The History of Leith

December 17, 2010

Three Sisters

Shortly before the war, the New Zealand Government entrusted us with the building of three minesweeper training ships. They were
the ” Moa,” ” Kiwi,” and ” Tui,” and were launched during the spring
and summer of 1941 in that order.

Although each ship made the long journey to her home country as
soon as she was completed, they eventually came together in the 25th
Minesweeper Flotilla of the Royal New Zealand Navy. Together the
three sisters went northwards and carried out operations in the region
of the Solomons and New Caledonia, where they operated with the
American Fleet.

Early in 1943 ” Kiwi ” and ” Moa ” were in company when they picked up a large 1500 ton Japanese submarine of the “I” Class, which was subsequently proved to have been carrying stores and important reinforcements of personnel to Guadalcanal. ” Moa ” stood off while ” Kiwi ” carried out so fierce an attack with depth charges that the submarine was soon forced to surface. The ” Kiwi ” immediately sprayed the submarine from end to end with all the gunfire she
possessed, but this was not enough, and, disregarding the intense reply from the Japanese guns, she put on all the speed her engines could give and rammed the enemy ship three times in rapid succession.

The excited watchers on the ” Moa ” saw the extraordinary spectacle of the ” Kiwi” slipping slowly over the submarine like a vessel stranded
on an island. The action was so fierce that there were very few survivors either of the crew or the passengers from the enemy vessel.
Even the best Leith workmanship could hardly be expected to survive such rough usage undamaged, but an examination at New Zealand’s own Devonport revealed nothing more serious than a dented bow. Lieut.-Commander G. Bridson, as he then was, added the D.S.O.
and the U.S. Naval Cross to his D.S.C. for this exploit.

On the very next evening the ” Moa and ” Tui ” were mixed up in a brisk fight with enemy landing craft off Guadalcanal and inflicted much damage on the enemy without receiving any themselves.

In addition to the award of the D.S.O. to Lieut.-Commander Bridson, Lieut.-Commander Peter Phipps, R.N.Z.N.V.R., Commanding Officer of the ” Kiwi,” received a bar to his D.S.C. ; Lieutenants J. F. A. O’Neill and W. A. Laurie, R.N.Z.N.V.R., received the D.S.C.; and Able Seamen A. E. J. Dalton and J. T. Washer were awarded the D.S.M. for the action in which the Japanese submarine was destroyed.

The following months saw much the same routine until one day, when the ” Moa ” was riding at anchor in Toulagi, a formation of Japanese planes came in behind a returning Allied formation and carried out a very fierce bombing attack on shipping in the harbour. ” Moa ” received a direct hit and sank. ” Kiwi ” and ” Tui,” still together, continued their operations over a wide area of Pacific waters. They had at least one other kill to their credit. It was only a few weeks after the loss of the ” Moa ” that they contacted another ” I ” Class enemy submarine and depth-charged it until it was forced to surface, where it was finished off by United States aircraft, the satisfaction of whose crews was increased when they discovered from a survivor that it was the ship which carried out the first bombardment of the Californian coast soon after the Japanese came into the war.

All three ships and their crews were very popular with the Americans, nor were they forgotten at home. They were visited by statesmen and high officers, and to the many gifts from the white population of New Zealand were added native Maori weapons, cloaks, and maps.

source-Leith Built Ships on War Service

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