Northern Territory Government

Roll of Honour

GRONAU, Harold George

The USS Peary sank in Darwin on 19 February 1942 as a result of heavy Japanese bombing.

Harold George Gronau, Shipfitter 1st Class (321-35-01), was born in Iowa in 1913, the third child of six born to Louis F. and Anna, the children of German immigrants. He enlisted on 4 October 1939. In February 1940 Gronau was a passenger on USS Pyro from Pearl Harbor to Puget Sound Navy Yard for assignment to duty. He served on USS Whipple from 17 March to September 1941 and transferred to the Peary on 18 October 1941.

Gronau survived the bombing of the Peary in Cavite Bay, the Philippines, as well as the three attacks on the way to Australia, and a further attack on the way to Timor. He was twenty-eight and unmarried when he died in Darwin Harbour.

The Peary had endured a dramatic voyage to Australia in December 1941, after sustaining damage in a bombing attack on the Cavite Navy Yard in the Philippines. The crew camouflaged the ship with green paint borrowed from the Army, and took refuge during daylight by anchoring close to the islands and covering the ship with palm fronds. Many of the Peary’s crew contracted malaria on this journey and eight men eventually died from the disease. They were attacked on 26 and 27 December, but avoided damage by violent manoeuvring. The Peary arrived in Darwin on 3 January.

In January the Peary was operating on anti-submarine patrol, convoy and escort missions; while escorting troops from Darwin to Timor, the ship was again attacked. They returned to Darwin, refuelled and set off again with the cruiser USS Houston. A fruitless submarine chase exhausted the Peary’s fuel, and she returned to Darwin in the early hours of 19 February.

The Peary was hit early in the bombing of Darwin, and appears to have sunk within 40 minutes. The fifth bomb to hit the Peary caused the fatal damage that sent her to the bottom and it was said to be the last bomb dropped that day on the harbour. The Peary’s machine guns continued to fire at the Japanese planes even as she sank. Eighty-eight officers and men, including Captain Bermingham, were killed; twenty of the fifty-seven survivors were wounded.

In December 1942 the Peary was awarded one battle star for service in World War II.

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