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How Darkstar divers found destroyer at 115m

Darkstar finds wreck of Jacob Jones
USS Jacob Jones (DD-61)
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The UK’s Darkstar technical-diving team have discovered the deep-lying wreck of the first US Navy destroyer ever to have been sunk through enemy action, some 65km out from the Scilly Isles.

Six divers explored the USS Jacob Jones (DD 61) at a maximum depth of 115m, on 11 August.

The historic World War One warship wreck had long been sought, although the distance offshore and challenging conditions had made it a difficult target. The divers had eventually decided to spend a week investigating marks shown on UK Hydrographic Office (UKHO) charts from the vessel Darkstar. “Steve Mortimer, Mark Dixon and Jeff Cornish had identified approximately six possibles for the wreck,” Darkstar’s Dom Robinson told Divernet.

“The first one we dived turned out to be a WW1-era collier, but we then hit the jackpot on the next dive.” The Jacob Jones discovery came on the second day of diving, with the dive-team – Robinson, Mortimer, Cornish, Claire Fitzsimmons, Rick Ayrton and Will Schwarz – using AP Vision closed-circuit rebreathers.

“Surprised doesn’t do justice to how we felt about locating the bell shortly after reaching the bottom,” said Robinson. “The rest of the dive was almost an anti-climax!”

Robinson, using one of two Dive-X Piranha scooters alongside buddy Ayrton, was able to capture 10 minutes of the dive on video (below), after experiencing some initial difficulties with the camera.

(Dom Robinson)

The top of the wreck lay at about 110m and, following their good fortune in finding the bell, the divers were able to confirm the ship’s identity from several name markings. The video records them moving on from the bell to one of the four Yarrow boilers (2:09) and then to the steam turbines (3:47), which are visible again at 6:29. 

The footage also shows one of the four pairs of torpedo tubes (4:20) and the propeller-shaft (5:25), heavily bent either by the explosion or on hitting the seabed, ending in the propeller itself (5:45). The divers then return to the line with the help of a fixed strobe in the poor visibility.

The Jacob Jones

Work started to build the 96m Tucker-class destroyer in New Jersey soon after the start of WW1, and she was commissioned in February 1916. With a top speed of 30 knots, she was armed with four 102mm guns and eight 533mm torpedo tubes. 

The destroyer carried out patrol and escort duties around the UK from May 1917, and was responsible for several notable rescue operations, including picking up 69 survivors from the torpedoed British steamships Valetta and Dafila, and 305 from the British cruiser Orama.

Then, while returning from France to Queenstown in Ireland on the late afternoon of 6 December that year, she was torpedoed by the German submarine U-53

WW1 U-boat U-53
The U-53

The torpedo struck about a metre below the waterline, rupturing a fuel tank. Cdr David W Bagley ordered all life-rafts and boats to be launched but, as the stern sank, the depth-charges exploded, killing a number of men. Eight minutes after the strike, with only four of the rafts launched and two officers and 62 crew still onboard, the Jacob Jones sank.

destroyer USS Jacob Jones
After getting clear of the Jacob Jones, Seaman William G Ellis captured the moment of sinking (Smithsonian Institution)

In an unusual wartime act of humanity, Kapitan Hans Rose ordered two badly wounded men to be taken aboard the surfaced U-53, while also informing his enemy by radio of the need to send help – asking only that the U-boat be given time to get clear. British sloop-of-war Camellia and the liner Catalina responded and spent the night picking up survivors.

Kapitan Rose would become the fifth-ranked U-boat ace of WW1. During his first patrol with U-53 on 7 October the previous year he had entered Newport harbour in Rhode Island and paid surprise personal visits to US naval dignitaries. The USA, still neutral at the time, then could only observe as U-53 started to attack Allied shipping from the following morning.

Stanton Kalk, officer of the deck when the Jacob Jones was struck, died of cold and exhaustion after helping his shipmates by swimming from raft to raft to equalise their weight. He was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Medal for his “splendid self-sacrifice”.

crew from destroyer USS Jacob Jones
Survivors from the Jacob Jones (Cdr Donald J Robinson / NHHC)

“We only did one dive on the Jacob Jones,” said Robinson. “Not only was it a very long way out but we also had a very strong current that would have got worse as we were heading into springs. 

“We dived a number of other UKHO targets, including several that probably hadn’t been visited by other divers. Unfortunately, none of them had anything that allowed us to identify them.”

The Darkstar divers left the Jacob Jones wreck undisturbed, and have informed the US Department of State of their find. “Naval History & Heritage Command would like to congratulate the team on their reported find, and offers thanks for the responsible approach they have adopted towards the site,” stated NHHC. “We look forward to learning more about the discovery.”

Also on Divernet: Argonauts Dive Long-Lost HMS Jason At 93m, 10,000 Bottles Sitting On A Wreck: Drinkable Or Not?

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