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SALMO salvaged WWI ship bell returned to US Navy

A ship’s bell recovered from the seabed by Defence Equipment & Support’s Salvage and Marine Operations (SALMO) team has been returned to the US Navy.



Above: Members of the SALMO team, Royal Navy, US Navy and US Naval History and Heritage Command with the bell recovered from USS Jacob Jones at Lancaster House.
Courtesy DE&S

Admiral James W. Kilby, the US Navy’s Vice Chief of Naval Operations, received the bell that was salvaged from USS Jacob Jones in a ceremony at Lancaster House, London.

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Recovered near the Isles of Scilly, USS Jacob Jones was the first US Navy destroyer to be sunk during wartime when it was torpedoed by a German submarine in December 1917, resulting in 64 crew members tragically losing their lives.

Above: USS Jacob Jones.
Courtesy DE&S

In August 2022, 107 years later, a recreational dive team discovered the wreck approximately 328ft (about 100m) below the surface.

Last December, the US Naval History and Heritage Command (NHHC) – guardians of nearly 3,000 shipwrecks – asked the UK to preserve the sanctity of the wreck and recover its bell.

The bell was recovered during the commissioning trials of a state-of-the-art, remotely operated underwater vehicle (ROV) that was built in Yorkshire. The new ROV allowed the SALMO team to safely recover the symbolic item. After placing a wreath and US flag in memory of those on board who were lost, they set the wheels in motion for the bell’s journey home.

Andy Liddell, Head of SALMO, said: “Playing a pivotal role in returning this historic bell to US soil is something we can all be proud of and is yet another example of the special relationship between our two nations.

“While this is a momentous occasion, this handover ceremony is also a poignant reminder of the brave allies who defended our nation and, importantly, those who lost their lives in doing so.”

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The bell, which was recovered with support from the NHHC and initially stabilised following recovery by Wessex Archaeology, has now arrived at the Washington Navy Yard where it will be conserved by archaeological conservators at NHHC's Conservation, Research, and Archaeology Laboratory.

Adm Kilby said: “This bell serves as a remembrance of the 64 sailors aboard Jacob Jones who made the ultimate sacrifice defending the freedom of our country and those who challenged it.

“As the first US destroyer lost in combat, her crew’s legacy will live on, their stories will be told and their loss will be remembered as we preserve this piece of our nation’s story. Our Navy expresses our sincerest gratitude to those who made it possible to take this incredible artifact of somber history back home.”

USS Jacob Jones (DD 61) sunk eight minutes after being struck by a torpedo fired from German submarine U-53. There were seven officers and 103 men on board at the time of the attack.

NHHC Director Sam Cox, US Navy Rear Admiral (rtd.), added: “We’re incredibly grateful to everyone who made this important recovery possible. World War I marked a pivotal moment in our collective history. In escorting convoys of soldiers and supplies across the Atlantic, Jacob Jones contributed significantly to the ultimate Allied victory.

“The ultimate sacrifice of many of her crew demonstrates that victory has a cost, and freedom isn’t free. We should never forget these courageous sailors.”

Since the shipwreck’s discovery, multi-lateral efforts involving SALMO, the UK’s National Oceanography Centre, Wessex Archaeology and NHHC continue to fully document and study the wreck site in support of its interpretation and long-term preservation.

The continued cooperation between the UK MoD and the US Navy fortifies the historical bonds and mutual dedication to honouring and preserving a shared naval history.

Following conservation efforts, the bell is intended for display in the future new National Museum of the US Navy.

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