"I have a vivid memory of seeing a gun-crew on the poop of the vessel firing what appeared to be a Bofors gun at the aircraft, which were obviously out of range. There was a blinding flash as a bomb exploded on the poop, killing the entire guncrew."
Flight Lieutenant William (Bill) Gibbs, RAAF Meterological Service. Read his account.
The MV Macdhui was a merchant vessel owned by the Burns Philp Line. During the 1930s, it traded between Sydney and the Australian territories of Papua and New Guinea.
Before the Japanese invasion in 1942, the Macdhui was used to evacuate women and children from Rabaul. It also evacuated other Australians from elsewhere in the Pacific.
During the war, the Australian Government commandeered the ship to transport troops and supplies from Australia to Papua and New Guinea.
On 17 June 1942, the Macdhui was unloading supplies in Port Moresby Harbour. While members of the 39th Battalion were unloading aviation fuel from the hold, 18 Japanese Betty bombers attacked. The ship took a direct hit. Four men—three crew and one serviceman—were killed.
"When another air-raid warning sounded next morning, MV MacDhui again left the wharf to manoeuvre in the harbour. The same Japanese aircraft again flew at about 20,000 foot in steady formation, dropping three sticks of bombs, one of which scored five direct hits on the vessel... " Flight Lieutenant William (Bill) Gibbs, RAAF Meteorological Service
On 18 June, the bombers returned, hitting the ship's steering gear. When a fierce fire broke out, the master ordered the crew to abandon ship. The Macdhui then drifted onto a reef and sank.
"Other bombs in the stick started fires on the vessel and damaged the steering gear. Captain Campbell was blown from the bridge, landing on the boat deck. Despite his injuries, he alerted the engineers to the danger of fires causing an explosion and gave the order to abandon ship. The vessel drifted onto a reef in the harbour, where I saw it rusting but still resting some years after the war... Immediately after the bombing Hugh Bond, our RAAF medical officer, took a boat to the ship to tend the wounded." Flight Lieutenant William (Bill) Gibbs, RAAF Meteorological Service
War correspondent Damien Parer captured the sinking of the Macdhui on film. It was a potent symbol of the war in New Guinea. The ship was the only reliable link at the time between Australia and Port Moresby. Its loss was a major blow to morale.
Today, the wreck of the ship is still visible in Port Moresby Harbour.
In 1971, the Macdhui's mast was installed as a flag mast and memorial at the Royal Papua Yacht Club. A wreath-laying ceremony is held there every Anzac Day to commemorate those who died in the attack.
One of the Macdhui's bells was later used by No. 111 Air-Sea Rescue Flight RAAF to signal action stations in the event of a Japanese attack. After the war, another bell was installed in the tower of St John's Anglican Cathedral, Port Moresby, where it remains today.