On the night of 29 January 1943 two New Zealand corvettes, HMNZS Kiwi and Moa sank the Japanese Submarine I-1 off Kanimbo Bay on the northern tip of Guadalcanal. The next night Moa, with HMNZS Tui, encountered some Japanese landing barges. During the engagement, 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.
On the night of 29 January 1943 two New Zealand corvettes, HMNZ Ships Kiwi and Moa sank the Japanese Submarine I-1 off Kanimbo Bay on the northern tip of Guadalcanal. 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.
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. 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 12 wounded. A total of four ships were sunk during this air raid, including the tanker, which was the prime target.
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.