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.