The first USS Balch (Torpedo Boat Destroyer No. 50) was launched 21 December 1912 by William Cramp and Sons Ship and Engine Building Co., Philadelphia, Pa.; sponsored by Miss Grace Balch, daughter of Admiral Balch; and commissioned 26 March 1914, Lieutenant Commander David C. Hanrahan in command.

Balch served only a few months with the Torpedo Flotilla, Atlantic Fleet, carrying out torpedo firing practice off the Virginia Capes before conducting a Presidential Fleet Review for President Woodrow Wilson at New York City on 7 May. Following fleet maneuvers with the Submarine Flotilla out of New London, the Torpedo Flotilla joined the battleship squadrons in Narragansett Bay for maneuvers organized by the Naval War College. Returning to the New York Navy Yard that summer, Balch was placed in reserve commission on 24 July 1914.

The destroyer was placed in full commission again on 17 December 1914 and rejoined the Atlantic Fleet. Prior to the entrance of the United States into World War I, she served on Neutrality Patrol duty, trying to protect American and neutral-flagged merchant ships from interference by British or German warships and U-boats. On 8 October 1916, Balch rescued survivors of the British steamer Stephano, which had been sunk by a German submarine off Newport, Rhode Island.

When the United States entered the war in April 1917, Balch fitted out—installing depth charge racks and other wartime gear—in preparation for foreign service. Sailing for European waters on 25 October, Balch arrived at Queenstown, Ireland on 17 November and reported for duty with the Queenstown Force Commander. The destroyer commenced convoy escort duties on 24 November, which generally meant shepherding Entente merchant ships through the “submarine danger zone” in the western approaches to the British Isles.

While this duty was relatively uneventful, Balch did twice encounter German submarines (or U-boats). On 29 January 1918, while steaming off Liverpool, she dropped two depth charges over a diving U-boat, alas to no effect. Then, on 12 May, the destroyer joined other escorts in pounding a U-boat spotted near convoy HS-60, with Balch dropping 12 depth charges that helped drive off the enemy submarine.

There were other perils at sea, however, most notably on 20 October 1918 when Paulding (Destroyer No. 22) collided with Balch during convoy escort operations. The collision knocked Balch’s port hydrostatic depth charge overboard, but luckily with safety fork in place and it did not explode. Balch did suffer steering gear damage which required two weeks of repair at Queenstown. Then, on 5 November 1918, while escorting a convoy in the English Channel, the destroyer helped Sterett (Destroyer No. 27) rescue 29 survivors of the foundering merchant ship Dipton.

After returning to Queenstown with survivors, Balch received orders to sail for home and she departed Ireland on 16 November. She arrived at Norfolk via Ponta Delgada, Azores, on 1 January 1919 and was placed in ordinary. Returned to commission in early April, the destroyer sailed to the West Indies for three weeks of maneuvers out of Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Balch then returned to Norfolk on 28 April for an overhaul. Postwar funding shortages kept the destroyer in port until late 1921 when Balch briefly cruised with the Torpedo Flotilla, Atlantic Fleet, before financial considerations led to her inactivation.

Placed out of commission in reserve at Philadelphia on 20 June 1922, Balch remained on “red lead row” (so called owing to the color of the anti-corrosion paint) until the destroyer was dropped from the reserve list on 1 November 1933. The old warship was struck from the Navy list on 8 March 1935 and ordered scrapped at the Philadelphia Navy Yard on 23 April 1935 in accordance with the terms of the London Naval Treaty.

Source: Naval History & Heritage Command including the Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships.