German Schnellboot (S-boat)

schnellboot s80

Schnellboot S-80 torpedo boat




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.


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


Borodino class



In 1904 Moscow dispatched the 2nd Pacific Squadron, commanded by Admiral Zinovi Petrovich Rohdzsvenski, from the Baltic to the Pacific, halfway around the world, to salvage the desperate situation in the Pacific. Rohdzsvenski’s main units numbered eight battleships, three armored cruisers, and three hopelessly obsolete armored coast-defense warships. The core of the Russian fleet was represented by the four new battleships of the Borodino class (Borodino, Alexander III, Orel, and Kniaz Suvarov). The Russians again appeared to have a strong edge in numbers, but they were, in truth, inferior in just about every other way, particularly guns, armor, and speed. And Rohdzsvenski’s fleet was also outclassed in the intangibles that really counted: leadership, morale, and training. By the time it met the Japanese, the Russian fleet was completing a debilitating seven-month epic of endurance. Instead of training, the crews had exhausted themselves in repeated coaling stops and were suffering from low morale and heat exhaustion.

The highly regarded 12,700-ton Retvisan, built by William Cramp of Philadelphia, was the first Russian battleship protected by Krupp armor. The 12,915-ton Tsesarevich, built in La Seyne, was used as a prototype for four warships of the 13,520-ton Borodino class. The Borodinos were built in Russian shipyards, along with a third ship of the Peresviet class and the 12,580-ton Potemkin. The eight battleships of the 1898 program all were in service by the beginning of the war with Japan in 1904. While focusing on capital ships Russia remained a leader in mine warfare, in 1898–99 constructing the world’s first purpose-built minelayers, the 3,010-ton Amur and Yenisei. Russia also purchased the submarine Protector, launched in 1902 by the American Simon Lake, built additional submarines in St Petersburg designed by Lake, and ordered three more from Germania of Kiel.

The Borodino-class battleships were based upon the earlier battleship Tsesarevich, which had been built to a French design at La Seyne and fought as the Russian flagship at the Battle of the Yellow Sea in 1904. The Russian Navy agreed to buy Tsesarevitch under the conditions that they could construct 5 more of them and modify them to meet the standards of the Russian Navy; thus Oryol, Kniaz Suvorov, Borodino, Aleksandr III, and Slava were built in Russian yards. Only Slava was not finished in time to participate in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05. As previously mentioned all of the class were of a tumblehome hull design as were many of the French Pre-Dreadnoughts of the period. Dupuy de Lôme, the leading French naval architect, was a proponent of the idea as it increased fields of fire for the main and secondary gun batteries, as well as improve seaworthiness and create greater freeboard. Another advantage of the tumblehome design was that it provided for sloped armour – giving a thicker vertical belt at any given point due to the slope of the armour plate.

Along with the lead-ship of the class, Tsesarevich, the vessels suffered from instability having a high centre of gravity (made worse by overloading). The centre line bulkhead led to a danger of capsizing and a narrow armour belt became submerged due to overloading. As such, some naval architects regard these as some of the worst battleships ever built.

The Japanese re-built Oryol, which they renamed Iwami, by substantially reducing its top-hamper and removing the lighter calibre guns.



Deutschland class



As long as Chancellor Otto von Bismarck remained in power, the German Navy was distinctly subordinate to the German army in the counsels of government, and the navy was relegated basically to a coast-defense mission. (Until 1888, the year of Kaiser Wilhelm II’s accession, the navy had actually been run by an officer in the army!) The Germans remembered how the greatly superior French fleet could not affect the outcome of the Franco-Prussian War. But William II dismissed his Iron Chancellor and began to dream of Germany finding its “place in the sun.” That demanded coaling stations, and coaling stations demanded colonies, and colonies demanded maritime power-and that demanded battleships to protect lines of communication and to fight it out with other powers on the high seas. (No one seemed to take note of Belgium and Holland, each of which managed to exploit one very profitable colony with modest naval power in the case of Holland and practically none in the case of Belgium.) More rationally, Kaiser Wilhelm worried about the vulnerability of merchant shipping transporting the food and raw materials essential for Germany’s existence as an industrial power.

The Kaiser found his answers in the works of U. S. Admiral Alfred Mahan (1840-1914). Mahan gave the Kaiser the rationale for his navalist beliefs. (The Kaiser even ordered that a copy of Mahan’s 1890 book The Influence of Sea Power upon History be placed in the wardroom of every German warship.) Closer to home, Kaiser Wilhelm relied upon Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz (1849-1930), who was appointed secretary of state for the navy in 1897. Tirpitz was an admirable administrator and propagandist. Primarily due to his efforts, and to pressures from the Kaiser, Germany’s First Navy Law was passed in 1898, providing for the construction of a modest 19 battleships over six years; two years later, the program was expanded to an incredible 38 battleships (plus 48 cruisers), all to be completed by 1920. With Germanic thoroughness, the First Navy Law provided for the automatic scrapping of each battleship when it had reached the age of 25 years. Such a program was all the more impressive in a nation that already possessed the world’s largest standing army. U. S. navalists had a much easier time, as the nation’s regular army at the time was little more than a frontier constabulary.

Even with these impressive numbers, German naval planners did not seek to challenge the Royal Navy directly. Rather, they followed Tirpitz’s risk theory, that the German Navy would be powerful enough to inflict such serious damage on the RN that it could be open to attack by France and Russia as well as by Germany. Thus the Royal Navy would be deterred from any anti-German adventures. Yet the German battleship fleet, despite the protestations of Kaiser Wilhelm and Admiral von Tirpitz to the contrary, was indeed designed to go directly against Great Britain. In the Kaiser’s words, “Our fleet must be so constructed that it can unfold its greatest military potential between Heligoland and the Thames” (Padfield, p. 200). The two German navalists drove Britain into a rapprochement with its traditional enemy, France; the British Navy could then leave policing of the Mediterranean to its new French ally. A treaty with Japan in 1902 similarly permitted the Royal Navy to withdraw its main naval forces from the Pacific and face Germany directly. Further, Russia, badly defeated by Japan in 1904-1905, ceased to be a major player on the high seas. For all its thoroughness, rarely has a theoretical construction proved so disastrous in practice as Germany’s maritime policy, and Tirpitz lived long enough to see his program quite literally sunk.

Germany’s first true pre-dreadnoughts, the undergunned and underprotected Kaiser class, first laid down in 1896, did not compare well with Royal Navy contemporaries. They indicated that the Germans, like the Americans, had much to learn about contemporary battleship design. Although both mighty industrial powers would learn soon enough.

The succeeding Wittlesbach class, the first to be constructed under the First Naval Law, and the following Braunschweig (launched in 1902-1903) and Deutschland classes, of five each, continued a gradual improving trend, although they still did not match their British contemporaries. Braunschweig carried four 11-inch main guns and 14 6.7-inch guns on a 14,167-ton displacement. The Germans accepted smaller main battery guns because of their belief that it was more advantageous to spray the enemy with accurate fire, something more likely with faster-firing, lighter heavy guns. However, throughout the early battleship era, the German challenge was more threat than substance.

Deutschland German battleship class, built 1903-08. These were the last pre-Dreadnoughts built in Germany, and like many similar ships in other navies they were obsolete by the time they were completed because of the incredibly rapid building of HMS Dreadnought. They were improved editions of the Braunschweig Class, but to counter the introduction of heavier secondary guns in foreign ships the secondary battery was increased from 150- mm (5.9-in) to 170-mm (6.7-in) guns.

They resembled the Braunschweig Class, but could be distinguished by the half-cased funnels and the absence of secondary turret- guns amidships. During reconstruction after the First World War, four upper deck 170- mm (6.7-in) guns were replaced by four 150- mm (5.9-in) guns, and after 1936 a variety of light AA guns were added.

All five saw action at the Battle of the Skagerrak (Jutland) on May 31, 1916, in the 2nd Squadron of the German high seas fleet. They were too slow and weakly protected, but Admiral Mauve is said to have begged Admiral Scheer to allow his old ships to accompany the fleet to sea. It led to tragedy. During the night action a British destroyer’s torpedo hit the Pommern; a ripple of flame spread along the waterline, and almost immediately the ship disintegrated in a colossal explosion, taking her entire crew with her. It is the only instance of a battleship blowing up from a single torpedo-hit, and the cause was undoubtedly the faulty stowage of the 170-mm (6.7-in) shells, with their nose-caps outwards in the wing magazines. This had been strongly criticized by the constructors, but Scheer had insisted that the ships could not be spared for the necessary refit.

After serving as the flagship of the 2nd Squadron, the Deutschland was reduced to an accommodation ship at Kiel in 1917, to release men for service in V-Boats. The Schleswig-Holstein took up similar duties at Bremerhaven, and then moved to Kiel in 1918. The Schlesien was relegated to training duties and spent most of the remainder of the war in the Baltic. The Deutschland was stricken under the Versailles Treaty in 1920, and was scrapped, but her four sisters were permitted to be retained by the Weimar Republic’s Reichsmarine as coast-defence ships. For this role they were given a partial modernization, but they were earmarked for replacement by the ‘pocket battleships’ of the Deutschland type, and in 1935 the Hannover was stricken. She was intended for conversion to a radio-controlled target ship but this was never carried out, and she was finally scrapped at Bremerhaven at the end of the Second World War.

The surviving pair underwent major modernization to serve as gunnery training ships for Hitler’s new Kriegsmarine. The two forward funnels were trunked together and the secondary armament was altered. Both ships saw active service in September 1939 when they bombarded Westerplatte near Danzig, but took little part in the rest of the war. The Schlesien was scuttled on May 4, 1945 after being mined off Swinemünde the previous day; she was salved in 1947 and was towed to Konigsberg (Kaliningrad) by the Russians, and then scrapped in 1949-56. Her sister Schleswig-Holstein was badly damaged by RAF bombers on December 18, 1945, while lying in Gotenhafen (Gdynia). The wreck burnt out and on March 21, 1945, she was scuttled to block the harbour. The wreck was not finally broken up until 1956.

Displacement: 13 191 tons (normal), 14218 tons (full load) Length: 127.71 m (419 ft) oa Beam: 22.17 m (72 ft 9 in) Draught: 7.7 m (25 ft 3 in) normal Machinery: 3-shaft reciprocating, 17000 ihp=18 knots Protection: 240-102 mm (9­4 in) belt; 70-44 mm (2i-1­ in) decks; 285-170 mm (11­6­ in) turrets; 305-140 mm (12-5 ­ in) conning tower Armament: (As built) 2 280-mm (11- in)/40-cal (2×2); 14 170-mm (6.7-in)/4D-cal (14x 1); 20 88-mm (3.5-in)/35-cal (20x 1); 6 45- mm (17.7-in) torpedo tubes (1 bow, 1 stern, 4 beam, all submerged); (Schlesien and Schleswig-Holstein from 1936) 4 280-mm (11-in) (2×2); 10 150-mm (5.9-in)/45-cal (10×1), removed 1944; 4 88-mm (3.5-in)/45-cal AA (4x 1), removed 1944; 4 37-mm (1.4-in) AA (2×2); 4 20 mm (0.79-in) AA (4x 1); 10 40-mm (1.57-in) Bofors AA (10×1), added 1944; 22 20-mm (0.79- in) AA (4×4, 3×2), added 1944; 419.7-in (50-cm) torpedo tubes (in trainable mountings on battery deck) Crew: 743 (214 cadets embarked in Schlesien and 175 in Schleswig-Holstein)

Graf Zeppelin I


Graf Zeppelin. Flugzeugträger. Stapell.: 8.12.1938 B 676 (R IX E 7845)

Flugzeugträger "A". Baustadium Aufgen. am 14.9.1937 Deutsche Werke Kiel

Plans for a shipped-based air force started soon after Hitler became Chancellor in 1933. The first plans were limited to supplying the existing battleships and cruisers with reconnaissance seaplanes. On March 12th 1934 the first requirements the future aircraft carrier was given. Within a year the design study had been completed. The model used was the British Courageous class of carriers. On June 18th 1935 the signing of the British-German naval agreement set the future strength of the German Navy at 35% of the tonnage of the British fleet applied to all classes of ships. This opened the way for building the first German aircraft carrier. Based on British tonnage of the time, 38,500 tons, this allowed for two ships of 19,250 tons. Officials were sent to England to attend the Navy Week where HMS Furious was opened for visitors but little was learned. More successful was a German Commission allowed to visit the carrier Akagi in Japan where they were given 100 copies of the blueprints of the air deck facilities. However, the Japanese neglected to tell them that the carrier was about to be completely rebuilt and the plans were obsolete.

At the end of 1935, when the design of the carrier was mostly completed, it received the consent of the commander of the navy. On 16th November 1935 the order to build the ‘A’ carrier was given to the Deutsche Werke Kiel AG. At that time most of its resources were engaged in building other warships and its slipways were occupied by ships under construction. Therefore construction was delayed until 28th December 1936 when it was possible to lay the keel on Slipway 1, twenty days after Battleship ‘E’ – the Gneisenau – had been launched from the same slipway. The slipway construction stage took two years. The ship was launched by Countess Hella von Brandenstein-Zeppelin, daughter of Count Zeppelin, on 8th December 1938 in the presence of Adolf Hitler. Work progressed during 1939 and by August it was estimated that the first tests could be carried out in June 1940 and the ship ready for service by the end of that year. When war broke out the Graf Zeppelin was 85%-90% completed. The engines and boilers were in place, the auxiliary machinery prepared though not yet installed and the 15cm guns were in place as well but lacked armoured shields.

The order for carrier ‘B’ was placed on 16th November 1936 with the Friedrich Krupp-Germania shipyard. The laying of the keel could not have taken place until the second half of 1938, after the heavy cruiser ‘J’ had been launched, because only one slipway (VIII) could accommodate the carrier. The date, 30th September 1936, given in some sources is invalid and probably a misprint. 30th September 1938 seems the most likely date. The construction of the ‘B’ carrier was intentionally slow because of the possibility of using experience gained from trials of the Graf Zeppelin in the ‘B’ construction. The planned launching was 1st July 1940 which did not take place as the order was cancelled on 19th September 1939. The ship had been finished up to the armoured deck. On 28th February 1940 Admiral Raeder ordered the dismantling of the hull. The ‘B’ carrier was never given a name. Peter Strasser is ascribed to the carrier by some sources but is entirely speculative and it is questionable that Hitler would have approved it even if it were on the list of proposed names.

After the start of the war, works on the Graf Zeppelin continued as planned for a while, but soon delays were caused by the extensive U-Boat building programme. [Carriers were always last in construction priority. Until 19th September 1939 the priority was: battleships, submarines, destroyers, cruisers, aircraft carriers.] In October 1939 Hitler allowed only the building of small ships and the continuing construction of five large ships, the Graf Zeppelin among them. It was the German conquest of Denmark and Norway that had an adverse effect on the ship’s fate. Defence of the long the Norwegian coast required many small ships and their construction became the priority. During a conference with Hitler on the 29th April 1940, Admiral Raeder proposed stopping all work on the carrier. Even if the ship was commissioned as planned at the end of that year, equipping her with guns would take another ten months, if not longer, and the installation of the fire control system several more months. (The original fire control system had been sold to the Soviet Union. In the end the AA and 15cm guns were removed and sent to Norway to be incorporated in the coastal defence system.) During a conference in July, Hitler referred to aircraft carriers saying that Germany must have “a cruiser with a flight deck”. Ludicrous as it was to start a new project when the existing carrier was almost complete, it was Hitler’s remarks that stopped all work on the Graf Zeppelin on the 12th July 1940 and the Design Bureau to prepare a design of an ‘M’ cruiser that could carry 14 aircraft. On the same day the Graf Zeppelin left Kiel for Gdynia (called Gotenhafen by the Germans). The ship remained there almost a year until Hitler’s decision to attack the Soviet Union on 22nd June 1941. Because of the treat of Soviet air raids the Supreme Command of the Navy ordered Group North to tow the ship further west by 19th June. The carrier left at noon 19th June and reached Stettin on afternoon of 21st June. There she was moored at Hakenterasse, remaining until German forces had penetrated far enough to lift the threat of air attacks. On 10th November 1941 she left Stettin to arrive a week later back at Gdynia. She was then used as a floating warehouse for hardwood under the name Zugvogel.

By the end of 1941, the crippling of the Italian fleet in Taranto, the Home Fleet’s interception of the Bismarck and especially the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor had proved that ship-based aircraft were a fully developed and dangerous weapon. The Seekreigsleitung pressed for completion and putting into service of the Graf Zeppelin as soon as possible. The final discussion took place on 16th April 1942 at Hitler’s Wolfschanze headquarters. The results were as follows:

  1. Works on the hull and engines were to be completed by summer 1943.
  2. The only available aircraft types, adapted Bf 109 and Ju 87, required upgrading of the air facilities, especially installation of stronger catapults. Design, production and testing of these would take not less than two years so it was decided to modernize and adapt the existing catapults which would take six months. This gave the earliest possible time to complete the carrier as the winter of 1943/44. From the point of view of the Luftwaffe constructing a new carrier-based aircraft was impossible before 1946.
  3. The Luftwaffe would provide the Kriegsmarine ten fighters and twenty-two bombers to be used in the reconnaissance role. Designing a torpedo-bomber was opposed by Hitler who thought such aircraft were not useful.

On May 13th 1942 the decision was made to resume the construction of the Graf Zeppelin. Along with changes to the air facilities there were other alterations considered necessary as early as 1938/39 because of the developments in naval technology. The superstructure was obsolete. The existing mast had to be replaced with a heavier one fitted with a fighter command post and radars. The bridge and fire control centre covered with fragment-proof armour. A higher funnel shield was necessary to protect the fighter command post from smoke. The alterations resulted in a significant increase in weight that needed to neutralised to keep the ship stable. Bulges were added to keep the ship upright. The secondary role was to protect the ship’s interior from torpedoes. Parts of the bulges served as oil tanks. These additions improved the manoeuvrability and range of the ship. AA protection was also upgraded. The planned air component was composed of 28 Ju 87s and 12 Bf 109s.


The Supreme Command of the Navy expected that work would be completed by April 1943 with the first sea test performed in August. However, the last twelve months of construction were to be carried out at the cost of cancelling VVIIC U-boats at Deutsche Werk AG Kiel. As well as the Graf Zeppelin, five other ships were to be converted to aircraft carriers. Due to the shortage of workers and lack of material, especially steel, Hitler decided to cancel the conversion of existing warships and put the workers and material into building the aircraft carriers Graf Zeppelin, Seydlitz and Potsdam. Meanwhile, due to increasing air threat, the operation to move the Graf Zeppelin to Kiel was delayed. She finally left Gdynia on 30th November 1942. On 3rd December the convoy reached Kieler Forde and the Graf Zeppelin anchored to the Heikendorf roadstead. On 5th December she was put into the Deutsche Werk floating dock where work on the bulges started immediately. At the same time work on the engines room was started to make the two inner shafts and their propulsion system operational allowing the ship to make a top speed of 25 to 26 knots. The objective was to finish the carrier in the autumn of 1943. On 30th January 1943 Hitler ordered all capital ships to be put out of service and cancel the construction of those not yet completed. Grand Admiral Raeder described it as “the cheapest sea victory England ever won” and was the direct reason for him being relieved from duty. On 2nd February 1943 the construction of the Graf Zeppelin, on which the bulges were still being installed, was stopped for good. On April 15th Deutsche Werk shipyard were ordered to prepare the ship to be moved to Gdynia. After these preparations the carrier was towed out on 20th April, its destination now Stettin. There she was anchored on one of the forks of the Odra River and camouflaged to look like a small island. The initial plan of moving the ship to Pillau was abandoned because of a lack of adequate anchor ground. The end of the carrier came soon after the Red Army entered the territory of the Reich. First all the Kingston valves were opened and the ship settled on the bottom. Then a ten-man squad prepared the ship for blowing up with depth charges. On the 25th April 1945 at 6pm the order was given. Thick smoke issued from the funnel, proof that the charges had gone off as planned.

Graf Zeppelin II



Last photograph of Graf Zeppelin towed from Swinocijscie Poland to Leningrad. April 17. 1947.

In April 1945, Soviet troops found the carrier’s artillery had been dismantled, the installation of fire control equipment had not been finished and the electrical installations partially installed as well as the flight equipment. There was a complete engine room and the power station was fully operational. Among the explosives, ten depth charges had been set off in the engine room. Water had penetrated through small blow-holes, cracks and leakages and the ship settled on the bottom in water seven meters deep. Seepage was so slow the water in the engine room was lower than that outside the hull. By 17th August 1945 the ship had been examined by teams of the 77th Emergency Rescue Unit. The carrier lay on the bottom with only half a degree of list to starboard. On the starboard were 36 holes up 1.0 X 1.0 meters made by shells and fragments. All the turbines, boilers and power plants had been blown up damaging the nearby watertight bulkheads. One .8 x .3 meter hole had been blown in the underwater part of the ship along with a .3 meter crack. The propellers had been dismantled and placed on the flight deck to minimize electrochemical corrosion of the hull. The aircraft elevators had been blown up as well. The ship was raised by simply sealing the underwater hole and crack and pumping out the water. Ten longitudinal and twelve transverse bulkheads had to be sealed to give the ship the necessary buoyancy. Cracks above the waterline and portholes were sealed with wielded metal sheets. Due to extensive damage and time pressures damage to ship’s deck were not mended. After the repairs were completed the ship was towed to Świnoujście, the former Kriegsmarine base known as Swinemunde. On 19th August the hulk was included in the Soviet Navy as a spoil of war. At the Potsdam Conference (17th July until 2nd August) the first agreement was reached on how to dispose of captured German surface vessels. On 23rd January 1946 an Anglo-American-Soviet committee was formed to deal with these matters. All combat and auxiliary vessels were divided into three categories A, B or C. The Graf Zeppelin was given to the Soviets by lot and came under category C – ships sunk, damaged or unfinished that required over six months of repairs using the resources of German shipyards. It was the recommendation of the committee that category C ships should be scuttled in deep water or dismantled by a given date. Admiral Kuzniecov requested to repair the Graf Zeppelin for use as an experimental platform for the construction of Soviet aircraft carriers. Initially he was given approval for the Baltic shipyard in Leningrad to carry out the necessary repairs; however the authorities chose the simpler option of complying with the terms of the allied agreement. On March 17th 1947 a resolution was passed that all category C vessels were to be destroyed in 1947. The command of the Soviet Navy had managed to convince the government to run durability tests on the vessels.

From 2nd February 1947 the Graf Zeppelin was classified as experimental platform PB-101. The destruction was to be carried out in a manner that allowed the collection of experimental data and experiences. A special committee head by Vice-Admiral Rall was formed and ordered to sink the carrier while testing its resistance to aerial bombs, artillery shells, and torpedoes in two variants, static and dynamic. Static meaning that the munitions would be placed in the ship and detonated and dynamic that they would be delivered by simulated attacks. The detonation of mines at various depths and distances from the ship was also considered. Between the tests teams of scientists would be sent aboard to assess the effects of the explosions. They were allowed to conduct minor repairs to stop the ship from sinking too soon.

At 2.45 pm on 14th August 1947 PB-101, as she was now known was pulled out onto the out roadstead of Świnoujście from where she was escorted by various vessels to the five mile square designated as the test area. Due to draining of three starboard rooms in the bulges she had a 3 degree list to port. When she arrived on the evening 15/16th August if was found that she could not be anchored. One of the main anchor chain links failed and the light kedge anchor could not prevent the ship from drifting. This was to affect the final outcome of the testing.

The first tests were carried out on the morning of 16th August. First a FAB-1000 bomb was exploded in the funnel along with three FAB-100 bombs and two 180 mm shells set under the flight deck. For the second test a FAB-1000 bomb was detonated on the flight deck. For the third a FAB-250 was set off on the flight deck and two 180 mm shells on the upper hangar deck. For the forth a FAB-500 over the flight deck set on a 2.7 meter high tripod, a FAB-250 on the upper hangar deck, another on the flight deck and a FAB-100 on the C deck. The fifth and last of the series, a FAB-500 and FAB-100 detonated on the flight deck with part of the bombs set deep in holes cut in the deck to simulate penetration.

The funnel was ripped open down to the flight deck but the island was not damaged, with the shockwave failing to deform the smoke ducts. No increase in pressure in the boilers was reported and on the armoured gratings an intact spider’s web was found. Of the three FAB-100 bombs detonated on the flight deck the most damaging was the one not set in the deck. The shockwaves of those set in deck were directed down into the hangar. The 180 mm shells caused various damage, the most effective being mixed armour piercing high explosive.

After the first series of tests an air raid was carried out on the ship by 39 aircraft from the 12th Guards Mine Torpedo Division and 25 Pe-2 dive bombers. On the day of the test there were only 100 P-50 exercise bombs available in the entire 4th Fleet instead of the 156 required. Therefore only 24 Pe-2 crews could perform the bombardment. Two nine plane flights dropped their payloads on the leader’s signal, the rest individually. A white 20 x 20 meter cross had be painted on the flight deck with arms 5 meters wide. The first group dropped 28 bombs from a height of 2070 meters, the second 36 from about the same height and the third attack carried out individually another 24 bombs. Three aircraft were forced to emergency dump their ordnance. The effects of the attack on what was a ‘sitting duck’ were farcical. Of the 100 bombs dropped only six hit the target, and there were only five marks on the flight deck. (Soviet pilots claimed there were eleven hits, some of the bombs having struck already damaged areas.) The test failed to give any useful information. The P-50 bombs were too small causing 5-10 cm dents in the flight deck and blew a hole about one meter in diameter in the starboard bulge. The pilots complained about poor visibility.

Another series of static explosions followed. After the forth series the entire island was wiped out and the upper hanger seriously damaged. The effect of the fifth series was the most spectacular. A FAB-550 bomb on the flight deck blew a three meter hole and a FAB-100 bomb in the hanger demolished all the light walls and destroyed the equipment. That concluded the static tests and preparations for the testing of underwater munitions where begun. On 17th August the weather bean to worsen and the carrier started to drift towards the shoals. There was the possibility that the ship would drift into waters too shallow to sink her. Rall decided to abandon the testing and finish off the carrier with torpedoes. The planed bombardment by cruisers had been cancelled because of an accident in one of the main turrets of the Molotov. The usage of the 180mm artillery was banned in the entire Soviet Navy for the year 1947. Three torpedo boats and the destroyers Slavny, Srogy, and Stroiny were summoned. The torpedo boats arrived first. The first run by TK-248 was unsuccessful, the torpedo passing under the carrier’s keel. After 15 minutes a torpedo fired by TK-503 hit the starboard side near frame 130. The explosion destroyed the bulge but the armoured belt remained unscathed. After an hour the destroyers arrived and the Slavny hit again the starboard side near frame 180 where there was no bulge. The carrier began to list to the twice damaged starboard. After 15 minutes the list reached 25 degrees, and the ship started to trim to bow. After another eight minutes the Graf Zeppelin with a 90 degree list 25 degree trim to bow slipped below the surface. The date was 18th August 1947.

The results of the tests were kept secret and the allies only informed that she had been sunk. The gap between the summer of 1945 when she was raised and March 1947 when her fate was decided remains a mystery. The German Admiral Ruge claimed in a book that the carrier capsized while being towed from Stettin to a Russian port due to the stowage of steel sheets on the flight deck According to gossip circulating in the Baltic Fleet published by Marek Twardowski in a magazine article, in 1946 the ship was towed to a Leningrad shipyard to be prepared for service. The authorities found this a welcome occasion for the transport of heavy loot which was placed on the flight deck because the damaged elevators prevented the stowage in the hangers. Placing a heavy weight on the flight deck made the ship unstable and she capsized in the shallow fairway. Most of the goods from the flight deck fell in the water, whilst those stored below caused serious damage to the bulkheads and braces. Raising the ship was not difficult but she was no longer suitable for reconstruction and had to be sunk to cover the accident. This supports the account of Ruge but is most probably untrue.

The Battleship Race Won and the Strategy Lost

Btlshp USS Arizona NARA-5900075

USS Arizona Built in 1913 and was the second and last of the Pennsylvania Class “super-dreadnought” battleships and primarily served stateside during WWI. She was part of the escort of the USS George Washington that carried President Wilson to the Paris Peace Conference on December 13, 1918. 31,400 tons and required a crew of 1,385. She was sunk on December 7, 1941 at Pearl Harbor by the Japanese leading the United States into WWII. 1,177 lives were lost when the Arizona was destroyed.

In 1897 the US navy was ranked as the sixth most powerful after Great Britain, France Germany, Russia, and Japan. The naval appropriations of 1898 resulted in the US navy moving up to fourth position by 1902; and by 1908 it had only Great Britain ahead of it as the supreme maritime power. Between 1895 and 1910, in a span of 15 years, a new navy had been created in consonance with the Mahanian strategy of the battle between capital ships. Much of this drive to build bigger battleships was the result of international competition rather than an absolute need. The rapid arming of Japan and its conquest of Manchuria had pleased the American government as it was quite ambivalent on whether the main threat to the US in the Pacific came from-Russia or Japan. The defeat of the Russian main fleet at Tsushima by Admiral Togo alarmed the Americans into a clearer understanding of where danger lay. Much of the confusion in Washington arose as a result of intense lobbying from London, which pushed for American rearmament as an additional bulwark against the Kaiser’s building of a High Seas Fleet. During this phenomenal growth period, the same questions reappeared. Did a strategy drive the rearmament, or did the newly created force drive strategy? On record we have only two documents-Plan Black and Plan Orange-to work from to solve this conundrum. Plan Black can hardly be said to fall within the ambit of strategy. It would be difficult even to consider it to be relevant at the operational level. It was, at most, a tactical plan for a onetime operation, involving the interception of an alleged German intention to occupy Culebra with a seaborne invasion force and then attack the east coast. Considering the relative strength of the German and British fleets and the need to support the centre of gravity in central Europe, this was not a realistic course of action the Germans could possibly have thought up. Even if we discount the fact that in 1905 naval planners could not have forecast what the submarine would do to change naval warfare in the next decade, Plan Black could at best be described as an alibi for what had already been decided-the rebuilding of the US battle fleet.

Plan Orange, on the other hand, was acutely perspicacious. It described the plan to recapture the Philippines through a central Pacific thrust after its capture by the Japanese in the initial stages of a war-a scenario duplicated almost exactly 40 years later. The great dilemma was whether the fleet should be concentrated in the Pacific or the Atlantic, or split into two, each half being considerably weaker than either Japan’s or Germany’s navy. This dilemma was partly solved by the opening of the Panama Canal in 1914, an achievement which took over a decade. The idea began with the US-inspired revolt of the people of Panama against Colombian rule in 1903, supported by the US navy. To dominate the Pacific from Washington by building the Panama Canal, enabling a concentration of force, is certainly grand strategy. But was it all part of a plan? Perhaps a person like Theodore Roosevelt was capable of thinking out grand strategy on that scale, but there is little evidence that the navy department was thinking along these lines. Underlying the frantic battleship race that preceded World War I were the varying rates of economic growth of the countries involved and their standing as world powers based on their economic might.

If the US was catching up with Great Britain in the number of battleships, it still had quite far to go to develop a comparable maritime strategy. In 1900 Great Britain already had a maritime strategy worldwide, to protect her far-flung empire as well as to ensure peace on her terms anywhere on the world’s oceans. To give Whitehall the ability to exercise command of the Royal Navy worldwide, Britain had established global undersea cable links, that were later backed by HF stations, permitting a ship in any part of the world to be within easy communication distance of a powerful radio station. This complicated communications tentacle, which really was the heart of Britain’s ability to react to any situation on any of the world’s oceans, had no comparable equivalent in the US. In fact, if force levels and communications are judged to go hand in hand, it was not until the late 1950s that the US had a comparable worldwide communications system for her navy.

After the Battle of Tsushima, when Britain signed an alliance with Japan, there was much heartburn in Washington. Under the terms of the alliance, Britain would remain neutral if Japan fought one power but would join Japan if the Japanese had to fight two powers simultaneously. Britain made some concessions to the US to placate Washington, but both sides kept a wary eye on each other’s battleship-building programmes. By 1905 Mahan was accepted by the navies of the US, UK, Germany, Russia, and Japan as the source of all maritime wisdom. France alone remained aloof from a total acceptance of Mahanian strategy. Since all of these nations viewed the big battle as the final arbiter of sea use, a battleship-building contest began which was limited only by the governments’ ability to pay for them. The blind adherence to the cult of the battleship was responsible for the US entering World War I without any credible idea on what the navy would do in such a war. In any case, until 1910 the US visualised that Japan would be the likely threat. The reason for this presumption is not clear other than that Japan was the nearest Asian power with a large number of battleships; there was no economic rivalry, no conflict of interests. An alleged Japanese attempt to occupy a port in Mexico on payment was resisted and the Japanese backed down. Perhaps with the hindsight of what we know about World War II, we may tend subconsciously to support the US naval view that Japan would be the next enemy, but it must be remembered that much of the Japanese desire to expand into South East Asia, and conquer the Philippines en route, lay three decades away. The Americans faced only one threat in World War I, and that was the German submarine, a weapon they had no idea would affect the course of the war to the extent that it did. If the miscalculation on the future role of the submarine was painful, the anticipation in Washington that the submarine would have to fight according to the existing laws of war was a downright blunder. This led to the Lusitania carrying almost 2,000 passengers along with 4 million rounds of small arms ammunition-a deadly combination. The responsibility for the destruction of the ship must lie squarely with US naval authorities who permitted a war-like act by a large and vulnerable passenger ship.

Many have questioned Britain’s maritime strategy in the Royal Navy’s approach to World War I. The strategy in part was indeed thorough and well thought out, particularly the blockade of Germany and the refinement of the co-operation between the navy and the ministry of economic warfare. The rest of the strategy-the role of the main force, the battleship fleet-is what has come under criticism. Judged against the yardstick of the criticisms levelled against British strategy, the US maritime strategy must surely take a beating. At the beginning of the war, before Admiral William S. Sims took up his post in London, the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) is reported to have told him that as far as the US navy was concerned, they would just as soon be fighting the British as the Germans. 9 If we read more into this, the failure of the US navy to fashion a more serious strategy against the Germans than Plan Black is quite understandable, since the European enemy was indeterminate. But this understanding must then be validated by a US naval strategy for war against Great Britain. Such a plan, if it existed, had yet to be publicised although war-games played before 1914 reportedly had the Royal Navy in the role of the `enemy’.

An admission of the absence of a US maritime strategy against any European power comes from the 1916 Naval Appropriations Act put up to the Congress. The earlier request, made in 1915, for a massive battleship force to meet any possible combination arising from an alliance between two powers from among Britain, Germany, Austria and Japan had been hobbled by the politics of the presidential elections. Nevertheless, the Act when it was passed in 1916, laid down the foundations for a navy that was meant to challenge the supremacy of the British navy after World War I. For what purpose this supremacy was to be challenged is most unclear. No American commercial interests would have prospered by facing off the British navy in any part of the world-at least at the end of World War I. If there was a link between the political goals of the US and the strategy of its navy up to 1914, it has yet to emerge.

In the meantime, the only worthwhile American maritime strategy during the course of the war had to be implemented by cunning and subterfuge against the wishes of the CNO, Admiral William S. Benson, the officer who superseded 26 admirals to become CNO. This extraordinary event occurred when the senior admirals revolted against the overweening powers of the secretary of the navy, Joseph Daniels. The contribution of the US towards winning World War I was to supply both men and material in dozens of convoys safely through U-boat waters by escorts which had to be diverted from screening the battleships. Eventually the US built almost 400 escorts after pressure from Admiral Sims in London had convinced the navy department that the continental war in Europe was the main theatre and that an American contribution to it would require only anti-submarine escorts from the US navy. In all, 1,200,000 men of the American army and Marines were landed in France. Equally important, not one American battleship fired a shot in anger throughout the war. The five battleships of the US navy attached to Admiral David Beatty’s fleet arrived long after Jutland and replaced five older battleships decommissioned for the purpose of providing crews for ASW vessels.

When the war ended, a considerable amount of anti-British feeling existed among the American delegations that went to Paris. Much of this was caused by Britain’s firmness in imposing the blockade against Germany where many items produced in the US had been declared contraband. At the same time, the British had been reasonable in releasing those American items which were used for munitions if they were convinced that the Germans could have easily replaced the US product with an equivalent. Nevertheless, the Americans were convinced that the British intended that a regime should be enforced on the world’s oceans where trade would proceed only with the permission of the Royal Navy. The chief weapon of negotiations for the Americans was their unwillingness to concede the primary position to the Royal Navy in battleship tonnage. For the British it was their threat to scuttle President Woodrow Wilson’s League of Nations. The stalemate continued and no solution was found until 1922, when the existing ratios of battleship tonnage for Britain, US, Japan, France and Italy were finalised at 5:5:3:1.75:1.75.

Dutch Navy


De Zeven Provinciën was a Dutch ship of the line, originally armed with 80 guns. The name of the ship was also written as De 7 Provinciën. The literal translation is “The Seven Provinces”, the name referring to the fact that the Dutch Republic in the 17th century was a confederation of seven autonomous provinces. The vessel was originally built in 1664-65 for the Admiralty of de Maeze in Rotterdam, by Master Shipbuilder Salomon Jansz van den Tempel.
The ship served as Admiral Michiel de Ruyter’s flagship during the Second Anglo-Dutch War, taking part in the hard fought Dutch victory in the Four Days Fight, the bitter defeat at the St. James’s Day Battle, and acting as a command post as well as blockading the Thames during the Raid on the Medway. The vessel gave a good account of itself throughout the war, although it was partially dismasted during the Four Day’s Fight.

De Ruyter used De Zeven Provinciën as his flagship during the Third Anglo-Dutch War of 1672-1673. The ship served in all four major battles against the combined English and French fleet, fighting in the Battle of Solebay, the first and second Battle of Schooneveld and, in possibly its greatest moment, at the Battle of the Texel.
In 1692, the ship, now armed with only 76 guns, fought at the Battles of Barfleur and La Hogue during the War of the Grand Alliance. The vessel was severely damaged during the fight and, in 1694, De Zeven Provinciën had to be broken up.
De Zeven Provinciën measured, in English Feet, approximately 151 ft long by about 40 ft (12 m) wide by a little over 15 ft (4.6 m) deep. It was originally armed with 12 36-pdrs and 16 24-pdrs on the lower deck (although this had been changed to an all 36-pdr battery by the time of the Third Anglo-Dutch War), 14 18-pdrs and 12 12-pdrs on the upper deck, and 26 6-pdrs on the forecastle, quarterdeck, and poop deck.

Emerging from success after success won by fleets of “Sea Beggars” during the Eighty Years’ War (1568-1648), the Navy of the “Generality” of the United Provinces should have been one of the strongest in the world entering into this period. In fact, it had been badly neglected by the States General in the final years of war with Spain. In 1650 it was still primarily a fleet of armed merchantmen rather than purpose-built warships, though it was by far the largest such fleet in the world. The merchant marine of Holland alone employed nearly,000 seamen, without counting tens of thousands more experienced seamen of the vast Dutch fishing fleets. The Dutch fleet had a major structural flaw beyond simple neglect and non-purpose-built ships: there was no “Dutch Navy” per se. Instead, there were five provincial admiralty colleges operating out of Amsterdam, Holland (“North Quarter”), Friesland, the Maze (Rotterdam), and Zeeland. Each admiralty supported a discrete fleet maintained by its own naval establishment. Ships of these five establishments were supplemented, but only ad hoc, by powerful armed merchant fleets owned by the Dutch East India Company (VOC),West Indies Company, and smaller joint stock companies. Some Netherlands cities maintained small navies (directieschepen), used to escort only their own municipal ships in convoy. All this represented the overall radical constitutional decentralization of Dutch national life and politics. This was in striking contrast to the centralized and centralizing naval administrations of the main sea rivals of the Dutch: England, and later, France. Worse still for the Dutch, in the late 1640s the five admiralty colleges sold off many of their ships in response to the end of the long war with Spain. As tensions rose with England, in 1651 the States General reversed course and voted funds to build a navy of 226 warships, up from the extant number of just 76. However, this measure produced only three additional warships by the start of hostilities with England in 1652. Moreover, the largest of existing Dutch ships mounted no more than 50 guns. That meant England had 14 ships as big as or larger than even the most heavily armed Dutch man-of-war. English guns were also heavier, in addition to being more numerous, with longer ranges and greater power as ship-smashers.

One short-term result of the vote was the outbreak of the First Anglo-Dutch War (1652-1654), even though the Navy was then divided by mutinous crews and political quarrels between the Orangist Admiral Maarten van Tromp and the republican Regents of Holland. The weakness showed at Kentish Knock, where nine Dutch ships deserted and Admiral Witte Coneliszoon de With was refused boarding by other ships after losing his flagship and taking to the sea in a ship’s boat. The Dutch Navy suffered from other physical disadvantages in addition to having smaller and undergunned ships. Its harbors did not lie windward of the enemy, as did English ports, and it was forced to disperse to multiple harbors by the lay of the Atlantic coast of the United Provinces and by a strategic need to protect more important Baltic routes. The poor quality of Dutch ships was quickly revealed in the first of three Anglo-Dutch wars, as Dutch ships were dismasted and holed in large numbers by heavier English guns and superior tactics of the English fighting instructions. The States General ordered the fleet rebuilt after the war, laying hulls for 60 men-of-war by early 1654. However, complaints of admirals about the smallness and poor design of even these new ships were ignored. The Regents of Holland thus continued to build numerous small, undergunned warships, with the largest still mounting just 54 guns. This probably reflected the much higher interest of merchants in seeing construction of fast convoy escorts and in coastal defense, over creation of a true battlefleet. Crucial reform was finally introduced following the war. The States General proclaimed that new ships belonged to the Generality of the United Provinces, not to the five independent admiralty colleges. The latter were thus denied the usual temptation to sell off warships for short-term profit upon the end of the most recent conflict. Slowly, though unsurely, a national Dutch Navy began to take shape.

The Dutch Navy was much better prepared to fight the Second Anglo-Dutch War (1665-1667). By then it had launched much larger ships, though the largest still had just 70 guns. The Dutch also put to sea with many more professional officers and had adopted improved tactics: the Dutch Navy first fought in line of battle at The Downs (June 1-4/11-14, 1666). But the English had been busy building battleships, too. Their new designs mounted more and heavier guns than the largest Dutch warships. In April 1665 the English had eight First-Rates of 70 guns or more, where the Dutch had just four, and the largest English battleships had 90 and 100 guns. Moreover, Dutch crews were rife with political tension, with some refusing to sail or fight under certain officers or certain colors (that is, the State’s flag vs. the dynastic banner of the Prince of Orange). The Dutch Navy subsequently fought many worthy battles and escorted numerous convoys to and from the Baltic and Mediterranean. It was fully engaged against the English for a third time during the Third Anglo-Dutch War (1672-1674). Thereafter, the Dutch were more concerned with fighting the French Navy during a series of minor and major wars: the War of Devolution (1667-1668), the Dutch War (1672-1678), the Nine Years’ War (1688-1697), and finally the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714). The last two conflicts were fought in alliance with the old foe of Dutch commercial and naval power, the Royal Navy.

Fast craft between the wars

Q 20636

The British hard-chined Coastal Motor Boats of World War I were very fast but required constant attention to trim in order to get the best performance. 1919 saw them in use in a little-known campaign on the Caspian, during the intervention by the Western powers in Russia.


S12 and S13 were part of the first batch of German motor torpedo boats, completed in I 934. Displacing 78 tons, they were 32.3-m (l 06-ft) boats armed with two 533-mm (21-in) torpedoes and a single 20-mm (0.78-in)gun intended for an AA role.



Fast coastal craft proved their worth during World War I, with the Italians achieving the greatest successes, including the sinking of several battleships. In the inter-war years the larger fleets concentrated on major units and ignored coastal craft, but Germany and Italy continued their development, giving them a substantial lead by 1939.

Although the development of the automotive torpedo in the late 19th century promised to realize the dream of the small warship with the killer punch, the need for this ‘torpedo boat’ to work with and against fleets at sea stimulated too large an increase in size, a trend aggravated by the contemporary technology of steam machinery in displacement hulls. The development of the fast planing hull and the internal combustion engine began the cycle afresh, with progress before 1914 owing much to the commercial prospects of high-speed boating. It was but a small step to mount torpedoes on such craft, and the same specialist yards have tended to remain in the business to this day.

Much effort was put into the production of torpedo-carrying coastal craft during World War l, but only the Italians in the Adriatic and the British in the English Channel and the Baltic ever demonstrated their true potential. Neither employed massed attack, preferring to work singly or in small groups to capitalize on the advantages of agility, surprise and good planning. The Italians were particularly imaginative, evolving craft and tactics to assault an Austro-Hungarian fleet snug in well-defended harbours. The British had to contend with poorer weather conditions and soon learned the value of larger and stronger hulls. They also discovered the threat posed by aircraft and fire from ashore, suffering losses from both despite small size and manoeuvrability. Experience did not turn the British away from hard-chine designs; they accepted a drop in performance in heavy weather in exchange for the benefit of really high speed in calmer water.

After World War I the British totally lost interest in coastal craft, being occupied with deep-sea imperial matters. The Italians went on initially to be joint front runners with the Germans, who saw in the small-torpedo boat a means of constructing useful naval tonnage outside treaty restrictions. Beneath the lax gaze of the regulating authorities they built and evaluated numerous hulls under sporting-club colours and, over a decade, identified what were to be the major S-boat characteristics: displacement hull, wood on light alloy construction, stability reserves for 533-mm (21-in) torpedoes and, finally, the small marine diesel. This type of engine required careful development and, once perfected, remained peculiar to German practice, with foreign navies never producing a satisfactory competitor despite the fire risks associated with petrol engines, for which they treated effect rather than cause by introducing self-sealing tanks and improved fire-extinguishing systems.

The Italian lsotta-Fraschini was an excellent petrol engine, used widely abroad until 1940; it was probably its very availability that inhibited comparable development elsewhere. During World War I the Italians found the small planing hull adequate for their Adriatic operations. Translated into the open-sea war of 1940-3 it proved unsatisfactory and was dropped in favour of a German type of round-bilge form.

A considerable increase in efficiency resulted in the abandoning of direct-drive for purpose-designed reduction gearboxes and propellers, though transmission problems and structural failures proliferated with small hulls that ‘worked’ in a seaway. Wood had the necessary resilience and ease of repair where clad on timber or light alloy frames. All-aluminium alloy hulls corroded disastrous salt-water conditions. As in the pre-transitional navy, it was found that wooden hulls could not exceed a certain length and, for instance in the British SGBs steel had to be used. A great British innovation was to abandon traditional boat-building methods for mass production, using prefabricated techniques. Once certain weaknesses had been rectified, this system realized greater numbers of craft.

Hard-used fast coastal craft have a short operational life and demand continual attention. Specialized depot ships, or tenders, enabled squadrons to operate successfully ‘up-front’. The Americans particularly made great use of them, offering off duty crews accommodation and facilities while undertaking endless hull and machinery repairs, and servicing armament.

It had been assumed between the wars that coastal craft would be needed in inshore ASW role, a belief that hung on until the British SDBs of the 1950s. In the event, submarines generally operated further offshore and those which were destroyed by small craft were despatched by torpedo while navigating on the surface. Specialist AS boats were, therefore, rapidly re-armed as gunboats, their depth charges removed. It remained the practice, however, for many boats to retain a pair of charges for the deterrence of close pursuit.

Small torpedoes of up to 457-mm (18-in) calibre proved to have insufficient ship-stopping capacity, but the size and weight of two or four 533-mm (21-in) weapons tended to dictate the parameters of the boats themselves, to the extent that the Americans developed a special ‘short’ version. To save the weight of tubes, dropping gear was introduced, though this left the torpedoes themselves vulnerable to damage. The Germans preferred to retain their two enclosed tubes forward, with a reload for each stowed safely behind a bulwark.

Close-in fighting was typically brief and bloody, involving large volumes of volumes from light automatic weapons. Armour was gradually introduced as a result the Germans going as far as an armoured wheelhouse. Initially the British were at a disadvantage with only machine-guns to match the German 20-mm cannon, whose explosive or incendiary shells were lethal to wooden hulls loaded with petrol and ammunition.

As ever, armament developed to suit the need. American PT boats, involved in the Far East against the eternal and apparently unstoppable Japanese barge traffic, shed some or all of their torpedoes in favour of weapons such as racked 127-mm (5-in) rockets and 81-mm (3.2-in) mortars. British boats faced similar problems with the German MFPs, or ‘F’ lighters, in such areas as the Aegean and Adriatic. Like the Japanese, these craft were of a draught too shallow to be vulnerable torpedoes and could take aboard a variable armament which often included much-respected 88–mm (3.46-mm) gun. British MGBs responded appropriately, toting guns as large as the short-barrelled 114-mm (4.5-in) gun.

Radar, available to small craft, was a boon in the vicious nocturnal encounters where opponents could usually be seen only fleetingly and for very short periods. Paradoxically, it was radar-controlled gunfire on the part of larger ships that offset the torpedo boat’s advantages by effectively outranging its main weapon.

Come the peace there was no sentiment, the boats being deleted in hundreds destroyed by burning and many surviving a swords-to-ploughshares transfiguration to become houseboats of surprising durability.

Interest in small craft lapsed again on the part of the larger navies until that day in 1967 when the Eilat became the first major SSM casualty.