USS Reuben James sunk by sub! (10-31-41)

31.10, USS_Reuben_James_(DD-245) V Norman

U.S. Navy Department (October 31, 1941)

Navy Department
News Release

For Immediate Release
October 31, 1941

USS REUBEN JAMES sunk by torpedo

The Navy Department announced that the U.S. destroyer REUBEN JAMES (DD-245) was sunk by a torpedo during the night of Oct. 30-31 while convoying in the North Atlantic west of Iceland.

The commanding officer is Lt. Cmdr. H. L. Edwards, USN.

No further details are available at this time, but will be released when received.


The Navy Department has received a report that 44 members of the crew of the USS REUBEN JAMES (DD-245) have been rescued. The survivors who have been accounted for are all enlisted men. The Navy Department has no further information at this time, but additional details will be released when received.


The Pittsburgh Press (October 31, 1941)

Destroyer used for escort duty west of Iceland

Fear expressed that at least some of 120 aboard vessel have been lost

First American warship sunk off Iceland

31.10, USS_Reuben_James_(DD-245) V Norman
The U.S. destroyer Reuben James, 1,200-ton World War type ship, was sunk off Iceland, the Navy Department announced today. It was the first sinking of an American warship in the current war.

Washington, Oct. 31 (UP) –
The United States Navy last night lost its first warship in action since the war started – the destroyer USS Reuben James – which was carrying about 120 officers and men.

She was sunk by a torpedo, presumably German, while she was on convoy duty in the submarine-infested waters west of Iceland.

The fate of her skipper, Lt. Cmdr. H. L. Edwards, 35, and his crew of about 120, was not known. Unofficial observers expressed fear that casualties were likely.

The sinking marked the third hostile action against an American warship since the war began and brought demands from administration leaders in Congress to avenge “this dastardly act of aggression.”

In Berlin, Nazi quarters said the sinking was “justified under international law” if the destroyer was escorting a British convoy. In London, a high British source said the sinking marks:

…the opening of Germany’s indiscriminate naval warfare against the United States.

The Navy said it would release information on casualties, if any, as soon as it obtained it. That may be several hours, at least, because convoys operating in this danger zone do not risk revealing their positions by using radios very much. Meanwhile, the Navy declined to release a list of the crew.

The Navy did not specify the definite location of the Reuben James sinking other than “west of Iceland.” It was in that vicinity that the destroyer Kearny was hit by a torpedo after dropping depth charges on a group of submarines attacking a convoy, and where the destroyer Greer early in September was attacked unsuccessfully by a submarine it was trailing.

Despite a gaping hole in her starboard side, the Kearny made port. The Kearny was only two years old and one of the Navy’s best.

The Reuben James was 21 years old, one of the less-sturdily constructed World War types. Even with the advantage of the most recent developments, the torpedo blast in the Kearny injured 10 men and killed 11. Authorities feared there might be a higher casualty rate on the Reuben James, although that remained to be seen.

Officials said the Reuben James carried life-saving equipment more than sufficient to meet needs of officers and men aboard if they were able to use it. She was equipped with two 6-foot motor whaleboats which can carry more than 24 men each, at least six balsa wood liferafts, designed for 25 persons each, and life preservers.

Announcement of the sinking followed by a few hours a German communiqué from Berlin saying that a destroyer had been sunk recently at some undisclosed place. The Berlin announcement did not give the nationality of the destroyer.

The Reuben James was of the same type of the 50 overage destroyers traded to Britain for Atlantic bases. With four stacks and low decks, she presented the same silhouette. Completed in 1920, she was a 1,193-ton fighting ship armed with four 4-inch guns and anti-aircraft weapons.

The text of the Navy’s announcement:

The Navy Department announced that the U.S. destroyer REUBEN JAMES (DD-245) was sunk by a torpedo during the night of Oct. 30-31 while convoying in the North Atlantic west of Iceland.

The commanding officer is Lt. Cmdr. H. L. Edwards, USN.

No further details are available at this time, but will be released when received.

Commander Edwards, a native of San Saba, Tex., was a well-known athlete. He was captain of the U.S. Olympic wrestling team in the 1928 games. He wrestled in the lightweight class. He had been in command of the Reuben James since April 6, 1940. Previously he had served aboard submarines of the Pacific Fleet.

The Reuben James was one of 156 flush-deck destroyers built during World War I but not commissioned until after the Armistice. Twenty of the 50 destroyers traded to Britain were identical with the Reuben James. She was capable of 35 knots and had a 5,000-mile cruising range.

It was the second mishap to befall the Reuben James since the U.S. Navy began its patrol activities in 1939. The ship grounded off the northern coast of Cuba, Nov. 30, 1939. Warships stood by as the old destroyer was pulled free without serious damage and no casualties.

President Roosevelt on Sept. 11 announced he had given the Navy orders to shoot Axis warships on sight in American defensive waters, including the route to Iceland. Those orders followed the attack on the destroyer Greer Sept. 4. Engaged in trailing a submarine, the Greer dodged torpedoes and then counterattacked with depth charges.

The Kearny was answering distress calls from merchant ships in a convoy when one of three torpedoes tore a gaping hole in her starboard side early in the morning of Oct. 17. Just before that, she had dropped depth bombs in the vicinity of a group of submarines.

In addition to these incidents involving the warships, 11 American-owned merchant ships have been sunk during this war. Four flew the American flag, six the Panamanian and one the British.

There has been no announcement of any sinkings of Axis submarines since the Navy started its shoot-to-kill patrol. Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox indicated this week that lack of such news does not necessarily mean that there has been no successful action against German submarines.

He said the Navy might follow the example of the British and not announce any submarine sinkings. He said such a policy was a strain on the morale of the German Navy.

The Reuben James was commissioned Sept. 24, 1920.

She was 314 feet long with a beam of 30 feet and a displacement of 1,190 tons. She was armed with four 4-inch naval rifles and a battery of anti-aircraft guns.

The ship was named in honor of Reuben James. a boatswain’s mate in the U.S. Navy, who took part in the war against the Barbary Coast pirates and saved the life of Captain Stephen Decatur by interposing his body between that of his commander and the scimitar of a pirate while engaged in a battle with pirate gunboats. James also went into harbor when the American forces boarded and destroyed the frigate Philadelphia which had fallen into the hands of the corsairs.


Sinking fails to change U.S. status, Roosevelt says

Washington, Oct. 31 (UP) –
President Roosevelt said today that the international situation from America’s point of view remains unchanged despite the sinking of the American destroyer Reuben James.

He refused to offer any comment to support suggestions by press conference questioners that the destruction of the American warship might result in severance of relations with Germany.

The President said he did not think the sinking would produce any fundamental change in the international situation. The American destroyer, he said, was simply carrying out assigned duty when she was sunk in the North Atlantic.

Mum on Nazi break

As for breaking off diplomatic relations with Germany, long hanging by a slender thread, the President said he had heard nothing about such a possibility until the question was posed by reporters.

Mr. Roosevelt was reading news ticker accounts of the Navy announcement of the sinking when his press conference began. He said he had nothing to add at the moment to the Navy announcement.

He refused to discuss the possibility that American warships may have bagged one or more German submarines in the gradually intensifying American participation in the Battle of the Atlantic. He said that even if he did know of such an incident, he would not disclose it.

For obvious reasons, said the President, information on German submarines destroyed will not be disclosed. Such information can be kept from the German government for considerable time, and the anxiety caused by unexplained absence of submarines is a weapon worth using.

He pointed out that during World War I, while casualties to Allied vessels were reported, information on destruction of German submarines was withheld. In those cases, he said, Germany simply did not know the fate of its submarines – the Imperial government knew merely that certain submarines never returned home. This, he said, had an important effect on the morale of the crews of other submarines.

He cited an example of his own experience in 1918 when, aboard a French blimp, a submarine was sighted in the Bay of Biscay near the mouth of the Loire Rover. The blimp dropped a buoy and airplanes and submarine chasers dropped depth charges which destroyed the submarine.

Yet, he said, this destruction of an underseas raider was not reported – in fact, it was not even confirmed officially until divers examined the bottom many months after the war ended.


Destroyer sinking met with mixed reaction

Washington, Oct. 31 (UP) –
Sinking of the destroyer Reuben James was met with mixed reaction on Capitol Hill today.

Senator Robert A. Taft (R-OH), an isolationist leader, declared that sinkings are:

…an inevitable result of a shooting war.

He added that attacks on U.S. vessels are to be expected if the vessels are on convoy duty.

Senator Scott Lucas (D-IL), an administration supporter, said the sinking is:

…further proof of a well-designed Nazi scheme and terroristic plan to drive all naval and merchant vessels, regardless of nationality, off the Atlantic seaways.

’Regrettable – but’

Senator Gerald P. Nye (R-ND), isolationist, said the fate of the Reuben James was regrettable. But, he added:

You can’t expect to walk into a bar room brawl and hope to stay out of the fight. That’s what the administration apparently hopes to do.

Sen. Elbert D. Thomas (D-UT) said the sinking offers:

…definite proof that Germany is not attacking the United States.

…and that this country must be:

…prepared to meet incident with incident.

Mr. Thomas said the incident was not sufficient cause for a formal declaration of war, but:

…we must be prepared to meet this attack.

Senator Guy M. Gillette (D-IA), who has usually voted with Senate isolationists, said the Navy has a right to expect that:

…the nation will stand behind it.

Senator Chan Gurney (R-SD) said the incident:

…clinches the argument for complete and immediate repeal of the Neutrality Act.

Chairman Tom Connally (D-TX) of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said:

The outrageous sinking of the Reuben James in our own defensive waters is another evidence of the murderous and defiant attitude of the Nazis. This dastardly act of aggression must be avenged. This ought to assure prompt passage of the pending bill reassuming our rights under international law and our determination to maintain American rights on the seas.


Germans open sea warfare against U.S., London says

London, Oct. 31 (UP) –
A high authoritative British source said today that the torpedoing of the American destroyer Reuben James marks:

…the opening of Germany’s indiscriminate naval warfare against the United States.

Some British quarters suggested that the sinking might galvanize United States opinion to an extent heretofore unrealized.

Unofficially, however, it was thought here that the sinking might shorten the debate in the United States Senate concerning the repeal of the Neutrality Act prohibitions against arming merchant ships and entering war zones.

It was also thought the sinking would activate the American war production program.

Regarding the U-boat which carried out the sinking, the comment was:

We hope we sank the bloody bandit – or what is even better, that the Americans did.

Authoritative quarters described the Battle of the Atlantic as “fierce” and said that the number of U-boats operating was “enormous.”

The scale of British air reconnaissance and attack was considered a greater threat to the U-boats than Germany has ever admitted but, it was pointed it, the Germans have many submarines.

The German wartime naval building program was regarded as now coming into full fruition.


Sinking justified, Nazi source says

Berlin, Oct. 31 (UP) –
Nazi quarters said today that the sinking of the USS Reuben James was “justified under international law” if the destroyer was escorting a British convoy.

This was the first reaction of German sources to news of the Reuben James torpedoing. The German spokesman said:

A convoy is recognized under international law as a British military formation, and therefore escorting ships are liable to attack.

Although no official reports have been received here, the opinion was expressed that the destroyer may have been the one reported sunk in today’s German High Command commniqué.

That communiqué said U-boats had sunk six merchant ships totaling 27,000 tons, a destroyer and two naval patrol vessels.

A spokesman here said the Washington announcement indicated the Reuben James had been sunk in darkness. It was said:

In both the Greer and Kearny incidents, German submarines were attacked in the dark with depth charges by a destroyer whose nationality it was impossible for the submarine to establish immediately. Obviously, no submarine is going to wait to see whether a British or American destroyer was attacking it but is going to defend itself.


Kiski headmaster’s son aboard Reuben James

Lt. John J. Daub Jr.

Saltsburg, Pa., Oct. 31 (UP) –
Headmaster John J. Daub of Kiski Preparatory School said today that his son, Lieutenant John J. Daub Jr., 25, was aboard the destroyer Reuben James which was torpedoed and sunk west of Iceland last night.

A graduate of Annapolis, Lieutenant Daub was a gunnery officer aboard the ship. He had been on the Reuben James the last three weeks.

The elder Daub said he received as letter from his son yesterday. Lieutenant Daub wrote that he was having an “exciting” time aboard ship, but the letter contained little other information.

Lieutenant Daub graduated from Annapolis in 1936. He entered the Naval Academy after graduating from Kiski in 1932.

Headmaster Daub has one other son, Craig, 22, a flying cadet at Randolph Field, Tex.


The Pittsburgh Press (November 1, 1941)

Planes help ships search Iceland area

Names of rescued enlisted men withheld temporarily

Washington, Nov. 1 (UP) –
Hope waned rapidly but was not abandoned today for the lives of about 77 unreported members of the crew of the U.S. destroyer Reuben James.

Only 44 enlisted men were known to be safe of about 121 officers and men of the first American naval vessel to be sunk in this war. The Navy has not revealed the exact number of men aboard but such vessels usually carry 114 men and seven officers.

There was still no word of the fate of the Reuben James’ skipper, Lt. Cmdr. Heywood L. Edwards, or of his six fellow officers, including Lt. (jg.) John J. Daub, 26, of Saltsburg, Pa.

Officials still hope

Officials still hoped that some of the missing would be found alive, but as the hours ticked by without further reports, they feared the casualty list would be high.

However, American warships and planes still searched the icy waters of the North Atlantic in the area west of Iceland where the Reuben James was hit by a torpedo and sunk Thursday night.

The first cheerful news about the disaster came last night at 9:49 p.m. – 12 hours after the sinking was announced – when the Navy Department issued a brief statement saying:

The Navy Department has received a report that 44 members of the crew of the USS REUBEN JAMES (DD-245) have been rescued. The survivors who have been accounted for are all enlisted men. The Navy Department has no further information at this time, but additional details will be released when received.

The Navy has not issued a list of the enlisted men aboard the destroyer, nor did it reveal names of the 44 who are safe or how they were rescued. It was presumed that they were picked up by ships in the area since the Reuben James was escorting a convoy when it was sunk.

Radios used sparingly

It was believed that names of the rescued were not available immediately because ships in the area would use their radios as sparingly as possible to avoid danger of further attacks by German submarines, surface raiders or airplanes.

The Navy did release the list of officers aboard. In addition to Commander Edwards, a 35-year-old Texas-born former Olympic wrestling star and Lt. Daub, they were:

  • Lt. Benjamin Ghetzler, 34, of Annapolis, Md.
  • Lt. (jg.) Dewey G. Johnston, 31, of El Cajon, Calif.
  • Lt. (jg.) James M. Belden, 30, of Syracuse, NY
  • Ensign Craig Spowers, 24, of East Orange, NJ
  • Ensign Howard V. Wade, 22, of Glen Ridge, NJ

Summoned from party

The announcement of the rescue of 44 men was made in the Navy Department press room where officials and reporters had waited throughout the evening for some word of the fate of the destroyer’s crew.

A few minutes before 10 p.m., Commander Robert Berry, assistant public relations chief, arrived at the office dressed in formal evening clothes. He had been summoned from a dinner party to release the first word about the Reuben James since early morning when it was revealed that an American naval vessel had gone to the bottom of the Atlantic.

Fear that the casualty list might be high was heightened by many factors. It was recalled that there were 11 casualties aboard the USS Kearny which was torpedoed in the same area Oct. 16 even though it was able to keep afloat and limp into a port 400 miles away.

Kearny better protected

The fact that the Kearny did not sink was attributed to latest naval designs that allow for “sealing” damaged parts, and better location of machinery and boilers and better protection by armor than that of the older and smaller Reuben James. The 1,190-ton Reuben James was one of the old flush-deck type, four-stacker destroyers built during World War I and similar to the overage craft traded Britain.

The Navy revealed that the Reuben James had more than enough life-saving equipment for its personnel, but it was not known whether there was time for it to be floated.

It was also pointed out that the North Atlantic at this time of year is whipped by cold winds. Men in life preservers could not survive long in the icy waters.

Forward part struck

Although no details have been released, speculation arose that the torpedo might have struck the forward part of the ship. It was pointed out that none of the seven officers has been reported, some of whom must have been on the bridge at the time.

The Reuben James was the third American destroyer attacked off Iceland by a submarine. In addition to the Kearny, the USS Greer was missed by two torpedoes fired while it was trailing a submarine Sept. 4.

Whether the U.S. Navy has actually sunk any submarines since receiving “shoot-on-sight” orders has not been revealed. Both President Roosevelt and Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox have indicated that they do not favor announcing such sinkings.

Aim at morale

That is the policy pursued by the British on the theory that uncertainty in Berlin over fate of its U-boat crews will destroy morale.

The Kearny, which was rushing to aid a merchantman in a convoy being attacked by a German submarine, dropped depth charges before being struck on the starboard side by one of three torpedoes fired at her.


U.S. on last mile to war, London paper says

London, Nov. 1 (UP) –
The torpedoing of the American destroyer Reuben James was viewed by British newspapers today as the beginning of all-out attacks by German submarine wolf packs on American ships and as starting the United States on an angry march down:

…the last mile to a declaration of war.

All London newspapers prominently published dispatches that the “new outrage” had stirred American opinion to the breaking point and that the challenge would be answered by blows of the United States Navy against Axis U-boats.

The headline of the Daily Express, over a dispatch from its correspondent in New York, was:


U.S. rocked, one says

The New York correspondent of the Daily Mail reported:

The United States tonight is marching down the last mile to a declaration of war.

The sinking of the destroyer… rocked the nation on its heels. The American people, Congressmen and the press are shouting that a wounding blow has been struck at the national honor and warn that failure to strike back will be regarded by the world as a great American humiliation.

The Daily Express noted President Roosevelt’s statement that the sinking would not alter American policy and added:

In other words, America’s reply will be given by guns and depth charges from the Atlantic Fleet.

The Daily Herald headline said:


The Daily Mirror said:


’Answer’ predicted

An editorial in the Telegraph said the “new outrage” would be answered by the American people and their Navy.

The editorial said:

The sinking was in defiance of national rights and was more insolent because it was committed without a declaration of war. Mr. Roosevelt made the inevitable deduction that Hitler’s purpose was to frighten the American people and force them into trembling retreat.

Hitler misjudged the United States as grossly as did Ludendorff and Tirpitz. The American people will not be put out of action by outrages and insults. The effect of this last outrage on American opinion can be judged. Nazism has chosen the path of destruction.

British experts believed the Reuben James was probably sunk by a German submarine “wolf pack” that rose suddenly in the midst of a convoy.

Costly to U-boats

Such an attack, in which the U-boats fire torpedoes suddenly in all directions, are costly for the submarines but nevertheless are one of the most effective methods of attack. Sometimes as many as a dozen U-boats which have been summoned by wireless to attack a convoy in the Atlantic take part in such onslaughts.

They are believed to work from bases on the west coast of France and in Norway, requiring four or five days to reach the best “hunting grounds” west of Iceland. Due to British and American sea patrols, they are forced to travel most of the time at night but some can stay at sea a month if necessary.

The British in two years of war are believed to have lost not more than three destroyers in the Atlantic, although about 54 have been lost in all operations.


Roosevelt blamed for warship attack

Washington, Nov. 1 (UP) –
Senator George D. Aiken (R-VT) charged in the Senate yesterday that President Roosevelt is “personally responsible for whatever lives were lost” aboard the destroyers Reuben James and Kearny.

Mr. Aiken said:

His disregard of the Constitution is a greater threat to democracy than war itself.

Mr. Aiken said the nation could have only the greatest sympathy for the families of the men who “may have died in the sinking of the Reuben James,” and pointed out that they were under orders of the President as Commander-in-Chief of the Navy.

Mr. Aiken said:

When the Lend-Lease Law was enacted, we were told it would not mean convoying. Yet our ships have been convoying and have been ordered by the President to hunt down and sink ships of another nation with which we are not at war.


Sinking spurs debate –
Shipping curb called move to 'appease’

Revision of Neutrality Act declared necessary by Senator Green

Washington, Nov. 1 (UP) –
Senator Theodore F. Green (D-RI) today urged repeal of all shipping restrictions in the Neutrality Act because it is an “act of appeasement.”

In a speech prepared for delivery in the Senate, Mr. Green said:

The Neutrality Act is an act of appeasement toward Hitler in the hope that if we were not only neutral but also willing to give up some of our rights as a neutral, he would respect our remaining rights.

The Senate entered the sixth day of debate over Neutrality Act revision amidst demands that the U.S. destroyer Reuben James be “avenged” and belief that her sinking would increase support of administration policy.

That sinking precipitated a move yesterday to vote immediately on neutrality issues. But it was blocked and leaders now expect a final vote by Wednesday or Thursday.

Denounces isolationists

Mr. Green denounced the isolationists, asserting that they believe Hitler has no interest in America and that if we mind our own business and show no interest in him:

…he will let us alone in peace and quiet.

He continued:

Unfortunately, that would be the peace and quiet of occupied France. We all wish we could have peace and quiet, but not the kind which descends on a land after Hitler’s conquest…

The appeasement policy has failed in the case of every country which has tried it. The extreme case was that of the Soviet Union, which not only tried appeasement but formed an alliance with Hitler only to find that without warning he turned and struck would-be vital blows at his nominal friend and ally.

President held responsible

War may follow repeal of all Neutrality Act shipping restrictions, but it is less likely to follow if we repeal these provisions than if we keep bound by them.

Both sides in the Senate battle assumed, after word that only 44 men have been rescued so far from the Reuben James, that there was heavy loss of life when she sank off Iceland Thursday.

Chairman Tom Connally (D-TX) of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee called for vengeance in the “dastardly sinking.” But Senator George D. Aiken (R-VT), non-interventionist, accused President Roosevelt of personal responsibility for the death of sailors:

…rotting on the ocean floor.

Noting that the ship’s commander came from Texas, Senator W. Lee O’Daniel, freshman Democrat from the state, yesterday demanded that debate be ended and an immediate vote be taken to decide:

…whether this nation is neutral.

Barkley, Aiken clash

Senator Francis T. Mahoney (D-CT) blocked Mr. O’Daniel’s request by objection.

The Senate proceeded, but the tenseness reached another climax when Mr. Aiken sought to lay personal blame on the President.

By ordering convoys in spite of his repeated promises and in contempt of existing law and Congress, President Roosevelt is personally responsible for whatever lives may have been lost – and his disregard for representative government constitutes a greater threat to democracy than war itself.

That was a charge Senate Democratic Leader Alben W. Barkley of Kentucky could not leave on the record without reply.

Mr. Barkley said:

You might as well say that Woodrow Wilson was personally responsible for everyone who went down to a watery grave in the World War.


Families await victims’ names

Three Pittsburgh District men aboard destroyer

It was heartening news, in a way; 44 rescued from the ill-fated destroyer Reuben James.

But the news was small comfort to at least nine families in Western Pennsylvania and West Virginia. For members of those families were aboard the Reuben James when it was sunk off Iceland Thursday night, and so far no names of survivors have been released.

Among the enlisted men aboard was Joseph J. Caruso, 21, of 4279 Frank St., Squirrel Hill, a 1938 graduate of Taylor Allderdice High School.

Young Caruso, who enlisted in the Navy 2½ years ago, was a second-class radioman and was last heard from Oct. 18 from Portland, Me.

A brother explained:

Being a radioman, Joseph was probably right above the boiler room. That makes it doubtful that he came out alive.

Among those still missing is Lt. John J. Daub Jr., 26, of Saltsburg, son of the headmaster of Kiski Preparatory School, who was assigned to the warship only three weeks ago as a gunnery officer.

Lt. Daub, a Kiski and U.S. Naval Academy graduate, is definitely not among the 44 reported rescued for they are all enlisted men.

He is the grandson of Mr. and Mrs. Theodore C. Daub, of 640 Callowhill St., East Liberty.

The other Western Pennsylvanian on board was Wilton “Bud” Taylor, 22, of New Castle, ex-high school athlete. He was an electrician on the ship and has been in the Navy two years.

West Virginia residents aboard the Reuben James included:

  • Joseph Settle, 17, of Charleston (Sea1c);
  • Wendell Neptune, 21, of Metz (TM1);
  • Aaron H. Stewart, 21, of Beckley, former National Guardsman;
  • Lou Farkley, 24, of Hurricane (SM1);
  • Clarence R. Robinson, 21, of Charleston, Sea1c serving as cook;
  • Harold Beasley, 23, of Bellepoint.

One cheerful note was struck when Mr. and Mrs. Anthony Krystynak, of Wellsburg, WV, received word from their son, Victor, 22, that he was “safe and sound” at the Boston Navy Yard, having been transferred there from the Reuben James last week.


Like walking along tracks

Berlin, Nov. 1 (UP) –
A Nazi source, commenting on the sinking of the USS Reuben James, said today that:

Anybody walking along the railroad tracks at night should not be surprised if he gets run over by an express train.

Asked for comment on President Roosevelt’s statement that the sinking would not mean the breaking off of German-American diplomatic relations, the spokesman said:

It seems Roosevelt has become suddenly somewhat more cautious. He has apparently been overdoing it somewhat of late and now apparently is suffering from a political stomach ache.


Hi the USS Reuben James was torpedoed and sunk by U 552 , commanded by Erich Topp ’ who sunk 30 ships, and survived the war. he later became a rear Admiral in the west German Navy and work with nato allies. He died at the age of 91 in 2005. I saw an interview with him once, he told the story while commending U 552 off the coast of eastern North America they were travelling on the surface and when he noticed a young sailor asleep while on watch , So the sailor was taken before Topp who told the him how important a lookout was and how all their lives are depending on him so after the stern talking-to he was dismissed and sent back on watch. A few days later TOPP come up to the conning Tower and noticed the same young sailor dozing off on watch again this time the captain took him down and charged him with with being asleep on watch and dereliction of Duty so far penalty ( I suppose he could have been sent to the Russian front) the captain told him since you’re tired you get three days off you will lay in your bunk and do nothing and your meals will be brought to you. Now when you consider that in a U-boat two people had to share the same bunk when was on watch the other was up which means someone gets no place to sleep for 3 days and someone’s got to cover the kids watches I suppose it didn’t make him too popular , but like Topp said he had to be taught a lesson


ComTask-Unit 4.1.3 report (November 3, 1941)

At sea
November 3, 1941.

Serial 23


From:   Commander Task Unit 4.1.3
To:		The Chief of Naval Operations.

Report of loss of USS REUBEN JAMES

a) Convoy and escort stations — diagram of.
b) List of the survivors.
c) Pertinent facts gleaned from all sources.


The following running account of the sinking of the USS REUBEN JAMES (DD-245) is submitted herewith. All the information concerning the disaster is not yet available to the Task Unit Commander, but in order that higher authority may be informed as early as possible, this report is submitted.

At 0530 (UTC+1) on October 31, 1941, the HX 156 Convoy (42 ships), in 51°59′N 27°05′W, was steaming on course 021 True, speed 3.3 with ships on good order except for two stragglers who were thirty to forty miles astern.

The weather was slightly overcast with a moderate sea running, wind 3 to 4 from SE and the visibility was hazy and dark but you could see other ships very definitely outlined for about one half to three quarters of a mile away. Sunrise was at 0741.

During the previous evening, the convoy had steered 20 degrees to the right of the base course for four hours in the hopes of shaking off any tracking submarines.

The escort for the convoy consisted of USS BENSON (DD-421) (CTU 4.1.3.), USS H. P. JONES (DD-427), USS NIBLACK (DD-424), USS REUBEN JAMES and the USS TARBELL (DD-142). The stations at night were in accordance with instructions as issued in Lant Fleet 9 – and considered the best positions for protection to the convoy during darkness. The stations as occupied at this time are shown on sketch enclosed as Enclosure A. It is believed all escort ships were on station. It is not known whether they were patrolling as orders permitted the Commanding Officer the discretion of determining when it was light enough to require patrolling. The BENSON was not patrolling and it is believed that the REUBEN JAMES was steering a steady course and not patrolling.

At about 0525, the quartermaster on watch reported to me that the TARBELL, RDF guardship, had just obtained a bearing on a vessel sending numbers and long dashes close aboard and bearing 214° True. This bearing was in the direction of the REUBEN JAMES. As this procedure is known for submarines to call others to assist in attacks on convoys, I was immediately interested. I was in my cabin fully dressed and immediately got my overcoat and started for the bridge. Just as I emerged from my cabin, the signalman on watch came running down the ladder and stated that there had been just been a large flash followed by a deep explosion on the port quarter of the convoy. As I reached the bridge, the TARBILL reported the flash and explosion and the NIBLACK reported an explosion and smoke. This was at 0539 at which time the BENSON went to General Quarters.

Using the bridge telephone, I ordered the NIBLACK to investigate at 0540. I then called all escort stations and all answered immediately except the REUBEN JAMES. I made one more call for the REUBEN JAMES and received no reply. I then stated that I was afraid the REUBEN JAMES was in trouble and ordered the H. P. JONES to turn immediately and assist the NIBLACK.

At 0555, the NIBLACK reported men swimming in the water and that she was taking them aboard. On questioning, he informed me that they were from the REUBEN JAMES. At 0612, the H. P. JONES circled the NIBLACK and assisted in the rescue operations.

As soon as the NIBLACK informed me that the men were from the REUBEN JAMES, I notified OpNav, CinClant, and ComTaskFor 4 that the REUBEN JAMES had been sunk by torpedoing and directed the TARBELL to cover the starboard side of the convoy and the BENSON to cover the port side which they both did immediately at high speed.

During rescue operations, both the NIBLACK and H. P. JONES reported sound contacts and were forced to get underway to try to deliver a counterblow to the submarine. The sound contact was apparently not positive.

During the next twenty minutes, the convoy drew away from the scene and the BENSON had three possible sound contacts which were in position for attack, so immediately counterattacks at high speed were made with no positive results except there were no more attacks on the convoy. The TARBELL carried out one or two attacks also under similar conditions.

The Commodore of the Convoy was informed by signal of what happened and he immediately changed course 20° to the right for approximately one half-hour.

The NIBLACK and H. P. JONES reported difficulties of rescue operations due to heavy oil in the vicinity and the necessity for investigating sound contacts. The NIBLACK picked up 36 men and the H. P. JONES picked up 10.

At 0858, when complete daylight was available, a thorough search was made and both ships reported no more rescue work required. I then ordered the NIBLACK to rejoin the H. P. JONES to remain on the spot until 1200 trying to gain contact and at the same time keeping the submarine down. He rejoined late that afternoon. I informed both vessels that the services of the Doctor were available.

Up to the present, there has been only meagre information relative to what happened. The torpedo probably was aimed at the REUBEN JAMES by a submarine either stopped or idling on the surface as he was not picked up by sound. He probably had spotted the convoy during the day and had come around ahead and waited.

The REUBEN JAMES generally took a generous distance from the convoy and he probably came in plain view and steamed right past the waiting submarine. In the semi-darkness, the submarine may have thought it was a big ship but the chances are that he knew what type vessel the REUBEN JAMES was. There was only one definite explosion which appeared prolonged, consequently there probably was only one torpedo. One of the rescued men stated that the forward part of the ship as far back as number four stack had been blown completely off by the explosion and that the after part floated approximately five minutes.

The only survivors who were in the forward part of the ship when the explosion occurred were the helmsman and the boatswain’s mate of the watch. The boatswain’s mate of the watch stated he was on the main deck near the ladder to the bridge. The helmsman stated that the ship was abeam of the center of the convoy on base course when a contact report was received. The captain directed the sound operators to search on port quarter and the officer of the deck to change course to the left. Pinging had been started but course had not been changed when torpedo struck port side abreast number one stack breaking ship in half. Forecastle sank immediately and the after part a few minutes later. At least two depth charges exploded when ship went down. This was timed as 0545 on other vessels, indicating that the after part of the ship went down about 0535 or 0540. These explosions evidently stunned and killed men who were in the water.

Safety forks to Y gun charges were wired to the deck, but had on several times previously been reported as jarring loose by the concussion of depth charges fired by other ships.

The contact report of which the helmsman spoke undoubtedly was the bearing sent out by the TARBELL. If this is correct, then the importance of these bearings especially when close aboard cannot be overestimated. Some means of meeting this menace will have to be devised in order to insure the safety of convoy and escorts to a reasonable degree under the present conditions.

Each night, several bearings of this general type, evidently coming form submarines homing other submarines, are gotten and regardless of the proximity the only thing now available to meet the menace is to wait.

The fact that the REUBEN JAMES commenced “pinging” just before the torpedo hit indicates that the submarine was lying to waiting and when “pinging” started he was afraid of being detected and located consequently he discharged his torpedo and got clear.

Subsequent to the disaster, vigorous patrolling on stations was directed for both night and day.

I have requested statements from as many survivors as will throw any light on the disaster and will study then with a view to getting as many facts as possible. Any additional information will be forwarded immediately.


Copies to:
ComTaskFor 4
ComDesRon 7




The following are the surveyors uninjured except where noted:

Appleton, C. L., Jr. F2c
Appleton, P. G. F2c
Beasley, G. N. MM2c
Begley, C. MM2c Injuries slight
Bergstresser, W. H. CMM Broken finger
Boyd, S. G. MM1c
Bridges, B. N. RM3c
Bush, R. V. F2c
Carr, R. J. F2c Injuries slight
Coyle, F. B. F1c
Del Grosso, D. J. S1c
Delisle, G. J. Cox
Elnitsky, J. F. F1c
Giehr, G. F. F2c
Gorziza, A. E. MM1c
Graham, G. S. MM2c
Hajowy, J. MM2c
Hingula, N. F. F1c
Howard, R. J. TM3c
Jacquette, C. S. F1c Injuries slight
Jaeggi, E. W. SF2c
James, V. T. M1c
Kapecz, R. T. GM1c
Long, G. H. WT1c
Molnar, J. F1c Injuries slight
Nagle, E. G. S1c
Niece, D. S2c
Oaks, K. C. RM3c
Olexa, S. S2c
Phalen, C. W. F2c
Richardson, L. E. F1c
Robinson, C. F. S1c
Rodgers, T. R. F3c
Rose, C. R. S1c
Sills, L. S1c
Simms, L. E. WT1c Lung infection and shock
Stencel, J. MM2c
Stewart, A. H. GM3c
Stewart, R. S. S1c
Tate, C. EM3c
Thompson, J. C. S2c Seriously injured
Turnbull, T. P. EM2c Internal bleeding, in serious condition
Tyger, L. E. F3c
Westbury, W. C. MM1c
Zapasnik, F. F. SF1c
Merrell, W. H. F2c Dead when picked up – buried at sea
Olmstead, D. E. F2c Injured seriously – died Nov. 2 aboard NIBLACK. Remains retained on board


Serial 23

November 3, 1941

Report of loss of USS REUBEN JAMES

Pertinent facts gleaned from all sources are listed in concise form and appear to be of interest in this case.

  1. The REUBEN JAMES (DD-245) was hit by a torpedo at about 0540 (UTC+1) on the morning of October 31, 1941, in 51°59’N 27°05’W.

  2. The torpedo evidently hit approximately at number one stack on the port side.

  3. The sea was moderate, wind force 3-4, visibility hazy but approximately 1-2 to 1 mile in the early twilight.

  4. The explosion was apparently of major proportions. The torpedo explosion may have exploded the forward magazine. One survivor stated the explosion blew off the fore part of the ship back to number four stack.

  5. The after part of the ship floated approximately five minutes after the explosion.

  6. It is probable that the forward end trapped all personnel below decks and that the explosion stunned or killed those in exposed positions.

  7. The NIBLACK rescued 36 men, one of whom died and the H. P. JONES rescued 10 and picked up one body.

  8. No officers were rescued. Only one Chief Petty Officer was rescued. A Chief Machinist Mate who was probably on watch.

  9. When the after part of the ship went down, two depth charges were heard to explode in a continuous rumbling noise.

  10. The REUBEN JAMES was part of the escort for Convoy HX 156 at the time she was torpedoed. Her station was on the port quarter of the convoy.

  11. The REUBEN JAMES was on station at the time of the disaster but probably not patrolling.

  12. Rescue operations were hampered by the large amount of oil on the water, presence of the submarine, darkness, and hysterical and shocked condition of survivors.

  13. The convoy was on course 021, speed 8.5 knots.

  14. Other escorting ships were the BENSON (CTU 4.1.3.), NIBLACK, H. P. JONES, TARBELL.

  15. There was apparently only one torpedo fired which resulted in the destruction of the REUBEN JAMES.

  16. The submarine was not sighted or detected by any other vessel in the escort or convoy.

  17. The convoy altered course twenty degrees right.

  18. Two escort destroyers were immediately sent to investigate and carry out rescue operations.

  19. A transmission was picked up by RDF guardship, ther TARBELL, only a few minutes before the disaster and it sounded very close aboard, bearing 214.5 T.

  20. Immediately after the explosion sound search was conducted vigorously toward attack by all escorts but nothing positive was developed.

  21. Later several tentative sound contacts were heard and attacked vigorously in order to prevent more attacks.


The Pittsburgh Press (November 4, 1941)

Navy sets loss of life on Reuben James at 97

Washington, Nov. 4 (UP) –
The Navy admitted today that the probable death toll of the sunken destroyer Reuben James was 97.

Two men are known to be dead, and “little hope” is held for 95 others – seven officers and 88 men – still missing. There are 45 survivors.

If the death toll is 97, it will be the greatest single American naval vessel disaster since the USS Maine blew up in the harbor at Havana, Cuba, with a loss of 260 men and precipitated the Spanish-American War.

Announcement that the Navy holds “little hope” for the rescue of the 95 missing men from the Reuben James was not a surprise, but publication of the actual figures and the list of survivors jolted the capital and the nation.

Virtually all hope had been abandoned for their safety as the days passed without word of them since their vessel was sent to the bottom of the North Atlantic, near Iceland, last Thursday night by a German torpedo.

The list of missing men includes all of the ship’s officers, including the skipper, Lt. Cmdr. Heywood L. Edwards of Texas, and Lt. (jg.) John J. Daub, 26, of Saltsburg, Pa.

If all the missing men of the Reuben James perished, the toll of American lives at sea will be 127, all but one having died in the Battle of the Atlantic. A recapitulation showed that in addition to the probable toll of 97 on the Reuben James:

  • Seven men perished on American-owned merchant ships that have been sunk during this war.

  • Eleven men were killed when a torpedo crashed through the side of the U.S. destroyer Kearny on Oct. 17.

  • Eleven naval officers and men, and an Army officer – a passenger – were killed when a Navy bomber crashed Sunday in the Atlantic. This was announced last night.

The Navy Department kept officials of its press section and reporters at the Navy building here until after midnight awaiting the news that it had virtually abandoned hope of rescuing the 95 missing members of the Reuben James.

When the announcement was released shortly after midnight, it revealed that 45 members of the Reuben James crew are safe – eight of them injured and the others unhurt.

It was the first disclosure that 142 officers and men were aboard the ship. Originally it was intimated that she carried only 121 officers and men.

The Navy published the names of the known dead – W. H. Merrell (F2c) of Ardmore, Tenn., whose body was recovered from the ocean, and D. R. Olmstead (F2c) of Olean, NY, who was rescued, but died Sunday of injuries.

It also revealed the names of the 45 survivors. It withheld the names of the 95 missing – except the list of officers which was published Friday – until it can be absolutely certain of its accuracy. They will not be considered dead until their bodies are found or the passing of times makes their rescue beyond doubt.

Telegrams have been sent to the next of kin of the two known dead and to those of the survivors. It was also understood that messages will be sent to the next of kin of the missing notifying them that little hope is held for their rescue.

The brief Navy announcement said:

The Navy Department announced additional information Monday night regarding survivors of the torpedo attack on the USS REUBEN JAMES (DD-245), which was sunk the night of Oct. 30-31, 1941.

Of the crew of 142 officers and men, one body was recovered, one man died shortly after being rescued, eight were injured and 37 men were uninjured.

The Navy Department holds little hope for the rescue of the seven officers and 88 men who have not been accounted for.

Details are secret

To this terse statement was appended the list of known dead and survivors.

The Navy has still not revealed how the Reuben James rescues were affected, nor has it told any details of the fatal attack. It was presumed that the Reuben James sank quickly since she was an old-type destroyer with much thinner armor plate than that carried by more modern warships. She was 21 years old and of the same class as the 50 overage destroyers this country traded to Great Britain a year ago.

Inasmuch as the sinking occurred at night, the general impression is that in the resulting confusion – with merchant ships and other war craft in the convoy the Reuben James was escorting scattering for safety – further rescues would be extremely difficult.


Squirrel Hill family told by Navy kin is 'missing’

The Navy today notified the family of a young Squirrel Hill radioman that he apparently lost his life in the torpedoing of the Reuben James.

The formal notification by telegram reached Antonio Caruso, 4279 Frank St., at 3:15 a.m. said:

It is with deep regret that the Navy Department notifies you that from latest available information, it appears that your son, Joseph James Caruso (RM2c), USN, lost his life in line of duty and in the service of his country when the USS REUBEN JAMES was torpedoed and sunk.

Young Caruso, 21, is among the 95 officers and men who have been listed as “missing.”

Another is 'missing’

Also “missing” is Lt. John J. Daub Jr., 26, former Pittsburgher and son of the headmaster of Kiski School, Saltsburg.

He had been gunnery officer aboard the Reuben James three weeks. He was a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and his younger brother, Craig, graduated from the Army Air School, Randolph Field, Tex., last week.

Lt. Daub was a grandson of Mr. and Mrs. Theodore Daub, 5640 Callowhill St., East End.

Among the crew members who are missing is Wilson “Bud” Taylor, 22, of New Castle, a former high school football star. However, another New Castle sailor, F. F. Zapasnik, a shipfitter, was reported today as “safe and uninjured.”

Home in July

Young Caruso enlisted in the Navy 21 years ago and was home last on July 10. His family ears from his last Oct. 18 from Portland, Me.

One of his six brothers, Thomas, was discharged from the Navy last July and had served aboard the destroyer Barry, a sister ship of the Reuben James. He also leaves three sisters.


Casualty list released by Navy

Washington, Nov. 4 (UP) –
The Navy Department today released the following list of dead and injured from the Reuben James:

Known dead:

Name Rate Home Notes
W. H. Merrell F2c Ardmorer, TN Body recovered from the water
D. R. Olmstead F2c Olean, NY Injured seriously when rescued and died Nov. 2

Eight injured men and their condition:

Name Rate Home Notes
C. Begley MM2c Los Angeles, CA Injured slightly, condition excellent
W. N. Bergstresser CMM Ventura, CA Broken finger, condition good
R. J. Carr F2c Hamburg, NY Injured slightly, condition good
C. S. Jacquette F1c Rock Hall, MD Injured slightly, condition good
J. Molnar F1c Allentown, PA Injured slightly, condition good
L. E. Simms WT1c Marienne, FL Lung infection and shock, condition good
J. C. Thompson S2c Milwaukee, WI Injured seriously, condition excellent
J. R. Turnbull EM2c Rahway, NJ Internal injuries, condition serious

The following were included in the list of 37 saved and uninjured:

Name Rate Home
R. B. Bush F2c Ashtabula, OH
F. F. Zapasnik SF1c New Castle, PA
D. J. Del Grosso S1c Galeton, PA
J. F. Elnitsky F1c Blakely, PA
J. Hajowy MM2c Akron, OH
E. G. Nagle S1c Chest Springs, PA
S. Olexa S2c Sabraton, WV
C. F. Robinson S1c Charleston, WV
C. R. Rose S1c Iaeger, WV
A. H. Stewart GM3c Beckley, WV
R. S. Stewart S1c Dorothy, WV

The Pittsburgh Press (November 6, 1941)

Reuben James toll set at 98

Navy revises list, names replacements

Washington, Nov. 6 (UP) –
The toll aboard the torpedoed destroyer Reuben James increased by one today to make a total of 98 – two known dead and 96 missing and given up for dead.

A revised Navy list showed 36 men rescued and uninjured and eight saved but injured. Originally, 37 were listed as rescued and uninjured, but one of the men in that category – Vincent C. Lane – was shown to have been replaced before the ship sailed by a sailor who is now listed among the missing.

The new totals were made when the Navy announced the names of seven additional men who have been given up as dead. These men had replaced six others who first had been listed as missing, and Lane.

The seven new names of the lost were:

Name Rate Home
Kenneth Cecil Neely S2c Cunard, WV
Lewis Aubrey Turner SM3c Atkins, AR
Anthony Gedminus Stankus S2c Worcester, MA
Charles Chester Hayes S2c Akron, OH
Herbert Ralph Burrell S2c Cleveland, OH
William Harding Newton Y3c Roanoke, VA
Gerald Edward Mills S2c Detroit, MI

The seven men originally reported on board, but who were transferred before the destroyer’s fatal trip, are:

Name Rate Home
Peter Anderson WT1c Sumner, WA
Frederick Arthur Bishop TM3c Bayonne, NJ
Jack Austin Campbell F1c Greensboro, NC
Vernon Everett Howell F1c Thornville, OH
Vincent C. Lane RM3c Port Jervis, NY
Hirman Morgan MM1c Hamilton, OH
Marvin J. Wilson SF3c Gassaway, WV

The Pittsburgh Press (November 9, 1941)

One name added, placing Reuben James toll at 101

Washington, Nov. 8 (UP) –
The Navy today placed the profitable death toll of the USS Reuben James torpedoing at 101 men – two known dead and 99 missing and presumed lost.

The new figure – an increase of one – resulted from discovery that Joseph Gustave Little (S1c) of Brooklyn, NY, was aboard the destroyer at the time. He has not been heard from. A total of 45 men have been rescued.