The Loftsman
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 KIWI - Yard No 315 - Bird Class Naval Training - NZ Navy - Built 1941

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HMNZS KIWI - Yard No 315 - Bird Class Naval Training - NZ Navy - Built 1941



 HMNZS KIWI a "Bird Class" Armed Trawler.

(photo credit unknown)

 The crest of HMNZS KIWI
Owners   New Zealand Navy
Registered     Keel Laid    
Type of Ship    Bird Class Naval Training Vessel Launched    07/07/1941
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 Tons      
Complement     33-35      
Engines   One Shaft Reciprocal triple expansion oil fired, producing ihp of 1100      
Props    1      
Speed    13 knots      
Armament      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   Brocken up in 1964    
Content on will be added as and when available. 
HMNZS KIWI underway (photo credit unknown)
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 KIWI 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. She was the second in line of three ships ordered from the Leith Shipyards of Henry Robb.

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 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 



Above shows the bow of the wrecked Japanese Sub I-1 (RNZN Museum APC0010)

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. For a chart of the battle see HMNZS MOA


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.


HMNZS KIWI in dry dock with her damaged bow after ramming the giant Japanese submarine I-1

the photo shows the outline of the replacement bow required. (photo credit unknown)

Another view of the damaged bow of "KIWI"
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.

HMNZS Kiwi post-war

During this action she rammed the submarine, which was over twice her size, damaging her bow and was sent back to Devonport for repairs. After repair, she returned to the Solomon's area, remaining there till almost the end of the Second World War, returning to Auckland in August 1945 to help in the clearance of the Auckland minefields, going into reserve shortly afterwards. She recommissioned in 1948- 1949, 1951-1952, and 1954-1956 for use as a training ship, before finally paying off in 1956. She was sold for scrap in 1964 and broken up shortly afterwards.

Dedicated to all the brave men and women who sailed the vessels from the Leith Shipyards.

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.



 The photograph above shows HMNZS KIWI berthing at the port of Wanganui, another  New zealand port with strong ties to the Leith Shipyards of Henry Robb.

(photo credit unknown) 

 My thanks to the New Zealand Navy museum sources for help with the history of this gallant little ship.


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0 #1 Blair 2014-10-07 12:43
The ship my Grandfather Colin D Strong sailed on during the war. He joined the ship while in dry docks after the ramming and said the scariest thing that happened to them was when they hit massive wave after an underwater eruption. He said to me that from the top of the waves it was 3-4 boat lengths to the bottom of the waves and the Captain was quite scared during the whole day that the waves lasted.

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