John Robert Gordon, Jr.
Born: January 6, 1920
Hometown: Brooklyn, NY
Service: Merchant Marine
Position / Rank: Engine Cadet
Date / Place of death: February 24, 1943 /
Mediterranean 36-04 N, 0-02.5 W
Date / Place of burial: February 24, 1943 /
Mediterranean 36-04 N, 0-02.5 W / Lost At Sea
John R. Gordon, Jr. signed on aboard the Liberty Ship SS Nathaniel Greene as Engine Cadet in March 1942, shortly after it was delivered from North Carolina Shipbuilding. He was joined by his classmate, John A. Harley, who signed on as Deck Cadet.
According to Harley’s report, the Nathaniel Greene sailed from New York for Russia via ports in the United Kingdom. After a harrowing voyage to “Gallant Ship” SS Nathaniel Greene Murmansk in Convoy PQ-18, which lost 13 of 41 ships, the Nathaniel Greene’s return trip was fortunately covered by a severe gale which prevented its detection by the enemy. The Nathaniel Greene arrived safely and discharged its cargo from Russia in Glasgow. During the combat actions of Convoy PQ-18 the SS Nathaniel Greene’s gun crews shot down five enemy aircraft and was cited by the escort and convoy commanders for its gun crew’s efficiency.
After loading cargo bound for North Africa the ship sailed on January 21, 1943, arriving at
Mostaganem, Algeria on February 5. The Nathaniel Greene discharged all but about 800 tons of its food cargo there. On February 24, the ship sailed at noon GCT to meet up with
Convoy MKS-8 for protection as it sailed for other Algerian ports to deliver the rest of its
cargo. Escorted by the minesweeper HMS Brixham (J 105) the Nathaniel Greene’s
crew could see the convoy on the horizon. However, U-565 was also patrolling off of
the port and sighted the Nathaniel Greene. The submarine’s captain maneuvered into
position and fired three torpedoes. At 1351 GCT two torpedoes struck the ship on the
starboard side at the Number 2 and amidships at the engine room. As the Nathaniel
Greene began to sink German dive and torpedo bombers began attacking the convoy.
The anti-aircraft cruiser HMS Scylla (98) promptly commenced firing on the attacking
aircraft. Along with the efforts of two Hurricane fighters the attack was broken up.
However, the attacking aircraft spotted the crippled Nathaniel Greene and turned their
attention to safer prey. Although the Nathaniel Greene’s gun crews were able to shoot
one attacker down the ship was hit by three other torpedoes in the forward part of the
ship. Cadet-Midshipman John Harley described the scene that ensued.
“Shrapnel was raining from the sky…. The midship section was engulfed
in smoke and could not be seen. The deck cargo was littered with debris.
In the excitement the two forward life rafts had been cast adrift, their
painters parted and they drifted astern.”
HMS Brixham came alongside the crippled Nathaniel Greene to take off its wounded
and survivors. Other survivors, able to escape in the Numbers 2 and 4 lifeboats were
also picked up by the HMS Brixham. The Brixham then began towing the sinking
vessel back to shore to beach it so that its cargo could be salvaged. The vessel was
beached late the next day, at Salamanda, Algeria, four miles west of Mostaganem.
Only four of the 44 crew and 17 Armed Guard Sailors died in the attack on the
Nathaniel Greene, but the four included Cadet-Midshipman John R. Gordon. He was
last seen at his assigned station in the Engine Room, working the grease extractors.
For its actions in the Russian Convoys and at Algeria the SS Nathaniel Greene was
awarded the Gallant Ship Unit Citation.
Cadet-Midshipman John R. Gordon was posthumously awarded the Gallant Ship Citation Bar, Mariners Medal, Combat Bar with star, Atlantic War Zone Bar, Mediterranean-Middle East War Zone Bar, the Victory Medal and the Presidential Testimonial Letter. In addition, the Liberty Ship SS John Robert Gordon was named in his honor
John R. Gordon was the only son of John R. Gordon and Kathleen Gordon. According to
the 1940 Census the senior Gordon owned a hardware store.
Photo of Mr. & Mrs John R. Gordon at Christening of SS John R. Gordon
Photo of Mrs. John R. Gordon Christens Liberty Ship named after her Son,
John Robert Gordon, Jr.