Tuesday, September 4, 2007

USS Bainbridge (DD-246)

Named after an American naval hero, the destroyer USS Bainbridge was built in Camden, New Jersey, and was commissioned in February of 1921. After serving in the Western Atlantic and the Caribbean, the Bainbridge was sent to the Mediterranean and headed toward Turkey, a country that was going through some political turmoil at that time. On 16 December 1922, while steaming off the coast of Constantinople in the Sea of Marmora, the Bainbridge came to the assistance of the French military transport Vinh-Long, which was burning and in danger of sinking. The Bainbridge’s Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Commander Walter A. Edwards, took quick and decisive action by steaming close to the Vinh-Long and placing the bow of his ship next to the bow of the French transport. By this time the Vinh-Long was burning fiercely and some of her powder magazines had already exploded in the ship’s stern, causing the fire to spread towards the bow where most of the ships crew and passengers had gathered to be rescued. Edwards quickly began transferring the people from the Vinh-Long on to the Bainbridge and he and his ship managed to save almost 500 people from the stricken French transport. The Bainbridge left the area with the survivors just as the raging fire consumed the rest of the Vinh-Long. The Bainbridge brought all of the survivors back to Constantinople and had them transferred to a French armored cruiser. For his heroism and quick actions, Lieutenant Commander Edwards was awarded the Medal of Honor.

The Bainbridge returned to the United States in 1923 and was stationed in the Atlantic. She also made occasional trips to the Caribbean and the Panama Canal. The Bainbridge steamed off the coast of Nicaragua in 1927 during some political unrest there and she was also used as a training ship for Naval Reservists. The destroyer was placed out of commission from December 1930 to March of 1932 and then was placed in reserve. The Bainbridge was re-commissioned in 1933 and in 1934 was transferred to the Pacific, where she stayed until she was decommissioned once again in November of 1937.

After war broke out in Europe in September of 1939, the Bainbridge was again re-commissioned. She was sent to take part in Neutrality Patrols in the Panama Canal Zone until mid-1940 and was then based in Key West, Florida. Throughout most of 1941 the Bainbridge patrolled the North Atlantic, where she escorted convoys to and from Iceland. After America was brought into the war on 7 December 1941, the Bainbridge was assigned to escort ships in both the Atlantic and the Caribbean. She continued doing this until 1943, when she began escorting convoys between the United States and North Africa. Later that year the Bainbridge was attached to an escort group that was built around the escort aircraft carrier USS Santee (CVE-29), which was very successful in sinking several German U-boats. The old and worn-out destroyer was decommissioned for the last time in July 1945 and was sold for scrapping in November of that same year.

The Bainbridge was one of those small warships that had an uncanny knack for saving people, whether it was from the burning decks of the Vinh-Long or by protecting defenseless merchant ships in the U-boat infested Atlantic. A lot of people owe their lives to the Bainbridge and that alone makes it worth remembering.


Figure 1 (Top): USS Bainbridge (DD-246) underway circa 1921. U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 2 (Middle, Top): USS Bainbridge off Constantinople, Turkey, on 16 December 1922, with 482 survivors of the French transport Vinh-Long on board. The French ship had burned in the Sea of Marmora earlier that day. Bainbridge is flying her ensign at half-mast height, in mourning for the victims of the disaster. Donation of Frank A. Downey, 1973. U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 3 (Middle, Bottom): Lieutenant Commander Walter Atlee Edwards, USN, receives the Medal of Honor from President Calvin Coolidge, in ceremonies on the White House lawn, Washington, D.C., on 2 February 1924. Also present, standing beside the President, is Secretary of the Navy Edwin Denby. Rear Admiral Andrew T. Long is in left center, behind President Coolidge. LCdr. Edwards was awarded the medal for his actions in rescuing survivors from the burning French transport Vinh-Long in the Sea of Marmora, Turkey, on 16 December 1922. He was then commanding USS Bainbridge. U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 4 (Bottom): USS Bainbridge in New York Harbor, 19 August 1943, with the Manhattan skyline in the right distance. Note that the ship carries a Hedgehog launcher just aft of her forward 3"/50 gun. Photograph from the Bureau of Ships Collection in the U.S. National Archives. Click on photograph for larger image.