James Buck was born at Baltimore, Md., in 1808 and enlisted in the Navy in 1852. He was awarded a Medal of Honor for his heroic service during the Civil War on board the steamer Brooklyn where, though severely wounded, he stood at the wheel for eight hours and steered the vessel during the engagement with Forts Jackson and St. Philip on the Mississippi River. He died in Baltimore on 1 November 1865.
(DD-420: displacement 1,570; length 348'3"; beam 36'1"; draft 17'4"; speed 37 knots; complement 257; armament 4 5-inch, 8 21-inch torpedo tubes; class Sims)
The second Buck (DD-420) was launched 22 May 1939 by Philadelphia Navy Yard; sponsored by Mrs. Julius C. Townsend, wife of Rear Adm. Julius C. Townsend, and commissioned on 15 May 1940, Lt. Cmdr. Horace C. Robison in command.
After shakedown training, Buck joined the Atlantic Fleet for a brief period before augmenting the Pacific Fleet from February until June 1941. On 1 July, as part of Task Force (TF) 19, Buck got underway for Argentia, Newfoundland, where she joined a convoy carrying the First Marine Brigade (Provisional) to Reykjavik, Iceland. After landing the marines there on 7 July, the destroyer began convoy escort duty between Iceland and the United States.
With the entry of the United States into World War II in December 1941, Buck continued to serve as a convoy escort, steaming from the seaports of the eastern United States to ports in Newfoundland, Iceland, Northern Ireland, North Africa, and the Caribbean. As a convoy escort warship, Buck screened ships from enemy attack, pursued unidentified surface and undewater contacts and shepherded merchantmen to keep them in formation while underway.
While escorting a convoy during a dense fog off Nova Scotia on 22 August 1942, Buck was struck starboard side aft by British transport Atwatea while trying to escort another vessel to her correct position in the convoy. The impact broke Buck's keel and sliced about two-thirds through the fantail. Seven sailors were killed in the collision. As the starboard propeller was wrecked, and the port propeller damaged, the destroyer maintained steerway only with difficulty as the crew tried to secure the fantail with lines and wires. When the port propeller fell off a few hours later, leaving the destroyer helpless, the fantail was cut loose since wave action was battering and chafing the hull. To make matters worse, as destroyer Ingraham (DD-444) closed to assist she was mortally damaged by a collision with oiler Chemung (AO-30). After rescuing the survivors from Ingraham, the oiler managed to take Buck under tow until relieved by Cherokee (AT-66). Buck reached Boston on the 26th, where she underwent repairs until November. Upon completion of yard work she returned to Atlantic convoy escort duty that winter, guarding convoys to European waters into June 1943, when she was ordered to the Mediterranean for patrol duty out of Tunisian and Algerian ports.
Assigned to the Western Naval Task Force on 8 July 1943, Buck performed bombardment, screening, and patrol duties during Operation Husky, the invasion of Sicily (10 July 1943). On 10 July, the destroyer escorted a landing convoy of tank landing craft (LCT) to the beach before retiring to escort follow-on convoys to Sicily. On 3 August, while escorting a convoy of six cargo ships from Sicily to Algeria, Buck spotted the Italian submarine Argento making a reconaissance patrol off the Sicilian coast. The destroyer pursued and forced the submarine to surface after three depth charge attacks. The Italians quickly abandoned ship under the destroyers' heavy gunfire and the submarine sank at 36°52' N., 12°08' E., with Buck taking 45 of her crew of 49 as prisoners.
After escorting a convoy back to the United States, the destroyer returned to the Mediterranean in late September 1943 in support of Operation Avalanche, the landings at Salerno, Italy. Following the landings, the destroyer patrolled off the coast to protect the delivery of reinforcements and supplies to southern Italy. While on patrol off Salerno on 9 October, Buck was ambushed just after midnight by German submarine U-616 and hit forward starboard by at least one and possibly two torpedoes. The warship flooded quickly, settling down forward and sinking within four minutes. Although most of the depth charges were set to safe before the destroyer was abandoned, a severe underwater explosion killed and wounded sailors in the water. Spotted by friendly aircraft the next morning, 97 survivors were rescued by Gleaves (DD-423) and the British LCT-170 the following evening.
Buck received three battle stars for her World War II service.
Interim Update Robert J. Cressman
10 November 2021