Gordon Bridson

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Gordon Bridson
Born 2 December 1909
Wellington, New Zealand
Died 6 December 1972
Cambridge, New Zealand
Allegiance  New Zealand
Service/branch  Royal New Zealand Navy
Years of service 1928–1946
Rank Commander
Commands held HMNZS Kiwi
Battles/wars World War II
Awards Distinguished Service Order
Distinguished Service Cross
Navy Cross (United States)

Commander Gordon Bridson DSO, DSC (2 December 1909 – 6 December 1972) of the Royal New Zealand Navy (RNZN) was the commander of the minesweeping trawler Kiwi which, with her sister ship Moa, fought a classic duel with Japanese submarine I-1.

Early years[edit]

Gordon Bridson
Medal record
Men's Swimming
Competitor for  New Zealand
British Empire Games
Silver medal – second place 1930 Hamilton 400-yard freestyle
Silver medal – second place 1930 Hamilton 1500 yard freestyle

Bridson grew up in Auckland, New Zealand. He went to Auckland Grammar School and became the Auckland swimmer of the decade.[1] At the 1930 British Empire Games he won silver medals for both the 400 yd and 1500 yd freestyle.

War career[edit]

Bridson began his naval career in 1927 by joining the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve in Auckland. He was commissioned in February 1928 and in April 1940 was mobilised for war and promoted to lieutenant commander. The following month he was sent to England to serve in the Royal Navy.[2]

In England Bridson commanded HMS Walnut. Walnut was a Tree-class minesweeper[3] belonging to a group of ten ships commanded by New Zealanders. For a year these ships were deployed as the 24th and 25th anti-submarine and minesweeping flotillas, protecting convoys on the east coast of Britain. They were often attacked by air and sea. Bridson received the DSC for his performance during this time.[2]

Commander of the Kiwi[edit]

Bridson then commanded the newly built minesweeping trawler HMNZS Kiwi, commissioned at Greenock in October 1941. On New Year's Day Kiwi accompanied a convoy setting out from Greenock to cross the North Atlantic to Newfoundland. They encountered a severe storm which damaged the Kiwi. Bridson then sailed her to New Zealand.[2]

Back in New Zealand, the RNZN formed the Kiwi, together with Moa and Tui (Kiwi's two new minesweeping trawler sisters) and Matai (a converted merchant ship), into the 25th Minesweeping Flotilla. In December 1942 the flotilla set sail for deployment in the Solomon Islands.[2]

On 14 January 1943 an American PT boat fired two torpedoes at Kiwi. It was a mistake but they missed. It angered the New Zealanders, though Bridson subsequently became friends with the PT commander.[2]

The wrecking of submarine I-1[edit]

External images
Kiwi's bow showing damage by Submarine I-1
Lt-Cdr Bridson and crew marching through Auckland

Later the same month, in the late evening of January 30, Bridson was senior officer while Kiwi jointly patrolled Guadalcanal Island with Moa. They detected the large Japanese submarine I-1. The submarine was over twice the size of the New Zealand boats, with a more powerful five-inch gun. The submarine surfaced so it could use its gun while the Kiwi attacked with depth charges. Kiwi then repeatedly rammed the submarine while firing point blank with its 4-inch gun. The Kiwi's fire capability was assisted by an unofficial 20-mm Oerlikon on its bow, which it came to possess at Noumea in exchange for two bottles of gin.[2]

[Bridson] ...gave the order to ram. At the same time he thought he'd better let the engine room know what was going on. So he shouted down the voice pipe, "Stand by to ram." When the voice came back from the engine room, "What the hell do you mean by ram?" he replied, "I don't know. I've never done it before."[4]

Eventually, chased by Moa, the I-1 stranded and sank on a reef. The Kiwi's searchlight operator, leading signalman Buchanan, was killed, and the Kiwi had to go back to New Zealand for repairs to her bow.[2]

Bridson was awarded the DSO and the United States Navy Cross[5] for this action.

In May 1944 he became acting commander in Dunedin. Six months later he was made commander in charge at Lyttelton and became also an aide de camp to the Governor General. He remained in these positions until the 1946 demobilisation.[2]

Post war[edit]

Bridson moved to Te Aroha with his wife and three children and worked as a partner in his hardware business. Late in the 1950s he became a farmer near Cambridge, where he died on 6 December 1972.[2]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Auckland swimming
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Dennerly, P. Y. (2000) Bridson, Gordon 1909–1972. Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, vol 5.
  3. ^ HMS Walnut uboat.net. Retrieved 6 April 2015.
  4. ^ Auckland Museum Scars of the Heart. David Graham describing the actions of Bridson when commanding HMNZS Kiwi
  5. ^ Full Text Citations for award of the Navy Cross

Other references[edit]

  • Profile (swimmer) at NZOGC website
  • McDougall, R J (1989) New Zealand Naval Vessels. Page 55-61. Government Printing Office. ISBN 978-0-477-01399-4
  • Walters, Sydney David (1956) The Royal New Zealand Navy: Official History of World War II, Department of Internal Affairs, Wellington Lt-Cdr. Gordon Bridson
  • Epic sea battle. New Zealand Herald. 12 March 1943, page 2
  • Obituary. The Dominion. 7 December 1972, page 7

Further reading[edit]

  • Harker, Jack (2000)The Rockies: New Zealand Minesweepers at War. Silver Owl Press. ISBN 0-9597979-9-8