- Piper, Robert Kendall
- Ship histories and stories
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- March 1982 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
The old ship was battered with bombs, strafed with cannons and riddled with machine gun fire. At least three aircraft came to grief in the surrounding water while practising attacks against her, an American Mitchell as well as an Australian Beaufighter and Havoc. The former two struck a mast while the latter had premature explosions of 20 lb fragmentation bombs. All accidents incurred loss of the crews with only two of the four escaping from Beaufighter A 19-73 when the tail broke off on impact with the sea.
During this time it is recorded that Generals George Kenney and Ken Walker (then heads of the US Army 5th Air Force) visited Pruth by rowing boat. Their plan was to study at close hand the effects of their pilots’ handiwork. Both noted that the instantaneous 1/10 second fuses were more effective against her rusty slab sides. Even near misses cut holes two to four square feet in area. General Ken Walker, who earlier had strongly advocated delayed fuses, lost his bet to Kenney and was forced to row the boat back to deep water and the attending motor boat. (Gen. Walker was lost two months later – January 5, 1943 – in a B17 daylight bombing raid over Rabaul).
The rest became history. The skills developed against Pruth proved a resounding success in such actions as the Battle of the Bismarck Sea. Convoys broken, warships destroyed and armies without food or equipment. The Allied drive back through the islands was to continue for another three years, much of its speed due to a rusty, forlorn old hulk which nobody ever thought would be of any use again.
The last enemy air raid on Port Moresby, No. 113, was at 0345 hrs on September 20 1943. There were only two enemy bombers. In an almost poetic gesture, one of the aircraft, possibly in error, dropped a stick of bombs near the Pruth which missed! Perhaps a fitting farewell to a grand old lady that had contributed so much to thwart their plans.
Parts of the Pruth may still be seen at low tide on Nateara reef today. It is hoped that an appropriate plaque will be mounted at Ela Beach in the near future to remember this grand old ship as well as the Australian and American aircrews that lost their lives practising against her.
Footnote: This story would not have been possible without the enthusiasm and invaluable assistance of Bruce Hoy, Curator of the Aviation, Maritime and War Museum, Port Moresby.