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Site Last Updated October 2016

Ships of the United States Navy in Cork Ireland during World War One
(For fleet list click here)

USS NICHOLSON   DD52
(O’Brien  Class, 1915)

USS Nicholson
Picture Source USNHHC

On the 24th of May, 1917, USS Nicholson arrived in Queenstown (Cobh) in Southern Ireland. She was accompanied by the US destroyers Benham, Cushing, Cummings, O’Brien and Sampson.  Queenstown was the centre for anti-submarine forces, on the Western Approaches, under the command of Admiral Lewis Bayley, Commander in Chief , Coast of Ireland.


Initially there was uncertainty as to the most effective use of  destroyers. At first they were given patrol areas which they would scout, singly or in pairs. Any stray incoming merchantmen seen, were to be escorted to near their destinations. This was a most ineffective use of the force, as the chances of coming across, and destroying a lone submarine in the vastness of the Western Approaches was virtually nil.


By Summer 1917, under the urging of commanders such as Admiral Sims, Commander of US Naval Forces in Europe, the convoy system was initiated. Groups of merchantmen were escorted through the war zone by flanking destroyer screens. This had the dual effect of reducing the amount of targets for German u-boats, and allowing destroyers and sloops to attack the harassing submarines.  The priorities of the destroyers were to:

Destroy Submarines.

Protect and escort Merchantmen.

Save the crews and passengers of torpedoed ships.

Anti-submarine patrols did continue also for the duration of the war, especially in the Irish Sea and close to the coast of France, where u-boats would try to sink merchantmen as the convoys dispersed.  In 1918, any destroyer in the Irish Sea, which was not actively convoying, came under the orders of The Irish Sea Hunting Flotilla, under the command of Captain Gordon Campbell VC based in Holyhead, Wales.  US destroyers  were also used to patrol the west coast of Ireland to hunt suspected gun-running ships, for Irish Republicans.

The destroyers , initially, were ill-equipped to fight submerged submarines. When they arrived in Europe they were armed with guns and torpedoes. The only undersea weapons supplied were single hand-launched 50lb depth charges which were particularly ineffective. It was the later fitting of dual depth charge racks on the sterns of the ships, Thornycroft depth charge throwers, and Y shaped charge throwers that turned them into a dangerous force. These were capable of dropping and firing a continuous patterned barrage  of 200lb, charges around a submarine's suspected position. Most of the retro-fitting of these armaments was done at Cammel Laird in Birkenhead, England.

On the 3rd of June, 1917, in position 52.13N, 14.00W, USS Nicholson sighted a submarine which submerged  

On the 7th of June, 1917, the SS Akabo was attacked by enemy submarine in position 50.56N, 11.35W. USS Nicholson went to her aid and escorted her safely.  

On the 18th of June, 1917, in position 52.20N, 17.30W, SS Elele was torpedoed at 1pm. USS Nicholson and USS Sampson raced to her assistance. While on route, Sampson reported SS Palma attacked by submarine. Both ships proceeded to Palma. At 10pm Sampson rescued 18 survivors from SS English Monarch. At 11pm rescued Captain and others from SS Elele, which had sunk.

Remainder of survivors from Elele were picked up by SS Vonganella. At 10pm, The Nicholson picked up Captain and 31 survivors from SS Thistledhu, torpedoed and sunk at 6.15am in pos 52.18N, 15.12W.  

In the week of the 21st of July, 1917, USS Porter, USS Nicholson, USS Cassin, USS Ericsson, and USS O’Brien returned from convoy duty in France. The latter two ships escorting to Queenstown the USS Kanawha

On the 17th of August, 1917, USS Parker and Nicholson were escorting SS Ricardo A.Meithes and SS Sun.   In position 50.30N, 11.56W,, A submarine was spotted by Parker. Parker sped towards submarine while Nicholson remained screening ships. The submarine had submerged and Parker circled spot before rejoining convoy. Two hours later SS Ricardo A. Meitres opened fire on suspected submarine. Three shots were fired until Nicholson signalled “That was a fish”.

On the 20th of August, 1917 O'Brien (Lieut-Cmdr C.A. Blakely) on route to patrol (D2 I2) at 11.44am, received radio from HMS Camelia reporting enemy submarine on surface 10 miles distant at time. Stood over at full speed, crew at general quarters and all guns loaded. Picked up Camelia in a short time and later USS Nicholson. Submarine had submerged, Searched for submarine in circle of 10 miles area around 51.21N, 11.28W, until 3.12pm, when we resumed patrolling to eastward, no sign of enemy having been seen. At 6.45, while standing to westward at 16 knots, sighted low object on port bow bearing about 250 deg true, distant about 10 miles. Stood over at full speed, but object was never sighted again. At 7.55 sighted conning tower of submarine on starboard beam, bearing about 355 deg true, distance about 10 miles, stood over at full speed, submarine submerged immediately and was not seen again.  

On the 16th of September, 1917, SS Facto was sunk in position  49.56N, 05.30W. USS Nicholson picked up 21 survivors and landed them at Queenstown.

On October 19th 1917, USS Nicholson was on convoy escort duty when an SOS was received from the merchant ship SS J.L Luckenbach, which was being shelled by submarine. The Luckenbach was 80 miles ahead of convoy and Nicholson raced to the spot. Upon arriving saw steamer being shelled. Nicholson fired one shot and submarine submerged. Nicholson sent crew on board Luckenbach to ascertain extent of damage. When on board, the Nicolson crewmembers organised the firefighting and damage control, which saved the SS Luckenbach

On the 17th of November, 1917, 6 miles off the Daunt Rock Light vessel, USS Fanning and Nicholson attacked and damaged the German submarine u-58. The submarine was forced to the surface, and scuttled by ther crew. This was the first and only confirmed 'kill' of a German submarine  by US Forces in WW1. For a full account press HERE

On the 27th of December, 1917, USS Nicholson, commanded destroyer escort of troop convoy #14 to Brest, France. The convoy consisted of SS President Lincoln, USS Covington, and USS Pocohontas.

On December 27th, 1917, USS Nicholson was escort flagship for troop convoy #14 Ships escorted included USS President Lincoln, Covington, Pocohontas, Susquehanna, De Kalb and Anagon. At 12.40pm De Kalb gave six blasts on her whistle, the sign of a submarine sighted.  USS Jenkins raced to the spot and dropped depth charge. It was then discovered that there was a spar from some wreckage floating in the water vertically. It was thought  that this was mistaken for a periscope.

On the 15th of January, 1918, USS Nicholson and USS Patterson escorted oiler Minhla from Queenstown to Berehaven.

In February, 1918, USS Nicholson was transferred to Brest France. She served from there until the end of the War.  


Notes:
Commanding Officer, Lieut Commander F.D.Berrien ,








The US Naval History and Heritage Website has a comprehensive history of this ship, which can be found at
http://www.history.navy.mil/research/histories/ship-histories/danfs.html

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