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Bancroft III (DD-598)


The third U.S. Navy ship to be named in honor of George Bancroft (1800-1891); see Bancroft I for biography.


(DD-598: displacement 1,620; length 347'9"; beam 36'1"; draft 17'4"; speed 37.6 knots (trial); complement 276; armament 4 5-inch, 4 1.1-inch, 5 20 millimeter, 5 21-inch torpedo tubes, 6 depth charge projectors, 2 depth charge tracks; class Benson

The third Bancroft (DD-598) was laid down on 1 May 1941 at Quincy, Mass., by the Bethlehem Ship Building Corp.; launched on 31 December 1941; sponsored by Mrs. Hester Bancroft Barry, great-granddaughter of George Bancroft; and commissioned on 30 April 1942, Lt. Comdr. John L. Melgaard in command.

After fitting out at the Boston Navy Yard through 21 May 1942, the destroyer steamed north for five weeks of shakedown training in Casco Bay off Portland, Maine. The destroyer's crew practiced gunnery and antisubmarine drills, exercising with submarine S-48 (SS-159) at times and also perfecting these skills while searching for U-boats along the Boston-Halifax convoy routes.

On 16 June 1942, Bancroft came across floating debris, a grim reminder of the German submarine offensive against Allied coastal shipping. The wreckage may have come from the British merchantman Port Nicholson (Harold C. Jeffery, Master), or the U.S. passenger-cargo ship Cherokee, (Twiggs E. Brown, Master) both sunk the day before by the German submarine U-87 (Kapitanleutnant Joachim Berger, commanding) about fifty miles out of Boston. Bancroft returned to Boston on 30 June for post-shakedown overhaul.

Departing the Boston Navy Yard on 20 July 1942, the destroyer steamed to Norfolk, Va., arriving there the following day. She practiced ship handling and convoy skills while escorting the provision storeship Merak (AF-21) to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and the British-owned SS St. Marys to Port-au-Prince, Haiti, in late June and July. Returning to Norfolk on 3 August, Bancroft received a few days of repairs and news of her assignment to the Pacific Fleet. Underway on the 10th, in company with McCalla (DD-488), the warship escorted two oilers, Lackawanna (AO-40) and Tappahannock (AO-43), first to Aruba, Netherlands West Indies, and on to the Panama Canal. Leaving the Atlantic submarine war behind, the ships transited the canal on the night of 24 and 25 August and then sailed northwest to San Diego, anchoring in that harbor on 2 September.

Drafted for immediate duty in Alaskan waters, Bancroft set sail on the 7th for the Aleutian Islands to help retake Attu and Kiska which the Japanese had occupied three months earlier. Following a quick stop at Seattle, Wash., to pick up Ramapo (AO-12), she then escorted the oiler north to Dutch Harbor, Alaska, mooring there on 17 September. Four days later, the destroyer joined Task Group (TG) 8.6, built around heavy cruisers Louisville (CA-28) and Indianapolis (CA-35), and the light cruiser St. Louis (CL-49), in its patrol of the Aleutian chain.

Fighting rough seas, false radar echoes, and poor visibility, the group searched the waters north of the Rat and Near Islands for Japanese shipping. The American blockade of the Japanese garrisons at Attu and Kiska found contacts scarce, however, and only encountered a few Russian merchant ships in those inhospitable waters. The most notable event was a torpedo scare on 13 October 1942, caused by a harbor seal swimming through the phosphorescent water.

In early November 1942, as part of the build up of American forces in the Aleutians, the destroyer escorted the ammunition ship Pyro (AE-1) and the transport Chaumont (AP-5) carrying troops and supplies to the new base at Adak. The warship then joined the light cruisers Detroit (CL-8) and Raleigh (CL-7) on 24 November for a scouting sweep north of the Semichi Islands. Poor visibility, freezing rain, and rough seas stymied search efforts, forcing the warships back to patrol the calmer waters north of the Andreanof Islands on 11 December.

On 12 January 1943, Bancroft escorted the transport Arthur Middleton (AP-55) during Operation Crowbar, the landings on Amchitka Island and the establishment of a forward American base in the Aleutians. As part of the covering force, the destroyer screened transports and cargo ships from enemy interference while they landed Army security troops in Constantine harbor. Although the troops went ashore easily, the destroyer's crew saw Worden (DD-352) run aground and break up in the harbor. Bancroft then screened Arthur Middleton while the transport rescued most of the stricken destroyer's crew.

For the next five weeks, Bancroft patrolled north and east of Amchitka, covering supply shipments to the new base, fighting constant bad weather and vainly trying to intercept Japanese shipping. She fired her first shots at the enemy during this patrol, a dozen 5-inch antiaircraft rounds aimed at a Japanese reconnaissance plane on 10 February. Events of greater substance followed on the 18th, when the warship joined  Indianapolis, Richmond (CL-9), and three other destroyers in a shore bombardment of Attu. The task group directed deliberate, long-range fire at land targets in Chichagof Harbor and Holtz Bay, Bancroft alone firing 394 rounds of 5-inch ammunition.

Returning to Adak on the 24th, the destroyer spent the next five weeks either at Dutch Harbor, receiving upkeep and repairs from the destroyer tender Markab (AD-21), or at Kodiak Island, where she entered dry dock for repairs to her sound gear. She returned to the patrol zone off Amchitka for three days from 7 to 9 April 1943 and then carried out two minor escort missions before taking a patrol station northwest of Attu. On 26 April, she joined Richmond, Santa Fe (CL-60), Detroit, and five other destroyers for another bombardment of Chichagof Harbor. Bancroft then remained off Attu, ready to intervene if Japanese forces in the Kurils tried to prevent Operation Landcrab, the 11 May invasion of Attu by Army troops. She patrolled the island's western approaches without incident while the Army secured Attu in three weeks of bloody fighting against a determined Japanese garrison. At the end of another three weeks of convoy escort and patrol duties, the destroyer received orders to head south for a weapons modernization overhaul, and she set course for San Francisco on 29 June.

She arrived at that busy port on 6 July 1943 and moved to the Bethlehem Steel Co. on the 8th. There, she began the repairs and equipment modifications that she continued later in the dry dock at Hunters Point and finally completed back at Bethlehem Steel. Shipyard workers replaced her 1.1-inch guns with a pair of twin 40-millimeter mounts and added three 20-millimeter guns to her antiaircraft armament. Departing San Francisco on 8 August, Bancroft returned to the now familiar waters surrounding the Aleutians.

Back at Adak on the 13th, she joined the amphibious component of Task Group (TG) 16 at Amchitka for Operation Cottage, the upcoming invasion of Kiska. Two days later, she shepherded her charges of 4 tank kanding ships (LST), 3 infantry landing ships (LCI), and 7 tank landing craft (LCT), to Vega Bay where the troops, to their surprise, disembarked without incident. The Japanese, aware of the planned attack, had secretly withdrawn the garrison under fog cover earlier that month. Bancroft screened the transports just in case, until turning south for Pearl Harbor, Territory of Hawaii, on 29 August.

After little more than a refueling stop on 5 September 1943, Bancroft turned west and continued her voyage the very next day for operations in the central Pacific. American planners intended to take the Gilbert Islands very soon, so preliminary carrier strikes were ordered there, along with diversionary strikes on other islands to confuse the Japanese. As part of TG 59.17, the destroyer helped screen the new aircraft carrier Lexington (CV-16), as her planes raided Japanese airfields at Tarawa Atoll on 18 September and at Wake Island on 5 and 6 October, before returning to Pearl Harbor on the 11th.

Bancroft then got underway on 31 October 1943, in company with three LSTs bound for the Gilbert Islands and Operation Galvanic, the seizure of Makin, Tarawa, and Apamama. After refueling at Funafuti in the Ellice Islands, the ships headed for the Gilberts. Arriving at the transport area on 19 November, Bancroft screened the landing craft, provided antiaircraft cover during infrequent Japanese night air raids, and provided gunfire support to the hard-pressed marines during the desperate struggle to secure Tarawa. After escorting four troopships back to Pearl Harbor on 11 December, the destroyer began preparations for the next step of the Navy's march across the central Pacific, the invasion of the Marshall Islands.

On 22 January 1944, Bancroft got underway for Operation Flintlock, with orders to "assist in the seizure, occupation, and development of Kwajalein as an Allied base." Part of TG 52.9, comprising Manila Bay (CVE-61), Corregidor (CVE-58), Coral Sea (CVE-57), and three destroyers, Bancroft screened the escort carriers en route to the Marshall Islands. Arriving off the target on 30 January, Bancroft guarded the small carriers as their air squadrons, in conjunction with two battleships and three heavy cruisers, pounded Japanese positions for the two days leading up to the landings. On D-Day, 1 February, the destroyer closed the atoll, witnessing flames and smoke rising from Japanese positions on Kwajalein Island, and moored in the lagoon. She spent the night waiting to refuel from the attack transport Zeilen (APA-3) and watching two other destroyers bombard the stubborn Japanese defenders. Bancroft rejoined the escort carriers' screen on the 3rd, staying with them for the next ten days as they launched aircraft in support of Army and Marine Corps operations ashore. After refueling from Tappahannock (AO-43) on the 13th, the destroyer escorted three transports back to Pearl Harbor, arriving there on 24 February.

In company with Lexington and two destroyers, the warship departed Pearl Harbor for the Marshall Islands on 3 March 1944.  Arriving in Majuro lagoon on the 8th, Bancroft then steamed south-east to maintain the blockade of the bypassed Japanese airfield on Mili Atoll. She patrolled the waters around the atoll for the next two weeks, watching for enemy boat traffic as well as maintaining a plane lifeguard station.

On 22 March 1944, the destroyer joined Lexington and TG 58.3 for a fast carrier sweep against Japanese bases in the Caroline Islands and New Guinea. These raids were designed to destroy Japanese air power in the region before American amphibious operations along the northern coast of New Guinea. On the 29th, while en route to the Palau Islands, Bancroft's group was approached by three Japanese bombers. Friendly fighters shot down one bomber but, at about 2100, two other Mitsubishi G4M1 Type 1 land attack planes (Betty) approached the warships. Most of the ships in the group, including Bancroft, opened fire and quickly splashed both aircraft, leaving circles of fuel and wreckage to burn on the water for several minutes.

Over the next three days, the carriers launched numerous air strikes against Japanese airfields in the Palaus and on Woleai. Enemy aircraft repeatedly approached the task group at night, dropping radar decoys (called "window") in vain attempts to mount attacks on the American warships. After a stop at Majuro for fuel and maintenance, the destroyer returned to TG 58.1 for raids against Hollandia, New Guinea, on 13 April 1944 and two days of strikes on Humboldt Bay, Wakde, and Sarmi on the 21st and 22nd. After refueling at Seeadler Harbor on Manus in the Admiralty Islands, TG 58.1 then headed north and struck the Japanese base at Truk on 29 April. Following three days of air strikes, the warships headed for the Marshalls, arriving at Kwajalein on 4 May. During these raiding operations, Bancroft rescued four pilots from downed Navy planes.

Following repairs and maintenance work alongside Santa Fe, the destroyer again joined the blockade of bypassed Japanese garrisons in the Marshall Islands on 10 May 1944. The warship patrolled the waters around Mili and Wotje, provided weather reports and planeguard services for air strikes, and interdicted Japanese resupply and evacuation missions. On the 23rd, in company with Edwards (DD-619), the destroyer bombarded Wotje, firing 325 5-inch rounds at targets ashore. Bancroft steamed to Eniwetok on 11 June, received repairs alongside Prairie (AD-15), and then began preparations to join Operation Forager, the invasion of Saipan, Tinian, and Guam in the Mariana Islands.

Underway on 21 June 1944, Bancroft, along with escort vessel Elden (DE-264), escorted six cargo ships to Saipan before arriving off Tinian Island on the 25th. She conducted illumination and harassing fire into the Japanese-held harbor and Tinian Town throughout the evening. The following morning, she closed the shore firing at barge and small-craft traffic with her 5-inch guns and raking the harbor with 40-millimeter fire. The warship set course for Eniwetok the next day, escorting empty transports back into the lagoon at that atoll on the 30th.

After two weeks of boiler repairs, the destroyer began a month of convoy and patrol duty in the Marshall Islands on 16 July 1944. She escorted shipping between Majuro and Eniwetok, patrolled the Jaluit, Wotje, and Taroa blockade lines, and bombarded Japanese coastal defense and heavy antiaircraft positions on Maloelap Atoll on 8 August before anchoring at Eniwetok on the 14th.

Bancroft departed Eniwetok with a homeward bound convoy on 19 August 1944 and, after a brief stop at Pearl Harbor, reached San Francisco on 1 September. She entered the Mare Island Navy Yard, Vallejo, Calif., for an extensive overhaul and to have her 5-inch gun-sleeves replaced. She completed equipment calibrations and shakedown by 23 October and steamed to Hawaii, via Seattle, arriving in Pearl Harbor on 1 November.

Bancroft operated in Hawaiian waters for the next month, conducting radar gunnery exercises, air operations training with Saratoga (CV-3), and antisubmarine training with S-46 (SS-157). The destroyer then sailed with a convoy for the Marshall Islands on 1 December 1944. Arriving there on the 8th, the warship spent the next ten weeks escorting shipping between Pearl Harbor, Eniwetok, and Ulithi Atoll in the Caroline Islands. She then joined Bailey (DD-492) on 16 February 1945 to escort five auxiliaries from Ulithi to Leyte in the Philippines, arriving in San Pedro Bay on the 19th.

Bancroft remained in Philippine waters for the next seven weeks, supporting Army operations to secure Mindoro, Luzon, and Mindanao. She escorted amphibious landing craft between various ports and islands, provided antiaircraft cover for the Army's 41st Infantry Division when it landed at Zamboanga, Mindanao, on 10 March 1945 and patrolled Basilan Strait to protect small craft from Japanese suicide-boat attacks.

On 29 March 1945, Bancroft and Liddle (DE-206) led a force of six minesweeping craft towards Legaspi, Luzon, in support of the landings on the Bicol Peninsula. When a lone Japanese shore battery opened up on minesweeping operations in Albay Gulf, Bancroft silenced the enemy guns with 346 rounds of 5-inch counter-battery fire. The assault force then landed the 158th Regimental Combat Team (RCT) against little opposition.

After returning to Subic Bay on the 4th to refuel, the destroyer picked up a convoy in Leyte Gulf on 12 April 1945. Bancroft escorted the 13 LSTs and 4 medium landing ships (LSM) to Morotai on Halmahera Island in the Netherlands East Indies, anchoring there on the 16th. The amphibious ships loaded elements of the 26th Australian Infantry Brigade and sailed for Borneo on the 27th. Arriving off Tarakan on 1 May, the destroyer spent the next two weeks covering minesweepers and screening supply ships from air attack as ground troops secured the petroleum facilities on Tarakan island. She also convoyed transport and supply ships between Morotai and the Australian beachhead on Tarakan.

Following three weeks of upkeep at Morotai, Bancroft returned to sea on 4 June 1945 and joined the second Borneo assault force, this one intended to secure the Brunei Bay area and its valuable petroleum and rubber resources. The attack group (TG 78.1) carried troops of the Australian 9th Infantry Division's 20th Brigade to Brunei where they landed on 10 June. The Japanese defenders offered little resistance, and the destroyer spent the next three weeks patrolling the entrance to Brunei Bay on radar picket duty. The only excitement occurred on 13 June, when the crew witnessed an Army P-61 night fighter shoot down a Betty over the anchorage.

Returning to Subic Bay on 5 July 1945, Bancroft spent the next five weeks conducting shore bombardment and tactical exercises in preparation for the expected invasion of the Japanese home islands. Her crew heard of the end of the war while at anchor in Subic Bay on 15 August. The destroyer spent the next eight weeks escorting convoys from Leyte to Japan and back; sailing first to Okinawa on 13 September and then, after returning to Leyte on the 21st, steaming to Yokosuka, Japan, with another convoy, arriving there on 3 October.

Bancroft departed Japan on 12 October 1945 to return to the United States, steaming via Manila, Eniwetok, Pearl Harbor, San Diego, and the Panama Canal, to Norfolk where she arrived on 10 December. Following two months of repairs and modifications, the destroyer reported to the Atlantic Reserve Fleet on 1 February 1946 for deactivation. On 18 May 1946, the warship was placed out of commission, in reserve, at Charleston, S.C., where she remained for more than 25 years.

Her name was finally stricken from the Naval Vessel Register on 1 June 1971, and the ship was sold to Luria Brothers of Cleveland, Ohio, on 16 March 1973, to be broken up for scrap.

Bancroft received eight battle stars for her World War II service.

Timothy L. Francis

Updated, Robert J. Cressman

18 April 2024

Published: Thu Apr 18 14:27:04 EDT 2024