This week in the War, 27 Oct–2 Nov 1941: The sinking of the Reuben James

USS Reuben James in the Hudson River, 1939 [Public domain, wiki]

USS Reuben James in the Hudson River, 1939 [Public domain, wiki]

The week in the war, on 31 October 1941, the American destroyer USS Reuben James (DD-245) was sunk by a German U-boat. The Reuben James was the first American ship to be sunk during World War II as a result of hostile action—and the United States of American had not yet entered the war.

The Reuben James was one of the many four-funnel Clemson-class destroyers built during or soon after WWI (she was launched in 1919) and many of her sister ships had been given to Britain’s Royal Navy in the ‘destroyers in exchange for bases’ deal of September 1940.

The Reuben James was part of the destroyer escort for an eastbound convoy out of Newfoundland and she was torpedoed and sunk when close to Iceland. Of her crew, 115 perished and only 44 survived.

Folk singer Woodie Guthrie immortalized the sinking in his song The Sinking of the Reuben James. (“Tell me, what were their names? Did you have a friend on the good Reuben James?”). For a recent rendition, listen to singer George Possley.

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