United States destroyer attacks U Boat

Reports that the US Destroyer USS Greer had been attacked by a German U Boat caused outrage in the United States.

The escalation of tension between Germany and the United States was almost inevitable as the US provided ever closer assistance to the Royal Navy in the Battle of the Atlantic. The facts of the ‘Greer incident’ – when the U 652 unsuccessfully attempted to torpedo the USS Greer and was then subjected to an unsuccessful depth charge attack – the first open act of force by US forces against Germany – were subject to some interpretation by both sides.

The World War I built destroyer Greer was similar in appearance to the fifty old US Destroyers that had been provided to the Royal Navy in 1940. The Germans were also later to claim that the U boat had believed that bombs dropped by a British plane were depth charges from the destroyer.

The original press reports of “US Destroyer torpedoed in the Atlantic” did not quite tell the whole story. It was some time later that Admiral Stark provided a full account of the incident after the Senate Committee on Naval Affairs looked into the matter:

At 0840 that morning, Greer, carrying mail and passengers to Iceland, “was informed by a British plane of the presence of a submerged submarine about 10 miles [(16 km)] directly ahead. . . . Acting on the information from the British plane the Greer proceeded to search for the submarine and at 0920 she located the submarine directly ahead by her underwater sound equipment.

The Greer proceeded then to trail the submarine and broadcasted the submarine’s position. This action, taken by the Greer, was in accordance with her orders, that is, to give out information but not to attack.” The British plane continued in the vicinity of the submarine until 1032, but prior to her departure the plane dropped four depth charges in the vicinity of the submarine. The Greer maintained [its] contact until about 1248. During this period (three hours 28 minutes),the Greer maneuvered so as to keep the submarine ahead.

At 1240 the submarine changed course and closed the Greer. At 1245 an impulse bubble (indicating the discharge of a torpedo by the submarine) was sighted close aboard the Greer. At 1249 a torpedo track was sighted crossing the wake of the ship from starboard to port, distant about 100 yards [(100 m)] astern. At this time the Greer lost sound contact with the submarine.

At 1300 the Greer started searching for the submarine and at 1512 . . . the Greer made underwater contact with a submarine. The Greer attacked immediately with depth charges.

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