HIJMS Submarine I-503: Tabular Record of Movement

© 2001 Bob Hackett & Sander Kingsepp

23 September 1939:
La Spezia, Italy. A 1,059-ton surface displacement cruiser submarine is completed at Odero-Terni-Orlando (OTO) Muggiano and commissioned in the Regia Marina Italiana as the COMANDANTE ALFREDO CAPPELLINI.

10 June 1940: Italy Declares War on the Allies:
The CAPPELLINI is assigned to the First Group, 12th Squadron at La Spezia. Capitano di Corvetta (CC=LtCdr) Cristiano Masi is the Commanding Officer.

At the start of Italy's war, the CAPPELLINI is enroute from Cagliari, Sardinia via the Straits of Gibraltar to Madeira, a Portuguese island off the coast of NW Africa, but she is attacked by British patrol boats and forced to take refuge in Ceuta, Spain and then return to Spezia.

29 September 1940:
Departs La Spezia under CC Salvatore Todaro (Gold Medal for Valor* posthumously) on her second war patrol. On 15 October, Todaro sinks the 5,186-ton Belgian armed merchant KABALO.

5 November 1940:
Arrives at the Regia Marina's "Betasom" (Beta sommergibili or B-submarine) base at Bordeaux, France newly established under the 1939 "Pact of Steel" between Italy and Germany. After the fall of France, the Kriegsmarine requests that Italy establish a presence in the Atlantic, S of Lisbon, Portugal. The Italians form the XIth Submarine Group at Bordeaux under Contrammiraglio (Rear Admiral) Angelo Parona.

Atlantic. In four patrols under CC Todaro, the CAPPELLINI sinks two ships for 12,501-tons. On her sixth war patrol, under Tenente di Vascello (TV=Lt) (later CC) Aldo Lenzi, she possibly damages the 5,231-ton British merchant MIGUEL DE LARRINGA.

May 1942:
Atlantic. On her seventh patrol, under TV Marco Revedin, the CAPPELLINI sinks two ships for 13,961-tons.

12 September 1942:
S Atlantic, 360 miles N of Ascension Island. At 2010, Korvettenkapitän Werner Hartenstein's U-156 torpedoes and sinks the armed 19,695-ton British Cunard White Star passenger liner LACONIA that is serving as a troopship. She is carrying 2,732 people including her regular 136-man crew, some British officals, 80 British women and children, 268 British soldiers, 160 Free Polish troops and about 1800 Italians taken as POWs in Libya.

Hartenstein takes 193 persons on board the U-156 and tows four lifeboats with about 200 survivors. Another 1,000 or more persons are in the water or in other lifeboats. Hartenstein radios in clear language for assistance in rescuing the survivors.

Admiral Karl Dönitz, Befehlshaber der Unterseeboote (BdU) (CINC U-boats) requests Contrammiraglio Romolo Polacchini, commander of Betasom at Bordeaux, to send a submarine to assist Hartenstein. Polacchini accepts and signals Revedin's CAPPELLINI to proceed immediately to the scene.

15 September 1942:
The CAPPELLINI, the U-506 and the U-507 arrive and tow the lifeboats. The CAPPELLINI takes aboard 42 survivors and the U-boats take aboard up to about 100 persons each.

16 September 1942:
At 1125, a B-24 "Liberator" bomber of the USAAF 343rd Bomb Squadron arrives from Ascension. The U-156 flies a large Red Cross flag from her bridge. The pilot assesses the rescue situation and signals his base for instructions. He is ordered to sink the submarines.** At 1232, the B-24 begins five low level attacks. During the first attack one of the lifeboats is hit and capsizes. In the second attack, a bomb explodes amidships and damages the U-156. The submarines cut the lifeboats' tow lines and crash dive.

17 September 1942:
The Vichy light cruiser GLOIRE arrives from Dakar, French West Africa (now Senegal) and the minesweeper ANNAMITE arrives from Cotonou, Dahomey. At noon, after completing transfer of survivors to the ANNAMITE, the U-506 is attacked by a large seaplane.

18 September 1942:
At 1130, the CAPPELLINI meets the colonial sloop DUMONT D'URVILLE from Conakry, French Guinea. CC Revedin transfers all the LACONIA's survivors to the sloop except two English officials and six Italians. Together the three Vichy French ships rescue 1,083 persons from the lifeboats and take aboard those picked up by the four submarines, but 1,649 lives are lost, mostly Italian PoWs.

17 October 1942:
The CAPPELLINI arrives at Bordeaux.

20 February 1943:
Grossadmiral Dönitz, newly appointed as Oberbefehlshaber der Kriegsmarine (CINC of the Navy) briefs Adolf Hitler that German surface blockade runners plying war materials to and from the Far East are suffering unacceptably high losses. Dönitz suggests that further such trade could be carried out by submarine. He observes that the large, slow-diving Italian submarines based at Bordeaux are unsuitable for war in the Atlantic and could be converted to long-range supply submarines. Later, Dönitz flies to Rome and secures agreement on his proposal from the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini and Ammiraglio Arturo Ricardi, CINC of the Regia Marina, in return for the Germans providing new Type VII-C U-boats to Italy as replacements.

March-April 1943:
During the war, the CAPPELLINI has sunk five ships for 31,648 tons, but she is now reconfigured to carry 150-tons of cargo. Some of the modifications include removal of her deck guns, attack periscope and some of her storage batteries. Her eight 21-inch torpedo tubes and ammunition storage magazines are turned into fuel storage tanks. Upon completion of the conversion, the CAPPELLINI is renamed the "AQUILA III".

11 May 1943:
The AQUILA III departs Bordeaux for the Far East under CC (later Contrammiraglio, Marina Militare Italiana) Walter Auconi (former CO of submarine DANDOLO). She carries 95-tons of ammunition, including spare torpedoes for the German "Gruppe Monsun" and bars of aluminum and steel, replacement parts and other war material for the Japanese.

June 1943:
The AQUILA III is damaged by heavy seas in the "Roaring Forties" as she rounds the Cape of Good Hope, South Africa.

9 July 1943:
The AQUILA III arrives at Sabang, Sumatra with almost empty fuel tanks. She is the first Italian submarine to reach the Far East.

10 July 1943:
The AQUILA III departs Sabang escorted by Capitano di Fregata (CF=Cdr) Mario Jannucci's colonial sloop ERITREA.

13 July 1943:
Arrives at Singapore. Undergoes repairs to storm damage.

25 August 1943:
Singapore. The AQUILA III is loaded with 150-tons of rubber, zinc, tungsten, bread (packed in watertight tins), quinine, opium and spices. She is made ready to return to Bordeaux, but the Germans decide to delay her departure so that the transport submarine REGINALDO GIULIANI (later UIT-23) that arrived at Singapore on 26 July can be made ready to join her on the voyage.

9 September 1943: The Surrender of Italy:
After receiving the news of an armistice signed by the Italian government, Vice Admiral Hiraoka Kumeichi (former CO of HIEI), Commander of the 9th Base Unit at Sabang, orders CC Auconi and his crew taken prisoner in Singapore.*** They are transferred to an open internment camp where they join the crews of the GIULIANI and the LUIGI TORELLI (later UIT-25). The Japanese hand over the AQUILA to the Germans.

10 September 1943:
The AQUILA is commissioned in the Kriegsmarine as the UIT-24. The Germans assign the code name "Merkator" to all the ex-Italian boats. Oberleutnant zur See (OL=Lt(jg) Heinrich Pahls is the UIT-24's Commanding Officer. The Germans install a 105-mm (4.1-inch) deck gun and mount a 20-mm AA gun on a platform abaft the conning tower. The submarine is manned by a mixed crew of German and Italian sailors.

23 September 1943:
Salò, Italy. Mussolini founds the new puppet "Repubblica Sociale Italiana (RSI)" fascist regime controlled by the Nazis. Later, some of the AQUILA's enlisted internees decide to continue to fight as part of the RSI.

December 1943:
The UIT-24, while at Penang, is organizationally assigned to Korvettenkapitän Klaus Scholtz's 12th U-boat flotilla based at Bordeaux.

8 February 1944:
The UIT-24 departs Penang for Bordeaux with a cargo of rubber, tin ingots, tungsten, quinine, and medicinal opium.

12 March 1944:
Indian Ocean. 1,000 miles SE of Mauritius. The 10,000-ton German oiler/supply ship BRAKE is attacked by the destroyer HMS ROEBUCK and forced to scuttle. The loss of the BRAKE causes the UIT-24 to obtain emergency refueling from the U-532 that had taken on fuel from the BRAKE just before she was attacked. The UIT-24 then aborts her mission.

5 April 1944:
The UIT-24 arrives back at Penang.

April 1944-April 1945:
The UIT-24 is used for supply runs between Southeast Asia and Japan.

10 May 1945: The Surrender of Germany:
Kobe, Japan. The UIT-24 is in dock undergoing overhaul at Mitsubishi's Kobe Yard. She is taken over by the IJN, commissioned as the I-503, but no Japanese crew is assigned to her.

The I-503 and the I-504 are the only submarines to fly all three Axis powers' flags in World War II.

15 July 1945:
The I-503 is attached on paper to the Kure Naval District to protect the base in case of an Allied invasion, but the actual transfer is planned for later.

30 August 1945: The Surrender of Japan:
The I-503 is surrendered at Kobe.

30 November 1945:
Removed from the Navy List.

16 April 1946:
Scuttled by American Navy in the Kii Suido.

Authors' Notes:
*Italy's highest military decoration.

**After this action, Admiral Dönitz issues an order, known as the "Laconia Order", that U-boats are not to take part in any rescue operations and are to leave any survivors in the sea. At the 1946 Nürnberg Tribunal, Dönitz is acquitted on a charge that this order was a war crime, but he is convicted on other charges and serves 10 years and 20 days in Spandau prison.

***On 29 October 1943, after less than two months internment, the Japanese allow CC Auconi and the other Italian submariners to leave Singapore aboard three German blockade-runners bound for France. The AQUILA's crew departs aboard the 7,320-ton BURGENLAND. On 5 January 1944, a Martin PBM-3S "Mariner" of VP-203 sights and tracks the BURGENLAND in the South Atlantic. Later, she is damaged by gunfire from the USS OMAHA (CL-4) and the JOUETT (DD- 396), then scuttled by her crew at 07-29S, 25-37W. The survivors, including Auconi and some of his crew, take to five lifeboats. On 15 January 1944, Auconi and the 31 Germans and Italians in his lifeboat are picked up by a Brazilian ship and later made PoWs.

Special thanks for help in preparing this TROM go to Dr. Higuchi Tatsuhiro of Japan and to Alan Alsleben of the United States for assistance in identifying IJN units.

– Bob Hackett and Sander Kingsepp.

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