Ellsworth Boyd Shipwreck Archive
The U.S. destroyer Jacob Jones succumbed to double jeopardy in 1942
when she was hit by two German U-boat torpedoes and then
became a victim of her own depth charges that went off as she sank.
Why would anyone want to dive on a shipwreck that’s broken in half and scattered all over the bottom of the ocean?
“It’s the story,” says Dr. Bill Scheibel, a veteran east coast diver who has logged many dives on the Jacob Jones, a U.S. Navy destroyer sunk by a German submarine during World War II. “And in this saga, only an avid wreck diver can appreciate the old saying, ‘Truth is stranger than fiction.’”
Like the old Japanese proverb: “a bee stinging a weeping face” — one misfortune after another — the “Jakie,” as the crew called her, succumbed to double jeopardy. During its first setback, the 1,100-ton vessel took two direct hits from the U-578. On the second, it fell victim to its own depth charges.
The destroyer was part of a roving anti-submarine warfare patrol cruising off Cape May, New Jersey, trying to stem the heavy losses of merchant ships at the beginning of the war. She carried depth charges that were timed and pre-set to explode at various depths in the cat and mouse game with enemy submarines. Consequently, as the ship sank, her own charges that had been previously dropped went off and killed some of the crew. Only 11 of the 141 men aboard the Jakie survived. They were rescued by another vessel after an army observation plane spotted them in the lifeboats.
In the late 1960s, Scheibel found the story of the Jacob Jones intriguing. When he contacted shipwreck historian Jean Haviland, she helped him compile a detailed account of the disaster. Although Scheibel had explored dozens of wrecks off the east coast, he could never find anyone who had been on the Jakie.
While consulting with New Jersey charter boat captains, Scheibel met A.J. Dulinski, who said he had recently picked up two images on his sonar that might be worth a look. Scheible and his dive buddy John Dudas hired the captain to take them on the three-hour jaunt from Cape May.
Captain Dulinski had no difficulty finding the first of his two images, a huge target that appeared on the sonar. But when the divers took the 145-foot-deep plunge, they found a huge ship with its three propellers still in place. Scheibel knew immediately that it wasn’t the Jakie, a much smaller vessel with twin screws. He and Dudas were hovering over the plush ocean liner Northern Pacific, a wreck they would put on their list for another day. In the afternoon, when Capt. Dulinski dropped the divers on his second image, they found what they were looking for — the remains of the Jacob Jones.
The ship had broken in half, its demolished bow and main section resting in 130 feet of water. The stern, about one mile inshore from the rest of the wreck, was a mangled mass of twisted metal rising 30 feet off the bottom. The Navy had removed most of the unexploded ordnance around both sections, but divers who explore the Jakie should be aware that some of it could still be buried in the rubble.
A final footnote in a book on the Navy’s fighting ships closed the chapter on Scheibel’s diligent research. It read: “On August 10, 1942, off Cape Ortegall, Spain, the U-578 was totally demolished by an Allied bombing attack. Capt. E.A. Rehwinkel and 49 crew were lost at sea … there were no survivors.
Ellsworth Boyd is Professor Emeritus, College of Education, Towson University, Towson, Maryland. He has published articles and photos in numerous dive magazines. His blog "Wreck Chat" appears monthly on SportDiver.com.