The Search Continues For The Wreck Of Australia’s First Ever Submarine

HMAS AE1 underway in 1914
HMAS AE1 underway in 1914

Cairns resident Fritz Herscheid is a man on a mission.  He’s determined to find AE-1, Australia’s first submarine, which disappeared off the coast of Papua New Guinea more than 100 years ago. It’s assumed the sub is resting on the ocean floor near the harbor at Rabaul.

He is a former salvage diver who has spent nearly 50 years trying to find the location. Once he did, he thinks, but couldn’t be certain because he didn’t have a camera to film the event. It might have been a Japanese or other shipwreck detected by a magnetometer, he explained.

Herscheid wasn’t initially attracted to the wreck, but was looking for the non-ferrous metal that is common to submarines. They are valuable to a wreck diver or salvager, he said.

Since the AE-1 could dive safely to 135 feet – but not lower – a hull implosion would’ve resulted in flotsam rising to the surface. Since nothing was found at the time, he believes the vessel sank in shallow water, and so that’s where he’s concentrating his efforts.

Other searches have also been completed; the Royal Australian Navy has conducted numerous unsuccessful searches, the most recent in 2014.  In a statement, the RAN said they continued to partner with different groups to determine the location but are foiled by false contacts. Theses are often caused by ridging running along the seabed, debris from the First World War, or sizable rocky outcrops, ABC News reported.

The search became even more interesting after Herscheid had learned the Germans claimed to have sunk it. There was a Nordenfelt machine-gun missing and cannon shells on the deck, he explained.

The search will resume next year.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE