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Royal NZ Navy's Bird-class ships

Page 5 – The sinking of the Moa

Early in April 1943 the HMNZS Moa was detached from the 25th Minesweeping Flotilla. On 7 April, while refuelling from the American oil barge Erskine M. Phelps at Tulagi Harbour, in the Solomons, the anchorage came under attack from Japanese aircraft. Although a nearby American task force had sighted the raiders, it did not pass on a warning. Both vessels were caught by surprise by a force of Aichi D3A ‘Val’ dive bombers which swooped in from over the hills surrounding the harbour.

Moa crewmen scrambled to disconnect hoses and get underway. The gunners got in a few bursts of anti-aircraft fire before a Val bracketed the ship. Contemporary newspaper reports and one book say that two bombs hit the Moa; other books say one direct hit and two near-misses. Either way, the fatal blow came from a bomb which plunged through the captain’s cabin and detonated in the bowels of the ship. The Moa listed over and sank by the bow within four minutes.

One rating was blown unharmed into the sea from his post on the bridge. The ship’s commander, Lieutenant-Commander Peter Phipps, also had a miraculous escape. He was in his cabin when a bomb passed through it and exploded below. The blast felt like an earthquake and he only narrowly avoided being struck by his safe, which hurtled through the air.

Other men were not so lucky. Five seamen died and 15 were wounded, including Phipps. Leading Signalman Jack Salter and Ordinary Telegraphist Walter Bright were praised for risking their lives to rescue Ordinary Signalman Arthur Thomas, pinned on the deck unconscious by part of the bridge structure. They released him, fastened a lifejacket around him and floated with their patient as the Moa sank beneath them.

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The sinking of the Moa, URL:, (Manatū Taonga — Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated