USS Buchanan (DD-131)/ HMS Campbeltown

USS Buchanan (DD-131)/ HMS Campbeltown was a Wickes class destroyer most famous for its part in the raid on St. Nazaire in 1942.

The Buchanan was named after Franklin Buchanan, the first superintendent of the naval school at Annapolis, holding that post in 1845-1847, after a thirty year naval career. He then went on to serve in the Mexican War and in Perry's expedition to Japan, but who ended up in the Confederate Navy during the Civil War.

The Buchanan was laid down at Bath, Maine on 29 June 1918, launched on 2 January 1919 and commissioned on 20 January 1919. She joined Division 18, Destroyer Squadrons, Atlantic Fleet, in Cuban waters in February 1919 and took part in the winter manoeuvres of 1919. In April she moved back to New York. She was then allocated to Division 13, the force of destroyers that served as plane guards for the transatlantic flight of four Navy -Curtiss NC flying boats. The Buchanan took up her station on 11 May, and after a brief return to port to land a sick sailor was in place when NC-1, NC-3 and NC-4 flew past on 16 May. NC-4 went on to complete the flight, the first successful transatlantic flight by heavier than air aircraft.

In July 1919 the Buchanan was used to carry Rear Admiral Charles P. Plunkett, Vice President Thomas Riley Marshall and other dignitaries as they went to visit President Woodrow Wilson as he returned from the Paris Peace Conference. Later in the month she departed for the west coast, where she took part in a series of fleet reviews before joining her new unit. On 9 February 1920 she was placed into the rotating reserve, and she spent the next two years operating with a reduced complement, before she was decommissioned on 7 June 1922.

In 1929 the Buchanan was chosen to replace one of the destroyers with worn-out Yarrow boilers. The work was partly carried out by the crew of the worn out destroyer Somers (DD-301), and on 10 April 1930 the Somers was decommissioned and the Buchanan recommissioned, while the crew swapped ships. The Buchanan joined the Battle Force and took part in six months of exercises. Amongst her crew in 1930-32 was James Henry Doyle, who went on to command the US fleet during the Inchon landings of 1950.

In the first half of 1931 she combined operations with the fleet and work as plane guard for the Saratoga (CV-3). In early August she took naval reservists on a two week long training cruiser before returning to normal operations.

In January 1932 she departed for Hawaii, to take part in Army-Navy Grand Joint Exercise No.4. She was then used as a radio relay vessel for battleships before taking part in Fleet Problem XIII, which covered all aspects of convoy warfare. She then returned to California, where she joined Destroyer Squadron 2 for more exercises.

USS Buchanan (DD-131) laying smoke, c.1919-22
USS Buchanan (DD-131) laying smoke, c.1919-22

In 1933 she took part in Fleet Problem XIV, a mock battle between Hawaii and the West Coast. She spent the rest of the year and the first months of 1934 operating along the US west coast. Her captain from 2 February 1934 was Theodore E. Chandler, who went on to serve as an admiral in most theatres of the Second World War.

In April 1934 she moved to the West Indies to take part in that year's exercises, before returning to the west coast. Later in 1934 she was used for a naval reserve officer training cruise, before on 14 July she joined the rotating reserve.

On 19 December 1934 the Buchanan received a new crew, and rejoined the active fleet. She remained on the west coast until April 1935 when she departed for Hawaii to take part in Fleet Problem XVI. The rest of the year was spend on the west coast, with a brief spell at the Naval Research Laboratory where she was used to test out possible camouflage schemes.

In 1936 she spent most of the time in normal operations on the west coast. She also took part in Fleet Problem XVII and the celebrations to mark the opening of the Golden Gate Bridge, where she acted as a plane guard. On 9 April 1937 she was decommissioned once again.

On 30 September 1939 she was recommissioned to take part in the Neutrality patrol.  She joined DesDiv 56, DesRon 32 and in December 1939 moved to Puerto Rico, where she remained for a month. She operated with the Neutrality Patrol in the Caribbean, South American waters and the Gulf of Mexico. In June 1930 she took part in operations to shadow the British cruiser HMS Diomede, but otherwise she only saw neutral or American ships.

As HMS Campbeltown

The Buchanan was one of the destroyers chosen for the 'destroyers-for-bases' deal. She reached Halifax on 6 September and on 9 September she was decommissioned from the US Navy and joined the Royal Navy, where she became HMS Campbeltown.. She joined the First 'Town' Flotilla, and reached Belfast on 26 September 1940. She was then allocated to the 7th Escort Group, based at Liverpool, to operate in the Western Approaches. Her first spell of RN duty ended on 3 December 1940 when she was damaged in a collision in Liverpool. The repairs lasted until March 1941, and while they were underway she was allocated to the Royal Netherlands navy. However this plan collapsed after the Dutch wanted to rename her, breaking the connection with an American town. Instead part of her crew was provided by the Polish Navy.

The Campbeltown returned to convoy escort duties once the repairs were over. On 15 September she rescued survivors from the Norwegian tanker Vinga after she was sunk by air attack. On 25 January 1942 she shot down a German aircraft.

By now plans were in place for a daring raid on the French port of St. Nazaire, and in particular the Normandie Dock, the only drydock on the French Atlantic coast that could take the German battleship Tirptiz. The Campbeltown's role in the attack would be to act as a massive bomb. She would be stuffed full of 24 depth charges, rammed into the dock gates and scuttled. The depth charges were detonate two and a half hours later.

The Campbeltown set sail for St. Nazaire on 26 March 1942. The attack began just after midnight on 27 March, and the Campbeltown successfully carried out her part in it. She rammed the dock gates at 0134, and her landing parties were able to get ashore and damage some of the machinery. The explosion went off as planned, putting the dock out of use for the rest of the war. Her commander, Lt. Comdr Beattie, was awarded the Victoria Cross for his part in the attack.

Displacement (standard)

1,160t (design)

Displacement (loaded)


Top Speed

35kts (design)
35.34kts at 24,610shp at 1,149t on trial (Wickes)


2 shaft Parsons turbines
4 boilers
24,200shp (design)


3,800nm at 15kts on trial (Wickes)
2,850nm at 20kts on trial (Wickes)

Armour - belt


 - deck



314ft 4in


30ft 11in

Armaments (as built)

Four 4in/50 guns
Twelve 21in torpedoes in four triple tubes
Two depth charge tracks

Crew complement


Laid Down

29 June 1918


2 January 1919


20 January 1919


28 March 1942

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 (26 September 2017), USS Buchanan (DD-131)/ HMS Campbeltown ,

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