britain’s Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) from 1915 and was one of a number of Australian aviators who joined the British forces early in the war. Little was credited with the destruction of 47 German aircraft, making him the 10th-ranked allied ace of the war. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Order and Bar, the Distinguished Service Cross and Bar and the French Croix de Guerre.

The Memorial holds in its collection the propeller from Little’s Sopwith Triplane, N5493; the aircraft in which he scored the majority of his victories while a member of No. 8 Squadron, RNAS. Triplanes served with the RNAS from February 1917 until they were replaced by the Sopwith Camel later in the year. The hub of the propeller has a clock installed in it, and the numerals are indicated on the clock face by the bases of .303-inch cartridge cases.

Little was killed in action on 27 May 1918, aged just 22. He was buried at the British War Cemetery, Wavans, France. The propeller, separated into three pieces for ease of transportation, was brought to Australia by his widow. Little’s awards, along with the cross from his grave, will be on display in the Memorial’s new permanent exhibition Over the front: the Great War in the air, opening on 28 November 2008.


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