Royal NZ Navy's Bird-class ships

Page 6 – The Tui goes hunting

In August 1943 it was the turn of Moa and Kiwi's sister ship, Tui, to claim a scalp. On 19 August the ship was escorting two American cargo vessels on a journey from Noumea to Espiritu Santo when it picked up a submarine contact. Tui made three runs over the suspicious object, dropping two depth charges each time on the second and third occasions. Contact was lost and with American floatplanes now overhead, Tui shaped course to rejoin the freighters to give them closer protection.

Ten minutes later an aircraft asked Tui to rejoin the search – the pilot thought he had seen bubbles. Another Asdic (sonar) search proved negative, so Tui again made course to rejoin the freighters before nightfall. As the ship was doing that, however, a lookout spotted what looked like smoke floats on the horizon. An aircraft reinstated the hunt, and soon the lookouts spotted what looked like a conning tower on the horizon.

The submarine was emitting brown smoke and out of gun range, but just before 8 p.m. Tui had made enough ground to land two shells on the sub. The ship then ceased fire to allow three American OS2U Kingfisher planes to make depth charge attacks. They did so accurately and minutes later the submarine was seen to up end and sink vertically. Two heavy underwater explosions rocked the Tui.

The ship steamed through the debris field and rescued six Japanese sailors. They were from the submarine I-17, an even bigger and faster craft than the I-1 sunk earlier by Kiwi and Moa. The prisoners reported that the Tui’s depth charges had forced the I-17 to the surface, enabling it to be finished off by the Tui’s gunfire and the US depth charges.

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'The Tui goes hunting', URL:, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 7-Aug-2023