ADVENTURE OF THE PEARY
The Peary had a narrow escape during the Japanese bombing of Manila Bay on the 26th. A few near hits caused slight damage, but by skillful maneuvering she escaped being hit by any of the 45 bombs which the enemy dropped at her. After this experience Admiral Rockwell gave permission for her to proceed south to join our task force.
Sailing the night of the 26th the Peary arrived at Campomanes Bay (Negros) the following morning. Since Japanese planes could be expected in this area, she was tied up along shore and camouflaged with green paint and palm branches. This work was completed just in time, for shortly afterwards 5 enemy bombers passed over, headed north. Apparently they did not see our destroyer, but as a precaution she was moved to Asia Bay and again camouflaged. Again Japanese planes passed over, southbound this time, again without detecting the Peary.
With evening the Peary sailed for Pilas Strait at 25 knots and did not reduce her speed until she found herself in the Celebes Sea next morning. At 0810 an enemy patrol bomber was sighted and appeared to be making a bombing approach. The Peary maneuvered and the bomber moved into the sun without dropping any bombs. From that position it shadowed our ship for the rest of the day.
The Peary had previous intelligence of an enemy submarine and cruiser off northern Borneo, and fearing that the plane had reported her position she increased her speed to 25 knots and set her course for Menado on the northeast tip of Celebes. At the same time she radioed a report that she was being followed by an enemy plane, but could get no response.
Early in the afternoon two PBY's passed over but did not reply to the Andusrec9 challenge. In fact, it was their misapprehension of the situation which was responsible for the Peary's subsequent difficulties.
At 1420 three more Japanese patrol bombers appeared and began an attack which lasted about 2 hours. The planes attacked individually, each dropping two 500-pound bombs on each run. The Peary maneuvered violently and successfully, firing all her machine guns whenever the planes came within range. All except the fourth bomber had made two attacks when a torpedo plane was sighted low on the port bow. At about 500 yards it dropped two torpedoes. The Peary's starboard engine was reversed, the ship swung sharply around, and the torpedoes passed ahead of her. A few seconds later a second torpedo plane came in on the port quarter and also dropped two torpedoes. With right full rudder the stern swung around and out of their path as they passed along the Peary's starboard side only about 10 yards from the ship.
The fourth bomber approached from the stern, attempting to make a bombing attack to coincide with that of the torpedo plane. The Peary, which was almost at a standstill, rang for emergency full speed ahead; the engines responded well and the bombs fell harmlessly 100 yards astern.
In pulling out from their attacks, the torpedo planes attempted to strafe the Peary, but our own machine gunners effectively discouraged this maneuver and the planes turned away without doing any damage except a few holes in the stacks.
As evening was now approaching it seemed unlikely that the Japanese would make any further attacks before dark and it was decided not to go into Menado for shelter but to pass on through Banca Strait into Molucca Passage. In passing Menado at 1743 the signal searchlight was used to ask if the strait was mined, but no reply could be obtained. The strait was safely passed and the Peary was off Kema when three Lockheed Hudson planes with British markings approached from the stern. As the first passed ahead the Andusrec challenge was made on the destroyer's signal searchlight and it was thought that the pilot waved in answer, but the remaining two planes came on for a glide bombing attack. The Peary opened fire and swung hard to starboard, so that the first bomb fell wide on the port beam. As the ship heeled over in her turn one of
the machine gunners fell overboard and was last seen swimming in his life jacket toward a nearby island.
Each plane made two attacks, dropping a 250-pound shrapnel bomb on each run. The Peary succeeded in avoiding all except the last, which was a close miss. It hit 10 yards off the port propeller guard and shrapnel from it entered the steering engine room, breaking steam pipes and shearing the main steering ropes. Other fragments killed a man at a machine gun on the fire control platform and set fire to a 4-inch cartridge. G. A. Fryman, Fireman Third Class, seized it and threw it overboard before it exploded.
As the planes pulled out of their glide they strafed the ship but without doing any damage.
It was soon discovered that the starboard engine's Kingsbury thrust had been damaged and was overheating. The prolonged maneuvering at high speed had reduced fuel to a dangerously low level and there was a shortage of feed water. Consequently it was decided to put in at Maitara Island (near Ternate), where the Peary arrived in the early morning. She was tied up along the reef and again covered with palm branches. Supplies were obtained and the thrust repaired, so that she was able to get underway for Ambon on the evening of the 30th. The repairs proved inadequate, so that she proceeded on the port engine alone and arrived at noon the next day.
At Ambon it was discovered that the PBY's which had seen the Peary crossing the Celebes Sea had reported a small Japanese cruiser proceeding at high speed toward Menado escorted by a Japanese bomber. The Australians were apologetic for their bombing. At least there was the comfort that our allies had shown better marksmanship than the Japanese.
The Heron, which was sent north to assist the Peary, was herself bombed in a protracted action in Molucca Strait on the 31st. Shrapnel from near hits penetrated the ship's side and started fires in the paint locker and forward hold. About the middle of the afternoon a 100-pound shrapnel bomb struck the foremast near the top and sprayed the ship with splinters which did considerable damage. The Heron acquitted herself well, however, in spite of her 12-knot speed, and succeeded in shooting down a large enemy seaplane.
9 Allied recognition signal.