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Leith Shipyards

A history of the Ships built at the Henry Robb Shipyard in Leith, Scotland. Also a testimony to the men who built the Ships and to all who sailed in them.
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Home Ships Built in Leith 1939 to 1945 HMNZS MOA - Yard No 314 - Bird Class Naval Training - NZ Navy - Built 1941

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HMNZS MOA - Yard No 314 - Bird Class Naval Training - NZ Navy - Built 1941


 HMNZS MOA a "Bird Class" Armed Trawler. The crest of HMNZS MOA (official or un-official it deserves to be shown.
Owners   New Zealand Navy
Registered     Keel Laid    
Type of Ship    Bird Class Naval Training Vessel Launched    15/04/1941
Ship Details          
Length Overall     Launch Details    
Length B.P.    157' 6" Weather    
Beam    27' 6" Time to Water    
Depth Mld     15' 6"      
G.R.T.    579      
Complement     33-35      
Engines   One Shaft Reciprocal triple expansion oil fired, producing ihp of 1100      
Props    1      
Speed    13 knots      

 As fitted,1 x 4" Gun (102mm) with gunshield.Minesweeping equipment, ASDIC, 40-42 light depth charges, 1x Twin Lewis mount.

Added in 1942 was 2x 20 mm Guns 

Other known names        
Current Status   Sunk by Japanese bombers on 7th of April 1943    

HMNZS MOA (Photo courtesy of RNZN Museum ABJ0211) 

 Named after the huge (extinct) flightless bird that was found in New Zealand


Ships History

Once a ship had been built and launched she then had to be out-fitted, and then complete sea trials
before being handed over to her new owners, as ever with a ship for Naval forces she had to then be commissioned into that navies fighting forces.

The "Bird Class vessels had been ordered by the Admiralty in 1939 and with the outbreak of World War II they were urgently needed along with every other vessel that could be mustered by Britain and her Allies.

The small ships of the worlds navies have never really got the rightful attention there gallant actions deserved, when most of the focus of the media and the public physic was given over to the perceived more daring and heroic efforts of the large famous capital ships.

HMNZS MOA whilst not ordered nor meant to be a front line fighting ship was pressed into service against the Japanese forces intent at the time of taking over the free world of the East. 

This class was based on the design of an experimental Royal Navy minesweeping trawler were the first new ships to enter service with the Royal New Zealand Navy, their principal peace time function was training, and in wartime, minesweeping and escort duties. After working up in Northern England she went to New Zealand In December 1942, the four ships of the 25th Minesweeping Flotilla, comprising the three 'Bird class' corvettes HMNZS Kiwi, Tui, and Moa, with HMNZS Matai as senior ship, had deployed to the Solomons.

Just one month after arriving in the hectic battle grounds of the Solomons, she was involved in an incredible feat of "David against Goliath"

The night of 29-30 January 1943 proved eventful for two ships of the 25th Minesweeping flotilla of the RNZN.  HMNZS Kiwi and Moa were patrolling one mile apart off Kamimbo Bay at the north-west end of Guadalcanal when the asdic operator obtained a 'contact' at 3000 yards  with the vessel immediately identified as a submarine .  Kiwi at once altered course toward the enemy and increased to full speed to attack with depth charges while the Moa kept her course and acted as ASDIC directing vessel.


The Japanese Submarine I-1 (RNZN ABD0102)

The outline of the submarine could be clearly seen when the Kiwi dropped a pattern of six depth charges, one of which fell in the wake of the periscope.  On the next contact, after another pattern of depth charges, the submarine was forced to the surface, its electric motors apparently disabled.[1]

[1] S.D. Waters, Official History of New Zealand in the Second World War - The Royal New Zealand Navy. Wellington: War History Branch Department of Internal Affairs, 1956. 

  The Japanese submarine I-1 tried to escape in the darkness using her diesel engines under the high land of the island but her efforts were in vain. Kiwi and Moa turned towards their foe firing star shells and high explosives one of which fired from Kiwi found its mark.  The submarine replied with her 5.5-inch 125mm gun with two shells passing close over the Kiwi and three very close to the Moa.[2]   At this time the Kiwi prepared to ram the submarine on the port side abaft the conning tower.  Although she hit the submarine she kept up hot fire with every gun that could be bought to bear.

[2] Grant Howard, The Navy in New Zealand –An Illustrated History, Wellington: A.H. & A.W. Reed, 1981.

During the entire battle the Kiwi's searchlight and signalling lamp were trained on the submarine.  The searchlight was controlled by Leading Signalman Campbell Buchanan[3] at considerable risk to himself.  Into the action Buchanan was hit and although mortally wounded remained at his post uncomplaining until relieved.  He died of his wounds at Tulagi the following day.  This act of courage won him the US Navy Cross and a posthumous mention in dispatches.  . In a fierce action that lasted more than an hour, Kiwi rammed the submarine three times before I-1 finally struck a reef and was wrecked.

 [3] Acting Leading Signalman C.H. Buchanan, RNZNVR Port Chalmers –died Tulagi 31 Jan 1943 – RNZN Posting Record Card held Navy Museum

Wreck-of-I-1The wreck of the Japanese Submarine I-1 (RNZN Museum APC0010)

This chart shows her track as she searched for the submarine and dropped depth charges that bought the submarine to the surface. Kiwi rammed the submarine in a close encounter that resulted in the submarine being sunk. Today, the museum has the 5.5-inch gun that was carried by I-1 in its collection.



The next night Moa was again in action, this time with HMNZS Tui, when they encountered some Japanese landing barges.  During the engagement, in which Moa sank at least one of the barges, she received a hit on her forward 4 inch gun, which passed through the sighting aperture and exploded, setting fire to the ready-use cordite.  All members of the gun's crew suffered burns and some were wounded by splinters as Leading Signalman J. Salter recalled:

 'Kiwi was out of action after ramming the submarine so we went up with Tui on the next patrol.  We ran into a fleet of four barges.  We sank one and I think Tui also sank one.  One barge fired at us and put a shot through the shield of the gun; it was about an inch in diameter and exploded on the bridge.  Ian Fraser had a shell in his arms when a splinter ignited it and it went up in his arms.  The flames were higher than the masthead.  The whole guns crew were put out of action with very, very bad burns and splinters.  The gun was jammed but the gunners managed to clear it the next day.  Some American patrol boats came alongside and took our wounded ashore.'


For the first week of April, Moa was engaged in the routine work of patrolling and escort duties around Guadalcanal, being teamed-up with all of the other ships in the New Zealand 25th Minesweeping Flotilla at various times.  Air raids remained a feature of this period.  The ship spent the night of 5 April in Purvis Sound with a defective generator and went to Tulagi for water on the 6th, remaining there overnight.  On 7 April Moa was back on patrol, but due to fuel from a hulk in Tulagi in the afternoon. 

 On this day, the Japanese launched their I-GO operation to destroy bases and ports of the Allied forces at Guadalcanal, Tulagi, and .... This plan was directed by Yamamoto as a last effort.[4] This had to be delayed because of a large air raid, composed of 98 Japanese aircraft and Moa remained screening outside the harbour until the "all clear" was given.  Lieutenant Commander Phipps of Moa then let an American destroyer fuel ahead of him, because it was urgently needed back on patrol.  Moa eventually got alongside the hulk and he retired to his cabin.  Without warning there was then a further air raid.  Moa opened fire with its Oerlikon, but the ship was immediately hit by two 500 pound bombs, one going through the captain's cabin, missed Lieutenant Commander Phipps by a few feet, continued on through the bottom of the ship, before it exploded.  The explosion threw the wardrobe across the door of the cabin and he was lucky not to have been hit by his safe as it hurtled through the air.  A second bomb exploded in the boiler room and with the roar of escaping steam from the boilers Moa settled quickly.  With shrapnel from the bomb blast in his arms and legs and an ankle broken, Peter Phipps had to climb over the wardrobe that had fallen in front of the door, to get out.  On the upper deck he came across Chief Engine Room Artificer Anstis who was lying in the scuppers and tried to lift him, but found that he had not the strength and dropped him.  Anstis' head struck a fuel coupling as he fell, causing a wound that required several stitches.  As he later recalled, he was the only one on board to be injured by his own captain. 

 On the bridge Leading Seaman Jack Salter and Ordinary Telegraphist Bright saw that Signalman Thomas was severely wounded and unconscious.  The two fitted him with a life jacket and as the ship sank beneath them, they floated off the bridge, supporting Thomas.  Having got off the ship, Lieutenant Belgrave saw that Assistant Steward Molloy was unconscious and going down with the ship and immediately dived under and rescued him.  Salter and Bright were later awarded the British Empire Medal.

 It only took 3½ minutes for Moa to sink and five ratings were killed in the action and another 15 wounded.  A total of four ships were sunk during this air raid, including the tanker, which was the prime target.

 [4] Yamamoto was killed a few weeks later when his aircraft was shot down by American fighters based on decoded Japanese signals.

Moa's sea boat had got away and with some landing craft rescued most of the survivors.  After some time in the water, during which he later recalled being machine-gunned, Lieutenant Commander Phipps found himself lying on the beach with a priest cutting off his oil soaked uniform in order that his wounds could be treated. The wounded were repatriated to New Zealand, Lieutenant Commander Phipps being the last to return, on 26 April. 

This page is dedicated to the five crewmen who lost there lives when MOA was sunk.

We try here to give as full an account of her history as time and research permits, if you know of missing info
or you have any photographs of her, then please get in touch and we shall update her story as we go along.

Ships from Hell

Ships from Hell

This is a new and frightening insight into Japanese atrocities in the Second World War. The horrific conditions aboard hellships at sea are revealed including the torture, disease and massacre which characterised them.

Tales from the Ship

Here you will find the stories from the men and women who sailed on the ships, what was it really like to be working on a ship in a raging sea and in the pitch dark of night, the real stories some funny some sad, some good and some bad.

Birdclass-MOA-KIWI-TUIThis if from a painting (artist unknown) showing the action that took place as the MOA and KIWI attacked the Japanese Submarine which was in fact about 6 times the size of the little ships.

Her name plate has now been recovered by divers and is being looked after by the marine archaeologist Brigid Gallagher who was amongst others responsible for the successful BBC programme "Timeline" now working out of New Zealand it is her responsibility to bring the ships letters back to a presentation condition and then hand the ships name plates back to the Royal New Zealand Navy for display and further recognition as to the fine part played by this gallant little ship during action in World War Two
Dedicated to all the brave men and women who sailed the vessels from the Leith Shipyards.

The ships name taken from the sunken wreck of HMNZS MOA from the water just recently and still showing the signs of being underwater for the past 71 years

HMNZS MOA (7th April 1943) was hit by two bombs in Tulagi, Harbour while re-fuelling and she sank within 4 minutes with the loss of five crewmen, and a total of 15 wounded.

The photograph above shows the reverse of her name plate completed with the encrusted sealife, once restored the name plate will be shown at the Devonport Naval Museum in Auckland New Zealand as part of a display to commemorate this brave little ship and her crew.

Should you know of anyone who may have sailed on her, then please feel free to get in touch so that we can add the story here.

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0 #4 Robert Utting 2016-09-29 02:55
John Chilton Oliver Moffatt Leading Seaman (my uncle) lost his life during this action. He was on the Achillies when they helped to disable the Admiral Graf Spee
0 #3 Alan Smith 2016-09-17 02:50
My dad Maurice Edward Smith was the cook and depth charge thrower of back of boat
+1 #2 Charlie Collyer 2011-11-30 11:39
My father was a gunner on the HMNZS MOA. He often spoke of the good times the crew had, drinking sessions normally. Sadly, dad passed away 6 years ago. He would have loved to have seen the video on utube of the wreck. He was blown off the ship during the attack and suffered injuries as well as permanent hearing loss. He recalled being covered in fuel and oil. I cant imagine what they went through. My fathers name was Charles Edward Collyer. Thank you for letting comment on my father.
+1 #1 John H Ackrill 2011-10-10 02:13
After the sinking of I-1 USN divers recovered her code books which enabled the US to decode Japanese Navy messages; as a direct result they were able to mount the raid that killed Yamamoto

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