Divers Retrieve 80-Pound Bell From Only American Destroyer Sunk in WWI

The Jacob Jones sank off the coast of Britain in December 1917 after being torpedoed by a German submarine.
Naval History and Heritage Command

  • Divers retrieved a brass bell from the sunken USS Jacob Jones, a WW1-era American destroyer.
  • The bell was recovered due to concerns about the plundering of military wreck sites.
  • The bell will be sent to the Washington Navy Yard and held at the command’s underwater archeology lab.

More than a century after a German U-boat torpedoed the USS Jacob Jones off the coast of Britain during World War I, a team of divers retrieved the American destroyer’s massive brass bell.

On December 6, 1917 — eight months after the US joined the fight — the Jacob Jones was attacked by a submarine off the southwest coast of Britain. It only took eight minutes for the large ship to sink entirely, according to the US Naval Institute, killing 64 sailors in the process.

The ship would languish nearly 400 feet beneath the water’s surface for more than 100 years before private divers discovered the wreck site in 2022.

The Naval History and Heritage Command in Washington, DC, spearheaded a diving mission to retrieve the Jacob Jones’ giant brass bell from the depths earlier this year. A British government diving team was able to successfully raise the 80-pound bell and survey the wreck site in January, according to the Navy.

Researchers used an underwater robot belonging to the British Defense Ministry’s Salvage and Marine Operations to raise the bell, which still has the imprints of “Jacob Jones” and “1915” clearly visible in its brass, The Washington Post reported.

“We flipped it upright so we could read the name and confirm the identity,” Dom Robinson, one of the divers, told the newspaper.

The salvage team placed a wreath and an American flag on the wreck site after retrieving the bell, according to The US Naval Institute.

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Military shipwrecks, which are the final resting place for sailors killed in action, typically aren’t disturbed by salvaging missions. But the effort to retrieve the Jacob Jones’ bell was pursued because of plundering concerns, retired Rear Adm. Sam Cox said in a statement about the mission.

Most wreck sites from both World War I and World War II have been stripped of their valuable items; anything brass or bronze is gone, Cox told The Post.

“We didn’t want to take the chance of someone running off with the bell,” he told the outlet.

The bell, which is currently in England, is set to be returned to the Washington Navy Yard in the coming months where it will head to the command’s underwater archeology lab, according to The Post.

The Jacob Jones was the first and only US destroyer lost in the war, according to the US Naval Institute. The ship was tasked with escorting convoys and rescuing survivors whose ships had been torpedoed during the war.

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