The Sinking of Jacob Jones
Toughness and Sacrifice in the North Atlantic
On 6 December 1917, a single torpedo sent American destroyer Jacob Jones (Destroyer No. 61) to the bottom of the Celtic Sea and caused the deaths of 64 American Sailors. The event is often remembered for the actions of Kapitänleutnant Hans Rose, the German skipper of SM U-53, who fired the torpedo. Following the sinking, Rose tapped out an S.O.S. on behalf of his stricken foe from the radio room of his submarine. The transmission informed British bases in England and Ireland of American Sailors in the water and provided coordinates for their rescue. Many contemporary and modern sources give Rose credit for the rescue of the surviving crew. Often overlooked, however, are the actions of the crew of Jacob Jones that were instrumental in ensuring that 46 of their number survived the harrowing event. Suddenly cast adrift overnight in the cold, rough, northern Atlantic, their level-headedness, toughness, and sacrifice defied a hostile environment and exhibited courage consistent with the finest traditions of the United States Navy.1
Jacob Jones, a Tucker-class destroyer, was commissioned on 10 February 1916. The new ship struggled through a difficult pre-war career. The vessel failed several sea trials due to defects experienced in several components of its propulsion system. After the vessel flunked another trial in January 1917, the Navy Department considered returning it to contractors for improvements. Despite these setbacks and a collision with another American destroyer in February 1917, Jacob Jones continued operating on neutrality duty as the United States neared entry into World War I. Approximately one month after the United States declared war on Germany, the destroyer steamed to Queenstown [Cobh], Ireland, under Lieutenant Commander David W. Bagley with Division Seven of the Destroyer Force, the second group of destroyers to enter the war zone. Arriving at the British base on 17 May 1917, Jacob Jones operated out of Queenstown, patrolling the U-boat infested western approaches to the British Isles. Later, as the Entente Powers instituted a worldwide convoy system, the destroyer escorted inbound and outbound convoys through the submarine danger zone.
During the vessel’s months at Queenstown, she earned a sterling reputation for rescuing Allied and neutral crews following U-boat attacks. In the war’s early months, Jacob Jones rescued more stranded sailors than any other American warship, assisting three stricken vessels, and in one case assisting with the rescue of 305 British crewmembers of the British cruiser Orama.2 The destroyer and its crew also engaged submarines on several occasions and was the target of unsuccessful torpedo attacks in May and July 1917.
On 6 December 1917, Jacob Jones handed over a convoy off of Brest, France, and steamed with fellow convoy escorts for Queenstown. That afternoon Jacob Jones fell behind her compatriots to hold target practice approximately 40 miles south of the Isles of Scilly, a small island chain west of England and south of Ireland.3 Two miles away U-53, under Kapitänleutnant Hans Rose, detected the sound of gunfire and closed to investigate.
Jacob Jones had previously encountered U-53. In October 1916, before the United States entered the war, Rose and U-53 boldly sailed into Newport, Rhode Island, where the American ship was anchored, and entertained American officers on board his vessel. Lieutenant Commander Bagley, not yet Jacob Jones’ commanding officer, was one of Rose’s guests. The destroyer’s crew witnessed the submarine’s arrival and departure from Newport. They later helped rescue survivors when Rose sank five Allied and neutral merchantmen off Nantucket the following night.
At approximately 1530 on 6 December 1917, Rose spotted Jacob Jones. U-53 submerged and prepared to attack. The U-boat stalked the destroyer unseen, closing from approximately three miles to 1,000 meters and Rose ordered its strongest, fastest torpedo readied to fire. The German commanding officer lined up the American ship and at 1620 fired the single torpedo from U-53’s bow tube before taking his boat below.4
Seconds later on Jacob Jones’ bridge, the cry of “Torpedo!” pierced the cold and drew attention to a perfectly straight wake speeding toward amidships 800 yards off the starboard beam. Twenty-three-year-old Lieutenant (j.g.) Stanton F. Kalk was the officer-of-the-deck. He quickly responded by ordering the rudder put hard left, while Lieutenant Commander Bagley, after rushing to the bridge from the chart room, rang up emergency speed as the ship began to swing. The crew sprang into action as the torpedo closed, broaching and then plunging beneath the waves approximately 60 feet away from the starboard side.
With a violent explosion the torpedo struck the destroyer three feet below the waterline in the fuel oil tank between the auxiliary room and the after crew space. Many men died in the blast, especially in the aft living quarters and firerooms, and compartments immediately took on frigid water from the winter sea. The shock of the explosion threw several of the crew against the bulkheads and overheads, causing widespread injuries and rendering several of the crew dazed or unconscious. On impact, the ship began to settle to the aft with the stern almost immediately submerging.
All hands struggled to keep Jacob Jones secure and afloat. Fireman First Class David R. Carter, on watch in the engine room, struggled against the intense pressure of the encroaching sea to seal the watertight door to the auxiliary compartment, but the task proved impossible.5 Coxwain Benjamin Nunnery, a gunner, was in the wash room cleaning up after target practice. The force of the explosion, occurring in the compartment below, threw him and approximately ten Sailors against the washroom overhead. Nunnery, being one of the few to escape injury, rushed topside and took his station at a bow gun. Although the submarine was not visible, the available gun crew fired at the reported origin of the torpedo hoping to keep the assailant submerged and at a distance.6 Lieutenant Norman Scott, who in World War II would posthumously receive the Medal of Honor for actions off Guadalcanal, worked below to shut off steam to the engine room and prevent a potential explosion. Gunnery officer Lieutenant John Richards, Jr. recognized another explosive threat in the form of two armed depth charges on the fantail. Following Allied policy, the destroyer kept the charges at ready in the warzone with the safety disengaged. Lieutenant Richards waded aft attempting to set the explosives on “safe,” but they were already submerged and blocked by the twisted state of the stern. They proved unreachable.
Quickly, Lieutenant Commander Bagley and his crew recognized that their ship was sinking and took action to save lives. Topside, officers and men raced the rising water to cut loose lifebelts, boats, life rafts ─ anything that would float. Chief Electrician Mate Lawrence Kelley and Quartermaster Third Class Howard Chase prepared lifeboats and ran up and down the deck throwing splinter mattresses and lifebelts overboard, continuing their work until they were among the last on board.7 Against the rapidly encroaching waters, Seaman Second Class Patrick J. Burger struggled to clear for sea the ship’s motor sailor, capable of holding thirty Sailors. In the short eight minutes it took Jacob Jones to sink, the crew freed three inflatable Carley floats, a balsa-style catamaran raft, a motor dory, a whaleboat, a wherry, and other buoyant and life-saving materials.
Lieutenant Commander Bagley focused his efforts on sending out a distress signal to nearby naval forces. The explosion carried away the vessel’s mainmast and the radio antenna and the ship lost electric power, rendering the set unusable. He attempted to jury-rig a power source from the batteries that powered the gun sight lights but was unable to do so.8 Despite the hopelessness, Chief Pharmacist Mate Ernest Pennington saw one of Jacob Jones’ radio operators stationed at the set, headset on, still attempting to send an S.O.S. as crewmembers began abandoning ship.9 Despite these efforts the vessel was unable to send a distress signal. As the destroyer entered its last seconds, the No. 4 gun fired two rounds in a final effort to alert friendly vessels nearby.10 Lieutenant Commander Bagley, left with no other option, walked the starboard rail giving the command “All hands overboard.”
Weather off the British Isles in the winter is notoriously fierce. The temperature at the time of Jacob Jones’ sinking hovered above freezing and the northern Atlantic waters were seasonably cold. Despite the danger of being sucked under with the sinking vessel, Chief Pharmacist Mate Pennington hesitated while abandoning ship, later recalling “I felt that I had never faced anything more uninviting than that chilly sea, especially as I did not know when or how I might be rescued.” He rolled overboard only after water on the deck cleared his ankles.11
As the crew poured over the rail, the stern sank along with the depth charges on the fantail. With the bow still above water, the charges reached their detonation depth and exploded. The force of detonation killed and stunned several of the Sailors. Following the detonation Chief Pharmacist Mate Pennington remembered initially being unable to move his legs and arms and relied on his life preserver to keep him afloat.12 The shock threw the swimming Lieutenant Richards several feet out of the ocean.13 An unnamed seaman swimming to the rafts bumped into what comrades believed was a bundle of clothes, but proved to be Lieutenant Commander Bagley, rendered unconscious by the explosion. The Sailor pulled Bagley to the safety of the motor dory.14 The blast damaged lifeboats within its radius. The whaleboat capsized with Sailors on board and the bottom of the wherry warped so that it began taking on water. At 1629, only eight minutes after being torpedoed, the bow of the destroyer swung upward, twisting 180 degrees in the process, and paused nearly upright before Jacob Jones plunged below, stern first.
The survivors scrambled for the remaining boats and rafts. Seaman Second Class Burger lost his fight to float the ship’s large motor sailor, struggling with the boat until he was dragged below by the sinking destroyer. He surfaced and swam to a nearby lifeboat. The boats were overcrowded. Twenty-two sought refuge on the balsa, while eight packed a small Carley float tied up to it. Still more clung to the sides.15 Water Tender Patrick Judge remembered that the balsa was so badly weighed down that the raft was awash with water above the men’s shoe tops.16 Still more crowded into Carley floats drifting further afield, including Lieutenant (j.g.) Kalk. The young officer realized that his float was dangerously overcrowded. Despite being injured by the depth charge explosion he resolved to swim to the distant balsa to equalize the weights of the rafts, crossing an open expanse of frigid water and arriving at the raft in a severely weakened state.
At approximately 1645, as the Americans struggled to survive the ordeal and save their shipmates, U-53 surfaced and cruised through the mass of survivors. Rose brought Seaman Second Class Albert De Mello and Seaman First Class John F. Murphy on board before submerging. De Mello was taken below to the cramped confines of the German boat and noticed the wireless operator transmitting a message. He asked if Kapitänleutnant Rose was notifying his sister ships of his victory. Rose responded, “No, I am sending an S.O.S to Land’s End [England] for the remainder of your shipmates as I have no more room for more of you aboard [sic].”17 Despite Rose’s attempt to provide assistance, an act motivated by humanitarian and political considerations, Anglo-American naval forces did not act on the transmission.18 U-53 submerged and departed the scene of the sinking, eventually returning to Heligoland, Germany, with the prisoners on 12 December. The Imperial German Army interned Murphy and De Mello as prisoners of war in Brandenburg, Germany. They both safely returned to the United States after the 11 November 1918 armistice.19
Following U-53’s departure, the men struggled with the sea. Weather worsened overnight. Water Tender Judge recalled that “a stiff wind blew up and continued to get stronger as the night wore on. A high sea was lashed up and the waves engulfed us time after time. We clung onto the raft in desperation, though half drowned by the icy water.”20 Chief Pharmacist Mate Pennington recalled that the sea kept the survivors continually drenched and cold.21 Waves tossed Quartermaster Third Class Howard Chase overboard repeatedly.22 When a heavy sea caused his drifting Carley floats to tip, a weakened Cabin Steward Wallace Simpson washed overboard and drowned. Simpson, an African American Sailor from Denver, had served in the Navy for ten years, even while prejudiced actions of the Wilson Administration’s Navy Department sharply curtailed the roles available to black Sailors. When announcing Simpson’s death, the Kansas City Sun, an African-American Newspaper, proclaimed “Whenever history is to be made for the United States a Negro is always there.”23
Lieutenant Commander Bagley was alarmed that his ship was unable to radio for help. Along with his navigation officer, Lieutenant Scott, and six of his strongest men, he boarded the motor dory and set off for the Isles of Scilly to find help. With the boat’s motor wrecked, the officers and men all took turns rowing for shore as their boat was buffeted by the sea. The dory was repeatedly washed over. Coxwain Nunnery recalled spending twenty-two hours repeatedly bailing out the half-filled vessel before another wave could founder it. He later called these hours the most strenuous of his life.24 While the dory stayed afloat, the leaking wherry with five Sailors on board lost its battle with the sea. The small boat rowed away from the larger mass of survivors intending to reach the Scillys. The wherry and the Sailors on board were never recovered.
As the temperatures dipped, men increasingly succumbed to the elements. Among the first was Lieutenant (j.g.)Kalk. Weakened by his selfless decision to equalize the weight of the rafts, he died of hypothermia at 2300. A Sailor beside Kalk in his final moments remarked that he was “game to the last,” a phrase that eulogized the young officer for years to come.25 The officers and men took several measures to fight the danger of hypothermia. They closely watched over their shipmates and helped keep them conscious. On a drifting Carley float, Lieutenant Richards led his crew in song in attempts to raise morale and keep his men alert and alive.26 Sailors on the balsa recalled crew members cracking jokes to deal with the hopeless situation. Lieutenant Commander Bagley later commended Chief Boatswain’s Mate Harry Gibson and Water Tender Edward Meier for their efforts to raise spirits throughout the night.
The crew also readily sacrificed their own wellbeing for their shipmates. Forced to abandon ship quickly, many of the men were lightly clad and unprepared for the cold. Boatswain’s Mate First Class Charles Charlesworth removed parts of his clothing to warm men more lightly clad than himself.27 When Chief Pharmacist Mate Pennington was on the verge of death, his shipmate Seaman Second Class Lawrence Hansen took off his own heavy, wool-lined coat and wrapped it around Pennington, immediately helping him regain strength and ultimately saving his life. Pennington later recalled that he did not witness one selfish act among the crew during the entire ordeal.28
Ultimately, the Americans’ British allies were responsible for the rescue of Jacob Jones survivors. A tramp British merchant steamer Catalina located a Carley float at approximately 2100 on 6 December, and rescued the six crewmembers on board. Catalina radioed for assistance and its transmission, rather than U-53’s, spurred the Anglo-American allies to respond to the sinking.29 Queenstown dispatched several warships to locate the remaining life vessels. After daybreak on 7 December, the main group of survivors spotted smoke on the horizon. The British sloop Camellia reached the balsa raft and the attached Carley float at 0900, thereby rescuing the largest group of survivors. Thirty minutes later, the British warship located more crewmembers on another float 600 yards away and took them on board. At 1300 on the same day, a British patrol boat fifteen miles south of the Isles of Scilly recovered Lieutenant Commander Bagley and the final group of survivors in the motor dory. In all, of the 110 members of Jacob Jones crew, 46 survived, including the two men captured by U-53.
British sailors fed, comforted, and provided medical care to the survivors before disembarking them at various British naval installations. As the men recovered their health they transferred to Melville, the American flagship at Queenstown, and later returned to the United States to rest and recuperate. After being honored by towns, cities, and civic organizations, the majority of Jacob Jones men returned to the warzone in various warships during the winter and spring of 1918.
The United States Navy learned from the loss of Jacob Jones. In the aftermath of the sinking, Vice Admiral Sims, Commander of United States Naval Forces in European Waters, issued guidelines born from lessons taken from the disaster. He encouraged destroyers to steam in pairs within visible range of each other, and to stow lifeboats and life-saving materials so that they would float free in case of sinking. Further guidelines suggested that American warships keep depth charges set on safe, with a Sailor perpetually stationed nearby.30
Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels provided ten of Jacob Jones’ crew with written commendations. In addition, the Department of the Navy awarded four Navy Crosses to crewmembers and Distinguished Service Medals, then the most senior navy medal, to Lieutenant Commander Bagley, Lieutenant (j.g.)Kalk, and Seaman Second Class Burger. In addition, the Navy named two destroyers (DD-170 and DD- 611) for Lieutenant (j.g.)Kalk. The Navy also named two more destroyers Jacob Jones (DD-130 and DE-130). An investigation into the sinking concluded that the officers and men bore themselves in accordance with the best traditions of the service.
One hundred years later, American sacrifice in the First World War conjures up images of trenches and no-man’s land. Often overlooked are the individual and collective actions of Navy personnel on land and at sea. It is true that the 384 killed in action and 6929 overall casualties suffered by Navy personnel were far exceeded by the numbers of Americans lost in continental Europe. It is also true, however, that these Navy personnel, including the crew of Jacob Jones, sacrificed everything for their country and their shipmates. As the centennial of American involvement in World War I continues, let us not forget their service and sacrifice.31
This essay was produced with support from Dr. David Kohnen at Hattendorf Center for Maritime Historical Research, Newport, Rhode Island, and the World War I Documentary History Team at Naval History and Heritage Command headquarters, Washington, D.C.
Essay by S. Matthew Cheser, NHHC Histories and Archives Division, November 2017
 The following essay was prepared using excerpts from Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships (online), s.v. “Jacob Jones I (DD-61)” by S. Matthew Cheser, accessed 28 November 2017.
 Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships, s.v. “Jacob Jones I (DD-61)” by S. Matthew Cheser.
 Target practice in the submarine danger zone was routine and officially encouraged by American leadership. It was, however, risky. Two months earlier Cassin (Destroyer No. 43) was torpedoed after also holding target practice. William Sims to William Benson, “Gunnery Exercises. Vessels Operating in European Waters” 10 October 1917, Entry 517, Area File, 1911–1927, Naval Records Collection of the Office of Naval Records and Library, Record Group (RG) 45, National Archives Building (hereafter NARA I) Washington, D.C.
 Hans Rose, “Extract of War Diary of U-53” 6 December 1917, Jacob Jones Ship File, Entry 520, Subject File, 1911–1927;. RG 45, NARA I. “U-Boat Commander Tells How U.S.S. Jacob Jones Was Torpedoed, Evening Star. (Washington, D.C.), 13 May 1923. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Library of Congress.
 David W. Bagley, “The Loss of the Jacob Jones” Jacob Jones Ship Files, Entry 520, RG 45, NARA I, 2.
 Yorkville Enquirer. (Yorkville, S.C.), 22 Feb. 1918. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Library of Congress. The Lancaster news. (Lancaster, S.C.), 26 Feb. 1918. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Library of Congress.
 “Last to Leave Jacob Jones,” Boston Herald and Journal, (Boston, MA), 11, Mar. 1918. Reprinted at http://www.webnests.com/Chase/chronicles/howarduchase.htm. Bagley, “The Loss of the Jacob Jones,” 4.
 Bagley, “The Loss of the Jacob Jones,” Jacob Jones Ship Files, Entry 520, RG 45, NARA I. 4.
 Ernest Pennington, “The Torpedoing And Sinking Of The U.S.S. Jacob Jones By The German Submarine U-53, December 6, 1917,” Hospital Corps Quarterly, Vol. 6, No. 1 (January, 1922): 3.
 Bagley, “The Loss of the Jacob Jones,” 4.
 Pennington, “The Torpedoing And Sinking Of The U.S.S. Jacob Jones By The German Submarine U-53, December 6, 1917,” 4.
 Evening Star. (Washington, D.C.), 27 Jan. 1918. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Library of Congress.
 Evening Star. (Washington, D.C.), 12 Dec. 1917. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Library of Congress.
 Pennington, “The Torpedoing And Sinking Of The U.S.S. Jacob Jones By The German Submarine U-53, December 6, 1917,” 5. The Ward County Independent. (Minot, Ward County, N.D.), 21 Feb. 1918. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Library of Congress.
 The Ward County Independent. (Minot, Ward County, N.D.), 21 Feb. 1918. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Library of Congress.
 Albert De Mello to C.G. Moore, 6 February 1930, Jacob Jones Ship Files, Entry 520, RG 45, NARA I.
 According to <i>U-53</i>’s war diary, Rose’s decision to call for help was influenced partly “in the hope it might increase the breach which I was given to understand from the statement of one of the prisoners existed between American and British Naval Personnel.” The American and British ranking officers at Queenstown were unaware of the sinking until a later transmission from another ship. It is unclear why British forces did not act on Rose’s transmission. Jacob Jones survivor Ernest Pennington believed that the British judged the anonymous transmission was false and an attempt to draw allied vessels into an ambush. This was a typical ruse employed by U-Boat commanders. A February 1930 inquiry with the British Admiralty by the American Naval Attaché, London, turned up no record of Rose’s transmission, but that does not preclude its existence, especially in the light of contemporary American eyewitnesses. Dr. David Kohnen of the John Hattendorf Center for Maritime Historical Research also witnessed a record of Rose’s transmission while conducting research in British Archives. “Extract of War Diary of U-53.” Pennington, “The Torpedoing And Sinking Of The U.S.S. Jacob Jones By The German Submarine U-53, December 6, 1917,” 5. W.W. Gilbraith to Alfred Johnson, “Request for Historical Information.” 20 February 1930 , Jacob Jones Ship Files, Entry 520, RG 45, NARA I.
 Evening Star. (Washington, D.C.), 13 May 1923. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Library of Congress. Evening Star. (Washington, D.C.), 01 Jan. 1919. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Library of Congress.
 The Ward County Independent. (Minot, Ward County, N.D.), 21 Feb. 1918. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Library of Congress.
 Pennington, “The Torpedoing And Sinking Of The U.S.S. Jacob Jones By The German Submarine U-53, December 6, 1917,” 8.
 “Last to Leave Jacob Jones,” Boston Herald and Journal, (Boston, MA), 11, Mar. 1918.
 The Kansas City Sun. (Kansas City, Mo.), 29 Dec. 1917. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Library of Congress.
 Yorkville Enquirer. (Yorkville, S.C.), 22 Feb. 1918. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Library of Congress.
 Pennington, “The Torpedoing And Sinking Of The U.S.S. Jacob Jones By The German Submarine U-53, December 6, 1917,” 7.
 Bagley, “The Loss of the Jacob Jones,” 4.
 Pennington, The Torpedoing And Sinking Of The U.S.S. Jacob Jones By The German Submarine U-53, December 6, 1917,” 8-9.
 Records from Admiral Lewis Bayly, the British commander at Queenstown and Captain Joel Pringle, the ranking American naval officer at the Irish base, both point to Catalina’s transmission as their first news of the sinking. It is possible; however, that Rose’s transmission was intercepted by Catalina, and led to the first rescue. For documents detailing the reception Catalina’s transmission, see Lewis Bayly (Admiral Queenstown) “Cablegram” 6 December 1917, Jacob Jones Ship Files, Entry 520, RG 45, NARA I, and Joel Pringle to William Sims “Jacob Jones, Torpedoing of” 7 December 1917. Jacob Jones Ship Files, Entry 520, RG 45, NARA I. The transmission that Queenstown command received and acted on matches the time and content of Catalina’s later transmission rather than the message from U-53.
Joel Pringle to U.S. Destroyer Flotillas Operating in European Waters, “Suggested steps to reduce loss of life in case destroyers are torpedoed.” 26 December 1917. Entry 517, NARA I. William Sims to All Forces, “Depth Charge Policy,” 7 January 1917. Entry 520, RG 45, NARA I.
Henry Price, “Court of inquiry to inquire into the loss of the U.S.S. Jacob Jones,” 13 December 1917, Jacob Jones Ship Files, Entry 520, RG 45, NARA I.