In his book Thunder Below!, Rear Admiral Eugene Fluckey, Medal of Honor recipient and one of World War II’s greatest submarine skippers, describes a light-hearted—and nearly unbelievable—moment from the ninth war patrol of USS BARB (SS-220).
Fluckey made his way down to the wardroom during BARB’s time in port in Majuro Atoll after the completion of the patrol and found two of his new officers, Tom King and Jack Sheffield, censoring mail before it was posted, a critical task during a time of war. All of a sudden, “Jack’s squawks of laughter drew our attention. ‘Here’s one that needs no censorship. Listen to this cock-and-bull story. Tuck Weaver [another officer] is writing to his uncle’:
“ ‘I must tell you of what is, for me, one of the unforgettable moments of the war. On our last outing we were making an approach submerged on a freighter with two escorts. When we arrived at our shooting position, the Captain raised his attack scope for the final bearing. Then lowered it and raised it again, turning it. Obviously he couldn’t see. Time was running out, for the target was passing.
“ ‘…He was in a real jam with the scope problem. Then this red-head laughed—this broke the tension. Calling for the camera, he had the other scope raised, turned it toward the attack scope and took a picture. Then turned to the freighter which was passing by, fired three torpedoes for three hits, and six of us watched her sink. This proved to be a luxury, for the escort rushed in to drop his calling cards.
“ ‘The culprit had been a bird draping his tail over the periscope. I looked at the Captain after we evaded and wondered; how many men are there in the world, who in a such a tense, critical situation could laugh and then take a few seconds to calmly photograph a bird before sinking an armed, escorted enemy ship?’
“Tex [Lander, another new officer] and Tom joined Jack in his laughter. Jim [Lanier, the executive officer and navigator] said nothing, got up, and went to his cabin. Returning, he laid a picture of the bird on the periscope down on the table. He said to the newcomers, ‘The first thing you’d better learn in the Barb is not to jump to conclusions until you know what you’re talking about.’ ”