USS Greer (DD-145)

USS Greer (DD-145) was a Wickes class destroyer that became famous as the first US warship to attack an Axis warship, several months before the official American entry into the Second World War.

The Greer was named after Admiral James A. Greer, a US naval officer during the American Civil War and in the post-war navy, who retired in 1895 with the rank of Rear Admiral.

The Greer was launched at Cramps on 1 August 1918 and commissioned on 31 December 1918. Her shakedown cruise doubled up as part of the effort to escort President Woodrow Wilson back from the Versailles Peace Conference, and saw her visit the Azores before returning as part of the Presidential escort. She then took part in the efforts to support the first transatlantic flight, successfully completed by the Navy Curtiss Flying Boat NC-4. The Greer was posted in Trepassy Bay, at the western end of the line of destroyers that guided the aircraft across the ocean.

USS Greer (DD-145) in the North Atlantic, June 1943
USS Greer (DD-145)
in the North Atlantic,
June 1943

The Greer was allocated to the Pacific Fleet, and reached her new base at San Francisco on 18 November 1919, where she joined Destroyer Division 13 (Upshur (DD-144), Greer, Elliot (DD-146), Aaron Ward (DD-132), Buchanan (DD-131) and Philip (DD-76). In March 1920 she left to join the Asiatic Fleet, joining Destroyer Division 13. In May 1920 she was at Shanghai, to protect American interests during riots in the city. She then visited Port Arthur and Darien (the Japanese name for Dalian), to gather intelligence on these Japanese held parts of China. She visited the fleet base at Cavite in the Philippines for exercises, before returning to San Francisco in September 1921. She was decommissioned at San Diego on 22 June 1922. 

The Greer was recommissioned for the first time on 31 March 1930 and joined the Battle Fleet. She was based on the west coast during this period, and took part in exercises from Alaska to Panama, as well as visiting Hawaii.

She joined the Scouting Fleet on 1 February 1931, which took her east, and she operated off Panama, Haiti and Cuba. She then joined the Rotating Reserve between August 1933 and February 1934.

From 1934 until 1936 she took part in training exercises, battle practice and plane guard duties for carriers.

On 3 June 1936 she joined the Training Squadron on the East Coast. She was used for Naval Reserve cruises, but was then decommissioned for the second time on 13 January 1937.

The Greer was recommissioned for the second time on 4 October 1939. She became the flagship of Destroyer Division 61, and was used on patrols in the Caribbean and off the US East Coast. In February 1940 she joined the Neutrality Patrol. In October 1941 she moved to the Caribbean. Early in 1941 she joined the force of US warships operating from Iceland and Newfoundland, operating in the western Atlantic.

The British had invaded Iceland on 10 May 1940, in order to prevent the Germans extending their ongoing campaign in Denmark and Norway to include Iceland. The island remained under British occupation until 7 July 1941, when the still neutral Americans took over. US naval forces thus had a valid reason to operate as far east at Iceland.

The increased level of American involvement inevitably led to clashes with U-boats. The 'Greer Incident' took place on 4 September, and saw the Greer effectively cooperate with a British aircraft to hunt U-652, while the Greer was on her way to Iceland. At 0840 the British aircraft told the Greer that a U-boat had crash dived ten miles ahead of her. The Greer began to hunt for the submarine, and after forty minutes found her on sonar. The Greer wasn't allowed to attack the U-boat, as the US was still officially neutral, but she could report her location, so for the next hour the Greer trailed the U-boat on sonar and broadcast her location. At 10.32 the British aircraft dropped four depth charges and then had to return to base due to a lack of fuel. The submerged submariners will have felt the explosions, but can't have known that they came from an aircraft. For the next two hours the Greer continued to stalk the U-boat, until at 12.48 the U-boat captain finally lost patience and fired a torpedo at her. This was spotted from the Greer and evasive action was taken. The Greer then charged towards the U-boat and fired eight depth charges, the first US shots of the Second World War. The depth charges missed, as did a second German torpedo. During this excitement sonar contact was lost, but the Greer found U-652 again after a two hour hunt, and dropped another 11 depth charges.

USS Greer (DD-145) at New York, June 1943 USS Greer (DD-145) at New York, June 1943

The 'Greer Incident' was the first time that a U-boat had fired at an American warship, and the first time that an American warship carried out a confirmed attack on a U-boat (USS Niblack (DD-424) had fired on a possible U-boat on 10 April 1941, but this was probably a false contact). Both sides could claim to have been wronged in the incident - the US because the Germans had fired on a neutral warship, the Germans because the Greer had actively stalked them and helped guide a British aircraft to them. President Roosevelt made the best use of the incident. During one of his 'fireside chats' he declared that the Germans had been guilty of an act of piracy, and announced that 'in the waters which we deem necessary for our defense, American naval vessels and American planes will no longer wait until Axis submarines lurking under the water, or Axis raiders on the surface of the sea, strike their deadly blow—first', effectively a 'shoot on sight' order for the American patrolled areas in the western Atlantic.

The Greer was also in the vicinity when the USS Kearny (DD-432) became the first US warship to be successfully torpedoed by the Germans on 17 October 1941, and escorted her to safety at Reykjavik.

Anyone who served on her between 10-30 July, 29 August-13 September, 21 September-27 October or 4 November-2 December 1941 qualified for the American Defense Service Medal.

After this incident the Greer remained on duty in the North Atlantic, escorting convoys to the mid-ocean meeting point, where British ships took over. Early in 1942 she underwent an overhaul at Boston, before in March 1942 she began another spell of operations in the Caribbean. By now the US entry into the war meant that the Caribbean was a regular hunting ground for the U-boats, and the Greer rescued 39 survivors from ships sunk by the U-boats. In May she helped guard Guadaloupe, to stop the Vichy French cruiser Jeanne d'Arc putting to sea. On 18 September 1942 she collided with USS Barney (DD-149), causing damage to both ships that forced them to visit Curacao for repairs. The Barnay was more seriously damaged, and needed to return to the US for full repairs.

In 1943 the Greer operated on convoy duty in the Atlantic. Between 1-13 March she was part of Task Unit 24.1.3 (Escort Group A3), along with the Coast Guard cutter Spencer and the corvettes HMS Dianthus, HMCS Rosthern and HMCS Trillium, escorting convoy SC-121 (heading from Newfoundland to Londonderry). The convoy ran into U-405 on 5 March, and a wolf pack began to close in. Six ships were lost and one damaged before they got past the U-boats.

Between 11 May and 1 June the Greer helped escort a convoy of 83 ships from New York to Casablanca. She spent some of June patrolling off North Africa, before returning to New York.

In late July-early August the Greer escorted another convoy to Londonderry and back.

In late August she moved to the West Indies to act as a plane guard for the carrier Santee (CVE-29). She then escorted a convoy from the Caribbean to North Africa (still with the Santee), but was diverted to New York, arriving on 14 September (the same day the convoy reached Casablanca).

During training exercises on 15 October the Greer collided with the coastal patrol yacht USS Moonstone (PYc-9), off the Indian River, Delaware Capes. The yacht sank in less than four minutes, but only one of the crew was lost.

After undergoing repairs, the Greer escorted the French cruiser Gloire from New York to Norfolk. Between 26 December 1943 and 9 February 1944 she carried out another escort mission, to Casablanca and back.

This was the Greer's last convoy escort mission. She spent some of 1944 on submarine training duties at New London, before in the summer of 1944 she became a plane guard for new carriers, supporting the Ranger, Tripoli, Mission Bay and Wake Island. She performed the same role from Key West in the first half of 1945, before on 11 June she moved to Philadelphia, where she was decommissioned on 19 July 1945. She was sold for scrap on 30 November 1945. 

The Greer earned one battle start during the Second World War, for escorting Convoy SC-121 in March 1943.

Displacement (standard)

1,160t (design)

Displacement (loaded)


Top Speed

35kts (design)
35.34kts at 24,610shp at 1,149t on trial (Wickes)


2 shaft Parsons turbines
4 boilers
24,200shp (design)


3,800nm at 15kts on trial (Wickes)
2,850nm at 20kts on trial (Wickes)

Armour - belt


 - deck



314ft 4in


30ft 11in

Armaments (as built)

Four 4in/50 guns
Twelve 21in torpedoes in four triple tubes
Two depth charge tracks

Crew complement



1 August 1918


31 December 1918


19 July 1945

Sold for scrap

30 November 1945

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 (27 November 2017), USS Greer (DD-145) ,

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