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Niblack (DD-424)

1940-1968 

Albert Parker Niblack -- born in Vincennes, Ind., on 25 July 1859 -- was appointed to the U.S. Naval Academy on 22 September 1876. Graduating on 10 June 1880, he was assigned to Lackawanna. During the decades that followed, Niblack served on many ships and held several interesting posts ashore including work with the Smithsonian Institution, duty in the Bureau of Navigation, and a tour in the Office of Naval Intelligence. He earned his first command, Iroquois,  on 10 February 1904, and subsequently commanded some of the Navy's most famous ships including Hartford and Olympia. He was naval attache to Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Germany and The Netherlands, and served as a member of the General Board. When the U.S. entered World War I, he was given command of Division 1, Atlantic Fleet, with Alabama  (Battleship No. 8) as flagship on 5 April 1917, and was appointed rear admiral on 31 August. Niblack assumed command of Squadron 2, Patrol Force, on 23 October 1917 and served in that post through the Armistice in November 1918. He became Director of Naval Intelligence on 1 March 1919, and Naval Attache in London on 6 August 1920. As vice admiral, he commanded U.S. Naval Forces in European waters (15 January 1921 -- 17 June 1922). After serving as commandant of the Sixth Naval District at Charleston, S.C., Vice Adm. Niblack retired on 25 July 1923. He died at Monte Carlo, Monaco, on 20 August 1929.

(DD-424: displacement 2,060; length 347'5"; beam 36'1"; speed 33 knots; complement 208; armament 5 5-inch, 4 .50 caliber machine guns, 10 21-inch torpedo tubes, 2 depth charge tracks; class Gleaves)

Niblack (DD-424) was laid down on 8 August 1938 at Bath, Maine, by the Bath Iron Works Corp. ; launched on 18 May 1940; sponsored by Mrs. Albert P. Niblack, widow of the late Vice Adm. Niblack; and commissioned on 1 August 1940, Lt. Comdr. Edward R. Durgin in command.

After shakedown and training in the Caribbean, Niblack made a preliminary reconnaissance to Icelandic waters. Exactly one month after the passage of Lend Lease [11 March 1941], on Friday, 11 April 1941, Niblack (DD-424), in commission almost eight months, came across three lifeboats containing the 63-man crew (61 Dutch, two Chinese) of the Dutch freighter Saleier (Jacob Riedel, master), that had been torpedoed and sunk the previous day [10 April], by U-52 (32-year old Korvettenkapitän Otto Salman, commanding), a Type VIIB U-boat one week out of Lorient on her eighth patrol (the seventh under Salman), attached to the 7. Unterseebootsflotille [Seventh Submarine Flotilla]. The sinking had occurred at 58°04'N, 30°48'W, after the dispersal of convoy OB-306.

Almost immediately after affecting the rescue, Niblack obtained a sound contact and dropped three depth charges on what was believed to be a German U-boat. The destroyer then set course for Reykjavik, Iceland, with the rescued mariners. A thorough investigation by the Kriegsmarine, however, concluded that no U-boats were in the vicinity at the time of Niblack’s attack. The U.S. Navy concluded that Niblack had depth-charged a false contact.

Subsequently, on 1 July 1941, Niblack sailed from Argentia with the occupation force, arriving on 7 July. She continued her North Atlantic operations into the autumn as tension increased between the United States and Germany.  On 23 October, Niblack  sailed from Argentia along with Hilary P. Jones (DD-427) and Benson (DD-421), and the four-stackers Reuben James (DD-245) andTarbell (DD-142), to escort the 44 ships of eastbound convoy HX-156, taking station on the 24th. The next day [25 October], Hilary P. Jones stood toward a contact on the convoy’s port side and fired one depth charge from her Y-gun but ceased fire soon after she sighted a school of porpoises under the bow. Hilary P. Jones closed and carried out an embarrassing attack at 20 knots on the 29th, dropping three 600-pound depth charges. After losing the contact, however, she rejoined the formation at 0930. The next day [30 October], Reuben James “made a good contact” on what was believed to be a submarine and released two charges.

At almost 0534 on 31 October 1941, the German submarine U-552, Kapitänleutnant Erich Topp, commanding, less than a week out of St. Nazaire, France, fired two torpedoes that punched into Reuben James (DD 245)'s side in the vicinity of her forward fireroom, the explosions “accompanied by a lurid orange flame and a high column of black smoke visible for several minutes at some miles.

When apprised of the explosion, Cmdr. Richard E. Webb, the escort commander, in Benson, contacted each destroyer and soon learned that Reuben James -- by her silence-- was unaccounted-for. Webb immediately directed Niblack, astern of the convoy, and Hilary P. Jones, near the head of the port column of HX-156, to investigate. Providentially, a smooth sea and a gentle wind favored recovery, and Niblack spotted men in the water at 0555 and began rescue operations five minutes later, with Lt. George C. Seay, Niblack's executive officer, Ensigns John H. Rosenwald (USNR), David F. Polatty, Jr., and Samuel T. Orme (USNR), CCStd John Cozy, BM1c Floyd T. Peterson, MM1c Emerson W. Daigneau, BM2c Ernest V. Roberts, and GM3c Dexter T. Berry going over the side and entering the water to help the struggling oil-soaked survivors, during the exhausting work utilizing cargo nets, Jacob’s Ladders, life rings, and lines. Hilary P. Jones circled to provide protection as her sistership rescued 36 men.

Both destroyers picked up good sound contacts dead astern, however, at 0708, forcing Niblack to suspend rescue operations. The ships exchanged stations, with Hilary P. Jones resuming the rescue work, taking on board 10 men and the body of F1c Windell H. Merrell, who had died of multiple injuries.  With rescue operations completed by 0805, the two destroyers investigated the status of two straggling merchantmen about four miles from the scene of Reuben James’s sinking, with Niblack rejoining the convoy. Hilary P. Jones rejoined the convoy at noon, after having guarded the stragglers and kept any U-boats down. She continued the search for survivors, but found none. One of the men rescued by Niblack, F3c Donald E. Olmstead, succumbed to his injuries on 2 November 1941.

After Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor pushed America officially into the war on 7 December 1941, Niblack continued to escort North Atlantic convoys to Reykjavik, Iceland; Londonderry, Ireland; and Greenock, Scotland. In July 1942, she was transferred to the Caribbean for temporary duty at the height of the U-boat campaign there, resuming northern duty in August. In November 1942, she escorted the first support convoy to Casablanca after the Allied landings on the Moroccan Coast. The ship then performed coastal convoy escort duty until departing early in May 1943 for Mers-el-Kebir, Algeria.

During the invasion of Sicily in July 1943 Niblack performed escort duties and screened the minelaying operation near Gela. She escorted troopships into Syracuse harbor the day after British troops captured the city. During that operation German torpedo boats attacked Niblack and the submarine chaser PC-556 under cover of a dense smoke screen. The U.S. ships drove off the E-boats by gunfire after the enemy craft had fired three torpedoes that missed and exploded near the harbor breakwater.

The destroyer supported the advance of the Allied ground forces across Sicily and entered Palermo Harbor following its capture. Shortly after the rout of the Germans across the Strait of Messina, Niblack, with  light cruisers Boise (CL-47) and Philadelphia (CL-41), and the destroyers Gleaves (DD-423), Plunkett (DD-431) and Benson  sortied from Palermo on the night of 17-18 August 1943, and proceeded at high speed to the Italian coast for the first bombardment of the Italian mainland by U.S. Naval Forces.

Niblack took part in the landings at Salerno on 9 September 1943. She served at first in the screen, but when the situation ashore became desperate, she joined the fire-support destroyers. On 16-17 September, she conducted eleven call-fire support missions. U.S. forces advancing after the bombardment sent back reports of the complete destruction of  men and material in Niblack's target areas.

Later in the Salerno campaign the ship screened cruiser Philadelphia during the radio-controlled bomb attacks that damaged Philadelphia and Savannah (CL-47). On 27 October 1943, Niblack and  light cruiserBrooklyn (CL-40) bombarded enemy coastal guns far behind the front lines in the Gulf of Gaeta, Italy, to pave the way for Allied ground forces.

On 11 December 1943, Niblack joined HMS Holcombe in a search for a German U-boat whose torpedoes had sunk several freighters off Bizerte the day before. U-593 struck first, however, and blew up Holcombe with an acoustic torpedo. Niblack rescued 90 survivors and transferred them to an Army hospital ship that night. During the transfer, she spotted antiaircraft fire from the submarine against a British patrol plane and directed Wainwright (DD-419) and HMS Calpe to the scene, where they sank U-593.  Soon thereafter, when U-73 attacked convoy GUS-24 off the Algerian coast, torpedoing the U.S. freighter John S. Copley near the harbor entrance at Oran, Niblack and Mayo (DD-422) searched for the submarine. They had narrowed down the search to a small area when they were relieved by the Woolsey (DD-437), Edison (DD-439), and Trippe (DD-403), who subsequently sank U-73, 35 miles north-northwest of Oran.

After a month in Task Force (TF) 86, Niblack was ordered to support the landings at Anzio. During this invasion the ship commanded the beachhead screen, and fought off simultaneous attacks by dive and torpedo bombers, E-boats, and human torpedoes. From 22 to 29 January 1944, she received credit for destroying one plane and probably splashing two others. During one attack, two ships of her division, DesDiv 13, were put out of action, Plunkett by a 550-pound bomb and Mayo by a mine.

In February 1944, Niblack returned to New York for a brief overhaul, but was back on duty in the Mediterranean in May 1944. Driven from Sicily, North Africa, and Southern Italy, the enemy intensified his submarine and air attacks on Allied shipping along the African Coast. One of the U-boats made the mistake of firing at a hunter-killer group which had just finished off another enemy U-boat. These U.S. ships had begun the work of rooting the sub out, but were soon relieved by Woolsey, Madison (DD-425), Benson, Ludlow (DD-438) and Niblack. Niblack and Ludlow worked together in the hunt, that began on 18 May. British planes picked up the sub by radar at 0240 the next morning and Niblack and Ludlow raced to investigate. Establishing sonar contact, the two destroyers dropped eleven depth charges, forcing the sub to the surface. As she started down again both ships opened fire, while the planes dropped bombs close aboard. When the target had gone under again, Niblack rushed in to hit her again with ten more charges. Coming up once more, U-960 turned nose down and plunged to the bottom, leaving 20 survivors who were promptly captured.

The summer months of 1944 were spent in fighter-director training. Gleaves and Niblack qualified as the only two fighterdirector destroyers in the Eighth Fleet, and directed French and British planes in repelling the intense German torpedo plane attacks against Allied convoys during the invasion of Southern France. The initial landings on 15 August met little resistance, and for several days the ship controlled the routing and dispatching of all outbound convoys, taking her place in the outer screen at night. On 20 August, she joined the inshore screen for the heavy cruiserQuincy (CA-71),  battleship Nevada (BB-36) and light cruiser Omaha (CL-4) during the siege of Toulon. She was frequently taken under fire by the large coast defense batteries of St. Mandrier and St. Elmo but escaped damage from several near misses.

Following the capture of Marseille and Toulon, Niblack was assigned to TF 86 and later to "Flank Force," the Allied Naval forces which provided fire support for the First Airborne Division on the Franco-Italian frontier. During the periods between 4 and 17 October and 11 and 25 December 1944, the ship completed numerous fire support missions, operating under the constant threat of explosive boats, human torpedoes, and floating mines. The ship also sank 43 mines, destroyed one German MAS boat, and damaged four others in the harbor of San Remo, Italy.

Niblack next returned to Oran to serve as flagship for Commander, Destroyer Squadron 7, (Commander Destroyer 8th Fleet), returning to the Boston Navy Yard in February 1945. After serving in various anti-submarine groups and as an escort for one convoy from England in April, she transited the Panama Canal on 3 July 1945 and proceeded to Pearl Harbor via San Diego. Following a training program, during which hostilities with Japan ended, the ship escorted the occupation group which landed at Sasebo, Japan, on 22 September 1945. She then escorted landing forces to Matsuyama, remaining in the Western Pacific for further duties during the occupation period.

By a directive of June 1947, Niblack was decommissioned and placed in the Atlantic Reserve Fleet at Charleston, S.C.  She was subsequently transferred to Philadelphia where she remained until stricken from the Naval Vessel Register on 31 July 1968. 

The ship's usefulness, however, did not end with her striking, for the Naval Facilities Engineering Command (NavFac) sought to test the concept of an AMMI lift-dock, selecting Davisville, R. I., as the site where the dock would be assembled. To that end, use of "Ex-DD-424" in the tests involved the ship's arrival at Davisville no earlier than 1 October 1969 due to "waterfront construction operations."  Extant correspondence indicates that NavFac had scheduled a test involving ex-Niblack for 27 April 1970.  Subsequently, a test of the AMMI Lift Dock was set for the first week of October 1970, with NavFac asking that ex-Niblack "be scheduled for delivery...between 10 and 17 September to allow to perform final construction tests..."  NavFac further specified that the custodian for the former destroyer would be the officer-in-charge of the floating drydock ARD-16. The fleet tug Seneca (ATF-91) took ex-Niblack in tow, and departed the Inactive Ship Facility, Philadelphia, on the morning of 3 September 1970 and set course for Davisville. The ship remained at Davisville, being utilized in tests, during 1971 and 1972, upon completion of which she was to be moved to the east side of Narragansett Bay for use as a "test vehicle" with the floating dry dock AFDM-7 (as well as "to facilitate [the] security of [the] ship." Ultimately, however, after her career as a warship and test vehicle, ex-Niblack was sold for scrapping to Union Minerals & Alloys Corp., New York, N.Y., on 16 August 1973. 

Niblack earned five battle stars for her service in the European African-Middle-Eastern Areas.

Published: Fri Oct 28 16:49:00 EDT 2016