December 9, 2022

One WWI Destroyer’s Wreck Was Found After 100 Years Lost At Sea

On December 6, 1917, during World War I, the USS Jacob Jones departed Brest, France, returning to Queensland, Ireland. But on its voyage, the crew spotted a German U-boat 1,000 yards away, which fired a torpedo directly toward their ship. The torpedo struck the destroyer’s starboard side, rupturing the fuel oil tank and detonating its depth charges. The ship didn’t have that much time after that initial strike to be saved, and a mere eight minutes after the torpedo hit the USS Jacob Jones, it sank, according to The Maritime Executive.

Kapitan Hans Rose, commander of the German submarine that struck the USS Jacob Jones, took two injured American soldiers as prisoners; seaman second class Albert De Mello and ship’s cook second class petty officer John Francis Murphy, according to We Are The Mighty. Kapitan Rose then gave an American military base in Queensland the location of the wreckage, and asked that they send a rescue ship on the condition that they allow the Germans one hour to escape. Some 46 American crew members were saved as a result of Rose’s act of honor, according to We Are The Mighty. It was the first time a U.S. Navy destroyer was lost as a result of enemy action.

Discovery of the ship

The ship had been lost at the bottom of the sea for over 100 years, until August of 2022, when a team of divers was exploring near the site of the wreckage. The diving team was known as the Dark Star team, and Dominic Robinson, one of the divers, released a statement of the discovery, saying, “We found the vessel on our second day of diving to other wrecks in the area, but there had been many hours of research before hand. On the day, five of us went into the water, and the ship was about 115 meters to the seabed and 110 meters to the top of the wreck. It was very clear that it was Jacob Jones immediately — you can see its name written on parts of the shipwreck” (via We Are The Mighty).

Among the evidence they found that identified the sunken ship as the USS Jacob Jones was the warship’s bell, with “Jacob” inscribed on it, along with wording on the base of a gun mount on the ship’s deck, according to The Maritime Executive. The discovery of the destroyer came as some level of comfort for families who had relatives who died on the ship, and who now finally have closure.

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The story of the USS Jacob Jones

The USS Jacob Jones was one of six destroyers that was utilized during World War I. The ship was named after Captain Jacob Jones, who served in the first Barbary War, the second Barbary War, and the War of 1812. He also utilized the USS Constitution, the first U.S. Navy commissioned ship, according to USS Constitution Museum. His great-granddaughter, Mrs. Jerome Parker Crittendom, sponsored the ship when it was built by the New York Shipbuilding Corporation, according to Naval History and Heritage Command. 

The destroyer is credited with saving the greatest number of survivors during World War I before it sank in 1917, including the survivors of the Valetta, a British steamship that had been struck by a German U-boat, according to The Maritime Executive. The USS Jacob Jones also is credited with saving 305 survivors after the British ship Orama had been torpedoed. The Dark Star dive team gave the location of the wreckage to U.S. officials to find more information about the ship’s fate (via The Maritime Executive).