The Sinking of the American Destroyer Jacob Jones - 1917

The USS Jacob Jones, An American Destroyer, Torpedoed and Sunk by a German U-Boat, 6 December 1917.

The USS Jacob Jones (DD-61), An American Destroyer, Torpedoed and Sunk by a German U-Boat Submarine U-53 near Isles of Scilly, England. Two Officers and 62 Enlisted Men Are Killed, and Two—Ship’s Cook 1st Class Francis Murphy and Seaman 2nd Class Albert Demello—Are Taken Prisoner. Three and a Half Hours after the Sinking, the British Steamer Catalina Recovered Seven Survivors and Radioed News of the Sinking, 6 December 1917. Photo by Bain News Service, ca1916. Library of Congress LC 2014700753. GGA Image ID # 1809613dc5

The American destroyer Jacob Jones, one of the largest and fleetest vessels of its class, was torpedoed and sunk by a German submarine on December 6 while on patrol duty in North Atlantic waters.

The ship was struck at 4:20 pm and sunk shortly after. Two officers—Ensign 8. F. Kalk and Gunner Harry R. Hood—and sixty-one members of the destroyer's crew were lost.

The destroyer carried a complete crew of 108 officers and men. At least fifty of the men lost their lives when the torpedo struck the destroyer amidships, blowing the after part of the vessel to pieces.

Several men died from exposure in the open boats and life rafts during the seventeen hours they were adrift before being rescued by a passing steamer.

The submarine that caused the destruction of the destroyer did not appear until after the American vessel had sunk. Earlier reports stated that one of the American survivors had been taken a prisoner on the U-boat.

Still, dispatches from Amsterdam on December 18 noted that Berlin had made an official announcement that two American sailors had been saved by the submarine.

It is thought that the sailors were taken aboard the submarine by its commander to secure information about the vessel he had sunk.

The Jacob Jones was in charge of Lieutenant-Commander David Worth Bagley, a brother-in-law of Secretary of the Navy Daniels. Commander Bagley was reported missing in the earlier accounts of the Sinking, but later, he was rescued.

The first survivors' story of the Jacob ones sinking, told by Lieutenant J. K. Richards, was made public on December 12 by the Navy Department. An official summary of the Lieutenant's account follows:

Lieutenant Richards up the destroyer was proceeding toward the port, after holding target practice, when, at 420 pm, a torpedo was sighted by the lookout. The commanding officer, stationed on the bridge, ordered the rudder bard right and engines full steam ahead.

The torpedo struck the ship on the starboard side abreast of torpedo tube No. 3. This tube, with torpedoes, was blown 200 feet in the air. The explosion wrecked the radio, and the mainmast was brought down.

The crew manned the guns immediately, but no submarine was sighted, and the vessel began to settle by the stern. The captain gars the order to abandon the ship. Whaleboats, which were got out, capsized. The motor sailor could not have gotten out. A wherry and motor dory managed to escape safely.
Three life rafts floated clear.

"The vessel sank at 4:20 p. m. Depth charges aboard exploded, apparently blowing off the stern of the ship.

"No survivors, excerpt those on the boats and life rafts, were found after a thorough search. Lieutenant Richards said. After seventeen hours in the water, the men on the rafts were picked up by a British ship. The submarine. which was seen after the Jacob Jones sank, appeared to be about is feet in length, with three-Inch guns forward and two periscopes.

The destroyer Jacob Jones was built at the New York Shipbuilding Co's plant at Camden, N. J., and was launched in May 1915 but was not turned over to the Government until February 1916. The Jacob Jones was 315 feet 3 inches overall, 30 feet 6 inches beam, 17 feet 7 inches in depth, and had a draft of 9 feet 8 inches. Her trial displacement was 1,150 tons, and her speed 29H knots. The destroyer was an oil-burner and had a fuel capacity of 200 tons. She was able to develop 17,000 horsepower.

The "Jacob Jones" Sunk by Submarine

It was late in the afternoon of December 6, 1917, that the Jacob Jones was sunk, with the loss of one officer, Lieutenant (junior grade) Stanton F. Kalk, of Washington, D. C., and 61 men of the crew, the most serious naval loss that had occurred up to that time. The commanding officer, Lieutenant Commander David W. Bagley, in his official report, gave this account:

"At 4:21 P. M. on December 6, 1917, in latitude 49-23 north, longitude 6-13 west, clear weather, smooth sea, speed 13 knots, zigzagging, the U. S. S. Jacob Jones was struck on the starboard side by a torpedo from an enemy submarine. The ship was one of six of an escorting group that was returning independently from off Brest to Queenstown. All other ships of the group were out of sight ahead.

"I was in the chart house and heard someone call out 'Torpedo.' I jumped at once to the bridge, and on the way up saw the torpedo about 800 yards from the ship approaching from about one point abaft the starboard beam headed for a point about midships, making a perfectly straight surface run (alternately broaching and submerging to apparently four or five feet), at an estimated speed of at least 40 knots.

No periscope was sighted. When I reached the bridge, I found that the deck officer had already put the rudder hard left and rung up emergency speed on the engine-room telegraph. The ship had already begun to swing to the left. I personally rang up emergency speed again and then turned to watch the torpedo.

The executive officer, Lieutenant Norman Scott, left the chart house just ahead of me, saw the torpedo immediately on getting outside the door, and estimates that the torpedo when he sighted it was I,000 yards away, approaching from one point, or slightly less, abaft the beam and making exceedingly high speed.

Couldn't Avoid the Torpedo

"After seeing the torpedo and realizing the straight run, line of approach, and high speed it was making, I was convinced that it was impossible to maneuver to avoid it.

Lieutenant (junior grade) S. F. Kalk was an officer of the deck at the time, and I consider that he took correct and especially prompt measures in maneuvering 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 especial aptitude. His action in this emergency entirely justified my confidence in him. I deeply regret to state that he was lost as a result of the torpedoing of the ship, dying of exposure on one of the rafts.

"The torpedo broached and jumped clear of the water at a short distance from the ship, submerged about 50 or 60 feet from the ship, and struck approximately three feet below the water line in the fuel-oil tank between the auxiliary room and the after crew space.

The ship settled aft immediately after being torpedoed to a point at which the deck just forward of the after deckhouse was awash, and then more gradually until the deck abreast the engine-room hatch was awash. A man on watch in the engine room, D. R. Carter, oiler, attempted to close the water-tight door between the auxiliary room and the engine room but could not do so against water pressure from the auxiliary room.

Deck Blown Clear for Twenty Feet

"The deck over the forward part of the after crew space and over the fuel-oil tank just forward of it was blown clear for a space athwartships of about 20 feet from starboard to port, and the auxiliary room wrecked. The starboard after torpedo tube was blown into the air.

No fuel oil ignited and, apparently, no ammunition exploded. The depth charges in the chutes aft were set on ready and exploded after the stern sank. It was impossible to get to them to set them on safe as they were underwater. Immediately the ship was torpedoed, Lieutenant J. K. Richards, the gunnery officer, rushed aft to attempt to set the charges on `safe,' but could not get further aft than the after deck house.

"As soon as the torpedo struck, I attempted to send out an 'S. 0. S.' message by radio, but the mainmast was carried away, antennae falling, and all-electric power had failed. I then tried to have the gun-sight lighting batteries connected up in an effort to send out a low-power message with them, but it was at once evident that this would not be practicable before the ship sank. 

There was no other vessel in sight, and it was, therefore, impossible to get through a distress signal of any kind.

"Immediately after the ship was torpedoed every effort was made to get rafts and boats launched. Also, the circular life belts from the bridge and several splinter mats from the outside of the bridge were cut adrift and afterward proved very useful in holding men up until they could be got to the rafts. Weighted confidential publications were thrown over the side. There was no time to destroy other confidential matters, but it went down with the ship.

Ship Sank in Eight Minutes

"The ship sank about 4:29 P. M. (about eight minutes after being torpedoed). As I saw her settling rapidly, I ran along the deck and ordered everybody I saw to jump overboard. At this time, most of those not killed by the explosion were clear of the ship and were on rafts or wreckage. 

However, some were swimming, and a few appeared to be about a ship's length astern of the ship, at some distance from the rafts, probably having jumped overboard very soon after the ship was struck.

"Before the ship sank, two shots were fired from No. 4 gun with the hope of attracting attention of some near-by ship. As the ship began sinking, I jumped overboard. 

The ship sank stern first and twisted slowly through nearly 180 degrees as she swung upright. From this nearly vertical position, bow in the air to about the forward funnel, she went straight down. Before the ship reached the vertical position, the depth charges exploded, and I believe them to have caused the death of a number of men. They also partially paralyzed, stunned, or dazed a number of others, including Lieutenant Kalk and myself and several men, some of whom are still disabled but recovering.

Survivors Gathered on Rafts

USS Jacob Jones (DD-61) Survivors.

USS Jacob Jones (DD-61) Survivors. Ship's survivors following their rescue. Jacob Jones was sunk off the Scilly Isles by the German submarine U-53, on 6 December 1917. Photo Courtesy of Commander Donald J. Robinson, USN (Retired), 1981. Naval History and Heritage Command, NH 92064. GGA Image ID # 18097ef11d

"Immediate efforts were made to get all survivors on the rafts and then get rafts and boats together. Three rafts were launched before the ship sank, and one floated off when she sank. The motor dory, hull undamaged but engine out of commission, also floated off, and the punt and wherry also floated clear.

The punt was wrecked beyond usefulness, and the wherry was damaged and leaking badly, but was of considerable use in getting men to the rafts. The whaleboat was launched but capsized soon afterward, having been damaged by the explosion of the depth charges. The motor sailor did not float clear but went down with the ship.

"About 15 or 20 minutes after the ship sank the submarine appeared on the surface about two or three miles to the westward of the rafts, and gradually approached until about 800 to 1,000 yards from the ship, where it stopped and was seen to pick up one unidentified man from the water. The submarine then submerged and was not seen again.

"The motor dory picked me up and at once began to make arrangements to try to reach the Scillys in that boat in order to get assistance to those on the rafts. All the survivors, then in sight, were collected, and I gave orders to Lieutenant Richards to keep them together.

Started Out in Boat To Seek Help

"Lieutenant Scott, the navigating officer, had fixed the ship's position a few minutes before the explosion, and both he and I knew the course accurately to be steered. I kept Lieutenant Scott to assist me and four men who were in good condition in the boat to man the oars, the engine being out of commission.

With the exception of some emergency rations and half a bucket of water, all provisions, including medical kits, were taken from the dory and left on the rafts. There was no apparatus of any kind which could be used for night signaling.

"After a very trying trip during which it was necessary to steer by stars and by the direction of the wind, the dory was picked up about I P. M., December 7, by a small patrol vessel about six miles south of St. Mary's. Commander Randal, R. N. R., Senior Naval Officer, Scilly Isles, informed me that the other survivors had been rescued.

"One small raft (which had been separated from the others from the first) was picked up by the S. S. Catalina at 8 P. M., December 6. After a most trying experience through the night, the remaining survivors were picked up by the H. M. S. Camellia, at 8:30 A. M., December 7."

Bagley in his report especially commended Lieutenant Norman Scott, executive officer; Lieutenant Kalk, Lieutenant (junior grade) N. N. Gates; C. Charlesworth, boatswain's mate, second class; P. J. Burger, seaman, second class, who risked his life in efforts to get a lifeboat floated from the ship; L. J. Kelly, chief electrician; H. V. Chase, quartermaster, third class; H. L. Gibson, chief boatswain's mate, and E. Meier, water tender. Of Lieutenant Kalk, he said:

"Lieutenant (junior grade) S. F. Kalk, during the early part of the evening, but already in a weakened condition, swam from one raft to another in an effort to equalize the weight on the rafts. The men who were on the raft with him state, in their own words, that 'He was game to the last.' "

The memory of Kalk is preserved in a new destroyer that bears his name.

The Hero of the Jacob Jones

Lieut. Stanton Frederick Kalk, in whose honor the torpedo boat Kalk was named, was the officer in charge of the deck of the Jacob Jones when that vessel was sunk by a German submarine. After the destroyer was torpedoed, Kalk swam from raft to raft, trying to equalize the load, so that the men who survived could keep afloat until they could be rescued. Weakened by exposure and exertion, he died, December 6,1917, as a result of the efforts to save the lives of others. He was commended in the official reports of the sinking of the Jacob Jones for his promptness in taking measures to avoid destruction by the torpedo, for his efforts to save the lives of his men, and the ability he displayed as an officer. Kalk was a native of Alabama, where be was born October 14, 1894. He was appointed to the Naval Academy from Nebraska, June 13, 1912, and graduated June 2, 1916, being No. 51 in a class of 178. After graduation he was assigned to the battleship Florida as a junior lieutenant, and was later ordered to the Jacob Jones.

Note: The Swiss Red Cross reports that Ship’s Cook 1st Class Francis Murphy and Seamen 2nd Class Albert DeMello of the torpedoed destroyer Jacob Jones (DD-61) are prisoners of war in Germany. (Cablegram from W. S. Sims to OPNAV, 8 January 1918, Reel 19, ME-11, NDL.)


"Sinking of American Destroyer Jacob Jones," in the Commercial & Financial Chronicle, New York: William B. Dana Company, Publishers, Vol. 105, No. 2739, Saturday, 22 December 1917, pp. 2428-2429.

John Wilber Jenkins, "The 'Jacob Jones' Sunk by Submarine," in Our Navy's Part in the Great War, 1919, pp. 24-27.

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