Thursday, May 2, 2024

What’s down there? Part I: USS Jacob Jones

By Zach Smyers
HRNM Educator

In the 21st century, the technology used in underwater archaeology and deep sea diving has advanced significantly. Historic ships are being discovered in their final resting place regularly. This is the first in a series of blogs about recent underwater discoveries.

On August 11, 2022, a team of British divers from the vessel Darkstar discovered USS Jacob Jones (DD 61). The ship is 60 miles south of Newlyn (in the Cornwall region) and lies 400 feet below the ocean’s surface. The expedition’s divers were able to confirm that what they found was indeed the Jacob Jones when they discovered the ship’s bell. During the expedition, the divers also inspected one of the ship’s boilers along with the steam turbines.

Diver Dom Robinson investigates the wreck of Jacob Jones (

The Tucker-class destroyer Jacob Jones was built in Camden, New Jersey. Named after Commodore Jacob Jones, who served during the War of 1812, the ship was commissioned on February 10, 1916. Under the command of Lieutenant Commander David Bagley and with a crew of seven officers and 103 enlisted Sailors, Jacob Jones sailed for Ireland in April 1917 as the United States officially entered World War I.

USS Jacob Jones underway (Navsource)

When Jacob Jones arrived in theater in May 1917, its primary task was to escort Allied convoys and pick up survivors from British merchant ships that had been attacked by German U-boats. Jacob Jones picked up almost 400 survivors from three British ships: Orama, Valetta, and Dalfia. On December 6, 1917, Jacob Jones left Brest, France, bound for Queenstown, Ireland, which was being used by the U.S. Navy as a base during the war. While underway, the ship was hit by a German torpedo twenty miles off the coast of southern England. The torpedo ruptured the ship’s fuel tank, and the ship’s depth charges exploded as it was sinking. Commander Bagley ordered the crew to abandon ship. Jacob Jones sank in eight minutes, taking with it 64 Sailors.

Jacob Jones sinks after being torpedoed (NHHC)

Lieutenant (j.g.) Stanton F. Kalk was officer of the deck when Jacob Jones was hit. He worked tirelessly while in the frigid water to ensure that Sailors were on life rafts or lifeboats, and he eventually died from a combination of exhaustion and exposure to the cold. For his efforts that day, Kalk was awarded the Dinstinguished Service Medal posthumously. U-53, the German U-boat that sank Jacob Jones, radioed the Queenstown base, passing along the final position of the ship. In addition to sending the radio message, U-53 took on two wounded survivors from Jacob Jones: Seaman Second Class Albert De Mello and the ship’s cook, Petty Officer Second Class John Francis Murphy. The actions of Lt. (j.g.) Kalk, and the decision to call in the ship’s location by U-53's commanding officer, helped save the survivors.

Stanton F. Kalk as a midshipman in 1916 (NHHC)

Due to the Sunken Military Craft Act, which was enacted October 28, 2004, Jacob Jones is protected from potential looting and mistreatment. The ship is also still owned by the United States Navy. Therefore, the divers from the vessel Darkstar are working in cooperation with the U.S. Embassy in London and the Naval History and Heritage Command (NHHC). Fulfilling the request of NHHC, the ship’s bell was recovered in 2024 by a salvage unit that is part of the United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defense. Due to the ship’s status as a war grave, the salvage unit surveyed the site using remotely operated equipment, making sure not to disturb anything on the ship. Prior to leaving the wreck site, the salvage team placed a wreath with an American flag to honor the Sailors who were lost with Jacob Jones.

At this time, the ship’s bell is with Wessex Archaeology in England. There are plans for a formal ceremony to hand over the bell to NHHC later this year. Upon completion of the ceremony, NHHC’s Underwater Archaeology Branch will take custody of the bell for further conservation. The discovery of Jacob Jones helps bring closure regarding the story of the ship, and the recovery of the bell enables the public to pay tribute to the Sailors lost on that fateful day.

USS Jacob Jones's bell (USNI)

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