A Tin Can Sailors
Destroyer History


USS NIBLACK was the second of the GLEAVES class destroyers to be laid down at the Bath Iron Works, Maine, yard. She would be launched on May 18, 1940 and commissioned the following August.

DD-424 was named for VADM Albert Parker Niblack, a director of Naval Intelligence and commander of U.S. Naval Forces in Europe during the volatile period following World War I. He would return to the United States to take Command of the 6th Naval District in Charleston, South Carolina, before retiring.

USS NIBLACK completed her shakedown and training exercises in the Caribbean just in time to be pressed into service. By July 1941, conditions in the Atlantic had deteriorated. The "neutrality patrol" had become hazardous duty; German submariners became bolder as American escorts were required more and more to sail into "harm's way." After her first trip to Argentia, Newfoundland, as an escort, NIBLACK was ordered to screen the first convoy carrying American troops to Iceland. The new destroyer was to scout the area before troops were landed. During one sweep, DD-424 spotted the survivors of a torpedoed British merchant ship. As she slowed to rescue the men, an enemy submarine was detected preparing to attack the destroyer. The depth charge attack that drove off the attacking U-boat may have marked the first action between United States and German forces in World War II. In a subsequent action, NIBLACK was present in the screen of convoy HX-156 on October 31, 1941, when U-552 fired the torpedo which sank USS REUBEN JAMES (DD-245).

NIBLACK seemed destined to be a convoy escort for her entire career. After war was declared, the destroyer found herself screening the dozens of convoys plodding to Iceland and the British Isles. When conditions became critical in the Caribbean and vital oil supplies were being choked off, NIBLACK was moved south, only to return to the North Atlantic when the convoy battles became critical.

DD-424 was ordered to African waters in November 1942, to support Allied landings in Morocco. With a brief respite for refitting, she would remain along the African coast and in the Mediterranean for more than two years.

The campaign that helped to liberate Italy and Southern France featured some of the most dramatic naval operations of World War II. Variety marked destroyer actions in the Italian campaign. They would fight off air attacks, screen convoys, confuse robot bombs, blast shore installations, trade fire with enemy tanks, splinter enemy speed boats, evaporate E-boats, sink submarines, and perform such an assortment of other, sometimes mundane but nonetheless important tasks that adequate description is almost impossible. NIBLACK was there.

In a classic destroyer operation, NIBLACK and USS LUDLOW (DD-438) would end the career of U-960 and the veteran U-boat commander Gunther Heinrich. As action in the Mediterranean escalated, Hitler ordered more and more of his seasoned submarine crews into the "wine-dark sea." Experienced submariners favored the "choke point" at the eastern end of the Straits of Gibraltar, between Cartagena in neutral Spain and Tenes, a coastal Algerian town. In a space of approximately 150 miles, all shipping routes would converge to transit the Straits. The water was deep enough to offer some chance to escape and the width of the sea allowed for some maneuverability. It presented a risk, but, to a commander like Heinrich, with months of experience in the North Atlantic, the challenge seemed acceptable. He had not counted on the superb teamwork of Allied anti-submarine forces.

U-boats had taken a terrific toll in merchant vessels over the past several months and Allied forces were at a high state of alert. Captain A. F. Converse and a squadron of U.S. destroyers were returning from the hunt that had marked the end of Kapitan Siegfried Koitschka's U-616 when they crossed the bow of Heinrich's "canoe." He ordered a spread of three torpedoes, missing Converse’s flagship, USS ELLYSON (DD-454). The German had given away his position, and most anti-submarine forces in the region were drawn to the marker dropped by USS GLEAVES (DD-423).

On May 18, 1944, a coordinated search began. Two groups were dispatched to the general area. British patrol aircraft reported a suspicious radar contact within ten miles of one of the groups, composed of USS LUDLOW (DD-438) and USS NIBLACK. The destroyers began their one-two punch at the submarine at about 0300 and continued for nearly four hours. Taking turns, the tin cans completed eleven separate depth charge attacks on the reckless submarine. By 0700, damage forced the submarine to the surface and, as she broached, stern-first, the destroyers blasted at her conning tower. A supporting British search plane dropped a stick of bombs on the foundering vessel, and the sub went down again. NIBLACK swept in to drop another ten-depth-charge pattern. U-960 was blasted to the surface again. In twenty minutes, the submarine made her final dive. There were twenty survivors.

NIBLACK would return to the coast of France to support operations of the First Airborne Division, where her accurate fire support was vital to the success of several actions. Frequently, she found herself dueling with the monstrous coastal batteries at St. Mandrier and St. Elmo. She should have been easily outclassed, but she survived. At the end of the campaign, she had been credited with scores of fire support missions, destruction of 43 mines, the destruction of a German torpedo boat and the damage of four others.

NIBLACK returned to the States in early 1945 to prepare for operations in the Pacific. An extensive training program and a refit delayed DD-424's deployment and, by the time the veteran destroyer was ready to battle a new enemy, the war was over.

Following service with forces occupying Japan, NIBLACK was ordered to Charleston, South Carolina, where she was decommissioned. She was then transferred to the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Navy yard where she remained in reserve status until stricken from the Navy List on July 31, 1968.


From The Tin Can Sailor, July 1997

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