I love a story about a ship that was heroic.

During the early days of World War 2, many ships were rapidly built to replace the ones that were being sunk by the onslaught of German Submarines in the Atlantic. Liberty Ships were some of the most prevalent cargo ships that were built and pressed into service. The ships were slow and not capable of doing much to defend themselves. But the lessons of the First World War were still dictating how cargo could be shipped across hostile waters to supply the allied efforts. The Convoy system was reignited which would allow the limited number of escort ships to herd larger amount of ships like the Liberties. In 1943, airpower still had gaps which made the convoys even more vulnerable to wolf packs.

PQ 18 was an infamous convoy to the Russian Arctic port of Archangel. A Swedish source in Stockholm had told the British naval attaché that a surface ship operation would be mounted against the next convoy and by 8 September, the Admiralty could provide the escort commander a report on the positions of the twenty U-boats expected to attack the convoy and forecast that 65 torpedo-bombers (true figure 92) and 120 bombers were preparing the biggest torpedo attack on an Arctic convoy so far.

The weather was also not in the favor of the convoy. Heavy seas and fogs combined with inexperienced crews made for an even more challenging environment. When the attacks came, it was as brutal as any previous attack. But the ships sailed on.


The Gallant Ship Award is presented by the U.S. Secretary of Transportation to any U.S.-flag or foreign ship “participating in outstanding or gallant action in a marine disaster or other emergency to save life or property at sea.”

The award originates from an executive order issued by President Franklin D. Roosevelt during World War II, which recognizes excellence and bravery in merchant mariners. Between 1942 and 1994, just 41 ships have received the Gallant Ship Award.

For actions on September 12, 1942

Gallant Ship Award Citation:

During a long voyage to north Russia, SS NATHANAEL GREENE was under incessant and violent attack by enemy planes and submarines. In most gallant fashion, and in spite of many crew casualties, she consistently out-maneuvered and out-fought the enemy, finally discharging her vital cargo at the designated port. After effecting temporary repairs to her battered hull and rigging, she took part in the North African campaign. Bound for her last port, with limited cargo, she was torpedoed, and in a sinking condition was successfully beached.

The stark courage of her heroic crew in battle against overpowering odds caused her name to be perpetuated as a gallant ship.

SS Nathanael Greene was a Liberty ship built by the North Carolina Shipbuilding Company and delivered to the U.S. Maritime Commission on March 12, 1942. Operated under a general agent agreement by United States Lines, the vessel participated in Convoy PQ-18, which transported war supplies from the United Kingdom and Iceland to the Russian Arctic port of Archangel.

The convoy departed Loch Ewe, Scotland on September 2, 1942, sailed around the northern coast of Iceland and crossed the Greenland Sea en route to Archangel. This circuitous route allowed the convoy to stay far away from the German-occupied Norwegian coast until it entered the Barents Sea. On September 13, the convoy encountered German submarines and bombers. Over several days of fierce fighting, the Naval Armed Guard aboard Nathanael Greene reported eight planes shot down.

On September 14, the vessel was severely damaged in an explosion. At the time, Nathanael Greene had been traveling in the convoy just to the port side of SS Mary Luckenbach, a cargo ship laden with tons of TNT, when that ship was struck by aerial torpedoes and exploded with incredible force. The explosion was so powerful that Nathanael Greene‘s crew thought that their ship had been struck. Most of the cargo on the deck of the ship was smashed, as were many doors, port holes, and the hospital aft. The concussive force of the exploding Mary Luckenbach even knocked the ship’s compasses out of adjustment. Two Armed Guard gunners and five merchant crewmen were injured. An additional crewman was washed overboard, although he was recovered alive. Despite the severe damage, Nathaniel Greene‘s engine was still functional and it was able to deliver its cargo to Archangel.

The overall convoy was deemed a success but the victory was bought at an expensive price. Unknown to the allies, the Germans had already begun to shift much of their air forces to the Mediterranean.

The Last Voyage

At 13.54 hours on 23 Feb, 1943, the Nathanael Greene (Master George Arlington Vickers) in convoy MKS-8 was hit on the starboard side by two of three torpedoes from U-565 about 40 miles northeast of Oran. The first torpedo struck between the #1 and #2 hatches and the second in the engine room. The explosions severely damaged the deck cargo, damaged the midships deckhouse, disabled the engines, destroyed the starboard boiler and flooded the forward compartments and the machinery spaces. One officer and three men on watch below were killed while seven others were injured. Only a few minutes later, German aircraft attacked the convoy and the disabled Nathanael Greene was hit amidships by one aerial torpedo. The most of the nine officers, 32 crewmen and 16 armed guards (the ship was armed with one 4in, one 3in and four .50 cal guns) abandoned ship in two lifeboats, while 26 men jumped directly on board of HMS Brixham (J 105), which came alongside and later picked up the remaining survivors from the boats and the water.

The minesweeper took the Nathanael Greene in tow until HMS Restive (W 39) took over at 21.00 hours and beached the vessel at Salamanda, Algeria, four miles west of Mostaganem at 06.30 hours the next day. The ship was declared a total loss, but USS Redwing (ARS 4) managed to save at least 400 tons of her cargo. A constructive total loss, Nathanael Greene was scrapped in 1948.

What’s in a name?

Interestingly enough, the name Nathanael Greene was used for four different types of sea services. The liberty ship that is mentioned in this article was part of the merchant fleet.

Most of my readers will also recognize that the name also graced a ballistic missile submarine from the original 41 for Freedom boats. USS Nathanael Greene (SSBN-636), a James Madison-class fleet ballistic missile submarine.

Original Story Here: https://theleansubmariner.com/2019/03/30/for-the-defense-of-our-own-uss-nathanael-greene-ssbn-636/

USS General Greene (1799) was a US Navy frigate built in 1799 and participated in the Quasi-War with France

The Coast Guard has also used his name on four separate cutters over the years.

USRC General Green was one of the first ten cutters operated by the US Revenue Cutter Service. She was named for the Revolutionary War hero Major General Nathanael Greene. Her name was misspelled, probably by the man who oversaw her construction, the Collector of Customs in Philadelphia, Sharp Delany. Apparently the cutter was to have been originally named for the Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton, but Delany changed the name for reasons unknown.

Even the Army paid homage to the great American hero: USAV MG Nathanael Greene (LT-801), a United States Army tugboat

Maybe the Air Force will find a use for the name someday.

I am reminded often that the Armed Guard and Merchant Marine of World War 2 are often pushed into the shadows during commemorations about the war.

That is unfortunate. They served on some Gallant Ships but they were also Gallant Men.

Mister Mac

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