Northern Territory Government

Roll of Honour

JOYCE, Philip Michael

Peary and British Motorist

The tanker British Motorist on fire and sinking. Right is USS Peary sinking by the stern.


Philip Michael Joyce was born on 23 October 1920 in St. Louis, Missouri, the eldest son of Harold T. and Huldah Joyce. He enlisted in the US Navy on 11 July 1940 and was commissioned Ensign on 28 February 1941. He served on the Langley until 10 August when he was transferred to the Peary.

Joyce was with the Peary when she was bombed in Cavite bay. During the air attacks on the way to Australia, his captain recorded that 'Ensign P.M. Joyce USNR was instrumental in saving the ship by his continuous and fearless observation of the attacking planes from an exposed station'.

A ship was named in his honour: the USS Joyce, an Edsall-class destroyer, was commissioned on 30 September 1943 and sponsored by his mother. He was twenty-one years of age 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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