The USS Greer, an American destroyer had been radioing the position of a German U-Boat to the British and became the first US Navy war ship to be fired on by a German U-Boat but did not sink. The USS Kearny was torpedoed on October 17, 1941 by a German U-boat while on patrol off Greenland, but did not sink. The U.S.S. Reuben James was the first United States warship to be sunk by a German U-boat on October 31, 1941 and resulted in the loss of 115 of 160 American crewmen. These incidents in the Atlantic moved the United States nearer to outright involvement in the European war.
USS Greer, Kearny and Reuben James
Great Britain had declared war on Germany on September 3, 1939 and the British Battle of the Atlantic was in full swing.
The Lend-Lease Act allowed the British access to American arms, munitions and supplies but the British had to send its own ships to pick up the goods.
The convoys of British cargo ships were under constant attack by German U-Boat submarines and their precious cargoes were being lost.
The United States was still technically neutral so President Roosevelt was unable to order the US Navy to protect the British merchant cargo ships.
FDR therefore declared the western half of the Atlantic as neutral and ordered the US Navy to patrol what he called the 'Hemispheric Defense Zone' and help the allies by reporting the location of German U-Boat submarines to the British.
The "Greer incident" occurred south of Iceland in the North Atlantic on September 4, 1941. The USS Greer (DD 145), an American destroyer was carrying American mail to Iceland and had been radioing the position of a German U-Boat to the British.
The USS Greer became the first US Navy war ship to be fired on by a German U-Boat (U-652) but the two torpedoes missed their target.
The USS Greer had maintained the German U-boat in sound contact for 3 hours and 28 minutes. After evading the two torpedoes fired at her the Greer attacked with 19 depth charges and therefore also became the first American ship in World War II to attack the Germans.
The Greer was flying the American flag and her identity as an American ship was unmistakable. FDR responded to the "Greer incident" by issuing what became known as his "shoot-on-sight" order toward German submarines.
President Roosevelt unofficially declared war on anyone who further attacked American vessels, or foreign shipping under escort, in the North Atlantic stating "If German or Italian vessels of war enter these waters, they do so at their own peril."
FDR reported the events of the "Greer incident" to the American people during one of his 'Fireside Chats' on September 11, 1941 calling it an act of piracy. The president went on to state that the Nazi danger to the Western world had long ceased to be a mere possibility.
The USS Kearny (DD 432) was torpedoed on October 17, 1941 by a German U-boat (U-568) while on patrol off Greenland. The USS Kearny but did not sink, but 11 men were killed and 22 men were injured in the explosion.
Ten days after the attack on the USS Kearny, President Roosevelt made his "Navy Day Address" to the nation on October 27, 1941 stating that the "forward march of Hitler and of Hitlerism can be stopped - and it will be stopped..."
On October 31, 1941 the U.S.S. Reuben James was torpedoed and sunk whilst escorting convoy HX-156 of forty-three merchant ships from Halifax, Nova Scotia to England.
The explosions broke the ship in two and the sinking of the Reuben James American destroyer resulted in the loss of 115 of 160 American crewmen. Reuben James was the first United States warship sunk two months before Pearl Harbor
The incidents in the Atlantic moved America nearer to outright involvement in the European war. Japan bombed the United States fleet at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 and the United States entered World War II.
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