Northern Territory Government

Roll of Honour

HARRIS, Franklin Rosecrans

Peary

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


Franklin Rosecrans Harris was born on 9 May 1911 in Ohio. He was the only son of Jesse Bryant Harris and Jeanette Mabel Rosecrans. In the 1930 Census he is registered as a sailor, but living with his mother and younger sister Geraldine.

Harris enlisted in the US Navy on 15 May 1933. He was an old 'China hand', having served on the USS Childs before the war; he also served on the Whitney in 1939 and then transferred to the Peary on 28 April 1940, serving as Quartermaster 1st Class (282-92-05).

After the bombing of the Peary in Cavite Bay, Harris and Lieutenant Catlett and Bosun’s Mate Crow salvaged an anchor and cable from the sunken Sea Lion, to replace that lost by the Peary. Harris also scrounged some tinned foods and wet charts and navigation equipment needed to get the Peary back to sea. It was Harris who, as navigator on the dangerous voyage south from the Philippines, counted down the time to crossing the Equator, so that the first-timers (pollywogs) could be initiated.

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.

Harris’ wife, Mrs Mary Marguerite Harris, lived in Retsil, Washington. Harris was thirty years old when he died in Darwin Harbour.

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