Schnellboot or S-boot ("fast craft") is the designation for Motor Torpedo Boats of the German Navy since 1932. In particular it applies to that type of Boat that saw service during World War II. The Schnellboot was then called an E-boat by the Allies; it is commonly held that the "E" stood for "Enemy" , but it is possible that it stood for "Eilboot" ("hurry boat").
The S-boot was better suited to the open sea and had substantially longer range (approximately 700 nautical miles) than the American PT boat and the British Motor Torpedo Boat (MTB). As a result the Royal Navy developed many later versions of MTBs using the Fairmile 'D' hull design.
As a result of the Treaty of Versailles, Germany's military production was severely curtailed. Small patrol craft, however, were not subject to any strictures. The S-boote can trace their lineage back to a private motor yacht—a 22-ton-displacement, 34-knot craft called Oheka II, which had been built in 1927 for a wealthy financier and patron of the arts, Otto Kahn, by the German shipbuilding company Lürssen.
This design was chosen because the theatre of operations of such boats was expected to be the North Sea, English Channel and the Western Approaches. The requirement for good performance in rough seas dictated the use of a round-bottomed displacement hull rather than the flat-bottomed planing hull that was more usual for small, high-speed boats. Lürssen overcame many of the disadvantages of such a hull and, with the Oheka II, produced a craft that was fast, strong and seaworthy. This attracted the interest of the German Navy, which in 1929 ordered a similar boat but fitted with two torpedo tubes. This became the S-1, and was the basis for all subsequent S-boote.
After experimenting with the S-1 the Germans made several improvements to the design. Small rudders added on either side of the main rudder could be angled outboard to 30 degrees, creating at high speed what's known as the Lürssen Effect. This drew in an "air pocket slightly behind the three propellers, increasing their efficiency, reducing the stern wave and keeping the boat at a nearly horizontal attitude". This was an important innovation as the horizontal attitude lifted the stern somewhat, allowing even greater speed, and the reduced stern wave made S-boats harder to see, especially at night.
S-boote 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-Boote were built as longboats for auxiliary cruisers.
Crew members could earn an award particular to their work—Das Schnellbootkriegsabzeichen—denoted by a badge depicting an S-boot 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.
Schnellboots of the 9th flotilla were the first naval units to respond to the invasion fleet of Operation Overlord. They left Cherbourg harbour at 5am on 6 June 1944. On finding themselves confronted by the entire invasion fleet, they fired their torpedoes at maximum range and returned to Cherbourg.
During World War II the S-boote 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-boote' 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 on 23 occasions, and the German Cross in Gold on 112 occasions.
At the end of the war about 34 S-boats were surrendered to the British. Three boats, S-130 (renamed P5230), S-208 (P5208) and S-212 (P5212) were retained for trials.
Between 1949 and 1956, Operation Jungle, a joint operation of MI6, the CIA, and the Gehlen Organization to insert agents into the Baltic states and Poland by sea, was established. Royal Navy Commander Anthony Courtney was struck by the potential capabilities of former E-boat hulls, and John Harvey-Jones of the Naval Intelligence Division was put in charge of the project. He discovered that the Royal Navy still had two E-boats, P5230 and P5208, and had them sent to Portsmouth, where one of them, P5230 (S130), was modified to reduce its weight and increase its power with the installation of three Napier Deltic engines of 3000hp. In the interests of deniability, a former German E-boat captain, Helmut Klose, and a German crew were recruited to man the E-boat. They operated under the cover of the British Control Commission's Fishery Protection Service, which was responsible for preventing Soviet navy vessels from interfering with German fishing boats and for destroying stray mines.
The Kriegsmarine supplied the Spanish Navy with six S-boats during the Second World War. Another six were built in Spain with some assistance from Lürssen. The German-built boats were discarded in the 1960s, while some of the Spanish-built ones served until the early 1970s.
The only surviving S-boat is the S-130. Built as hull No.1030 at the Schlichting boatyard in Travemünde, S-130 was commissioned on October 21, 1943 and took an active part in the war, participating in the Exercise Tiger attack and attacks on the D-day invasion fleet. Post World War 2, she was taken on by the Royal Navy, who used the ship during the Cold War to annoy the Soviet navy and land spies behind the Iron Curtain.
For some time, this vessel was privately owned but in the care of the British Military Powerboat Trust in Southampton, England. Due to the financial burden, S-97 was scrapped and the BMPT made at least one unsuccessful attempt to sell S-130 on eBay.Now a virtual shell, S-130 was bought for £1 and is set to undergo a £3,000,000 restoration at the Southdown yard in Cornwall, England.