Northern Territory Government

Roll of Honour

HUNTER, Robert Thomas


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

Robert Thomas Hunter was born in 1921 in Indiana, the eldest son of Fred and Fern Hunter. His father Fred was a clerk in the Post Office. He enlisted on 5 September 1939 in Indianapolis and served on the aircraft carrier Saratoga from November 1939, before transferring to the Yorktown on 5 November 1940.

Hunter, Machinist’s Mate 2nd Class (291-59-37), joined the Peary on 28 February 1941. He would have endured the bombing in Cavite Bay, as well as the two air attacks on the way to Darwin, and another on the way to Timor. He was twenty and unmarried when he died in Darwin Harbour.

The Peary endured a dramatic voyage to Australia in December 1941, after sustaining damage in the 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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