Tuesday, October 14, 2014

USS Fanning and the Sinking of U-58

By Joseph Miechle
Hampton Roads Naval Museum Educator 
USS Fanning at Queenstown, Ireland. Note the "Dazzle" camouflage.
In November 1917, USS Fanning (DD-37) became the first U.S. Navy ship to sink a submarine in combat. The ship was named after Lieutenant Nathaniel Fanning, who sailed with John Paul Jones aboard the Bonhomme Richard in the famous battle against the Serapis. Commissioned in 1912 at Newport News, USS Fanning was based in Norfolk for the majority of time prior to the onset of intensified hostilities in World War I. When two German Auxiliary cruisers visited Norfolk in 1915, Fanning acted as their escort while they sailed in United States territorial waters.

When the United States entered the war on April 6, 1917, the war in the Atlantic was already in full swing. German U-boats had been engaging Allied ships in the Atlantic since September of 1914 when U-21 sank HMS Pathfinder. German submarines had exacted a toll on the Allies by sinking over five million tons of supplies worldwide by the time the United States formally entered the war. As part of the U.S. Navy’s expanding operations against the U-boat threat, USS Fanning’s base was transferred from Norfolk, VA, to Queenstown, Ireland, to serve as a convoy escort.

While the ship was escorting an allied convoy with USS Nicholson on November 17, Coxswain Daniel David Loomis spotted the periscope of U-58. Fanning quickly maneuvered into position to attack the U-boat and launched three depth charges into the water. Nicholson also engaged U-58 by firing an additional charge into the water. The bombardment forced the submarine to the surface and both ships fired on it with their 3” deck guns, Nicholson landing at least one hit. The German boat attempted to return fire unsuccessfully and surrendered after about thirty minutes. U-58’s diving planes had been disabled by the gunfire and it could no longer be controlled.

The crew of U-58 emerges from the damaged sub to surrender to USS Fanning on November 17, 1917. 
Prisoners being taken aboard USS Fanning.
Fanning quickly captured the German crew as they scuttled and abandoned their stricken boat. Thirty eight of the forty crew members were captured, including four officers. Two members of the German crew had been killed during the battle. Fanning and Nicholson suffered no casualties during the engagement. Coxswain Daniel Loomis and Lieutenant Walter Owen Henry, both from Fanning, each received the Navy Cross for their contributions during the battle. Fanning continued to serve effectively as a convoy escort and rescue ship throughout the war. Decommissioned on November 24, 1919, Fanning was transferred to the Coast Guard for service until being sold for scrap in 1934.

Editor's Note: Thanks to Mr. Dave Henry of Williamsburg, Virginia, for correcting Lt. Henry's name.

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