John Branch, born in Halifax, N.C., on 4 November 1782, graduated from the University of North Carolina in 1801. and, after studying law, entered politics in 1811. Although he then studied law, he never pursued that profession but entered politics instead. In 1811, the voters of Halifax County elected him to the North Carolina Senate where he won respect for integrity and ability. But for the period from 1817 to 1820 when he was the governor of North Carolina, Branch served in the state senate until sent to Washington in 1824 as a United States senator.
In 1829, President Andrew Jackson selected Branch to be his Secretary of the Navy. Although, on 8 December 1829, Jackson had characterized the Navy as "the best standing security of this country against foreign aggression" with a claim to "the especial attention of the government," the service did not benefit much during Branch's service as secretary, mostly as a result of the brevity of his tenure (just over two years). Nevertheless, Branch addressed a number of important issues, notably a complete overhaul for Navy regulations, the need for a naval academy, the call for an increase in officers' pay, the potential advantages to naval administration offered by the proposed bureau system, and the necessity of constructing steam-powered warships.
Ironically, while Branch carried out the duties of his cabinet post with "integrity and zeal" he lost that position because of social, not political, forces. The furor within Jackson's cabinet concerning the wife of Secretary of War John Eaton caused the entire cabinet to resign. Succeeded by Levi Woodbury as Secretary of the Navy on 12 May 1831, Branch returned to his home at Enfield, N.C., and to the life of a gentleman planter.
However, before the year ended, Branch returned to politics as a member of the United States House of Representatives, and the following year found him back in the state senate. In 1843, he was appointed governor of the Florida Territory, having moved there after acquiring substantial property in the territory in 1835. During his term as governor, Florida became a state. Returning to North Carolina in 1851 after the death of his first wife, Branch lived in retirement at Enfield until his death on 4 January 1863.
Destroyer No. 310, under construction on the west coast, was originally named Branch, but the name was transferred to Destroyer No. 197 in April 1919 in order to accommodate the sponsor who was unable to undertake the cross-country journey that would have been necessary. Destroyer No. 310 was finally renamed S. P. Lee (q.v.) on 12 May 1919.
(DD-197: dp. 1,215 (n.); l. 314'4½"; b. 30'11½"; dr. 9'4" (mean); s. 36.48 k.; cpl. 122; a. 4 4", 1 3", 12 21" tt., 3 .30-cal. Lewis mg.; cl. Clemson)
Branch (Destroyer No. 197) was laid down on 25 October 1918 at Newport News, Va., by the Newport News Shipbuilding & Drydock Co.; launched on 19 April 1919; sponsored by Miss Laurie O'Brien Branch; delivered to the Norfolk Navy Yard on 3 April 1920; designated DD-197 on 17 July 1920 when the Navy adopted the alphanumeric system of ship classification and identification; and commissioned on 26 July 1920, Comdr. Frank H. Roberts in command.
After fitting out at the Norfolk Navy Yard into the autumn, Branch, initially assigned to Squadron 3, Division 37, Destroyer Force, Atlantic Fleet, got underway for Annapolis, Md., on the morning of 13 October 1920 for a test of her engineering plant and returned to the Norfolk yard on the afternoon of the 18th. She remained there until 10 November, when she carried two companies of bluejackets to Richmond, Va., to take part in the Armistice Day parade on the 11th. She steamed back to Norfolk on the 12th and disembarked her passengers that evening.
Early on 4 December, an official welcoming party embarked in Branch for the short trip across Hampton Roads to Newport News to welcome President-elect and Mrs. Warren G. Harding home on their return from a post-election vacation in Panama. The destroyer then carried her distinguished passengers back across Hampton Roads to the Norfolk naval base where Mr. Harding reviewed and addressed some 10,000 sailors. Afterward the President-elect and his entourage reembarked in Branch at the nearby Army Supply Base for the short trip to the Norfolk Navy Yard, where they left her for the last time.
The destroyer began her full power trials on 15 December, but two of her boilers broke down when their brickwork buckled just two hours into the run. She returned to port later that day, moored alongside the tender Lebanon (AG-2) for repairs, and remained there for the rest of 1920.
After sailing south on the afternoon of 11 February 1921, in company with sisterships Clemson (DD-186) and Welborn C. Wood (DD-195), Branch reached Charleston, S.C., early on the 13th and moored in the Cooper River. She had towed Clemson the last leg of the voyage. Over the next few months, Branch, manned by only a half complement because of post-World War I budget cuts and reduced operating schedules, spent very little time underway, limiting her operations to brief cruises with the other ships of Squadron 3 on 2 March and on 19 April.
Weighing anchor on 10 May, Branch headed for New York City and entered the North River early on the 12th. The ship remained at New York City for the next few days while her men enjoyed leave and the city's great recreational opportunities. During that time, at 1605 on 23 May, her watch noted a "large fire" at the foot of 96th street, "apparently on U.S.S. Granite State." Branch's sailors did, indeed, witness the holocaust that consumed the former ship-of-the-line New Hampshire by then relegated to duty as the New York State Militia's training ship. Despite the fire-fighting efforts of a score of fire tugs, Granite State sank at her moorings later that day.
Getting underway for the Reserve Squadron's new operating base in Narragansett Bay on the last day of May, Branch reached Newport, R.I., later that day and spent much of the next two weeks moored there receiving minor alterations, air ports cut in the galley deckhouse by workmen from the tender Bridgeport (AD-10) on 2 June, and exercising her crew at gun stations and loading drills on 7 and 16 June. On 14 June, she conducted tactical exercises with other members of her squadron. Late in June, Branch operated briefly near the Virginia capes in evolutions that included work with the radio-controlled target ship, Coast Battleship No. 4 (ex-Iowa), in preparation for the aerial bomb tests carried out later that summer before returning to Narragansett Bay early on 1 July.
Branch remained moored for more than a fortnight before sailing on 19 July for squadron exercises, including rehearsals for competitive short-range battle practices in company with Abel P. Upshur (DD-193). Branch then shifted briefly to Melville, R.I., to fuel, before returning to Newport and further rehearsals in Narragansett Bay with Squadron 3 in preparation for competitive short-range battle practice. The destroyer completed those evolutions on 27 July and moored alongside Herndon (DD-198) at Newport. She again conducted gunnery exercises, this time in company with Herndon, on 29 July, before getting underway for New York City the next morning.
On 30 July, the destroyer embarked 10 reservists for two weeks of "active training" and returned to Newport on 1 August, after having conducted gunnery practice en route. A week later, Branch spent two days in battle practice near Block Island returning to Newport on the 9th. She again embarked reservists on 19 August and steamed to New York City in company with Pillsbury (DD-227) and Abel P. Upshur. Returning to Newport on 23 August, Branch put to sea again on 7 September to conduct torpedo practice. After laying out a range, she conducted the "real thing" a week later, firing her torpedoes in company with Abel P. Upshur on 14 September.
Branch departed Newport for the last time that year early on 30 September, bound once again for New York in company with Bridgeport and her squadron-mates. After more than a week in port at New York, Branch put to sea on 10 October on her way to the squadron's winter base at Charleston and arrived there the following morning. While the destroyer was in that port, her fire and rescue party helped to combat a blaze ashore at the Terminal Storehouses in Charleston. Underway for Hampton Roads on 19 November in company with Herndon, she arrived at the Norfolk Navy Yard two days later and spent the rest of the year there.
Branch returned to Charleston early in January 1922 and remained inactive there until 29 May when she sailed for Norfolk. Reaching her destination early on the 31st, she discharged her torpedo equipment and took on board the ammunition from her sister ship, Welborn C. Wood, for transportation to the Naval Ammunition Depot, Julien's Creek, Va. After discharging that and her own ammunition there on 1 June, Branch returned to Norfolk briefly before heading for Philadelphia on 5 June. Reaching that port the following afternoon, Branch spent the next two months preparing for decommissioning. On 11 August 1922, Branch was placed out of commission and laid up in reserve.
She remained on "Red Lead Row" for almost two decades. However, the pressing need for destroyers on the neutrality patrol that President Franklin D. Roosevelt instituted shortly after war broke out in Europe on 1 September 1939 brought Branch and 76 other destroyers and light minelayers back into service. She was recommissioned on 4 December 1939 at Philadelphia, Comdr. Dennis L. Ryan in command. The destroyer remained at the yard for the remainder of the year completing her outfitting. That task carried over well into the second week in January 1940, but she finally got underway again on the 13th, bound for Newport, R.I. However, she ran into heavy fog and had to anchor at 1130. Then, soon after she resumed the voyage some 11 hours later, she felt a "sharp impact," and her port shaft began to vibrate excessively. Forced back to the Philadelphia Navy Yard, Branch entered drydock on the 15th, and an inspection revealed damage to her port propeller. Workers from the yard apparently fixed the problem quickly because the destroyer left the dock the next day and set out for Yorktown, Va., early on the 16th. There, on the 17th, the warship took on board her allowance of depth charges and that of her division mate Mason (DD-191) before mooring at the naval operating base.
Branch departed Norfolk in company with Mason on 19 January on her way to patrol duty in the Florida Strait, and the two warships arrived in Key West early on the 22d. She sailed for her first neutrality patrol on the morning of the 29th but soon her port shaft began vibrating severely once again. Still, she carried out her duties as well as she could once she discovered the limits to her engineering plant's capabilities. She patrolled off the northern coast of Cuba and into the western part of the Florida Strait until 2 February.
On that day, Branch put into Key West before setting out for Philadelphia on the 3d. The destroyer arrived at the navy yard on 6 February and entered the drydock two days later. She rested on the keel blocks for the next two weeks with her port propeller, shaft, stern tube shaft, and coupling sleeves removed to the machine shop ashore. Branch left the dock on the 27th and shaped a course south the next morning, bound for Puerto Rico.
Reaching San Juan on 3 March, Branch remained there until the 7th when she got underway to patrol the waters south and southeast of Puerto Rico. She cruised off Tourmaline Reef and Mona Island over the next few days and communicated with Satterlee (DD-190) and the New Zealand-bound British merchant ship SSBactria on 9 and 10 March, respectively. Early on the 11th, she had two different encounters with British light cruisers. She only caught sight of the first one, but she managed to shadow the second one for some time before the cruiser displayed the extent of her pique at being shadowed by darkening ship and leavingB ranch in her wake. Branch then returned to the Mona Passage and resumed patrolling.
Branch put into San Juan for fuel on the following afternoon but, on the 18th, again began patrolling nearby waters. Over the next few days, the ship operated out of Rincon Bay, Vieques Sound, between St. Thomas and Inner Brass Islands and off the west coast of Puerto Rico, underway during the day and anchoring by night. Later, she also touched at Pillsbury Sound and Great Harbor, Culebra, before returning to San Juan the last day of March.
The destroyer set out for Hampton Roads on 13 April in company with Mason and reached the Norfolk Navy Yard on the 17th and remained there until 5 July when she sailed for the Delaware capes on 5 July. Joined en route by Mason, Satterlee, and Hunt (DD-194), she arrived at the Philadelphia Navy Yard the following day but returned to sea on the 9th on her way to the Southern Drill Grounds. The destroyer and her division mates conducted short range battle practice runs and tactical exercises on 10 and 11 July, en route to Hampton Roads. The warships continued such operations over the next few days, exercising during the day and anchoring in Hampton Roads at night. This training culminated in the official rehearsals on 22 July on the Southern Drill Grounds for the forthcoming battle practice.
Underway from Norfolk on 25 July, Branch reached Governor’s Bay the following morning, where she embarked 81 Brooklyn reservists for their yearly training cruise. Branch conducted this reserve training cruise from 27 July to 9 August, steaming to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and back. Arriving back in Governor's Bay on 9 August, Branch disembarked her reserve passengers.
Branch conducted two additional reserve training cruises. The first, from Philadelphia to the Southern Drill Grounds and back, took place between 16 August and 30 August 1940. On the second, she set out from Washington, D.C., on 7 September 1940, carrying reservists from the Washington, D.C., region on a cruise that took them to the Southern Drill Grounds and back as well. She returned them to the Washington Navy Yard on 20 September. During those cruises, the ship visited Miami and Key West in Florida. and Charleston, S.C.
After disembarking the second group of reservists, Branch sailed for Norfolk, mooring there the next morning. She spent a week in the Tidewater area before shaping a course north on the 29th. The next morning, Branch (accompanied by Satterlee, Hunt, and Mason) reached Newport, R.I. However, their days under the stars and stripes were then numbered due to the decision reached in August 1940, to transfer 50 "overage" destroyers to the British government in return for leases on base sites in the western hemisphere.
Underway for Canadian waters on the afternoon of 3 October, DesDiv 68 (Branch, Satterlee, Mason, and Hunt) reached Halifax, Nova Scotia, on the 5th. Rear Admiral Ferdinand L. Reichmuth, Commander, Destroyers, Atlantic Fleet, inspected Branch the next morning shortly before the British crew slated to man the destroyer reported on board. That afternoon, Branch conducted her last "voyage" under the stars and stripes as she took the British crew on an "indoctrination run." Branch was decommissioned on 8 October 1940 as part of the fourth of the six groups of destroyers turned over to the Royal Navy. Her name was struck from the Navy list on 8 January 1941.
Renamed HMS Beverley in of honor of towns in Yorkshire, England, and in the state of Massachusetts and assigned the pendant number H. 64, she was commissioned at Halifax on 8 October 1940, Comdr. E. F. Fitzgerald, RN, in command. The destroyer was assigned to the 3d “Town” Flotilla. She arrived at Belfast, Ireland, on 24 October 1940 and was soon “adopted” by the Welsh town of Merthyr Tydfil.
In 1941, during convoy screening operations in the Atlantic, the ship attacked U-boats on three occasions (each unsuccessfully) in March, June, and October. In between these operations on the high seas, she provided part of the escort for the 9th Motor Launch Flotilla on its voyage from Plymouth to Gibraltar and served a brief tour supporting Malta-bound convoys. In addition, on 19 July west of Gibraltar, she happened across the French freighter Isac dead in the water. She took that steamer, whose engine had been sabotaged, in tow until relieved by the fleet tug St. Day that took the crippled Frenchman into Gibraltar on 21 July.
In April 1942, after escorting Convoy PQ-14 to North Russia, HMS Beverley took part in an action reminiscent of those fought by her equally “over age” sister ships of the Asiatic Fleet against more modern antagonists. Convoy QP-11 set out from Kola Inlet, North Russia, on 28 April 1942. Its presence was detected by both U-boats and shadowing Luftwaffe aircraft the next day. The following afternoon, U-456 torpedoed the escort force flagship, light cruiser HMS Edinburgh that then needed two destroyers to remain behind for her protection.
Although suddenly deprived of three of its escorts, the convoy boldly continued on its course. At 0540 on 1 May, 150 miles west of Bear Island, four torpedo carrying Luftwaffe planes attacked, unsuccessfully. Indications were, too, that four U-boats were in the vicinity, necessitating frequent changes in course. Drifting ice, together with snow squalls that frequently reduced visibility to only two miles, were not all that added to the convoy's discomfort. Beverley, steaming on the port bow of the convoy, soon reported the startlingly near presence of three German destroyers: Herman Schoemann (Z-7), Z 24, and Z 25 apparently approaching under the cover of a snowstorm.
The four escorting destroyers opposing them were “aged,” with Beverley the oldest of the lot. In addition, there was the 1926-vintage HMS Amazon (D. 39), one of the first destroyers built for the Royal Navy after the end of World War I, and the 1930-vintage sisterships HMS Beagle (H. 30) and HMS Bulldog (H. 91). The screen commander, Comdr. E. Richmond, RN, was embarked in the latter. Between them, the ships, their surface batteries reduced to allow the fitting of more antisubmarine weapons, mounted three 4-inch and six 4.7-inch guns.
Richmond deployed his meager force with dash and courage. The three German destroyers attempted five times to drive off the more elderly escorts but, each time, met “a defiance worthy of Sir Richard Grenville.” Boldly and aggressively, the escorts reacted to each new thrust, ultimately forcing the Germans to withdraw in favor of an attack on the crippled Edinburgh, German destroyer Herman Schoemann met her fate in the ensuing melee. The four gallant British destroyers, meanwhile, had only lost one more ship in the convoy to the attacks by the German ships, and that to one torpedo fired from one of the enemy destroyers at 9,000 yards range. Richmond, having outfought the enemy’s “three of a kind” congratulated his captains, eliciting the response from one: “I should hate to play poker with you.” Convoy QP-11 reached a safe haven.
Beverley remained active on convoy-escort duties for the remainder of 1942. Late in the year, she encountered an adversary more destructive at times than enemy gunfire or torpedoes: winter seas. Eight days before Christmas 1942, Beverley limped into St. John’s, Newfoundland, with only five tons of fuel left in her bunkers, enough for just five hours steaming, after having battled a storm which some local hands considered as the “worst within human memory.”
Following voyage repairs, Beverley reentered the fray and, while escorting convoy SC-118 on 4 February 1943, teamed with HMS Vimy (D. 33) to track the German submarine U-187. Beverley and Vimy then subjected the undersea craft to repeated depth charge attacks that drove her to the surface where their gunfire summarily dispatched her. Later that day, the escorts teamed again, but did not duplicate their earlier success. This convoy reached Londonderry, Northern Ireland, on 10 February without further incident.
Beverley, considered “an experienced North Atlantic escort,” would soon see her finest hours in one of the most bitterly fought convoy actions of the entire Battle of the Atlantic: the defense of convoys HX-229 and SC-122. The former group of ships, 40-strong, had departed New York on 8 March 1943. Beverley, as part of escort group B4, joined on the 14th for the passage across the Atlantic. Two days later, HX-229 was in the same vicinity as the slower convoy, SC-122, thus presenting a “pack” of 40 U-boats with a large mass of merchant shipping in a confined area. The German submarines began their attacks on the 16th taking a toll that caused the Allies to fear that the enemy was coming very near to “disrupting communications between the New World and the Old.”
The Germans, however, would not get away totally unscathed. Beverley, having narrowly escaped destruction from torpedoes fired by U-616, her erratic, zig-zag course and high speed saving her, gave U-228 a severe depth charging which caused a small leak in the U-boat’s hull. The destroyer’s ASDIC then picked up another contact: U-530, commanded by Kapitänleutnant Kurt Lange, at 39 believed to be the “second oldest captain in the U-boat fleet,” and hunted her for over two hours, subjecting her to a depth charge barrage that knocked out lighting and caused leaks in the boat's pressure hull. Fortunately for the submarine, the sole Mark X depth charge, a one-ton torpedo-like affair nicknamed "Little Hector" that almost certainly would have given the coup de grace to the already wounded undersea raider, malfunctioned, the firing mechanism failing. Beverley subsequently lost contact with U-530, which then escaped, and depth-charged U-600 soon thereafter, but did not score a "kill."
Ultimately, HX-229 reached the British Isles, having lost a dozen ships. Convoy SC-122, in the same vicinity, had lost nine ships. All had been achieved at the cost of only one U-boat.
On her next voyage across the Atlantic, whilst escorting Convoy ON-176 some 360 miles southeast of Greenland, Beverley collided with the merchantman, SS Cairnvolona on 9 April 1943. The incident, occurring in "thick weather," severely handicapped the destroyer, crippling her ASDIC and degaussing gear. Two days later, U-188 chanced across her and torpedoed her. The old flushdecker went down quickly, leaving only four survivors. One hundred and thirty-nine men, including her commanding officer, went down with the ship.
Robert J. Cressman
13 December 2005