Northern Territory Government

Roll of Honour

REESE, Alexander

Peary and Manunda

Smoke from sinking the USS Peary with Australian hospital ship Manunda on the extreme right.

Alexander Reese, Watertender 2nd Class (375-68-91), was born in California, the son of Irma of 630 26th Avenue, San Francisco, California. He enlisted on 10 April 1935 in San Francisco and re-enlisted on 14 March 1939, serving on the Tanager, the Ontario and the cruiser Northampton.

On 7 December 1941, the Northampton was escorting the aircraft carrier Enterprise at sea, and so missed the Pearl harbour bombing. Reese transferred to the Peary on 22 January 1942.

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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