USS Reuben James (DD-245)
USS Reuben James (DD-245)—a post-World War I, four-funnel Clemson-class destroyer—was the first United States Navy ship sunk by hostile action in the European theater of World War II and the first named for Boatswain's Mate Reuben James (c.1776–1838), who distinguished himself fighting in the First Barbary War.
USS Reuben James on 29 April 1939
|Builder:||New York Shipbuilding|
|Laid down:||2 April 1919|
|Launched:||4 October 1919|
|Commissioned:||24 September 1920|
|In service:||24 September 1920|
|Out of service:||31 October 1941|
|Fate:||Sunk by U-552, 31 October 1941|
|Class and type:||Clemson-class destroyer|
|Displacement:||1,215 long tons (1,234 t)|
|Length:||314 ft 5 in (95.83 m)|
|Beam:||31 ft 8 in (9.65 m)|
|Draft:||9 ft 4 in (2.84 m)|
|Installed power:||26,500 shp (19,800 kW)|
|Speed:||35 kn (40 mph; 65 km/h)|
|Range:||4,900 nmi (5,600 mi; 9,100 km) at 15 kn (17 mph; 28 km/h)|
|Complement:||159 officers and enlisted|
Reuben James was laid down on 2 April 1919 by the New York Shipbuilding Corporation of Camden, New Jersey, launched on 4 October 1919, and commissioned on 24 September 1920, with Commander Gordon W. Hines in command. The destroyer was sunk by a torpedo attack from German submarine U-552 near Iceland on 31 October 1941, before the U.S. had officially entered the war.
Assigned to the Atlantic Fleet, Reuben James saw duty in the Mediterranean Sea in 1921–1922. Reuben James went from Newport, Rhode Island, on 30 November 1920, to Zelenika, Yugoslavia, arriving on 18 December. During the spring and summer of 1921, she operated in the Adriatic and the Mediterranean out of Zelenika and Gruz (Dubrovnik), Yugoslavia, assisting refugees and participating in postwar investigations. In October 1921 at Le Havre, she joined the protected cruiser Olympia at ceremonies marking the return of the Unknown Soldier to the U.S. At Danzig, from 29 October 1921 to 3 February 1922, she assisted the American Relief Administration in its efforts to relieve hunger and misery. After duty in the Mediterranean, she departed Gibraltar on 17 July.
Based then at New York City, the ship patrolled the Nicaraguan coast to prevent the delivery of weapons to revolutionaries in early 1926. In the spring of 1929, she participated in fleet maneuvers that foreshadowed naval airpower. She was decommissioned at Philadelphia on 20 January 1931. Recommissioned on 9 March 1932, the ship again operated in the Atlantic and the Caribbean, patrolling Cuban waters during the coup by Fulgencio Batista. She transferred to San Diego in 1934. Following maneuvers that evaluated aircraft carriers, Reuben James returned to the Atlantic Fleet in January 1939.
World War II
Upon the outbreak of war in Europe in September 1939, she joined the Neutrality Patrol, guarding the Atlantic and Caribbean approaches to the American coast. In March 1941, Reuben James joined the force established to escort convoys sailing to Great Britain. This force escorted convoys as far as Iceland, after which the convoys became the responsibility of British escorts. She was based at Hvalfjordur, Iceland, under command of Lieutenant Commander Heywood Lane Edwards.
On 23 October, she sailed from Naval Station Argentia, Newfoundland with four other destroyers, escorting eastbound Convoy HX 156. At daybreak on 31 October, she was torpedoed near Iceland by U-552 commanded by Kapitänleutnant Erich Topp. Reuben James had positioned herself between an ammunition ship in the convoy and the known position of a German "wolfpack", a group of submarines poised to attack the convoy. Reuben James was hit forward by a torpedo meant for a merchant ship and her entire bow was blown off when a magazine exploded. The bow sank immediately. The aft section floated for five minutes before going down. Of a crew of seven officers and 136 enlisted men plus one enlisted passenger, 100 were killed, leaving only 44 enlisted men and no officers who survived the attack.
|ON 20||30 Sept – 9 Oct 1941||from Iceland to Newfoundland prior to US declaration of war|
|HX 156||24–31 Oct 1941||from Newfoundland to Iceland prior to US declaration of war; sunk by U-552|
In popular culture
- Woody Guthrie wrote the song, "The Sinking of the Reuben James", and performed it with Pete Seeger and the other Almanac Singers. The Guthrie song has an original tune for its chorus, but its verses are set to the tune of the song "Wildwood Flower". Seeger later also performed the song with The Weavers.
- Johnny Horton performed Guthrie's song on his album Johnny Horton Makes History.
- The Kingston Trio have released their version of Guthrie's song on numerous albums.
- The Chad Mitchell Trio released their version of Guthrie's song on Reflecting.
- In Foyle's War, Series Four episode 1, "Invasion", Captain John Kieffer confides in Christopher Foyle that he never understood the American isolationists who opposed the war. John enlisted in the U.S. military the day after his 25-year-old kid brother Brian was killed while serving on a Navy destroyer, on convoy duty, a month before the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Brian and 114 other people lost their lives when a German U-boat torpedoed and sank Reuben James in the Atlantic Ocean, a tragedy that nobody talked about.
- The United States Postal Service issued a commemorative stamp in 1991 as part of the set WWII, 1941: A World at War.
- "Reuben James". Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. Navy Department, Naval History and Heritage Command. 25 September 2005. Retrieved 11 April 2015.
- Larrabee, Eric (1987). Commander In Chief: Franklin Delano Roosevelt, His Lieutenants, and Their War. Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press. p. 161. ISBN 978-1-59114-455-7.
- "ON convoys". Andrew Hague Convoy Database. Retrieved 19 June 2011.
- "HX convoys". Arnold Hague Convoy Database. Retrieved 19 June 2011.
- Klein, Joe (1980). Woody Guthrie: A Life. Knopf. ISBN 978-0-394-50152-9.
- "Johnny Horton Makes History Original Recording Remastered". Retrieved 11 April 2015.
- "Kingston Trio Greatest Hits". Retrieved 11 April 2015.
- "Chad Mitchell - Singin' Our Mind/Reflecting CD". 7 October 2003. Retrieved 27 November 2012.
- Sinking of Reuben James U.S. Stamp Gallery.
- This article incorporates text from the public domain Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. The entry can be found here.
- Survivor Tells of Reuben James Sinking at Sea. St. Petersburg Times: St Petersburg, Florida. 25 November 1941.
- 44 Members of Crew Saved off of Sunken U.S. Destroyer. The Evening Citizen: Ottawa, Ontario. 1 November 1941.
- Reuben James Hit in Atlantic Convoy Battle. The Milwaukee Journal: Milwaukee. 31 October 1941.