December 6, 1917 – USS Jacob Jones Torpedoed – First U.S. Destroyer Ever Lost to Enemy Action

During service in World War I, the American destroyer USS Jacob Jones was torpedoed and sunk off the Scilly Islands, England on Dec. 6, 1917. Out of the 110 men on board the ship, 64 lost their lives. The Jacob Jones was the first U.S. destroyer ever to be lost to enemy action.

USS Jacob Jones

A month after war broke out between the US and Germany on April 6, 1917, the Jacob Jones departed Boston for Europe. Ten days later, Jacob Jones arrived at Queenstown, Ireland, and began patrolling and escorting convoys in waters off the United Kingdom.

On December 6, 1917, Jacob Jones departed Brest, France, to return to Queenstown, Ireland. She sighted a torpedo wake at a thousand yards and maneuvered to escape, but the torpedo struck her starboard side three feet below the water line, rupturing her fuel oil tank. As the stern sank, the depth charges exploded and the commander ordered all life rafts and boats launched and the ship abandoned. Only eight minutes after being struck by the torpedo, the Jacob Jones sank with 2 officers and 62 men still onboard.

USS Jacob Jones sinking off the Scilly Islands, England, after she was torpedoed by the German submarine U-53. Photographed by Seaman William G. Ellis. Smithsonian Institution Photograph.

The ship’s survivors floated on rafts, boats, and debris in frigid north Atlantic waters off the southwest coast of England. Throughout that night and into the next morning, British ships conducted rescue operations. Almost all of the survivors suffered from shock and exposure at the time they were rescued.

The USS Jacob Jones had been named in honor of Commodore Jacob Jones (1768–1850), an American hero of the War of 1812.

Portrait of Commodore Jacob Jones by Thomas Sully

The name wasn’t so lucky, however. A second Jacob Jones destroyer, DD-130, was completed at the New York Shipbuilding Corporation at Camden, New Jersey, in February, 1918. It too was sunk, but during World War II this time. A German U-Boat struck that second Jacob Jones on February 28, 1942.

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