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S-Boats in the Kriegsmarine 1935 - 1945

War-Zones of the S-Boats

West Campain 1940

On 10.05.1940 the offensive in the wesr commenced. The Group West (Gruppe West) requested urgent operations of S-boats in the Channel. On 12.05.1940 the 2. SFltl was taken out of covering actions in Norway, on 14.05.1940 also the 1. SFltl. Both flotillas were transferred to Borkum with nine boats and a tender on 19.05.19340. During the nights 20./21. and 21./22.05.1940 the first operations off the Netherlands and the Belgium coasts took place in which a steamer and the French destroyer "Jaguar" were sunk.

The transfer of the flotillas to Den Helder which had provisionally been prepared as a S-boat base followed. From there the Führer Torpedoboote = CinC Torpedoboots (FdT) (Kpt.z.S. Bütow) led the two flotillas. On 26.05.1940 the operation "Dynamo" commenced, the withdrawal of the British and the French army units. It was concluded on 04.06.1940 and the Allied succeeded in withdrawal of 340.000 men under summoning of over 800 vessels among them 56 destroyers from Dunkirk to England, however, without their equipment. The S-boats were the only offensive forces of the navy to fight this evacuation fleet. During this operation the enemy lost 72 vessels, however, most of them on the merit of the Luftwaffe. The boats could sink the British steamer "Abukir", the British destroyer "Wakeful", the French destroyrer "Sirocco", and the British trawlers "Stella Dorado" and "Argyllshire". 

Award of Knights Cross to Oblt.z.S.Fimmen and Oblt.z.S. v. Mirbach - Picture: FRom heritage of Kpt.z.S. Künzel Veranda at Urville Nacqueville today - Picture: Benoît
The officers of 1. SFltl and Helene in front of the quarters at Urville - Picture: From heritage of Kpt.z.S. Künzel Hotel de la Plage at Urville Nacqueville today - Picture: Benoît
Crew-Bunker at Urville Nacqueville today - Picture: Benoît Hotel de la Plage, Bunker and Veranda at Urville - Image: Google Earth

Furthermore the French destroyer "Cyclone" was torpedoed, but could enter the harbour of Dover and afterwards reach the shipyard at Brest where she was blown up when the German army marched in. On 31.05.1940 the two flotillas transferred to Hook van Holland were also the newly formed 3. SFltl (Kptlt. Kemnade) joined with two boats. On 03.06.1940 the three flotillas transferred to Rotterdam. Most of the fired torpedoes during the various operations went wrong dur to magnetic and contact fuse problems.

On 11.06.1940 the transfer of the 2. SFltl to Boulogne took place. When entering harbour the boats were taken under fire by own artillery, but without damage. After a fierce bomb attack by British bombers with the result of six personnel killed in action (see picture below) already on the very day the flotilla transferred back to Rotterdam on 12.06.1940. On 17.06.1940 it transferred again to Boulogne. In the meantime the 3. SFltl had transferred back to Germany. 

The six personnel of the 2. SFltl killed in action on 12.06.1940 at Boulogne (ObLtnt. z.S. Kecke - Kdt S 35, ObMaschMt Glienke - T1 S 31, BtsmMt Zumpe - Nr. 1 S 31, MatrObGefr Weber - S 30, MachObGefr Dörnberg - S 30, MaschGefr Hütte - S 31, FkGefr Kluin - S 31) - Picture: Archives R. Mundt

The boats now attacked the British convoy traffic along the English south and southoast coasts from Boulogne and Rotterdam. On 27.06.1940 the 1. SFltl transferred to Cherbourg and the  2. SFltl to Oostend. 

Boats of the 2. SFltl leaving a Channel Harbour (Picture: Fr. Meier "Kriegsmarine am Feind"

On the evening of the 24.07.1940 two packs of the 1. SFltl were to operate south of Portland Bill ("S 19" and "S 27") and east of the Isle of Wight ("S 26" and "S 20"). At 23.10 Uhr the pack "S19"/"S 27" discovered a wight light on starboard and turned toward it, because it was believed to be a light of a German flying boat that had carried out an emergency landing on the day before. But he light came from a  Passengership of estimated 18.000 BRT on a westerly course. "S 27" and "S 19" fired one torpedo each but both of them passed the ship. The steamship stopped. Two further torpedoes were fired by the two boats but both passed the ship. Thereupon "S 19" started firing at the stopped steamer showing navigational lights with her 20mm machinegun. At 00.12 "S 27" fired one more torpedo which turned out to be a surfacerunner but hit the steamer in the rear end, which caused it to sink slowly.  It was the French steamer "Meknés" (causing the death of 420 French soldiers on their way back to France, which had capitulated in the meantime; 900 soldiers were rescued by British ships and boats). As Monsieur Jaque Ragot from Amélie reported, on 24.07.2010 (70 year after the disater) was a stele officially disclosed at Saint-Martin-en-Campagne/Normandy as memory of the 420 victims of the sinking of "Meknés". On her the names of the victims are ingravated. Every year on the 24th of July a march to the stele is organized.



Until 08.08.1940 the boats of the 1. SFltl, "S 20" (Oblt.z.S. Götz von Mirbach), "S 21" (Oblt.z.S. Bernd Klug), "S 25" (Oblt.z.S. Siegfried Wuppermann) and "S 27" (Oblt.z.S. Herbert Büchting) under command of the Fltl-Chef Kptlt Heinz Birnbacher on "S 27", out of the convoy CW 9 "Peewitt" the three British steamers "Holme Force", "Fife Coast" and "Ouse" (according to official reports by collision when trying to evade a torpepedo). Damaged were the motorships "Polly M" and "John M". Up to this date the German S-Boats had furthermore sunk the British steamers "Roseburn", "Elmcrest", "Broadhurst", "London Trader" and "Lulonga", the British tanker "Albuera", the British motorships "Kingfisher" and "Mallard" as well as the British armed trawler "Cayton Wyke". Damaged were the British freighters "Hartlepool" and "British Corporal"


Report of the OKW (Picture: Fr. Meier "Kriegsmarine am Feind"

On 14.08.1940 Oblt.z.S. Fimmen and Oblt.z.S. v. Mirbach were for that awarded the Knight Cross.

As we nowadays know from the British records of sunken ships the commanding officers very often overestimated the size of the ships send to the bottom of the sea.

In this phase of the war the German S-boats also laid mines on the convoy routes along the English coast in four operations.

As own losses were to note "S 32" and "S 23" by mine hits. During the bomb attack against the boats at Boulogne there were eight men killed in action and ten wounded. Because of the mine hits there were six men killed in action and two wounded on "S 32".

On 11.08.1940 the 1. SFltl was ordered to stay in readiness for search and rescue operations for the Luftwaffe with priority. On 13.08.1940 commenced the Eagle's Day ("Adlertag"), the fight for the air supleriority over Great Britain, which was considered by the OKL as a prerequisit for the operation "Seelöwe" (landing in Great Britain).

The propaganda-machinery tried with all means to produce a war-enthusiasm in the people, so with book and collection-pictures. The example of a collection-picture issued by the savings bank Gersdorf in Chemnitz County shown below makes clear how the political leadership tried to influence the people. 

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Collection Picture by Savings Bank Gersdorf in Saxony - Picture: Archives Förderverein

On 15.08.1940 a sabotage act occurred in Ostend, to which the torpedo control center and the torpedo store with 42 torpedoes were victims. By the fragments and wrackage parts the boats "S 24", "S 31", "S 35", and "S 37" were so severely damaged that they had to go back to Germany for shipyard repairs. As a consequence the 2. SFltl practically was fallen out and the 1. SFltl with the boats "S 18", "S 20", "S 21", "S 25", "S 26", and "S 27" were ordered to Rotterdam on 19.08.1940, in order to operate from there against convoys in the Thames estuary. In the time to follow torpedo and minelaying operation were conducted alternatingly.

"Flag "Z" hoisted up i an Pre-War Attack-Exercise on a Boat Type S 14 - Picture: PK Photo

On 08.09.1940 the 3. SFltl (Kptlt. Kemnade) came as reinforcement from Kiel with the boats "S 1", "S 10", "S 11", and "S 13". When entereing Vlissingen "S 1" and "S 13" collided slightly, a lighter hit "S 10" at the stern, such that only " 11" and "S 13" were ready for action. 

"S 13" entering Wilhelmshaven (Picture: Fr. Meier "Kriegsmarine am Feind")

The operation "Seelöwe" was defered finally Mid October 1940. Until this point in time the S-boats had in spite of hindrances by the weather and engine problems and other damages to the boats by fights with British guards and bomb attacks against the harbours sunk the British freighters "Cotbrook", "New Lambton", "Fulham V", "Ewell", "Joseph Swan", "Continental Coaster" and the Netherlands freighters "Nieuwland"  and  "Stad Alkmaar". The successes of the minebarriers laid by the S-boats have not been reported.

The own losses were a mine hit on 28.08.1940 on "S 19", which, however, could be towed to Calais, the sinking of "S 37" by a mine hit and severe damaged by a bomb hit on "S 36",  fragment damages on "S 33", "S 37", and "S 13" as well as 17 killed in action or died respectively, six severely wounded (among them also Kptlt. Kemnade), two slightly wounded and four slightly wounded during the explosion of the torpedo store at  Oostend. 

On 21.10.1940 the Gruppe West ordered the transfer of the 1. SFltl to Norway and with that the subordination Gruppe Nord (Group North). With that remained in the west area the 2. SFltl with five boats ("S 30", "S 33", "S 34", "S 36", and "S 55") and the 3. SFltl with three boats ("S 12", "S 54", and "S 57"). The 1. SFltl arrived on 28.10.1940 Bergen with the boats "S 20", "S 24", "S 27", and "S 28". "S 25", "S 26", and the new "S 38" were to follow to Bergen when ready for action. The boats "S 19" and "S 21" having belonged to the 1.SFltl were assigned to the newly formed 4. SFltl upon getting ready for action.

In order to operate against the Shetland islands the 1. SFltl was transferred to Stavanger on 30.10.1940. Starting 04.11.1940 the flotilla conducted escort duties. On 11.11.1940 was besides of two boats which contionued to do escort operations again assigned to Gruppe West. 

Wti the few remained boats in the western area likewise minelaying and torpedo operations were conducted. The fall weahter did however not permit many operations. Not earlier than 19.11.1940 an operation was carried out during which "S 38" (Oblt.z.S. Detlefsen) was sunk by artillery hits from the British destroyers "Campbell" and "Garth". There were many men wounded, five men were killed in action and 18 men became P.O.W.s (among them the CO).


"S 33" passing a bigger own Unit (Picture: Fr. Meier "Kriegsmarine am Feind")

Storm and fog prevented until 13.12.1940  other operations. The 3. SFltl obtained with "S 58" (Lt.z.S. Geiger) and "S 59" (Oblt.z.S. A. Müller) two new boats.  On 21.12.1940 British aircraft again attacked the Channel harbours. At Ostend "S 34" and "S 56" were slightly damaged, "S 33" had to go into a shipyard. The only sucessful operation was conducted on 23.12.1940: All three flotillas had left harbour to operate against British convoys. They found two strongly defended convoys, "S 28" sank the British trawler "Pelton", little later "S 59" sank the Netherlands freighter "Stad Maastricht". The boats were taken under fire by the escorting destroyers and pushed away from the convoys. 

Until the end of the year stormy weather prevailed such that the boats were kept in the harbours.

S-Boat of Type 38 off Boulogne Winter 1940/41 - Picture: Archives Roger Albrigtsen

Both sides were subject to false estimations during this phase of the war:

The German S-boats reported the sinking of 44 merchant ships (230.500 BRT) by torpedo hits on merchant ships and the sinking of 11.330 ts of warships. In reality they sank 26 merchant ships and auxiliaries (49.985 BRT) and three destroyers. Seven merchant ships (21.428 BRT) and two destroyers were damaged.

The British side believed at a stationing of 50 boats in the flotillas with 12 to 14 boats each along the Netherlands, the Belgiuan, and the French coasts.

The tactic employed by the S-boats to lay in lurking positions along the convoy routes without sufficient air reconnaissance caused the boats often to advance into empty areas.

In the year 1940 20 new S-boats were commissioned. With four boats lost that meant a growth of 16 boats.