The only United States destroyer lost during World War I
was one that “had rescued from sinking ships more survivors than any other vessel” of the US fleet: the first USS Jacob Jones
, Destroyer No. 61.
One of six Tucker-class “1,000-tonners,” Jacob Jones was laid down 3 August 1914 at New York Shipbuilding, Camden, New Jersey, joined on the ways a month later by Wainwright (Destroyer No. 62). Named for War of 1812-era Commodore Jacob Jones, she was launched 29 May 1915 and commissioned 10 February 1916.
After shakedown, she trained off the New England coast before entering the Philadelphia Navy Yard for repairs. When the United States declared war against Germany 6 April 1917, she first patrolled off the Virginia capes before taking departure for Europe from Boston 7 May. Making Queenstown (today’s Cobh), Ireland on the 17th, two weeks after the first American destroyers had arrived to reinforce hard-pressed British forces, she joined them in anti-submarine patrols and convoy escort duty.
Under Cdr. David Bagley and executive officer Lt. Norman Scott, Jacob Jones achieved “a brilliant record” over the next several months, attacking her share of submarines and rescuing survivors of three torpedoed ships: 44 from British steamship Valetta on 8 July, 25 from steamship Dafila two weeks later, and 305 from auxiliary cruiser Orama on 19 October.
FROM CDR. BAGLEY’S REPORT
I was in the chart-house and heard some one call out, “Torpedo.” I jumped at once to the bridge and on the way up saw the torpedo approaching from about one point abaft the starboard beam, heading for a point about amidships and making a straight surface run at very high speed. No periscope was sighted.
When I reached the bridge I found that the officer of the deck had already put the rudder hard left and rung up emergency speed. The ship was swinging as I personally rang up speed again and then turned to watch the torpedo. The executive officer, Lieutenant Norman Scott, left the chart-house just ahead of me and made the same estimate of the speed and direction of the torpedo.
I was convinced that it was impossible to avoid being hit. Lieutenant S. F. Kalk was officer of the deck at the time and I consider that he took correct and especially prompt measures in manœuvring to avoid the torpedo. Lieutenant Kalk was a very able officer, calm and collected in an emergency. He had been attached to the ship for about two months and had shown keen aptitude.
The torpedo broached and jumped clear of the water a short distance from the ship, submerged when fifty or sixty feet away, and struck three feet below the water in a fuel-oil tank. The after compartment and engine room flooded at once, the ship settling aft until the deck was awash, then more gradually. The deck was blown clean up for a space of twenty feet. The depth-charges exploded after the stern sank. Lieutenant J. K. Richard, gunnery officer, rushed aft to try to set the charges on safety, but could get no farther than the after deck-house.
As soon as the torpedo struck I attempted to send an SOS message, but the mainmast had carried away and all electric power failed. Every effort was made to get rafts and boats launched, also the round life-belts and splinter mats from the bridge. Seeing the ship settle rapidly I ran along the deck and ordered all hands to jump overboard. At this time most of those not killed by the explosion had got clear of the ship and were on rafts or wreckage, a few swimming at some distance astern.
As the ship began sinking I jumped overboard. The ship went down by the stern and twisted slowly through nearly 180 degrees as she swung upright, vertically, bow in air. Efforts were made to get the survivors on the rafts and the boats together. All of the boats were found to be smashed but one. The motor-sailer went down with the ship.
Fifteen or twenty minutes after the ship sank, the submarine appeared on the surface about two or three miles to the westward and gradually approached until within a thousand yards. Then it stopped and was seen to pick up one identified man from the water. It then submerged.
I was picked up by the motor dory and began to try to reach the nearest land in order to get help for those on the rafts. The next day at one o’clock my boat was sighted by a small patrol vessel and meanwhile the men collected on the rafts has been rescued.
Lieutenant Norman Scott accomplished a great deal toward getting the boats and rafts into the water from the sinking ship, turning off the steam from the fireroom, getting life-belts, encouraging and helping the men. Lieutenant Richards was left in charge of all the rafts and did a great deal to put heart into the men. At risk of almost certain death P. J. Barger, seaman, second class, remained in the motor-sailer and endeavered to clear it for floating from the ship. While he did not succceed, I desire to call attention to his sticking to duty until the very last. He was drawn under water with the boat, but later came to the surface.
L. J. Kelly, chief electrician, and H. U. Chase, quartermaster, third class, remained on board until the last, greatly endangering their lives thereby, to cut adrift splinter mats and life-preservers. Kelly’s stamina and spirit were very valuable during the motor dory’s trip. H. L. Gibson, chief boatswain’s mate, and E. Miller, water-tender, were of great assistance to the men on the rafts in advising them and cheering them up under the most adverse conditions.
On 6 December, Jacob Jones cleared Brest for Queenstown after escorting a troop convoy to France. Steaming independently, she was torpedoed off the Isles of Scilly that afternoon by German submarine U-53. Though her watch sighted the torpedo wake and officer of the deck Lt. (jg) Stanton F. Kalk, USN, put on speed and altered course to evade, she was struck starboard side aft, rupturing a fuel oil tank and killing most men below decks. She sank stern-first in eight minutes, leaving survivors in the cold water with night coming on and slender hope of rescue.
Meanwhile, the submarine’s commander, Kapitan Hans Rose, had taken two of her crew prisoner. “In a humanitarian gesture rare in modern war,” Rose radioed the American base at Queenstown to give the approximate location and drift of the survivors. Throughout the night of 6 to 7 December British sloop-of-war Camellia and British liner Catalina conducted rescue operations. On the morning of the 8th, gunboat HMS Insolent picked up the last survivors that could be found. Thirty-eight officers and men were rescued.
Lt. Kalk was among those lost, dying “like a gallant gentleman,” swimming from one raft to another to equalize weight, “game to the last.” Wickes-class Destroyer No. 170 and Benson-class DD 611 were later named in his honor.
Later ships honored two other Jacob Jones officers:
• Fletcher-class DD 690 was named for RAdm. Norman Scott, in command at the Battle of Cape Esperance and killed in action at the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal in 1942.
• USS Bagley, DE 1069, was named jointly for Adm. David Worth Bradley and his younger brother Ens. Worth Bagley (killed during the Spanish-American War, for whom torpedo boat No. 24, Destroyer No. 185 and DD 386, lead ship of the 1,500-ton Bagley class, had previously been named).
A second Jacob Jones, Wickes-class Destroyer No. 130, was launched from the same shipyard in 1918 and became one of the US Navy’s first destroyer losses of World War II, sunk by a U-boat in 1942.