The USS Reuben James (DD-245) served in the US Navy for more than two decades in the 20th century, before being sunk off Iceland. She was named for Reuben James, a Boatswain’s Mate of the US Navy who served during the Barbary Wars. Reuben James was laid down as a Clemson-class ship.
Reuben James was laid down in Camden, New Jersey by the New York Shipbuilding Company in April 1919, launched in October, and commissioned in September 1920 with Commander Gordon W. Haines in command. Carrying a crew of 114, Reuben James was armed with four 4-inch rapid-fire guns, one three-inch anti-aircraft gun, and twelve 21-inch torpedo tubes.
Reuben James was assigned to the Atlantic Fleet and sailed to Yugoslavia to assist refugees and conduct postwar operations in the Adriatic Sea and the Mediterranean. Along with Olympia, Reuben James participated in the ceremonies during the return of the Unknown Soldier in October 1921. She also worked with the American Relief Administration, from then until February 1922, for hunger relief in Poland.
Reuben James left the Mediterranean region in July, returned to New York, and in 1926, served patrol duty off the Nicaraguan coast to prevent weapons from reaching revolutionary forces. In 1929, Reuben James participated in various fleet exercises and was decommissioned from January 1931 to March 1932 at Philadelphia. Operating in the Atlantic and Caribbean, Reuben James patrolled off Cuba in 1933 and 1934, and then sailed to San Diego in November 1934.
Reuben James participated in exercises that served to evaluate aircraft carriers, and was then re-deployed to the Atlantic Fleet in January 1939 to join the Neutrality Patrol when World War II began in Europe. During this deployment, Reuben James was assigned to patrol duty in the Atlantic and Caribbean.
Reuben James was assigned to convoy duty in March 1941 to ensure secure transport of war materials to Great Britain. The escort force operated with convoys out to Iceland. In October 1941, Reuben James sailed with the escort team for convoy HX-156, and near Iceland, was torpedoed by German submarine U-562 on October 31, 1941, and sank. The attack killed 115 when Reuben James’ magazine exploded. Reuben James was the first US Navy ship to be sunk by enemy fire in World War II.
Asbestos Risk on the USS Reuben James (DD-245)
The use of asbestos-containing materials in the construction of marine vessels was required by the US Congress in the 1930s, after a fire at sea on a cruise ship killed 137 people. Navy ships like Reuben James installed asbestos insulation heavily around ship's boilers and engineering compartments, as well as in fireproofing all over the vessel. When an asbestos-based product is damaged it becomes "friable", meaning that individual fibers can be broken off and escape into the surrounding air, and then can be inhaled or ingested by crewmen or dockworkers, increasing the chances of contracting mesothelioma. Asbestos has long been known for its fireproofing properties; however, it was also demonstrated to be the main factor in the development of such debilitating conditions like pleural plaques and pleural mesothelioma.
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Haze Gray & Underway. Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. DD-245.
http://www.hazegray.org/danfs/destroy/dd245txt.htm Retrieved 30 December 2010.
NavSource Naval History, USS Reuben James (DD-245).
http://www.navsource.org/archives/05/245.htm Retrieved 30 December 2010.