USS Balch (DD-363)

USS Balch (DD-363) was a Porter class destroyer that took part in the early raids on Japanese bases in 1942, the battle of Midway, the Guadalcanal invasion, the battle of the Eastern Solomons, the occupation of Attu, and the Wakde and Biak operations on New Guinea.

The Balch was named after George Beall Balch, who served in the US Navy during the Mexican War, Perry’s expedition to Japan, and the American Civil War, when he served with the South Atlantic Squadron. Later in his career he served as Superintendent of the Naval Academy then as commander of the Pacific Station from 1881 until he retired in 1883.

USS Balch (DD-363) from the right USS Balch (DD-363) from the right

The Balch was laid down at Quincy, Mass, on 16 May 1934, launched on 24 March 1936 (when she was spondered by Admiral Balch’s grand-daughter Gertrude) and commissioned on 20 October 1936. After her shakedown cruise and some torpedo training on the East Coast, she was ordered to the Pacific, arriving at her new base at San Diego on 23 November 1936. She joined Destroyer Division 17, Destroyers, Battle Force, before early in 1938 moving to Destroyer Squadron 12 as flagship.

In the spring of 1938 the Balch took part in Fleet Problem XIX, forming part of the ‘Green Fleet’ during the operation, which took part in the seas around Hawaii. She then returned to the west coast and rejoined the normal life of the fleet.

At the start of 1939 the Balch took part in Fleet Problem XX, set in the West Indies and Caribbean. The exercises were over by mid-April when she moved north to Charleston, South Carolina, for upkeep and repairs. She then returned to the west coast, reaching San Diego on 12 May. For the rest of the year she operated around San Diego. On 1 July she began flagship of Destroyer Squadron 6.

1940

On 1 April 1940 the Balch departed for San Diego heading for Hawaii to take part in Fleet Problem XXI. At the end of the exercise the fleet was ordered to remain at Pearl Harbor, but a lack of space meant that the Balch had to return to Mare Island for an overhaul, returning to Pearl Harbor on 4 August. She returned to the west coast once again in October, this time to have a degaussing cable installed, to protect her against magnetic mines. She was back at Pearl Harbor on 8 December.

1941

Most of 1941 was a repeat of 1940, with a mix of operations around Hawaii and a trip to the west coast for an overhaul in June-July. In late September she was visited by Captain Louis Mountbatten, who was observing the US fleet in the Pacific. He remained onboard for night search and attack exercises, before returning to the carrier Enterprise (CV-6).

USS Balch (DD-363) from the front, 1943 USS Balch (DD-363) from the front, 1943

On 1 December the Balch joined Task Force 8 (with the Enterprise, Salt Lake City (CA-25), Chester (CA-27), Northampton (CA-26) and the rest of DesRon 6. On 2 December they left Pearl Harbor to protect the Enterprise as she carried  Marine Fighter Squadron (VMW) 211 to Wake Island. She was thus away from Pearl Harbor when the Japanese attacked on 7 December. On the night of 7-8 December she and her unit patrolled the area south of Oahu. On 8 December they entered the harbour to refuel, before leaving again on 9 December, this time to patrol to the north-east of the island. In the second half of December the Balch was posted to the west of Hawaii, part of a screen for Hawaii while the carriers were attempting to rescue the garrison of Wake Island.

1942

On 11 January 1942 the Balch sortied with Task Force 8, heading south-west to the Phoenix Islands, from where they covered convoys heading to Samoa.

On 25 January the task force moved north to take part in an early raid on Japanese positions in the Marshall Islands. On 30 January the Balch, Chester and Maury (DD-401) left the fleet to bombard Maloelap Atoll, where the Japanese had a seaplane base. The Balch fired 329 5in shells during the attack, as well as helping to drive of an attack by Japanese bombers. At the same time the rest of the task force was attacking Kwajalein and Wotje. The Balch rejoined the main task force on 3 February and it then withdrew towards Hawaii.

On 14 February the Balch and Task Fore 8 put to sea to carry out a raid on Wake Island. On the evening of 23 February the Balch and Maury screened the cruisers Salt Lake City and Northampton as they approached the island. On the morning of 24 February they opened fire on Peale Island, the northern island within the Wake Atoll. The Balch knocked out three Japanese shore batteries and damaged the seaplane base. She then sank a 100ft Japanese patrol vessel close to the island, and a second one as the task force was retiring to the north-east.

TF-8 then joined up with TF-16, and the Enterprise led part of the combined force on a raid on Marcus Island. The Balch and other destroyers guarded the oiler Sabine (AO-25) during this operation.

On 8 April she left Pearl Harbor with the Enterprise group, ready to support the Doolittle raid on Tokyo. Once again her role was to protect the oilers, this time the Sabine and Cimarron (AO-22) while the carriers pushed on further west to launch their aircraft. The fleet returned to Pearl Harbor on 25 April.

On 30 April the Balch was with the Enterprise and Hornet when they left Pearl Harbor heading for the Coral Sea, but they arrived too late to take part in the battle. However they did help escort the Yorktown back to safety, arriving at Pearl Harbor on 26 May.

USS Balch (DD-363) from above and behind, 1943 USS Balch (DD-363) from above and behind, 1943

On 28 May the Balch left Pearl Harbor as part of the screen for the Enterprise and Hornet, heading for the crucial battle of Midway. After the Japanese hit the Yorktown the Balch was ordered to join her screen, but she was unable to fight off another Japanese air attack. This time several torpedoes hit the Yorktown, and it soon looked as if she would sink. The Balch formed part of an anti-submarine screen around the damaged carrier, whil her whaleboat and crew helped rescue the crew of the Yorktown. On 6 June the carrier was still floating, so the Balch helped transfer rescue parties onto her. However the Japanese submarine I-58 managed to get through the destroyer screen and hit the Yorktown with more torpedoes. The Balch was also in their path, but managed to turn towards them and comb their paths. However the Yorktown and Hammann (DD-412) were both hit. The destroyer was sunk immediately, but the Yorktown survived until the following morning. However the Japanese had suffered far worse loses with all four of their carriers sunk during the battle.

Attention then turned to Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands. On 15 July the Balch left Pearl Harbor as part of Task Force 16 (Enterprise). This joined up with the Saratoga group. The Balch screened the carriers as they conducted air strikes to support the landings on 7-8 August. She then withdrew with the carriers on 9 August.

On 23 August the Americans detected a Japanese convoy heading for Guadalcanal, but failed to find the nearby Japanese carriers. As a result the Enterprise and Saratoga moved into range to launch an attack on the convoy, but by the time they reached its location the Japanese had turned back. However this move brought the two carrier forces within range of each other, triggering the battle of the Eastern Solomons. The Americans struck first, sinking the Ryujo, but aircraft from Shokaku and Zuikaku then attacked the American carriers. The Balch was part of the screen for the Enterprise, but despite heavy AA fire the carrier was still hit by three bombs. On 25 August the fleet withdrew to the east and by 10 September Task Force 16 had returned to Pearl Harbor.

On 12 November the Balch headed to the South Pacific as part of Task Force 11. After visits to Fiji she moved to Noumea, New Caledonia, where on 5 December she joined Task Force 64, a battleship force. Fir the rest of December and into January 1943 the Balch formed part of the screen for the Washington (BB-56) and North Carolina (BB-55) during the final stages of the battle of Guadalcanal.

1943

In February and March 1943 the Balch escorted convoys heading into Guadalcanal from Noumea or Espiritu Santo. She returned to Pearl Harbor in mid April.

The Balch was then allocated to Task Group 52.10, which was to take part in the liberation of the Aleutians. She reached Adak, Alaska on 25 April, and then took part in a sweep west and north-west of Attu, with the Wichita and Louisville (CA-28),.

On 4 May she set sail as part of the Northern Covering Group (TG 16.7) to take part in Operation Landcrab, the liberation of Attu. The Balch operated to the north-west of Attu during the landings on 11 May, as part of a force protecting against any Japanese naval intervention. The island was secured by the end of the month. The Balch returned to Adak, before reaching San Francisco on 28 June.

At San Francisco the Balch underwent a refit in which her anti-aircraft guns were replaced with ten 40mm guns (one quad mount and three twin mounts) and six 20mm guns. She was also given gun control radar for her main guns, but not for her anti-aircraft guns. The refit and related trials lasted into August 1943.

The Balch departed for New Caledonia on 8 September and reached Noumea on 25 September. She was then allocated to convoy escort duties on the route between the New Hebrides and the Solomon Islands. This lasted under she damaged her starboard main reduction gear, which forced her back to Espiritu Santu for repairs. 

1944

The Balch moored alongside the Dixie (AD-14) for repairs on 10 January 1944. These were completed by 1 March.

On 15 March she departed from Efate with the New Mexico, Manila Bay (CVE-61), Natoma Bay (CVE-62) and three destroyers, part of TG 36.3. She screened the carriers as they attacked Kavieng on New Ireland, and supported the landings on Emirau Island (20 March). The group then escorted convoys in the local area, before escorting a convoy back to Efate.

After her return the Balch was used on local escort duties on 24 April, then escorted three battleships to Sydney where their crews were given some time ashore while minor repairs were carried out. The Balch was back at Efate on 10 May.

The Balch was then detached to the 7th Fleet Amphibious Force, which was supporting the campaign in New Guinea. She collected a cargo of HE and white phosphorous ammo at Hollandia, bringing it to the Wakde-Sarmi area on 25 May. She then spent two days supporting the fighting on shore, firing 495 rounds of 5in ammo on shore targets as well as 40mm and 200 fire. On 28 May she departed with a convoy of loaded LSTs, which she escorted to Biak Island. She then joined the battle for that island, bombarding Japanese shore positions on 30 May. She then escorted the empty LSTs back to Humbolt Bay and another convoy to Biak, arriving on 3 June.

On 9 June she departed for Seeadler Harbor on Manus in the Admiralty Islands, and from there to Espiritu Santu. At Espiritu Santu she received orders to transfer to the East Coast, as the Porter class destroyers were being transferred to the Atlantic. Although they were bigger than most destroyers, their single purpose 5in guns meant they had less effective anti-aircraft fire than smaller destroyers with dual purpose guns. As a result they were going to replace the Coast Guard Secretary Class cutters as convoy flagships, allowing the cutters to be used as amphibious command ships.

The Balch and the Warrington (DD-383) reached New York on 15 July. She went into the New York Navy Yard, where she was given HF/DF (high frequency direction finding equipment, used to locate any U-boat radio transmissions) and depth charges. She also took onboard a Coast Guard flag officer, who would be the convoy commander, and his staff,.

The Balch departed from Norfolk on 2 August with her first convoy, a slow convoy of 67 ships with thirteen escorts heading for the Mediterranean. She reached Bizerte, Tunisia, on 23 August without any incidents on the way. The return convoy departed on 31 August. On 2 September the Balch dropped depth charges on a suspected target, but the convoy reached Boston on 18 September, again without any losses. However on 9 October, while approaching Norfolk, she ran aground on a mud bank, damaging her sonar dome.

The repairs were quick, and on 11 October she departed in the screen of a slow convoy with 89 cargo ships and six escorts, heading for Gibraltar. On 2 November she reached Bizerte, where the remaining ships in the convoy were handed over to British escorts (the rest having docked at ports further west). Once again she ran aground while entering the harbour, and this time she had to move to Oran for repairs. However she was able to leave port on 11 November, and caught up with the return convoy close to the Straits of Gibraltar on 12 November. Once again the voyage was uneventful, and she was back at Boston on 30 November. 

1945

Between 13 December 1944 and 23 May 1945 the Balch escorted three more convoys to the Mediterranean, all without incident. When the war in Europe ended she was in the middle of a return trip, and she arrved at New York Navy Yard on 23 May 1945.

At first the plan was to modernise her ready for service in the Pacific. She entered Cramp’s shipyard on 22 June, where she was to have her 5in guns replaced with dual purpose 5in guns in new mounts. Work was underway when the Japanese surrendered. On 15 August all work was put on hold, and on 31 August she left the yard. She was then inspected, and on 18 September selected for deactivation. She was commissioned at Philadelphia on 19 October 1945, struck off on 1 November and sold for scrap early in 1946.

Balch earned six battle stars for her World War II service, for the Marshall-Gilbert and Wake raids of early 1942, the battle of Midway, the Guadalcanal invasion, the battle of the Eastern Solomons, the occupation of Attu, and the Wakde and Biak operations on New Guinea.

Displacement (standard)

1,850t (design)

Displacement (loaded)

2,131t (design)

Top Speed

37kts design
38.19kts at 51,127shp at 2,123t on trial (Porter)
38.17kts at 47,271shp at 2,190t on trial (Porter)

Engine

2-shaft Parsons turbines
4 boilers
50,000shp design

Range

7,800nm at 12kts design
8,710nm at 15kts at 2,157t on trial (Porter)
6,380nm at 12kts at 2,700t wartime
4,080nm at 15kts at 2,700t wartime

Length

381ft 0.5in

Width

36ft 10in

Armaments

Eight 5in/38 SP in four twin mounts
Eight 21in torpedoes in two quad mounts
Eight 1.1in AA guns in four twin mounts
Two 0.50in AA guns
Two depth charge tracks

Crew complement

206

Laid down

16 May 1934

Launched

24 March 1936

Commissioned

20 October 1936

Scrapped

Early 1946

U.S. Destroyers: An Illustrated Design History, Norman Friedmann . The standard history of the development of American destroyers, from the earliest torpedo boat destroyers to the post-war fleet, and covering the massive classes of destroyers built for both World Wars. Gives the reader a good understanding of the debates that surrounded each class of destroyer and led to their individual features.
cover cover cover

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (17 November 2021), USS Balch (DD-363), http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/weapons_USS_Balch_DD363.html

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