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  S-Boats in the Kriegsmarine - Channel 1943



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S-Boats in the Kriegsmarine 1935 - 1945

War-Zones of the S-Boats

English Channel 1943


At the outset of the year 1943 in the west there were four flotillas available with a total of 40 boats on paper. The 2. SFltl (KptLt Feldt) with six boats and the 6. SFltl (KKpt Obermaier) also with six boats lay at Ijmuiden, the 4. SFltl (KptLt Bätge) with four boats at Rotterdam and the 5. SFltl (KptLt Klug) with six boats at Cherbourg. 

The three flotillas stationed in Holland because of the strong defences only carried out a few successful attacks. On 05.01.1943 the 2., 4., and 6. SFltl with a total of 14 boats left harbour to attack a convoy off Cromer. The 5. SFltl left harbour to operate in the Lyme Bay. In heavy weather with hail showers "S 116" and "S 82" collided, the commander 5. SFltl broke the operation off and returned to Cherbourg. "S 116" entered with difficulties St. Peter Port/Guernsey.  In the 6. SFltl collided in a snow shower "S 76" and "S 119", both had to go into a dock upon returning to Ijmuiden.  Also the other flotillas had to return without success, since no enemies came in sight. 

During an attack on 09.01.1943 "S 104" was lost by a mine hit, one man was killed and there were two seriously and two slightly wounded. On 12.01.1943 also "S 109" was suffering from a mine hit, the gunner of the forward gun was missed in action, there were some slightly wounded men. 

On 24.01.1943 the three flotillas stationed in Holland were ordered to attack a convoy which did not come in sight, so that the boats returned without results. The 5. SFltl carried out a mining operation from Boulogne.

Until mid of February there were no S-boat-operations due to the weather. 

During the night 18./19.02.1943 the 2., 4., and 6. SFltl with 15 boats were put on to a convoy. In a battle with destroyers "S 71" was lost due to a hit in the engine room and a developing fire. Of the 26-men crew seven men were rescued by the British and became POWs. The other 19 men including the CO, Oblt.z.S. Suhr, sank with their boat.

During the night 19./20.02.1943 the 5. SFltl attacked a convoy, "S 65" reported the sinking of an escort, "S 85" reported a hit on a freighter of 2000 BRT and the sinking of a tanker of 2000 BRT. On 26.02.1943 the flotilla left ST. Peter Port/Guernsey for an operation in Lyme Bay. In the operation area "S 85" hit a landing ship tank (LCT 381) with a torpedo and entered it. Thus 11 men were taken POW. The ship was sunk by a torpedo of "S 65". The 2. group reported sinking of an escort by "S 68". "S 68" and "S 81" also reported sinking a freighter. In reality the British motorship "Modavia" (4858 BRT), the LCT and the British trawler "Lord Hailsham" and the Norwegian trawler "Harstad" was sunk.

During an operation against a convoy in the night 04./05.03.1943 "S 70" (Oblt.z.S. Klose) run into a drifting mine and sank. Five men sank with their boat, the other crew could be rescued among them three lightly and two seriously wounded. On the way back one pair of the 6. Fltl came into daylight and were attacked by British Spitfires in two waves. "S 74" took serious damages, "S 75" burned out and had to be blown up. 14 dead, eight seriously and seven slightly wounded were to be mourned. Own fighter protection was not available although requested. Also in the time following time there were no enemy contact reports by the Luftwaffe.

On 07./08.03.1943 for the first time the so called tactical variant "FuMB-Lauer" (Radar lurking) was executed. The 2. and the 6. SFltl were to carry out the normal "Stichansatz" upon availability of an enemy contact report and the 4. SFltl was to lurk remote from the convoy route and only attack upon availablity of FuMB-detection (radar) by the boats equipped with radar. Because of a move of the convoy routes it only came to an attack by the 6. SFltl. It was, however, pushed away by escorting destroyers. During the chasing of the S-Boats it came to a collission of the boats "S 119" and "S 114", by which "S 119" was so severely damaged that it had to be abandoned, after the entire crew had been saved by "S 114".

 On 12.03.1943 Gruppe West (Group West) ordered on the suggestion of FdS, the division of all ready for action boats in three equal strong groups, to be prepared for an imminent invasion. Therefore the 6. SFltl transferred mid March to Cherbourg in order to reinforce the 4. SFltl, whereas the 4. SFltl transferred to Boulogne and the 2. SFltl to Oostende. After several fake alarms the transfer back was permitted on 25.03.1943. On 26./27.03.1943 the flotillas performed the march back. 

For the night 28./29.03.1943 a common attack on a convoy was planned. Before arrival at the attack position one group of the 2. SFltl bumped into two MGBs. During the fight the CO of "S 29" (OLt zS  Lemm) and six men were killed in action, besides of that there were four severely wounded. Only towards morning the boat returning slowly was found by the other boats. At the same time a message for the MGBs was caught which ordered them to return since air attack were to be conducted. Since own air support was not available the boat   was blown up.   

On 14./15.04.1943 the flotillas carried out once more a common mining operation during which the 4. SFltl could sink a guard. The light nights did thereafter no longer permit offensive operations from the bases in Holland. The FdS let the 2. SFltl transfer to Cherbourg and the 4. and 6. SFltl to St. Peter Porton Guernsey.  

 Until then the 5. SFltl had operated alone against the convoy traffic in the English Channel. It had mined the Lyme-Bay. On 13./14.04.1943 the British steamer "Stanlake" (1742 BRT) was sunk by "S 121" (Oblt.z.S. Klocke), "S 82" reported the sinking  of a freighter of 4000 BRT. "S 90" reported the sinking of a destroyer which could not be confirmed. "S 65" and "S 112" sank the destroyer escort „Eskdale“.

On 15.04.1943 the 4. SFltl sank the British trawler "Adonis". In the fight "S 83" took a 40-mm-hit.

After some futile operations on orders of Group West (Gruppe West) against targets that had been detected by FuMB (radar) the common minelaying operations of all four flotillas commenced. During the nights 23./24., 28./29. and 30./31.05.1943 the convoy routes along the southern coast of England were contaminated. Because of the fierce defence of the British with destroyers, MGBs, and night fighters and the fact that the minelaying operations were exactly measured by the British with radar, such that the traffic was deviated correspondingly the last minelaying operations were conducted with 321 mines and 84 sweepingprotections.

Thereafter the 2. and the 6. SFltl transferred to Ostend to operate from there against the Thames estuary, the 4. SFltl remained at St. Peter Port, the 5. SFltl at Cherbourg, such were the defence having increasingly become stronger to be broken up. While the 4. and the 5. SFltl carried out a common minelaying operation, the 2. and the 6. SFltl had to stay in harbour because of bad weather. In this time reconstruction and repair activities were carried out. In the different groups thus were only a total of five to six boats available from mid June to mid August.

During a transfer back to Ostend "S 68" and "S 77" on 25.07.1943 were intercepted shortly before the harbour by MGBs. In the fight both MGs and a main engine failed on "S 77", one torpedo exploded, the boat burst in flames and had a severe flooding.  After scuttling four men were rescued by the British, 12 men were saved in an inflatable lifeboat next morning. The CO (Oblt.z.S. Ludwig) and six men were missed in action. The pair leader "S 68" had without interfearing in the fighting and without reporting the enemy contact continued the march. Help from boats laying in readiness at Ostend was therefore not possible. Relievment and court-marshal were the outcome.

During a bomb attack against Kiel on 25.07.1943 the two boats belonging tp the 8. SFltl "S 44" and "S 66" were destroyed.

On the march from Hoek van Holland to Boulogne "S 88" run into a mine on 27.07.1943 but could be towed in to Dunkirk.

During the night 03./04.08.1943 the boats of the 2. and 6. SFltl succeeded in a fast attack against a patrol reported off Orfordness to sink the trawler "Red Gauntlet".

The 4. and the 5. SFltl transferred with seven boats to Brest and had to take bitter losses on 11.08.1943 in the Bight of L’Abervrach herbe. During air attacks sank "S 121" (the Co Oblt.z.S. Klocke and 11 men were killed in action). On "S 110" the commander 4. SFltl (Korv.Kpt. Lützow) and the CO (Obltl.z.S. Graser) were slightly wounded. In a second attack "S 117" was hit, a sailor was killed in action and three men were wounded. All boats besides of "S 110" were not ready for action. Because of that no operations were conducted by the two flotillas.

For the remainder of month August the 2. and the 4. SFltl had to prepare themselves for an iminent landing. Frequent readiness interchanged with covering actions for minelaying operations by minesweepers and small minesweepers. In spite of some enemy contacts and attack by  Typhoon-nightfighters with rocketbombs there were no casualties but also no sinking successes. 

In September the flotillas were filled up again, now all boats had an armoured bridge and the 4-cm-gun had been installed in a large scale. The boats of the 5. SFltl had got the new MB 511 engines with 2.500 PS, what permitted them a march speed of 35 knots.

Since the night became longer, the 2. and the 6. SFltl transferred to Ijmuiden, the 4. SFltl (KKpt Lützow) went to Rotterdam and was there reinforced from the 12.09.1943 by the newly formed 8. SFltl (KKpt Zymalkowski). The 5. SFltl remained at Cherbourg. 

Boats of the 4. SFltl leaving Rotterdam - Picture: Archives Förderverein 

After a bad weather period it succeeded during the night 24./25.09.1943 to carry out a common minelaying operation with Luftwaffe, in which the convoy route off Orfordness was contaminated with the new mines which could switch themselves to safe in order to make minesweeping more difficult. "S 96" (Lt.z.S. Sannder) had during this operation sunk the French trawler "Franc Tireur" and the British trawler "Donna Nook" before she was involved in a fight with MGBs during which "S 96" rammed "ML 145". She was, however, damaged so severely herself that the crew scuttled her. 16 men became prisoners of war, 12 men among them the CO-trainer, Oblt.z.S. Ritter von Georg, were killed in action. The boats "S 39" and "S 90" collided, "S 68" got an hit by artillery by which both outer engines were  out of order. The minebarriers laid were without results since the laying boats had been under radar coverage continuously.

A bad weahter period kept the boats in harbour. On 07./08.10.1943 the mining operations were continued. The bad weather prevented enemy contacts. On several boats there occurred unexplained explosions in the crankshaftcase. From 10.10.1943 on the Luftwaffe stopped the co-operation in the minewarfare since according to orders of the Leader attack against cities were to be conducted with priority.

The F.d.S. came therefore back to the old procedures to carry out alternating minelaying and torpedo operations. The first torpedo operation of the 2., 4., 6., and 8. SFltl took place on 23./24.10.1943. The British defence had strengthened itself continuously such that the employed 31 boats under guidance of the FdS embarked in the 2. SFltl in the so called "Stichansatz" only could sink the trawler "William Stephen" by "S 74". The boats were encountered in fights with "MGB 603"s and "MGB 607" in which "S 88" (St.Ob.Strm. Räbiger) were severely damaged and sank after explosion of the airbottle of a torpdotube. The commander 4. SFltl (Korv.Kpt. Lützow), the CO "S 88" and eight men were killed in action.  "S 63" (Lt.z.S. Howaldt) had been trying to assist "S 88" although also damaged severely. It was scuttled also after a ramming by "MGB 607". 19 men were rescued by "MGB 603", 24 men by "S 74" which had taken three 40-mm-hits. From the action narrative of the commanding officer of MGB 607 it is known that the MGBs were equipped with hydrophones and radar. The taktics employed were to lay stopped and listen to the hydrophones. Upon accoustic detection radar was switched on at short range and supported by radar data the S-båts were attacked with all guns that could be braught to bear. The S-boats were surpriced by this sudden attack.

Last leaving harbour of S 63 - Picture: Collection A. Hullmann

On 03.11.1943 the 5. SFltl bumped into a convoy, "S 141" and "S 112" had the chance to shoot but all torpedoes went fail. "S 141" got a 40-mm-hit in the engine room but could enter the harbour safely. "S 100" sank the British fishing steamer "Foam Quen" (811 BRT) and "S 138" sank the British freighter "Storea" (1967 BRT). "S 136" reported the sinking of the British freighter "Dona Isabel" (1179 BRT). "S 138" and "S 142" reported misses.

During the night 04./05.11.1943 a common minelaying operation of the four flotillas was conducted. On the march back the first group of the 2. SFltl bumped into a destroyer patrol and sighted behind them a northbound convoy. The British steamers "Firelight" (2841 BRT) - sunk by "S 80" and "S 89" - and "British Progress" (4581 BRT) - hit by "S 62", towed in but never activated again - were victims to the torpedo attack in which for the first time the areasearch torpedoes FAT were used. The second group was taken on by two destroyer groups. In total there were eight destroyers in action because of the falling out of the MGBs, three at the convoy, three on patrol, and two in area search. Because of an engine failure the second group of the 6. SFltl came into the morning twilight. It was attacked by six Beaufighters. "S 74" took hits and had to be given up. Besides of three dead bodies all crew could be saved. Two boats - "S 116" and "S 91" - suffered lighter damages.

On 18.11.1943 the first four boats - "S 130", "S 144", "S 145", and "S 146" - of the newly formed 9. SFltl (Kptlt. v. Mirbach) arrived at Rotterdam. The heavy winter gales, however, prevented all further operations for the remainder of the year.

The balance of the year 1943 was unsatisfactorily: There had been sunk 26 ships with a total of 44.585 BRT,  in 1942 it had been 91 ships with a total of 214.885 BRT. This was a direct outcome of the strengthened and co-ordinated defence of the British. The FdS talked of a crisis of the S-Boat-Force.

 The own losses were:  84 killed in action, 15 severely wounded, 19 slightly wounded, 37 POWs, 1 missed in action. 15 boats were lost: "S 104" and "S 70" by mine hits, "S 71", "S 77", "S 63", and "S 88" by/after artillery hits, "S 75", "S 44", "S 66", "S 74", "S 56", and "S 121" by bomb hits, "S119", "S 29", and "S 96" by collision. In addition there was a loss of six boats by sale to Spain: "S 73", "S 78", "S 124", "S 125", "S 126", and "S 134".