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Bancroft II (Destroyer No. 256)


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


(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 (I.93) and commissioned in the Royal Canadian Navy, Lt. Cmdr. Hugh F. Pullen, 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 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, towed by the tug Peter Moran, to be scrapped by the Boston Iron & Metal Co. in July 1945, she sank as a result of a collision off Cape Cod, Mass., with the freighter Winding Gulf (Mystic Steamship Co.) .

Her former name, Bancroft, had been struck from the American Navy list on 8 January 1941.

Raymond A. Mann

Updated. Robert J. Cressman

18 April 2024

Published: Thu Apr 18 13:33:12 EDT 2024