An Unsuspected Foe: Shark Attacks during World War II

Today’s post was written by Megan Dwyre, Archivist at the National Archives in College Park.

Several species of shark have been known to attack a swimming man. Your chances of encountering one of these are not great…– Extract from “Survival on Land and Sea.”[1]

“Shark Attacks”, a 1944 survey conducted by the Coordinator of Research and Development, U.S. Navy, Emergency Rescue Equipment Section, explains that prior to December 14, 1942, the Navy considered sharks an insignificant danger to personnel. A survey of available records revealed “only two, or perhaps three, authentic instances of shark bite.” In addition, existing information suggested that sharks were wary of strange objects and would likely be driven away by loud commotions (e.g. explosions), which typically accompanied wartime events where men would be thrown into the sea.[2]

The wartime shark attack cases that constitute Part 1 of the survey seem to suggest otherwise. They recount, often in graphic detail, the harrowing experiences of a few soldiers who were attacked by sharks and lived to tell the tale.

One such case was that of Lieutenant Arthur George Reading, who survived a plane crash over the South Pacific in May 1943, only to spend the next sixteen hours in the water fighting away sharks – first with binoculars, then with his hands and feet. While trying to attract the attention of planes flying overhead, the crash’s other survivor, Aviation Radioman 1st Class Everett Hardin Almond, felt something strike his foot – he had been bitten. Lt. Reading recounted that, soon after, “there were more than five sharks around and blood all around us.” Realizing the wound was severe, Almond heroically offered his life jacket to Reading, although Reading refused to accept it. Sadly, Almond suffered a number of subsequent attacks and was killed. Reading recalled that by sunset that evening he had given up hope. Fortunately, around midnight he spotted a Yard Patrol (YP) boat, which came to his rescue.[3]

Because many shark attacks followed ship sinkings, it is impossible to determine the exact number of shark-related deaths during World War II. Reading’s story, and the other cases contained in the report, likely provide only a glimpse of the horrors inflicted by this unsuspected foe.

The records cited above can be found in “Shark Attacks,” Coordinator of Research and Development, U.S. Navy, Emergency Rescue Equipment Section, 1944, Research Data: Shark Attacks (NAID  6946057), Subject Files, 10/30/1941-1954, Records of Headquarters U.S. Air Force (Air Staff), Record Group 341.


Footnotes:

[1] Extract from Survival on Land and Sea, reprinted in “Shark Attacks,” page 5.

[2] Technical Note No. 89-42, Navy Department, Bureau of Aeronautics, reprinted in “Shark Attacks,” pages 3-4.

[3] “Attack on Air Crash Survivors, South Pacific, May 1943. One Fatality,” Case 1, Part 1, “Shark Attacks,” pages 6-12.

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One Response to An Unsuspected Foe: Shark Attacks during World War II

  1. Steve says:

    Hard to think that with all of the island invasions by US forces wading ashore that there were not shark attacks? And all the instances of service men swimming for bathing and recreational purposes?

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