Hr. Ms. K XVII was a Dutch submarine of the K XIV class. The K-boats were especially designed and built for service in the Dutch East Indies. (K stands for Koloniaal = Colonial). The series started in 1913 with the K I which was constructed at the shipyard The Royal Scheldt in Flushing (De Koninklijke Maatschappij De Schelde). The development of the K-ships was running parallel to the one of the O-ships (submarines = Onderzeeboten). Those vessels however were developed for services in European waters. The K I was tugged to the Far East in 1916 by sea going tugboat ’Witte Zee’ but in 1920 Hr. Ms. K III made this trip for the first time all on its own.
The submarines K VII up to and including K X became an improved version of the first series K-boats. With their 715 ton displacement-under-water they were a measure larger than the first series. The design however was still of the “Single Hull” type and they still had 45cm torpedoes as their primary armory. The 7.5cm deck gun was replaced by an 8.8cm gun which could also be used as an anti-aircraft gun.
The next series K-boats, K XI, K XII and K XIII was the first series that was completely designed by Ir. (engineer) J.J. van der Struyff and were taken into service in 1925 and 1926.These submarines were again 100 ton larger and were calculated to sustain a depth of 60 meters (approx. 33 fathom). The series was still in service during the outbreak of the Second World War. Hr. Ms. K XI and K XII have been taken out of service towards the end of the war. On 21 December 1941, an explosion occurred aboard K XIII resulting from battery gas (escaped hydrogen gas from the batteries) which caused three deaths. On March 2nd, 1942, the unrepaired sub was demolished at the Naval establishment in Surabaya, Java, by navy personnel.
The last series of the K boats was also developed by Ir. Van der Struyff being a very successful design. The series consisting of the K XIV up to and including K XVIII contained 200 ton more water displacement compared to the preceding series and were capable of a diving depth up to 80 meters [approx. 44 fathom]. Also these five K-boats were the first ones to be equipped with eight torpedo tubes of 53cm. Hr. Ms. K XIV was very successful when, on 23 December, 1941 four Japanese freighters were sunk near Kuching, in the Malaysian part of Borneo. The submarine survived the war together with its sister ship Hr. Ms. K XV and both ships were laid up in 1946. Also K XVI booked a great success when she succeeded in sinking the Japanese destroyer Sagiri, also near Kuching. Unfortunately the boat got lost a day later by a torpedo strike of the Japanese submarine I 66. Hr. Ms. K XVIII was heavily damaged by enemy depth charges on 23 January 1942 and was demolished on March 2nd of the same year by navy personnel at the Naval establishment in Surabaya.
For a long time nothing was known about the fate of Hr. Ms. K XVII. The submarine did not return from a patrol which she had started, under British naval command on December 6th, 1941, together with Hr. Ms. O 16. The patrol carried both Dutch ships to the South Chinese Sea, east of the mainland of Malaysia. On 14 December K XVII encountered K XII and was warned about a Japanese submarine which was supposed to be in the area. That was the last time K XVII was seen. Up to 21 December regular radio contact existed between the sub and the allied naval command. From that day onwards nothing has ever been heard from Hr.Ms. K XVII anymore and it was assumed that the ship had run into a Japanese mine.
The uncertainty about the fate of K XVII was increased when in 1980, a disguised man appeared in a Dutch TV program and stated that he had blown up the Dutch submarine by orders of Winston Churchill and with the knowledge of Franklin Roosevelt and Queen Wilhelmina (of the Dutch Government in exile). The Dutch interviewer suggestively asked whether this could probably concern the missing K XVII. The interviewee did not answer this.
In 1996, the book “Operation JB” by Christopher Creighton was published in which the author makes a statement about the fate of Hr. Ms. K XVII. The Dutch sub was supposed to have been blown up by the British secret service because the crew of the boat was estimated to have discovered the Japanese fleet on its way to Pearl Harbor. Churchill wanted the Japanese attack on the Pacific fleet in Hawaii to be successful and therefore it had to remain a secret. A successful surprise attack on the battle ships in Pearl Harbor would draw the American population from their isolation and the United States of America would become involved in the Second World War. This should also be the wish of the American President and therefore the leaders agreed that the Dutch submarine and its crew ought to disappear. Christopher Creighton and the disguised man on Dutch TV appeared to be the same person.