First American Casualties of the War
17th October 1941: U.S.S. Kearny is torpedoed as it aids convoy near Iceland
The United States was not yet at war with Germany even if it was clearly lined up on the side of democracy, following the Atlantic Conference. It was also providing substantial ‘Lend Lease’ material support to both the United Kingdom and Soviet Russia.
In a more active role the US Navy and the US Coastguard were increasingly important participants in the Battle of the Atlantic, escorting convoys of ships across the western Atlantic. They had established a significant Naval base at Iceland for this purpose.
When Convoy SC-48, bound from Canada to England came under U-boat attack on the 16th October the USS Kearney was ordered to assist with the escort.
During the night of 16/17th U-boat U-568 repeatedly found a destroyer passing between itself and the convoy, preventing an attack on the merchant ships. Its two stack profile meant that it was most likely a USN destroyer, especially as it was operating in this area west of Iceland.
U-568 launched a spread of torpedoes at the destroyer.
With full left rudder, to avoid British corvette, commenced swinging ship to port in circling area on port quarter of convoy as this appeared to be a submarine area. It is probable that the KEARNY was silhouetted by the burning freighter to submarine to Northwest which was thus in a favorable attack position and not seen by KEARNY.
About 0010 torpedo struck the ship on starboard side at about the turn of the bilge between frames seventy and seventy four, in latitude 57-04 North, 23-00 West. At this time a second torpedo ran past the starboard side of ship on slightly converging coure and a third was noted crossing astern close abroad from starboard to port.
From the Action Report of LCDR. A.L. DANIS, Commanding Officer U.S.S. KEARNY DD-432.1. Other accounts suggest that the USS Kearny was hit at 0416 and immediately lost power - so was unable to send a distress signal until 0442, when the USS Greer came to her assistance and escorted Kearny back to Iceland.
Eleven men died in the attack, 22 were injured, 8 seriously. It was one more incident hardening the attitude of the American people against Nazi Germany.
Ten days later President Roosevelt was to address the nation:
‘The purpose of Hitler's attack was to frighten the American people off the high seas - to force us to make a trembling retreat. This is not the first time he has misjudged the American spirit. That spirit is now aroused.’
America has been attacked. The U.S.S. Kearny is not just a Navy ship. She belongs to every man, woman, and child in this Nation.
Illinois, Alabama, California, North Carolina, Ohio, Louisiana, Texas, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Arkansas, New York, Virginia -- those are the home States of the honored dead and wounded of the Kearny.
Hitler's torpedo was directed at every American, whether he lives on our seacoasts or in the innermost part of the Nation, far from the seas and far from the guns and tanks of the marching hordes of would-be conquerors of the world.
The purpose of Hitler's attack was to frighten the American people off the high seas -- to force us to make a trembling retreat. This is not the first time he has misjudged the American spirit. That spirit is now aroused.