On 24 December 1943, the task group was caught in a storm in the North Atlantic when at in the morning, USS Leary (DD-158) made a ping on a U-boat off her starboard bow. After her commander, James E. Kyes, ordered her to battle stations but before the destroyer could react, she was struck by a G7es torpedo fired by the German submarine U-275. The torpedo struck her starboard side and detonated in the after engine room, killing all of the men there and damaging both propeller shafts. She quickly developed a 20 degree list to starboard, and was unable to move in the heavy seas. Unbeknownst to the task group, a second German submarine, U-382 fired at Leary but missed. Soon after, Kyes ordered the crew to abandon ship. Two additional torpedoes from U-275 rocked the ship, and it rapidly sank, stern first. She took 98 men with her, including Kyes.
CDR Kyes was listed as missing in action and later declared dead.
Awarded for Actions During World War II
Division: U.S.S. Leary (DD-158)
General Orders: Bureau of Naval Personnel Information Bulletin No. 325 (April 1944)
Citation: The President of the United States of America takes pride in presenting the Navy Cross (Posthumously) to Commander James Elsworth Kyes, United States Navy, for extraordinary heroism and distinguished service in the line of his profession as Commanding Officer of the Destroyer U.S.S. LEARY (DD-158), during action against a concentrated force of hostile submarines in the North Atlantic on the night of 23 December 1943. As Commander Kyes boldly maneuvered to close the range on four of the hostile pack, the enemy struck, mortally damaging the Leary with three torpedo hits and causing her to start sinking rapidly. After giving the order to abandon ship, Commander Kyes coolly and courageously made a personal inspection in order to assure himself that none of his men remained aboard. Preparing to abandon the stricken vessel and observing one of his crew whose lifejacket was torn and useless, Commander Kyes gallantly removed his own, gave it to the man and then calmly went over the side. Commander Kyes' inspiring leadership and the valiant devotion to duty of his command contributed in large measure to the outstanding success of these vital missions and reflect great credit upon the United States Naval Service.