Ship’s bell from first WW1 US destroyer casualty returned

Handover of the Jacob Jones’ bell in London (MoD)
Handover of the Jacob Jones’ bell in London (MoD)

Last Updated on June 6, 2024 by Steve Weinman

The bell from the first US Navy destroyer to be sunk during wartime, discovered by the UK Darkstar wreck-diving team two years ago and recovered by UK Ministry of Defence Salvage & Marine Operations (SALMO) divers, has been ceremonially returned to the USA.

US Navy vice chief of naval operations Admiral James W Kilby took charge of the USS Jacob Jones’ bell during the handover ceremony at London’s Lancaster House. “Our Navy expresses our sincerest gratitude to those who made it possible to take this incredible artefact of sombre history back home,” he said.

Thermal imaging of the Jacob Jones (MoD)
Thermal imaging of the USS Jacob Jones destroyer wreck (MoD)

The 96m Jacob Jones was one of six destroyers escorting a troop and supply convoy from southern Ireland to Brittany on 6 December, 1917. She was torpedoed by the German submarine U-53 and sank within eight minutes, with the loss of 64 of the 110 crew and officers onboard.

In August 2022 the Darkstar team located and dived the wreck 65 miles out from the Isles of Scilly at a maximum depth of around 115m, as reported at the time on Divernet.

Far out in the Atlantic and with a very strong current running the technical divers carried out only one dive – but it was enough to positively identify the wreck.

Jacob Jones underway in 1916 soon after launch (NHHC)
The Jacob Jones underway in 1916, soon after her launch (NHHC)

Last December the US Naval History & Heritage Command (NHHC), concerned that the bell could be at risk from illegal salvaging, asked the UK to recover it. The SALMO team did so this February during a comprehensive video survey using a new type of UK-built ROV, as reported on Divernet

A wreath and US flag were left at the wreck-site, and the bell was stabilised by Wessex Archaeology, supported by the NHHC. 

“Playing a pivotal role in returning this historic bell to US soil is something we can all be proud of and is yet another example of the special relationship between our two nations,” said SALMO head Andy Liddell at the handover.

“While this is a momentous occasion, this handover ceremony is also a poignant reminder of the brave allies who defended our nation and, importantly, those who lost their lives in doing so.”

The ship's bell recovered from the wreck of USS Jacob Jones (MoD)
The ship’s bell recovered from the wreck of the USS Jacob Jones (MoD)

The bell is being conserved at the NHHC’s Conservation, Research & Archaeology Laboratory at the Washington Navy Yard. It will eventually go on display in the National Museum of the US Navy.

“In escorting convoys of soldiers and supplies across the Atlantic, Jacob Jones contributed significantly to the ultimate Allied victory,” said NHHC director and retired rear admiral Sam Cox. “We should never forget these courageous sailors.”

SALMO, NHHC and Wessex Archaeology are continuing to work with the UK’s National Oceanography Centre to study and document the wreck-site.

Also on Divernet: HOW DARKSTAR DIVERS FOUND DESTROYER USS JACOB JONES AT 115M, TRANSATLANTIC TIE-UP LIFTS WW1 DESTROYER BELL, FIRST WW1 DESTROYER CASUALTY COMMEMORATED, ‘HIT ‘EM HARDER’ WW2 SUB FOUND AT 1KM+

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