This Day in History: USS Kearny is torpedoed by a German U-boat

Source: This Day in History: USS Kearny is torpedoed by a German U-boat

On this day in 1941, USS Kearny participates in an emergency rescue mission—and it would be attacked by the Germans. But wasn’t the United States neutral in World War II at that juncture? The attack on Pearl Harbor and declarations of war on Japan and Germany were still nearly two months away.

Believe it or not, several American vessels clashed with the Germans in those months. As early as April 1941, USS Niblack was dropping depth charges to ward off a potential German U-boat attack. Niblack escaped its “bloodless battle” without any damage, but Kearny would not be so fortunate. Instead, the ship would suffer nearly three dozen casualties.

Yet a spark of hope shone through the tragedy: It provided an early glimpse of the Greatest Generation in action.

“Everyone just did his job—and two or three more,” one ensign would say, when asked to explain how the ship survived. “If I am torpedoed again I hope I have this crew with me.”

Kearny was then stationed in Reykjavik, Iceland, serving in escort convoys for merchant ships. Trouble began during the night of October 16-17 when one such convoy came under attack. Kearny and other escort vessels began dropping depth charges, hoping to scare off the German U-boats. Unfortunately, a tanker was hit—and the light from the explosion left Kearny clearly illuminated against the dark night sky.

The Germans were quick to find their mark. Three torpedoes were launched. One struck Kearny on her starboard side. A huge hole was blown in the middle of the ship.

One crew member, Alphonso “Al” DiPasqua, later recounted his attempts to make his way to the midships engine room when the alarm for General Quarters sounded. He had no idea that it had just taken a direct hit from the torpedo.

Smoke and fire filled the air. It was nearly impossible to see. At one point, Al saw a sailor fly by him—except it was just the top half of his shipmate. Suddenly, Al thought someone grabbed him from behind. He turned around to look, but no one was there. He had an odd feeling, so he turned around and went back the way he’d come. Al later discovered that he had been mere steps away from plunging through a gaping hole created by the torpedo.

Al later told his son that the “hand of God” had turned him around.

Meanwhile, the crew swung into action, working quickly to put out flames, to reinforce wrecked bulkheads, and to confine the flooding. There were many heroes that day, including Seaman 1/C Harold C. Barnard, who voluntarily made his way into the dark and isolated passageways below. Someone had to check and reinforce the watertight fittings down there, but he surely knew what would happen to him if the ship could not stay afloat.

Amazingly, the crew kept Kearny under control, and the vessel limped back into port at Reykjavik. One engineer observed that “many observers, and particularly British naval officers, were struck by her upright posture, and were amazed that she was still afloat after receiving a torpedo hit amidships.”

“America has been attacked,” President Roosevelt told the nation several days later. “The U.S.S. Kearny is not just a Navy ship. She belongs to every man, woman, and child in this 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 that he has misjudged the American spirit. That spirit is now aroused.”

The nation was technically still debating its neutrality. But the Sleeping Giant would finally awaken several weeks later, at Pearl Harbor.

Primary Sources:

Strange Encounter


73 Years Ago Today: An American pilot in an Israeli-marked German plane made in Czechoslovakia went head-to-head with two Egyptian pilots behind the sticks of British-made fighters in one of the most curious dog fights in history.

“Strange Encounter” Israeli Messerschmitt Me-109 (Avia S-199) fighter piloted by the American ace Rudy Augarten vs an Egyptian Spitfire, Oct 1948, painted by Roy Grinnell (1995)

Rudolph “Rudy” Augarten was born in Philadelphia in 1922 and flew for the USAAF during WWII, logging time in P-47s in Europe where he earned the DFC after shooting down two Messerschmitts with the 403rd Fighter Squadron. Notably, he also survived being shot down over Normandy where he was eventually captured and imprisoned by the Germans until he and another aviator escaped

Postwar, he threw in his lot flying for the IDF’s 101st Squadron in 1948, where he downed a total of three REAF Spitfire IXs…

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“Rev War Revelry” The Battle of Iron Works Hill and the Thirteen Crucial Days

Emerging Revolutionary War Era

When one thinks of December 1776 in American Revolutionary War history, one’s mind immediately goes to Washington crossing the Delaware River and the Battle of Trenton, fought on December 26th. Historians refer to that engagement as the beginning of the “Ten Crucial Days” that culminated with the American victory at the Battle of Princeton on January 3, 1777.

However, days prior, American militia under Colonel Samuel Griffin fought an engagement with Hessian troops under the command of Colonel Carl von Donop. The actions occurred on December 22 and 23, 1776. Although the American forces were pushed out of their positions, the end result was the occupation of Bordentown by Donop and his troops, approximately 10 miles from their fellow Hessian comrades at Trenton.

To discuss these engagements, collectively known as the Battle of Iron Works Hill, Emerging Revolutionary War welcomes historian Adam Zelinski to “Rev War Revelry.” Zelinski is a…

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