When I was assigned as the engineering officer in USS EAGLE 19, a 1918-vintage patrol vessel, I was handed a loaded 38 revolver and instructed to carry it with me into the engine room during general quarters. That is so you can keep your own men below until an order is given if we have to abandon ship,” the executive officer said.
I thought that there was little chance of combat, but the reason given was a sobering thought.
I had never fired a handgun of any kind and was a bit surprised that no instructions in its use accompanied the revolver. Like a typical 20-year old, I itched for a reason to fire the gun.
During the first month of operations practice attacks were being made on a 1919-vintage submarine of the R-boat type that was operating at a depth of 90 feet. For each run EAGLE 19 proceeded at 2 knots and used her Hedgehog, an antisubmarine weapon, to fire twenty dummy projectiles ahead in a circular pattern. After passing over the region where the sub was thought to be, EAGLE 19 increased speed to 14 knots, executed a very large diameter turn, and resumed approaching the suspected position of the submarine at 2 knots. The routine was referred to as a creeping attack.
Since the engine and boiler rooms were performing normally and since those two-knot runs were perfect for trawling, I decided to fish for sharks. I had brought aboard a large fishhook that was formed from one-quarter-inch diameter steel and then tempered for greater strength. The distance from its shank to the barbed tip was four inches; it was indeed formidable.
I tied the hook to two 50-foot heaving lines that I had spliced together and attached a torpedo-shaped steel sinker that I fashioned on the ship’s lathe. Then with a one-pound chunk of barely-fit-to-eat fatty beef that cook Staffieri provided, I was prepared to make war on the sharks in the Straits of Florida. As an added measure, I took the handgun with me.
After monitoring the fishing line during four or five creeping attacks, I got bored and decided to write a letter in the cabin that I shared with another officer. I had hardly begun when one of the crew came running and shouted, “Mr. Chirillo, a shark is on your line!”
I quickly slipped the revolver back in its holster and arrived aft just as the speed increased to 14 knots. Even with two swabs helping, the drag at 14 knots was too much for us. We had to wait for resumption of another creeping attack.
Seeing the 5-foot long shark erratically gyrating on the surface both up and down and sideways triggered an impulse. I lifted the 38 from its holster and fired from the hip. The shark stiffened as red gore suddenly appeared from its underside. I was stunned. As I stood there open mouthed the two swabs quickly called for help, and without waiting for the resumption of 2-knots speed hauled the shark in as they excitedly babbled over and over, “Mr. Chirillo hit it with one shot! From a hundred-feet away! It was jumping all over the place!”
When hauled aboard we discovered that the bullet struck the shark dead center about four inches back from its eyes. I was just 4-inches off from hitting it exactly between its eyes. The bullet penetrated through the shark’s belly at an angle causing some gut to trail.
Amid the hullabaloo as more of the crew arrived, I holstered the revolver and never fired it again.
Copyright © 2005 (text only) by Louis D. Chirillo