On November 11, 1943, the US freighter and troop transport ship, the Cape San Juan was making its way from San Francisco to Townsville, Australia with 1438 souls on board when it was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine.
According to reports, out of the 49 crew, 41 gunners, and 1,348 US army troops that made up the passengers, 130 were immediately killed either due to the fire that ensued from the explosion or from drowning. The rest of the survivors had to fend for themselves in shark-infested waters until rescue came in the form of ships and planes.
18-year-old Leonard Paulsen, a quartermaster and one of 42 Navy Armed Guards, was among more than 1,300 men on the ship when the torpedo struck the SS Cape San Juan on that day. Per reports, Paulsen along with many others found themselves in rough seas surrounded by shoals of sharks intent upon a feeding frenzy: "Paulsen doesn’t remember many specific details, but he, along with many others, ended up in 15-foot seas in their life vests as oil leaked from the ship. Whitecaps whipped at the overcrowded lifeboats, and sharks began to swarm the scene."
“Sharks were real bad,” Paulsen recalled in an interview with the Omak-Okanogan County Chronicle.
It is said that the sharks continued to savagely attack the survivors even while they were being rescued. Even though 483 of the survivors managed to make it to safety, 695 of the remaining survivors perished in the shark attacks.
When all was said and done, 825 lives were lost on that fateful day.