USS Niblack (DD-424)

USS Niblack (DD-424) was a Gleaves class destroyer that served on convoy escort duty, taking part in what might have been the first action between US and German forces and supported the invasions of Sicily, Salernio, Anzio and the South of France and help sink U-960.

USS Niblack (DD-424) on builder's trials, 1940 USS Niblack (DD-424) on builder's trials, 1940

The Niblack was named after Admiral Albert Parker Niblack, who commanded Division 1 of the Atlantic Fleet after the United States entered the First World War, Squadron 2 of the Patrol Force later in the war then after the war served as Director of Naval Intelligence, Naval Attache to London and commander of US Naval Forces in European waters.

The Niblack was laid down at the Bath Iron Works, Maine, on 8 August 1938, launched on 18 May 1940 when she was sponsored by Admiral Niblack’s widow, and commissioned on 1 August 1940.

Her shakedown cruise took her to the Caribbean. She then helped escort a convoy to Argentia in Newfoundland.

On 10 April 1941 the Niblack picked up three boatloads of survivors from the Dutch freighter Saleier, which had been sunk by a U-boat on 9 April. The destroyer then detected a submarine preparing to attack, and carried out a depth charge attack on what was probably U-52. This was probably the first action between US and German forces during World Wwar II.

The Niblack formed part of Task Force 19, which was formed to escort a convoy carrying US Marines to Iceland to replace the British garrison.

This was a powerful fleet, built around the battleships Arkansas and New York and the cruisers Brooklyn (CL-40) and Nashville (CL-43) and protected by two destroyer divisions – Des Div 13 (Benson, Gleaves (DD-423), Mayo (DD-422) and Niblack (DD-424) and DesDiv 14 (Charles F. Hughes (DD-428), Hilary P Jones (DD-427) and Lansdale (DD-426) with DesDiv 60 as the outer screen (Bernadou (DD-153), Buck (DD-420), Ellis (DD-154), Lea (DD-118) and Upshur (DD-144)

The task force left Argentia on 1 July and reached Reykjavik on 7 July.

After the occupation of Iceland the Niblack returned to convoy escort duties.

On 3 September 1942 the Niblack took part in the rescue operations when the transport Wakefield (AP-21) caught fire while on her way from the Clyde to New York. The entire complement of the Wakefield was rescued, and the damaged ship was later towed safely to Halifax (although she was so badly damaged that she didn’t return to service until February 1944.

The Niblack was one of four destroyers that were escorting a fast convoy across the Atlantic on 31 October when a U-boat torpedoed and sank the Reuben James (DD-245) with the loss of all but 45 of her crew. This was the first loss of a US naval vessel during the Second World War, and came weeks before the official entry of the US into the war.

In November 1941 the Niblack was rammed by a Norwegian freighter while searching Icelandic coastal waters for a missing merchant ship. She lost an anchor and had a hole in her side plate. The damage was repaired by the depot ship Vulcan .

The Japanase attack on Pearl Harbor changed the nature of the Niblack’s war, as Germany soon became officially hostile, but not her task, and she continued to escort convoys across the Atlantic.


On 15 January 1942 the Niblack, Tarbell (DD-142), Overton (DD-239) and Alexander Hamilton joined convoy HX-170 to escort it to the Mid-Ocean Meeting Point, where British escorts would take over. They reached the MOMP on 22 January, but the British were delayed by two days. Only the Niblack and Alexander Hamilton had enough fuel to wait with the convoy until the British arrived.

On 2 June the Benson, Livermore (DD-429), Mayo (DD-422), Gleaves (DD-423), Niblack (DD-424) and Kearny (DD-432) departed from Halifax as part of the escort for Convoy AT 16, heading across the Atlantic.

On 14 June the Niblack, Kearny, Mayo, Gleaves and Livermore carried out exercises at sea.

On 16 June the New York (BB-34), Livermore, Kearny, Gleaves, Niblack, Benson and Mayo  departed from Greenock as part of the escort for convoy CT 1, arriving at Boston on 26 June. 

During July the Niblack operated in the Caribbean, during the peak of the U-boat campaign in that area.

On 6 August the Arkansas, Brooklyn (CL-40), Roe (DD-418), Ericsson, Madison (DD-425), Eberle, Nicholson (DD-442), Kearny, Mayo, Niblack, Benson, Gleaves, Hilary P. Jones (DD-427) and Charles F. Hughes (DD-428) left Brooklyn to escort a convoy of fourteen US, British and Polish troop transports to Halifax, arriving on 8 August.

In late October the Niblack joined the forces training for Operation Torch, the Allied invasion of North Africa. She didn’t take part in the initial attack, but instead was part of the escort for the first support convoy that reached Casablanca after the invasion in November 1942. She was then used on coastal escort duties.


On 8-9 March 1943 shge escorted the fuel oil tanker Enoree (AO-69) from New York to Hampton Roads.

In early May 1943 she moved to Mers-el-Kebir, to join the forces being gathered for the invasion of Sicily.

The invasion began on 10 July. The Niblack was used to screen minelaying operations near Gela, and on escort duties.

On 11 July she escorted troop ships into Syracuse, after the city fell to British forces late on D-Day. German torpedo boats attempted to attack the Niblack and PC-556 under cover of a dense smoke screen, firing three torpedoes which exploded against the harbour breakwater. They were then driven off by American gunfire.

On 16 July she joined with the Nelson, Plunkett (DD-431), Jeffers and Glennon.

On the morning of 17 July the group entered the Dime Assault Area off Gela. On the evening of 17 July the Niblack, Plunkett, Nelson and Glennon departed for Gozo, Malta, to meet up with Convoy NCS-3, which was bringing reinforcements and supplies to Sicily.

On 0720 on 18 July the destroyers joined the convoy, and then escorted it back to Gela, arriving at around 1900.

On the evening of 20 July the Niblack, Bristol and Glennon patrolled the areas to the south-east of Gela.

The Niblack entered Palermo harbour soon after its surrender on 22 July.

After the end of the fighting on Sicily the Boise (CL-47), Philadelphia (CL-41), Gleaves (DD-423), Plunkett (DD-431) and Benson, (DD-421) left Palermo on the night of 17-18 August to take part in the first US naval bombardment of the Italian coast.  The Boise, Niblack and Gleaves bombarded Palmi.

The Niblack supported Operation Avalance, the landings at Salerno, of 9 September 1943. She was part of the screen, but the situation on shore soon became dangerous and she joined the fire-support destroyers which helped fight off the German counterattacks.

On 11 September Niblack and Benson escorted the damaged cruiser Savannah to Malta for repairs.

On 16-17 September she carried out eleven fire-support missions, and received positive reports from the US troops attacking into the target areas.

Later in the campaign she was used to screen the Philadelphia against German radio controlled bomb attacks.

On 27 October the Niblack and Brooklyn (CL-40) bombarded German coastal guns around the Gulf of Gaeta, to support Allied troops advancing up the coast.

On 10 December 1943 U-593 sank several freighters off Bizerte. On 11 December the Niblack and HMS Holcombe attempted to find the submarine, but the Germans sank the Holcombe with an acoustic torpedo. The Niblack stopped to rescue her survivors, picking up 90 men. The U-boat moved off, but remained on the surface, and opened fire on a British aircraft. The Niblack spotted the anti-aircraft fire, and directed the Wainwright and HMS Calpe to the scene. They both dropped depth charges, which forced the U-boat to the surface. After a very brief fire fight the Germans began to abandon ship. The Wainwright sent across a boarding party, but they were unable to stop the U-boat from sinking. They were able to rescue her survivors, who were taken to Algiers.

On 15 December the Niblack and Mayo (DD-422) hunted a U-boat that had torpedoed a liberty ship near the harbour entrance at Oran. They had located the U-boat but were then replaced by Woolsey (DD-437), Edison (DD-439), and Trippe (DD-403), who sank U-73


In January 1944 the Niblack joined the forces supporting the landings at Anzio. She commanded the beachhead screen and had to fight of an increasingly varied range of attacks, which included conventional dive and torpedo bombers and E-boats as well as human torpedoes. Between 22-29 January her force came under repeated air attack, and two ships in her division, the Plunkett and Mayo were damaged and forced out of the battle.

In early February the Niblack, Wainwright and Ariel (AF-22) travelled back to New York via the Azores, arriving on 12 February. The Niblack then underwent a brief overhaul, before returning to the Mediterranean in May.

In mid-May the Niblack was part of a hunter-killer group that also included Woolsey, Ludlow (DD-438) and Benson. On 17 May another destroyer group sank U-616. U-960 fired on this group, which began to hunt the U-boat. However on 17 May they were replaced by the Niblack’s group. On the night of 18-19 May the destroyers split into two groups of two and began to search along the possible track of the U-boat, with a 20 mile gap between them.

At about 2.40am on 19 May British aircraft detected the submarine on sonar, ten miles ahead of Niblack and Ludlow. The two destroyers dropped eleven depth charges, which forced the submarine to the surface. They were then joined by the rest of their group and the Woolsey, and all five destroyers opened fire. A British Wellington bomber also attacked her. The U-boat was forced to submerge. The Niblack dropped another ten depth charges, which inflicted fatal damage on the U-boat. She came to the surface and her crew attempted to abandon ship. The captain and 21 of her crew were rescued, but the rest went down with the U-boat.

During the summer of 1944 the Niblack and Gleaves trained as fighter-director ships.

On 14 July the Niblack and Madison screened the escort carrier Tulagi (CVE-72) during flight operations near Oran.

During the invasion of the south of  France the Niblack and Gleaves helped direct French and British aircraft as they defended the Allied convoys against German air attack.

On 15 August and for several days afterwards she was also used to control the routing and dispatch of outboard convoys and formed part of the outer screen each night.

On 20 August she joined the screen for the Quincy (CA-71), Nevada (BB-36) and Omaha (CL-4) during the siege of Toulon. She was often fired on by the coastal defence guns at St Mandrier and St. Elmo but wasn’t damaged.

On 21 August she supported the Quincy, Philadelphia, Aurora, Eberle, Kearny, Lookout, Lorraine and Le Malin as they attacked German positions on the Giens peninsular. Once again the warships cam eunder heavy fire.

On 22 August she and McCook supported the Quincy during an attempt to take out a large German gun known as Big Willy. This 13.4in gun finally surrendered on 28 August, as part of the wider surrender of Toulon. The long series of Allied attacks had knocked out one of the two 13.4in guns in the battery, but the second had remained intact to the end.

After the fall of Marseille and Toulon the main fighting moved out of the range of naval guns. However fighting continued along the coast towards the Franco-Italian border. The Niblack joined Task Force 86, which later became Flank Force, and provided first support for the 1st Airborne Division during this relatively static period of fighting. From 4-17 October and 11-25 December the Niblack carried out fire support missions. She also attacked the harbour at San Remo, Italy, sinking one German MAS boat and damaging four others.

She then moved back to Oran to become the flagship, Commander, Destroyer Squadron 7 (who was also Commander, Destroyers, 8th Fleet).


In February 1945 she returned to the Boston Navy Yard. After time in the yard she joined several anti-submarine groups, and in April helped escort one convoy to April.

After the end of the fighting in Europe she was allocated to the Pacific Fleet. She passed through the Panama Canal on 3 July and reached Pearl Harbor, but she was still training there when Japan surrendered.

The Niblack did join the occupation forces, escorting the occupation group which landed at Sasebo on 22 September 1945.

On 13 October the Niblack escorted the Crittenden (carrying landing forces) to Matsuyama on Shikoku Island, arriving on 21 October.

On 30-31 October the Niblack, Edison (DD-439) and Ludlow (DD-438) escorted the Admiral W.S. Beson to Wakayama.

The Niblack returned to the US after the initial occupation of Japan had been completed. In June 1947 she was decommissioned. She was struck off on 31 July 1968 and sold for scrap on 16 August 1973.

Anyone who served on her in five periods between 27 June and 7 December 1941 qualified for the American Defence Service Medal. The Niblack was awarded five battle stars, for Sicily, Salerno, Anzio, the South of France and U-960. Anyone who served on her between 15-25 September or 10 October-3 Novemebr 1945 qualified for the Navy Occupation Service Medal (Asia).

Displacement (standard)

1,630t design
1,838t as built

Displacement (loaded)


Top Speed

35kts design
36.5kt at 50,200shp at 2,220t on trial (Niblack)


2-shaft Westinghouse turbines
4 boilers
50,000hp design


6500nm at 12kt design

Armour - belt


 - deck



348ft 3in


36ft 1in


Five 5in/38 guns
Ten 21in torpedo tubes
Six 0.5in AA guns
Two depth charge tracks

Crew complement


Laid Down

8 August 1938


18 May 1940


1 August 1940.


June 1947

Struck off

31 July 1968

Sold for scrap

16 August 1973

U.S. Destroyers: An Illustrated Design History, Norman Friedmann . The standard history of the development of American destroyers, from the earliest torpedo boat destroyers to the post-war fleet, and covering the massive classes of destroyers built for both World Wars. Gives the reader a good understanding of the debates that surrounded each class of destroyer and led to their individual features.
cover cover cover

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (13 September 2023), USS Niblack (DD-424) ,

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