I first had contact with Fritz Herscheid when he emailed me back in 2005 about the wreck then called USS Boston which is north of Madang in Papua New Guinea. On my web site I had stated that the wreck was certainly not the Boston as claimed by the local dive operators as there was no such ship of this size by this name in the US Navy.
We had some interesting emails back and forwards and then, Fritz discovered that he had the real name of the ship sitting in front of him for over 35 years. He had salvaged one of the ship's two bells back in the early 1970s and it was engraved with FP-172. He had always wondered what this meant as he had assumed that the wreck really was the USS Boston as this is what it was commonly known to all and sundry in Madang. As it turns out, the ship was called FS-172 (the prefix was changed from FP to FS at some time). The FS ships were small freighters used by the US Navy for transporting materials during World War II.
After this, I provided Fritz with some other data and photographs relating to FS-172 to use in the book that he was at that time writing. The Last New Guinea Salvage Pirate is the result of that work.
Fritz was born in Germany in 1946 and moved to Australia when he was about six years old. In 1967 when he was 20, he and his new wife Janice moved to Rabaul in New Guinea to work as a diesel mechanic. The book is the story of his life from arriving in Rabaul till he "retired" back to Australia in 1976.
Soon after arriving in Rabaul, Fritz learnt to dive as did Janice. Soon they were salvaging metals from the sunken shipwrecks in and around Rabaul. Within six months, Fritz had decided to throw in his job and work full time at diving and salvaging. He ended up owning the only dive instruction company in Rabaul and trained hundreds of divers (remember he had only just learnt to dive himself). He even provided the new divers with certification cards from his company (I wonder if anyone still has one now).
Fritz's adventures are amazing. His tales of diving on wrecks that were then in pristine condition and salvaging props and other bronze, brass and copper items are sometimes hard to believe for those of us who learnt to dive in safer times. He has researched the history of all these wrecks (as far as possible) and provides previously little known facts about them.
Unfortunately his story also records the deaths of a number of diver friends from decompression sickness. He also writes of the time he got stranded in a wreck when his regulator failed and how he survived and later running out of air on the same wreck and getting bent himself. If things like that were to happen to people nowadays you would wonder about their ability to dive, but considering they had only small 72 cubic foot tanks and no gauges, it is much easier to see how it happened.
Fritz's adventures take you from Rabaul to Milne Bay to Madang to other parts of Papua New Guinea and even to the Philippines and the Solomon Islands.
His story is well written, with lots of explanations for non-divers and even divers who are not aware of diving practises back in the 1960s. The layout of the book is great (I think that it is a copy of Peter Stone's book on the SS President Coolidge as it was prepared by Peter's company). There are a few errors (such as George Tyers sometimes being referred to as Tyres, people's names misspelt and locations spelt differently in different sections of the book - Pila Pila versus Pilla Pilla). There are also quite a few minor grammatical errors, as much as one per page. However, this is to be expected in a book of this nature. Overall, it is very well done.
There are hundreds of photographs, both historical and underwater. These are also fascinating for keen wreck divers like me. There are also maps and diagrams of some of the wrecks. The book is 497 pages of informative and entertaining reading which I would recommend to any one interested in Papua New Guinea, shipwrecks or just plain adventure.
The book can be purchased from DIVE Log, Oceans Enterprises or from Fritz direct (firstname.lastname@example.org).