Schnellboot (S-Boot) / (E-Boat)
Motor Torpedo Boat
Development of Schnellboots were not restricted by the Versailles Treaty following the end of World War 1 - hence German construction of the type prior to World War 2.
Authored By: JR Potts, AUS 173d AB | Last Edited:
The history of the German Navy "S- Boot" began with the World War 1 "Treaty of Versailles" written in June of 1919 to prevent the German nation from another military build up intended for war against the Allied members of France, Britain, Italy, Japan, Belgium, Czechoslovak, Greece, Montenegro, Serbia, and Romania. The United States decided not to sign the treaty though acting as a formal ally of both France and Great Britain during the war.
Despite the treaty, German engineers went along designing various weapon types using new technologies while always working to outmaneuver the Versailles Treaty restrictions (German was allowed a small standing army, armored cars, some small arms and no tanks, capital ships, aircraft or submarines). Such workarounds were managed by all branches of the German military - pilots trained on gliders and capital ships (such as the KMS Bismarck) were built heavier than the treaty allowed by false dimensions provided to the world by the German government.
However, some developments unintentionally adhered with treaty restrictions and led to creations like the "S-Boot" - essentially a scaled-down warship too small to be regulated by the Versailles treaty. Its sturdy design fulfilled a required operational role and the decision was to build boats of high quality over a mass production was the German way of waging war. The beginning of the torpedo boat program was a speedboat designed as a "submarine chaser". The German Naval Command began development in 1920 with series of trials using a variety of designs for boats suited for action in North Sea conditions. Hulls, commonly used for speedboats, were built with a surface-skimming qualities best suited for fast boats in calm waters. The North Sea required a different sort of boat design that allowed a robust hull to "plow" through heavy seas while not producing a highly visible plume of water at the stern.
In 1928, after many tests in the North Atlantic, German Naval Command settled on a rounded-bottom hull. They chose the hull of the "Oheka II", a luxury motor yacht built in 1927 by the German boatyard Luerssen. The hull measured 73 feet, 8 inches (22.5 meters) long and displaced 22.5 tons with a top speed of 34 knots making her the world's fastest boat of her class of the day. During sea trials, the boat ploughed through the water with plume as required, even when all three of her Maybach 550 horsepower engines were used. The rounded hull was made of wood planking to help reduce the weight and flattened at the stern area so the aft section area in water at high speeds was reduced, allowing more hydrodynamic lift when keeping the craft on a horizontal plane. In November of 1929, the German shipbuilder Luerssen was given a contract to build a boat to the new military-quality design. Two torpedo tubes were added along the forward castle and the engines upgraded for increased speed. It would become the first Kriegsmarine's standardized "Schnellboot" ("Fast Boat") and know in its abbreviated form as the "S-Boot" with the designation of "S-1". With improvements from the field filtered back to Luerssen, the basic design formed all future S-Boots built during World War 2 (1939-1945).
As the first S-Boots - eventually known to the Allies as "E-Boats" - were produced, additional improvements were being designed almost boat-to-boat. The second boat, S-2, was built with an advanced rudder assembly intended to reduce stern waves. This upgrade would help keep the boat in a horizontal attitude that increased the stability of the three propellers. In 1933, the boats produced needed to reserve the bow buoyancy so, starting with the construction of S-7, the hull as adjusted, preventing the boat from nosing deep into oncoming bow waves consistent with North Atlantic heavy weather. During the construction of S-20, the boat's superstructure was constructed so the boat's commander could stand on deck behind a wind and spray screen. This made communication difficult, requiring the commander to issue orders through a voice tube or by a seaman equipped with a headset intercom relaying information to the helmsman, navigator, and radio operator housed behind him in the wheel-house.
By 1940, when S-26 was constructed, a cockpit was added into the wheelhouse roof area. This addition allowed some shelter for the commander against the elements and increased visibility from a perched central location on the boat. An advantage of this change allowed the commander to speak orders directly to the crew in the wheelhouse without voice tubes. Starting with S-30 in 1939, several boats were built with a slightly smaller hull at 32.7 meters long and with the old style wheelhouses. By the time S-38 and her batch class was built, including S-130, an armored bridge had been added as well as additional anti-aircraft defensive armament: 2 x 20mm AA guns amidships plus 1 x 37mm AA gun mounted aft. In 1943, all S-Boots were reclassified as the "S-110" class.
On October 21st, 1943, the Johann Schlichting facility at Travemuende, Germany near Kiel, built S-130 (Hull No. 1030), codenamed "Rabe". She had incorporated all of the upgrades that had been tested and proved in-the-field to date. In November, S-130 was assigned to the 9th S-Boot Flotilla to help strengthen the German presence in the English Channel and North Atlantic. The 9th S-Boot Flotilla was stationed in Rotterdam from November 1943 until early 1944 to which the flotilla was then moved to Cherbourg situated on the Cotentin peninsula at Lower Normandy in northwest France. The flotilla's primary mission was to patrol the Channel and the North Atlantic and torpedo Allied shipping, depth charge submarines, lay mine fields and provide costal patrol duties.
Operating out of the port of Rotterdam, Cherbourg, S-130 would patrol looking for targets of opportunity while also being posted to convoy duty and general patrol. For the first six months, her patrol missions were routine without enemy action to be had. On the afternoon of April 27th, 1944, a Luftwaffe reconnaissance aircraft spotted an Allied convoy of seven merchant ships off Start Point, England. The 5th and 9th S-Boot flotillas were radioed and nine S-Boots (including S-130) were dispatched from Cherbourg at 10PM to attack the convoy. The S-Boots were actually alerted to a convoy on a training exercise codenamed "Tiger" - practicing for the forthcoming Normandy D-Day invasion.
The United States Army was conducting assault force landing training exercises at Slapton Sands in Start Bay and nearby Tor Bay to condition troops before attacking Normandy, France. The training was realistic, utilizing ships that would be operating during the invasion to provide the most realistic experience as possible. Convoy T-4 consisted of the British corvette HMS Azaelia, assigned as the escort for the exercise, and a number of minesweepers preceding eight Landing Ship Tank (LST) vessels as they entered Lyme Bay.
LSTs were massive vessels displacing 5,410 long tons (5,497 short tons) when fully-loaded and were 400 feet (120 meters) in length. Each ship could hold thirteen Churchill Infantry Tanks or twenty medium-class tanks below deck and twenty-seven vehicles of various sizes on the upper deck. Additionally, each ship could house 193 combat-ready personnel plus gear. To operate the LST required a crew of 169 officers and seamen - operation including the loading and offloading of cargo onto an enemy beach. The LST was designed to beach itself to which then the bow split open to allow tanks and vehicles to drive down a ramp onto the beach. As the 13 to 20 tanks are driven out of the lower tank deck, a second ramp allowed vehicles to be driven directly from the main deck down to the lower tank deck, ultimately crossing the bow ramp onto the beach - this intended to decrease overall disembark time.
As the training LSTs slowly steamed towards the beach, S-130 and the other German S-Boots were incoming at 36 knots, entering Lyme Bay while sighting the allied ships. They proceeded into attack formation and engaged at 2AM. The 9th Flotilla of S-130, S-145 and S-150 were closing at maximum speed and S-150 and S-130 turned straight in to a joint torpedo attack against one vessel. S-145 broke off to attack a landing craft. S-140 and S-142 identified targets at about the same time and opened fire with four torpedoes at 1,400 meters away. Meanwhile, S-100 and S-143, alerted to the action by red tracers to their north, closed in at high speed and noted that a "tanker" was already well ablaze. Both boats fired two torpedoes at a ship, probably one of the mine sweepers, achieving a solid hit with one torpedo.
The first LST torpedoed was LST-507 which showcased explosions and fires as fuel ignited. Next hit was LST-531 targeted by two torpedoes and quickly sunk by the head. LST-289 was torpedoed 28 minutes later but remained afloat, losing 13 men in the action. LST-507 lost 202 men with the remainder making it to life boats. LST-531 had sunk almost immediately after being torpedoed, not allowing many of the crew and army troops to escape - 424 men lost. During the night battle, LST 496 was firing at an S-Boot and racked LST-511 with machine gun fire, wounding 18 crewmen. In the end, a total of 684 American seamen and soldiers were killed or went missing after the short successful German attack. The action worried Allied D-Day planners so the facts of the mission were not released to the public or relatives of the men lost. The KIA's numbers were added to the losses incurred by the Allies on D Day itself.
On the morning of 6th, June 1944, D-Day, the allied invasion of "Fortress Europe" (codenamed Operation Neptune) began. The Allied invasion fleet included ships from eight different navies, comprising 6,939 vessels. 1,213 were warships including 7 battlewagons, 5 heavy and 17 light cruisers, 135 destroyers and destroyer escorts and 508 other monitor-like warships, "E-boats" and motor gunboats. The balance was 4,126 landing ships such as the LST type and other landing craft, including 736 ancillary craft made up of tug boats and 864 support merchant vessels. The first German naval response came from the S-Boot 9th Flotilla through S-130 and 30 other S-Boots sent in to attack the invading Allied fleet. The maximum combined fire power of the 31 boats was 124 torpedoes.
As the S-Boots approached the invasion fleet, it became apparent to the Kriegsmarine 9th Flotilla commander attacking this wall of steel was a suicide mission as the S-Boots were not designed to stand and fight destroyers and cruisers. The order was to launch all torpedoes towards the oncoming ships at their maximum range and return home. Some landing craft were sunk during this engagement and two of S-130's crew were killed but, due to the range that the torpedoes were launched, the individual S-Boots could not claim credit for warships sunk. The 9th Flotilla sank a number of landing craft but records do not indicate whether any were attributed to S-130. During the next 11 months, as the Allied armies advanced towards the Rhine River and Germany itself, S-130 and the 9th Flotilla fell back in the Channel and along the North Sea coasts, disrupting Allied lines of communication and attacking shipping whenever they could. The advances of the allies by the spring of 1945 had halted German Naval operations in the southern North Sea altogether.
S-130 and S-208 had moved to Rotterdam in May of 1945 and eventually were taken over as British war prizes following the German surrender. Why the crew did not destroy their vessels is curious as German forces across North West Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands all surrendered on May 4th, 1945. The British took a number of German ships, including S-130, back to England so, in late May 1945, German delivery crews, supervised by British seamen, brought their vessels into Gosport, England. As they were to be used unarmed, the torpedo tubes were deactivated and closed and the cannon unshipped to reduce weight. Two additional fuel tanks were installed in order to increase operating range and radar and radio direction gear were fitted for her new clandestine mission role.
S-130 had her 3 x Maybach 501 V-20 series diesels were replaced by three state-of-the-art Napier-Deltic diesels rated at 3,140PS each. This new lease on life gave the S-130 a speed of 45 knots, an increase of about 5 knots over her original German engines. She was attached to the British Baltic Fishery Protection Service, a cover for the British Secret Intelligence Service (MI-6), using the now-converted S-130 to ferry spies and agents into Eastern Europe. In May of 1949, the converted S-130 and S-208 were used to insert agents into Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Poland against the Soviet Empire.
With West Germany as a new ally, the older S-130 German S-Boot was turned over to the newly-formed Bundesmarine. From 1945 to 1956, the German Mine Sweeping Administration was made up of former members of the Kriegsmarine, a transition stage for the new German Marine Service. The future German Navy was to draw on experienced personnel prior to its formation in 1956. At first, they were used for coastal survey (based from Rotterdam) but the British Admiralty had urgent need of information about the activities of the Soviet Fleet operating in the Baltic. The boats were then redeployed to Kiel and used there to monitor Soviet Fleet maneuvers and respective bases. These vessels photographed Soviet units, collected a large quantity of useful information and, when the converted S-130 and others were detected, they would escape at high speed despite the Soviet attempts at interception.
A variety of ensigns and insignia were used to confuse the Soviets. S-130 and S 208 were restored to their old condition and handed over, in March 1957, to be used as high-speed training vessels designated UW-10 and UW-11 respectively, for the underwater warfare school. Newer boats formed the first Fast Torpedo Boat Squadron. In March of 1957, S-130, operating under the number UW-10 ("UW" = "Unterwasserwaffenschule"), trained sailors using underwater mines and torpedoes.
The aging S-208 was eventually broken up but S-130 continued to serve as a test platform in a variety of roles under the pennant number "EF-3". In 1991, she was paid off for the last time in Wilhelmshaven Germany, after 48 years of constant service under many flags. There, she was used as a house-boat until January of 2003 when she was purchased for restoration by her present owners. She now resides in England as the last existing ship of her class.
In August of 1945, just weeks after the end of World War 2 following the Japanese surrender, future US president John F. Kennedy visited Germany with US Navy Secretary James Forrestal. As a former PT boat commander, Kennedy was interested in the famous German counterpart to the equally famous American PT-boat so he made it a point to inspect an intact S-Boot at Bremen, Germany. It is interesting to note that Kennedy's diary indicated the Schnellboot was a far superior machine than the storied line of United State Navy PT-boats used during the war.