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  S-Boats in the Kriegsmarine - Mediterranean 1941-1942

 

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S-Boats in the Kriegsmarine 1935 - 1945

War-Zones of the S-Boats

 

Mediterranean Sea 1941 - 1942

The war at sea in the Mediterranean Sea took a unfavourable course for the Axis-Powers. Since the captured Jugoslavian warships (four destroyers, two submarines, six S-boats, one minelayer, and six minesweepers) had been claimed by Italy, the German Naval Warfare Leadership (Seekriegführung) saw only one way, to transfer vessels to the Mediterranean Sea, which could be transferred via the rivers and channels. Otherwise only submarines could get into the Mediterranean Sea via the Strait of Gibraltar.

SKL (Seekriegsleitung = Naval Warfare Leadership) informed the OKW  (Oberkommando der Wehrmacht = Supreme Command of the Wehrmacht) on 05.08.1941 about its intention to transfer one flotilla S-boats and one flottilla minesweepers in accordance with the "Führerweisung" (Diredtive by the Leader) after the end of the Baltic Sea operations to the Mediterranean Sea. The amount of time needed for shipyard overhaul, passage from Rotterdam via Rhein, Rhine-Rhône-Canal and Rhône to La Spezia was estimated with 2 ½ to 3 months. Chosen were the 3. SFltl (Kptlt. Kemnade) and the 6. R-flotilla. The 3. SFltl were to serve for the "direct and indirect protection of the transport lane Sicily/Tripolis and operations along the Northafrican coast". 

With a sortie of "S 54" and "S 33" from  von Windau the 3. SFltl ended its operations in the Baltic Sea during the night 22./23.09.1941. The two boats transferred together with tender "Adolf Lüderitz" to Swinemünde. The other boats of the flotilla transferred after escorting battleship "Tirpitz" and the heavy cruiser "Admiral Scheer" to Wilhelmshaven, where the flotilla with tender moored on 28.09.1941. 

Black Boats for the Transfer to the Mediterranean Sea - Picture: Archives Förderverein

With this Lowwater only Punting helps - Picture: Archives Förderverein

French Liason-Officer - Picture: Archives Förderverein

All are wearing "civilian" Dress - Picture: Archives Förderverein

She does not look like a Man of War -Picture: Archives Förderverein

The first five Boat in a Lock - Picture: Archives Förderverein

Transfer on the Rhône-River - Picture: Archives R. Krokowski

The French state leader (Marschall Petain) consented with the transfer of the S- and the R-flotilla to the Mediterranean Sea and so the first group with "S 33", "S 31", "S 34", "S 61", and "S 35" transferred to Rotterdam, were it moored on 08.10.1941 in the S-boat-bunker. On 09.10.1941 the transfer commenced the voyage of  the boats "S 61", "S 31", and "S 35"  up the river Rhine. On Am 12.10.1941 the boats secured at Mannheim, on 14.10.1941 Strasbourg was reached. "S 33" and "S 34" followed with a delay of two days. The first boats entered La Spezia on 18.10.1941, where they came into dock for a week.

Installation of the Torpedotubes at La Spazia - Picture: Archives R. Krokowski

Precise Instellation of the Tubes is necessary - Picture: Archives R. Krokowski

Officers of the 3. SFltl 1941 with italian Officers at La Spezia, from left: Oblt.z.S. Lüders, Lt.z.S. Haag, Oblt.z.S. Stolzenburg, Lt.z.S. Weber, Kptlt. Kemnade (civilian), Oblt.z.S. von Gernet und Oblt.z.S. (Ing.) Bielitzer - Picture: Archives Oblt.z.S. a.D. Backhaus

 On 28.10.1941 they transferred to Gaeta. Bad weather stopped them there for two days. Then the boats were transferred to Augusta on the eastcoast of Sicily were the arrived on 01.12.1941. Augusta was a warship harbour of the Italian navy, which should serve as base for the boats.

"S 59" and an unknown S-boat at Augusta 1942 - Picture: Archives 5. SGschw

The operation of the 3. SFltl with five boats during the night 12./13.12.1941 was directed against Malta, which was a permanent threat for the supply transport to Northafrica. The air reconaissance had reported cruisers and destroyers in the harbour of La Valetta. The operation of the folotilla was without results since the British units did not leave harbour.

IDuring the next night another resultless operation was conducted against Malta. During the night 16./17.12.1941 a minebarrier was laid outside the harbour. After three days of heavy weather the flotilla laid a joining barrier during the night 21./22.12.1941, in the night thereafter another one and in the night 25./26.12.1941 with two boats (one boat of the original three boats had to return due to engine failure) another one.

 

"S 31" in an  Italian Harbour - Picture: Archives R. Krokoswski

"S 35" in the Mediterranean - Picture: Archives R. Krokoswski

In the course of the minelying operations explosions of nine of the laid 24 TMA-mines had occurred. That caused the TMA-mines to be banned.

 During the night 18./19.01.1942 the 3. SFltl was directed against a convoy from Alexandria to Malta. The flotilla run past the convoy and due to coming up bad weather they returned without successes to Augusta. 

The second group could only start the last leg on 10.01.1942 and entered La Spezia on 15.01.1942. Augusta was reached on 05.02.1942. The flotilla now had eight boats to its disposal.

To better be able to guard the Strait of Sicily, the 3. SFltl transferred to Porto Empedocle on the southcoast of Sicily. From here an operation against a convoy having been reported by the air reconnaissane was conducted during the night 05./06.02.1942. The boats did not see an enemy and bad weather forced them to return. They entered Augusta in the morning.

On 20.02.1942 the flotilla transferrred to Porto Empedocle again. Bad weather prevented operations in spite of the air reconnaissance reporting enemy contacts. Not earlier than in the night  05./06.03.1942 the flotilla could conduct an operation against the coast of Tunesia, however, with sighting of enemies.

 

Camouflaged S-boats in Porto Empedocle herbour (Picture from: Kemnade: Die Afrika Flottille)

During the nights between the 15.03. and the 28.04.1942 the 3. SFltl laid 12 minebarriers. Again and again explosions of mines occurred. Then bad weather enforced a break for the flotilla.

During the night 06./07.05.1942 an additional minebarrier was laid by "S 31", "S 34", and "S 61". After laying the mines the boats bumped into a British motorlaunch (ML 130), which was fought down in four artilley-runs, although it was armed with a 76-mm-gun and two 20-mm-machineguns. The boats captured charts and secret material and took over the CO, the first lieutenant, and nine other crewmembers. Five men were wounded. On the German side there was one slightly wounded man on "S 31".

Ineffectively camouflaged S-boats seen from the air - Picture: Archives H. Haag

Masch.ObGefr. Krokowski - Picture: Archives R. Krokowski

In the nights 07./08.05. and 08./09.05.1942 the boats mined the harbour entrance of La Valetta. In the second night they were disturbed by trawlers entereing harbour, they did however, not attack them because their orders were to lay the barriers unobserved.

In the afternoon of 09.05.1942 the air reconnaissance reported a cruiser or a destroyer heading for Malta. The boats "S 56", "S 54", "S 58", and "S 57" left harbour, to attack the enemy. "S 61", "S 31", and "S 34" had orders to lay their mines directly into the harbour entrance. They were disturbed several times, so that they laid their mines just before morning light. Immediatedly thereafter "S 31" run into a mine, "S 61" came alongside to rescue the crew. Eight men were killed. 

 

The "cruiser" (fast minelayer "Welshman") was attacked by "S 34" and "S 61" with four torpedoes which all went wrong. The second group had since they did not find the cruiser attacked two patrol vessels, out of which one brought in fire. 

Flying Fish as Insignia of "S 31" - Picture: Archive Heinz Haag

After a three-day break "S 35" and "S 34" left harbour for another minelaying operation on 13.05.1942. The came into the beams of searchlilght ashore, were, however, not detected and coul lay their mines. During the night 16./17.05.1942 "S 59", "S 34", "S 58", and "S 35" again laid a mine barrier close to the coast. Also they came into the beams of the searchlights and were fired at. "S 34" (Oblt.z.S. Schulz) took a direct hit in the engine room. erhielt einen Volltreffer in Höhe der Maschinenräume. The guide "S 59" laid a fogscreen for the damaged boat and went alongside to take over the crew among them one severey and three slightly wounded. "S 34" was blown up, because of the continuous fire from land the sinking of the boat could not be observed. The next day the drifting wreck was sunk by a bomb.

 

 

Wreck of "S 34" at a depth of 41 m off La Valetta/Malta - Pictures: Adolf Gutmüller

After 24 mining operations with 557 mines, 308 explosive and 108 tear buoys the 3. SFltl got the order on 18.05.1942 not to conduct any more mining operations but to prepare for the transfer to Northafrica. In the area off La Valetta in May 1942 four British vessels were lost. The result was the withdrawal of all British naval units from Malta, since a safe approach could not be guaranteed, the bomb attacks by Luftwaffe against ships in the harbour also contributed to that.

 

The 3. SFltl in a new Base - Picture: Archives R. Krokowski

Decoration by an Italian Admiral - Picture: Archives D. Krokowski

 

Vom 21.- 27.5. verlegte die 3. SFltl mit  den Booten "S 54", "S 56", "S 57", "S 58" und "S 59"  von Augusta über Navarino (22.5.), Suda (23.-26.5.) und Ras-el-Hillal (27.5.) nach Derna (d.h.: 6 Tage Verlegungsmarsch, mit Reparatur- und Tankpausen).

From the 21. to the 27.05. the 3. SFltl transferred with the boats "S 54", "S 56", "S 57", "S 58", and "S 59" on 21.05.1942 from Augusta via Navarino (22.05.), Suda (23. - 26.05.) and Ras-el-Hillal (27.05.) including repair- and refuelling-brakes to Derna. The newly with the support of army engineers elaborated base had a torpedo and an ammunition bunker, a torpedo control station, a fuel store, and workshops.

A first operation as escort unit of a fake landing at Tobruk was broken off after one hour. On 28.05.1942 a second operation as escort unit af a landing at Tobruk was conducted. This operation was also broken off.

End May/early June the boats "S 60", "S 55", "S 30", and "S 36" arrived at Derna. Wiuth that nine ready for action boats were available. During the night 03./04.06.1942 the 3. SFltl attacked with four boats a freighter and an escort. While all torpedoes fired againt the freighter wenn wrong the escort "Cocker" was hit and sunk. Four other advances during the following nights were without results.  

S-Boat of the 3. Flotilla off Derna - Picture: Archive Heinz Haag

On 14.06.1942 the air reconnaissance reported two strongly escorted convoys from Gibraltar and Alexandria respectively to Malta. Both convoy were fought by the Luftwaffe. The convoy coming from Alaexandria (11 freighters) turned around when an Italian Battle Group closed. Out of the Convoy coming from Gibraltar (five freighters and one tanker) only two ship arrived at Malta. On the mines the 3. Sfltl had laid the Polish destroyer escort "Kujawiak" and the transport "Orari" (10.350 BRT) sank, the British destroyer "Matchless",  the British destroyer escort "Badsworth" and the British minesweeper "Hebe" were damaged. On the barriers the guard ship "Trusty Star" had sunk on 10.06.1942, on  the guard ship "Justified" sank on 16.06.1942. The 3. SFltl operated with six boats in two group against a convoy coming from Alexandria. During the attacks "S 58" was bombed by a Ju-88, however, without being hit. -In the middle of a run the convoy was lightened by flares so that the boats were clearly to be seen. British escorts opened fire from which the boats could withdraw by laying a fog screen. While the 1. group was struggling with destroyers, the 2. group was more lucky. "S 56" (Oblt.z.S. Wuppermann) could succeed in a torpedo hit on the British cruiser "Newcastle". 

 

Oblt.z.S. Wuppermann with the Knight's Cross - Picture: Archives R. Krokowski 

 

A  torpedo of "S 55" (Oblt.z.S. Weber) sank the British destroyer "Hasty". All torpedoes fired by the other boats went wrong.

On 20.06.1942 after the fall of Tobruk the flotilla left Derna with six boats to escort the 6. R-flotilla north of Cape Azzaz. In the early hours of the 21.06.1942 "S 56" and "S 58" sank three minor British landing craft and rescued the survivors. Shortly thereafter a picket, a tug, and two further landing craft came in sight. The tug "Alaisia" was shot to fire by "S 54", the picket "Parktown" defended itself with her 5,7-cm-gun anda 2-cm-quadruplet fiercely but was shot to fire, the survivors jumped over board. "S 58" took four hits, the CO (Oblt.z.S. Geiger) was killed in action, seven men were partly severely wounded, two main engines fell out. "S 54" went alongside and gave over Oblt.z.S. Backhaus as new CO. "S 56" took accommpanied by "S 36" the wounded with maximum speed to the sick bay at Derna. On their way there to "S 36" was unintentionally taken under fire by two Me-109, two men were wounded.

The other boats had in the meantime captured and sunk further escape vehicles, in total one LCT, three small tugs, five LCMs, one LCP, one LCA, six LCSs, and one drifter. 

During the following days the boat safeguarded the German support traffic to Tobruk. On 02.07.1942 "S 54", "S 56", and "S 59" entered Marsa Matruh, which had fallen in German hands on 29.06.1942. On 04.07.1942 also "S 61", "S 60", and "S 33" arrived. 

 

Boat of Typs S 30 in an African Harbour (Pictuere: Archives R. Mundt)

Friedliche Stille in Marsa Matruh - Bild: Archiv R. Krokowski

Bombenschäden in Marsa Matruh - Foto: Archiv R. Krokowski

Low-Flying Aircraft attacking the Harbour of Marsa Matruh - Picture: Archives R. Krokowski

"S61" is handing over Ammunition at Marsa Matruh before Transfer to the Dockyard - Picture: Archives R. Krokowski

During the night 04./05.07.1942 an advance with six boats against Alexandria was conducted without result.

On 06.07.1942 a British air attack against Marsa Matruh was conducted, during which "S 61" (Oblt.z.S. von Gernet) was damaged by much debris. One man was killed and the CO slightly wounded.

On 07.07.1942 "S 56" and "S 57" transferred to Palermo for engine overhaul in the shipyard. On 10.07.1942 also "S 59" had to go to Palermo for engine overhaul, the damaged "S 61" went with it for repairs. "S 35" was on en route to Marsa Matruh.

On 11.07.1942 eight "Albacore"-aircraft attacked the harbour once more, on 12.07.1944 the harbour came under fire by British destroyers. On 18.07.1942 "S 55", "S 33", and "S 60" were sailing a reconnaissance stripe, British destroyers came in sight but turned away. Soon thereafter they came in sight again and opened fire against the harbour. The attacking S-boats were immediatedly taken under fire. "S 60" fired two torpedoes which did not hit. On the march back the boats were attacked by "Albacore"-aircraft. On "S 33" two men were wounded. 

On 19.07.1942 the patroling S-boats were withdrawn by two British destroyers and a unit of two light cruisers and four destroyers fired at the harbour of Marsa Matruh. During the fight with the destroyers "S 60" got a hit and could go no faster than 9 knots.

On 11.08.1942, when it became known that a strongly escorted convoy of 13 freighters and one tanker was underway to Malta and was expected in the Strait of Sicily in the night to the 13.08.1942 the 3. SFltl was wide spread:

Marsa Matruh S 33 and S 55
Suda Bucht S 35 and S 36 under training
Augusta S 58, S 59, S 30 (not manned)
Palermo S 56, S 57, S 60, and S 61 under shipyard repairs

On 12.08.1942 "S 58", "S 59", and "S 30" (with a lumped together crew) transferred from Augusta to Porto Emedocle, "S 35" and "S 36" transferred there also from Suda-Bay. "S 33" and "S 55" transferred from Mersa Matruh to Suda-Bay. 

At high Speed in the Mediterranean - Picture: Archives R. Krokowski

The British escort group of the convoy consisted of two cruisers, one anit-air cruiser, six destroyers, and five destroyers escort. The covering force (Force H) consisting of 2 battle ships, four aircraft carriers, three cruisers, and 13 destroyers. The carrier "Furious" was sunk by "U 73", the carrier "Indomitable" took bomb hits by Stukas, the destroyer "Foresight" was hit by Italian torpedo-aircraft and had to be abandoned. Force H turned around. Thereafter Italian submarines torpedoes the cruisers "Cairo" (she sank later), "Nigeria", and "Kenya".The cruiser "Manchester" was hit by the Italkian "MS 16" and "MS 22" with torpedoes and had to be abandoned. Of the freighters "Empire Hope" (12.688 BRT) and "Glenorchy" (8992 BRT), which was later sunk by "S 59", were hit by bombs. "S 36" hit a tanker amidships, "S 30" hit a tanker and a transport, the Italian S-boats "MAS 554" and "MAS 557" reported torpedo hits on freighters. The British motorship  "Wairangi" (12.436 BRT) and the American freighters " Santa Eliza" (8379 BRT) and "Almeria Lykes " (7723 BRT) sank, the motorship "Rochester Castle" (7795 BRT) escaped unscratched.

During the night to the 14.08.1942 an advance was undertaken into the Strait of Sicily by "S 33" and "S 59", but no vehicles came in sight. Thereafter the order arrived to return to Marsa Matruh. 

On 01.09.1942 "S 33", "S 55", "S 36", and "S 61" entered Marsa Matruh. One week later the order was given to return to Sicily via Susa-Bay. "S 54" and "S 59" were also laying at Suda-Bay. On 10.09.1942 the boats entered Augusta. From 12. to 14.09.1942 the six boats and the flotilla-staff transferred to Porto Empedocle, to make space for the 7. SFltl.

 

Transfer of the Flotilla to Porto Empedocle - Picture: Archives R. Krokowski

Sailing into the Wake of the Leading Boat - Picture: Archives R. Krokowski

During the night 02./03.11.1942 the 3. SFltl left harbour with seven boats to lay mines off Malta. They were detected early by radar and came under fire, such that they could lay their mine only further out than planned. In the following nights the same happened, therefore, the mining of this sea area was quitted.

From 04. to 07.11.1942 the air reconnaissance reported massive Allied ship concentrations in the western Mediterranean. The 3. SFltl transferred to Trapani, to be able to intercept the enemy as far west as possible. When it became known that landings had taken place at Oran und Algiers the flotilla stayed in harbour, since the landing areas were outside their operational area. On 11.11.1942 "S 30", "S 35", "S 56", "S 57", and "S 60" transferred to Tunesia. They moved into the temporary base Bizerta. From there an attack was conducted on 16.11.1942 against a convoy which did not come in sight. On 17.11.1942 an Italian motorsailer reached Bizerta with provisions, fuel, and torpedoes for the 3. SFltl. Also the base personnel arrived at the base Bizerta from Marsa Matruh with four captured lorries and brought with them a torpedo control station.

On 24.11.1942 the first bomb attack of the Allies on Bizerta took place and reduced the town to rubble. On 01.12.1942 the flotilla left Bizerta harbour to meet a convoy. The convoy was nearly wiped out when the boats met it. On 02.12.1942 it succeeded to bring a convoy safely to Bizerta. 

on the approach a freighter run into a minefield and sank. "S 59" rescued 33, "S 57" fished five men up. On 08.12.1942 the boats went alongside the French units in harbour, lowered the flags and took their crews on board. 

On 13.12.1942 "S 58", "S 57", "S 60", and "S 33" were to protect a fast convoy from Trapani to Tripolis. The convoy were attacked from the air and the motorship "Foscolo" took an airborne torpedo and sank. The boats rescued 50 Italians and 31 Germans from the sea of flames.

On 13.12.1942 "S 59" transferred to the shipyard at Palermo for engine overhaul. "S 54" accompanied her to Porto Empedocle. The foltilla transferred to Ferryville.

The 7. SFltl (Kptlt. Trummer) was formed on 01.04.1942 at Swinemünde. It obtained the tender "Estonia" and the tender "Hecht" as well as the schoolboats "S 18" and "S 20", in July "S 19", "S 21", "S 22", and "S 24" joined.  Because of their measurements only the boats having been built in the Netherlands "S 151" - "S 158" could be taken into consideration for the transfer via Rhine, Rhine-Rhône-Canal and Rhône. For that purpose the boats were camouflaged as air safety boats and got among other things a dummy funnel. 

Boats of Type S 151 en Route to the Mediterranean - Picture: Unknown

On 10.09.1942 with "S 151" - "S 156" the transfer started, "S 157" and "S 158" were to follow later.  For the two-day-transit through the unoccupied France the crews were wearing civilian clothes and on each boat a liason officer of the Petain-govenment was embarked. On 08.10.1942 the boats arrived in the Medeiterranean Sea. They were made ready for action at La Spezia. Upon completion they had to undergo a training phase. On  01.12.1942 they were materially ready for action and transferred to Augusta, were they arrived on 15.12.1942.

With that the German S-boat force in the Mediterranean was raised as follows:

3. SFlt (Kptlt. Kemnade) 7. SFlt (Kptlt.Trummer)
S 30 Oblt.z.S. Schulz, G. S 151 Oblt.z.S. Holzapfel
S 33 Oblt.z.S. Brauns S 152 ObFhnr.z.S. Heye
S 35 Oblt.z.S. Lüders S 153 Lt.z.S. Rautenberg
S 36 Oblt.z.S. Weber S 154 ObFhnr.z.S. Kelm
S 54 Oblt.z.S. Schmidt S 155 Kptlt. Babbel
S 55 Spareboat without CO S 156 Oblt.z.S. Thomsen
S 56 Oblt.z.S. Wuppermann S 157 Oblt.z.S. Merkel
S 57 Oblt.z.S. Erdmann S 158 Oblt.z.S. Schulze-Jena
S 58 Spareboat without CO  
S 59 Oblt.z.S. Müller, A.
S 60 Oblt.z.S. Haag
S 61 Oblt.z.S. von Gernet

The 3. SFltl laid mines in the time from 17.12. to 30.12.1942 off Cape de Garde and in the Bône-Bight. In the of New Year's Eve th eFlotilla had to turn around with their mines on board due to the bad weather. 

The year 1942 had only brought few successes: One freighter of 8982 BRT; one  Navy-trawler, one motorlaunch, and one patrolboat were sunk. During the seizure of  Tobruk were sunk or captured: one LCT, three tugs, five LCMs, one LCP, one LCA, six LCSs, and one drifter.

The own losses were: six men killed in action, eight severely wounded, nine slightly wounded, and the boats "S 31" lost by mine hit and "S 34" by scuttling after hits by artillery.