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Japanese submarine I-17
Career (Japan) Japan
Name: I-17
Builder: Yokosuka Navy Yard
Laid down: April 1938
Launched: July 19, 1939
Commissioned: 24 January 1941
Struck: December 1, 1943
Fate: Sunk on 19 August 1943 by HMNZS Tui (T234) and US Kingfisher float-planes
General characteristics
Displacement: 2,584 tons surfaced
3,654 tons submerged
Length: 356.5 ft (108.7 m)
Beam: 30.5 ft (9.3 m)
Draft: 16.8 ft (5.1 m)
Propulsion: 2 diesels: 12,400 hp (9,250 kW)
Electric motors: 2,000 hp (1,500 kW)
Speed: 23.5 knots (43.5 km/h) surfaced
8 knots (15 km/h) submerged
Range: 14,000 nautical miles (25,928 km) at 16 knots (30 km/h)
Test depth: 100 m (330 ft)
Complement: 94 officers and men
Armament: 6 × 533 mm forward torpedo tubes
17 torpedoes
1 × 14 cm/40 11th Year Type naval gun[1] (removed November 1942)
Aircraft carried: 1 Yokosuka E14Y seaplane

I-17 was a Japanese B1 type submarine of the Imperial Japanese Navy which saw service during World War II. This long-range submarine cruiser spent the early months of the war in the eastern Pacific and was the first Axis ship to shell the United States mainland. She later supported the Japanese Army in fighting around the Solomon Islands and remained active in the southwest Pacific until sunk in August 1943.


Pearl Harbor

During the attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941, I-17 patrolled north of Oahu. Its mission was to reconnoiter and engage any ships that tried to sortie from Pearl Harbor.[2] I-17 proceeded to a patrol station off Cape Mendocino following the attack on Pearl Harbor. The 6912-ton General Petroleum tanker SS Emidio was sailing in ballast from Seattle, Washington en route to San Pedro, California. I-17 hit the tanker with five 14 centimetres (5.5 in) shells in the early afternoon of 20 December 1941. The tanker was within sight of land, and survivors reached the Blunt Reef lightship in lifeboats. The tanker drifted north onto rocks off Crescent City, California where the wreck remained until scrapped in 1959. A scheduled shelling of American coastal cities on Christmas eve of 1941 was canceled because of the frequency of coastal air and surface patrols.[3]

Shelling the US mainland

On 23 February 1942, I-17 achieved some notability as the first Axis ship to shell the United States mainland in an incident known as the Bombardment of Ellwood. A few minutes after 7 pm, she surfaced a few hundred yards off a beach 10 miles (16 km) west of Santa Barbara, California, within the Ellwood Oil Field. Over 20 minutes, she fired 17 shells from her 14 cm gun at the giant Richfield aviation fuel storage tanks on the blufftop behind the beach. The shots were mostly wild, one landing more than a mile inland. The closest shell exploded in a field 30 yards (27 m) from one of the tanks. The shelling did only minor damage to a pier and a pumphouse, but news of the shelling triggered an "invasion" scare along the West Coast.[2][4]

The following night, the anti-aircraft defences in Los Angeles exploded into action in response to an imagined invasion (later to be known as the Battle of Los Angeles, against a supposed UFO). During a 30 minute fusillade, guns hurled 1,440 rounds of 3-inch (76 mm) and 37 mm ammunition into the night sky, and about ten tons of shrapnel and unexploded ammunition fell back on the city.[5]

Supply missions to Guadalcanal

In November 1942, I-17's 14 cm deck gun was removed and she set out for Guadalcanal on the first of many supply missions.[2]

Battle of the Bismarck Sea

On 2 March 1943 in the Battle of the Bismarck Sea, a Japanese convoy carrying troops to Lae was bombed and strafed by USAAF and RAAF planes for three successive days. All of the eight transports and cargo vessels in the convoy and four of the eight escorting destroyers were sunk. The Japanese in lifeboats, rafts and in the water were strafed by planes and PT boats. The I-17 was directed to the area.

On 5 March two PT boats, PT-143 and PT-150, discovered I-17 with three lifeboats full of survivors from the Bismarck Sea battle. The submarine was taking them on board. The I-17 crash dived as the PT boats strafed and fired torpedoes at her. The PT boats then sank the lifeboats with machine gun fire and depth charges. Several hours later, the I-17 resurfaced and picked up 33 surviving soldiers.

The following day, I-17 rescued another 118 soldiers and 4 sailors. She then sailed to Lae and disembarked her 155 passengers.[2][6]

Torpedoing the Stanvac Manila

On 24 May 1943, 100 miles (160 km) south off Noumea 23°45′S 166°30′E / 23.75°S 166.5°E / -23.75; 166.5. I-17 sighted the 10,169 ton Panamanian flagged tanker Stanvac Manila. The tanker had six PT boats on board as cargo. At 0407, I-17's torpedo hit the tanker, flooding the engine and fire room and disabling all power and communications. At 12:05 the Manila sank, taking the two PT boats PT-165 and PT-173 with her.[6] At about 13:00 the destroyer USS Preble arrived and towed three of the surviving PT boats, PT-167, PT-171 and PT-174 to Noumea. The remaining boat, PT-172, made Noumea under her own power. One life was lost.[2]


On 19 August 1943, 40 miles (64 km) SE off Noumea the I-17's Glen floatplane reconnoitered and spotted a convoy that has just cleared the harbour. After stowing the plane, the I-17 set out after the convoy. The New Zealand armed trawler HMNZS Tui, escorting the convoy, picked up a submarine contact. She made an initial run over it without using depth charges, a second run dropping two depth charges, and a third run throwing another two depth charges. Then the Tui lost contact with the I-17.[7]

OS2U Kingfisher floatplanes of the US Scouting Squadron VS-57, from New Caledonia, joined the search[8] and one of these planes indicated that Tui should investigate smoke on the horizon. The submarine was sighted on the surface and the Tui opened fire at maximum range, scoring one and possibly two hits. The two shells exploded forward of her periscope, the I-17 was severely damaged, and slid beneath the waves, leaving a trail of air bubbles and oil marking her path.

The I-17 surfaced quickly five minutes later with the bow exiting at a steep angle. The floatplane strafed the deck of the large submarine briefly, keeping the crew of the submarine from manning her deck gun, and when the sailors of the I-17 finally reached their gun stations, they fired into the sky with anti-aircraft fire.

The Kingfishers next dropped more depth charges, and then the submarine sank at 23°26′S 166°50′E / 23.433°S 166.833°E / -23.433; 166.833.[6] Ninety-one of her sailors were lost. The Tui rescued six survivors who said that the Tui's depth charge attacks had damaged the I-17 and forced her to the surface, and also that the Kingfisher's depth charges had sunk her in the end.[7]


  1. Campbell, John Naval Weapons of World War Two ISBN 0-87021-459-4 p.191
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 Tabular Record of Movement: HIJMS Submarine I-17
  3. Webber, Bert, Retaliation: Japanese Attacks and Allied Countermeasures on the Pacific Coast in World War II, Oregon State University Press, 1975, pp. 14-16
  4. California State Military Museum: The Shelling of Ellwood
  5. Young, Donald J. Phantom Japanese Raid on Los Angeles World War II Magazine, September issue 2003
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 Official Chronology of the US Navy in World War II: Chapter V: 1943 Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Chronology" defined multiple times with different content
  7. 7.0 7.1 Waters, Sydney David (1956) The Royal New Zealand Navy, Page 327-328, Official History.
  8. Carr, Jess W Vs-57 and the sinking of Japanese submarine I-17, Naval Aviation News, September–October issue, 2001


Further reading

  • Harker, Jack (2000)The Rockies: New Zealand Minesweepers at War. Silver Owl Press. ISBN 0-9597979-9-8
  • Jentschura, Hansgeorg; Dieter Jung, Peter Mickel. Warships of the Imperial Japanese Navy, 1869-1945. United States Naval Institute, 1977. Annapolis, Maryland, USA, 1977. ISBN 0-87021-893-X.

External links

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