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Lieutenant Commander David W. Bagley’s Report on Sinking of U.S.S. Jacob Jones



Source:   Commanding Officer’s Report, Lieutenant Commander,D.W.Bagley, U.S.N.

          December 6, 1917: At 4:31 p.m., clear weather, smooth sea, speed 13 knots, zig-zagging, the 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 which were returning independently to port.

          I was in the chart-house and heard someone call out “Torpedo”! I jumped at once to the bridge and on my way up, saw one point abaft the starboard beam headed for a point about amidships, making a perfectly straight surface run (alternately broaching and submerging to apparently four or five feet), at very high speed, which I estimate at, at least 40 knots. 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 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 sighted by him, was 1,000 yards away, approaching from one point, or slightly less, abaft the beam, and making exceedingly high speed.

          After seeing the torpedo and realizing the straig[ht] run, line of approach, and high speed it wasmaking, I was convinced that it was impossible to maneuver to avoid it. Lieutenant (jg) Stanton F. Kalk, was 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 emergency. He had beenattached 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 about 11:00 p.m.

          The torpedo broached and jumped clear of the water at a short distance from the ship, submerged about fifty or sixty feetfrom the ship and struck approximately three feet below the waterline in the fuel oil tank between the auxiliary room and the after crew space. The after compartment, fuel oil tank and the auxiliary room were flooded immediately and the engine room flooded through the door between the auxiliary room and the engine room, the ship settling aft immediately after being torpedoed, to a point at which the deck just forward of the after deck house was awash, and then more gradually until the deck abreast the engine room hatchwas awash.

          A man on watch in the engine room, David R. Carter, Fireman first class, attempted to close the water-tight door between the auxiliary room and the engine room, but was unable to do so against the pressure of water from the auxiliary room.

          The deck over the forward part of the after crew space and over the fuel tank just forward of it, was blown clear for a space athwartships of about twenty 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 under water. Immediately [after] the ship wastorpedoed, Lieutenant John K. Richards, the gunnery officer, rushed aft to attempt to set the charges on “safe”, but was unable to get further aft than the after deck-house.

          As soon as the torpedo struck, I attempted to send out an “S.O.S.” message by radio, but the mainmast was carried away, antennae falling and all electric power 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 lifebelts from the bridge and several splinter mats from the outside of the bridge were cut adrift and afterwards 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 not time to destroy other confidential matter, which went down with the ship.

          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 had got clear of the ship and were on rafts or wreckage. Some, however, 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 nearby 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 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 paralized, stunned or dazed a number of others including Lieutenant Kalk and myself and several men, some of whom are still disabled, but recovering.

          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.1 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 soon capsized having been damaged by the explosion of the depth charges. The motor sailer did not float clear, but went down with the ship.

          About fifteen or twenty 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 them, 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 submarine appeared to be 150 to 200 feet long, had one gun of about 3” (possibly slightly larger) forward of conning tower and had periscopes housed. The general appearance of the hull and position of gun was like that of the U-51-56 class in Pamphlet I.D. 1163 (“German submarines, October 1917”) and the conning tower like that of the U-B-49 in the same pamphlet.2

          I was picked up by the motor dory and at once began to make arrangements to try to reach the SCILLYS3 in that boat in order to get assistance to those on the rafts. All survivors then in sight were collected and I gave orders to Lieutenant Richards to keep them together. Lieutenant Scott, the navigating officer, had fixed the ship’s position a few minutes before the explosion and both he and I know accurately the course to be steered. I kept Lieutenant Scott toassist 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 kit 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 direction of the wind, the dory was picked up about 1:00 p.m., December 7th, by a small patrol vessel about six miles south of St.Marys.4 Commander Randall, R.N.R., S.N.O., Scilly Isles, informed me that the other survivors had been rescued.5

          One small raft (which had been separated from the others from the first) was picked up by the S.S. CARALINA at 8:00 p.m., December 6th. 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 7th.

          I deeply regret to state that out of a total of seven officers and 103 men on board at the time of the torpedoing, two officers and sixty-four men died in the performance of duty.6

          The behavior of officers and men under the exceptionally hard conditions is worthy of the highest praise.

          Lieutenant Norman Scott, Executive Officer, accomplished a greatdeal towards getting boats and rafts in the water, turning off steam from fireroom to the engine room, getting lifebelts and splinter mats from the bridge into the water, in person firing signal guns, encouraging and assisting the men, and in general doing everything possible in the short time available. He was of invaluable assistance during the trip in the dory.

          Lieutenant (jg) Stanton F. Kalk, during the early part of the evening, but already in a weakened condition, swam from oneraft to another in the effort to equalize 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”.

          Lieutenant (jg) Nelson N. Gates, was calm and efficient in the performance of duty.

          During the night, Charles Charlesworth, BM1c., removed parts of his own clothing (when all realized that their lives depended on keeping warm) to try to keep alive men more thinly clad than himself. This sacrifice shows his calibre and I recommend that he be commended for his action.

          At the risk of almost certain death, Patrick J. Burger, Seaman second class, remained in the motor sailer and endeavored to get it clear for floating from the ship. While he did not succeed in accomplishing this work (which would have undoubtedly saved 20 or 30 lives), I desire to call attention to his sticking to duty until the very last and recommend him as being most worthy of commendation. He was drawn under the water with the boat, but later came to the surface and was rescued.

          Laurence J. Kelly, Chief Electrician, and Chase H.U., 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 especially valuable during the motor dory’s trip.

          Harry L. Gibson, Chief Boatswain’s Mate, and Meier, Edward, Watertender, were of great assistance to men on their rafts in advising and cheering them under most adverse conditions.

          The foregoing report is made from my own observations and after questioning all surviving officers and men.

Source Note: TD, DNA, RG 45, Entry 517B, Destroyer Ships Files: Jacob Jones, Folder 3. The report is undated and place of origin is not given. The date assigned was taken from the fact that Bagley was not rescued until 7 December and the place is the base for the U.S. destroyer flotilla in Great Britain.

Footnote 1: A punt is a flat-bottomed boat with a square-cut bow; a wherry is a narrow, light boat, sharp at both ends, for fast rowing or sailing.

Footnote 2: The submarine was U-53 commanded by Capt. Hans Rose. In an account published in The Literary Digest, 2 June 1923, Rose discussed the sinking of Jacob Jones. The submarine was in the midst of a successful cruise when he encountered Jacob Jones in late-afternoon mist. The Jacob Jones, according to Rose, was moving at “low speed and in a zig-zag course. At times she appeared almost to stop.” The American destroyer appeared to be firing at something, which was how Rose had first discovered it. At about “1,000 meters,” Rose fired his U-boat’s “fastest and strongest torpedo.” He adds, “We were so near the surface that it broke water and traveled for a considerable distance in full sight.” Immediately after firing, he “pulled in the periscope,” changed course, and dove to a depth of fifty meters. When he heard a second explosion, he believed that he had missed the target and was not under attack and began evasive maneuvers that he continued for ten minutes. After no further explosions he decided to surface again. Upon retracing his course to the spot where he had fired, he found wreckage and encountered American sailors struggling in the water. He and two sailors he had on deck with him threw lifebelts and life rings to several of the survivors and pulled on board two men who had “no support.” He passed other American seamen in the water but “could not save”  them as there was “no place for them but on the deck, and all would have been lost the first time we had to submerge.” Ibid., folder 4. In another newspaper account the two prisoners were identified as a cook named John F. Murphy and a young signalman named Alfred De Mello. Washington Star, 13 May 1921; Roster of Enlisted Men on Jacob Jones, 8 December 1917. Ibid.

Footnote 3: The Isles of Scilly are an archipelago off the southwestern tip of Cornwall, England.

Footnote 4: St Mary’s is the largest of the Isles of Scilly.

Footnote 5: Cmdr. Herbert W. Randall; “R.N.R.” is Royal Naval Reserve; “SNO” is senior naval officer.

Footnote 6: A list of the casualties, see, Ibid.