George Beall Balch, born in Shelbyville, Tenn., 3 January 1821, was appointed acting midshipman on 30 December 1837. After serving in sloop Cyane during a cruise to the Mediterranean between 24 June 1838 and 16 May 1841, Balch saw duty in schooner Grampus and sloop Falmouth before attended the Naval School in Philadelphia, where he was promoted to passed midshipman on 29 June 1843. Eventually assigned to steamer Princeton, Midshipman Balch served in that warship during the war with Mexico. He participated in the abortive August 1846 assault on Alvarado, where strong currents in the river prevented the flotilla's boats from landing, and in the successful 9 March 1847 landing of General Winfield Scott's army at Vera Cruz. During the latter campaign, Balch served as acting master of captured schooner Falcon. Returning to Princeton, he accompanied the steamer on a two year cruise to the Mediterranean, sailing east on 17 August 1847 and returning to the Boston Navy Yard on 17 July 1849. He then saw service at the Naval Observatory in Washington, D.C., where he was promoted to lieutenant on 16 August 1850.
Balch then served as executive officer of sloop-of-war Plymouth, sailing to the Orient on 23 August 1851 for an extended cruise on the East Indies Station. While there, Plymouth joined Commodore Matthew C. Perry's expedition to Japan and, in company with side-wheel steamers Mississippi and Susquehanna and sloop-of-war Saratoga, entered Tokyo Bay on 8 July 1853 for trade negotiations with the Tokugawa Shogunate. The squadron departed on 17 July after presenting a letter from President Millard Fillmore to the Japanese asking for the opening of two ports to American trade and better treatment for shipwrecked sailors. The squadron spent the fall in Canton, Hong Kong and Shanghai, helping to protect American trade interests there (primarily tea and silk) following the continued spread of the Taiping rebellion in southern China.
While most of Perry's squadron returned to Japan in February of 1854, where the Commodore eventually signed a limited trade agreement on 31 March 1854, Plymouth remained at Shanghai to help protect American-owned warehouses and other property ashore. In February, soon after the squadron's departure to Japan, Imperial Chinese troops began assaulting foreigners, sacking warehouses and exacting tolls on boats sailing up and down the Huangpu river. On 3 April, after two British citizens were accosted by sword-wielding soldiers, the commanders of the British ships Encounter and Grecian, as well as Commander Kelly from Plymouth, together resolved to drive off the Chinese troops, who had established fortified camps in the city. The next day, Balch led 60 Sailors and Marines and 30 sailors from American merchant ships against the left flank of the entrenchments, while a force of 150 British Sailors and Marines, and additional "Shanghai volunteers," attacked on the right. Supported by gunfire from two privately owned field pieces and a howitzer, the Allied force routed the Chinese defenders, who "fled in great disorder, leaving behind them a number of wounded and dead." Balch suffered wounds in the action, which also saw one Sailor killed and two Marines wounded. The sloop-of-war returned to Norfolk on 11 January 1855 before conducting a spring cruise off the east coast as a Naval Academy school ship.
After an assignment to the Washington Navy Yard in 1855-57, Balch again went to sea in Plymouth to support a training cruise. He later served in Jamestown, joining that sloop in December 1857 for a cruise in the West Indies before he traveled to Mare Island, California, for service in sloop-of-war St. Mary's. After a short cruise off the west coast of Central America between August 1858 and February 1859, Balch returned to the east coast via Panama.
Upon the outbreak of the Civil War April 1861, Balch was ordered to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, where he helped put frigate Sabine in commission on 30 August. The ship-rigged sailing ship joined the Atlantic blockading squadron on 9 September. Sabine helped rescue 500 men from the chartered troop transport Governor during a storm on 2 November 1861. Balch then assumed command of steamer Pocahontas, leading a flotilla of boats during the Tybee Island landings on 26 December before cruising off the Carolina coast, to keep a watchful eye for Confederate raiders and blockade runners. He was promoted to Commander on 16 July 1862.
Given command of screw-sloop Pawnee at Philadelphia later that year, Cdr. Balch coordinated the towing of ironclad Pataspsco south to Port Royal, South Carolina, in February before joining the South Atlantic Squadron. There, the screw-sloop conducted coastal reconnaissance off the southern states, engaging shore batteries as required and watching for blockade runners. On 1 February and 18 June 1864, Pawnee assisted in the capture of Confederate steamers General Sumter and Hattie Brock respectively, seizing their valuable cargoes of cotton, turpentine, rosin and railroad iron. The warship also participated in the Stono River expedition in early July and Broad River expedition in November 1864. The following year, on 9 February 1865, Balch directed Pawnee up the Togoda Creek where, in company with side-wheel gunboat Sonoma and side-wheel steamer Daffodil, the warships destroyed three Confederate batteries near North Edisto, South Carolina. The ships then landed Sailors and Marines to occupy the town of Georgetown on 23 February 1865, clearing the way for Union ships to supply Major-General Tecumseh Sherman's Army operating in the area. Balch was commended to the Navy Department by Rear-Admiral John A. Dahlgren for his services during this operation.
After Pawnee decommissioned at Portsmouth on 26 July 1865, Cdr. Balch received shore service at the Washington Navy Yard, where he was promoted to captain on 25 July 1866. He commanded flagship Albany in the North Atlantic Squadron between 1868 and early 1870. Capt. Balch then returned to the Washington Navy Yard for duty with the Bureau of Navigation, where he was promoted to commodore on 13 August 1872. He served as governor of the Naval Asylum, Philadelphia, between 1873-76 before his appointment to the Light House Board in 1877-78. After a term as a member of the Board of Examiners in 1878, during which time Capt. Balch was promoted to rear admiral on 5 June 1878, Balch undertook a two-year assignment as Superintendent of the Naval Academy between 1879 and 1881. Rear Admiral Balch then took command of the Pacific Station on 21 June 1881. That assignment lasted until he retired from the service in January 1883, initially taking up residence in Baltimore, Md., before eventually moving to Raleigh, North Carolina, where he died on 16 April 1908.
The second Balch (DD-363) was laid down on 16 May 1934 at Quincy, Mass., by the Bethlehem Ship Building Corp.; launched on 24 March 1936; sponsored by Miss Gertrude Balch, granddaughter of Admiral Balch; and commissioned on 20 October 1936, Comdr. Thomas C. Latimore in command.
After fitting out at the Boston Navy Yard, the destroyer conducted shakedown and training in New England waters, though occasionally sailing as far south as Norfolk, Va. The warship entered the Boston Navy Yard for post-shakedown availability on 1 July, finishing those repairs and alterations by 30 September. Balch departed Boston on 5 October, arriving at the Naval Torpedo Station at Newport, R.I., late that same day. Over the next three weeks, she trained her torpedo crews and conducted experimental torpedo firings in Narragansett Bay. Ordered to the Pacific, the warship stood out for Hampton Roads on the 25th, refueling there the next day, and arrived at Guantanamo Bay early on the 29th. The destroyer operated locally for the next two weeks before steaming to Colon in the Canal Zone on 14 November. After transiting the Panama Canal the next day, Balch proceeded up the west coast of Central America and arrived at San Diego early on 23 November.
Assigned to Destroyer Division (DesDiv) 17, Destroyers, Battle Force, United States Fleet, Balch commenced training operations with her companion warships. On 29 November, she began a week of sea-keeping and maneuvering practice with her division off San Diego. Other evolutions, lasting until 19 December, included antiaircraft drills, battle practice runs, and torpedo firing exercises. She spent the holidays in port.
Specifically designed for long-range operations in the Pacific, Balch was significantly larger than most other destroyers in the Battle Force. Her size and endurance lent themselves to flagship duties, and she took over as flagship of Destroyer Squadron (DesRon) 12 in early 1938. On 26 February, Balch departed San Diego and entered the Mare Island Navy Yard on the 27th. There she received four days of repairs before shifting back to San Diego on 4 March. The destroyer, as well as the entire battle fleet, now prepared for the annual fleet problem (a series of naval maneuvers and exercises designed to test the Navy's tactical capabilities) held in the Hawaiian Islands.
Balch stood out for Hawaii on 15 March, arriving at Lahaina, Maui, on 1 April for liberty and recreation. On 4 April she joined units at sea, as part of "Green fleet" in Fleet Problem XIX. The destroyer put in to Nawiliwili Bay, Kauai, on the 8th, before moving to Pearl Harbor on 11 April. A week later the warship steamed out to sea for more exercises with "Green fleet" before returning to San Diego on the 28th.
She spent the next seven weeks conducting local operations, including the unglamourous, but necessary job of buoy upkeep. On 20 June, Balch returned to more martial duty when she exercised small arms, practiced towing operations, and sent a surf landing party ashore at San Clemente. Leave, recreation, and upkeep followed at San Diego until she departed that port for San Francisco on 11 July. There, she participated in a Presidential Fleet Review before returning to San Diego on the 16th.
The warship remained in the San Diego area, conducting individual ship exercises and gunnery drills until 21 August when she steamed to the Mare Island Navy Yard for a two-month overhaul. Post-repair trials were completed on 14 November, and Balch returned to San Diego the next day. Save for intermittent battle torpedo practice, antiaircraft exercises, and night gunnery practice, she remained in port through the end of the year.
The start of a new year brought with it a new edition of the annual fleet problem. Accordingly, Balch left San Diego on 4 January 1939, bound for fleet exercises in the West Indies. She passed through the Panama Canal on the 13th and, following a short period of liberty at Colon, the destroyer arrived at Gonaives, Haiti, on the 21st. Underway on the 28th, the warship sailed to Guantanamo, Cuba, for battle torpedo practice and submarine target services. She then stopped at Gonaives on 13 February and at Culebra Island from 14 to 19 February, before putting out to sea for Fleet Problem XX on the 20th. After a week of exercises, the destroyer visited Culebra from 27 February to 5 March and Port Antonio, Jamaica, from 8 to 11 March, before putting into Guantanamo Bay on the 20th. Close-range gunnery, depth-charge, and antiaircraft battle practice kept her busy until 7 April when Balch sailed north to Charleston, S.C., mooring alongside the destroyer tender Melville (AD-2) on the 11th.
Following upkeep and repairs, the destroyer returned to Guantanamo Bay on the 21st in preparation for the trip back to the Pacific. Departing Cuba on 24 April, the destroyer reached the submarine base at Coco Solo in the Canal Zone on the 26th. Transiting the Panama Canal on the 28th, Balch proceeded up the west coast, arriving at San Diego on 12 May.
For the next seven months, Balch operated locally out of San Diego. Her operations occasionally took her to San Clemente Island and included such evolutions as fleet and flotilla tactics, shore-bombardment exercises, and planeguard duty for battleship scout aircraft. Balch also took over as flagship for DesRon 6 on 1 July. A period of upkeep at San Diego alongside Melville from 19 to 25 June and another in dry dock at Mare Island Navy Yard in mid-July punctuated these operations. The outbreak of war in Europe on 1 September found Balch conducting short-range battle practice at sea. The warship returned to San Diego two days later for overhaul services alongside destroyer tender Altair (AD-11) until the 17th. Aside from a leave, liberty, and recreation period from 23 October to 13 November, normal operations continued until the destroyer went alongside Melville for holiday leave and upkeep on 25 December.
On 15 January 1940, Balch resumed training exercises out of San Diego, conducting type training and occasional gunnery exercises out of Pyramid Cove, San Clemente Island, until 24 March. The destroyer stood out of San Diego on 1 April for her second cruise to Hawaii, arriving at Lahaina Roads on the 10th. There, she carried out two weeks of tactical exercises as part of Fleet Problem XXI, the last such pre-war exercise. When the time came for the fleet to return to its west coast bases as in the past, fear of an eminent Italian entry into the war in Europe, and of how that might incite Japan, prompted President Roosevelt to order the fleet to remain in Hawaiian waters as a deterrent to Japanese aggression. A shortage of docking space at Pearl Harbor, however, meant that Balch steamed to Mare Island Navy Yard on 18 May for her scheduled overhaul. With those repairs complete on 23 July, the destroyer sailed back to Hawaii on the 29th, mooring in Pearl Harbor on 4 August.
Over the next eight weeks, Balch alternated periods in port with intensive training in the Hawaiian operating area. The fall of France and Italy's entry into the European war in June gave these operations an urgency unusual in peacetime exercises. Departing Pearl Harbor for San Diego on 14 October, and arriving at that port on the 20th, the warship moored alongside the destroyer tender Rigel (AD-13) for the installation of an anti-magnetic mine degaussing cable. The destroyer sailed for Pearl Harbor on 2 December, arrived on the 8th, and immediately moored alongside Altair for voyage repairs.
Balch continued the rapid pace of operations out of Pearl Harbor well into the critical year 1941. The destroyer conducted a series of off-shore patrols and honed her skills in gunfire, night-search, and night-attack exercises. This training lasted until 14 May when the warship headed back to the west coast for another overhaul. Entering the Mare Island Navy Yard on 1 June, Balch underwent repairs and alterations there until 22 July when she headed back to Pearl Harbor, reaching that port on 2 August. From there, the destroyer resumed intensive exercises in the Hawaiian operating area.
The highlight of these operations came during escort operations with Enterprise (CV-6) in late September. On the 24th, Capt. Lord Louis Mountbatten, RN, came on board for a visit. Mountbatten, who was visiting American naval forces in the Pacific, observed Balch and the rest of DesRon 6 conduct night search and attack exercises. After a satisfying night of sharing his recent wartime experiences against the German and Italian navies, Mountbatten transferred back to Enterprise the following morning.
Assigned to Task Force (TF) 8 on 1 December, the destroyer steamed as part of the escort force for a reinforcement convoy bound for American outposts in the Pacific. In company with the carrier Enterprise, cruisers Salt Lake City (CL-25), Chester (CA-27), Northampton (CL-26) and the destroyers of DesRon 6, Balch helped deliver Marine Corps Fighter Squadron (VMF) 211 to Wake Island on 2 December. On 7 December, while nearing Oahu, the task force received an urgent radio message from CincPac: "Hostilities with Japan commenced with an air raid on Pearl Harbor."
Balch patrolled with her unit south of Oahu that night and entered Pearl Harbor near sundown on the 8th. After refueling amid the debris of the Japanese attack the day before, the task force returned to sea early on the 9th and spent the next six days patrolling northeast of Oahu. The hunt turned up no enemy surface forces, Balch's inconclusive two-shot depth-charging of a sound contact on the 9th notwithstanding. Carrier aircraft from Enterprise had better luck the following day, sinking Japanese submarine I-70 about 150 miles northeast of Maui. All the warships returned to Pearl Harbor to refuel on the 15th.
Balch cruised west of Hawaii during the latter half of December, covering the islands while two carrier groups unsuccessfully attempted to relieve Wake Island. After a brief upkeep and repair period at Pearl Harbor, Balch sortied with TF-8 on 11 January 1942 and steamed southwest towards the Phoenix Islands. The task force lingered east of the islands, covering convoys reinforcing Samoa, until turning northward on the 25th. Five days later, after maneuvering 250 miles northeast of the Marshall Islands, Balch left formation in company with Chester and Maury (DD-401). The warships zigzagged toward Maloelap Atoll and, under the watchful eye of Chester's four observation planes, began bombarding the Japanese seaplane base on Taroa island. Balch fired 329 5-inch shells at a shore battery, the docks, buildings, and storage tanks, demolishing several structures and setting at least one oil tank on fire. Japanese bombers attacked the three destroyers during and after the action, but antiaircraft fire drove off the planes without loss. On 3 February, the three warships rejoined TF-8, which had launched separate attacks on Kwajalein and Wotje Atolls, and retired northeast toward Hawaii.
Arriving in Pearl Harbor on the 5th, the destroyer spent nine days there doing minor repairs and taking on ammunition. Putting to sea again on 14 February, she joined TF-8 when it took up station to the northeast of Wake Island on 23 February. Salt Lake City and Northampton, screened by Balch and Maury, closed the island that evening. The next morning, the two cruisers launched six observation planes, and the warships formed column for bombardment. After evading bombing attacks by three Japanese float planes, the warships opened fire at 0746 on Peale Island. Balch silenced three shore batteries with her 5-inch guns before shifting fire to several cranes and a steam shovel. She also bombarded two more shore batteries and three gun emplacements as she came into range. Two fuel oil explosions erupted soon afterward, probably from the nearby seaplane hangar; and the destroyer ceased firing at 0835.
Moments later, an enemy patrol boat hove into view. Balch immediately opened fire, hitting the 100-foot boat at 0854 and sinking it in five minutes. The four American warships then retired northeast. Around 1100, another patrol boat appeared six miles to the north. After Balch closed and sank that vessel, she picked four survivors out of the water. Japanese planes shadowed the group for the rest of the day, but only two level-bomber attacks materialized, and no ships in the formation suffered any damage.
The group rendezvoused with TF-16 on 26 February and steamed to a position 600 miles northwest of Midway Island. For the next week, Balch and the other destroyers stood guard over the oiler Sabine (AO-25) while Enterprise and the cruisers raided Marcus Island. The two groups reunited on 5 March, and the entire force returned to Pearl Harbor on the 10th. Upkeep and repair, punctuated by gunnery and escort exercises, kept her crew busy for the rest of the month. Then, on 8 April, Balch stood out from Pearl Harbor in company with the Enterprise group to rendezvous with Hornet (CV-8) and her escorts north of Midway. The carriers, escorted by cruisers, parted company with the destroyers on the 17th to launch the Halsey-Doolittle raid on Tokyo and other Japanese cities. The destroyers guarded oilers Sabine and Cimarron (AO-22) until the carriers returned, and then all the warships re-entered to Pearl Harbor on 25 April.
Meanwhile, intelligence reports indicated that the Japanese were planning a major offensive towards the Solomons and New Guinea, including the strategic city of Port Moresby. The Enterprise and Hornet groups sailed on 30 April, hoping to join Yorktown and Lexington in the Coral Sea. While the task force, including Balch, missed the Battle of the Coral Sea, fought on 7 and 8 May, the warships did cover the injured Yorktown as she withdrew from the area. Still, the Japanese thrust towards Port Moresby had been stopped, and the warships received orders back to Pearl Harbor, mooring there on the 26th.
Two days later, 28 May, Balch got underway with TF-16, in the screen of Enterprise and Hornet, and hurried to the northwest. Analysis of radio intelligence pointed to a Japanese attempt to take Midway Island; and the warships, later joined by Yorktown and TF-17, hastened to intercept the expected Japanese movement. Search planes busily scanned the waters west of Midway as the two fleets maneuvered closer, but it was not until 4 June that air strikes were launched in earnest.
Japanese planes struck first, bombing Midway with small loss and returning to their carriers to rearm for a second strike. Confused reports of American forces in the area proved fatal as dive bombers from Yorktown and Enterprise caught the enemy by surprise, mortally wounding three of the four enemy flattops. Meanwhile, dive bombers from Hiryu located the American warships around 1330 and concentrated on Yorktown in TF-17. The strike group scored three damaging bomb hits on the carrier, causing her to go dead in the water. Balch, ordered to protect the now drifting warship, joined TF-17 at 1521 while the carrier's crew struggled to repair the damage.
Just a few minutes after Yorktown got way on, the radar warning net reported a second incoming enemy air raid. Although attacked by Grumman F4F-4 "Wildcat" fighters, a dozen Nakajima B5N2 Type 97 carrier attack planes broke through and closed the warships. Over the next eight minutes, Balch fired her 20-millimeter and 1.1-inch guns at the enemy planes; but, despite this and fire from the other escorts, the Type 97s dropped six torpedoes into the water on the carrier's port beam. Yorktown maneuvered radically to avoid the "fish," but two of them struck home, tearing into her side and throwing a huge column of water upwards.
Balch; along with Benham (DD-397), Russell (DD-414), and Anderson (DD-411) quickly formed an antisubmarine screen around Yorktown. When the carrier signaled "abandon ship" just before 1700, Balch closed her to pick up survivors. The destroyer's motor whaleboat towed some 550 men to the waiting warships while others of Balch's crew swam buoyed lines out to rafts and to individual survivors in the water. In all, Balch took on board 545 officers and enlisted men from Yorktown. The following day, all of the survivors transferred to Portland (CA-33) and Astoria (CA-34).
On the 6th, since the carrier stubbornly remained afloat, Balch helped transfer repair parties to the damaged Yorktown. Before the carrier could be saved, however, Japanese submarine I-58 crept through the destroyer screen and fired four torpedoes at Balch and Yorktown. The destroyer went full speed ahead, hard right rudder, and combed the tracks. Yorktown and Hammann (DD-412) were not so lucky. One torpedo broke the destroyer in half, and two others plowed into the carrier. Fleet tug (former minesweeper) Vireo (AT-144) closed to rescue survivors while Balch and the remaining four destroyers carried out a futile hunt for the submarine. After the carrier sank the following morning, Balch rendezvoused with TF-16 for three days of screen operations. The task force turned for Oahu on the 11th, reaching Pearl Harbor on 13 June.
Balch remained in port, taking on stores and receiving minor repairs, for just over four weeks. On the morning of 15 July, she departed Pearl Harbor in the screen of TF-16, built around Enterprise. The force sailed southwest, joined the Saratoga task force, and began preparing for the invasion of Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands. Balch screened the carriers as they launched air strikes to support the initial Marine Corps landings on 7 and 8 August and continued that support near Guadalcanal until withdrawing with the carriers on the 9th. Balch remained in the screen, replenishing as needed, while the task force operated east of the Solomons.
On 23 August, American reconnaissance planes spotted a Japanese convoy of six transports and seven escorts heading for Guadalcanal. Unconcerned because intelligence gave no hint of the presence of Japanese carriers, Enterprise and Saratoga launched attack planes to hunt down the troop transports. These planes failed to make contact because the convoy, aware it had been sighted, turned back. The next day, however, sighting reports indicated enemy carriers might be nearby. American naval aircraft flying out of Henderson Field on Guadalcanal confirmed this fact when they found and sank the Japanese light carrier Ryujo. Reports of more enemy warships trickled in all day while two nearby enemy "snoopers" fell victim to American fighters. A third Japanese search plane appeared near TF-16 at 1338 but, unlike the previous pair, it got off a spotting report before being shot down.
A little over an hour later, the Japanese carriers Shokaku and Zuikaku launched bombers and fighters to attack the Americans. Warned by radar at 1602, American "Wildcats" intercepted the Japanese planes but failed to disrupt the strike. At 1640, an estimated 18 Aichi D3A1 Type 99 carrier bombers flew in from the north-northwest. Over the next 11 minutes, Balch fired all her guns, contributing to the heavy barrage put up over Enterprise, and her gunners claimed to have shot down two of the 10 bombers splashed by fighters and gunfire. Despite the intense antiaircraft fire, however, the carrier took three bomb hits, and a fourth missed her close aboard. On the 25th, the force refueled northwest of Espiritu Santo and retired east for to refit.
Five days later, the task force anchored at Nukualofa Harbor, Tongatabu. Underway again on 3 September, TF-16 steamed northeast for Pearl Harbor, arriving there on the 10th for much needed repairs. Balch spent the next two months conducting exercises out of Pearl Harbor, screening battleships, carrying out night tactical exercises, and practicing radar tracking and firing drills.
On 12 November, Balch sailed for the South Pacific, this time in TF-11. After "crossing the line" on the 17th, the warships moored at Viti Levu, Fiji, on the 22nd. Returning to sea again on 1 December, the force stopped at Noumea, New Caledonia, on the 5th. There, Balch reported for escort duty with the battleships of TF-64. Throughout December 1942 and into January 1943, she operated out of Noumea, screening Washington (BB-56), North Carolina (BB-55) and the occasional aircraft carrier, as American naval forces supported the Army and Marine Corps mopping up enemy forces on Guadalcanal. In February and March, Balch was assigned to convoy duty, accompanying supply ships from Suva to Noumea, or Espiritu Santo, and on to Guadalcanal. Finally, on 7 April, the destroyer joined Wichita (CA-45) for the voyage to Pearl Harbor, where they arrived a week later.
She spent little time in Hawaii, however, for she soon headed to Alaskan waters where American forces were preparing to counterattack Japanese troops on two Aleutian Islands. As part of Task Group (TG) 52.10, Balch departed Pearl Harbor for Adak, Alaska, on 18 April, reaching her destination a week later. The destroyer then joined Wichita and Louisville (CA-28) for an offensive sweep to the west and northwest of Japanese-occupied Attu. The group encountered no enemy ships but did suffer the foul weather, rough seas, and dense fog that plague operations near the Arctic. Returning to Adak on the 26th, the warships began preparations for Operation "Landcrab," the liberation of Attu, set for early May.
Underway on 4 May as part of the Northern Covering Group (TG 16.7), Balch cruised to the northwest of Attu while Army troops landed on Attu on the 11th. The covering force guarded against any Japanese moves north, it was known three carriers were at Tokyo, and screened the battleships New Mexico (BB-40) and Nevada (BB-36) while the Army secured Attu. After a brief stop at Adak on 19 June, the destroyer escorted a convoy southeast to San Francisco, arriving at that busy port on the 28th.
Entering drydock soon afterward, Balch received some improvements to her armament and related equipment. More had been planned, but shortages of equipment limited her modernization. She kept her twin 5-inch mounts, but 10 40-millimeter, in a single quadruple mount and three twin mounts, and six 20-millimeter guns replaced her old antiaircraft defenses. A main-battery radar installation significantly improved her surface gunnery capability, but no antiaircraft radar was available. These limited alterations still took close to two months, and it was not until late August that post-repair sea trials and radar-calibration gunnery drills could be conducted at sea.
Finally headed back to the war, the destroyer got underway for New Caledonia on 8 September and arrived in Noumea on the 25th just as American forces began to push up the slot to New Georgia and Santa Isabel. Balch, however, drew disappointing duty escorting supply convoys between the New Hebrides and the lower Solomon Islands. This unglamourous, but essential, task lasted until damage to her starboard main reduction gear sent her to Espiritu Santo for repairs. Moored adjacent to Dixie (AD-14) on 10 January 1944, the warship remained immobilized until 13 February. Finished with final repairs on 1 March, she spent the next two weeks in hurried preparation for offensive operations.
On 15 March, Balch departed Efate in company with New Mexico, Manila Bay (CVE-61), Natoma Bay (CVE-62), and three other destroyers. After joining other elements of TG 36.3, Balch screened the two carriers as they provided air cover for the bombardment of Kavieng, New Ireland, and the 20 March landings on Emirau Island. The group then covered convoys operating in the area for several days before picking up a convoy at Florida Island and escorting it back to Efate. Balch then performed local convoy duties until 24 April when she escorted three battleships to Sydney, Australia, for recreation and necessary overhauls.
Departing Australia on 6 May, Balch returned to Efate on the 10th. There, she refueled and headed for New Guinea, where Army troops were busy fighting Japanese garrisons along the northern coast. Assigned to the 7th Fleet Amphibious Force for temporary duty, the destroyer loaded high explosive and white phosphorous ammunition at Hollandia and headed to the Wakde-Sarmi area on the 25th. Over the next two days, Balch fired 495 5-inch rounds in support of Army troops ashore, at times closing to point blank range and sweeping the beach with 40-millimeter and 20-millimeter fire.
On 28 May, the destroyer joined a convoy of fully loaded LSTs and escorted them to Biak Island, where Balch added her guns to the battle ashore. She fired on Japanese beach positions on the 30th before herding the now empty LSTs back to Humboldt Bay, New Guinea. After escorting another convoy to Biak on 3 June, Balch sailed for Seeadler Harbor on Manus in the Admiralty Islands on the 9th. Moving on to Espiritu Santo five days later, the destroyer received orders there to the east coast. The Porter-class destroyers, large but considerably inferior in antiair capability compared to later designs, were being transferred to the Atlantic. There, they were to replace the Coast Guard's Secretary-class cutters which were serving as convoy flagships, while the cutters themselves became amphibious command ships.
Balch, in company with Warrington (DD-383), got underway for the Canal Zone on 19 June. After a refueling stop at Bora Bora, the warships proceeded through the canal on 8 July, mooring at the New York Navy Yard on the 15th. Over the next two weeks, Balch received high frequency, direction finding (HF/DF) equipment (essential for tracking down U-boat radio transmissions) and a Coast Guard flag officer, with staff. After loading depth charges, the destroyer-turned-convoy leader steamed south to Norfolk and her first transatlantic voyage.
Departing Norfolk on 2 August, Balch and 12 other escorts led a 67-ship slow convoy across the Atlantic to the Mediterranean. The crossing was uneventful and, after detaching ships at various North African ports, Balch moored at Bizerte, Tunisia, on the 23rd. A return convoy departed on 31 August and, despite some tense moments when Balch dropped a full pattern of depth charges on a suspected contact on 2 September, the destroyer arrived at the Boston Navy Yard on the 18th without any other incidents. After voyage repairs at the yard, she sailed south to Norfolk on 4 October. Upon arrival on the 9th, however, Balch grounded on a mud bank alongside a pier. Damage to the sonar dome kept her in port while repairs were made the following day.
Balch got underway again on 11 October, joined the screen of another slow convoy, this time of 89 cargo ships and six escorts, and set course for Gibraltar. After dropping off ships at various North African ports, Balch handed over 62 ships to British escorts off Bizerte and turned to anchor in that port on 2 November. While proceeding to anchor, however, Balch touched bottom and damaged her screws, forcing her to steam to Oran, Algeria, for repairs. Completing that work on the 11th, the warship steamed west at high speed to overtake the homeward-bound convoy. Catching up just outside the Strait of Gibraltar on the 12th, the warship shepherded the convoy home, arriving at the Boston Navy Yard on 30 November.
Over the next five months, Balch escorted three more convoys to the Mediterranean, delivering ships from New York and Hampton Roads to Mers-el-Kebir, Algeria, where the merchantmen went on to destinations in southern France and Italy. All three voyages, conducted between 13 December 1944 and 23 May 1945, passed without incident. While waiting for convoys to form at either end of this logistical pipeline, Balch spent her time conducting gunnery exercises and sonar tracking drills with, at different times, Bonita (SS-165), Marlin (SS-205), the pro-Allied Italian submarine Onice, and the French submarine Archimède. The war in Europe ended while Balch was returning to the United States in May, and she moored at the New York Navy Yard on 23 May 1945.
The destroyer underwent routine yard upkeep until 14 June when she set out for Philadelphia. Mooring at the Cramp shipyard on the 22nd, she prepared for "maximum material improvement" overhaul, the installation of dual-purpose 5-inch guns and new mounts. On 15 August, however, in the midst of the yard work, orders came putting all armament modernization plans on hold because of the war's end. Balch left the shipyard on 31 August and, following an inspection on 18 September, was slated for deactivation. The warship was decommissioned at Philadelphia, Pa., on 19 October 1945; and her name was struck from the Navy list on 1 November 1945. She was scrapped in early 1946.
Balch earned six battle stars for her World War II service.
Timothy L. Francis
15 December 2005