USS Reuben James torpedoed in Atlantic

The United States destroyer was the first Naval ship lost to a U-Boat, even though America was not at war with Germany.

The USS Reuben James was one of 24 US Navy destroyers assisting with the escort of convoys in the western North Atlantic, between America and Iceland. There had been a growing number of incidents between US ships and U-Boats. Now the USS Reuben James became the first United States warship to be sunk as a result of hostile action in World War II.

One of only 44 survivors out of the 159 man crew, Chief Petty Officer William Burgstresser, was later to tell the St Petersburg Times:

I was on watch in the engine room at 5:30 a.m. when we felt the impact. There were two explosions — one sounded like the magazine. Altogether there were eight men in both sections of the engine room.

The lights went out and the steam flow was interrupted. There was a sinking motion of the ship as if she were going down by the bow.

I went topside and found the whole forward part of the ship, including the bridge, completely demolished and carried away.

It was yet another provocation, but the United States was still not ready to go to war with Germany.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Martin Sovik September 6, 2013 at 1:20 am

Interestingly, as I remember, polls showed at this time that Americans didn’t want to get involved in a European war, but were willing to go to war with Japan because of its war in China. So these continued provocations were not enough for Congress.

solveig August 30, 2013 at 8:18 pm

That’s interesting. Did you know that Goðafoss was torpedoed and sank Nov. 1944, almost within view of Iceland?

Chris Albertson August 8, 2013 at 1:54 pm

Thank you for this interesting blog, which I shall return to periodically. I was 10 years old and a passenger on the Icelandic freighter, SS Godafoss enroute from Reykjavík to New York. As a precaution, we were put into a lifeboat (not lowered), so we saw what was going on during the attack—I can still hear the whoop-whoop of sirens and the low rumble of exploding depth charges.

It was only many years later that I learned what that big explosion we saw had been: it was the Reuben James.

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