USS Ruben James - DD 245
Launched October 4, 1919. Lost October 31, 1941
"Ruben James" was the first US ship lost in World War II. While on convoy escort duty, "The Rube" as she was called by her crew was ordered to investigate a faint radio transmission possibly from a German U-Boat. Just as "Ruben James" broke from the formation, an explosion broke the ship in two. A hot-running torpedo had slammed into her forward magazine enveloping the ship in fire as far back as her fourth smoke stack. Almost instantly the bow section plunged beneath the waves with all hands including the captain and all the officers. The violent explosion knocked several crew members overboard. Below deck, crew members were thrown into bulkheads and hot machinery, resulting in everything from broken bones and lacerations to serious burns.
Anything that could float was tossed overboard as the crew abandoned what was left of the ship. The sea was covered in a thick layer of fuel oil, which had been ignited by the explosion and fires. Quite literally sending the crew from the frying pan into the fire.
The crew paddled away from the burning hulk when the ship suddenly upended and sank. There had been no time to safety the depth charges, so when the ship reached a depth of 50 feet all the depth charges detonated, lifting the crew on the surface almost 20 feet in the air. The explosion created a turbulent whirlpool that pulled the survivors underwater as soon as they landed. A secondary explosion from the sinking ship again rocked those on the surface.
When it was all over there were only 45 survivors from "Ruben James." The U-Boat that fired the killer torpedo was later identified as U-562, which escaped undetected and unscathed. However, "Ruben James" was not the target of the torpedo attack. The captain of the U-Boat was aiming for the merchant ships being escorted. When "Ruben James" altered course, she unwittingly put herself in the torpedo's path. "Ruben James" was sunk almost 5 weeks prior to Pearl Harbor, which is when the US officially entered the war. "Ruben James" now rests on the ocean floor about 300 miles south of Iceland.
Back to Jane's Military History Nodes