We continue on from last week’s article of the incredible life and achievements of Hans Hass:

Despite his ship being a casualty of war, Hans Hass’ adventures continue, as his reputation and fame begin to build…

Although he had lost his research vessel, Hans gained a wife when, in 1945, he married the German actress Hannelore Schroth (1922-1987), whose career on stage, film and TV spanned over 50 years. It was Hannelore’s second marriage and in 1946 they had a son, Hans Hass Junior, but the relationship did not last and they divorced in 1950.

As Austria slowly recovered from the ravages of the war, Hans reapplied himself to writing, and his fourth book, Drei Jaeger auf dem Meersgrund (Three Hunters on the Sea Bottom) was published in Zurich, Switzerland in 1947. This recorded the adventures of the 1939 expedition to the Caribbean and also Hans’s time in America as he made his long journey back to Austria.

During this period he steadily worked at returning to diving as royalties from his popular books started to accumulate, and by 1949 his fifth book on diving was published. Titled Menschen und Haie (Men and Sharks), it was again published in Zurich, Switzerland.

By November 1949 he had positioned himself to return to diving and took one major step that would eventually place him on cinema screens around the world and bring universal attention to his research work. He packed his Gegenlunge and underwater cameras and headed to the Red Sea on a solo expedition. Working out of the Sudan, Hans captured amazing images of the rich underwater life and scenery, and, once back in Vienna, set about funding a major expedition back to the Red Sea to make a full length documentary film with a support crew.

To gain the required funding he would eventually have to modify his scientific documentary approach to filmmaking to include a storyline that would ultimately include a female crewmember. Lotte Beriel was his office assistant and through her careful manipulation of the situation, she was able to land a spot on the expedition crew. She would later publish her experiences in her book, Girl on the Ocean Floor (1972, Harrap, London). There was no American printing of this book.

During 1949 Hans also started working with the German camera company Franke & Heidecke and this relationship would eventually produce the Hans Hass Rolleimarin System underwater camera housing in 1954. During 1950 he also developed an underwater housing for the Leica camera.

International Recognition

By 1950 Hans had secured sufficient funding and support to return to the Red Sea with underwater film cameras. He and his crew survived many adventures diving with their oxygen rebreathers, and the result of the footage they captured was to be his third film, Under The Red Sea. The German title for the film was Abenteuer im Roten Meer. The film was a great success and launched Hans on a decade of scientific diving. The expedition had brought Hans and Lotte much closer together and they were married in November 1950. Their daughter Meta was born in 1957.

1948. The equipment that Hans took with him on his solo expedition to the Red Sea. "My equipment includes the respirator (upper right), oxygen cylinders, submarine cameras, fins, mask, light gauge, film-changing bag, and harpoon barbs. The bag in the centre contains enough caustic soda for only twenty-five descents of an hour each." (Leslie Leaney Archives)

1948. The equipment that Hans took with him on his solo expedition to the Red Sea. “My equipment includes the respirator (upper right), oxygen cylinders, submarine cameras, fins, mask, light gauge, film-changing bag, and harpoon barbs. The bag in the centre contains enough caustic soda for only twenty-five descents of an hour each.” (Leslie Leaney Archives)

With a major film in the works an increased interest in Hans’s career began in America. His 1947 book, Drei Jaeger auf dem Meersgrund, recording Hans’s pioneering diving adventures up to and including the 1939 expedition to the Caribbean, was translated into English and published as Diving to Adventure (1951, Double Day, New York). The publication of the book helped prepare the American market for the release of the film, Under the Red Sea. Skin diving was also get more national attention in America, and enthusiasts got their own national magazine in December 1951 when the first edition of The Skin Diver was published.

In 1952 his book covering his first solo expedition to the Red Sea was published in England, as Under The Red Sea, and in German as Manta, Teufel im Roten Meer. American publication followed a year later and was titled Manta, Under the Red Sea with Camera and Spear (1953, Rand McNally, Chicago). This was his second book in English and quickly went to two printings in the USA.

Under the Red Sea was released in America in 1952. The German version had already received the International Prize for feature-length documentaries at the 2nd Mostra Internazionale del Film Scientifico e del Documentario d’Arte in Venice. However, it must be noted that Hans was very, very unhappy with the American version of his film, which had been given the “Hollywood treatment.” Some of the scientific elements of the film were disregarded and certain sequences edited in a way that distorted their original scientific results.

The posters for the movie promoted sensation more than science and Hans came away from the experience with a great deal of mistrust for the American film industry. The film was a success, however, and he later noted that, “…it was shown in nearly every civilised country – and in a lot of uncivilised ones – and a portion of the admission money handed over by spectators of every shade of skin colour eventually, and after a great many deductions, came to us.”

From America to the Great Barrier Reef

The film’s American distributors invited Hans and Lotte to New York for the premiere of the film and then to appear at the opening of the film in other American cities. They took along their diving equipment to exhibit at the openings and in television interviews. Hans had always wanted to visit Australia’s Great Barrier Reef and he and Lotte used this American visit as a stepping-stone to achieve that goal by flying from San Francisco to Sydney. From December 1952 to February 1953 they visited Australia and the Great Barrier Reef and learned more about sharks from the nation’s divers, who encountered them on a regular basis.

Hans Hass on expedition.

Hans Hass on expedition.

Having a successful film and book available in the English language now opened up a completely new audience for Hans. With the added media royalties coming in from his film, Hans was finally able to acquire a vessel for scientific diving expeditions to replace Seeteufel. In Denmark in 1952 he purchased the hull of a sailing ship that had been built in 1926 for the Singer family, who had made their fortune manufacturing sewing machines. He brought the vessel to Hamburg for an overhaul and refitting to the requirements he needed for an ocean going scientific research vessel. He gave his new ship her original name, Xarifa, which was the Arabic word for “beautiful,” and it would carry Hans and his team on two major scientific expeditions.

To be continued…

Words by Leslie Leaney, all photos © The Hans Hass Institute, except where noted. All Rights Reserved.

This article featured in SD OCEAN PLANET (Issue 8/2014)