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Bell recovered from iconic World War I shipwreck returned to U.S. over a century after it sank

What technology could change the way we learn about shipwrecks
What technology could change the way we learn about shipwrecks 05:06

A massive brass bell that went down with a torpedoed U.S. Navy destroyer during World War I more than a century ago has been returned to the United States, officials said. 

The 80-pound bell from the USS Jacob Jones was turned over to U.S. Navy Adm. James Kilby by a British Royal Navy officer in a ceremony earlier this month, the U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command (NHHC) announced. In a social media post, the agency shared an image of Kilby receiving from Royal Navy Vice Adm. Martin Connell what is now considered a historic artifact, memorializing soldiers who died on board the U.S. Navy destroyer. 

The symbolic transfer happened at Lancaster House in London last week.

"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," Kilby said in a statement. "As the first U.S. 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. 

The USS Jacob Jones sunk in the English Channel on Dec. 6, 1917, after being struck by a German submarine's torpedo, becoming the first U.S. Navy destroyer sunk by enemy fire.  Out of seven officers and 103 crew members on board the Jacob Jones when it was torpedoed, 64 were killed, according to the NHHC.   

The bell, once fixed to the warship itself, went down with the ship and became lost to time until a group of expert divers discovered the wreck in August 2022. 

They found it around 400 feet below the surface of the Atlantic Ocean, some 60 miles south of Cornwall in southern England, officials said at the time. Although the U.S. Navy typically observes a hands-off policy when it comes to older shipwrecks discovered in contemporary times, the NHHC partnered with the U.K. Ministry of Defense to study the wreck site and salvage the bell out of concern others would do it illegally.

The U.K. Ministry of Defence's Salvage and Marine Operations (SALMO) unit successfully conducted a survey of the historic WWI wreck of the Tucker-class destroyer USS Jacob Jones (DD-61) in the Atlantic Ocean on Jan. 22, 2024. Image courtesy asset provided by U.K. Ministry of Defence, Salvage and Marine Operations (SALMO)

The bell was recovered in January and temporarily given to the U.K. private company Wessex Archaeology, under contract with the NHHC, for an initial treatment. With its return to the U.S., the bell will undergo a conservation treatment from the command's Conservation, Research, and Archaeology Laboratory, to prepare it for exhibiting at the National Museum of the U.S. Navy in Washington, D.C.

Although the agency has not shared a specific timeline for the conservation effort, Shanna Daniel, an archaeological conservator with the NHHC, said in a statement that their goal is to ready the bell for "long-term curation and display."

"We believe the bell will offer a tangible way for the public to connect and learn about the story of Jacob Jones and U.S. Navy's role in World War I," said Daniel.

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