On 31 Oct 1941, USS Reuben James (DD-245)—a post-WWI four-funnel Clemson-class destroyer—was the first US Navy ship sunk by hostile action in WWII—this before the US entered the war.
Upon the outbreak of war in Europe in September 1939, she joined the Neutrality Patrol, and guarded the Atlantic and Caribbean approaches to the American coast. In March 1941, Reuben James joined the convoy escort force established to promote the safe arrival of materiel to the United Kingdom. This escort force guarded convoys as far as Iceland, after which they became the responsibility of British escorts.
Based in Iceland, she sailed on 23 October, with four other destroyers to escort an eastbound convoy. On 31 Oct she was torpedoed by U-552 near Iceland. Reuben James had positioned herself between an ammunition ship in the convoy and the known position of a “wolfpack”, a group of submarines that preyed on Allied shipping. Reuben James was hit forward by a torpedo and her entire bow was blown off when a magazine exploded. Of the 159-man crew, only 44 survived.
Escorting supply convoys to England was hardly a neutral act. President Roosevelt knew that the American public did not want to enter another of Europe’s wars, yet he did want to protect England. So Roosevelt created this totally phony idea of a “Neutrality Patrol” which was a violation of both international law and the trust of the American people. That she was sunk by a German sub while the US was still officially neutral ignores the fact that the ship was protecting supplies bound for England from German subs—an act of war. Her crew served honorably and well, doing their duty as ordered by the Commander in Chief. The president did not serve honorably and well—we should require honorable service from our presidents, don’t you think?
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