German Small-S-Boat of the Italian Type SMA
Formation and Training
The daring activities of the assault boats and their crews remain obscure. Few details and facts have emerged from that period. Most men of these units fell in action, were murdered by partisans or failed to survive captivity in Eastern Europe. The War Diaries were destroyed or have been lost. Therefore very little knowledge of their operations has been preserved. Additionally the history of the assault boats is allied closely to that of the frogman and naval sabotage units (MEKs) and cannot always be separated out.
The K-Verband assault boat flotilla was formed and trained at three locations: Lehrkommando 600 (List/Sylt, Weisskoppel), Lehrkommando 601 (Sesto Calende, Laggio Maggiore, Italy) and Lehrkommando 602 (Sta. Anna, Stresa Aerodrome, west bank of Tessin estuary).
Head of Lehrkommando 600 was Kptlt Heinz Schomburg, the unit being known occasionally as Sonderkommando Schomburg. He had been head of K-Verband Command Naval Appointments Division at Lübeck and before taking charge of the Lehrkommando was liaison officer for German Naval Command Italy to X-MAS Flotilla.
Amongst others the following instructors served at Lehrkommando 600.
Kptlt Richard Rett; Oblts Gerd Prensemeyer, Walter Hesse; Lts Erhard Beyer, Ernst Haeusler, Walter Ertel.
The following assault boat flotillas were formed.
K-Sturmboot Flotilla 611
Flotilla Chief: Kptlt Wilhelm Ulrich
Pilots: Lt Hans Gercke, Georg Kulow, Walter Schiedl, Ulrich Pagel; Officer-applicant (R) Bernhard Meier
K-Sturmboot Flotilla 612
Flotilla Chief: Kptlt Ernst Wilhelm Witt
Pilots: Oblt Wolfgang Dallwig, Lts Hans-Hermann Priesemann, Horst Eichhorn; Officer-applicants (R) Karl Geschwandtner, Max Hofer
K-Sturmboot Flotilla 613
Flotilla Chief: Oblt Wilhelm Gerhardt
Pilots: Oblt Johann Kruse, Lt Christian Hansen, Oberfähnriche Gerhard Jänicke, Hans-Peter Johannsen, Fritz Kraus, Heinz Krieg, Manfred Kurek, Officer-applicant (R) Karl-Gustav Hoff; Rank unknown, Heinz Kroohs.
Of K-Sturmboot Flotillas 614 and 615 nothing is known except that the latter came into existence in March 1945 under Oblt Friedrich Böttcher. It is somewhat confusing that until August 1944, Flotillas 611 to 613 had generally been known as Sturmbootjotillen 1, 2 and 3.
The training of assault boat pilots was as uncompromising and comprehensive as that of the German naval sabotage units (MEKs).1 Boxing, wrestling, judo, long distance swimming, fast marching, shooting and hand-grenade throwing were to the forefront in the sporting curriculum. Pilot training began on Italian MAS boats. Continuation training followed at Stresa on the SMA boat, a development of the MTSM. Knowledge of the so-called SA-boat groups is scanty:
Group 1: Oblt Freiherr Leopold von Troschke
Group 2: Oblt Karl-Heinz Ritschke
Group 4: Oblt Karl Beier, Lt Arnim Bayer, Lts (S) Helmuth Möhring, Rudolf Veurel, Walter Wangerin, Alfired Ziegler
Group 12: Oblt Hans Gimbel
It is not impossible that these were all Abwehr men.
Light and heavy assault boats were used by Wehrmacht assault pioneers for river crossings. A powerful outboard with hand tiller was used. These boats were also used by the Brandenburg Küstenjäger for coastal work. In Italy the K-Verband used mainly Italian, or copies of Italian, midget MTBs, e.g. one or two-man SMA-type boats. The armament of the two-man assault boat was two small-calibre stern torpedo tubes, but for close-in fighting hand-grenades and Panzerfäuste were also used.
Operations on the Ligurian Coast
The assault-boat flotillas were controlled by K-Staff South at Levicio. The first to arrive on the Italian Riviera was 1 Sturmboot Flotilla on 15 August 1944, commanded by Kptz Werner Hartmann. Those serving at Staff included Kptlt Thiersch, No. 1 General Staff Officer (1a), Oblt Haertling (adjutant), Marineoberstabsarzt Dr Heinz Neumann (flotilla surgeon) and Kptlt Heinz Schomburg, head of the Sonderkommando. MEK 80 Supply headed by Kptlt Krumhaar and KFZ Süd (Vehicles South) also came under this umbrella. MEK 80 had a complement of about 350 men and fought for a long period as infantry in the anti-partisan role on the coastal slopes of the Appenines. X-MAS Flotilla was attached to MEK 80.
Chief of K-Staff South West, at Ville Franche near Nice in August 1944 and later at Opicina on the Adriatic, was KKpt Haun, whose task at the time was the formation and operational planning for the German-Italian flotillas. Operations of 1 Sturmboot Flotilla commenced on 16 and 17 August 1944 from San Remo against the Allied invasion feet but claimed no successes. After six one-man and fourteen two-man additional assault boats arrived on 20 August, a fresh attack was made off the bridgehead on the night of 25 August. A large ship five miles south of Cannes, a destroyer and a patrol boat three sea miles east-south-east of Cap d’Antibes were claimed hit. Sinkings could not be confirmed because of the strong defences are doubtful. All assault-boats returned safely. Italian boats reported having hit a cruiser, after which they were driven off.
In a sortie on the night of 27 August a hit was claimed on a British MTB or patrol boat: a small ship, presumably an escort, was claimed sunk. The following night eight 2-man boats operated without success against the bridgehead. On the return leg the Italian boats were fired on by destroyer Bofors but not hit. In the night operation a German assault boat attacked a gunboat at 12 metres range. The Panzerfaust2 failed. After numerous hits the German boat caught fire but the flames were soon extinguished. Whilst hurling a hand-grenade the second pilot then fell overboard but reached his base after a three-hour swim.
On 28 August 1944 German Naval Command Italy announced with regard to the operational opportunities for small units that the principal landing places of the Allied invader lay between St Tropez and Marseilles and were out of range. The convoy traffic between Corsica and that stretch of coast was strongly escorted east of the line Cannes-Calvi, however, and the assault boat operations there on moonlit nights seemed very promising. Despite this evaluation, on the night of 30 August a single one-man and eleven two-man assault boats left Monaco to attack the bridgehead. The German boats slipped through the British defence line of five gunboats off Ville Franche but found no worthwhile targets. Nine boats returned to Mentone, one to San Remo after surviving an air attack and another reached Monaco. One boat was abandoned off Cap Martin, salvage was attempted.
On 10 September a mixed force of six German and Italian assault boats launched a fresh attack supported by 14 Marder manned torpedoes but this failed because of the strong air and sea defences. Four days later, on 14 September, boats of 1 Sturmboot Flotilla hunted from San Remo but found no targets. The flotilla was 18 boats strong at that time.
After a long inactive pause, on 11 December five two-man, 16 one-man and three Italian MAS boats sailed for the Bay of Ville Franche, but bad weather forced an early return. An MAS boat was disabled and boarded by the enemy. A German assault boat was scuttled by its pilot after receiving damage, the pilot was then captured.
After an unsuccessful sortie along the Ligurian coast on the night of 20 December, K-Verband Command reported to SKL:
Further preparations for Sonderkommando Schomburg in the framework of the Western Offensive has run into difficulties because the relevant Army offices have apparently not been notified of its mission and to some extent consider its operations inopportune. The Admiral K-Verband has therefore ordered the Sonderkommando disbanded and released for other pressing duties.
On the night of 10 January 1945, two of five two-man assault boats fought enemy destroyers off San Remo. Neither scored a hit. All German boats returned to base undamaged. A week later on 17 January two assault boats got close inshore south-east of Nice and encountered a string of eight patrol boats. The lay of the harbour could not be determined. At the same time other assault boats attacked Livorno, Viareggio and Piscina di Pisa. Loud explosions were heard but whether ships were sunk or damaged is not known.
The last attack on the Ligurian coast occurred on the night of 22 April 1945 when Sturmboot Flotilla 611 Hitler Jugend attacked Allied shipping off Livorno in company with Linse explosive boats. The German vessels were probably tracked by radar, fired on and either sunk or forced to withdraw. Some crews were picked up by Allied warships but the other survivors, unarmed, who swam ashore were murdered there by partisans.
Operations in the Adriatic
In autumn 1944 the Sturmboot flotillas received new, improved stepped-planing boats. The first trials of these were run at Fiume on 6 October. Crews were drawn from Lehrkommando 600. The new craft were simple but robust and very manoeuvrable. They weighed in at 600 kgs, were 6.3 metres long and could manage 30 knots, gasoline consumption being 15 to 20 litres. The turning circle was a favourable 60 to 75 metres diameter. 3 Sturmboot Flotilla under Oblt Gerhardt took over the first boats.
2 Sturmboot Flotilla under Kptlt Witt was to operate from Pola. On 26 October the naval transport chief agreed to supply a transport vessel to the forward base at Lussin. On 2 November the flotilla transferred from Sesto Calende to Opicina and arrived at Pola on the evening of 3 November with 23 MTM and 3 SMA boats. An MTM pilot was killed in an accident on the way. After six assault boats had reached Lussin-Piccolo, all survived a machine-gun and rocket attack by Mosquito fighter-bombers. That same day, 20 November, 2 Sturmboot Flotilla was sent out to search for survivors from the German hospital ship Tübingen, which had been attacked and sunk. One boat was lost to bad weather.
On 24 November, sixteen assault boats and nine boats of 3 S-boat Flotilla arrived at Pola to attack shipping anchored off the Dalmatian islands of Dugi and Otok, but the operation was called off for bad weather.
On the night of 3 December assault boats of 2 Flotilla set out for Pola to engage enemy naval units reported in the Cigale area near Lussin, but nothing was achieved. Two days later in a fresh sortie the Punta Nera lighthouse was destroyed. The Allies had converted it into a military radio station. The crew escaped.
On the night of 16 December, MEK men were landed from assault boats on the islands of Isto and Meiada: on the following night other assault boats, protected by two S-boat groups, attacked Meiada. While the S-boats were forced to withdraw by heavy fire at 0045, Sturmboot crews blew up the quay and storage sheds at Zapuntelo.
In the last known operation in the Adriatic on 18 and 19 January 1945, involving an attack on Zara by nine S-boats and assault boats of K-Flotilla 612, the assault boats were forced to abandon the attack with engine breakdowns. Even the SMA boats, copies of Italian midget MTBs with 52-cm torpedo tubes built in Germany, could not cope with the heavy seas. Off Zara, S-boats duelled with a large ML escort and received several hits.