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Bancroft II (Destroyer No. 256)


George Bancroft, born on 3 October 1800 at Worcester, Mass., graduated from Harvard University in 1817 and then studied at the University of Göttingen, Germany, where he received a doctorate in 1820. Upon his return to the United States, Bancroft tutored in Greek at Harvard for one year, but left when his foreign social and educational views clashed with those of the students and the faculty alike. He next attempted to publish a book of verse and then to establish a boy's school on the European model, but both ventures failed. In 1831, he began research for his famous History of the United States. He published the first volume in 1834; the second, along with a second edition of the first, in 1837; and the third in 1840. The first three volumes covered only the period of colonization. The success of the History was immediate, though some critics perceived the presence of a distinct bias in favor of Jacksonian democracy.

That predilection for the Democratic Party combined with the paucity of Democrats in staunchly Whig New England explains Bancroft's almost meteoric rise in the party ranks. He was a delegate to the party convention in 1844 and played an important role in the nomination of James K. Polk for the presidency. After Polk won election, he rewarded Bancroft by appointing him Secretary of the Navy. Though his term lasted only 18 months, Bancroft made significant contributions to the foundation upon which the Navy rests. Most notably, he established the Naval Academy at Annapolis, Md., and strongly supported the work of the Naval Observatory.

In 1846, Bancroft began his career as a diplomat when he went to London as United States minister to Great Britain. In addition to performing his duties as American minister, Bancroft continued research for his History, consulting European sources by then available to him. He returned to the United States in 1849 and concentrated upon his historical research and writing. Between 1852 and 1866, he issued six more volumes of the History carrying the work through the end of the American Revolution. Though initially skeptical about Abraham Lincoln's ability to handle the national dilemma brought on by secession and the Civil War, Bancroft quickly reversed his opinion and gave Lincoln all his support, both written and oral. He also enjoyed warm ties with Lincoln's vice president and successor, Andrew Johnson. That friendship brought Bancroft another diplomatic post in 1867 as United States minister in Berlin. There he witnessed the consolidation of Bismarck's Germany from the North German Confederation to the German Empire. He remained at that post until 1874.

Again, Bancroft did not let his diplomatic duties interrupt his historical research. The 10th and final volume of the History came out in 1874. Two years later, he published a revised edition of the entire work condensed to six volumes. In 1882, he issued the History of the Formulation of the Constitution of the United States. Finally, between 1883 and 1885, Bancroft published a final revision of the History in which he corrected many errors and softened some of the floridity of his prose. George Bancroft, truly the "Father of American History," died at Washington, D.C., on 17 January 1891. He was buried in his hometown, Worcester, Mass.


(Destroyer No. 256: displacement 1,215 (normal); length 314'4½"; beam 31'8"; draft 9'9 3/4" (aft); speed 35 knots; complement 120; armament 4 4-inch, 2 3-inch, 12 21-inch torpedo tubes; class Clemson)

The second Bancroft (Destroyer No. 256) was laid down on 4 November 1918 at Quincy, Mass., by the Bethlehem Shipbuilding Corp.; launched on 21 March 1919; sponsored by Miss Mary W. Bancroft; and commissioned on 30 June 1919, Lt. Cmdr. Harvey S. Haislip in command.

Upon commissioning, Bancroft conducted her shakedown cruise and then joined the Atlantic Fleet for normal training evolutions. However, in less than five months, she was placed in commission, in reserve. With a skeleton crew embarked for maintenance purposes, the destroyer remained in a state of semi active unreadiness for a little more than 30 months. She descended to complete inactivity on 11 July 1922 when she was decommissioned and berthed with the reserve fleet at Philadelphia. She remained there for more than 17 years.

On 1 September 1939, Germany ignited World War II with its invasion of Poland. On the 6th, President Franklin D. Roosevelt established a neutrality patrol to keep the war out of the western hemisphere. Since the patrols called for more warships than were then active with the Atlantic Squadron, Bancroft was refurbished and recommissioned on 18 December 1939, Lt. Ernest St. C. Von Kleeck, Jr., in command. Initially assigned to the West Gulf Patrol, based at Galveston, Tex., the destroyer continued that assignment for about nine months, to enforce the President's proclamation of United States' neutrality and to keep open warfare out of the western hemisphere.

After the fall of France early in the summer of 1940, many Americans President Roosevelt among them came to regard the maintenance of England's resistance as essential to American security. Accordingly, he sought ways to support the British war efforts. One of the measures he adopted was the trade exchanging 50 overage destroyers to the British Commonwealth in return for bases in the western hemisphere on British colonial soil. Bancroft was one of the destroyers chosen for the trade. She was decommissioned on 24 September 1940 at Halifax, Nova Scotia, and simultaneously transferred to the Royal Canadian Navy.

That same day, she was renamed HMCS St. Francis and commissioned in the Royal Canadian Navy, Lt. Cmdr. C. A. Rutherford, RCN, in command. During the remainder of the year, she operated out of Halifax completing her shakedown training and patrolling the western leg of the Halifax convoy routes. Her most notable mission during that time came after the 5 November attack on Convoy HX 84 by the German "pocket battleship," Admiral Scheer, that resulted in the sinking of five merchant ships and the armed merchant cruiser HMS Jervis Bay. St. Francis was among the numerous Commonwealth warships sent out in the fruitless search for the German raider.

On 15 January 1941, the destroyer departed Halifax on her way to the British Isles. She arrived in the Clyde estuary on the 26th and became a unit of the 4th Escort Group based at Greenock, Scotland. St. Francis escorted convoys into and out of the Clyde. On one occasion on 20 May 1941 she rescued the officers and crew of SS Starcross that took a torpedo from a German U-boat and sank far out at sea to the southwest of Britain.

Those duties lasted until July 1941 when she returned to North America as a unit of the Newfoundland Escort Force. For the next two years, St. Francis again patrolled the western legs of the North Atlantic convoy lanes. She made several attacks upon supposed submarine contacts but scored no confirmed kills. In June 1943, the destroyer again recrossed the Atlantic to Great Britain. She served in Escort Group C2 of the Western Approaches Command until August when she transferred to the Royal Canadian Navy's 9th Escort Group based at Londonderry in Northern Ireland. That assignment lasted only a few weeks for, in September, St. Francis returned to Halifax as a unit of the Western Local Escort Force. During a refit completed early in 1944, the warship's machinery was found to be so worn that she was declared unfit for service against the enemy. Thereafter, she was used as a training ship at Digby, Nova Scotia.

On 1 April 1945, St. Francis was declared surplus. On her way to Baltimore to be scrapped by the Boston Iron & Metal Co. in July 1945, she sank as a result of a collision off Cape Cod, Mass. Her former name, Bancroft, had been struck from the American Navy list on 8 January 1941.

Raymond A. Mann
2 March 2006

Published: Tue May 15 08:26:08 EDT 2018