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The wreck of the SS Pruth


PruthMORISSET, NSW - I once lived in Pruth Street at Two Mile in Port Moresby.

Our flat overlooked the wreck of SS Pruth on the coral reefs to the south east of Fairfax Harbour. From our front window we used to enjoy watching the ships line up to enter the channel.

There is very little left of Pruth now, its remains lie at the entrance to the channel leading into Moresby, where the main shipping lane narrows between the reefs.

It’s a final hurdle before the safety of Fairfax harbour, discovered by Captain John Moresby in 1873 and named in honour of his father, Admiral Sir Fairfax Moresby

Pruth was wrecked on the reefs at the entrance to the Basilisk Channel during a cyclone in 1924. It was stranded high and dry.

Even then Pruth had its uses. It featured in the filming of Red Morning in 1935. And, in World War II, it was used for bombing practice. Aircraft flying as low as 50 feet above sea level practised bombing runs on the wreck.

Unfortunately some of them, mostly Havocs and Beaufighters, crashed into the sea just beyond the wreck site. You can dive on their remains to this day.

Also a Qantas Short Empire flying boat crashed nearby during a cyclone in 1943 resulting in 13 deaths.


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Niels J Nielsen

My father, Staff Sergeant Niels C Nielsen of the 5th Army Air Force, was scheduled to be an observer on a B-25 (#41-30053) during a training run in which the Pruth wreck was to be strafed on 29 September 1943.

He was called off the flight to assist with paymaster duties at one of the other air bases outside Port Moresby. Meanwhile the B-25 struck the mast of the wreck and crashed, killing all aboard.

Upon returning to Port Moresby, Niels C did his paymaster duties for his own outfit and discovered that his buddies in that plane were all stricken off the payroll, having been killed several hours earlier. If he had been on that plane, I would not be here.

Niels C was drafted into the army as a Danish citizen on a US visa in California and became a naturalised citizen during his time in Port Moresby. He took and passed his citizenship exam in the Port Moresby Hotel.

He passed away in January 2012 at age 96.

Peter Kranz

Well, I had ancestors and family who were German and also English, Scottish and Australian, and now PNG.

So who is he to cast the first stone?

"pəˈrɪkəpiː əˈdʌltəriː"

Peter Kranz

There are many wrecks around the Moresby and Bootless Bay area. The Pacific Wrecks site ( has lots of great detail, although it's not easy to find your way around.

Bootless Bay was at the end of the Jacksons strip runway, so quite a few planes that didn't quite make it, or crashed on take-off, ended up in Bootless Bay.

Loloata is a great place to visit if you are interested. They can take you out to dive on the wrecks and have lots of info about the history of the area in their little library.

Where I lived we also overlooked the site of the old Kila Kila fighter strip, at the eastern end of which was the US base known as Horse Camp (I never found out why). I think this is the site of Sabauma settlement today.

There were seven airstrips in and around Moresby by the end of World War II.

While it's easy to identify the big sites In Moresby, like airstrips and revetments, there were also hundreds of military dumps where goods and supplies, often weapons and ammunition, were hidden to protect them from enemy bombing.

There is an old military map of Morebsy from the early 50's which shows the location of these dumps. I know there is a copy in the UPNG library.

It shows how dangerous it must have been, as many of them were just left after the end of the war.

There used to be a drive-in Cinema in Wards Road which is where Wards Airstrip used to be. While widening the road in the '60's workmen found some strange metal cylinders and started hacking away at them with pickaxes. Someone in the know rushed up and told them to stop.

They then called Army bomb disposal and uncovered a hidden cache of WW2 bombs from one of the munitions dumps - still quite capable of blowing up half of Moresby!

One more reminiscence.

If you go north beyond Jacksons and turn right into the area known as ATS, you can see many WW2 relics - revetments, artillery pits, concrete foundations for huts etc. Some are used as building materials to this day (the old metal road tracks make good fences).

There is an old jeep that was used to make many of the roads and tracks around this area after the war. Due to it's historical importance it is mounted on a concrete plinth outside the AOG Church.

My cousin brother's house is built opposite a concrete slab where someone originally scratched "Australian soldiers 1943" into the concrete when it was first laid.

Gina Samar

Thanks Peter and Neil - Now I know some facts about Port Moresby! It's a shame I never learnt much about this when I was in school.

I've been saving some two toea coins (which have gone out of circulation) for my toddler, I will include this information in 'the things to tell him later' box.

Martin Hadlow

Thanks for completing my education, Peter.

I once worked for Qantas as an international flight attendant and we had the 'no-fatalities' claim drummed into us during training sessions.

The particular 'star' story was about the Qantas Super Constellation which ran off the runway in Mauritius during take-off. All aboard survived. When I was with Qantas, several of the cabin crew from that flight were still flying.

My days aloft were spent on the old 707 and then the initial 747s, including the inaugural 747 flight out of San Francisco. Here's hoping the no-fatalities record for jets continues...

Neil Murray

When Captain Moresby saw the harbour, he named it Moresby Harbour in honour of his father.

He then named the inner harbour beyond Tatana, Fairfax Harbour, in honour of his grand-father who served under Lord Nelson at Trafalgar.

For some strange reason, the name Fairfax has migrated to what was always known as Moresby Harbour.

My theory is that Fairfax sounds more important and so people want to appear more aware.


Martin - This is a common myth deriving from the film 'Rainmaker'. It is only true of the jet era.

In fact Qantas has had 11 fatal crashes with 79 deaths. Admittedly the last one was in 1951. Three of the crashes were off the coast of PNG.

Details here:

The one I referred to above was VH-ADU.

Martin Hadlow

As a matter of interest, Qantas prides itself on never having lost a passenger in a fatal aircraft accident.

Thus, the reference in the article to the 13 deaths on the Qantas flying boat in 1943 seems at odds with this claim. Or am I just confused?

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