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Discovery: Remembering the USS Jacob Jones

The Archives Reveal A Time When War Struck Alarmingly Close To Our Shores

In the early hours of March 3, 1942, the USS Jacob Jones was tragically sunk by a German submarine off the New Jersey coast. Only 11 of the 145 crew members survived.

Attack at Sea – “Sub Sinks Destroyer Off N.J.”

On March 3, 1942, the headline of the Newark Evening News read “Sub Sinks Destroyer Off N.J.,” informing the citizens of Newark and the rest of New Jersey of the sinking of a United States Navy warship by a German submarine.

On February 28, 1942, the USS Jacob Jones (DD-130) patrolled the waters off Cape May, New Jersey, when two torpedoes struck the unsuspecting destroyer, launched in a surprise attack from the German U-boat U-578.

"Sub Sinks Destroyer Off N.J." was the headline of The Newark Evening News March 3rd, 1942

The first torpedo hit just aft of the bridge, leading to a devastating explosion that sheared off the forward section of the ship. A second torpedo struck near the stern, causing further destruction and igniting the depth charges in a massive explosion that left little hope for recovery.

Out of approximately 145 crew members, only 11 survived the sinking, clinging to life amid the frigid waters. The survivors, primarily from the engine room, were rescued hours later, bringing tales of heroism and tragedy that underscored the perils of naval warfare.

Early History and Service of the USS Jacob Jones

The second USS Jacob Jones, a Wickes-class destroyer, was launched on November 20, 1918, from the New York Shipbuilding Corporation in Camden, New Jersey. This shipyard also produced the first Jacob Jones, the only US Navy destroyer lost in World War I.

The new Jacob Jones was commissioned on October 20, 1919. It initially served in the Atlantic before transferring to the Pacific Fleet in January 1920. During its early years, the ship participated in various naval exercises and patrols, showcasing its capabilities. It was decommissioned in 1922, spending nearly a decade in reserve, reflecting the changing needs and strategies of the Navy during the interwar period.

A photo of the USS Jacob Jones DD-130
An undated photograph of the USS Jacob Jones (DD-130). The ship was torpedoed twice by U-578 off Cape May N.J. February 28th, 1942.

Recommissioning and Peacetime Operations

In May 1930, the Jacob Jones was recommissioned as part of a program to replace aging vessels. Returning to active duty, it operated primarily in the eastern Pacific and the Caribbean, engaging in training exercises and maneuvers to maintain readiness.

By late 1938, the destroyer joined Lisbon-based Squadron 40-T, operating in the western Mediterranean. Their orders were to protect American interests and cultivate friendly relations. This mission highlighted the ship’s diplomatic role and military capabilities. The ship returned to the United States in October 1939, just as World War II escalated, underscoring the shifting global dynamics and the Navy’s evolving focus.

World War II and Operation “Drumbeat”

With the outbreak of World War II, German U-boats posed a significant threat to transatlantic shipping. By 1942, the Allies implemented a convoy system to protect merchant vessels, but the East Coast remained highly vulnerable. Vice Admiral Adolphus Andrews, commanding the Eastern Sea Frontier, mobilized all available resources. This included utilizing cutters, patrol craft, and aircraft, to counter the U-boat menace. Despite these efforts, losses mounted due to Operation Paukenschlag (“Drumbeat”). Operation Drumbeat was a concentrated blitz against coastal shipping. This campaign resulted in significant casualties and highlighted the urgent need for more robust anti-submarine defenses along the U.S. coast.

Roving Patrols and Final Mission

In February 1942, under the command of Lieutenant Commander Hugh D. Black, the Jacob Jones became the first destroyer assigned to roving anti-submarine patrols off the East Coast. These patrols aimed to detect and engage enemy submarines threatening American shipping lanes.

Articles found in the Newark Public Library’s archive tell the tale of the events leading up to the ambush of the Jacob Jones. Accounts found in the Newark Evening News offer insight into the Jacob Jones activities on February 27th, the day before it was destroyed.

While patrolling near Cape May, the ship encountered the wreckage of the tanker R.P. Resor, which had been torpedoed earlier by U-578. The Resor was engulfed in flames, a grim reminder of the U-boat menace lurking beneath the waves.

After pausing to search for survivors, the Jacob Jones resumed its mission, only to fall victim to the same submarine the following morning.

Front page of the Minot Daily News And Daily Optic Reporter on March 3rd, 1942: "Sub Sinks U.S. Destroyer Off Cape May"
The headline on the front page of the Minot Daily News And Daily Optic Reporter on March 3rd, 1942 reads “Sub Sinks U.S. Destroyer Off Cape May”. This newspaper was discovered while exploring the North Dakota History Archives.

Survival and Sacrifice

The attack devastated the Jacob Jones, with secondary explosions from the depth charges causing additional casualties among the crew. Of the approximately 113 crew members, only 11 survived, clinging desperately to life in the frigid Atlantic waters. For hours, they battled not only the physical trauma of the explosions but also the harsh elements. They were fighting both freezing temperatures and exhaustion. Their struggle was a testament to human endurance and resilience.

This tragic loss echoed the fate of the first USS Jacob Jones, also lost to enemy action during World War I. It underscored the relentless threat posed by German U-boats, which lurked beneath the waves, ready to strike at any moment.

The Legacy and Wreckage of the USS Jacob Jones

Today, the remains of the USS Jacob Jones lie at a depth of 120–130 feet, with the bow and stern destroyed but the midsection still recognizable. The wreck serves as a poignant reminder of the sacrifices made by its crew during a critical time in naval warfare. It stands as a testament to their bravery and dedication, reflecting the broader challenges faced by the U.S. Navy during World War II. The story of the Jacob Jones continues to resonate, honoring the memory of those who served and highlighting the enduring spirit of the U.S. Navy in the face of adversity.

The Jacob Jones Unites The Nation

As news of the Jacob Jones’ sinking spread, it galvanized support for the war effort across the United States. The incident served as a stark reminder of the sacrifices made by service members and their families, fostering a deeper sense of unity and determination to prevail against the Axis powers.

The front pages of newspapers across the United States shared the news of the USS Jacob Jones sinking. Articles told of the tragic loss and provided detailed accounts of the attack by the German submarine. They thoroughly detailed the heroic survival of the few surviving crew members. They also explored the broader implications for naval warfare and coastal security.

The coverage often reflected the nation’s growing awareness of the U-boat threat and the sacrifices made by service members during World War II. Communities rallied together, contributing to the war effort in various ways, from volunteering to conserving resources.

The legacy of the Jacob Jones continues to inspire future generations, symbolizing courage, resilience, and the indomitable spirit of those who serve at sea. The stories remind us all of the cost of freedom and the importance of vigilance in protecting it.

Exploring the tragedy of the USS Jacob Jones in Newark Public Library’s Community History Archive provides valuable insights into wartime experiences. The Community History Archives allow for practical access to the primary source materials in the Newark History Archive and in over 1,000 other archives from our partners in communities across the United States. You can read firsthand accounts from those who lived through these events for free. These archives open a window into the past, helping us understand the experiences and resilience of those who shaped our history.

Newspaper clipping from the Quincy Herald Whig: "U.S. Destroyer Sunk By Sub Off New Jersey; Only 11 Saved"
A newspaper clipping from the front page of the Quincy Herald Whig, published in Quincy, Illinois on March 3rd 1942. Found in the Community History Archive Of The Quicey Public Library

Partner With Advantage Archives

Advantage Archives works to build strong, community-based partnerships to provide free online access to local history. The goal is to make the community’s past discoverable and easily accessible. We aim to provide practical digital access to anyone, anywhere, at any time, on any device. This access allows communities to understand and connect to their past in a meaningful way. Through the Community History Archive search platform, we provide the community with the means to explore, discover, learn from, connect with, and share the stories of the people, places, and events that shaped their community.

The Community History Archives are intended to serve as a “portal to the past”, allowing local primary source documents to give an accounting of history as told by the individuals that witnessed it. Advantage Archives’ guiding principles center around building strong community-based partnerships. We enter into them with the intent of shouldering our fair share and taking the burden off of the community. This includes absorbing any and all ongoing costs associated with storage, hosting, development, and maintenance of the Community’s History Archive. We actively participate in the community’s efforts to make their collective history more accessible. The Community History Archives are maintained for free by Advantage and do not require a subscription, seat license, annual support contract, or any other ongoing costs or expenses to the institution or members of the community.

If you would like to see more local history online, please get in touch with your local library, newspaper publisher, genealogical society, historical society, or educational institution. Encourage them to learn more about creating a Community History Archive or have them contact Advantage Archives at (855) 303-2727

Explore the “Read All About It” archives to read stories that spotlight our partners and their communities, announcements from our team, updates on current projects, and so much more. Discover articles about engagement, outreach, primary sources, community, digitization, education, and other topics of interest. Delve into the happenings in this week in history and take a deep dive into the events and people who helped shape our communities, our nation, and the world.

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