German Schnellboot (S-boat)

schnellboot s80

Schnellboot S-80 torpedo boat

SB37

SB38

Camo

Operations with the Kriegsmarine

S-boats were often used to patrol the Baltic Sea and the English Channel in order to intercept shipping heading for the English ports in the south and east. As such, they were up against Royal Navy and Commonwealth (particularly Royal Canadian Navy contingents leading up to D-Day) Motor Gun Boats (MGBs), Motor Torpedo Boats (MTBs), Motor Launches, frigates and destroyers. They were also transferred in small numbers to the Mediterranean, and the Black Sea by river and land transport. Some small S-boats were built as boats for carrying by auxiliary cruisers.

Crew members could earn an award particular to their work—Das Schnellbootkriegsabzeichen—denoted by a badge depicting an S-boat passing through a wreath. The criteria were good conduct, distinction in action, and participating in at least twelve enemy actions. It was also awarded for particularly successful missions, displays of leadership or being killed in action. It could be awarded under special circumstances, such as when another decoration was not suitable.

Schnellboote of the 9th flotilla were the first naval units to respond to the invasion fleet of Operation Overlord. They left Cherbourg harbour at 5 a.m. on 6 June 1944.[5] On finding themselves confronted by the entire invasion fleet, they fired their torpedoes at maximum range and returned to Cherbourg.

During World War II, S-boats sank 101 merchant ships totalling 214,728 tons. In addition, they sank 12 destroyers, 11 minesweepers, eight landing ships, six MTBs, a torpedo boat, a minelayer, one submarine and a number of small merchant craft. They also damaged two cruisers, five destroyers, three landing ships, a repair ship, a naval tug and numerous merchant vessels. Sea mines laid by the S-boats were responsible for the loss of 37 merchant ships totalling 148,535 tons, a destroyer, two minesweepers and four landing ships.

In recognition of their service, the members of Schnellboot crews were awarded the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross on 23 occasions, and the German Cross in Gold on 112 occasions.

To the British and Americans these lethal boats were simply enemy boats, or E-boats.

To the Germans they were S-boots or Schnell boots simply fast boats. For a period during the Second World War they controlled a respectable portion of the Mediterranean Sea and a sizeable area of the English Channel, specifically the area between Smiths Knoll and The Wash called E-boat Alley. Any convoys venturing from the London docks north or the Firth of Forth south paid a penalty to the E-boats for doing so.

The Allies had their boats as well and in some way, they were similar. The British MTB (motor torpedo boat), the American PT (patrol-torpedo), and German E-boats were all heavily armed, capable of deploying either torpedoes or mines, and pound-for-pound some of the most dangerous vessels afloat. All of these vessels, including F-lighters and MAS boats were relatively small and unassuming. Far away; up close was a different matter.

By late in the war, E-boats in the Channel were painted a very functional combination of grays—probably to match the English weather. The hull, superstructure and bridge vertical surfaces were painted a pale gray. The deck, superstructure, and bridge and wheelhouse horizontal surfaces were painted a darker gray. This monochromatic theme with its ominous hints of darkness scattered about a 120-foot vessel made it appear, as it was, lethal.

The deck armament, compared to Pacific Theatre PT boats that carried everything except a re-enforced rifle company, was not exceptional. In the deck well forward was an Oerlikon 20mm cannon, mounted low in the hull. “Doorknockers” the crew called them for their remarkable inability to do anything to enemy vessels but announce the E-boats presence. In the center of the superstructure, just aft of the bridge was a twin mount 20mm gun with armored shield. Between amidships and the aft superstructure was a four-barreled 20mm gun, a 37mm gun, or a Bofors 40mm cannon. E-boats also carried 7.92 MG38 machine guns for anti-aircraft defense and close-quarter encounters. The 20mm guns, which constituted the bulk of the E-boats sting, were generally acceptable weapons under the right circumstances. They could pump out 240 rounds a minute with a maximum range of 12,000 meters, which gave enemy pilots reason to consider how best to approach an E-boat; and they seldom traveled alone. Doubling or tripling the 20mm rounds flying through the air, always made pilots a bit wary. Nothing increased one’s heart rate like a line of blazing green tracers coming straight toward one’s nose.

But two weapons in the E-boats arsenal kept convoy commanders awake at night. One was the E-boat’s torpedoes; the other was the E-boat’s speed. E-boats carried four torpedoes, two loaded in tubes (later E-boats had the tubes enclosed in the hulls); and two ready to be loaded—elapsed time to replace fired torpedoes, 45 seconds.

The second weapon available to the E-boat (with due respect given to the very capable 24-man crews that sailed them), were the three, supercharged Daimler-Benz 2500-hp engines. Subject to the vagaries of the sea, and the condition of the boats and engines, most E-boats could reach top speed of 42 knots, but for only 30 minutes at a time. Still, in the heat and confusion of battle, 30 minutes is a lifetime, and a short burst of power can mean a great deal to the attacker and the defender.

James Foster Trent, in his superb book E-Boat Alert: Defending the Normandy Invasion Fleet, points out two components of the E-boat’s secret weapon, her hull design and special rudders. The American and British torpedo boats were designed with a hard chine, or scooped out bottom. This concave construction is cost-effective and pulls the boat’s hull out of calm water at high—less contact, less drag, better speed. E-boats had a round bottom, which was costlier to produce but which gave it a speed advantage in rough seas. In place of rough seas insert: English Channel. Trent also points out just how effective the twin Lurssen rudders were. A PT boat roaring through the sea with the forward third of its hull suspended above the surface of the ocean and churning out an impressive wake, is a joy to watch. But it is not the most efficient means to move a boat through the water. The Lurssen Effect is created when two, small Lurssen rudders, mounted to either side of the main rudder and turned outboard, lowers the wake height, which, according to Trent “requires less energy, allowing the vessel to go faster.”

For a time E-boats (and smaller, slower but just as effective German coastal craft), controlled the English Channel. Contests between the British MTB, Coastal Command (air), and Coastal Forces (surface, and sometimes derisively known as Costly Farces), were deadly affairs with a third enemy taking its toll; the sea. Individual seamen often found themselves adrift after battles that might range over vast areas. In the best of weather a seaman might have a life expectancy of two hours in the cold water; other times, it was a matter of minutes.

As the war progressed and things began to go badly for the E-boats they sought refuge during the day in massive E-boat bunkers in Cherbourg, Boulogne or LeHavre; coming out at night to practice Lauertatik, simply loitering around at night near possible convoy lanes, waiting. If they were lucky they could return to base before dawn (the light was anathema to them; too many enemy aircraft), flying a Victory Pennant. The boats carried radar, not as effective as the enemy’s but still a defense against surface or air attack The Funkmessbeobachtungsgerat, or FuMB, was a passive detection unit, much like the early U-boats Biscay Cross. Its purpose was to detect the enemy’s radar impulses; thus alerting the E-boats to the presence of an unfriendly aircraft that was in turn, looking for them.

The Last Hurrah for E-boats was achieved quite by accident within sight of the English coast. Eight ships of Allied Convoy T-4 were scheduled to practice landings early on the morning of April 28, 1944. Slapton Sands in Lyme Bay was chosen because it closely resembled Utah Beach in Normandy to which the Americans had been assigned. A battalion of combat engineers and units of the 4th Infantry waited aboard their LSTs (Landing Ship Tanks, literally floating warehouses), for the exercise to begin when the first E-boats attacked. The LSTs were armed, but only with guns designed to withstand air attack, and the lone British destroyer attached to the convoy couldn’t protect the entire line of squat LSTs. E-boats raced in almost at will, firing their cannons and launching torpedoes. At a top speed of 12 knots, the men aboard their LSTs realized that the vessel’s nickname was apropos; Large Slow Targets.

Nearly a thousand men died, killed in the attack or drowned, including ten who had been “bigoted.” That is, they knew enough about the upcoming invasion to be of real value to the Germans, and of great concern to the Allies, if captured. There were no losses among the E-boats. This attack and the desperate shortage of LSTs added one more nightmare to the long list facing Allied commanders responsible for moving hundreds of thousands of men and thousands of ships across a narrow, inhospitable body of water. What about E-boats? The Luftwaffe had virtually been eliminated, the U-boats of the Kriegsmarine neutralized, and broad lanes had been, or would be, swept through the dense minefields in the Channel. The Channel was, despite the fact that the Allies controlled it, a haven at night for E-boats.

“The immediate threat on D-1 and D-Day,” Rear Admiral Alan J. Kirk, USN said, “is considered to be the E-boat, especially after nightfall.” In fleet defense, preemptory strikes and planning, action was taken to ensure that the E-boat threat to the invasion was destroyed. Lyme Bay had proved one thing to the Allied planners; these small, fast craft, let loose in even limited numbers within the invasion fleet, could cause a disaster.

There were no E-boats captured during the war and those that came in under their own power to the Allies or were towed in, did so reluctantly. You can not get predators to renounce their predilections because somewhere, someone signed a piece of paper. It is not in the natural order of things. But as the war ended and E-boats were carried away to be studied by the victors, those that fought against them remembered tumultuous seas and gray skies. And the deep rumble of approaching death.

They were indeed enemy boats.

Variants

The Schnellboot design evolved over time. The first had a pair of torpedo tubes on the fore deck.

S-2 class

The first productions of the S-Boat in 1931 which were based on S-1.

S-7 class

They firstly built in 1933 and 3 of them were sold to China.

S-14 class

The improvement of S-7 in 1934. The enlarged hull.

S-18 class

Wartime types were:

S-26 class

Entered service in 1940. 40 m hull. Torpedo tubes covered by forward deck.

S-30 class

S-38 class

S-38b class

Improved S-38 class with armoured bridge. Various armament including 40mm Bofors or 20mm Flak aft, MG34 Zwillingsockel midships

S-100 class

From 1943. 1 × 20 mm in the bow, 2 × 20 mm gun amidships and 37 mm gun aft.

S-151 class

Type 700

Late war design proposal with stern torpedo tubes and 30 mm gun turret forward. Eight boats built, but completed to S-100 design specification

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