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Buchanan I (Destroyer No. 131)


Franklin Buchanan, born at “Auchentorlie,” in Baltimore, Md., on 17 September 1800, was appointed a midshipman in the Navy on 28 January 1815 and initially served in the frigate Java under Capt. Oliver Hazard Perry. After tours of duty in a succession of ships, mostly in the Mediterranean, Buchanan obtained permission from the Navy Department to enter the merchant service and worked for five years as a mate in a merchantman on a voyage to China. Following that interval, Buchanan returned to the Navy and spent the next six years in a series of ships engaged in the suppression of piracy in the West Indies. Having been appointed a lieutenant on 13 January 1825, Buchanan delivered the frigate Baltimore to the Emperor of Brazil the following July.

Following another Mediterranean cruise in the frigate Constellation, he then served as first lieutenant in the ship-of-the-line Delaware, which bore the United States minister to France, Edward Livingston, to his diplomatic post; and Buchanan was among the officers invited to dine with King Louis Philippe.

Buchanan then went ashore post at the Philadelphia Navy Yard to perform duty involving the testing of cannon after which service he commanded the receiving ship at Baltimore. He joined the frigate Constitution in April 1839 and sailed for the Pacific where he later served on board the sloop Falmouth. Buchanan returned home to the United States in June 1840. Promoted to the rank of commander on 8 September 1841, he received command of the steam frigate Mississippi. Shortly thereafter, however, he was transferred to command of the sloop Vincennes in which he spent almost two years hunting slave traders and pirates.

Secretary of the Navy George Bancroft had ordered Buchanan to submit a plan for organizing a new naval school at Annapolis, and on 14 August 1845, he was appointed the first superintendent of what would become the United States Naval Academy. He occupied that post from the school's formal opening on 10 October 1845 until 2 March 1847. In establishing the academy's high standards of discipline and efficiency, Buchanan earned Bancroft's praise for his "precision and sound judgment," and his "wise adaptation of simple and moderate means to a great end...."

His application for active service in the Mexican War accepted, Buchanan commanded the sloop Germantown, which, during his time in command, participated in the operations against Tuxpan on 18 April 1847 and at Tabasco on 16 June 1847. After another tour ashore, this time in Baltimore, Buchanan took command of the steam frigate Susequehanna, which he commanded when she served as flagship for Commodore Matthew Calbraith Perry's expedition to Japan.

Made a member of the Board of Officers to Promote Efficiency in the Navy on his return from Japan, Buchanan soon thereafter became commandant of the Washington Navy Yard. On 14 September 1855, he received promotion to the rank of captain. He was holding that rank when, under the impression that Maryland would secede from the Union, he submitted his resignation from the Navy on 22 April 1861. Soon convinced that North and South could achieve a reconciliation, however, he wrote the Navy Department asking to withdraw his resignation. Nevertheless, Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles dismissed Buchanan from the service on 14 May 1861.

Appointed a captain in the Confederate Navy on 5 September 1861, Buchanan served as the Chief of the Bureau of Orders and Detail until 24 February 1862, when he assumed command of the Chesapeake Bay Squadron. Flying his pennant in ironclad CSS Virginia, Buchanan surprised a Union squadron in Hampton Roads on 8 March 1862. Virginia destroyed the frigate Congress, the sloop Cumberland, and three smaller steamers. Late in the action, Capt. Buchanan, enraged at Union troops who violated naval etiquette by firing on his men when they tried to take the surrender of Congress, went topside to return the fire with a Sharps carbine, but a Union sharpshooter’s Minié ball shattered his left thigh. The wound prevented him from exercising command the following day when Virginia met the Union ironclad Monitor in Hampton Roads.

Commended nonetheless for his "gallant and meritorious conduct," Buchanan was promoted to rear admiral on 26 August 1862. Thus becoming the ranking officer in the Confederate States Navy, he was given command of the South's naval forces at Mobile Bay. Wearing his flag in the ironclad ram Tennessee, Rear Admiral Buchanan led a daring single-ship attack against Rear Admiral David Glasgow Farragut's entire squadron in the Battle of Mobile Bay on 5 August 1864 after all his other ships had been either captured or driven off. Damage to his flagship compelled Buchanan, who had again been seriously wounded, to surrender. He remained a prisoner of war until exchanged in February 1865.

Returning to his home in Maryland's Talbot County, "The Rest," after the war, he later became president of the Maryland Agricultural College (later the University of Maryland) in September 1868. He remained in that post until June 1869, after which time he served as secretary of the Alabama branch of the Life Insurance Company of America. After about a year in that line of work, he once again returned to "The Rest," where he ultimately died on 11 May 1874.


The first Buchanan (Destroyer No. 131) was laid down on 29 June 1918 at Bath, Maine, by Bath Iron Works; launched on 2 January 1919; sponsored by Mrs. Charles P. Wetherbee; and commissioned at the Boston [Mass.]Navy Yard on 20 January 1919, Lt. Roy Pfaff temporarily in command. Lt. Comdr. Howard H. J. Benson assumed command on 27 January 1919.

After fitting out, the new destroyer set out on 31 January 1919 for Newport, R.I., where she calibrated her radio compasses before sailing for Cuba on 1 February. Reaching Guantanamo Bay early on the 5th, she sailed thence to Guacanayabo Bay where she joined her assigned unit, Division 18, Destroyer Squadrons, Atlantic Fleet. Buchanan remained in Cuban waters until 5 April 1919 operating out of Guantanamo and Guacanayabo with the fleet as it concentrated there for winter maneuvers. During this time, she alternated in-port upkeep periods with underway training in gunnery and torpedo-firing. On 9 April, Buchanan sailed north with the fleet as it headed for rest and recreation at New York after its winter maneuvers. Dropping anchor in the North River on the 14th, the destroyer remained there until the early on 1 May when she got underway with Upshur (Destroyer No. 144), bound for Newport, R.I.

Pausing there only a few days, Buchanan then joined her five sisters in Division 13 in sailing for Newfoundland on 5 May 1919 to serve as plane guards for the transatlantic flight of four Navy Curtiss (NC) flying boats. After a trip featuring icebergs and foul, snowy weather, Buchanan arrived at the flight's starting point in Trepassy Bay on the 7th. The warship stood out of the bay on the 9th, reached her station on the 11th, and anchored there on the 13th. A medical emergency on board, however, compelled her to quit her station on the 15th to carry a sick sailor into Trepassy Bay for treatment on board Prairie. The destroyer headed back to her assignment that same afternoon and anchored on station early in the forenoon watch on the 16th.

She remained there into the evening watch, then got underway at 2014, and finally stopped at her assigned spot along the flight path at 2055. At 2108, she turned on "searchlights and all deck and special lights" and, between 2115 and 2130, fired starshell into the sky. After Buchanan started ahead at one-third speed, NC-4 passed by to starboard at 2133 and NC-3 did so a minute later. When NC-1 flew by to port at 2145, Buchanan exchanged calls with her by Aldis lamp. Soon thereafter, her role in the flight completed, the destroyer set course to return to Newport, arriving early on 19 May. Buchanan stayed there until the 27th when she put to sea for a brief visit to Boston followed by a return to Newport. Between 2 and 10 June, she made a round-trip voyage from Newport to Annapolis, Md., and back. Four days after her return, Buchanan headed for the New York Navy Yard, arriving that same day.

Departing the yard on 2 July 1919, Buchanan anchored in the North River, where she spent the next six days. Underway at 0512 on 8 July, the destroyer dropped anchor off New York's 35th Street where Rear Adm. Charles P. Plunkett, the Commander, Destroyer Force, Atlantic Fleet, and his flag lieutenant came on board. At 0728, the submarine chaser, SC-27, then came alongside bringing a distinguished group of passengers to the destroyer: Vice President Thomas Riley Marshall, several cabinet members, two congressmen and other dignitaries. Soon after the submarine chaser cast off, the destroyer got underway for Staten Island. Arriving off Tompkinsville just after 0800, Buchanan stopped near Pennsylvania (Battleship No. 38), and her passengers made the short trip to the battleship in SC-234. The destroyer then steamed out and met President Woodrow Wilson on his return from the Paris Peace Conference in the troop transport George Washington (Id. No. 3018).

On 14 July, Buchanan left New York for the west coast. After stopping at Hampton Roads, Va, from the 15th to the 19th, she continued her voyage, transiting the Panama Canal on 24 July. Buchanan then proceeded north by way of Acapulco, Mexico, on her way to join the fleet off Coronado Island. She operated in California waters--first off Avalon, then at Santa Cruz, Monterey, Bolinas Bay, and Oakland--into September. Buchanan was among the ships reviewed by Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels off the Golden Gate on 1 September 1919 before she moved north to Port Angeles, Wash., arriving there on 11 September. There in Puget Sound, she took part in two more reviews--one by President Wilson on 13 September and another by Secretary Daniels on 15 September--before heading back to California waters.

Following her return south, Buchanan operated out of San Diego, San Pedro, and near Coronado on divisional and flotilla tactical exercises until early February 1920. On two occasions in January, however, she interrupted this routine to search for lost or wrecked seaplanes. Then, on 9 February 1920, Buchanan was placed in rotating reserve at San Diego. Later, at the end of April, she and Wickes (DD-75) steamed to the Mare Island Navy Yard for overhaul. Not long thereafter, the Navy adopted the alphanumeric system of ship classification and identification, and Buchanan was designated DD-131 on 17 July 1920. For almost two years, the warship operated along the west coast with a reduced complement until decommissioned at San Diego on 7 June 1922.

Buchanan remained in reserve nearly eight years. In 1929, however, the Navy discovered that nearly 60% of its active destroyers, those equipped with Yarrow boilers, had become worn out beyond economical repair in just a decade. With a plentiful supply of non-Yarrow-equipped flushdeckers available in the reserve fleet but with no funds to prepare them to return to active service, the Destroyer Force itself embarked on one of the more massive applications of the concept of ship's-company repairs. The worn-out ships pulled into port at the locations of the reserve fleets, either at Philadelphia or at San Diego, where the best preserved inactive flushdeckers were selected, towed out and tied up alongside piers opposite the destroyers they were to replace. Then, the decommissioning destroyers’ crewmen, with some help from navy yard workers and destroyer tender crews, carried out the necessary refurbishment and repairs, transferring whatever they needed from the old ships to the new ones. Buchanan was selected to replace Somers (DD-301), and the sprucing-up process and equipment transfer took place late in 1929. On 10 April 1930, Somers was decommissioned at San Diego. Immediately thereafter, the crew moved across to Buchanan which ship was placed back in commission that same day, Cmdr. Frank T. Leighton in command.

Following an overhaul at Mare Island between 6 May and 11 July 1930, the warship resumed operations with the Battle Force, operating out of San Diego. Over the next six months, the destroyer participated in tactical evolutions such as short-range and long-range battle practices, torpedo maneuvers, day spotting exercises, and depth-charge drills. She carried out this varied schedule in areas ranging from San Diego to Coronado and San Clemente and punctuated the training with periods of upkeep. In mid-January 1931, Buchanan began two months of repairs and alterations at the Puget Sound Navy Yard, returning to her home port on 16 March.

After a trip to Baja Point, Mexico, late in March 1931 to assist the stranded U.S. steamer El Capitan, Buchanan resumed duty with the Battle Fleet as it concentrated off San Diego for tactical drills. Over the next three months she plied the waters along the southern California coast, punctuating the tactical work with service as plane guard for Saratoga (CV-3) and assignments with the Battle Force's Aircraft Squadrons. On 31 July, Buchanan moored at San Diego and embarked naval reservists for whom she conducted a two-week training cruise during which she visited San Clemente Island, San Francisco, and Coronado Roads.

Normal west coast operations occupied the destroyer until the end of January 1932, at which point she sailed for Hawaiian waters. Reaching Lahaina Roads, off the island of Maui, on 13 February, Buchanan participated in Army-Navy Grand Joint Exercise No.4 until 19 February, after which she visited the port of Kahului between 19 and 23 February for George Washington's Birthday. Returning to Lahaina, she served briefly as radio relay vessel for battleships and then joined in Fleet Problem XIII, the annual fleet concentration which featured practice in tactics for strategic scouting, tracking, attack, and defense of convoys in its 1932 edition. Ships of the Battle Force comprised one antagonist, and units of an augmented Scouting Force made up the other. Following those exercises, which took place between Hawaii and the west coast, Buchanan returned to San Diego on 22 March 1932.

The destroyer then operated locally in the familiar waters off the southern California coast into July, also visiting Crescent City, Calif., for the Independence Day celebration. From there, she moved on to Port Angeles, arriving on 8 July to rendezvous with Destroyer Squadron (DesRon) 2. For the balance of July, Buchanan carried out division tactics and shiphandling exercises in the Pacific Northwest, operating out of Port Angeles, Tacoma, and the Puget Sound Navy Yard. Sailing from Port Angeles on 28 July, she entered the Mare Island Navy Yard on the 30th for repairs and alterations.

Following her post-repair trials, Buchanan departed Mare Island on 2 February 1933 and arrived back at San Diego on the 4th. She remained there only until the 9th, however, when she sailed to participate in Fleet Problem XIV, the large-scale exercises that took place between Hawaii and the west coast of the United States. During that problem, the Battle Force, accompanied by some submarines, "fought" the Scouting Force augmented by aircraft carriers, in an effort to practice and to refine the techniques involved in conducting and repelling carrier-based air raids. Completing her part in Fleet Problem XIV, Buchanan put into San Francisco for leave and recreation and then resumed local operations. Gunnery exercises, day battle practices and other tactical maneuvers, all carried out in the familiar waters adjacent to southern California, kept her occupied for the next several months.

Following tender upkeep alongside Altair between 17 and 28 June 1933, Buchanan made a liberty call at San Francisco over the July 4th holiday. Returning to sea on 6 July, the destroyer steamed to Portland, Oreg., arriving there on the 11th. She plied the waters of the Pacific Northwest through the end of July, punctuating these local evolutions with visits to Portland, Seattle, Tacoma, and Port Angeles. Returning to San Diego via San Francisco, Buchanan resumed operations out of her home port late in August. For the remainder of 1933, the warship operated principally between San Diego and San Pedro, taking the occasional excursion to Pyramid Cove, San Clemente, and Coronado Roads. During that time, she also provided services for Aircraft Squadrons, Battle Fleet, and planeguarded for local carrier operations.

Buchanan continued operations out of San Diego through March of 1934. Then, getting underway on 9 April, she sailed with the fleet for the West Indies. Entering the canal on the 24th, the destroyer reached Cristobal the next day. She remained there until 5 May when she sailed for Culebra Island, near Puerto Rico. She exercised with the fleet until the middle of May, at which point she headed back to the west coast. Retransiting the canal on the 22nd, Buchanan then departed Balboa on the 24th bound for home.

The warship arrived in San Diego on 1 June 1934 but remained in southern California waters for less than a month. Departing her home port on 20 June, she arrived at San Francisco the next day and embarked Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) midshipmen. After a brief call at Bremerton, Wash., Buchanan embarked upon a cruise to Alaskan waters during which she visited a succession of ports. On her return voyage, she added Swanson Bay, British Columbia; Port Townsend, Wash.; and a repeat call at Bremerton to her itinerary down the west coast. The destroyer stopped at Oakland on 11 and 12 July to disembark the midshipmen and then returned to San Diego on 13 July. Consigned to the Rotating Reserve on the 14th, Buchanan remained relatively inactive until 19 December 1934 when she received a complete crew and resumed an active training schedule with the Battle Force. Operations along the west coast kept her busy until late April 1935 when she left California waters for Hawaii and Fleet Problem XVI. She returned to the west coast from the annual exercise six weeks later, arriving back in San Diego on 10 June.

Shifting to Stockton, Calif., for Independence Day observances, Buchanan then called at San Francisco before sailing up the west coast to Seattle, where she underwent a tender overhaul alongside Altair from 13 July to 2 August 1935. After a visit to Port Angeles, she then started back to southern California, conducting tactical exercises along the way and stopping at San Francisco for Harbor Day festivities on 8 August. Buchanan finally returned to San Diego on 19 August; and, over the next several months, the destroyer operated from her home port with the usual periods of upkeep punctuating a busy schedule of tactical exercises, battle practices, and the like. On the other hand, her participation in camouflage tests conducted between 18 and 30 November 1935 for the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) added an unusual note to her otherwise routine activities that fall. Known affectionately as the "spotted dog division," Buchanan, Aaron Ward (DD-132), Hale (DD-133), and Crowninshield (DD-134) each wore experimental paint schemes for the NRL tests before resuming normal operations in the more familiar number five Navy gray.

Buchanan opened the year 1936 completing overhaul at San Diego but soon returned to duty along the west coast, acting as plane guard for Saratoga and serving as reference vessel for experimental firing practices by Tennessee (BB-43) and California (BB-44). Departing San Diego on 27 April 1936, the destroyer reached Balboa on 8 May to participate in Fleet Problem XVII. At the end of those exercises, Buchanan left the Canal Zone on 25 May and entered San Diego on 6 June. She lingered there only four days, however, before making the trip to the Mare Island Navy Yard on the 10th and the 11th. Early in August, after nearly two months of repairs, the warship returned south to San Diego and resumed her training schedule with the Battle Force. On 12 November, Buchanan interrupted that routine briefly to support the festivities attending the opening of the Golden Gate Bridge at San Francisco. She served as plane guard for Saratoga, Lexington (CV-2), and Ranger (CV-4) whose planes united in a mass flight over the bridge during the ceremonies. After that, she went back to normal operations out of San Diego until the spring of 1937. On 9 April 1937, Buchanan was decommissioned at the Destroyer Base, San Diego.

The warship's second time in reserve, however, proved to be far shorter than her first one had been. The outbreak of war in Europe on 1 September 1939 prompted President Franklin D. Roosevelt to order an immediate expansion of the Navy to meet the perceived danger. To carry out that policy, which also included the establishment of a Neutrality Patrol off the coast of the United States and in the West Indies, the Navy reactivated a large number of destroyers in the reserve fleet. Accordingly, Buchanan was recommissioned at San Diego on 30 September 1939, Lt. Jeane R. Clark in command.

After a preliminary outfitting, the destroyer got underway for Mare Island early on 25 October 1939 and arrived there late the next day accompanied by Aaron Ward. After work in drydock from 28 October to 2 November, Buchanan returned to San Diego on 17 November and joined her assigned unit, DesDiv 65 of DesRon 32. She remained there a little over a week and then set out for Panama early on 25 November in company with the DesRon 32 flagship, Lea (DD-118), and the rest of DesDiv 65, Aaron Ward, Hale and Crowninshield. The destroyer reached Balboa on 5 December and transited the Canal on the 7th. Buchanan sailing by way of Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and Charlotte Amalie in the Virgin Islands, she and her division mates reached San Juan, Puerto Rico, late on the 15th.

She remained there until 11 January 1940 when she and her division returned to sea in company with the small seaplane tender Thrush (AVP-3). Buchanan took part in drills and exercises with the division until ordered to her patrol station in Mona Passage. Sighting only one ship, a British coal carrier Losada, bound for Panama and Chile, during the tour, the destroyer concluded her first neutrality patrol at Charlotte Amalie on the 12th. After fueling, Buchanan went to sea again and stood guard near Barbados before proceeding back to Charlotte Amalie. Quickly moving on to San Juan, she left that port on 17 January bound for Guantanamo Bay in company with Hale. Crowninshield joined the pair at sea, and the trio reached their destination late the following day.

By then a unit of the Antilles Detachment, Buchanan left Cuban waters on 24 January 1940 bound for Cumana, Venezuela. In company with Decatur (DD-341), the DesRon 10 flagship, and the rest of her own division, Buchanan arrived at Cumana early on the 27th for rest and recreation. While Decatur and the other ships of DesDiv 65 got underway the next morning, Buchanan remained at Cumana until the afternoon when Venezuelan police returned two Buchanan sailors who had attempted to desert. The destroyer then rejoined her division at sea, and the unit proceeded to St. Eustatius, where it arrived on 2 February. On 6 February, Buchanan sailed for Guantanamo Bay in company with Aaron Ward. She received mail and provisions from the heavy cruiser Wichita (CA-45) en route and reached her destination on the 9th.

Buchanan remained at Guantanamo Bay until late on the 18th when the division sailed for a month of patrols in the Gulf of Mexico. Reaching her base at Galveston, Tex., on 22 February 1940, Buchanan remained in port until early on 4 March when she sailed for West Gulf Patrol duties. Arriving on station near the Mexican oil port of Tampico late on the 5th, she kept track of ship movements in the area until midday on the 8th. During that time, she intercepted only two ships, the Italian merchantman Recca, bound for New Orleans from Tampico, and Frontenac, on the last leg of a voyage from Oslo, Norway, to Tampico. Back at Galveston from the 9th, she got underway on the 17th for her second patrol off Tampico. Again, she encountered only neutrals, the Norwegian Pericles and the Greek-flagged Nicolaou Maria, on 19 and 20 March, before heading back to base. On the return to Galveston, she spoke the American tanker Fred W. Weller, en route from Houston to Corpus Christi, on the night of 20 March. The destroyer entered Galveston again early on the 21st.

Departing Texas coast on the 23rd, Buchanan reached Key West on the 25th and, two days later, sailed for New York with her division. Arriving at the New York Navy Yard early on the 31st, Buchanan carried out minor repairs and upkeep until 20 April 1940 when she headed back south to resume neutrality patrols in Florida waters. She stopped at the Philadelphia Navy Yard overnight on the 21st and 22nd and reached Norfolk on the 23nd. Her division then set a course for Key West, arriving there on the 27th.

For two weeks, Buchanan alternated periods in port for upkeep with underway training on the drill grounds off the Florida coast. Then, early on 20 May 1940, the destroyer sailed for Neutrality Patrol duties in the Yucatan Channel. During the ensuing week, the warship logged the passing of a dozen merchantmen. Afterward, Buchanan put in to Key West to fuel on 27 May and remained there for two weeks, leaving port only to conduct gunnery exercises on 11 and 12 June. At 1216 on 13 June, however, she got underway abruptly to rendezvous with patrol planes which had been shadowing a British cruiser. Buchanan sighted the ship and two planes at 1610, identifying the former as a "Town" class cruiser within the hour. She shadowed the ship into the following day, and noted the movement into the vicinity of what appeared to be an armed Royal Naval Reserve tanker, which fueled the cruiser off Gun Cay, British West Indies, late on the 14th. Buchanan trailed near Miami and observed another fueling on the 15th. Then, on the 16th, she turned responsibility for the British cruiser, HMS Diomede, over to Crowninshield and left the Florida Strait for Key West, arriving early on the 17th.

Gunnery exercises again occupied the ship over the ensuing days, before Neutrality Patrol duty again beckoned on the 24th. Once more operating in the Yucatan Channel, Buchanan recorded the movements of six merchantmen in as many days before putting back into Key West on the 30th. Late on 1 July 1940, the destroyer departed Key West to take part in the Independence Day celebration at St. Augustine, Fla. She reached her destination early on the 3rd, dressed ship at 0800 on the 4th, and held "general visiting" from 1300 to 1700. That night, she provided a searchlight display from 2030 to 2100. Underway for Key West on the 5th, she reached that port the next afternoon.

Buchanan returned to the Yucatan Channel for Neutrality Patrol duties on 8 July 1940, and over the next six days noted the passage of 13 merchantmen and the oiler Rapidan (AO-18) before returning to Key West on 15 July. Underway with DesDiv 65, the destroyer set out for Norfolk on 2 August and arrived there on the 6th. Then, for the balance of August, Buchanan performed a variety of missions in the Norfolk-Virginia capes area, taking part in division tactical evolutions, carrying out short range practice and division battle practice, operating on the Southern Drill Grounds, and punctuating the periods underway with brief calls at Norfolk for upkeep.

Leaving Norfolk early on 31 August 1940, Buchanan reached Philadelphia late the same day, shifting her berth early the following morning to the Navy Yard. While mooring, the destroyer backed into the dock and stripped off the port propeller guard, opening up a small hole in her side. Nevertheless, repairs by Prairie (AD-15) enabled the ship to sail for Boston, Mass., that afternoon as scheduled. Drydocked at the Boston Navy Yard on 4 September, she had her hull inspected below the waterline and a new propeller guard installed. Sailing in company with Welborn C. Wood (DD-195) and old division mate Crowninshield, she set out for Halifax, Nova Scotia, on 5 September, embarking upon her last voyage under the Stars and Stripes.

Buchanan and seven of her sisterships arrived at Halifax -- the first eight of what would ultimately be 50 transferred under the "Destroyers-for-Bases" agreement -- and anchored at noon on 6 September 1940, along with Russell (DD-414), in whom was embarked Capt. Ferdinand L. Reichmuth, Commander Destroyers, Atlantic Squadron) and the tender Denebola (AD-12). Three and a half hours later, a tender came alongside and disembarked Lt. Isaac William Trant Beloe, RN, the ship's prospective commanding officer, along with five other officers and 75 ratings, the British crews having arrived, as Prime Minister Winston Churchill put it, "by the long arm of coincindence" simultaneously with the U.S. destroyers they were to take over. Buchanan then conducted a brief orientation cruise for her new crew and returned to port to moor alongside Crowninshield. On 9 September 1940, Buchanan was decommissioned and turned over to the Royal Navy. Her name was stricken from the Navy list on 8 January 1941.

Renamed Campbeltown to honor towns in England and in Florida, the destroyer was assigned the pendant number I.42 and was allocated to the First "Town" Flotilla. Still wearing her Navy gray paint and her large white and black identification number, the warship reached Belfast, Ireland, on 26 September and Devonport, England, on the 29th. She was further assigned to the 7th Escort Group, based at Liverpool, to guard the Western Approaches to the British Isles.

Damaged in a collision at Liverpool on 3 December 1940, Campbeltown underwent repairs that lasted into March 1941. While still in the dockyard, she was provisionally allocated to the Royal Netherlands Navy, but "difficulties arose when the Dutch suggested renaming her Middelburg" since all of the other ships of the "Town" class bore names common to American and British (or, in the case of the Canadian Navy ships, Canadian) towns. Some of these localities had already "adopted" the ships. Eventually, Polish Navy sailors comprised a portion of Campbeltown's crew.

Once she returned to active service in early 1941, Campbeltown took her place guarding Atlantic convoys. On 3 August 1941, she was in the escort group steaming out to meet convoy SL-81 when the corvette HMS Hydrangea  (K.39) -- Lt. Joseph E. Woolfenden, RNR, comnmanding -- sank the German submarine U-401 (Kapitanleutnant Gero Zimnmermann). On 15 September 1941, Campbeltown rescued the survivors of the Norwegian motor tanker Vinga that had been sunk by air attack. On 25 January 1942, the destroyer's antiaircraft guns splashed a German plane believed to be laying mines.

While the destroyer worked to protect convoys from her Londonderry base, plans matured for a raid on the German-held French port at St. Nazaire. On 10 March 1942, Campbeltown arrived at Devonport to be modified to take part in the hazardous venture. During the next ten days, dockyard workmen replaced her four 4-inch guns with a 12-pounder light automatic gun and eight 20-millimeter guns. They also removed her depth-charge projectors and tracks, protected her bridge with armor plate and removed the two after stacks. The two forward stacks were then modified to resemble those of a German Möwe-class torpedo boat. In addition, workers fitted armored screens topside to shield the substantial force of commandos on deck.

The raid's two main objectives were the destruction of the only dry dock on the French Atlantic coast capable of handling the German battleship Tirpitz, the Normandie Dock which had been built expressly to service the huge French ocean liner of the same name, and of any one complete set of lock gates in order to render St. Nazaire susceptible to tides and therefore hindering its use as a base for U-boats. The plan called for Campbeltown, supported by a flotilla of armed motor launches and two motor torpedo boats, to ram the Normandie Dock gate. The 24 depth charges she carried near what remained of the foundation to her forward 4-inch mount were set to explode two and a half hours later, after the ship had been scuttled.

Intensive training for the raid took place in late March 1942; and Campbeltown, Lt. Cmdr. Stephen Halden Beattie, RN, commanding, sailed from Falmouth, England, on the afternoon of 26 March 1942 with only enough fuel and feed water for a one-way trip. After a successful passage, she began the final run-in just past midnight on 28 March; and the raiders remained largely undetected until 0122 on the 28th, when searchlights illuminated almost the entire force. Campbeltown worked up to 19 knots and headed straight for the lock gates under a withering, close-range fire. Her bow cleaved into the objective at 0134, and assault troops and demolition parties went ashore in the teeth of heavy opposition. Despite that stiff resistance, the men put ashore planted demolition charges that destroyed the withdrawing machinery for opening the caissons and the pumping machinery and severely  damaged the inner caisson.

At 1135, the four tons of explosives in Campbeltown's forecastle blew up, and the forward part of the ship disintegrated, putting the dock out of commission for the rest of the war and killing nearly 300 Germans. In recognition of his own bravery and for that of his crew, Lt. Cmdr. Beattie, though taken prisoner, received one of the five Victoria Crosses, Britain's highest combat decoration, awarded for the action.

Robert J. Cressman

25 November 2005

Published: Thu Sep 01 21:50:03 EDT 2016