USS Peary DD-226 Memorial
Darwin, Australia

The USS Peary DD-226 Memorial at Darwin, Australia. Commissioned on October 22, 1920, USS Peary, DD-226 a Clemson class destroyer, was stationed at the Cavite Naval Yard in Manila, Philippines, at the outbreak of war in the Pacific where, just 2 days after the attack on Pearl Harbour (December 10, 1941 local time), she too came under air attack. High-flying Japanese bombers inflicted severe damage on the naval base and scored a direct hit on the Peary causing damage to the superstructure and the loss of 8 crewmen killed.

On December 27 she again come under attack from Japanese bombers and torpedoes planes but escaped without further damage. December 28 again saw the Peary under attack, this time being lightly damaged by friendly fire from RAAF Hudson bombers who were unable to establish radio contact to confirm her identity.

The following day, while en route to Darwin, she endured further attack by Japanese bombers but sustained no additional damage. The Peary arrived in Darwin on New Year's Day 1942, from where she operated anti submarine patrols.

On February 15 she departed Darwin along with the cruiser USS Houston CA-30 escorting a convoy carrying reinforcements to Timor, which was expected to come under Japanese attack at any time. The convoy was shadowed by a Japanese Kawanishi H6K flying boat throughout the day and the following morning 35 bombers and 9 flying boats attacked. The Houston steamed clear of the convoy to draw fire upon herself but her intense and accurate anti aircraft fire kept the attackers at distance.

Without adequate air cover and fearing substantial losses, the convoy was recalled to Darwin, arriving on February 18. Both Houston and Peary were immediately refueled and departed for the Java Sea where the Peary, after making apparent contact with a Japanese submarine, expended so much fuel oil on successive high speed attacks and was again forced to return to Darwin for refueling, arriving in the early hours of February 19.

At 09:58hrs that morning a Japanese air armada of 188 aircraft comprising 81 naval 'Kate' bombers, 71 'Val' dive-bombers and 36 escorting 'Zero' fighters launched a surprise attack on the unprepared city - the first attack ever by a foreign power on Australian soil. These carrier-based planes were from the same Japanese carrier groups that had attacked Pearl Harbour just 10 weeks earlier. A second wave of 54 high flying land based 'Betty' bombers from the Celebes and Ambon arrived 2 hours later, concentrating their attacks on Darwin's airfields and remaining aircraft.

Upon sighting the first attackers, the Peary weighed anchor and attempted to move into open waters but was set upon by the attacking dive-bombers who scored 5 direct hits, sending the USS Peary stern first to the bottom of Darwin Harbour with the loss of 5 officers, including her captain Lt. Commander J. M. Bermingham, and 76 enlisted crewmen.

This 4-inch gun from the USS Peary was later salvaged, restored and mounted as a memorial to the ship and her crew. This is situated near the Darwin Cenotaph in Bicentennial Park, and points across Darwin Harbour to the ship's resting place.

A plaque (seen below), tells the story of what happened that day, a second plaque on the gun mount's southern face, lists those crew who lost their lives during the sinking.

The USS Peary DD-226 Memorial at Darwin, Australia.

A dedication plaque on the USS Peary DD-226 Memorial.

Darwin Harbour is the resting place for the US destroyer Peary sunk on 19th February 1942 by Japan's Pearl Harbour veterans. This 4 inch gun was salvaged from the Peary in the 1950's by diver Carl Atkinson (dec). It was restored by the RAN for the Northern Territories 1992 War Service Memorial Year and now points towards the Peary's grave.

This plaque was unveiled by Chief Minister the Hon Marshall Perron MLA on 29 th January 1992 in the presence of Peary survivors Dallas Widick and Melvin Duke and a coloured guard from the US frigate Robert E Peary. The wartime Peary came under repeated fire from December 1941 - February 1942. In her last action she sank with her guns still blazing and represents the US Navy's greatest loss of life in Australian waters. Her gallant sacrifice is forever part of Darwin's history.
(All photos and text courtesy of Peter F. Williams)
© 2009 Peter F. Williams all rights reserved

Aug. 1, 2012

I was in the US Navy and was aboard the USS Robert E Peary FF 1073 and was assigned color guard duty while we visited Darwin Australia. I participated in a ceremony  commemorating the memorial to the USS Robert E Peary DDG 226 during WWII.  The local news filmed it and I was wondering if you had any other information about it? The date was around September 1989. Any information you may have would be appreciated even if you may know the news agency.

Best Regards,
Rick Mesler

Page published Nov. 19, 2009