Gideon Welles, born on 1 July 1802 in Glastonbury, Conn., became editor and part-owner of the Hartford Times in 1826 and remained its editor until he resigned a decade later. Elected to the Connecticut legislature in 1827, he served until 1835, before he was thrice elected state comptroller, in 1835, 1842, and 1843. He served as the Hartford, Conn., postmaster from 1836 to 1841.
Welles was appointed chief of the Navy's Bureau of Provisions and Clothing in 1846. During his three years in that office, he acquired valuable administrative experience and made enduring friendships. After an unsuccessful bid in 1850 for a Senate seat, Welles devoted his energies and considerable talents as a journalist to the fight against slavery. He broke with the Democratic party over this burning issue and helped organize the Republican party in Connecticut. In 1856, Welles was defeated in a bid for the governorship; but he became a Republican national committeeman that year. Staunchly supporting President Abraham Lincoln's policies, Welles became Lincoln's Secretary of the Navy on 7 March 1861.
At the onset of the Civil War in the spring of 1861, the Union Navy was in poor shape, with its ships scattered on various stations throughout the world. Some of its officers, feeling strong ties to their states, resigned their commissions. Welles, however, soon turned the situation around. A man of unusual energy, he rapidly doubled the size of the Navy and took an active part in the direction of the naval war against the South. Early in the conflict, he established a blockade of the Confederate coast with the limited number of ships available, and he constantly strengthened it until the South was almost completely sealed off from the rest of the world. Welles early recognized the need for ironclad warships and vigorously pushed their development, improvement, and construction. His ideas influenced the designs of ordnance, machinery, and armor. He urged improvement in navy yards, both existing and planned. He not only contributed to governmental policies but administered them as well.
Shrewd, methodical, and knowledgeable, the Union's remarkable Secretary of the Navy remained poised and calm throughout the tempestuous times engendered by the Civil War. Following Lincoln's death by assassination in April 1865, Welles remained in the cabinet as Secretary of the Navy under Andrew Johnson. After the new President ran into difficulties, Welles loyally and enthusiastically supported him throughout the impeachment proceedings. At the end of Johnson's administration, Welles returned to private life; and, although he never again occupied public office, he remained politically active and wrote prolifically until his death on 11 February 1878. C. A. Dana, in Recollections of the Civil War, wrote of Welles that he was "a very wise, strong man ... he understood his duty and did it efficiently, continually, and unvaryingly."
The first Welles (Destroyer No. 257) was laid down on 13 November 1918, two days after the signing of the armistice that ended World War I, at Quincy, Mass., by the Bethlehem Shipbuilding Company's Fore River plant; launched on 8 May 1919; sponsored by Miss Alma Freeman Welles, the granddaughter of Gideon Welles; and commissioned at the Boston Navy Yard on 2 September 1919, Lt. Comdr. George N. Reeves, Jr., in command.
After her final sea trials off the east coast, Welles joined Squadron 2, Destroyer Force, Pacific Fleet, based at San Diego, Calif. She operated out of San Diego, "showing the flag" and training, until decommissioned there on 15 June 1922. Meanwhile, the destroyer was classified as DD-257 during the fleet-wide assignment of alphanumeric hull numbers on 17 July 1920.
Welles remained in "Red Lead Row" at San Diego into the 1930's, as crises multiplied in Europe and the Far East. On 1 September 1939, German forces invaded Poland, triggering World War II. In response to the European conflict, President Roosevelt proclaimed the neutrality of the United States and instructed the Navy to establish a Neutrality Patrol off the eastern seaboard, out of Guantanamo Bay, and at the eastward approaches of the Panama Canal.
To carry out the patrol, the Navy recommissioned 77 destroyers and light minelayers to augment fleet units already at sea that had assumed their patrol stations in September 1939, soon after the outbreak of fighting in Poland. Welles was recommissioned at San Diego on 6 November 1939, Lt. Comdr. Clifton G. Grimes in command. She was fitted out at San Diego and then moved to the Mare Island Navy Yard, Vallejo, Calif., to undergo alterations and a drydocking that started a few days before Christmas and extended into the new year, 1940.
Following the yard work, Welles arrived back at San Diego in company with Williams (DD-108) and later departed the area on 5 February, bound for Panama. She transited the Panama Canal on the 16th and stopped at the Submarine Base at Coco Solo on the following day. There, she embarked six enlisted men for transportation to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and arrived there on 25 February.
After patrolling the approaches to Guantanamo Bay for nearly two weeks, Welles, transporting 10 enlisted men, sailed for Norfolk, Va., with the remainder of her division (Destroyer Division (DesDiv) 67), Welborn C. Wood (DD-195), Abel P. Upshur (DD-193), and division flagship Herndon (DD-198), on 14 March. Mooring at the navy yard and discharging her passengers on the 17th, the destroyer proceeded to sea on 6 April, bound for the Caribbean.
Arriving at San Juan, Puerto Rico, four days later, Welles departed the same evening. She joined Omaha (CL-4) on the following morning, and the two ships sailed in company on Neutrality Patrol and conducted exercises until 17 April, when the destroyer returned to San Juan.
Welles patrolled the waters near San Juan from 19 to 23 April before taking part in a battle problem and undergoing her annual military inspection on the 26th. The warship subsequently visited Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, on 1 May. She remained there for two weeks before returning to San Juan.
Proceeding to sea again on 8 June, Welles conducted exercises en route to Cuban waters and subsequently operated out of Guantanamo Bay over the next few days. During this time, the ship conducted a short-range battle practice. Shifting to Cay Lobos, Great Bahamas, on 20 June, Welles then transported 56 men and one officer from Crowninshield (DD-134) to Guantanamo, debarking the men to George E. Badger (AVP-16). Welles then remained at Guantanamo until she sailed for the Canal Zone on 27 July. Anchoring in Limon Bay, Canal Zone, on the 28th, Welles later transited the Panama Canal on 10 August, dropping anchor in Panama Bay on the 12th. She performed target services and conducted exercises and maneuvers with Submarine Division 11 until 16 August, when the destroyer retransited the canal, east-bound, and arrived at Coco Solo that day.
Welles sailed for Norfolk on 22 August with the rest of DesDiv 67, proceeded via Guantanamo Bay, and arrived six days later. At that time, Welles and 49 of her sister ships were slated to be transferred to the British government as a result of an agreement reached between President Roosevelt and the British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill. After suffering heavy destroyer losses in the Atlantic convoys and from the evacuation of Norway and France, the hard-pressed British desperately needed escort vessels. The United States needed advance base sites to strengthen her defenses. Accordingly, the two national leaders decided upon a bargain, the United States, in return for the transfer of 50 "overage" destroyers to the British, would receive 99-year leases on strategic base sites.
Welles loaded service ammunition at Norfolk before she sailed for Newport, R.I., where she then exchanged older torpedoes for ones of a later mark on 1 September. Welles soon shifted to the Boston Navy Yard, where she was drydocked, before she sailed, in company with Russell (DD-414) and Herndon on 5 September, for Halifax, Nova Scotia, the designated turnover point. Arriving on the 6th as one of the first eight ships to be transferred, Welles soon took on board the prospective crew, six British officers and 120 enlisted men, for familiarization. Three days later, on 9 September, Welles was decommissioned and turned over to the Royal Navy. Her American name was struck from the United States Navy list on 8 January 1941.
Simultaneously, the destroyer was renamed HMS Cameron (1.05) and placed under the command of Lt. Comdr. P. G. Merriman, Royal Navy. Initially, the warship suffered problems with a faulty generator which delayed her sailing for the British Isles. After finally getting underway for England, the destroyer made port at Plymouth on 13 November, after a stop-over at Belfast, Northern Ireland. Shifting to Portsmouth three days later, Cameron was slated to receive her first major overhaul since coming under the White Ensign. However, she was fated never to finish this; as, on 5 December 1940, Luftwaffe bombers struck Portsmouth while Cameron lay defenseless in drydock no. 8. A high explosive bomb severely damaged the ship, capsizing her.
Deemed unsuitable for return to active sea service, Cameron was eventually refloated on 23 February 1941 and allocated for use as a hulk. United States Navy experts consequently subjected the ship to close scrutiny to derive damage control measures which could be applicable to ships of her type still in service with the Navy. As such, she presented them with what John Alden, in his book, Flush Decks and Four Pipes, termed the most extreme case of hull damage seen by Americans until Cassin (DD-372) and Downes (DD-375) were blasted by Japanese bombs at Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941.
Admiralty records indicate that Cameron fulfilled a useful purpose. The Admiralty Committee on Shock in Ships conducted shock tests on the hulk between July 1942 and September 1943. "Paid off" on 5 October 1943, Cameron remained in dockyard hands at Portsmouth until towed to Falmouth in November 1944, where she was subsequently broken up for scrap.