When the destroyer USS Reuben James (DD-245) was assigned to convoy duty in the North Atlantic in the autumn of 1941, its crew had a sense of foreboding and feared the worst. Germany and Great Britain had been at war for two years. The United States was still neutral, at least officially, but neutrality offered little solace—or protection. Deadly German U-boats were prowling the North Atlantic and feasting on Allied shipping. Convoy duty was hazardous and becoming more so by the day.
Reuben James is a name rich in Navy lore. On February 16, 1804, James, a boatswain's mate, stood on the deck of the USS Philadelphia in Tripoli as Barbary pirates struck.
When a sword-wielding pirate attacked Lieutenant Stephen Decatur, James is said to have jumped in front of Decatur and taken the blow meant for him. The ship named for James, the USS Reuben James, was a four-stack destroyer, commissioned in 1920. She was 314 feet long, 30 feet in the beam, and capable of speeds of up to 33 knots. She was armed with four 4-inch guns in her main battery, torpedo tubes, depth charges, and numerous antiaircraft weapons. To her crew, she was affectionately known as “Ol' Rube.”