in Defence

DE&S’ SALMO team retrieve US Navy bell off UK coast

Posted 13 February 2024

The Defence Equipment & Support (DE&S) Salvage and Marine Operations (SALMO) team has recovered an iconic bell off the UK coast, from one of the most notable US Navy shipwrecks.



Above: The USS Jacob Jones.
Courtesy DE&S

The bell of USS Jacob Jones has been retrieved from the depths off the Scilly Isles, 107 years after the ship became the first destroyer in US Navy history to be lost to enemy action.

This operation highlights the longstanding and enduring naval ties between the UK and US and provided an excellent training opportunity for the expert SALMO team.

In the final 18 months of World War One, the US Navy maintained a substantial presence in UK waters and the Western Approaches to help cope with the U-boat menace and keep the maritime lifeline open across the Atlantic.

Jacob Jones was one of half a dozen destroyers escorting a troop and supply convoy from southern Ireland to Brittany in December 1917.

Rear Admiral (rtd) Sam J. Cox, Director of the US Navy’s Naval History and Heritage Command (NHHC), said: “The ship played an important role safeguarding convoys carrying the troops and supplies from the US to the United Kingdom and France that were critical to Allied victory.”

When Jacob Jones was undertaking this tasking, she was torpedoed by German U-boat ace Hans Rose in U-53. The warship went down in just eight minutes, enough time for around one third of the crew to take to life rafts or jump into the Atlantic to try to save themselves.

Although U-boat crews were vilified by Allied propaganda at the time, Hans Rose not only rescued a couple of American sailors when his boat surfaced after the attack, but he also radioed the US base at Queenstown, Ireland, (now called Cobh) to inform them there were men in the water in need of rescuing.

The wreck was discovered by the Darkstar technical dive team approximately 40 miles south of the Scilly Isles in August 2022. She rests on the seabed more than 375ft deep.

Despite the remoteness and depth of the destroyer, US authorities remained fearful that unscrupulous trophy hunters might try to recover Jacob Jones’ bell – one of the icons of any warship.

Last December, the NHHC (guardians of nearly 3,000 shipwrecks and more than 17,000 aircraft lost at sea) asked the British Government for two favours: to preserve the sanctity of the wreck and to recover the bell.

RAdm (rtd) Cox stated that the remains of USS Jacob Jones were “a hallowed war grave” and that it is US Navy policy “to leave such wrecks undisturbed. However, due to risk of unauthorised and illegal salvaging of the ship’s bell, the Navy History and Heritage Command requested Ministry of Defence (MoD) assistance.”



The bell was found camouflaged by growth on the seabed near the wreck in an upright position.



The ROV – being used at sea for the first time - was manoeuvred to allow its manipulator to carefully collect the bell and place it into the ROV basket, to allow recovery to the surface.



The SALMO team also placed a wreath and the Stars and Stripes flag on the wreck in tribute to the 64 men lost 107 years ago.

Radm Cox added: “This most recent chapter in the story of Jacob Jones is one of collaboration and mutual respect for the site. The US Navy is grateful to the Salvage and Marine Operations Team for recovering the bell, which will serve as a memorial to sailors who made the ultimate sacrifice in the defence of both the United States and the United Kingdom."

Andy Liddell, SALMO Head, said: “I am proud of what the team have achieved. To assist our Allies in the recovery of the bell from such a historic wreck on the first deployment of the new ROV is a massive achievement.”

After a ceremonial handover to the US authorities, the bell will eventually be given to the expert conservators of the NHHC Underwater Archaeology Branch in Washington DC before going on display as a permanent reminder of the sacrifices by the men lost.

SALMO is a team of civilian specialists within DE&S who support the Royal Navy and UK MoD. SALMO’s role includes responding to any Royal Navy incidents at sea involving ships, submarines and aircraft, and providing underwater engineering support to maintain Royal Navy vessels.

The ROV used to recover the bell is a new acquisition to enhance the salvage capability of SALMO. It is operated and maintained by a team of SALMO staff and builds on SALMO’s long history of operating ROVs. SALMO’s responsibilities also include managing more than 5,000 shipwrecks around the world that the UK MoD is responsible for.
 

 

 

 

 

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