WASHINGTON -- The navy department tonight announced the rescue of 44 enlisted crew members of the U.S.S. Reuben James, but gave no clue as to the fate of approximately 77 others aboard the aged destroyer when she was blasted to the bottom of the North Atlantic, by a U-boat Thursday night.
Except to report the rescues, the navy had no further details.
The navy's announcement gave no indication that it has abandoned hope for those not accounted for.
None of the Reuben James' seven officers was listed among the rescued.
The navy did not give the names of those rescued, nor did it reveal the number of men aboard the 1190-ton, 21-year-old craft when she was torpedoed while convoying precious war cargoes for Britain. It listed only the names of the seven officers. Ships of this class, however, normally carry about 114 enlisted men.
Inasmuch as the Reuben James was on convoy duty when attacked, it was presumed other craft were continuing a search for those not accounted for.
It also was presumed the navy has not yet received the names of those rescued, but the announcement promised that additional details will be released when received. Because ships at sea use radios as little as possible to prevent their whereabouts from becoming known, names of those rescued may not be known until the vessels which picked them up reach port.
The text of the announcement:
"The navy department has received a report that 44 members of the crew of the U.S.S. Reuben James have been rescued. The survivors who have been accounted for are all enlisted men.
"The navy department has no further information at this time, but additional details will be released when received."
This was the first word received on the fate of the crew since this morning's announcement that the Reuben James was sunk last night west of Iceland -- in the same general area where the United States destroyer Kearny was torpedoed Oct. 16 with the loss of 11 of her crew, and where the destroyer Greer fought a bloodless battle with a submarine Sept. 4.
News of the sinking -- first American warship sunk in the battle of the Atlantic -- brought angry demands in congress for quick revenge.
But President Roosevelt calmly told his press conference that he had nothing to add to the announcement and that the attack will not change the international situation from this nation's point of view. He said the destroyer simply was carrying out an assignment.
Asked if the incident might lead to a complete diplomatic break with Germany, he said he had not heard of such a possibility.
In command of the Reuben James was Lieut. Comm. Heywood L. Edwards, 35, a native of San Saba, Tex., and a former Olympic athlete.
The other officers whose names were made public tonight:
Lieut. Benjamin Ghetzler, 34, Annapolis, Md.
Lieut. (junior grade) Dewey G. Johnston, 31, El Cajon, Calif.
Lieut (J.G.) John J. Daub, 26, Saltsburg, Pa.
Lieut. (J.G.) James M. Belden, 30, Syracuse, N.Y.
Ensign Craig Spowers, 24, East Orange, N.J.
Ensign Howard V. Wade, 22, Glen Ridge, N.J.
How the rescues were effected may not be revealed for some time. It was pointed out, however, that the ill-fated destroyer's life-saving equipment included two 26-foot motor whale boats and at least six life rafts designed for 25 persons each.
Earlier in the day, Roosevelt was reading a news ticker account of the sinking announcement when reporters filed into his office for his semiweekly press conference.
The President would not discuss the prevailing belief that one or more German submarines have been sunk since he issued his "shoot first" orders to the navy last month. This government, he said, would follow its World war policy of keeping secret such information.
A correspondent suggested it would be impossible to prevent such news from reaching Germany but the President disagreed. He recalled that word of submarine sinking was kept from Germany for a considerable time during World war I and the anxiety caused by their unexplained disappearance proved a valuable weapon in breaking down German morale.
Roosevelt left for a weekend at Hyde Park, N.Y., soon after the press conference. The navy and state department were to keep him abreast of developments.
Congressional reaction was not so temperate.
Senator Nye (R., N.D.), non-interventionist leader, said the attack was inevitable. He said "You can't walk into a bar room brawl and hope to stay out of the fight." Senator Taft (R., Ohio), said it is "an inevitable result of a shooting war."
Chairman Connally, (D., Tex.) of the senate foreign relations committee, demanded that congress avenge "this dastardly act of aggression." Senator Pepper of Florida, frequent bellwether of foreign policy moves, pleaded for coolness, "knowing that the job ahead is to make sure of the earliest, speediest death of despotism."
Senate leaders believed the sinking would swing votes behind pending neutrality revision legislation. Assistant Minority Leader Austin, of Vermont, said defeat of the measure now would represent a "humiliating surrender to Hitler." Senator Gurney (R., S.D.), said the attack clinches arguments for complete repeal of the law.
The navy's announcement did not reveal the source of its information. It said:
"The navy department announced that the U.S. destroyer Reuben James was sunk by a torpedo during the night of Oct. 30-31 while convoying in the North Atlantic west of Iceland.
"The commanding officer is Lieut. Cmdr. H.L. Edwards, U.S. navy.
"No further details are available at this time, but will be released when received."
The Reuben James was of the same type as the 50 over-age destroyers traded to Great Britain for Atlantic bases. It was 314 feet long, had a beam of 30 feet and was armed with four four-inch naval rifles and a battery of anti-aircraft guns.
It had been in trouble before. On Nov. 30, 1939, soon after the navy began its operations, the destroyer ran aground off the north coast of Cuba. It was pulled free without serious damage and with no casualties.
The craft had exceedingly thin armor. It was named in honor of Reuben James, a boatswain's mate, who participated in the war against the Barbary coast pirates and once saved the life of Capt. Stephen Decatur by interposing his body between that of his commander and the scimitar of a pirate.
Its skipper, a native of San Saba, Tex., was well-known throughout the fleet. He is 25 years old and graduated from the naval academy in 1926. He was captain of the U.S. Olympic wrestling team in the 1928 games. He took command of the destroyer on April 6, 1940, after having served aboard submarines assigned to the Pacific fleet.
Naval experts declined to estimate the probable number of casualties. They pointed out that the Kearny, which was able to limp 400 miles to port after having been nearly cut in two by a torpedo, was a more sturdy ship than the Reuben James and it suffered casualties of 11 dead and 10 pounded.