2014 marks the centenary of World War 1 and we are planning a series of missions to find the first shot fired in the Great War. The shell, if it is still intact, lies inside the opening to Port Phillip Bay, Melbourne.
Few people are aware that the first shot of the Great War was fired from Point Nepean, south of Melbourne.
On August 5th 1914, Australian forces attempted to stop the German cargo ship, the SS Pfalz, from leaving Melbourne.
War had just been declared and all German activity in the Commonwealth was now considered hostile. Despite numerous warnings to cut her engines, Pfalz Captain Kuhiken ordered full steam ahead and a dangerous game of chicken ensued.
From Point Nepean Coastal Fort, the Australians continued to signal to the Pfalz to stop.
When they received an order to either ‘stop her of sink her’ they fired the first shot of the Great War across the Pfalz’ bow, missing the ship by metres.
The Pfalz eventually surrendered to Australian forces who boarded her at 1.00pm.
The German crew was interned in Melbourne for the duration of the war.
The ship itself was soon refitted as a troop carrier for the war effort and was used in the Gallipoli landings under the name HMT Boorara. She had a busy time in the Dardanelles: transporting Australian soldiers onto the battle arena, being twice torpedoed, and housing Turkish prisoners of war.
She was eventually shipwrecked off the Vancouver coast in 1926 when she was operating as a Greek trade vessel.
Long Shot will be a difficult mission given the ferocity of the tides in this area and a century of constant dredging, not to mention that locating a six-inch shell in Port Phillip Bay will be a needle-in- a- haystack job.
However, we have sourced some sonar equipment; a magnetometer that the US Navy is using in Pearl Harbour to locate unexploded ordinance from the Japanese attack in 1942. This equipment is capable of finding a .22 shell under six feet of sand.
If the shell is there we will find it.
Southern Ocean Exploration, Australia’s most successful shipwreck discovery team, will volunteer all of its resources to find the shell: divers, boats, fuel and insurances – but we need this equipment if we are to have any chance of finding the shell.
Whitewater Documentaries will provide a film crew to document the event, with a view to telling the fascinating story of the Pfalz in a one-hour television documentary. As you can imagine, this is a ‘Long Shot’, but just think how exciting it would be to write this amazing chapter in Australian and international history.
Most of the credit for making this project a reality goes to author Keith Quinton whose recent book, Stop the Pfalz,painstakingly and accurately recreates the Pfalz’ last moments.
His information and assistance has helped SOE narrow the search grid to a practical area. Let’s make history