A ship’s bell recovered from the seabed by the UK’s Salvage and Marine Operations (SALMO) team has been ceremoniously returned to the United States.

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

The USS Jacob Jones, the first US Navy destroyer to be sunk during wartime, was torpedoed by a German submarine in December 1917, near the Isles of Scilly. The tragic event resulted in the loss of 64 crew members. In August 2022, 107 years later, a recreational dive team discovered the wreck approximately 328 feet (about 100 meters) below the surface.

Last December, the US Naval History and Heritage Command (NHHC) – custodians of nearly 3,000 shipwrecks – requested the UK to preserve the wreck’s sanctity and recover its bell. The bell was successfully retrieved during the commissioning trials of a state-of-the-art, remotely operated underwater vehicle (ROV) built in Yorkshire. The SALMO team used the new ROV to safely recover the bell, after placing a wreath and US flag in memory of those who were lost.

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.”

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

Adm Kilby stated, “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.”

The USS Jacob Jones sank just eight minutes after being struck by a torpedo from the German submarine U-53, with 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 have continued to fully document and study the wreck site in support of its interpretation and long-term preservation. The cooperation between the UK MOD and the US Navy fortifies the historical bonds and mutual dedication to honouring and preserving 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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George has a degree in Cyber Security from Glasgow Caledonian University and has a keen interest in naval and cyber security matters and has appeared on national radio and television to discuss current events. George is on Twitter at @geoallison
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Nick Paton
Nick Paton (@guest_824469)
1 month ago

Good Evening!

Well done all!! And respect to all those perished!

Kenny Jones
Kenny Jones (@guest_824539)
1 month ago

At 100 metres hardly a “recreational dive”.