|Builder:||New York Shipbuilding|
|Laid down:||2 April 1919|
|Launched:||4 October 1919|
|Commissioned:||24 September 1920|
|Fate:||Torpedoed 31 October 1941|
|Class and type:||Clemson-class destroyer|
|Length:||314 ft 5 in (95.83 m)|
|Beam:||31 ft 8 in (9.65 m)|
|Draft:||9 ft 4 in (2.84 m)|
|Propulsion:||26,500 shp (20 MW);
|Speed:||35 knots (65 km/h)|
|Range:||4,900 nm @ 15 kn (9,100 km @ 28 km/h)|
|Complement:||101 officers and enlisted|
|Armament:||4 x 4" (102 mm), 1 x 3" (76 mm), 12 x 21" (533 mm) tt.|
USS Reuben James (DD-245), a post-World War I four funnelled Clemson-class destroyer, was the first United States Navy ship sunk by hostile action in World War II and the first named for Boatswain's Mate Reuben James (c.1776–1838), who distinguished himself fighting in the Barbary Wars.
Reuben James was laid down on 2 April 1919 by the New York Shipbuilding Corporation of Camden, New Jersey, launched on 4 October 1919, and commissioned on 24 September 1920 with Commander Gordon W. Hines in command.
Assigned to the Atlantic Fleet, Reuben James saw duty in the Mediterranean Sea from 1921 to 1922. Reuben James sailed from Newport, R.I., 30 November 1920 to Zelenika, Yugoslavia, arriving 18 December. During the spring and summer of 1921, she operated in the Adriatic and the Mediterranean out of Zelenika and Gruz, Yugoslavia, assisting refugees and participating in postwar investigations. In October 1921 at Le Havre, she joined Olympia (C-6) at ceremonies marking the return of the Unknown Soldier to the United States. At Danzig, Poland, from 29 October 1921 to 3 February 1922, she assisted the American Relief Administration in its efforts to relieve hunger and misery. After duty in the Mediterranean, she departed Gibraltar 17 July 1922.
Based then at New York City, she patrolled the Nicaraguan coast to prevent the delivery of weapons to revolutionaries in early 1926. In the spring of 1929, she participated in fleet maneuvers that foreshadowed naval airpower. She was decommissioned at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on 20 January 1931. Recommissioned on 9 March 1932, the ship again operated in the Atlantic and the Caribbean, patrolling Cuban waters during the coup by Fulgencio Batista. She transferred to San Diego, California in 1934. Following maneuvers that evaluated aircraft carriers, Reuben James returned to the Atlantic Fleet in January 1939.
Upon the outbreak of war in Europe in September 1939, she joined the Neutrality Patrol, and guarded the Atlantic and Caribbean Sea approaches to the American coast. In March 1941, Reuben James joined the convoy escort force established to promote the safe arrival of war material to the United Kingdom. This escort force guarded convoys as far as Iceland, after which they became the responsibility of British escorts.
Based at Hvalfjordur, Iceland, she sailed from Naval Station Argentia, Newfoundland on 23 October 1941, with four other destroyers to escort eastbound convoy HX-156. While escorting that convoy at about 0525, 31 October 1941, Reuben James was torpedoed by "The Running Devils" (Erich Topp used two Red Devils on all of his commands, signifying creation and destruction) of U-552 commanded by Kapitänleutnant Erich Topp near Iceland. Reuben James had positioned herself between an ammunition ship in the convoy and the known position of a "wolf pack" (groups 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. The bow sank immediately. The aft section floated for five minutes before going down. Of the 159-man crew, only 44 survived.
Woody Guthrie wrote "The Sinking of the Reuben James" which he performed with Pete Seeger and the other Almanac Singers. The Guthrie song has an original tune for its chorus, but its verses are set to the tune of the song "Wildwood Flower".