A team of British divers has located the wreck of the USS Jacob Jones, a US Navy destroyer sunk in 1917 during the First World War. The vessel was discovered approximately 40 miles off the Isles of Scilly, an archipelago situated around 24 miles south-west of Cornwall, UK.
USS Jacob Jones was one of six Tucker-class destroyers designed and built for the US Navy before the United States entered the First World War. She was torpedoed by German submarine U-53 on 6 December 1917, the first US destroyer to be sunk by enemy fire.
The 96m vessel was found at a depth of 115m on 11 August by the Divestar wreck exploration team, a group of divers who have successfully located a number of notable shipwrecks around the UK.
The team was provided with GPS coordinates for wrecks in the area by the UK Hydrographic Office, which has a record of where wrecks have been located, but not which wrecks they might actually be.
‘We found the vessel on our second day of diving other wrecks in the area, but there had been many hours of research beforehand,’ explained Darkstar diver and BSAC’s Head of Diving and Training, Dominic Robinson. ‘On the day, five of us went into the water, and the ship was about 115 metres to the seabed and 110 metres 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.’
Laid down in August 1914, Jacob Jones was commissioned in February 1916 and patrolled the New England coast until being sent across the Atlantic in April 1917. Operating out of Queenstown, Ireland, Jacob Jones was tasked with patrolling the Irish Sea and escorting convoys and had rescued several hundred sailors from at least 3 other stricken ships, including 309 from the armed merchant cruiser Orama, sunk by a German torpedo on 19 October.
On 6 December, Jacob Jones was returning from escorting a convoy to France, when she was spotted by the captain of German submarine U-53. The torpedo fired by the U-boat struck the ship’s rudder and rendered her powerless, preventing the captain from issuing a distress call.
As the crew abandoned ship, the destroyer began to sink quickly and almost vertically. Armed depth charges kept on board exploded as she sank, killing men who had not been able to escape the ship and stunning others in the water. In total, 66 men from her complement of 99 were lost during the sinking, although their bodies have long since been claimed by the sea.
‘No human remains were found or personal artefacts,’ said Robinson. ‘But for me, the thing that brought it home was the bent prop shaft – which shows the trauma the vessel must have been through when it was torpedoed. Absolutely incredible.
The Darkstar team has said it will liaise with US authorities to determine what actions need to be taken next.