The USS Niblack (DD-424) served in the U.S. Navy for six years during the first half of the 20th century. She was named for Albert Parker Niblack, who served with the U.S. Navy around the turn of the 20th century. Niblack was built as a Gleaves-class ship.
Niblack was laid down in Bath, Maine by the Bath Iron Works in August 1938. She was launched in May 1940 and commissioned in August 1940, with Lieutenant Commander E.R. Durgin at the helm. Niblack carried a crew of 208 and had a cruising speed of 35 knots. She was armed with four five-inch anti-aircraft guns, six half-inch machine guns, and ten 21-inch torpedo tubes.
Niblack spent the beginning of her naval career training in the Caribbean and escorting convoys in the North Atlantic. It was during one of these early trips that Niblack played a role in the first action between American and German forces during World War II: spying a submarine preparing to attack, Niblack fired a depth charge that successfully drove away the U-boat. While the battle was bloodless, it was nonetheless important as a historical marker.
Following the American entry into the war in December 1941, Niblack ran convoys in the North Atlantic, the Caribbean, and North Africa. In the Mediterranean, she participated in the invasion of Sicily, bombarded the Italian mainland from the waters off Palermo, and supported the landings at Salerno. She saw a great deal of action and rescued many survivors from stricken ships during this time.
In mid-1944, Niblack assisted in the Allied invasion of southern France. While there were several near misses during this period, Niblack again escaped damage. She spent the remainder of 1944 at sea near France and Italy, sinking mines and hunting German boats.
After a brief return to the Boston Navy Yard, Niblack joined the Pacific fleet at Pearl Harbor in 1944. After hostilities ended, she spent time in the Western Pacific to assist in the occupation.
In June 1947, Niblack was decommissioned and placed in reserve. She was sold for scrap in 1973.
Asbestos Risk on the USS Niblack (DD-424)
Because asbestos insulation was widely spread through Niblack’s sections, nearly every member of the crew was exposed at some point during their career. Sailors assigned to repair and maintenance duties had more severe exposure. The many uses of asbestos outside of insulation ensured that no compartment on board was completely free of the mineral fiber.
Prolonged exposure to asbestos-containing material, and specifically friable asbestos, multiplies a person’s chance to develop malignant mesothelioma. Niblack was fortunate enough to avoid significant damage during the Second World War, meaning that the greatest asbestos risk on board was from worn and frequently handled asbestos parts. Her extended stay in the reserve fleet also placed the maintenance crews and dockworkers that kept her ready to sail at risk for asbestos disease. Veterans of the Niblack that have been diagnosed with mesothelioma can pursue compensation for their injury.Sources
Haze Gray & Underway. Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. DD-424.
NavSource Naval History, USS Niblack (DD-424).