Skip to content
Recruiting now.Explore navy careers

Bell from famous US destroyer sunk off Scillies returned to its owners

Bell from famous US destroyer sunk off Scillies returned to its owners
13 February 2024
The symbol of one of the most notable US Navy shipwrecks in history has been recovered from UK waters and presented to our closest allies.

A team from the MOD’s Salvage and Marine Operations recovered the bell of USS Jacob Jones from the depths of the Atlantic, 107 years after the ship had the ill fortune to be the first destroyer in the history of the US Navy to be lost to enemy action.

In the final 18 months of WW1 the US Navy maintained a substantial presence in UK waters and the Western Approaches to help cope with the U-boat menace and keep the maritime lifeline between the New World and the Old open.

Jacob Jones was one of half a dozen destroyers escorting a troop and supply convoy from southern Ireland to Brittany in December 1917. As such “the ship played an important role safeguarding convoys carrying the troops and supplies from the US to the United Kingdom and France that were critical to Allied victory,” said retired Rear Admiral Sam J Cox , Director of the US Navy’s Naval History and Heritage Command.

When Jacob Jones was undertaking this tasking, she was torpedoed by U-boat ace Hans Rose in U-53. The warship went down in just eight minutes, enough time for around one third of the crew to take to life rafts or jump into the Atlantic to try to save themselves.

Although U-boat crews were vilified by Allied propaganda during WW1, Hans Rose not only rescued a couple of American sailors when his boat surfaced after the attack, but he also radioed the US base at Queenstown (today Cobh) to inform them there were men in the water in need of rescuing.

The wreck was discovered by the Darkstar technical dive team some three-dozen miles south of the Scilly Isles in August 2021. She rests on the seabed more than 375ft deep.

Despite the remoteness and depth of the destroyer, US authorities remained fearful that unscrupulous trophy hunters might try to recover Jacob Jones’ bell – one of the icons of any warship.

In December, the NHHC – guardians of nearly 3,000 shipwrecks and more than 17,000 aircraft lost at sea – asked the British Government for two favours: to preserve the sanctity of the wreck, and to recover the bell.

Admiral Cox said that the remains of USS Jacob Jones were “a hallowed war grave” and that it was US Navy policy “to leave such wrecks undisturbed. However, due to risk of unauthorised and illegal salvaging of the ship’s bell, the Navy History and Heritage Command requested Ministry of Defence assistance.”

Using a remotely-operated vehicle, the MOD’s SALMO team not only recovered USS Jacob Jones’ bell but also placed a wreath and the Stars and Stripes on the wreck in tribute to the 64 men lost 107 years ago.

“I am proud of what the team have achieved,” said Andy Liddell, head of SALMA. “To assist our Allies in the recovery of the bell from such a historic wreck on the first deployment of the new remotely-operated vehicle is a massive achievement.”

Admiral Cox added: “This most recent chapter in the story of Jacob Jones is one of collaboration and mutual respect for the site.

“The US Navy is grateful to the Salvage and Marine Operations Team for recovering the bell, which will serve as a memorial to sailors who made the ultimate sacrifice in the defence of both the United States and the United Kingdom”.

After a ceremonial handover to the US authorities, the bell will eventually be given to the expert conservators of the NHHC Underwater Archaeology Branch in Washington DC before going on display as a permanent reminder of the sacrifices by the men lost.


Related articles

Navy News Magazine

We bring you the latest news, features and award-winning photographs from the front-line. Navy News has been reporting on all that happens in the Royal Navy and its wider community since 1954.