USS Greer – The War Grows Ever Closer

USS Greer


In another excerpt from Stacy Danielle Stephens’ amazing Historical novel, we get yet another glimpse into the less well-remembered parts of WWII.  Can you tell we love these little slices of history? (you can read some of the earlier ones here, here, here and here – highly recommended!)

On the morning of September 4th, 1941, a British Aircraft notified the USS Greer, a destroyer, that a U-boat ten miles away had submerged. The Greer promptly located the German vessel. Ninety minutes later, the British plane dropped four depth charges and returned to its base. When another two hours had passed, the submarine fired on the Greer, which turned to avoid the torpedos, then dropped ten depth charges. U-652 was the first German target attacked by Americans, although neither Congress nor the Reichstag had declared war. Not detecting the U-boat, the Greer made for Greenland early that afternoon, happening across U-652 once more, and dropping nine more depth charges before both craft withdrew, undamaged.


* * *


     On September 11th, 1941, during a fireside chat, President Roosevelt gently, but firmly, moved Americans closer to the reality of the war their navy was already engaged in. He spoke of the Greer incident in the context of similar incidents which had occurred in the previous few months, explaining that it was not the number but the nature of such incidents which compelled him to issue orders that Axis vessels entering waters deemed essential to US interests were to be fired upon. Since German vessels were known to be under orders not to fire on American ships that had not first fired on them, this new order from the Commander-in-Chief was seen by many of his Republican opponents as an insidiously devised ruse to incite a war he still could not move Congress to declare.


     Although Roosevelt was not lying when he said that the U-boat had fired first on the Greer, he was not being completely honest, either. Submerged, a U-boat would have no way of knowing whether the depth charges exploding around them had been deployed by an airplane or a ship, or whether they were American or British. Aware that American vessels were not to fire on vessels which had not attacked them, Oberleutnant zur See Georg-Werner Fraatz, commanding U-652, assumed he was returning fire against a British Destroyer[1]. There is every reason to believe that his misapprehension was brought about deliberately through the collusion of the United States Navy and the Royal Air Force.

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[1] That is what he recorded in his logbook. There is no indication that this entry was falsified or altered.


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