Northern Territory Government

Roll of Honour

SMITH, William Lance

Peary and Houston

The USS Peary and the USS Houston before the first Japanese air raid.

William Lance Smith, Seaman 2nd Class (360-24-55), was born in Texas in 1918, the eldest son of six children, to William Clyde and Goldie Smith of Quitman, Texas. He enlisted on 21 October 1940 and served on the Peary from 14 September 1941. 

Smith was with the Peary when she was bombed in Cavite Bay, and survived the three subsequent bombings on the way to Australia and Timor. He was treated for injuries aboard the Manunda, where he died. He was landed for burial in Darwin at 8 a.m. on 20 February. He is now buried at Roselawn Memorial Gardens, Mineola, Wood County, Texas. He was twenty-three when he died in Darwin.

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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