Minenräumboot (R-Boote)

R-Bootes in operations

Germany (1929-45) – About 424 Minesweepers

The Räumboote, or “R-Boote” were the mass-produced wooden-built German coastal minesweepers. In time, they also performed other missions, notably escort, ASW patrol and rescue. They were built from 1929 with the following R1, R17, R25, R41, R130, R151, R218, R301 and R401 classes, the latter mostly not completed at end of the war. In total, the Kriegsmarine operated 424 R-Boote from Lürssen, Bremen-Vegesack, Abeking & Rasmussen, Lemwerder at Schlichting. They soldiered in the Baltic, Norway, Channel and German bight, Mediterranean and Black sea, distributed among 19 flotillas. 140 surviving boats of the Räumboots-Flottille were used postwar by the Mine Sweeping Administration (GMSA) predecessor to the Bundesmarine. #ww2 #kriesgmarine #rboote #raumboote https://bit.ly/3AbPFbV

The German light minesweepers of WW2

“M-Boote”: The large fleets of WWI minesweepers were stil active in WW2. here, three M-Boote in 1938.
Germany was serious about mine warfare in WW1, but commenced late. The first dedicated minesweeper only appeared in 1915: It was the M1 class, of which 26 were built, followed by the 30 of the M27 and 30 of the M57 classes, judged os such quality they were almost all still in service in WW2, but also was interested in built cheaper, mass-produced motor minesweepers (MMS) for coastal operations. The FM type (66 boats in 1918-19) and F Type (1915-18, 75 boats) were seconded by the experimental LM boats (1917-18) which are the true ancestors of WW2 R-Bootes.

The Reischmarine’s Räumboote concept

F38 Motorboot 1917
F38 Motorboot 1917

The idea of building R-Bootes, or Räumboote (minesweepers), designed as moderately light boat for coastal operation was an idea driven by WWI experience, showing the intensive use of sea mines revealing the need for specialized boats alongside the larger and coastlier M-Boote built en masse. To deal with many minefield laid in coastal waters and aroud inlets notably in the gulf of Finland, other, light shallow-draught boats were needed, more suitable than M-Boote, tailored the high seas.
At first, converted boats such as tugboats and fishing vessels were primarily used to clear mines in the foreshore. From 1915, the Imperial Navy developed the motor “F-boats” (shallow mine clearance boats) for shallow mines as indicated, something that was sorely lacking. These were the real forerunners of the R-Bootes.

True ancestors: The “F-Boats”

F42 The F-Boats were built from 1915 and until 1918, to an extent of 75 boats. They were alight wooden-hulled designisable for harbour duties and deployed from specially modified depot ships, the converted ex-pre-dreadnoughts SMS Wittelsbach, Schwaben, Preussen, and Lothringen. When deployed they acted as advanced bases and main defensive platforms as well. Of these 75 boats completed, only one was lost by a mine explosion. After the war they served for harbour and riverine duties under the Reichsmarine, Police and Riverine patrol. 12 were also sold to Belgium, still around in 1940.

The interwar birth of Mine Hunters

After the First World War, the Reichsmarine had to clear sea routes in the German area of responsibility for mines. In the winter of 1919/20 alone, over 100,000 mines were cleared. They were mostly anchored mines, but in view of newly developed or under development mine types, such as ground mines, magnetic field mines, electromagnetic mines, acoustic mines, etc., special boats were required. They were restrospectively the first “mine hunters”, built as non-magnetic as possible, manoeuvrable and not too large for use in coastal waters.
The Räumboot type was born, the initial design task was given to Abeking & Rasmussen (A&R) shipyard in Lemwerder, Netherlands, in the 1920s, to conceal the activity from the Versailles treaty commission. The first boats were built in 1929-1934 (R 1-8) by Lürssen and A&R (R9-16). They were unarmed at the time and could be “sold” to inspectors as harbour duty ships, or just for their intended purposes and contribute to the clearing of sea mines.

An Innovative Type, a-magnetic and with VS drive

The type supplied by the two shipyards largely corresponded to the requirements of the Reichsmarine and they were mostly built of wood, some like R 8, and R 17-24 provided with the new Voith-Schneider drive (VS): The latter’s principle was strikingly simple: The magnitude and direction of thrust can be set steplessly, using circular disk with movable and controllable blades installed at a 90 degree angle for the disk to rotates at the vessel bottom. The magnitude of thrust is determined by the rotational speed of the disk and blade angle determines the direction of thrust. For these R-Boote, they were horizontally mounted propellers, perfect for precise maneuvering even under adverse conditions. But these were complex systems which were in short supply.

Voith-Schneider System

As the result, these interwar R-Boote were very manoeuvrable and powerful in order to give the clearing gear the required pulling power. The demand for non-magnetic materials for the engines however could only be realized after the Second World War. The Bundesmarine Schütze-class fast minesweepers were the first totally a-magnetic minehunters built in the world. However, the the WW2 boats were equipped MES system (a kind of degaussing system), greatly reducing the magnetic field.

Gradual Improvement

The first boats displaced 60 t and were made of composite construction (steel frames with wood planking) with MWM diesel engines developing 714 hp acting on two propeller screws, or Voith-Schneider propellers.
Next came the R 17-24 (all by A&R) with 115 t displacement and 1836 hp in the years 1934 to 1938, so assigned to the Kriegsmarine, which naval staff did not developed a strong interest for these, but rather preferred to concentrate on the S-Boote.
R 25-R 40 were boats of 110 t displacement, with class screw propeller drive built in 1938/1939. They were all provided with an air-cooled Deutz diesel generator providing electricity for clearing magnetic mines, installed in a housing on the upper deck. These were the first “magneic mine specialists”. For this serie, it was looked at using them in a more offensive way, notably fitting them with mines, inclusing magnetic ones, since they were the right kind of boat to lay them with safety.

As the Second World War grew near, the construction program was greatly expanded. A grand total of 424 Räumboote were built based on the same predecessor type. The majority had conventional propellers due to production bottlenecks notably for the VS system, and due to a lack of armament-related. R 41-150 received VS propellers anyway. Shipyards responsible for this wartime production were A&R Lemwerder, Burmester shipyards (Bremen) and Swinemünde as well as Schlichting shipyard (Travemünde).

R-Boote Tactics


The R-boats proved to be extremely robust and versatile. Apart S-Boote, already well budy with the Torpedo tasks, the lack of fast, large motor boats soon had the Räumboote providing tasks during the war for which they were never intended: They were used to secure convoys, minelaying, ASW patrols, escorting U-boats in and out of their bases and sea rescue, both for the Kriegsmarine and Luftwaffe.
The tactics were simple, originally they were intended to serve in small squadrons of six boats, but were to be assisted by an armed depot ship/tender. Ideally specialized, a bit like the pre-dreadnought depot ship concept of 1918.
However these specialized R-Boote depot ships fell short due to arbitrations in the Kriegsmarine. Large, well armed and modern dedicated depot ships were assigned primarily to U-Boats (Saar, W. Baer class and converted merchant ships) and others to the S-Bootes (Tsingtau, Tanga, Lüderitz, Nachtigal classes).

In the end, since they were coastal boats, they were assigned larger minsweepers: Von der Groeben, Alders, Raule, Juningen, Nettelbeck, Von der Lippe, Brommy, Hille were all ex-minesweepers of the WWI series. Nordpol, Nordsee, Gazelle, Nadir, Schwertfisch, Weser, Barbara, Rigel, were very diverse ships which were essentially “what was available”, and with time in 1943-44, some unit operated without a tender/escort at all.

A flotilla of R-41 class boats advancing at high speed, apparently for submarine hunting, as the boat in the foreground has an additional pattern of depth charges on its foreship (shipsnostalgia).

Gazelle was the last former WWI cruiser, Barbara was a Flakschiff (Former Belgian Zinnia), Nordsee/Nordpol were 1914 tenders…
When deployed at sea, the depot ship stayed behind, operating long range-communication with the HQ and defense based on its better armament, but also providing spares and supplies for the R-Boote. A minesweeping operation was in general a 24-hours affair at the most depending of the technicity of the mines and size of the minefield.


From the quay wall of the French port of Royan, the marine gives flag signals to the German Räumboote lying in the roadstead. Oct 1940
PK-Horster-Scherl picture service

The first 16 small pre-war boats built were transferred to the Mediterranean (RF 12) by inland waterways and overland, but none survived the war. Some by the same paths found their way into the black sea fleet (RF 30), and operated alongside the Romanian Navy until the Soviet counter-offensive drove them out. Some units served in the Baltic, close to still Soviet-held ports and made riverine operations when possible. Others operated in the German bight, the channel, and around north sea sandbanks, as well as around Heligoland and from Norway. There was also unit dedicated to training (RF 17), with more than 400 R-Boote in service, this was quite necessary. Because of their light armament, many were destroyed or damaged during wartime.

Wikimedia commons photo showing the deployment of a R-Boote in shallow waters.

One interesting use was from the narrow fjords of occupied Norway. In October 1940 the unit commanding officer, Kapitanleutnant Hans Bartels, commissioned the construction of his twelve own highly successful small vessels based on Norwegian fishing boat designs, called Zwerge (‘dwarves’). The unit was later called ‘Tigerverband’ based on their pennant bearing a snarling tiger’s head over crossed swords. Later sporting small commemorative pins awarded with a special certificate. High command eventually condemned the initiative and Bartels was relocated on the destroyer Z34.

The Vorpostenboote (‘outpost boats’) recouped many of these units tasked of patrol work, creating outer protective screens for convoys and port guards. At first former whaler, trawlers, captured boats, they were spread into 33 Vorpostenbootflottillen, operating in the Baltic, Denmark, North Sea, France, Holland. They were considerably reinforced during the war as Civilian yards were requitioned and put under the authority of the Kriegsmarine to resume production. The new civilian fishing boat designs were sometimes heavily armed and redesignated as “Kriegsfischcutter” and could also be outfitted for minesweeping and ASW duties. They served alongside, and completed the numerous R-Boote.

As for ASW duties, if very few of the dedicated U-Jagd Boote were specialized vessels in U-Bootsjagd Flottillen, the bulk of operations were made by mixes of R-Boote type minesweepers and the VP-boats see above. The Kriegsmarine still drafted its own specifications for further dedicated sub-hunter, but shipyard priorities decided otherwise. In the end, only the M35 minesweepers were the closest to this type ever. However in this role, the R-Bootes lacked proper sonar and depht charge reserves for effectively chasing submarines.

Note that R-184 was captured by the RN and duly examined, leaving a report in 1942 (see later pdf in the sources). Here are two plans, showing the boat plan by British intel, and a scheme of minesweeping operations as reconstructed after interrogating the crew and examining the gear.

Succession: MV-Boote

Probably the most interesting development of the R-Boote type was the Mehrzweckboote or “general purpose boat”, by order of March 1943. It was a powerful, but slow boat with heavier armament. It was intended to replace the R-boats and VP-boats, weighted 290-ton for a 52m x 7.2m hull, single 6-cylinder diesel engine for 14 knots. Two torpedo tubes were fitted near the bow a bit like for S-boats, completed by two 8.8cm, a single 3.7cm two quad “Flakvierling” 2cm flak gun mounts. But of the 12 boats ordered at the Stiilcken yard in Hamburg, only MZ1 was completed before the end of the war. Construction in pre-fabricated sections was envisioned. If MZ1 was launched on 16 April 1944 and tested later that year, the industrial situation Germany was in by that time precluded any progresses. Apart MZ1, only three keels perhaps has been laid down and little work done, with foggy records to say the least, no photos or plans left.

Postwar Fate: GMSA

R Boote of the GMSA in 1952
R Boote of the GMSA in 1952
140 survived the war, taken over by the allies. The USA received 48, the USSR 45, Denmark 24, Great Britain 11, the Netherlands 8 and Norway 4.
However they were used to form the “German Minesweeping Service” or “Deutscher Mienenräumdienst” after the war. 24 more were also returned to Germany to form Bundesmarine’s early minesweeper squadrons in 1956, used until the late 1960s. Others were passed on to other allies. Italy and Yugoslavia received some for example.
The German mine clearance Administration, replacing the Kriegsmarine, used these boats to clear the Baltic Sea, German Bight and Norwegian waters, Germany’s area of reponsibility to ensure trade safety. Some were handed over to the water police of Western federal states while R 406 was converted in 1948 as the passenger ship Arngast for island service in the Jade Bay and to Heligoland, became in 1951 the LSU (R 154) and Bundesmarine’s Naval Locating School OT 2, still active in the 1980s.

Indonesian Pulau-Rau class minesweepers in the 1960s

R-Boote Units

R-Boote based in the Netherlands, the 9. Räumboots-Flottille (rotterdam).

Between the wars and during World War II, a total of 19 Räumboots-Flottille (German for Minesweeper Flottiles) were created (plus one postwar). While most were disbanded at the end of the war or after the German surrender, a few were retained for use by the German Mine Sweeping Administration (German: Deutscher Minenräumdienst or “German Mine Sweeping Administration” or GMSA) and dissolved after the war. An additional flotilla was created in the immediate post-war period, also for use by GMSA1.

1. Räumboots-Flottille:
Established in octobre 1937: R 17, R 18, R 19, R 20, R 21, R 22, R 23, R 24. Other assigned boats: R 43, R 52, R 65, R 66, R 67, R 68, R 69, R 70, R 71, R 72, R 73, R 74, R 75, R 76, R 106, R 119, R 120, R 127, R 128, R 145, R 150, R 249, R 259, R 260, R 268. Escorts assgned: KMS Nettelbeck, Nordpol.

2. Räumboots-Flottille:
Established in november 1938, with the following boats: R 25, R 26, R 27, R 28, R 29, R 29, R 30, R 31, R 32. Other assigned later: R 74, R 77, R 84, R 86, R 113, R 114, R 116, R 125, R 129, R 169. In 1945, the unit was down to a single squadron: R 412, R 413, R 414, R 415, R 416, R 417. KMS Brommy (ex-M50/550) was their tender.

3. Räumboots-Flottille:
Established in 1939 at Pillau, with ship: R 33, R 34, R 35, R 36, R 37, R 38, R 39, R 40. Other later asssigned: R 163, R 164, R 165, R 166 R 196, R 197, R 203, R 204, R 205, R 206, R 207, R 208, R 209, R 216, R 248. Escort and supply ships, KMS Von der Groeben, R-Boat tender. En 1945, the unit had the following: R 270, R 288, R 289, R 418, R 420, R 421, R 422 R 423 with KMS Gazelle as escort.

4. Räumboots-Flottille:
Created by april 1940, with the boats: R 41, R 42, R 43, R 44, R 45, R 46, R 47, R 48, R 49, R 50, R 51, R 52. Other assigned: R 80, R 83, R 115, R 120, R 126, R 128, R 138, R 143, R 150, R 218, R 240, R 243, R 244, R 245, R 246, R 255, R 262, R 274, R 275, R 290, R 291.

5. Räumboots-Flottille:
Created in August 1939 with the boats: R 1, R 3, R 4, R 5, R 6, R 7, R 8, R 9, R 10, R 11, R 12, R 13. In 1941, she was composed of the following: R 53, R 54, R 55, R 56, R 57, R 58, R 59, R 60, R 61, R 62, R 63, R 64. Other assigned: R 89, R 90, R 113, R 121, R 122, R 124, R 238, R 250, R 269, R 273. Escort ship: KMS Elbe.

6. Räumboots-Flottille:
Created in July 1941 at Cuxhaven, with the boats: R 9, R 10, R 11, R 12, R 13, R 14, R 15, R 16. Other assigned: R 1, R 3, R 4, R 6, R 7, R 8, R 115, R 187, RA 10 (former British MTB), and RD-boats: RD 116, RD 117, RD 118, RD 119, RD 120, RD 121, RD 122, RD 127, RD 128, RD 129, RD 130, RD 131.

7. Räumboots-Flottille:
Created in octobre 1940, with the following boats: R 151, R 152, R 153, R 154, R 155, R 156, R 157, R 158, R 159, R 160, R 161, R 162. Other later assigned: R 173, R 202, R 223, R 262, R 277. Eescort and tender ships KMS Weser.

8. Räumboots-Flottille:
Created in january 1942 with the following boats: R 92, R 93, R 94, R 95, R 96, R 97, R 98, R 99, R 100, R 101. Others later assigned: R 113, R 117, R 118, R 130, R 146, R 147, R 257, R 258, R 409. Assigned escort and supply ships: KMS Nadir, Schwertfisch.

9. Räumboots-Flottille:
Created in may–june 1942 in Rotterdam: R 85, R 87, R 88, R 103, R 104, R 105, R 107, R 108, R 109, R 110, R 111, R 112, R 131, R 148, R 149, R 247, R 251, R 412, R 413, R 414, R 415, R 416, R 417 Assigned escort/tender: KMS Alders.

10. Räumboots-Flottille:
Created in february-march 1942 in Cuxhaven. Assigned Boats: R 175, R 176, R 177, R 179, R 180, R 181, R 182, R 183, R 184, R 190, R 213, R 217, R 218, R 219, R 221, R 222, R 224, R 234. Assigned escort/tender: KMS von der Lippe.

11. Räumboots-Flottille:
Created by September 1939, with 8 armed trawlers and an escort. By October 1940 renamed 7. Räumboots-Flottille assigned to battered R-Boote which needs refit for service. From 1942 she is assigned the R 39, R 161, R 162, R 189, R 192, R 198, R 199, R 200, R 201, R 212, R 215, RD 102, RD 103, RD 104, RD 105, RD 109, RD 111, RD 112, RD 113, RD 114, RD 148, RD 149, RA 252, RA 253, RA 254, RA 258, RA 260, RA 261, RA 262, RA 263, RA 264, RA 267, RA 268. No escort ship.

12. Räumboots-Flottille:
Created in may 1942 at Bruges, Belgium, then reassigned to the Mediterrananean, dissolved in february 1945. Assigned boats: R 34, R 38, R 40, R 178, R 185, R 186, R 188, R 190, R 191, R 194, R 195, R 210, R 211. Escort/tender KMS von der Groeben.

13. Räumboots-Flottille:
Created on 15 november 1943 in the Heligoland Bight. In 1957, it was trasferred to the Bundesmarine, via the minesweeping administration. This unit operated the R 132, R 133, R 134, R 135, R 136, R 137, R 138, R 139, R 140, R 141, R 142, R 144, R 177, R 252. They were supplied and escorted by the KMS Nordsee.

14. Räumboots-Flottille:
Created in december 1943, operating in the Channel. After the French invasion in juin 1944 it was rassigned to the Jade and Heligoland bight, and Baltic sea. Assigned boats: R 18, R 214, R 219, R 225, R 226, R 227, R 227, R 228, R 229, R 230, R 231, R 232, R 233, R 235, R 236, R 237, R 242, R 259, R 263. Escort: KMS Barbara.

15. Räumboots-Flottille:
Created 1st July 1944 in the Baltic. These boats were also deployed in Finnish waters. Assigned boats: R 239, R 240, R 241, R 243, R 244, R 245, R 254, R 255, R 256, R 409, R 410, R 411.

16. Räumboots-Flottille:
Created in october 1944 at Haugesund, Norway, dissolvd 25 november 1947. Assigned boats: R 264, R 266, R 267, R 401, R 402, R 403, R 404, R 405, R 406, R 407, R 408, R 424.

17. Räumboots-Flottille:
Created in July 1944 for training R-Boote crews, as Räumbootsflottille zbV, based in the Baltic. Dissolved by late 1947. Assigned boats: R 55, R 71, R 102, R 167, R 170, R 174, R 175, R 176, R 181, R 220, R 241, R 246, R 249, R 290.

21. Räumboots-Flottille:
Created by july 1943, composed of 12 large escort minesweepers (Geleit-Räumbooten) based in Bergen, Norway. Dissolved early 1946. Assigned boats: R 301, R 302, R 303, R 304, R 305, R 306, R 307, R 308, R 309, R 310, R 311, R 312

25. Räumboots-Flottille:
Created in the summer of 1945 in Denmark she ships of various flottillas, by the German Minesweeping Administration, until early 1946. Assigned boats: R 18, R 23, R 65, R 234, R 254, R 257, R 258, R 409, R 410, R 411 with Riegel as escort/tender.

30. Räumboots-Flottille:
Created in june 1943 with Dutch captured minesweepers, reassigned to the black sea. Deactivated by August 1944: R 30, RA 51, RA 52, RA 54, RA 56.


The R-Boats, like the S-Bootes, and even perhaps more often, were camouflaged. Patterns were unregulated, left to the choice of Flotilla Commanders, although they had to apply at least a base pattern which was adapted to the theater of operation on coastal areas. It was the “broken line” pattern with black motives on a dull grey base. Some of the designs were relatively simple, “zebra like” and others were particularly complex, such as this one below.

To come in the future: Renditions of various classes and camouflage pattern designs.


As defined by the Reischmarine and confirmed later by the Kriegsmarine, light minesweepers were vital in the event of a naval blockade by the Allies. They were design to lead the way, and also for possible quick sweeps and or even stealthy minelaying. They were larger and much slower than the S-Boote and were considerably reinforced with AA guns.
They were sleek, low profiles, lightly-built, with shallow draughts for coastline use. Their metal understructure was completed by wood framing and they had rounded bilges built-in.

The typical powerplant was fixed around two flexible MAN marine diesels for an output of 1,836 horsepower each on under stern shafts and the VS (Voith-Schneider) system in some cases, a real advantage to manoeuver in minefields. Top speed was not stellar as they managed 17 kts in the best conditions, although the R301-R312 group was modified with a triple-shaft arrangement, enabling a 24 knots speeds. Still not S-Type level, but good enough for hard engagements.

They were also lightly-armed. The typical outfit in 1939 was a single turreted 37mm C/30 aft and two Rheinmetall FLAK c/38 20 mm cannons, up to six in wartime, plus several 7.92mm MG.34 light machine guns for close defense. Minesweeping apparatus was “classic” and derived from the WWI M-class, with however measured taken for improving their ability to defuse magnetic and modern mines of all types. They were also outfitted for minelaying, photos showing them carrying up to six on individual cradles aft, alternative to depth charge racks for ASW escort work. The R301-R312 boats even were fitted with two fixed broadside torpedo launchers (pointing forward), they were pressed especially in the Channel fleet were close encounters were frequent. The crew went up with time, as they received more armament, up to 38 in all.

R-Boote nomenclature

Kriegsmarine R 1 class (1929)

R8 at sea, interwar
R7 group The first group R1 to R16 dated back from 1929. These were small vessels of 26 meters, 60 tonnes with a composite hull, capable of 17 knots. They were still partly inspired by the WWI “F-Boote”. The hull was stepped, with an embeddeded main deck, more typical of service boats than classic warships. The superstructure however was fully enclosed. Armament was reinforced during the war, as by 1943 R1 had four 4 single additional 20mm/65 C/38, and a DCR (Depth Charge Rack) plus ten mines, as the folling boats of the R2 serie, including R8.
They were used as patrol, ASW and then rescue ships as the war progressd and new ships were made available. The prototype was created by F.Lürssen, still much inspired by the F type minesweeping boat of WWI.
R1 was badly damaged and a total constructive loss (CTL) on 24.11.1943. R2 was discarded in 1942, all the rest were lost in action or scuttled: R3 on 24.11.1943, R4 on 22.2.1945, R5 on 3.1.1940, R6 on 13.8.1943, R7 on 9.9.1943, R9 on 2.8.1942, R10 on 2.5.1945, R11 on 2.8.1942, R12 on 5.9.1944, R13 on 9.9.1943, R14 on 16.3.1945, R15 on 16.4.1945 and R16 2.5.1945.

⚙ R1 specifications

Displacement 60 tonnes (R8 63t)
Dimensions 26 x 4.41 x 1.21 m (85ft 3in x 14ft 6in x 4ft)
Propulsion 2 shafts MWM diesels, 700 bhp
Speed/Range 17 kts, 4tons oil, circa 800 nm/13 kts
Armament 1x 20mm/65 C30 FLAK, Minesweeping gear
Crew 19

Kriegsmarine R 17 class (1934)

R-Bootes in 1939, ONI photo
From 1934, the R17 group comprised 8 units, which displacement increased to 115 tonnes, for 37 meters in lenght and 21 knots in speed. They came from by Abeking & Rasmussen, and Schlichting yards, with a simplified “flush deck” hull and minimal superstructures. Their minesweeping gear could operate up to a force sea 6 on the Beaufort scale. During the war, in 1943 they rweceived two twin extra 20mm/65 C/38 AA guns and two single ones, plus a DCR. By 1944 the remainder earned a single 86 R Ag M42/43 AA Rocket Launcher. Most were built with the Voith-Schneider propulsion system also.
R17 was sunk by the Norwegian minelayer Olav Tryggvason, R19 by Allied aircraft, R20 by a German mine.

Profile and elevation of the R21

⚙ R17 specifications

Displacement 115 tonnes ()
Dimensions 27 x 5.50 x 1.30 m ()
Propulsion 2 shafts MAN diesels, 1,800 bhp
Speed/Range 21 kts, diesel oil 10.8 tons, 900nm/15 kts
Armament 2x 20mm/65 C30 FLAK, 12 mines, Minesweeping gear, see notes
Crew 17-27

Kriegsmarine R 25 series (1938)

R38, camouflaged, underway Src: http://www.lexikon-der-wehrmacht.de/Gliederungen/Sicherungsflott/R38-1.jpg
Nothing much to say, they were a repeat of the previous design, a bit larger and faster. R25 to 34 had a 1.40 normal draught, 1.42 deep load while R35-40 had a 1.51 deep load draft.
By 1943-1944 survivors were rearmed with a single aft 37mm/80 SK C/30 or or a 37/69 FlaK M/42 and two twin 20mm/65 C/38 AA guns plus one DCR.
Fate: R25 was surrendered in 1945 and transferred to Soviet Union 6.1946. R26, R28, 32 to Denmark 12.1945, R31 to UK. R27 was sunk 11.4.1944, R29 on 23.9.1943, R33 on 19.7.1943, R34 on 10.8.1944, R36 on 29.4.1943, R38 on 27.8.1944, R39 on 17.2.1944 and R40 on 7.3.1943. R35, 37 were scuttled on 30.8.19447.

FLICKR, 3D rendition (Gaijin Ent.) of the R25.

R29 plan drawing (FLICKR)

⚙ R25 specifications

Displacement 110/126 tonnes (FL)
Dimensions 35.4 x 5.55 x 1.40 m ()
Propulsion 2 shafts MAN diesels, 1,800 bhp
Speed/Range 23.5 kts, diesel oil 10 tons, 1100nm/15 kts
Armament 2x 20mm/65 C30 FLAK, 10 mines, Minesweeping gear, see notes
Crew 20

Kriegsmarine R 41 (mob) series (1943)

R Boote France
Preceded by the R25 series (1938-39, 16 units, 110 tonnes and 35.50 meters), the R41 mobilization series was heavier and more spacious. The last were put into service in 1943, they received as reinforcement two twin 20 mm mounts. 88 units were be built, making the bulk of the active flotillas in 1944.
They Displaced 125t standard, 135t Flly Loaded, and diverged in size: R41-10 measured 36.8 wl 37.8 oa whereas R102-129 were 36.8 wl 38.6 oa long, for 5.82m in beam and a draught of 1.40 normal and 1.51 deeply loaded. Some had the Voith-Schneider propulsion systems and they given either MWM (R41-48) or MAN diesels (R49-129) for 1,800 shp, 20 knots, a range of 900 nm at 15 kts based on 11.1 tons oil. They also diverged in armament. The first serie (R41-107, 109-111) had the original two single 20mm/65 C/38 guns and DCR but the second serie (R108, 112-129) received the aft single 37mm/80 SK C/30 or 37/69 FlaK M/42, three single 20mm/65 C/38, DCR, no mines. They had a crew of 30-38/ Later during the war, the early serie received alternatively the 37mm/80 SK C/30 or the 37mm/69 FlaK M/42, and all had two twin 20mm/65 C/38 where thir single mounts used to be. Sone has three single 20mm/65 C/38 or one or two twin 20mm/65 C/38 alternatively. Survivors in 1944 received the 86 R Ag M42/43 rocket launcher.

Same 3D rendition (Gaijin Ent.) of the R56.
R41 was sunk by British MTBs. R44, R51, R52, R56, R59, R72, R79, R80, R81, R84, R89, R92, R97, R111, R119, R123, R125 and R129 by aviation. R50, R73, R77, R78, R82, R86 and R109 in German minefields. R54, R64, R74, R93, R94, R95, R110, R114, R116 and R126 by Allied mines and R66 and R70 were sunk by Soviet mines. R60, R61 and R62 sabotaged in Helsinki, R69 and R106 were claimed by Soviet aviation.

R117 as built on trials (FLICKR)

In Bundesmarine Service:
Displacement standard, 135-130 tons, 36.8 wl 38.6 oa, Aldebaran, Algol, Altair, Pegasus, Wega, UW4: 36.8 wl 37.8 oa and Arkturus, Deneb, Skorpion: 36.8 wl 38.6 oa for 5.82m wide and same draught. 2 Voith-Schneider MWM/MAN diesels, same output, speed and range. As modernized thay had two single 20mm/80 Mk 7 (HS804), a revised mechanical minesweeping gear, hydrophone, radar and a crew of 27-34.

⚙ R41 specifications

Displacement 125 tonnes ()
Dimensions 37.80 x 5.80 x 1.40 m ()
Propulsion 2 shafts MAN diesels, 1,800 bhp
Speed/Range 20 kts, diesel oil 11 tons, 900nm/15 kts
Armament 1x 37mm/69 M/42 FLAK, 2×2 20mm/65 C30 AA, see notes
Crew 34

Kriegsmarine R 130 (mob) series (1943)

The 20 R130 type units, built at the end of 1943, were a little more spacious and slower. They also received 3 twin 20 mm AA mounts. They were armed as standard with a single 37mm/80 SK C/30 or a 37mm/69 FlaK M/42, two twin 20mm/65 C/38 and two single ones as standard, and some received as completed a 86mm R Ag M42/43 AA RL. They all had also a DCR for ASW patrols.
R131, R139 and R141 were sunk by Allied aircraft and R145 was torpedoed by a Soviet aircraft, lost also. Many others were damaged. There were survivors: in June 1956, Orion, Capella, Merkur, Rigel, Mars, Castor, Pollux, Sirius were recommissioned in the Bundesmarine after a modernization (notably sonar and radar) and in july Regulus, Spica, Jupiter, Saturn; in December UW5 were recommissioned. They served until the 1970s, although recoignised as too slow to deal with the latest Soviet SSNs. Instead they targeted small diesels subs like the Quebek class.

R-130-150 original plans, unfortunately i could only find the vignette.

⚙ R130 specifications

Displacement 150 tonnes ()
Dimensions 41.10 x 5.80 x 1.60m ()
Propulsion 2 shafts MAN diesels, 1,800 bhp
Speed/Range 19 kts, diesel oil 11 tons, 900nm/15 kts
Armament 1x 37mm/69 M/42 FLAK, 6x 20mm/65 C30 AA, see notes
Crew 38

Kriegsmarine R 151 (mob) series (1943)

KMS Algol, by Abeking & Rasmussen.
The R151 series of 1940-43 consisted of 68 smaller but faster vessels than those of the R41 series. In 1944-45 they received six 20 mm AA cannons as reinforcement. They were faster, and equipped with mines unlike the previous series. Later during the war they were reequipped with a single aft 37mm/80 SK C/30 or 37mm/69 FlaK M/42, two twin 20mm/65 C/38 and a single DCR, plus an hydrophone.
R151, R169, R188, R191, R193 and R204 were sunk by Soviet aircraft, R161, R186, R187, R190, R194, R200, R201, R208 and R215 Allied aircraft, R177 by a Soviet mine and R179 an Allied mine. R180, R184 and R192 were sunk by British MGBs in close surface combat.

Colorized R-Boat, src unknown, FLICKR

Modernized R-Boats used by the Bundesmarine, detailed plans from the Bundesarchiv

⚙ R151 specifications

Displacement 110t standard, 126/128t FL
Dimensions 35.40 x 5.60 x 1.40 m
Propulsion 2 shafts MAN diesels, 1,800 bhp
Speed/Range 21 kts, diesel oil 11 tons, 900nm/15 kts
Armament 2x 20mm/65 C/38 AA, 10 mines, see notes
Crew 38

Kriegsmarine R 218 series (1944)

R-218 scheme – Credits parow-info.de
This last series of the war (63 units completed out of 83 planned), built at the end of 1943 at the surrender, were fairly spacious, fast, and received three twin 20 mm AA mountings shortly after their completion, making them the most heavily armed type. The 1944 S401 series was to include 23 units, never completed. R239 experimented 2 KHD diesels for 2400 shp.
As completed they had a single 37mm/80 SK C/30 or 37mm/69 FlaK M/42, three twin 20mm/65 C/38 or three single ones and 12 mines plus a DCR and hydrophone.
R218 was sunk by British MTBs and R219 by the same, but finished off by aircraft. R221, R232, R237, R239, R250 and R261 were sunk by Allied aircraft. R222 due to a Soviet mine. R224, R227, R243, R256 and R260 by Soviet aviation, R231 disappeared without a trace. R272, R273, R274, R275 and R276 were never completed and destroyed on their slipway by Soviet aviation. 6 boats were transferred to East Germany and used by the GDR police postwar as R1-6 from May 1950, discarded 1956. R266 was attributed to the USA and sent back to the Bundesmarine in 1957 used as the border guard ship TS AT1.

⚙ R218 specifications

Displacement 140t standard, 148t FL
Dimensions 39.40 x 5.72 x 1.50/1.61 m
Propulsion 2 shafts MWM diesels, 2,500 bhp
Speed/Range 21 kts, diesel oil 15 tons, 1000nm/15 kts
Armament 1x 37mm, 6x 20mm/65 C/38 AA, see notes
Crew 40

Kriegsmarine R 301 (mob) (GR) series (1943)

The 12 units of type R301 were larger and designed as escorts of the first, with two torpedo tubes. However they were completed far too late to be pressed in the Channel fleet as expected and ended in the Baltic. They were the heaviest of the serie, with three shafts, reaching almost 185 tonnes fully loaded. But also the fastest and with the better range and armament of all series.
R313-R320 built in Abeking & Rasmussen, Lemwerder were cancelled on 12.1943.
Basic armament comprised a single 37mm/80 SK C/30 or 37mm/69 FlaK M/42, three twin and a single 20mm/65 C/38 mm AA alternative to two twin, one single, and two 86mm R Ag M42/43 AA RL plus two 533 TTs and 16 mines as well as their mechanical minesweeping gear, DCR and hydrophone, making them pretty well-rounded, versatile ships called GR (Geleit Räumboot).
Many were never completed, R301 and R306 were sunk by Allied aircraft and R304 hit an Allied mine. The rest were scuttled in 1945, or surrendered in 1945, being attributed to the US and Soviet Union.

⚙ R301 specifications

Displacement 175t standard, 184t FL
Dimensions 36.8/41 x 6 x 1.80/1.88 m
Propulsion 3 shafts MWM diesels, 3,750 bhp
Speed/Range 23.5 kts, diesel oil 15.8 tons, 716nm/20 kts
Armament 1x 37mm, 7x 20mm/65 C/38 AA, 2 TTs, 16 mines, DCR, LR, see notes
Crew 40

Kriegsmarine R 401 series (1944)

The last R-Boote serie, started way too late into the war to be completed on time. They had more powerful diesels, enabling for the gretest speed of all series, 25 kts. The immense majority of the initial order was cancelled, and the remainder ships were captured on slipways by Soviet or US troops. The only one operational, R402, was sunk by Allied mine on 22.12.1944. R406 – 408 were recommissioned by border guard in 1956-1957 and modified: UW6, AT2, OT1 had a single 20mm/80 Mk 7 AA gun only. The remainder were either BU on slip or attributed to the US/Soviet Union.

⚙ R301 specifications

Displacement 140t standard, 150t FL
Dimensions 36.8/39.4 x 5.72 x 1.50/1.65 m
Propulsion 2 shafts MWM diesels, 2,800 bhp
Speed/Range 25 kts, diesel oil 15 tons, 1000nm/15 kts
Armament 1x 37/69 FlaK M/42, 3×2 20mm/65 C/38, 2x 86mm R Ag M42/43 AARL, 12 mines, DCR, hydrophone
Crew 37

Src/Read More


Köhlers Flottenkalender 1960 und 1961
Erich Gröner: Die Schiffe der Deutschen Kriegsmarine und Luftwaffe 1939–45. Lehmanns Verlag, München 1954
Hans Mehl, Knut Schäfer: Die Seestreitkräfte der NVA. Motorbuchverlag spezial, 2004
Conway’s all the worlds fighting ships 1922-47


“Räumboots-Flottillen”. Lexikon der Wehrmacht
german-navy.de r-boat
Gröner, Jung, Maass U-Boats and Mine Warfare Vessels
R-Boote on military-factory
Hitler’s Armed Forces Auxiliaries: An Illustrated History.
Hervieux, Pierre German Motor Minesweepers at War 1939-1945
R 184 Interrogation of Survivors, 1942 report, pdf

Model Kits

R3 series on scalemates.com
britmodeller.com/ r25-class
3d rendition, artstation See also (“12th man” movie)

Type XB U-Boats (1941)

The Type X (XB) U-boats were a special type of German submarines of WW2 originally designed as long-range minelayers, but later used as long-range cargo transports as the Type IXD U-Boats, Italian Romolo-class submarines and several Japanese Types. In all, only eight were built, consistent for this complex and costly type compared to other nations. Six on the eight boats, the largest U-Boats of WW2, were lost: U-116 in October 1942, North Atlantic, U-117 in August 1943 by USS Card, U-118 on 12 June 1943 by USS Bogue, U-119 on 24 June 1943 by HMS Starling, U-220 on 28 October 1943 by USS Block Island and U-233 on 5 July 1944 by USS Baker and USS Thomas.

Design Development


Previous German experience

Minelayer submarines seemed very seducive to many admiralties before even WWI, when this new boat was barely taken seriously as a weapon, still. The Germans developed at first two classes, the ten U71 class (1915), which carried thirty-four 100cm (3.2ft or 39 in) mines in horizontal stern tubes, and the eight U117 (1917) which carried 42 in tubes and 30 on deck stowage. Later an entire line of specialized coastal minelayers, called the UC types: UC1 (launched 1915), UC16 (launched 1916-18), UC80 (1918, most never completed).

Moderate International Adoption

Many were passed on the entent powers as war reparation in 1919-1920 and tested. Soon, several were built, and the allies had at least an operational class when WW2 broke out, such as the British Grampus class and the French Saphir class, the US had the single USS Argonaut (1927), the IJN developed the KRS class in 1926, Italy operated the Bragadin class (1929) and Pietro Micca (1935) and the Soviet Union the series XI, XIII/XIIIbis and XIV. These were not very common types overall compared to standard coastal and oceanic types.

German Reboot: The Batiray

During the interwar the German Navy was forbidden by the Versailles treaty to have any submarines. The development of a design office in the Netherlands, Ingenieurskantoor voor Scheepsbouw to keep the skills sharp in the 1920s helped at least to continue working on improved types, but based always on foreign orders and specifications. There was no minelayer type until the Turkish Batiray (1938), a 1044 tons (surfaced) type capable of carrying 40 mines, built at Germaniawerft and launched in August 1939, but taken over by the German Navy after completion. She made her sea trials under her original Trurkish name, but was thus never delivered to Turkey and instead renamed UA, kept for experimentations with the type.

But as the war broke out she was quickly operational, counting on her six torpedo tubes and long range. Under command of Kapitänleutnant Hans COHAUSZ, U-A made two sorties from Sept 17, 1939 to Oct 31, 1940, with 92 days at sea for 7 victories. By late 1940 to early 1941 she conducted an attack on convoy OB 293. We are not going to dive deep into her career, but in between standard patrols she also was used as a cargo, and ended scuttled in Kiel in May 1945. No doubt that her design could be considered as a prototype for the Type X class, although in between the ordnance came with a new type of mine and specifications changed. She will be covered in her own post soon.

Early specifications and development of the Type X (XA)

The Type X was originally designed specifically to accommodate the newly developed Schachtmine A (SMA) moored mine. The initial specification asked to provide dry storage for these mines, which needed their detonators to be individually adjusted before launch by the crew. This designed was established in the design bureau of the Marinewerftabteilung, in coordination with the Marinewaffenamt (MWa) for the mines and their tubes, and the Marinekonstruktionsamt (K) which setup the requirements.
The final submarine was projected to have a 2,500 tonnes displacement, surfaced. As work progressed, it was envisioned a further variant, the Type XA which was to be fitted with extra mine shafts in the saddle tanks, but they were never ordered as war priority changed.

Comparison between the Type XB and Type IX variants

XB U-Boats were experimental submarines developed before the war were larger and more powerful than other U-Boats to enable long distance operations, and remaining submerged for extended periods of time thanks to a large battery capacity. Thus, they were in theory able to mine the Canadian and US east coast among others. However as priorities shifted, they were soon swapped from roles, as supply vessels for German submarines operating in the Atlantic Ocean with fuel, torpedoes, and other essential supplies as the Type XIV, or more commonly to transport valuable assets to distant ports, like Japan.
The final design settled on the XB type, which was around 200 feet (60 meters) long and had a displacement of 1,600 tons when surfaced, and 2,000 tons when submerged. They were powered by diesel-electric engines and had a top speed of around 16 knots when surfaced and 9 knots when submerged. The crew complement was around 50 men.


Surrendered U-Boats in portsmouth, 1945
A total of eight Type XB boats were produced, which replaced the initial mine chamber of the previous Type XA with six vertical wet storage shafts in the forward section of the hull. They were all built at F. Krupp Germaniawerft, Kiel, in three batches from 1941 to 1944:

Design of the class

Hull and general design

(plans are in search mode).
The U-Boat 1,763 tonnes (1,735 long tons) surfaced, 2,177 tonnes (2,143 long tons) submerged. They were the longest of all active U-Boats of the Kriegsmarine, at 89.80 m (294 ft 7 in) o/a long, for 70.90 m (232 ft 7 in) for the pressure hull with a beam of 9.20 m (30 ft 2 in) o/a. The internal pressure hull had a diameter of 4.75 m (15 ft 7 in) pressure hull. The type was 10.20 m (33 ft 6 in) tall up to the conning tower’s top, periscopes down in their wells. The Draught was 4.71 m (15 ft 5 in), which gave them an elongated silhouette, especially compared to the Type XIV. The crew comprised 5 officers, and 47 enlisted sailors. Compartimentation was the same as the Type XI with the exception of a forward compartment without torpedo tube chamber and instead a serie of axial mine wells. The mine wells were many. The taller axial six vertical wells forward carried three each, for 18 mines, added the the with additional 48 mines in 12 shafts (2 each) set into the saddle tanks, either side, for a grand total of thirty mine wells, carrying overall 66 mines.
The tradeoff was the elimination of froward torpedo tubes and keeping only two stern torpedo tubes for defence. When used as cargoes drum-like freight containers had been created for this class, so they they could be carried in the 30 mine shafts, or had these freight containers welded on top of the lateral shafts, making the conversion final.


The powerplant comprised two supercharged Germaniawerft F46 A9, 9-cylinder, four-stroke diesel engines, 4,800 PS (4,700 bhp; 3,500 kW) for surface running. This was completed by two AEG GU 720/8-287 electric motors for underwater running, the latter rated for 1,100 PS (1,100 shp; 810 kW). Top speed surfaced was ranging between 16.4 and 17 knots surfaced, for 7 knots underwater, which was “in the norm” at the time. They did not have to charge through convoys at night. Of course these performances degraded when used as cargoes, with well stuffed payload drums (like gasoline)…
Images and full doc (in spanish) – Start and sound video

Range: 18,450 nautical miles (34,170 km; 21,230 mi) at 10 knots (19 km/h; 12 mph) surfaced and 93 nmi (172 km; 107 mi) at 4 knots (7.4 km/h; 4.6 mph) submerged. They carried 338 tons of diesel oil.
Test depth was calculated at a crush depth at 220 m (720 ft). Safety operational depht was 100 mm (330 ft). But robust construction meant they could in theory dive probably down to 230 m in extreme urge. At 2,710 tonnes submerged, fully loaded, they were the largest German U-boats ever built, but translated into poor agility and long diving time.


It varied by boat and over time: The first boats were delivered with a single 105/42 SK C/32 aft deck gun, one 37mm/80 SK C/30 and one 20/65 C/38 on both CT platforms, and the two aft 533 TT stern and 66 mines. U233 and 234 had the deck gun removed and instead had a 37mm/69 FlaK M/42, and two twin 20mm/65 C/38 AA guns, and same.

Torpedo Tubes

The two stern 53.3 cm (21 in) torpedo tubes had 15 torpedoes in reserve. The torpedoes fired, by default of a better information, are assumed to the the standard G7A.
Weight 1538 kg, 280 kg warhead, 300 g Pentrite detonator, can impact to 16 degrees. Top speed 30/40/44 knots settings at 1–12 to 1–15 m underwater and respective range of 12000/7500/5000m. Powered by a 4-cylinder steam engine running on Decaline (110/350 Hp depenbding of the setting) and 1170/1280/ rpm. Using a contrarotative (six-blades total) propeller.

Deck Gun

Initial boats had a single 10.5 cm (4.1 in) deck gun (200 rounds) located aft of the conning tower. This standard gun was developed from 1941 and soon became the standard German U-boat deck gun throughout the war. It fired a fixed 15.1 kilograms (33 lb) HE round with an elevation for the LC/32 mount of -10 to +35. Muzzle velocity was 785 m/s (2,580 ft/s) and max range 15 kilometers but rather 10 km useful (11,000 yd).


37mm/39 FLAK M/42, U-Boat mount type.
37mm/80 SK C/30: Single-shot semi-automatic breech, vertical sliding-block 30 rpm mv 1,000 m/s (3,300 ft/s) range 2,000 m (6,600 ft)/8,500 m (9,300 yd) 37.5°
37mm/39 FLAK M42: Recoil-operated sliding breech block 250 rpm cyclic (5-round clips) mv 865 m/s (2,840 ft/s) range 4,800 m (5,200 yd)@85°,6,400 m (7,000 yd)@45°
20mm/65 FLAK C/38: 450 rpm cyclic 180 rpm (20 rds mag.) mv 900 m/s (2,953 ft/s) 2,200 m (2,406 yds) ceiling

The surviving boats in 1944 had their conning tower to be ported on the second batch as standard: 37mm/69 FlaK M/42, and two twin 20mm/65 C/38 AA guns, on a two-staged conning tower aft platform arrangement inaugurated in 1943 by the “U-FLAK” modified Type VIIC.

37mm/80 SK C/30 on a Type IX (Bundesarchiv)

Mines: Schachtmine A (SMA) moored type

66 × SMA mines. The SMA is a moored mine similar to the TMA but with a much larger explosive charge. It was tailored to be dropped from vertical shafts, so balically for the Type XB and VIID.
Length/Diameter: 7.1ft (2.15m)/4.4ft (1.33m)
Maximum Depth set: 250m
Warhead: 350kg
Read More: 1 2 3


FUMO 30 and Seetakt systems (ONI).
As completed in 1941-1942 the Type XB carried a S-Gerät sonar and a GHG hydrophone, standard for the time. For those of the batches completed 1942-1943, they gained a FuMO 30 radar and FuMB 1 Metox ECM suite in addition. Those released in 1943-44 had the same plus a FuMB 3 Bali and FuMB 6 Palau ECM suites. In 1945 the survivors received the FuMO 61 radar in replacement for the model 30.

Original plans: Unfortunately only the forward profile survived.

Decks arrangement over view

Internals of the Type XB (src Uboat archives, see notes)

⚙ specifications

Displacement 1,763 tonnes surfaced/2,177 tonnes submerged
Dimensions 89.80 m (294 ft 7 in), 9.20 m (30 ft 2 in) wide draught 4.71 m (15 ft 5 in)
Propulsion 2× diesels, 4,700 bhp, 2× AEG electric motors 1,100 PS
Speed 17 kts/7 kts surface/sub.
Range 18,450 nautical miles (34,170 km; 21,230 mi)/10 kts
Armament 1x 10.5 cm deck gun, 2× 21 in stern TTs 15 Torps. 66 × SMA mines
Crush depht Calculated crush depth: 220 m (720 ft)
Crew 5 officers, 47 enlisted

The alternative design: Type VIID

The only other class in service with the Kriegsmarine was a modified Type VII (the great U-Boat standard), completely stretched and modified as the very center of the boat, aft of the conning tower, housed 15 SMA Mines, same type as the XB, but unlike the latter, they were housed in five wells aft of the conning tower, each tall enough to house three mines each, so fifteen in all. The rest of the submersible remained essentially a late improved Type VIIC/42.
Som thoughts were also given to port such conversion to the Type larger Type IXD, but this never was implemented.
And there was the ex-HMS Seal, captured in the Skagerrak and renamed “UB” to distinguish itself from the previous “UA” ex-Batiray.

Assessment of the XB type

U-234 torpedoed after the war by USS Greenfish. A captured, war prize, she was tested throughly before.
Six of the eight boats built were sunk during the war (four with all hands) but two survived World War II. One survivor was U-234, which surrendered to US Navy ships on 14 May 1945 while en route for Japan with a cargo that included 560 kg uranium oxide, two Me 262 jet fighters, and 10 jet engines.
The other type XB to survive was U-219 which reached Batavia (present-day Jakarta) in December 1944 with a cargo including dismantled V-2 rockets for Japan. Following Germany’s surrender, U-219 was seized by the Japanese at Batavia on 8 May 1945 and on 15 July 1945 was placed into service with the Imperial Japanese Navy as I-505.

Read More


Conway’s all the worlds fighting ships 1921-1947
Campbell, John Naval Weapons of World War Two
Williamson & Palmer 2002
Gröner, Erich; Jung, Dieter; Maass, Martin (1991). U-boats and Mine Warfare Vessels. Vol. 2. Conway
Williamson, Gordon; Palmer, Ian (2002). Kriegsmarine U-boats 1939-45: Vol 2. Osprey Publishing


U-Boat archive, – Kriegsmarine full manual
on uboat.net
U116 on ubootarchiv.de
Type_X_submarine wiki
on forum.axishistory.com/
UA on ubootarchiv.de/
Batiray on dasboot.forumactif.com/
kbismarck.com kriegsmarine-organization

Model Kits

Neptun 1072 German Submarine U 234 Type XB 1942 1/1250 Scale Model Ship.

Kriegsmarine U-116

(no photo)
U-116 was the lead boat for the class. She was Commissioned on 26 July 1941 and after a quick workout after trials and single training cruise as part og the 2nd Uboat flotilla, she was declared ready for service and departed for her first wartime cruise.
1st patrol:
U-116 was assigned to to the 1st U-boat Flotilla on 1 February 1942. She departed Kiel on 4 April 1942 for Bergen, Norway via Heligoland. Departing Bergen on 25 April, she made the dangerous touor of British Isles before arriving at Lorient, occupied France, on 5 May. She spotted neither attack any ship.
2nd patrol U-116 sailed from Lorient on 16 May 1942 in a mid-Atlantic patrol for 25 days, and back on 9 June. No results.
3rd patrol: U-116 was ordered to the less protected coast of West Africa. She attacked Convoy OS-33 (south of the Azores) on 12 July 1942. Using the usual tactic and penetrating the convoy by night, she fired one torpedo at the 7,093 GRT merchant Cortona, damaged but not sunk. She was finished off by U-201. 9 hours after, she fired her two stern torpedoes on the 4,284 GRT British merchant Shaftesbury, sinking in 15 minutes. She was back at Lorient on 23 August (58 days cruise).
4th patrol: For her last patrol, with a new captain, Oberleutnant zur See Wilhelm Grimme she left Lorient on 22 September 1942, but was reported missing in action. Her last message was dated bacl 6 October in the North Atlantic. Her fate is unknown (likely she was sunk by escorts, but unconfirmed on the allied side), and disappeared with 56 men aboard.

Kriegsmarine U-117

U-117 under attack by US Navy aircraft in the Atlantic, 7 August 1943
U-117 was commissioned on 25 October 1941, much later than her sister U-116, and thus was only operational from mid-1942.
1st Patrol:
On 19 September 1942, she left Kiel for the North Atlantic and along the coast of Norway, then Iceland. She made the great circle back to Lorient in France via the Bay of Biscaye. U-117 she made no encounter during this patrol.
Second patrol: Apparetntly she came back from lorient to Germany (same trip at the reverse) as she departed from Königsberg on 12 October 1942 to Iceland and to the Bay of Biscay, then Lorient on 22 November 1942, mmaking no encounter.
Third patrol:
U-117’s started from Lorient on 23 December 1942, but she encountered no Allied vessels. She was back to her homeport on 3 February 1943.
Fourth patrol:
Departing Lorient on 31 March 1943 for Mid-Atlantic, she headed south to the Canary Islands and from there, French Morocco. On 11 April 1943, she laid a minefield in the usual paths of entry and exit of the Mediterranean to the Atlantic. Her minefield claimed the Matt W. Ransom (damaged). On 25 April 1943, she also claimed SS Empire Morn. The latter was so damage she was later declared a total constructive loss.
Fifth patrol:
On 1 December 1942, U-117 was reassigned to the 12th U-boat Flotilla based in Bordeaux, operating with Italian submarines. She departed Bordeaux on 22 July 1943 with the mission to lay 66 mines off New York City, the very mission they had been designed for in the first place. On 27 July, she was redirected to refuel U-66 also heading for North America. But the latter was attacked before they met by aviation on 3 August, and upon arrival, U-117 provided medical assistance on 6 August.

The attack of 8 August 1942 from USS Card. This was one of the earliest success of the Avenger’s new FIDO ASW homing torpedo.

However on the 7th, a several Grumman TBF Avengers from VC-1 USN, USS Card spotted and attacked the two U-boats caught on the surface while U-117 was refueling U-66. Depth charges fell between them, and U-117 was hit by a FIDO homing torpedo. Two more Avengers and two F4F Wildcats coming in a second wave from USS Card forced U-117 to dive and rained depth charges. She was hit by at least one FIDO homing torpedoe and sank with all hands but U-66 escaped back to Lorient.

Kriegsmarine U-118

U-118 under attack by USS Bogue’s plane in 1943
U-118 was first commissoned on 23 September 1941 (she was later repaired and recommissioned on 6 December 1941). She tained with the 2nd flotilla.

First patrol
U-118 departed Kiel on 19 September 1942 bound for the North Sea, and well-knopn “Faroe Gap” to enter the Atlantic Ocean. While south of Iceland she was spotted and attacked on 29 September but damage was moderate. She reached Lorient on 16 October and spent some time in repairs.
Second patrol
She departed Lorient to take position between the Azores and Madeira. But after a week she made no spotting and transited from Lorient to Brest on 12-13 December.
Third patrol
Departing Brest on 25 January 1943 she reached Gibraltar via the Bay of Biscaye and Spanish coast. Taking position close to the strait, she spotted and sank Baltonia, Empire Mordred and Mary Slessor on 7 February alone, and lating her minefield the 1st. It claimed Duero the 10th (damaged). The same minefield claimed HMCS Weyburn on 22 February (sunk), the first warship kill of the entire class so far. Apparently her depth charge primers detonated, blasting her and damaging a nearby destroyer coming in assistance. U-118 returned to Bordeaux on 26 February.
Fourth patrol
U-118 was attacked underway off the Canary Islands by two aircraft. Her position was signalled and soon was followed by a wave of eight planes from USS Bogue. She was strafed with .50″ and .30″ ammunition and bombed. One made a direct hit and she split in tow, exploding with oil and debris projected far away. 16 men however survived, later picked up by the escort USS Osmond Ingram.

Kriegsmarine U-119

(no pic) U-119 was commissioned on 2 April 1942. After training and workout in the Baltic she was declared ready for operation in the summer, under command of Kapitänleutnant Alois Zech on 2 April 1942, and later Horst-Tessen von Kameke from 15 April 1943. After training with the 4th U-boat Flotilla from April 1942, she really was declared only operational on 1 February 1943 and was transferred to the 12th flotilla.
After a short run from Kiel to Frederikshaven (Denmark) and back on 4 to 10 August 1942 she was declared fit for wartime action and prepared for her first patrol, from Kiel, departing on 6 February 1943 and crossing the North Sea, making the great circle off the northern coast of Iceland, down to Mid-Atlantic, the Bay of Biscay and her forward operating based at Bordeaux, arrivong on 1st April. She was unsuccessfully attacked on 29 April 1943 by a Short Sunderland (461 Squadron RAAF), having one man was killed on deck.
On 1 June she laid a minefield. On 3 June she managed to sink Halma (2,937 GRT), east of Halifax, Nova Scotia. She also damaged John A. Poor (7,176 GRT) on 27 July and both vessel hit mines but the second survived.
The end: U-119 was sunk 24 June 1943 in the Bay of Biscay, north-west of Cape Ortegal, Spain, while she was coming back from her mission to the Gironde estuary. She was spotted surfaced, then depht-charged and eventually fired on, and rammed by the British sloop HMS Starling, sinking with all hands.

Kriegsmarine U-219

(no pic) U-219 was commisioned on 12 December 1942. Training and workout went on until later the next, and she was really operational in late 1943 under command of Korvettenkapitän Walter Burghagen. She had one of the most interesting career of these boats.
First patrol:
U-219 was sent to the South Atlantic with the second “Monsun Gruppe“, navigating to the Indian Ocean, after rounding the British Isles and west of Ireland. They took the long crossing voyage via the south atlantic, West Coast of Africa and rounding the cape until eventually reaching Penang. This U-boat group was attached to 33rd U-boat Flotilla (U-848, U-849, U-850, U-177, and U-510).
U-219 was to lay mines off Cape Town and Colombo. However the group’s U-tanker was destroyed and U-219 was requested to refuel other submarines to return to Germany. U-510 however made it to Penang. U-219 arrived in France and was prepared for a transport mission, operating from Bordeaux.
Second patrol
U-219 left Bordeaux on 23 August 1944 with U-195 and U-180, all heavily loaded with two Japanese officers aboard as translators and observers, and a precious strategic cargo: Uranium oxide for the Japanese nuclear program, blueprints for advanced tech and weapons, twelve dismantled V-2 rockets (in part aboard U-195). While underway, they spent most of their time surfaced and of course were attacked in a single dau five times on 28 September by three Grumman Avengers from USS Tripoli west-southwest of Cape Verde but their FLAK combined managed to shot down one of these. This was the only serious attack of the trip, which concluded successfully when both U-Boats reached reached Japan-occupied Batavia (Jakarta) in December 1944.
In Japanese service
U-219 was prepared to sail back to Germany with some precious materials helping the German industry. However in May 1945 she still had not yet departed. With Germany’s surrender, U-219 was seized by the Japanese at Batavia, on 5 May. On 15 July after some modifications and the help of the German crew, which part remained, she became the Imperial Japanese Navy’s I-505. I-505 career was short however as she was captured at Surabaya in August 1945 by the Royal Navy. She practically had no time to make any war patrol. The British inspected her throughly and made some tests. After being mothballed for a few weeks it was decided to finish her off as a target. She was expended on 3 February 1946 by gunfire and depth charges from the Dutch destroyer HNLMS Kortenaer off the Sunda Strait.

Kriegsmarine U-220

(no pic)
First and last Patrol
U-220 was commissioned on 27 March 1943, with Oberleutnant zur See Bruno Barber in command. She start training in the 4th U-boat Flotilla and later the 12th flotilla when ready for operations.
Following her departure from Kiel, to Bergen she was patrolling on 8 September 1943 in the Faroe Gap (between Iceland and Faroe Islands) with a final destination being the North American coast. Off St. Johns, Canada, she laid 66 magnetic mines (9 October). This minefield later claimed the US merchantman Delisle (3,478 GRT) on the 19th and the same day the British Penolver (3,721 GRT) the very same day, on the 19th. While underway south in the Atlantic, U-220 was spotted and attacked by planes from USS Block Island. Soon, a wave of Avenger and Wildcat came out the same 28 October 1943 to finish her off with bombs, DCs and gunfire. After a direct hit, she was lost with all hands.

Kriegsmarine U-233

80-G-700007: Battle of the Atlantic. U-233 (German Type XB Submarine) sinking after being rammed by USS Thomas (DE 102) in the North Atlantic, 5 July 1944. Photographed from USS Thomas’s bridge. Note mine chutes on the submarine’s foredeck, a feature of the type XB U-Boats. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. (2017/02/14).

U-233 was commissioned on 22 September 1943 and made ready for operations under command of Oberleutnant zur See Hans Steen. She was assigned to the 4th U-boat Flotilla for training and for advanced training and operaions with the 12th U-boat Flotilla (1 June 1944). Her first and only war patrol started the day she departed Kiel on 27 May 1944. Like her sister U-233 her mission was to lay mines off Halifax. But she never made it there.
On 5 July 1944, U-233 she was caught by USS Card’s (CVE-11) hunter-killer group. At first spotted by sonar, she was depth-charged to the surface and fired on by USS Baker (DE-190), and finished off by ramming, sunk by USS Thomas (DE-102). 32 went with her to the bottom but 29 were rescued by the escorts.

Kriegsmarine U-234

U-234 was damaged during construction (RAF raid), but she was launched on 23 December 1943, but during her completion iot was decided to not use her as minelayer but transport sub right off the bast. Her mission would be to bring to Japan strategic assets.

The most secret U-Boat mission of WW2
She was relocated in Germaniawerft yard, Kiel for reconstruction as transport by 5 September 1944, and had a snorkel added. 12 of her 30 mineshafts receiced special cargo containers fit for them, and held in place by the mine release mechanism. Her standard keel load was replaced by extra cargo, first planned to be optical-grade glass and mercury while her upper-deck torpedo storage compartments on each side received extra cargo containers. She would have the most interesting career of U-Boats.
It’s the special commission “Marine Sonderdienst Ausland” which determined the exact nature of her caro by late 1944, and officers were informed of their mission Japan, which when complete brough her to have 240 tons of cargo, and all the fuel fuel and provisions to make a nearly 9-month (epic) voyage.

U-234 carried not only mercury and rare materials, but mostlt critical intel documentation, engineering plans, blueprints, and parts of the most advanced radars and weapons systems designed by Nazi Germany with a single goal in mind, allow Japan to continue the war. Ampong others she carried the latest German electric hoping torpedoes, an entire Me 262 jet in crate, as well as a Henschel Hs 293 glide bomb (the first antiship missile) and 550 kg (1,210 lb) of uranium oxide for the Japanese nuclear program. In the manifest she was decribed also as carrying “50 lead cubes with 23 centimetres (9.1 in) sides, painted “U-235″” in the cylindrical mine shafts, the “U-powder”.

Cargo and Personal to win the war
U-234 started pos-completion trials near Kiel, and was prepared for the trip and carrying also “VIPs”: The twelve passengers lits including German general Ulrich Kessler (Luftwaffe) with the task of providing help to the Japanese industry to serial built the new aicraft and missiles and ensure liaison with Berlin, four German naval officers, civilian engineers and scientists as well as two Japanese naval officers acting also as translators. Kay Nieschling (a Naval Fleet Judge Advocate) was to try to find a spy in the diplomatic corps in Japan (Richard Sorge ring). Also was aboard Heinz Schlicke, a radar specialist also specialized in infrared systems and radar countermeasures. There was also the director of the Naval Test Fields in Kiel and August Bringewalde, Messerschmitt’s production specialist for the Me 262 production. The Japanese officers were Lt. Cdr Hideo Tomonaga, IJN, and naval architect/submarine designer arrived in Germany back in 1943 on I-29 and Commander Shoji Genzo, aircraft specialist, former naval attaché, also coming back with tons of documentation after his long stay in Germany.
So this was, by all means, a very strategic mission with the potential for Japan to return the fate of arms.

Trials in Norway
U-234 thus departed Kiel for Kristiansand, Norway on the evening of 25 March 1945. At that stage, the U-Boat war was over, air supremacy was total and travelling while surfaced was perilous at best. She was accompanied by escort vessels plus three Type XXIII coastal U-boats until reaching the Horten Naval Base on the 27th. After eight days of trials including testing her snorkel in safe area, she accidentally collided with a Type VIIC U-boat also making her trials in the vicinity. Damage was light, she ws patched and declared ready to undertake her trip to Kristiansand, (5 April) for more repairs, replenished her provisions, fuel and prepared for the

The trip
U-234 departed Kristiansand on 15 April 1945, submerged at snorkel depth for 16 days untik her commander Kapitänleutnant Johann-Heinrich Fehler estimated she passed the “danger zone” and was ready to run surfaced. He also expected to cross a severe storm to hid him out. Captain Fehler soon found the ideal and safest way to travel: Two hours surfaced at the dead of night and the rest submerged with snorkel. However of the tip was without incident, the Goliath tranmitter eventuall fell silent, revealing some clues about what happened back home. The Nauen station followed, as the Kriegsmarine HQ was just captured by the allies.
On 4 May, while surfaced, U-234 received a partial British broadcast and learned later by American radio Admiral that Karl Dönitz was now at the head of the state after the death of Adolf Hitler. U-234 surfaced eventually on 10 May and received Dönitz’s order to all U-boats still in operation, to surface and surrender to any encountered Allied forces. Fehler however sensed a trick and contacted nearby U-873 for confirmation.

U-234 having no more purpose, she could sail either to a British, Canadian or U.S. port and eventually he decided to head for the US east coast, believing United States cuqtody to be less harsh than British or Canadian one, even to be repatriated quickly. He radioed on 12 May his intention to sail to Halifax, Nova Scotia as a ruse, whereas he set sail for Newport News instead, in Virginia. Not willing still to leave valuable assets to the former enemy, he dismounted and thrown overboard his Tunis radar detector, Kurier radio communication system, Enigma machine and documentation as well as any other classified files. Meanwhile informed, the two Japanese passengers decided to commit Seppuku using poison and were buried at sea.

The radio ruse was eventually found out by US authorities after a spotting and two destroyers arrived to intercept U-234. On 14 May 1945, while off the Grand Banks, Newfoundland Captain Fehler and his officers saw first with their binocular the prow of USS Sutton, steaming at full speed. The sky was pristine blue, with a vibility to dozens of miles. USS Sutton’s crew soon launched a boarding party to discuss the surrender terms and take control of the boat. They were ordered to sail for Portsmouth Naval Shipyard and be interned, joining there U-805, U-873, and U-1228.

News of the “secret U-Boat” immediately became a national sensation, widly relayed by new medias. The press was baffled by her high-ranking German passengers and even before she arrived, journalists crammed into a small boat came for a close look at the submarine. US intelligence was almost immediately at hands with everything of use, starting an inventory. It was done on 19 May. What they listed on were drawings and medical supplies as well as composite steels, instruments, optical glass and materials such as brass, lead, mercury, plus its carefully packed 1,200 pounds (540 kg) of uranium oxide. This load remained classified until the end of the Cold War.

This captured, in the frame of Operation paperclip soon generated an abundant litterature, still ongoing to this day, including radio broadcasts, TV documentaries, and some pseudo-historical and conspirationist works recently. Joseph M. Scalia claimed the uranium was in gold-lined cylinders in his “Hitler’s Terror Weapons”. Carl Boyd and Akihiko Yoshida speculated the uranium was to be used as catalyst for the production of synthetic methanol for aviation fuel, not to be military grade one for the Japanese nuclear program. But it was later discovered that there were cyclotrons in Japan and indeed an atomic bomb program. The Uranium was likely recuperated to be studied and used at the Oak Ridge diffusion plant. It was estimated just 20% of what was necessary to create a fission weapon.
After she was studied, U-234 having no longer purpose was disposed of by the USN: She was torpedoed in exercize by USS Greenfish (Gato class) off Cape Cod, Massachusetts, 20 November 1947.

Hipper class cruisers (1937)

Hipper class cruisers (1937)

Germany (1937)
Hipper, Blücher, Prinz Eugen, Seydlitz, Lützow

KMS Hipper and her sister ships were the first and only heavy cruiser class ever built by Germany. They were enabled by the 1935 Anglo-German naval agreement and were intended still as commerce raiders and to screen for battleships, but cheating on tonnage. Wartime showed they never really found their place, between the sinking of Blücher by an antiquated Norwegian fortress to the largely failed raid attempt of Prinz Eugen and the few sorties made later from Norway. On the five planned as part of Plan Z, three were of a modified design. Oddly, Lützow, the last one, was sold to USSR during the ill-fated pact of 1939-41. #kriegsmarine #ww2 #germanynavy #hipperclass #admiralhipper #prinzeugen #seydlitz #lutzow #blucher #kistiansand

Origin of the design and development

Cruisers to rule them all: The first heavy cruisers of the Kriegsmarine were separated from their only possible ancestors by nearly 40 years, the last two Scharnhorst 1906 class armoured cruisers, which served Admiral Von Spee well. They had been succeeded only by “leichtes kreuzer”, Armed with 15 cm guns. Any study on this subject was impossible under the Reichsmarine, the Versailles treaty prohibiting anything but eight light cruisers, less than 6,000 tons standard. To be exact 10,000 tonnes which was corresponding to five pre-dreadnoughts, and the remainder for light cruisers, those too old to have been interned in Scapa, or given as war reparation.

Following the Emden, a 1920s schoolship derived from a 1916 design essentially, the “K” class formed the backbone of the German cruiser force, followed by the Leipzig class cruisers, replacing all five of the obsolescent Berlin class cruisers. There was at this juncture no plans fopr a heavy cruisers, which would certainly have passed the 7,000 tons treshold, albeit it was still possible to imagine a reduced version of the Deutschland class cruisers with 8-in guns instead of 11-in (28 cm).

However with the arrival of Hitler to power already in 1933, all these limitations were soon contested. Under the advice of Admiral Raeder, based on the experience of the latest light cruisers, a new ambitious program was set up with the same idea of individual superiority to compensate for numbers. Various options to work on a 7,000 tonnes design were envisioned, like fitting single 8-in guns under mask on the existing Leipzig or K class, since a triple 8-in turret barbette seemed impracticable on the envisioned design beam.

wow rendition of the Prinz Eugen

The Anglo-German treaty unlocks everything

The Anglo-German Treaty of 1935 however de facto overruled all remaining limitations officially, and gave the Kriegsmarine some leeway. It enabled the capacity to produce “Washington” cruisers (10,000 tons, eight 8-in guns), but not before 1943. This Agreement was signed on 18 June 1935 and essentially gave the Kriegsmarine 35% of the Royal Navy tonnage.
This fixed ratio on a permanent basis indeed completel overruled Versailles limitations, and despite the opposition of France (which was not consulted, as Italy), this agreement was registered in League of Nations Treaty Series on 12 July 1935, gaining de facto international recoignition. Despite its “generosity” the agreement still, was abrogated by Adolf Hitler on 28 April 1939.

In the context of “appeasement” before Munich it was a bold gesture from British diplomacy in order to reach better relations with the Reich. Therse were still conflicting expectations between the two countries. Germany saw it as a de facto Anglo-German alliance against France and the Soviet Union but Britain saw it as a new, perhaps more generous arms limitation agreement to stil cap German expansionism. It was controversial and disliked by Royal Navy officials as dangerously close to 50%, the ultimate limit in the old scheme stating that the RN should be at least as powerful of the next two largest fleets combined.

Being equal to the US after Washington, and close to Japan, albeit a war with Japan was far more likely than with the “colonials” both at the time and since, an alliance between Italy and Germany for example, still had to be dealt with. The 35:100 tonnage ratio allowed Germany anyway an entry into the Washinton treaty limitations, despite never signing it. Some in the RN estimated -rightly so- that Germany could in all appearances present a 35,000 tonnes design and cheat on its declaration (which it did for the Bismarck class), or a 10,000 tonnes cruiser in what we are interested for, and also cheat on the displacement. Cheating on artillery was more complicated as it was much easier to verify.

But there were also in the RN advocates of this treaty, such as Admiral Sir Ernle Chatfield, First Sea Lord in 1933-1938. What he wanted by admitting Germany in the Washington treaty, that the Kriegsmarine would be obliged to follow more precise standardised classification compared to Versailles, and discouraged “innovations” of the kind that led to the construction of the Deutschland class “pocket battleship”, something extremely dangerous for British trade. Chatfield was instrumental into starting by March 1932 and worked in the spring of 1933 to convince the staff and politicians about the “moral right to some relaxation of the treaty (of Versailles)”.

Reijiro Wakatsuki giving a speech at the London Naval Conference

In February 1932, the World Disarmament Conference started in Geneva and the German demand for Gleichberechtigung (“equality of armaments”) was put into balance against the French “Demande de sécurité” (“security”) about Part V of the Versailles treaty. The British tried to seek a compromise but enabling some leeway from Part V but to still to some limit not to threaten France. However these proposals were rejected by both. In September Germany eventually walked out of the conference. With the nazis close to power, Britain tried hard to convinced Germany back to Geneva by December and obtained from the general assembly a “theoretical equality of rights in a system which would provide security for all nations”. Germany agreed to return to the conference just before Hitler became Chancellor. More negociations would follow to determine the rearmament limits.
However when Germany restarted it’s U-Boat program in clear violation or art. V.

Part V of the Treaty of Versailles… is, for practical purposes, dead, and it would become a putrefying corpse which, if left unburied, would soon poison the political atmosphere of Europe. Moreover, if there is to be a funeral, it is clearly better to arrange it while Hitler is still in a mood to pay the undertakers for their services.

Later, it was still hoped as discussed in a secret meeting in December 1934 to choose to not let Germany rearm despite of treaties, once it was agreed not to wage war on Germany on this point alone, and continue to negociate for a return to the table of negociation to the disarmament negociation and United Nations. As negociations went on, this time after consuting Pierre Laval, France premier, the Hoouse of Commons made clear to be more worried about a German bombardment of London and oto negociate with Germany an air pact outlawing bombing. The acceptation prize was the naval card. It’s really the 21 May 1935 “peace speech” by Hitler in Berlin which formally offered to discuss a 35:100 naval ratio.

Joachim_von_Ribbentrop In June, Joachim von Ribbentrop went to London for the talks, held at the British Admiralty office, with Foreign Secretary Sir John Simon for the British delegation. After some arms twisting on Ribbentrop’s side, it was agreed that Germany would build up their tonnage levels to what Great Britain’s tonnage levels were in the various warship categories. The next weeks were used to fix technical issues.

It was finally completed and signed on the British side by Sir Samuel Hoare, Hitler being quite pleased in what he saw as a great success of diplomacy. Most in the Perliament thought it still maintained the naval supremavy of Britain above all else, and many also sensed that the Kriegsmarine would be more framed than ever by much more restricting regulations, leaving less room for cheating. In the end, naval experts believed the Kriegsmarine would reach this new tonnage limit by 1942 at best, and this was confirmed in the Plan Z schedule table. But this never happened, between labour shortage, many design and R&D issues, but overall budget priority given to the Luftwaffe and Wehrmacht above all else.

What is important in the end is that there was a hidden side to this agreement and Germany was willing to concede “one third of the Royal Navy except in cruisers, destroyers, and submarines”. Indeed the idea was only to abide to newly-found Washington limits in appearance only. For U-Boats, more were to be built, and for destroyers, larger ones than any British equivalents, the same would be reached for heavy cruisers, now the door was open to the Kriegsmarine. Iconically, unlike what happened to Washington’s signatories, Germany would have its heavy cruisers after the former.

That was a blessing in the sense they could start a design based on the lessons gained over time with all class that were built in France, Italy, Britain, the US and Japan since the 1920s.
Raeder was confident thus, to have “the world’s absolute best heavy cruiser” after two years: The treaty was signed in June 1935, a keel could be laid down at the end of the year and a first ship completed at the earnest in 1937. And the Kriegsmarine could legally acquire five of them: With 50,000 long tons (51,000 t) of heavy cruisers based on 10,000-ton unitary basis.

Therefore the new German cruisers of the Hipper class would just mockingly stick to the limits with indeed a “Washington” main (heavy) armament, but cramming as much secondary, torpedoes and AA guns as possible, but lying on tonnage by more than a safe margin:
At full load, in battle order, the Hipper, second sub-class (1940) were nearing 20,000 tons, so double the Washington’s treaty limits! Only the Des Moines Class in service by 1948 would met these. Despite of this, the armament, harder to conceal, stayed inside the limits. But between size and propulsion they incarnated a design meant to be the ultimate, long range commerce raiders, perfectly able to act with the future plan Z battleships.

KMS Admiral Hipper
KMS Admiral Hipper (Bundesarchiv)

Design Development

While prospective designs has been discussed and lossely sketched before 1935, Raeder and his staff discussed their options this summer of 1935. Russia on one hand announced its intention to produce 180 mm guns heavy cruisers, being a potential adversary and out of the Washington treaty. It was still maintained that France, not UK was the main foe and any new design could be compared to French standards. On this, the new propective “Schweren Kreuzer” (still unnamed at this point).

The new class needed to be at least equal to the French Algerie class design, or the Italian Zara class. The Hipper were in fact the first five Schwerer kreuzer of Plan Z. Altered, the group was split between the first two and later three sister-ships of the following “subclass” (often separated according to sources), Prinz Eugen. The latter was named in tribute to the defunct Austro-Hungarian fleet, and promoted as an “all austrian crew”. Seydlitz and Lützow were the last of them, but limited capacity meant they could only be Started in 1936-37, and were significantly larger and heavier.

Based on 1935 requirements and 1933-34 previous discussions, the final draft was ready, with a classic four twin 8-in (203mm) artillery, which was on the work since 1933, a capabiliy to act both for the battle fleet, and as commerce raider and have the protection level of the French cruiser Algerie. The best option for the machinery was to adopt a diesel-turbine system already proven on light cruisers. Also an emphasis was put on a strong dual purpose, antiaircraft and torpedo armament. The new C/34 guns tailored for the new class have quite a story, which is developed below in the armament section.

After the final plans were approved, both Admiral Hipper (Kreuzer H, or “Ersatz Hamburg” as she was replacing this old cruiser) and Blücher (“Kreuzer G”, or “Ersatz Berlin”) were ordered in November 1934, before even the official denunciation of Versailles or 1935 agreement, fiorbidding Germany to have cruisers with more than 150mm guns. KMS Prinz Eugen (“Kreuzer J”) was ordered in 1935, this tile on a revised design and new internal arrangement, much larger (and obviously cheating on tonnage already). KMS Seydlitz and Lützow (“Kreuzer K” and “Kreuzer L”) were like Prinz Eugen not even order to replace older cruisers, a semblance of legitimacy for the Bundestag to vote new ships. These later cruiser originally were planed as light cruisers with four triple 150mm turrets according to what was planned in USSR, but in 1937 this was revised and they obtained the same 8-in gun turrets. We will be back on these alternative designs and projects on the upcoming WW2 german cruiser’s main portal.

Upscaling and future Schwere Kreuzer

Yet still, German had amibitious plans for its next classes once Hitler abrogated the agreement in 1939, though with a width carefully restrained to fit the panama canal. Plan Z (which was formed in accordance to the 35% ratio) indeed included only these five heavy cruisers. The irony is that they were the only ones actually built (less the last two were never completed). No aircraft carrier was completed, only four of the ten battleships planned, no battlecruisers, only three of the fifteen “panzerschiffe” (the now older Deustchland class), and less than half the light cruisers, none of the 22 “scout cruisers” (spähkreuzer Type 1938), and so on.

So, what we know about future heavy cruisers of the Kriegsmarine ?
Despite the enthusiasm of some video games to create bogus classes, nothing was planned. The only cruisers that came close were “Panzerschiffe D” (laid down 14 February 1934, Work halted on 5 July 1934, broken up), and E (never built) or the twelve “P-class”. They were all a virtual repeat of the Deutschland based on a different armour scheme, same armament of two triple 28 cm guns, and alternated diesel and turbines engines. The whole P class was canceled on 27 July 1939 before any keel was laid down. They were be the object of dedicated articles in the future, probably 2024.

4×3 6-in alternative design for “Kreuzer K”

The “Roon” an alternative design for “Kreuzer K”

“Clausewitz” a prospective “Kreuzer M”, next class of Schwere Kreuzer for 1945+

So forget the “Mainz”, alternative “cruiser K” armed with triple 6-in guns developed on the basis of the Admiral Hipper-class, the “Roon” same idea, but looking like and upscaled Nurnberg, “Hindenburg” as a totally fictious follow-up with triple 8-in guns turrets, or “Clausewitz” and its 21 cm guns for commerce warfare. The “O” class (“siegfried”) was however a legitimate battlecruiser project, “ägir” being a variant, “Admiral Schröder” an alleged project of the 1920s with 305 mm guns (part of discussions leading to the Panzerschiffe).

Design of the class

KMS Admiral Hipper ONI recoignition plate
KMS Admiral Hipper, ONI recoignition plate

Hull and general design

Master files on navsrc

The Hull shape was brand new. Flush deck, unlike previous light cruisers, the general outlook was based on the Leipzig, with bulges and an internal belt providing longitudinal strength. The initial design called for a straight stem with an overall length of 202.8m, on Hipper and Blücher. But after trials, the same constatations were made as for the Schanhorst class: Admiral Hipper was the first to have her bow reconstructed as a clipper clipper one. Blücher was completed with one, and the remaining cruisers were all completed with a reconstructed stem.
The superstructures were closer in design to the capital ships than light cruisers; There was, in order from bow to stern, the base superstructure, going from “Bruno” turret’s barbette, to “Carl” aft. This first level ran all along the ship and had cutout amidships to allow the torpedo tubes and secondary gun to have enough traverse for a 200° arc of fire.

Next, the conning tower, just high enough to see above “Bruno” roof. It was englobed in a larger “blockhaus” which aft part supported the first telemeter station, with wings. This structure was three-storey tall and secondary guns telemeters were located on either side as well as light FLAK.
Next was the main bridge structure. It was composed of two parts, the base part was rectangular but much smaller or bulky than for light cruisers. It supported the main bridge tower, made of a “0” section, and running for five storeys. On the original Hipper, the main navigation bridge mid-way to the top was open. During later refits and reconstruction it was enclosed. There was no secondary “admiral” bridge.
The very top comprised sets of binoculars and signal lamps. Two more telemeters were located there, one at the foot of the bridge tower, another on top, which was the main Fire control station (see later). Wing towers were secondary AA telemeters were installed under their bulbous caracteristic protection cap. The foremast, which was shorter, sat atop a platform aft of the tower, closely attached to it.

Behind was located a unique, main funnel. Quite large, with a flat top (later a smoke-deviating slanted cap was constructed, which became standard on all). All truncated boiler pipes ended in it. The funnel relative to the ship’s lenght was not central but slightly forward of the exact center and amdiship. Then came the hangar and catapult for a single Arado reconnaissance monoplane (see later). There were the eight service boats, four liaison cutters abaft the funnel, two yawls on the structure, close to the hangar, two boats on davits abadt the main tower bridge. This was minus the numerous inflatable rafts provided.

Both the boats and flooatplane were served by two cranes on either side of the funnel’s rear section, on deck.
Then came the tripod mainmast, taller, supporting a platform for night projectors and later radar, plus all the wireless radio cables attached to the foremast.
And after this, the aft bridge structure, with utiliry and radio room immediately aft of the tripod and the aft blockhaus supporting the rear telemeters and secondary fire control system. The main deck as well as the superstructure deck and even the above structures were all wood-planked. Only the plating supporing the anchor chains betwen the capstans and anchors (supported on flanged niches close to the bow) were in reinforced metal.
The crew comprised 42 officers and 1,340 ratings, wartime additons of AA and electronics raised it to 51 officers and 1,548 sailors. The small vessels carried as standard were two motorized picket boats, two barges, one launch, one pinnace, and two dinghies.

Armour protection layout

Giving the fact these ships were intended to be at least as resilient as the French Algérie, considered as one of the best treaty cruisers (or the Zara class for that matter), it was well thought-of and balanced. Compared to even the latest German light cruiser (Nurnberg) it was way better and closer in general design to the Scharnhost class. For example there was a fully enclosed citadel.
For underwater protection, their hulls were all constructed from longitudinal steel frames, divided into fourteen watertight compartments.

There was a double bottom extending for 72 percent of the keel. There was also the usual sub-compartmentation system below the armor belt, leaving some leeway to get to the central engine compartments, also highly subdivided between turbines roomes and boilers rooms. But nothing revolutionary or quite capable to defeat one or two torpedo hit on places. They were still vulnerable. This was not a priority, as they were supposed to be used as commerce raiders with an artillery keeping them nominally out of range of destroyers. And they were supposedly too fast for submersibles. Protection overall was not impressive, making them rather “intermediate” and not armoured cruisers of some sorts.

Algerie and Zara were not either. Their protection level was not impressive in thickness, but more balanced. Algérie for example had a much thicker armoured Belt at 110 mm (4.3 in) and her decks had a more unequal balanced of 30 mm (1.2 in) to 80 mm (3.1 in) rather than two equal layers of 30 mm, it was on both cases superior. Her turrets were more weakly protected with just 100 mm (3.9 in) face, as the CT with 100 mm (3.9 in). The Zara came above with a 150 mm (5.9 in) belt, as the Turret faces, Barbettes and Conning tower. Certainly a better proposition. But the Hipper wente with years of advances in early electronics and had probably the best firing control systems and most accurate optics of the time, not counting a fierce AA. Being early 1930s designs, the Algérie and Zara were far from it.


Armoured belt 2.75m (9 ft) high, 80 mm (2.6 ft) thick, internal and raked at 12.5° outside on 70% of the length (between barbettes).
-Citadel bulkheads 80 mm (3.15 in) fore and aft.
-Forward of the belt, 3.85 m (12.6 ft) height, 40 mm (1.57 in) thick belt
-Aft belt (outer) 20 mm (0.7 in) thick, 2.75m high, 70 mm (2.7 in) thick
-70 mm aft transverse bulkhead.

Horizontal protection:

-30 mm (1.18 in) upper deck, 30 mm lower protective deck (main armor deck, waterline, under the citadel).
-50 mm (2 in) slopes for the main armor deck, connected with the lower edge of the main belt.

Turrets and Barbettes:

-Barbettes: 80 mm (3.15 in) thick walls all around
-Main turrets: 160 mm (6.3 in) faces, 105 mm (4 in) raking front plates, 80 mm raking sides, 70 mm roof, vertical sides.
-10.5 cm guns shielding: 10-15 mm (0.39 to 0.59 in).

Conning Towers & misc.

-The forward conning tower had 150 mm (5.9 in) walls, 50 mm (2.0 in) roof.
-The rear conning tower only had 30 mm sides and splinter protection, 20 mm (0.7 in) thick roof.
-The anti-aircraft fire directors only had splinter protection: 17 mm (0.67 in) shielding.

Blücher model at the Oscarborg Fortress near Oslo.

Powerplant & Performances

Powerplant differences between ships

Prinz Eugen Propeller
Prinz Eugen’s propeller as preserved.

As seen already with torpedo boats, the Kriegsmarine had trouble with its ultra-high-pressure boilers and its steam plants suffered from low reliability while not giving the intended output, significantly reducing endurance. This did not escaped the Hipper class, but at least various configuration were tested, notably to power the future Panzerschiff and battlecruisers of Plan Z.
-Admiral Hipper had La Mont boilers working at 80 atm coupled with Blohm und Voss turbine units.
-Blücher had Wagner boilers (with natural circulation) working at 70atm, and also Blohm und Voss turbines.
-Prinz Eugen had La Mont boilers (70atm) but Brown-Boveri turbines
-Seydlitz and Lützow had just nine Wagner boilers with forced circulation (working at 60atm) and Wagner-Deschimag turbine units.
This made for a pretty diverse pcture, which was intended in order to gather comparative data.
Each turbine drove a three-bladed screw 4.1 m (13 ft) in diameter.


These machinery were rated, more or less for a nominal 132,000 shaft horsepower (98,000 kW). This was not forced (the boilers were already superheated) and procured on paper a top speed of 32 knots (59 km/h; 37 mph) which was not stellar compared to other cruiser designs of the time, but well enough for their purposes. They can outrun any battleship and still engage any cruisers and destroyers.
Range and autonomy were of course the most important factirs of the design. For this, they carried 1,420 to 1,460 t (1,400 to 1,440 long tons; 1,570 to 1,610 short tons) of fuel oil as designed, but of course, provisions were made by using many ASW void compatments used for protection: They could be filled, as the double bottom, and ensure to double that fuigure to 3,050 to 3,250 t (3,000 to 3,200 long tons; 3,360 to 3,580 short tons). This resulted, for a cruising speed of 20 knots (37 km/h; 23 mph) of a comfortable range 6,800 nautical miles (12,600 km; 7,800 mi).
As a reminder, since were started comparing them with the Algérie and Zara, the first was capable of a radius 8,000 nmi (15,000 km; 9,200 mi) but at 15 knots (28 km/h; 17 mph), certainly down to 6,000 at 20 kts, and 4,850 to 5,400 nautical miles (8,980 to 10,000 km; 5,580 to 6,210 mi) for the Zara also at 16 knots, so probably 3,500 at 20 kts.

As for agility, Steering depending on a single rudder. They were regarded as good sea boats with gentle motion. At low speed wind and currents affected them greatly as a result of their tall superstructures that acted as sails. They also naturally bled speed when hard over at full regime, heeling up to 15 degrees, with 50% speed loss.

Auxiliary Power

Admiral Hipper and Blücher were provided three electricity plants, coupled to four MAN diesel generators and six turbo-generators each. These diesel generators supplied 150 kW each, and four of the six turbo-generators were rated for 460 kW, the last two 230 kW for a total output of 2900 kW. Prinz Eugen, Seydlitz, and Lützow had 150 kW diesel generators, four 460 kW turbo-generators, one 230 kW turbo-generator, one 150 kW AC generator and a total of 2870 kW. The electric current was setup at 220 volts. This was generous, and intended to power the numerous electrical systems aboard, including then the ships were “cold” at anchor in case of an air attack for example. This powered not only the turret’s mounts (part hydraulic), the AA mounts, lighting, fire control systems and telemeters traverse, and all the electronics aboard, with provisions for future radars, possibly more power-hungry.


For their size, these cruisers were not that impressive. Their battery was “standard”, as it was difficult to lie about, with a classic 4×2 main gun configuration. Given the way the Japanese lied however it could have been possible to create 210+ mm tubes, the difference was not that obvious, or to just gave them thicker tubes for a later re-boring. However this implied too many changes in the whole loading apparatus, which used mechanical process with little tolerance to avoid jamming. Instead, better accuracy and overall range and muzzle velocity were worked on. Ironically these guns were slightly BELOW the Washington limit. They were not 203mm stricly (8 inches) but the actual diameter was 7.992″. But the loose barrel used offered some leeway for future increase.
AA and torpedo armament was impressive and given the large size of the ship, fit to their tonnage. It was even increased a bit during WW2 (see below), but with caution for their stability.

Main: Eight 20.3 cm SK C/34

The three completed ships had the same battery of eight 20.3 cm SK C/34 guns, in four twin turrets, two superfiring pairs fore and aft.
Barrels: These guns had an interesting story. Design started in 1934 as soon as the Hipper class was approved. They were tested in 1935-37, but really delivered and installed in 1939. They were constructed of loose barrel with an an inner and outer jacket as well as a breech end-piece, screwed hot on to the outer jacket. They had a breech block supporting piece held by a threaded ring. What was important is that the loose barrel could be removed from the rear and fit any gun. They found their way in fortifications. The breech block was of the classic, horizontal sliding type, hydraulically operated.

Turrets: These were housed in Drh LC/34 turrets. The mounted enabled −10° in depression, 37° in elevation, max, which gave them a 33,540 m (110,040 ft) range.
Shells: These were the standard HE 122 kg (269 lb) with a muzzle velocity of 925 meters per second (3,030 ft/s). But also the range included an armor-piercing, a base-fuzed, nose-fuzed high-explosive (HE) warhead variant and another for AA purpose (AA 4a 265 lbs. or 120 kg).
There was a stock of 40 illumination rounds (103 kg – 227 lb for 700 m/s or 2,300 ft/s).
Provision varied between 960 and 1,280 rounds depending on the ships, which meant 120 to 160 rounds per gun.
Seydlitz’s turrets were eventually used as coastal artillery in the Atlantic Wall. When delivered to USSR, Lützow only had her two forward turrets.

Secondary: 10.5 cm/65 (4.1″) SK C/33

105 mm mount on the Prinz Eugen
105 mm mount on the Prinz Eugen
Although there had been discussions about providing them with six or eight single-mount, shielded 15 cm guns at early stage of the design in 1933, the naval staff eventually preferred a dedicated dual-purpose caliber. A wise decision in 1934.
These were the ubiquitous 10.5 cm/65 (4.1″) SK C/33 also found on the bismarck, Deutschland, Scharnhorst, and light cruisers of the kriegsmarine.
No less than twelve of these guns were installed, in six twin mountings. They were located on six positions along the structure, two forward on the wings of the battery deck, two on deck abaft the catapult, and two on wings of the aft structure, behind the tripod mainmast. Certainly among the best DP guns of their generation, but still inferior to the US 5-in/38.

Dimensional drawing of 10.5 cm/65 SK C/33 guns in Dopp. L. C/37 mounting. Sketch from “Unterrichtstafeln für Geschützkunde”.

Mounts: Dopp LC/31 type made for the 8.8 cm (3.5 in) SK C/31 originally.
-Triaxially stabilized (electrically) with a 80° elevation.
-Rate of fire/Barrel life: 18 rpm; 2,950 rounds
-Muzzle velocity: HE 2,952 fps (900 mps)
-Range: Ceiling of 12,500 m (41,000 ft), surface range 17,700 m (58,100 ft)
-Shells: Unitary type fixed HE/HE incendiary, 15.1 kg (33 lb).
-Provision: 4,800 rounds provided in all, including illumination shells.

Anti-Aicraft Armament

-For Close-range they had twelve 3.7 cm (1.5 in) SK C/30 guns, all in dual mounts (doppel) along the superstructures. In 1943-45 replaced when possible by the 3.7 cm KM42 and 3.7 cm KM43.
Rate of fire was circa around 30 rounds per minute with a maximum elevation of 85° procuring a ceiling of 6,800 m (22,300 ft). They were fed by 20-rounds magazines. They were shielded by light anti-spalling constructs.

Schematics of a 20mm SKC30 FLAK naval mount (single)
-They had eight 2 cm (0.79 in) Rheinmetall Flak 38 guns. Magazine-fed, they were automatic weapon in part inspired by the Swoss Oerlikon. They fired at up to 500 rounds per minute. They were fed by 40 magazines for a grand total of 16,000 rounds aboard, and some were tracers. More
Naturally this was epxanded during the war and on the Prinz Eugen class (see later).

Torpedo Tubes

G7a main plan. More schematics and full details here.
As befitting to their role of commerce raiders, they had had no less than twelve torpedo tubes, in four triple launchers on her main deck amidships.
For these, the cruisers carried twenty-four G7a torpedoes so twelve loaded in the tubes, and the same ready reload.
The G7a torpedo was the staple of the Kriegsmarine at the time, used on U-Boats and ships alike.
Specs: 300 kg (660 lb) warhead, three-speed settings (12,500 m/30 kn, 7,500 m/40 kn, 5,000 m/44 kn) thanks their 340 horsepower (250 kW) radial engine and figures were increased to 14,000, 8,000, 6,000 m at the speeds seen above.
KMS Admiral Hipper was also equipped to carry 96 EMC mines, contact types with a 300 kg explosive charge.

Fire Control Systems & Radars

This was generous, “battleship” size, with at first planned three main directors and four directors for the antiaircraft artillery.
Hipper was provided at completion with a FuMo 22 radar.
The secondary battery used the sophisticated stabilised HA fire control system.
In early 1942, Hipper received a FuMO 27 radar and FuMB 7 Timor ECM suite. In 1944, she received a FuMO 25 radar.

Prinz Eugen and her sisters were planned to have two FuMo27 radars. In February 1942, she obtained a new state of the art equipment, comprising the FuMO 26 radar, FuMB4 Sumatra, and FuMB 7 Timor ECM suites. In 1944, this was upgraded to the FuMO 25, FuMO 81 radars, FuMB3 Bali, and FuME 2 Wespe-G ECM suites, kept until she was captured in 1945. This was the most extensive and sophisticated electronics suite of any axis cruiser of WW2 and thus, under US custody this was examined in great detail. Some ideas were recycled in the early cold war electronic upgrades of destroyers and cruisers.

Onboard Floatplanes:

Arado 196 on Admiral Hipper.

As completed, Hipper, Blücher and Prinz Eugen were tailored to carry and operate three floatplanes, with a catapult (type to find) and a hangar below, large enough to accomodate two of them, wings folded side by side. The roof of this hangar was telescopic. According to navypedia, they carried 3 seaplanes defined as the He 60, He 114 and/or Ar196. The He 60 was a 1934 biplane, and might have been planned in the 1934 specifications.

However by the time Hipper was completed in 1939, it had been already replaced by its sucessor the He 114. However the latter had many issues, and the problem is that not many source states about its use but perhaps in 1939-40. In fact it is likely they were provided with Photos and most sources only shows as model: The infinitely superior Arado Ar 196. Another source is more specific and even states three Arado Ar-196A-3 (globsec).
Both the He 114 and Arado were produced and served in the Kriegsmarine, but the He 114 was entirely supreseded aboard ships by the Ardao 196. Both the He 60 and Arado 196 will be treated with their own dedicated posts. It should be added that several sources points out the Prinz Eugen class as being able to carry four floatplane, not three. First off, it would mean a larger hangar to accomodate all four wings folded in two pairs, but also the emphasis or air reconnaissance for commerce raiding activity, which was coherent with the practices of the time. Virtually all auxiliary merchant raiders of the Kriegsmarine had a floatplane onboard.

Arado 196 A3, 1/Borderflieger Gr.196, KMS Prinz Eugen spring 1941.
Arado 196 specs: Top speed: 11 x 12.4 x 4.45 m, 2,990 kg, BMW 132 radial 311 km/h (cruise 268 km/h), range 1,070 km

⚙ KMS Hipper specifications

Dimensions 202,80 x 21.30 x 7.20 m (665 ft 4 in x 69 ft 11 in x 24 ft)
Displacement 16,170 t (15,910 long tons) standard, 18,200 long tons FL
Crew 1,600
Propulsion 3 shafts Blohm & Voss turbines, 12 boilers*, 132,000 hp (98 MW)
Speed 32 knots (59 km/h; 37 mph)
Range 6,800 Nautical Miles (12,600 km; 7,800 mi) at 20 kn (37 km/h; 23 mph)
Armament 4x2x 20,3 cm, 6×2 10,5 mm, 6×2 37mm AA, 4×3 53,3 cm TTs, 2 floatplanes
Armor Belt: 85 mm (), Deck: 38 mm (), Turrets 162 mm, Conning tower: 152 mm ()
Electronics 2 main FCS, 2 AA FCS, 2 TTs FCS, FuMo 22 radar

Design Differences: The Prinz Eugen group

Master files on navsrc
Prinz Eugen was 199.5 m (655 ft) long at the waterline, 207.7 m (681 ft) overall as planned, but the addition of a clipper bow had her extended to 212.5 m (697 ft), making her the longest cruiser in Europe. Her beam was conservatively kept at 21.7 m (71 ft) still, with a draft of 6.6 m (22 ft) on standard displacement, up to 7.2 m fully loaded. KMS Seydlitz and Lützow reached were 210 m (690 ft) long overall, clipper included, meaning shorter than Prinz Eugen, with a beam however ported to 21.8 m (72 ft), and a draft of 6.9 m (23 ft) standard, 7.9 m (26 ft) fully loaded. Given the fact they were a bit tropweight, this beam augmentation was short-sighted and too timid.

ONI 204-48 depiction of Prinz Eugen
ONI 204-48 depiction of Prinz Eugen.

“Nominally”, in the register, the early ships (Hipper and Blücher) were within the 10,000-ton limit. But it is easy to lie on simple numbers. KMS Admiral Hipper and Blücher already were designed with a standard displacement of… 16,170 metric tons (that’s 15,910 long tons or 17,820 short tons) and with a full load displacement of 18,200 long tons (18,500 t), so nearly double the Washington treaty !. This made already the largest cruisers in the world. For memory, the USN came with the Baltimore design in 1942, and only reached 17 030 t. Fully Loaded.

Now there was KMS Prinz Eugen, which displacement increased to 16,970 t (16,700 long tons; 18,710 short tons) as designed standard, and this rose to 18,750 long tons and (19,050 t) fully loaded. On their side, KMS Seydlitz and Lützow reached a healthy 17,600 t (17,300 long tons; 19,400 short tons) as designed, standard and reached and 19,800 long tons (so 20,100 t) fully loaded. There would be no cruiser of that size before the Des Moines class, or the Alaska, but they were far from a Washington design.

Light armament differences and upgrades

Later light anti-aircraft batteries of Admiral Hipper and Prinz Eugen were altered with four 3.7 cm removed and up to twenty-eight 20 mm procured, partly with the new flakvierling mounts.
In 1944, Prinz Eugen’s remaining 3.7 cm guns were all replaced by fifteen 4 cm (1.6 in) Flak 28 guns (see below). In 1945, she had twenty 4 cm guns, eighteen 2 cm guns while Admiral Hipper had sixteen 4 cm guns, fourteen 2 cm guns.
Blücher being lost early on in the Norwegian campaign, Hipper was modified in the following way:
In 1940 she received two single 20mm/65 C/38 and in 1941 her first Flakvierling (4x 20mm/65 C/38). In early 1942 she received two extra single 20mm/65 and two more Flakvierling C/38, and later this year another Flakvierling. In 1943, a fifth was installed, and in 1944 she only carried two twin 37mm/80, three Flakvierling and eight single 20mm/65 when added six single 40mm/56 FlaK 28, and eight twin 20mm/65 C/38. This did not changed for 1945.

On her side, KMS Prinz Eugen had six twin 37mm/80 SK C/30, and ten single 20mm/65 C/38 AA guns plus two FuMo27 radars.
Later in 1941 she received four Flakvierling 20mm/65 C/38, and in early 1942 one more of these plus an extensive electronics upgrade in February. In 1944, she had two twin 37mm/80 and two quad 20mm/65 landed as well as the FuMB 7 Timor ECM suite and in place six 40mm/56 FlaK 28 installed. In 1945 this went further and she had four twin 37mm/80 and ten single 20mm/65 retired and in place twelve 40mm/56 FlaK 28 installed as well as a Flakvierling and two twin 20mm/65 C/38 mounts.

4 cm (1.6 in) Flak 28 guns

Norway being occupied, local Bofors gun stock (they were produced in Sweden) was captured. The Kriegsmarine thus operated those, designated “4 cm Flak 28” on the cruisers Admiral Hipper and Prinz Eugen, based on allied reports on the efficience of this weapon. From 1942, several E-boats were also equipped with the Flak 28 to fight allied MGBs and MTBs.

⚙ KMS Prinz Eugen specifications

Dimensions 212,50 m x 21,70 m x 7,20 m (697 ft 2 in x 71 ft 2 in x 24 ft)
Displacement 16,970 tons standard, 19,050 tons Fully Loaded ()
Speed 32 knots (59 km/h; 37 mph)
Armor Same but turret faces: 105 mm (4.1 in)
Crew 42 officers, 1240 ratings

General assessment of the class

Blücher in the Baltic, 1940, with her new bow and funnel cap

Both had very sophisticated gunnery control systems, sights, radars, a powerful anti-aircraft battery, but lacked range due to the lack of diesels for the revised commerce raiding duties. They had instead highly sophisticated and somewhat capricious high-pressure turbines creating constant mechanical problems in service. Their silhouette recalled the Scharnhorst battleships in reduction, but still at launch they were the most powerful cruisers in the world. Hipper saw her bow rebuilt in 1939 as her sister Blücher in the Atlantic clipper style, later directly implemented on Prinz Eugen.

It must be said by the loss of Blücher to the Oscarborg Fortress, an humiliation for the kriesgmarine, was partly due to the hidden “secret torpedoes”, and to the initial damaged cause by just two 28 cm hits. Despite their age, these guns were perfectly adequate given the short range. The upper superstructure of the cruiser were never able to cope with his caliber at any range, but the ASW protection held out for longer than expected after two torpedo hits, even of the old Whitehead models used were also antiquated and “only” 18-in in caliber. It’s the fire caused by the initial hit near the hangar that doomed the ship. It became soon uncontrollable and prevented in effect the crew to concentrate on the flooding instead. Examinations of the wreck more recently shown also the damage caused by 15cm guns on the hull’s side also, which in large part contributing to the flooding. The torpedo however buy destroying crucial bulkheads made that gradual flooding incontrollable at the end. Capsizing was inevitable.

Other examples showed in classic sea battle conditions the ships were adequate: Hipper’s conduct as a commerce raider was impeccable and she had quite some success. When combating a Colony and a Town class cruisers off Norway in 1942, she held her own perfectly well depsite having a considerably lesser rate of fire.
The last and best example was Prinz Eugen, which key moment was the her duel against Hood and Prince of Wales. She fired first and essentially is credited in part for the explosion of the hood. Historians still debates today over the exact nature “killer blow”. It seems now that the deck fire, even spreading below decks, was not the real culprit, but “one-million shot” rather to consider. A single shell entering via a weak point the insides and eventually reaching the ammo storage. Prinz Eugen also gave good account on herself when duelling with Prince of Wales. Due to the coulded, but still fine weather for this area in May, her fire control proved accurate.

The final assessment was given by the USN after recuperating KMS Prinz Eugen. As the lastest and best European Cruiser design, she was a price of choice, carefully monitored. The most striking piece of equipment that was studied in detail was of course the top end fire control systems, optics and radar of the ship. She had the best combination possible at the time, worthy of a battleship. Far less impressed they were however by her appealingly mediocre powerplant. They had to retain German engineers to work and maintain these until the Bikini test, and she was towed there.


KMS Hipper

KMS Prinz Eugen, both old author’s illustrations. New ones waiting.

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Hipper in completion at Blohm & Voss, Hamburg, 1939
Hipper in completion at Blohm & Voss, Hamburg, 1939.


Binder, Frank & Schlünz, Hans Hermann (2001). Schwerer Kreuzer Blücher. Koehlers Verlagsgesellschaft.
Gardiner, Robert; Chesneau, Roger (eds.). Conway’s All the World’s Fighting Ships 1922–1946.
Campbell, John (1985). Naval Weapons of World War II. London: Conway Maritime Press.
Gröner, Erich (1990). German Warships: 1815–1945. Vol. I: Major Surface Vessels. NIP
Koop, Gerhard & Schmolke, Klaus-Peter (2014). Schweren Kreuzer der Admiral Hipper-Klasse. Seaforth Publishing.
Maiolo, Joseph (1998). The Royal Navy and Nazi Germany, 1933–39 A Study in Appeasement and the Origins of the Second World War
Philbin, Tobias R. (1994). The Lure of Neptune: German-Soviet Naval Collaboration and Ambitions, 1919–1941.
Rohwer, Jürgen & Monakov, Mikhail S. (2001). Stalin’s Ocean-Going Fleet: Soviet Naval Strategy and Shipbuilding Programmes, 1935–1953.
Williamson, Gordon (2003). German Heavy Cruisers 1939–1945. Oxford: Osprey Publishing.
Whitley, M. J. (1987). German Cruisers of World War Two. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press.


ONI – Blücher
totallyhistory.com the-anglo-german-naval-agreement/
Same, download link
de.wikipedia.org Admiral-Hipper-Klasse
On navypedia.org/
On worldnavalships.com
On world-war.co.uk/
on globalsecurity.org
On german-navy.de
Prinz Eugen de.wikipedia.org
commons.wikimedia.org photos


Hipper on Dark Seas channel
The hipper class by Drachinfels

Model Kits

WW2 german ships always had been popular. Although less “bankable” as the ubiquitous Bismarck, Scharnhorst or Deustchland class, the Hipper clas received plenty of coverage:
Main query on scalemates
The larger kits, 1:200, were covered by GMP. Trumpeter made its 1:350, Heller its 1:400, Airfix its 1:600, and a cohort of 1:700 followed, of Hipper, Blucher, and Prinz Eugen. For fanatics of scratchbuilt and hyper detail, The Scale Shipyard made an 1:100* (see the page) and Fleetscale a 1:128 hull. *A 83 inches () monster of a hull, 500$ alone, and kits containing the 8″ TURRET SETs with range finder hoods, periscopes, rear vents, 8 8″ barrels and 4 barbettes or the DIRECTORS: 4 Anit aircraft directors, ball type, 2 main battery directors (main top, and aft). The rest is done by scratchbuilt.
Modeller’s books:
-Die Schweren Kreuzer der Admiral Hipper-Klasse Admiral Hipper – Blücher – Prinz Eugen – Seydlitz – Lützow (Gerhard Koop, Klaus-Peter Schmolke) Hardcover 243 pages 1992
-Niemieckie krążowniki typu Admiral Hipper (Andrzej Perepeczko) Nr. 35 64 pages by AJ-Press.

The Hipper class in action

Kriegsmarine KMS Hipper

Admiral Hipper in completion at Hamburg in 1938
Admiral Hipper in completion at Hamburg in 1938.

Admiral Hipper was completed (and commissioned) on 29 April 1939, in presence of Kriegsmarine CinC, Großadmiral Erich Raeder. He has personal connections with the name, as the former Franz von Hipper’s chief of staff in WWI. He thus gave during the launch on 6 February 1937 a christening speech, his wife Erika performing it. She had a straight stem by then and no funnel cap.
Her first captain was Hellmuth Heye. In April 1939, Admiral Hipper started her initial training in the Baltic and stopped in various Baltic ports notably in Estonia and Sweden during her shakedown cruise. By August 1939, after being back for post-fixes and crew’s leave, she returned to the Baltic this fire for her first live fire drills. In September 1939, she was still performing gunnery trials when reassigned to patrol the Baltic and back to training. In November she was howeve prepared for war in Blohm & Voss dockyard, having her new clipper bow and funnel cap installed.

Hipper Training in the Baltic in late 1939
Hipper Training in the Baltic in late 1939

She returned in January 1940 for sea trials and more training, marred by icing. On 17 February the Kriegsmarine estimated she was now “fully operational”. The 18th, she started her first major wartime patrol as part of Operation Nordmark with Scharnhorst and Gneisenau and the destroyers Karl Galster and Wilhelm Heidkamp, going off Bergen in Norway under command of Admiral Wilhelm Marschall, truing to intercept British merchant shipping.

Operation Weserübung

Hipper taking aboard the Birgsjäger (Mountain troops) and their gear in Cuxhaven, on 6 April 1940

The landing

Back from the North Sea sortie she was reassigned to the invasion of Norway force, assigned as flagship, Group 2 with a escorts the german destroyers Paul Jakobi, Theodor Riedel, Friedrich Eckoldt, and Bruno Heinemann. Captain Heye had overall command of Group 2 and all ships carried a human load, 1,700 Wehrmacht mountain troops tasked to seize Trondheim. They loaded troops and equipments in Cuxhaven, sailed to the Schillig roadstead off Wilhelmshaven and met Group 1 (Scharnhorst-Gneisenau and ten destroyers) covering both Groups against any British intervention. They proceeded in the night of 6–7 April to arrive at dawn.

While off the Norwegian coast, Hipper was ordered to locate the destroyer Bernd von Arnim, which had disappeared from view in the mist. One was spotted by the British destroyer HMS Glowworm and duelled, captain Bernd von Arnim requested assistance from Admiral Hipper. When she arrived, Glowworm misidentified her as firendly, which was fatal, as the cruiser left her little chance to escape, opening a withering fire. Glowworm attempted to flee but was not fast enough to dodge more hits, but managed to evade Hipper’s torpedoes, while returning a hit on Hipper’s starboard bow. One hit on the destroyer jammed her rudder and put her in a collision course with Hipper…

HMS Gloworm
HMS Gloworm
Against HMS Gloworm: Top, about to cut her way, laying smoke, bottom, in flames.

The destroyer banged her hull and severed a 40-meter (130 ft) section or the starboard armored belt and destroy her starboard torpedo launcher, with some flooding causing a 4° list. On her side, Glowworm had her boilers exploding due to the schock, broke and sank quickly with 40 survivors picked up. Back to Trondheim Hipper was informed the destroyer sent a message to the admiralty, and the latter soon scrambled the battlecruiser Renown to intercept them. In between, the “terrible sisters” broke off contact.

Hipper one her side lost one of her Arado seaplanes. It had to land in Eide, Norway, on 8 April after running out of fuel, tried to purchase some from locals before the latter captured the crew, handed over to the Police. The plane was soon integrated into the small Norwegian Navy Air Service and later evacuated to Britain.

While off Trondheim, Hipper activated a fake recoignition pattern, passing for a British warship. This worked enough for her to pass the Fortifications at the entrance and entering the harbor, docking before 05:30, landing mountain troops as planned. The latter soon seized control of the coastal batteries so Hipper left the port and sailed for Germany escorted by Friedrich Eckoldt, arriving in Wilhelmshaven on 12 April. There, she was drydock for repairs, completed in just two weeks. She was needed for more missions.

Operation Juno

Commander Marschall organized the seizure of Harstad in Northern Norway as a strategic British Base was located there, that can interfere with Kriegsmarine operations and full occupation of the country. It was planned to take place in early June 1940 and again, Admiral Hipper, Scharnhorst and Gneisenau were prepared for the operations and assigned four destroyers. Departing from Kiel on 4 June, they refueled from Dithmarschen. They plan to arrive on the 9th, but on the 8th, new order came as a reconnaissance plane reported the harbor was empty. Meanwhile the fleet detected highly increased convoy radio transmissions and concluded to an evacuation, so Marschall decided to intercept the convoy instead.

Search for the convoy in foul weather was done with difficulties. At some point, the tanker Oil Pioneer was spotted at 06:45 on 8 June, escorted by the armed trawler HMT Juniper. Hipper made short work of her, while Gneisenau sank the tanker. At 10:52, Hipper spotted and sank the empty troopship Orama. With all her Arado 196 in the air, still the fleet could ot locate the bulk of the convoy. At 13:00, Marschall decided to split his force, Admiral Hipper and the destroyers being sent to Trondheim whereas the two battleships would refuel from Dithmarschen and proceed the operation.

On 10 June, Hipper and Gneisenau left Trondheim with the four destroyers, trying to spot more evacuating convoys but failed to locate any. On 13 June, they were attacked by British Bombers (likely Blenheims) and Hipper’s AA gunners shot their first. On 25 July, Hipper sailed for her first “free commerce raiding patrol” between Spitzbergen and Tromsø, until 9 August. Her only prize was the Finnish freighter Ester Thorden which by luck had 1.75 t (1.72 long tons; 1.93 short tons) of gold from the Norwegian reserves.

Operation Herbstreise

Admiral Hipper left Norway on 5 August to be overhauled in Wilhelmshaven until 9 September, and having a new captain, KzS Wilhelm Meisel. It was planned to use her for Operation Sea Lion. She would play a diversionary foray into the North Sea called Operation Herbstreise, trying to lure out the British Home Fleet away during the German crossing of the English Channel. With Seelöwe postponed on 24 September, Hipper keft Wilhelmshaven on a similar comerce raiding mission but soon ran into machinery issues, her engine oil feed system caught fire and damage was sever enough to cause a suhutting down of her propulsion. Once the fire extinguished, she stayed several hours dead on the open sea, but luck would have no British reconnaissance located her. She was repaired in Blohm & Voss shipyard in Hamburg for a week.

Operation Nordseetour

She sailed for a second attempt, Operation Nordseetour, on 30 November. Crossing the Denmark Strait undetected on 6 December she eventually spotted and fell on convoy WS 5A, 20 troopships lightly escorted, on 24 December, located some 700 nautical miles west of Cape Finisterre, France, as part of Operation Excess (a serie of Mediteranean supply missions). The escort however was sizeable, with the aircraft carriers Furious and Argus, the cruisers Berwick, Bonaventure, Dunedin plus six destroyers. Hipper’s captain was cautious failed to initially spot the escor and so directly preyed on the convoy, badly damaging the 13,994-long-ton (14,219 t) Empire Trooper and another trropship before her lookouts spotted Berwick and destroyers rushing on her position. Hipper’s captain order to turn back, and to fire to keep her pursuiers at a distance.

Ten minutes after however, HMS Berwick reappeared off her port bow and opened fire. Berwirck and Hipper exchanged volleys, the latter from her “Anton” and “Bruno” turrets only and hit the lightly protected rear turrets as well as her waterline, causing flooding and devastating her forward superstructure, after which she disengaged. Captain Maiseil main preoccupation indeed was to avoid the destroyer closing enough to launch a torpedo attack. He was also informed he was running low on fuel. His only snesible option was to rush for Brest, occupied France on 27 December. While underway he spotted the 6,078 GRT passenger ship Jumna, promptly sank. After maintenance in Brest, she was prepared for another sortie from a far better position to attack the Atlantic convoy routes.

Second Atlantic Convoy sortie

On 1 February 1941, Admiral Hipper departed, joined by the battleships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau initially, but Gneisenau was delayed after storm damage in December. Anyway, bith sisters were reunited and launched their own raid by early February while Admiral Hipper proceeded alone, making a rendezvous with a pre-posted tanker off the Azores to refuel, while learning Force H just left Gibraltar for an escort deep in the Mediterranean. Captain Meisel now new convoys between the UK and West Africa would be less protected, and decided prioritize this shipping lane.
On 11 February, she spotted and sank an isolated transport (convoy HG 53) previously dispersed by a combined U-boat/Luftwaffe attack, proving also to Dönitz this tactic was very efficient.
The evening of the 11th saw Hipper spotting at last the unescorted convoy SLS 64 (19 merchant ships).
Her decided to shadown the convoy until the early hours, and arrived like a fox in a chicken coop, closed in to achieve the most efficient fire, sinking several ships and damaging others in quick succession. The damaged one survived, the the British later reporting 7 ships lost (32,806 long tons) 2 more damaged, whikle German propaganda based on Hipper’s report, claimed 13 of 19, survivors on their part reporting 14. At some poing she went close enough to fire all her 12 torpedoes, claiming all hit. In any way, this was a severe blow for the British and a confirmation to Erich Raeder that this raiding actions sould take priority over all else.

Hipper’s fuel running low she was forced to return to Brest on 15 February and shile drydocked in a small dock when moving she damaged her starboard screw, on uncharted wreckage. One new spare bronze screw propeller had to be transferred from Kiel, causing much delay, during which other convoys proceeded unhampered while Brest was frequently visited by the RAF. She was attacked by British bombers causing little damage but this was enough for the high command to decided to repatriate her back home.

Hipper’s escape from Brest and refits (March 1941-March 1942)

On 15 March, by night, the cruiser sailed unobserved and proceeded to a rendezvous point, south of Greenland, with the tanker Thorn. The refueling went on until 21 March, the cruiser delaying her departure due to the fould weather. Meanwhile Admiral Scheer was also returning from a raid and it was decided to delay her breakout via the Denmark Strait before 28 March (Scheer was to pass there). She proceeded on 24 March, refuelled in Bergen and arrived in Kiel on the 28th, making good her escape.
She entered the Deutsche Werke shipyard for an her lagrest wartime overhaul lasting for seven months during which she received new radars and AA. After sea trials in the Baltic and post-fixes in Gotenhafen on 21 December she was examined and issues were found with her powerplant, quite serious. So by January 1942, she was gutted to have her steam turbines overhauled at Blohm & Voss shipyard. On this occasion she also receiced a degaussing coil to mitigate the issue of magnetoc mines the British used (as the Germans). In March 1942 she was declared at last fully operational, after almost a year of inactivity, during which the convoy situation changed drastically. The US were now at war with Germany and the US fleet provided a more active coverage of the Atlantic. Bismarck had been sunk in May 1941 and last raids had been mostly unsuccessful. The time of Atlantic raids were over, Raeder was stepping back, Dönitz was stepping in.

Norwegian Raids

Under pressure to find some use for his surface fleet, Hitler was at some point keen on scrapping, Raeder convinced him to post his remainder forces in Norway, from which these ships can prey both on the artcic convoys to Russia and northern Atlantic Convoys. The ships would have the protection of deep, long fjords in which an extensive AA could be setup as well as better air protection.
On 19 March 1942, Admiral Hipper thus departed for Trondheim with destroyers Z24, Z26, and Z30, torpedo boats T15, T16, and T17. British submarines patrolling the area failed to located them. The force arrived on 21 March, joined sister ship Prinz Eugen and KMS Lützow (The Deutschland class ship, not the incompleted cruiser). Prinz Eugen however soon returned to Germany for repairs her torpedo damage.

Operation Rösselsprung
On 3 July 1943, Hipper joined Lützow, Scheer and Tirpitz for an attack on convoy PQ 17 escorted by HMS Duke of York and USS Washington, covered by the armoured aircraft carrier HMS Victorious. Hipper, Tirpitz, and six destroyers went alone from Trondheim while Lützow, Admiral Scheer, and six destroyers went from Narvik, but soon the former and three destroyers struck uncharted rocks and went back for repairs.
Swedish intelligence reported German departures to the British Admiralty, ordering the convoy to disperse, quite a blunder, as it delivered them to U-Boats. Aware of their detection, the Germans folded down. Nevertheless, both the Wolfpacks and Luftwaffe would make a carnage with 21 of 34 vessels sent to the bottom.

Operation Doppelschlag
Admiral Hipper joined Admiral Scheer and Köln in the Altafjord for a raid planned to start after the 10 September. Underway, they were spotted and torpoedoed (but missed) by HMS Tigris. The operation was aborted as Hitler feared more losses to hiw dwindling down surface fleet.

Operation Zarin:
For the first and only time, Hipper would make good use of her mine laying rails and equipments: She departed to lay a minefield on 24–28 September, off the north-west coast of Novaya Zemlya, right into the path of arctic convoys. She was escorted for this mission by the destroyers Z23, Z28, Z29, and Z30. With this field, the hop was to funnel merchant traffic further south in reach of the Luftwaffe and ships based in Norway. Back in Altafjord, she departed again for Bogen Bay, near Narvik, to be repaired, notably overhauling her sensitive propulsion system.
On 28–29 October, Hipper and the DDs Friedrich Eckoldt and Richard Beitzen retruend to the Altafjord in the north. From 5 November, Hipper and the 5th Destroyer Flotilla (Z27, Z30, Richard Beitzen, Friedrich Eckold) tried to located a convoy making his way in the Arctic under command of Vizeadmiral Oskar Kummetz. On 7 November her Arado Ar 196 floatplane at last located the 8,052 t Soviet tanker Donbass escorted by the small BO-78. The destroyer Z27 was sent in interception course and sank both. This was the only success of this raid as soon the ships ran out of fuel.

Battle of the Barents Sea

Hipper would soon be put to her greatest test. In December 1942, Arctic convoys, after too many losses, resumed at last. Großadmiral Raeder prepared Operation Regenbogen, a last-ditch massive attack on the convoys, with all forces available. JW 51A arrived in Murmansk without incident, but JW 51B was spotted by U-354 south of Bear Island. Raeder ordered a sortie. Hipper was again Kummetz’s flagship and she was accompanied by the Panzerschiff Lützow, destroyers Friederich Eckoldt, Richard Beitzen, Theodor Riedel, Z29, Z30, and Z31 of Altafjord. Leaving at 18:00 on 30 December, Kummetz had to jaudge the encountered escort and not taking too much risk.

He soon came with the idea of splitting his forces with Admiral Hipper and three destroyers north of the convoy, attacking first and luring away escorts while Lützow and the remaining three destroyers would attack later from the south, the undefended convoy. A “by-the-book” pincer. At 09:15, 31 December, the destroyer HMS Obdurate spotted Hipper’s group destroyers and the latter fired first. Four more destroyers rushed, HMS Achates staying behind to lay a smoke screen and cover the convoy. Hipper fired at Achates and eventually forced her after many hits down to 15 knots while Kummetz withdrawn northwards to draw the destroyers away, commander Robert Sherbrooke deciding to leave two destroyers by precaution. Four were now in hot pursuit.

Meanwhile Force R (RADM Robert Burnett) with the “colony” class cruisers HMS Sheffield and Jamaica all this time in distant support raced to engage Admiral Hipper, which at the time was posrt-firing on HMS Obedient. The cruisers approached by her starboard side, making full surprise and raining salvoes of 6-in in quick succession in Hipper, hit three times right away, and taking more. Eventually her propulsion system was damaged, her No. 3 boiler got seawater pollution, and the while outer starboard turbine engine was shut down, making her falling to 23 knots. She also had her aircraft hangar devastated. After a single response salvo she turned towards them under destroyer’s smoke.

Emerging from it, she engaged Burnett’s cruisers and was hit in return. Uncertain however of the rest of British defense, Kummetz decided to break off at 10:37, retiring westwars back to Norway. In the mayhem, one of her escorting destroyer, KMS Friederich Eckoldt mistook HMS Sheffield for Admiral Hipper, and it was too late when she recoignised her. She was sunk at point-blank range.
Lützow on her side followed the plan and arrived 3 nmi (5.6 km; 3.5 mi) of the convoy in poor visibility, not opening fire until Kummetz’s orders were recieved, so she turned west to join Admiral Hippern still crawling at 23 knots at this point. But while doing so, Lützow soon spotted Sheffield and Jamaica in hot pursuit, and after a correct identification open fire. With six 28 cm guns against the british twenty-four 6-in (fire thrice as fast) that would be an interesting match. Both British cruisers turned toward Lützow whereas Hipper, drawn by the light of volleys, closed in and opend fire in turn. On the British side, the odds were turning ugly. Hipper accurate and faster fire damaged Sheffield, but Burnett had the sense of escapting, which they did helped by the fog.

Hipper underway off Poland in December 1944
Hipper underway off Poland in December 1944

Based on the framing order to avoid action with an equal force (which was not the case here), and due to poor visibility plus the damage on Hipper, Kummetz weighted his options and eventually decided to abort and come back to Norway. HMS Achates, previous rampaged by Hipper would never make it home. The minesweeper HMS Bramble was also sunk and HMS Onslow, Obedient, and Obdurate badly damaged, but this was a tactical sucess for the Royal Navy which allowed the Convoy to proceed unmolested. Hitler was furious and again reitared his order to scrap the surface fleet. Admiral Karl Dönitz was soon appointed as Raeder’s successor at the head of the Kriegsmarine and presuaded Hitler to keep the surface fleet for more actions in Norway. Hipper had emergency repairs in Altafjord, then in Bogen Bay (23 January 1943) and she returned to Germany for more with Köln and Richard Beitzen via Narvik (25th), Trondheim (30th) while searching underway for Norwegian blockade runners in the Skagerrak. She was in Kiel on 8 February and decommissioned on 28 February after Hitler’s decree.

A sad end for the lead ship

Admiral Hipper in Kiel’s dry dock on 19 May 1945 under camouflage netting, she had been heavily damaged by bombers previously. Color photos from allied troops discovering Hipper in Germaniawerft shipyard, July 1945 also showing her tower bridge
While decommissioned, repairs proceeded. In April she was moved to Pillau (Baltic), out of the reach of Allied bombers. Delkays accumulated due to the lack of adequate facilities, shortage labour and materials. In 1944 she was moved to Gotenhafen with plans to recommission her to be used against Soviet forces progressing to the Baltic. Hipper’s sea trials lasted for five months, wshowing accumulating problems with her powerplant. In between she received a new AA and radars, but failed to reach operational status. The Soviet army dediced of her ultimate fate: Her crew was drafted to reinforce Gotenhafen’s defenses. The Royal Air Force laid a minefield blockading the port, condemning the cruiser to stay there.
The fall of 1944 saw the cruiser inactivated again for another three months until it was decided to move her away from the advancing Soviet forces, crawling miserably with her single working turbine left.

On 29 January 1945, she left Gotenhafen with 1,377 refugees aboard and received underway a distress call from Wilhelm Gustloff (the worst civilian sinking since Titanic), but the cruiser did not divert to stop, rightly fearing Soviet submarines in the vicinity. She arrived in Kiel on 2 February, interned in Germaniawerft shipyard for a refitting that would never end. On 3 May, she was severely damaged by a RAF raid. Her crew eventually was compelled to scuttle her at her moorings at 04:25 the same day. In July 1945 she was raised, towed to Heikendorfer Bay and broken up during 1948–1952. Her bell was showcased at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich and was returned to Germany, Laboe Naval Memorial, Kiel.

Kriegsmarine KMS Blücher

KMS Blücher’s launch in 1937
KMS Blücher was built in Deutsche Werke shipyard in Kiel under construction number 246 and completed/commissioned on 20 September 1939 with and was in fitting out until the end of November, starting sea trials to Gotenhafen, until mid-December. She was back to Kiel for post-trials fixes, and from January 1940, resumed her exercises in the Baltic until blocked by icing. On 5 April, the Kriegsmarine esteemed her “fully operational”, and she was assigned to invasion of Norway fleet.

Operation Weserübung

Blücher proceeding to Norway seen from the cruiser Emden
On 5 April 1940, Konteradmiral Oskar Kummetz came aboardwhile in Swinemünde and soon the 800 men of the 163rd Infantry Division boarded. On the 8th, KMS Blücher left for Norway as flagship, Oslo Force, or “Group 5”. Nobody knew at the time this was to be her first and last war mission. She was acompanied by the Panzerschiff Lützow, light cruiser Emden, and escorts. They were spotted through the Skagerrak by HMS Triton which launched a spread of torpedoes, evaded.

The German flotilla approached Oslofjord by night. At 23:00 the Norwegian patrol boat Pol III spotted them, and sent a message. She was quickly engaged ad sunk by the German torpedo boat Albatros. The radio report scrambled all Norwegian defences. At 23:30 south battery on Rauøy spotted the ships in turn, turned on it its large searchlight and fired two warning shots. Five minutes later Rauøy fired four rounds over foggy waters and missed. It should be said that these guns were mostly obsolete. The next Bolærne fired a warning shot at 23:32 but Blücher was soon out of range.

The flotilla was running at 12 knots (22 km/h; 14 mph) due to the fog. The Norwegian Commanding Admiral passed to order to shut all lighthouses and navigation lights over the local radio (Norsk rikskringkasting) while the German flotilla had orders not to engage the forts first but if engaged. Between 00:30 and 02:00 the flotilla stopped to transfer 150 infantrymen to the escorting R-Boote R17 and R21 from Emden and R18 and R19 from Blücher to take the forts by force. This led to the Battle of Drøbak Sound:

Battle of Drøbak Sound

oscarborg - Fort kaholmen
The R boats landing party attacked first Rauøy, then Bolærne and before proceeding to Horten. All surprise now lost, Blücher nevertheless proceeded further to reach Oslo by dawn. At 04:20, Norwegian searchlights illuminated the cruiser at 04:21. This was a defining moment: The old 28 cm (11 in) Krupp guns of Oscarsborg Fortress fired at point-blank range. They scored two hits on the cruiser’s port side, in the battle station (killing the AA guns commander) and knocked the main range finder, although the cruiser fell on its four backups and prepared firing. The hit hit close to the aircraft hangar, starting a bonfire which soon detonated explosives stockpiles for the infantry and lighting the ship up. The two Arado seaplanes burnt as well as the one on the catapult. Historians later revealed she had a hole in the armored deck, over turbine room 1, causing the latter to stop as well as the third generator. After two shots, the ship had an incontrollable fire and just 2/3 of her power.

Due to the fact they were the only light source in the area, spotters were unable to trace back the source of the gunfire. As request by the captain, a speed of 32 knots was ordered, and soon the 15 cm (5.9 in) guns of Drøbak on her startboard at 400 yd fired as well. Soon Blücher was also engaged by Kopås and Hovedbatteriet, and the Kaholmen fort. The Kopås battery soon ennaged Lützow in turn and hit her several times. First engineer Karl Thannemann reported Drøbak’s hits on starboard entered the cruiser’s flank over 75 m (246 ft) amidships between B and C-turret. Soon the bridge steering was disabled. While off Drøbakgrunnen the cruiser started to turn to port to try to evade fire, using the side shafts while loosing speed. At 04:34 two torpedoes from a concealed part of Oscarsborg fortress scored hits in turn. From then on there was no hope for the cruiser.

According to Kummetz’s report, one torpedo hit Boiler Room 2 under the funnel, the second Turbine Room 2/3. At this point the ship only had one boiler left, but all steam pipes were damaged and she lost power in turn so that by 04:34, the cruiser managed to pass through the firing zone, with only the Kopås battery still within range. Birger Eriksen the commander however never ordered to continue fire.
The ASW compartimentation played its role to an extent and Blücher managed to stay afloat but listing to 18°, while still crawling to a few knots. The whole crew was comitted to save their ship and combat fire. When the firce fire reached one 10.5 cm ammunition magazine close to turbine room 1-room 2/3, there was a considerable deflagration. Bulkheads were reuptured, the fuel stores were pierced and started to ignite in turn, and the list became uncontrollable. The cruiser started to capsize, order to abandon immediately followed. But it was too late for most of the crew trapped inside the ship. She rolled over and sank at 07:30 with most men aboard. The number of casualty given is ranging between 600 and 1,000 at the most, down to 125 seamen and 195 soldiers.

Between the loss of Blücher and heavy damage to Lützow the German force withdrawned. Ground troops on the eastern bank proceeded inland, captured the Oscarborg Fortress at 09:00 then moved on the capital. Airborne troops captured Fornebu Airport and by 14:00, 10 April the city-was german-controlled. But due to the battle at sea, the Norwegian government and royal family managed to escape to Britain.

Blücher capsizing

Today, Blücher is still at the bottom of the deep Drøbak Narrows under 64 metres, south-east of Askholmen holms. Her screws were salvaged in 1953 but no proposition to raide her was ever accepted. The problem was she still had a large quantity (94,000 cu) of oil still on board and leaked it constranty, making for an ecologic hazard. In 1991 the leakage increased to much with the rusted away tanks, that the Norwegian government decided to remove as much oil as possible with the help of petrol company Rockwater AS using deep sea divers. They managed to remove 1,000 t of oil but could not reach still 47 fuel bunkers. Her two Arado 196 aircraft, although badly burnt were also recuperated, now on display after restoration at the Flyhistorisk Museum near Stavanger. The wreck was made officially a war memorial on 16 June 2016 to discourage looting.

Kriegsmarine KMS Prinz Eugen

Prinz Eugen’s launch – Bundesarchiv
KMS Prinz Eugen was built at Germaniawerft shipyard, Kiel, laid down on 23 April 1936 as hull number 564, “Kreuzer J”. Her initial name was “Wilhelm von Tegetthoff” to commemorate the Battle of Lissa and to concile the good will of Austria, but it was seen at the time as an insult to Italy, and not to hamper relations with mussolini the more neutral “Prinz Eugen” was chosen, this time to please Hungary and commemorate the imperial KuK Kriegsmarine. The name was a hommage to Prince Eugene of Savoy, an illustrious 18th-century general in the service of Austria.

She was launched on 22 August 1938 and Ostmark Governor Arthur Seyss-Inquart made the christening speech, with in attendance the Regent of Hungary Admiral Miklós Horthy, which commanded SMS Prinz Eugen in WWI and his wife Magdolna Purgly which broken the traditional bottle. She had a straight stem corrected in completion by a clipper bow and raked funnel cap. The was the last cruise of the class to be built with this bow. The next Seydlitz and Lützow would have a clipper bow from the start.

A Royal Air Force attack on Kiel had her damaged while in completion in the night of 1st July 1940. After a delay she was commissioned on 1 August 1940 and spent the remainder of the year in Baltic sea trials, then in Jan-Feb. 1941, she started gunnery training. After post-fixes in dry dock and some improvements by April she joined the freshly completed and commissioned KMS Bismarck for joint maneuvers in the Baltic, both being selected for Operation Rheinübung.

However on 23 April, while off Fehmarn Belt off Kiel she hit a magnetic which damaged her fuel tank, propeller shaft couplings but also fire control and so the operation had to be postponed for repairs. Admirals Erich Raeder and Günther Lütjens also wanted to delay further to have Scharnhorst (also repaired) part of it, or even Tirpitz, to get a sizeable core. That certainly have changed completely the course of the events. However Raeder and Lütjens urged for a new surface action in the Atlantic, with Hitler breething hard behind them. At the time, Prinz Eugen was under command of Kapitän zur See Helmuth Brinkmann from August 1940.

Operation Rheinübung

On May 18, 1941, Prinz Eugen and Bismarck, left Gdingen (Gotenhafen), proceeding to the Skagerrak. British reconnaissance spotted them on their way. This part has been covered already with the Bismarck’s post, so we will focus here on Prinz Eugen alone.
On 23 May, Lütjens ordered Prinz Eugen to increase speed to 27 knots for the Denmark Strait dash, with the FuMO radar set at max power. Bismarck led Prinz Eugen from 700 m in the mist, but ice forced them to 24 knots and they ended north of Iceland, zigzaging between ice floes. At 19:22, hydrophone and radar operators spotted HMS Suffolk from 12,500 m and Prinz Eugen’s radio-intercept team decrypted her radio signals, learning they had been spotted and surprised was gone.

Admiral Lütjens gave permission for Prinz Eugen to engage Suffolk, but Captain Brinkmann held fire due to the heavy mist. Suffolk retreated before she could fire and continue to shadow both ships.
The Battle of the Denmark Strait was her first test. On the morning of 24 May the weather cleared up, ending with a bright sky. At 05:07 hydrophone operators aboard Prinz Eugen two ships approaching them at 20 nmi (37 km; 23 mi). “Noise of two fast-moving turbine ships at 280° relative bearing!”. It was conformed at 05:45 by lookouts. Thys signalled smoke on the horizon but had to wait to confirm their nature.

HMS Hood and Prince of Wales under Vice Admiral Lancelot Holland approached and Lütjens, in charge of the “fleet” ordered both ships to battle stations. At 05:52 range fell to 26,000 m (85,000 ft), Hood opening fire first followed by Prince of Wales and first engaing Prinz Eugen, misidentified for Bismarck. Meawhile Prince of Wales correctly fired on Bismarck. The mistake of hood had consequences, notably because Prinz was shorter and far less beamer. This left less chances to hit her. And by doing so, she left Birmarck preparing her first salvo on Hood.

The British only could bear their forward guns, but Prinz Eugen could bear a full broadside, and soon opened fire in turn, for Prinz it was at max range. Then Holland ordered a 20° port turn to bring all their broadside to bear. The Prinz was order to follow Bismarck into concentrating on Hood alone. After a single salvo, one of her main gun 8-in HE shell hit the deck of hood, set alight unrotated projectile ammunition. The fire however was quickly extinguished. Made a second 20° turn to port to take a parallel course. Bismarck found its mark and Prinz Eugen was ordered to shift on Prince of Wales. She soon scored two hits on her, reporting that a small fire.

Lütjens ordered Prinz Eugen to fall behind Bismarck to instead try to located the previously following Norfolk and Suffolk some 10-12 nmi away to the east. At 06:00, Bismarck’s fifth salvo had a shell finding a gap in Hood’s upper belt armor, reaching her rear ammunition magazine. She blew up and broke in two. Bismarck paused to realized what happened but shifted on Prince of Wales, which only managed to score three hits on Bismarck before withdrawing. Jütjens, after transmitting his damage report to the OKM also asked to detach Prinz Eugen for commerce raiding alone and have Bismarck going got St. Nazaire for repairs instead. Prinz Eugen was order to close on Bismarck’s ster to assess her oil leakage and confirmed “broad streams of oil on both sides of the wake” before returning ahead of the formation.
In foul weather, Lütjens sent Prinz Eugen away at 16:40 but she was soon recalled and detached again, for good at 18:14. Bismarck later turned to Wake-Walker, fired on Suffolk and engaged again Prince of Wales, which diverted attention during Prinz Eugen’s escape.

On 26 May, Prinz Eugen met the pre-posted supply ship Spichern. It was time, she only had a 160 tons of fuel left. She proceeded next further south on shipping lines but by then the old sea serpent in the three cruiser’s career resurfaced: Engines troubles, which on 27 May (the day Bismarck was sunk) aborted her mission. She had to rush to France, after refualling to the tanker esso on 28 May. Her port engine turbine had the most probkems, and she also had cooling issue in the middle engine and even her starboard screw. She then proceeded to 28 knots waiting to enter the drydock in Brest. Meanwhile she missed many opportunities. Her radio crew managed to identified at least 104 units in the vicinity. Prinz Eugen arrived in the Bay of Biscay and by 1 June she was taken under escort by the Luftwaffe and German destroyers until reaching Brest. The whole affair had been a complete fiasco despite the loss of Hood and damage to Prince of Wales.

Operation Cerberus

In the following months, the Prinz Eugen was in Brest. It was badly hit by a bomb during an air raid on July 8, 1941; 60 men were killed, including the first officer, Commander Stooss. The repair work lasted until mid-December. At the beginning of 1942, Adolf Hitler ordered the return march to Germany. This took place together with the battleships Gneisenau and Scharnhorst, which had also been moored in France for a long time. For the way back, the short but risky route through the English Channel was chosen. From July 1942 (to October) Korvettenkapitän Wilhelm Beck was in command.

With strong air support and backup by numerous smaller units of the Navy, the Channel breakthrough was successful between February 11 and February 13, 1942. In this operation, the Prinz Eugen was the only one of the large units to remain undamaged, but suffered the only loss of life of the three deplore large ships. Operation Cerberus was the first successful breakthrough of an enemy fleet through the English Channel in centuries. Despite the tactical success, the retreat of the heavy units to Germany was a strategic defeat for the Navy, since the direct threat to Allied convoys in the Atlantic was significantly reduced.

Operations 1942–1945

Scheer and Prinz Eugen in Lotfjord, 1942
On the voyage via Trondheim to Narvik (Operation Sportpalast), the Prinz Eugen suffered severe damage to the stern on February 23, 1942 from a torpedo hit by the British submarine Trident, which snapped off. In the Lofjord near Trondheim, the ship was temporarily repaired by the workshop ship Huascaran and equipped with a manually operated emergency rudder. On May 16, the Prinz Eugen returned to Kiel (Operation Magic Flute) to receive a new stern at the Deutsche Werke shipyard. From October 1942 to 14 March 1943, Kapitän zur See Hans-Erich Voss was in command.

After repairs and restoration of operational readiness, two attempts to transfer to Norway failed in January 1943. After the failed Operation Rainbow, the cruiser was assigned to the training associations in April. Originally, Hitler ordered all heavy units to be decommissioned, which Karl Dönitz, as the new commander-in-chief of the Navy, was able to prevent. From April 5, 1943 to October 11, 1943, interrupted by a few days at sea, stays in the outer harbor of Libau and on the roads, etc. Hela, the Prinz Eugen was stationed in Gotenhafen. From 15 March 1943 Kapitän zur See Werner Ehrhardt took command.

On October 7, 1943, during a final inspection by the head of the training association, Vice Admiral August Thiele, the crew was informed by the commander that the Prinz Eugen was once again becoming a “front ship”. On October 9, 1943, Gotenhafen, where the Prinz Eugen was docked, was the target of a bomb attack (at least 80 aircraft). In the course of this air raid, the Stuttgart and a small tugboat were sunk. On October 11, 1943, the Prinz Eugen was in dock at Gotenhafen.

From August 1944, the ship supported land operations of the army on the eastern front. On August 20, 1944, the Prinz Eugen supported attacks by German army troops by shelling the village of Tukums with artillery. On October 15, 1944, she returned to Gotenhafen to replenish ammunition. In poor visibility, she rammed the light cruiser Leipzig and severely damaged it; 27 crew members of the cruiser were killed. Both ships could only be separated from each other with the help of a tug the next day. Since the damage to the bow of the Prinz Eugen did not necessitate a visit to the shipyard, she was able to be made operational again in Gotenhafen over the next two weeks. From 5 January 1944, Kapitän zur See Hans-Jürgen Reinicke took command.

Prinz Eugen under British DD escort, waiting to be attributed to the USN in May 1945

Prinz Eugen then took part in the fighting in the east again (Sworbe, Königsberg, Danzig, etc.) as part of the Thiele combat group. From January 1945, there were also operations to evacuate the wounded and civilians from East Prussia. On March 29, 1945 the ship left Gotenhafen and reached 194 on April 20 5 Copenhagen. Due to a lack of fuel, it could not go out until the end of the war.

The fate of USS Prinz Eugen (1946)

With the German surrender, being new the only heavy cruiser to survive World War II, came under British command in Copenhagen. At the end of May 1945, she was brought to Wilhelmshaven with some other German ships, under command of Captain Arthur Harrison Graubart, USN. In December 1945, the ship fell by lot as spoils of war to the Americans, who classified the ship on January 5, 1946 as USS Prinz Eugen (IX-300). while retaining the name. 574 German crew members remained on her to brief members of the US Navy on board to overlook her technical issues. On January 13, 1946, she was transferred to Philadelphia, although this received a lot of media attention as a formerly enemy ship when she entered Boston. There was a crowd to see her arrival.

Prinz Eugen transiting the Panama Canal

Various pieces of equipment were removed in Philadelphia naval shipyard, including turret “Anton” and main range finders as the 10.5 cm anti-aircraft guns, and several 4 cm AA guns as the aircraft catapult. On May 1, 1946, she crossed the Panama Canal to San Diego. She was subjected to further tests in the Pacific and listening device tested, with new installations which would be reused and expanded in USS Flying Fish, converted into a test boat. On May 10, 1946, USS Prinz Eugen reached Honolulu, in tow because she only had a single boiler still working. The German crew was now reduced to 134.

Then she was prepared for Operation Crossroads:
Heading for Bikini Atoll she was placed at anchor about a nautical mile away from “point zero”. Her selection was based on the fact she was a modern, welded ship. The goal was to test the stability of the overall structure. When test “Able” was done on July 1, 1946 (dropped from a B-29, detonating at 170 m and 1100 m (1184 yards) away. The teams that came aboard saw no visible damage. On July 25, 1946, “Baker” was underwater, 30 m deep, 1800 m (1990 yards) away from the fleet. Again there was no damage, but very strong radiation. Thus, test animals (sheep and pigs) were broigh instead o crews, all killed in both explosions. There was no real damage to the structure of the Prinz Eugen as the further away.

USS Prinz Eugen prepared for test “Able”, Bikini.

The planned third test “Charlie”, to be detonated at greater depths on March 1, 1947 was abandoned due to “Baker” being already devastating enough. Most ships sank, yet Prinz Eugen showed remarkable resilience.
Having no more purpose while being heavily irradiated, she was towed to Kwajalein Atoll. The hull close to the propeller shafts became leaky due to tests vibrations abd flooding commenced. The bilge pumps could not be used to their strong irradiation, and no crew was allowed aboard. From December 16, 1946, she started to list from starboard side and by December 21, was a meter deeper in aft. It was tried to pump water from land, but this was unsuccessful. She could not be beach either, and thus, she capsized and sank on December 22, 1946 in shallow water about 250 meters from the beach of Enubuj island. Her stern essrtnially still stuck out of the water but her superstructure was mushed when hitting the bottom of the lagoon while three turrets slipped out of their barbettes, “Anton” being previously welded in place.
In kwajalein the wreck was an environmental problem as oil could lead at any moment. The US Navy pumped some 946,000 liters of the 159 accessible fuel bunkers (out of 173) until mid-October 2018. Just 5% remains but due to the rusting, will one day be released.

Salvage was considered, but dropped due to radiation levels. In 1973 she was re-examined and divers found the damage done by the detonation of the torpedoes stored on the port side. It was still clear she had many tones of live ammunition. When beta and gamma radiation could no longer be detected no attempt were done to lift these ordnance up and in 1989 the salvage was again considered and dropped due to possible residual radiation.
The German Navy Association managed still to salvage one of the three propellers, now on display at the Naval Memorial in Laboe and the port aft torpedo FCS is located in the German Maritime Museum in Bremerhaven. Her bell stays in the Naval Historical Center, Washington Navy Yard.

The U.S. Army, in partnership with the U.S. Navy and the Republic of the Marshall Islands, are safely recovering oil from the capsized World War II German heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen in the Kwajalein Atoll. These recovery efforts will ensure mission capability of the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command’s Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site on Kwajalein while protecting the sensitive ecosystem within the atoll. The Prinz Eugen was transferred to the U. S. Navy as a war prize from the British Royal Navy after the war, and in 1946, it was loaded with oil and cargo and used to test survivability of warships during the Operation Crossroads atomic bomb tests at Bikini Atoll. The operation is being performed by Naval Sea Systems Command, Office of the Supervisor of Salvage engineers and is expected to last until the end of October. (U.S. Navy photo by LeighAhn Ferrari, chief mate, U.S. Naval Ship Salvor)

Kriegsmarine KMS Seydlitz

KMS Seydlitz being launched
KMS Seydlitz being launched
Construction of Seydlitz was halted when she was 95% complete and she remained inactive until March 1942. At the time, the Kriegsmarine, which failed to advance significantly on Graf Zeppelin, decided to convert Sydlitz as an aircraft carrier (auxiliary), Renamed Weser. Conversion started by May 1942. The majority superstructure was cut down except the the funnel, to be truncated on either side. The aircraft hangar floors and wall were erected and the flight deck advanced whereas 2,400 t was removed.

The Kriegsmarine planned at the time she would carry ten of the new Bf 109T developed for Graf Zeppelin as well as ten Ju 87 dive-bombers, also modified. Her planned anti-aircraft battery comprised ten twin 10.5 cm SK C/33 guns, ten twin 3.7 cm SK C/30 guns, and six Flakvierling 2 cm Flak 38. But conversion work was halted in June 1943. The incomplete Weser was towed to Königsberg. No more work was done due to shortages until 29 January 1945. Due to the Soviet advance, she was scuttled. It was also consider to cannibalize her to complete the Lützow, sold to USSR and then recaptured. Weser was sold for BU in 1946-47.

Kriegsmarine KMS Lützow

Unfinished Lützow being transferred to USSR, 1940
In October 1939, the Soviet Union then in good terms with Germany, delivered raw products essential for the German industry, requested the purchase of the the incomplete Lützow. Negociations were successful by February 1940 and she was sold for 150 million Reichsmarks. On 15 April she was towed to USSR, still incomplete with only her main turrets installed but neither her AA nor her ciritical fire control systems, whereas her superstructure was incomplete.

She was renamed a first time Petropavlovsk, in September 1940. Work resumed with German advisors in Leningrad’s shipyard. But it proceeded slowly and by June 1941, still incomplete, she took part in the defense of Leningrad with her main artillery. However she was sunk by German artillery in September 1941. She was raised in September 1942 and repaired by the Soviets, renamed Tallinn and provided some fire support during the Soviet counter-offensive relieving the siege of Leningrad in 1944. Past 1945 she was was used as a stationary training platform, floating barracks, whereas plans were made to convert her to Soviet modern cruiser standards. Eventually she was instead BU between 1953 and 1960. See soviet cruisers of the WW2.

Soviet Tallinn (ex-Lutzow)
Soviet Tallinn (ex-Lützow) at Leningrad circa 1949, still unfinished.

Note: First published on Jul 22, 2016

German WW2 Torpedo Boats

Kriegsmarine Torpedoboote

Germany (1924-45) – 36 (90 planned)+ 49 TB Ausland (TA), total 84

Why German Torpedo Boats in WW2 ?

The simultaneous christening ceremony of the 4 new German “destroyers” Tiger, Luchs, Jaguar and Leopard at the Wilhelmshaven shipyard, presided by Vice Admiral Bauer. Later they would be reclassidied a torpedo boats, but proved quite capable in their new role

Before WW2, only four nations signatory of the Washington Treaty considered the torpedo boats as a way to go around some limitations in tonnage for destroyers, although this category was largely seen as obsolete after the great war. This “revival” concerned in order of importance given to the category, Italy, Germany, Japan and France*. And these were only the large fleets. Alongside them, a cohort of other nations still had torpedo boats in their inventory. They were cheaper than submersibles, and still usable for narrow waters point defence. The Scandinavian Nations for example still relied on them and built some up to WW2, although motor torpedo boats were also considered and sometimes took their place.

G7/T107, one of the numerous vintage WWI hochseetorpedoboote of the Kaiserlichesmarine modernized in the Reichsmarine. They were still active in WW2.

*Italy had a proficience in this time, with many modern designs and reclassed WWI destroyers to boot, to compensate for destroyer tonnage seen as unsufficient, Japan had only the Tomozuru and Otori class built in 1933-37, but replaced by escorts later, while France only developed the Melpomène (1935) and Le Fier class (1940, never completed). Both countries scrapped their torpedo boats to free tonnage or just through obsolescence. Both Japan and France stopped building torpedo boats were destroyers became the standard anyway, well before WWI. This also made sense in terms of maritime strategy. Both had either an Empire or were building one, and rather wanted a coherent fleet, priority being given to fleet destroyers.

The case of the Reichsmarine

Reichsmarine's torpedo boat prior to 1935
Reichsmarine’s torpedo boat prior to 1935. On top, the torpedo boats and newly built destroyers in service

Now, of the two nations most proficient in torpedo boats, Italy was the only nation of the future axis that was bound by the Washington treaty. The allied powers which submitted Germany to the Versailles Treaty which authorized the Reichsmarine some leeway in this category since it was mostly seen as defensive, not to project power. The Versailles Treaty nevertheless restricted the new Reichsmarine by treaty to twelve torpedo boats and twelve destroyers, nothing more, with a possible replacement of vintage WW1 units plus extra decommissioned ships for cannibalization.

The first replacement programme was in reality a newly designed “destroyer” under severe tonnage limitations, the Type 1923 and Type 1924 better known as the “Raubvögel” and “Raubtiere” based on their names, birds of prey and predators. They were the first “zerstörer” laid down since 1918, and based by default on a mix of features of late WWI designs. They were however classed in the Reicshmarine Book as “torpedo boote” anyway, knowing that they were too small to compete with any contemporary designs. Naturally they were reclassed as Torpedoboote in 1935, when the first of the 1934 type destroyer was launched. The latter had twice their tonnage.

Birth of the Kriegsmarine’s T-Boote (1933-34)

1935-37 naval staff discussions

It’s with the arrival at power of Hitler and more serious funding was given to the Kriegsmarine, then the tonnage increase obtained with the Anglo-German treaty of London redefined priorities. In any case in 1935, albitious programmes were launched in several catgories: Destroyers, Cruisers, the first battleships and aicraft carriers, and a new generations or torpedo boats, of two types, the fleet torpedo boats and coastal ones. The second are essentially motor torpedo boats, the S-Boote. The first type is the object of this article. Where these ships really useful ?

The 1935 debate in the Reichsmarine, soon to be renamed Kriegsmarine and reorganized, procuring or not torpedo boats was put into consideration. The Anglo-German treaty was not signed yet, but de facto would impose on Germany the Washington Treaty conditions. Therefore, tonnage caps were imposed on destroyers, qualitative and quantitative. The 1930 London Naval Treaty had a clause that ships below 600 long tons standard displacement did not count against national tonnage limits.

This was enough for the Kriegsmarine to attempt a design a high-speed, ocean-going torpedo boat based on this 600 long tons. Italy was doing the same since 1933. And both soon realized the same: This proved to be impossible based on high-speed requirement. This forced the use of (troubesome) high-pressure boilers, half the numbers used on a regular Type 1934 destroyer for better standardization. Maintenance problems were exacerbated an even crampier machinery.

the whole concept, with the benefit of hindsight, must be considered a gross waste of men and materials, for these torpedo boats were rarely employed in their designed role.
naval historian M. J. Whitley

So Just like Italy, it was felt torpedo boats were cheap enough to be built in large quantities and perform tasks in restricted seas (in the Baltic in particular) which could free fleet destroyers for their main tasks. Destroyers were to act more agressively as screen vessels and seek combat, while torpedo boats would inherit two other roles: Convoy escort and patrol, still with the possibility of longer range attacks compared to S-Boote. Even within that frame, the Kriegsmarine still ordered a serie of dedicated “escorts”, the “F” class, also launched in 1935. They lacked torpedoes, had the same light main armament but greater emphasis on ASW weapons.

This was a standalone class as soon as it was understood the nimbler and faster R-Bootes could take at the same time the role of coastal minesweepers, minelayers and ASW vessels. The other was self-evident as submarine threat was limited, as the need of escorts. After all, Germany was nearly self-sufficient and apart communicating with Norway for the famous “steel road”, its lines of communications were not as bloated and extensive as Great Britain or France. Thus, torpedo boats being seen as more versatile to attack, and still procure the benefit of an escort, were a good in-between.

Plan Z’ torpedo Boat programme

The new torpedo boats built in the Kriegsmarine were based on Plan Z: The latter planned no less than 90 torpedo boats to be built until 1950. As stated above, they were a kind of escorts, freeing destroyers for more fleet important tasks, but keeping an attack capability. Soon, other tasks were found for them and they were equipped to lay mines, but no consideration was given at any point to ASW defence: From the 1935 to the 1941 types, none had depth charges. More emphasis was put on AA however.

The construction plan was gradual and incremental, following finances and the capabilities of German yards: From the 800-tonnes 1935 type, of which twelve vessels launched 1938-39 were just ready on time for the Norwegian campaign. The expansion was fast, as the 1939 Type reached 1,700 and 1941 type 2,000 tonnes. The latter was still conventional but now to the size of a “small” destroyer (only in comparison to German destroyer standards). The 1940 type however were complete oddballs that can’t be regarded in the this context: They were ordered in the Netherlands and reaching 2,500 tonnes fully loaded, reusing the machinery of gutted destroyers of the Tjerk Hiddes class, with a total of twelve ordered, to be fitted out in Germany. Their design was closer to standard destroyers with a forecastle and generous artillery in superfiring positions.

The first true T-Boote: 1935/37 Types

The 1935 and 1937 Types were very close in design, and formed a coherent force of 21 ships in completion when WW2 started. The initial 1935 design was as narrow and light as possible to “fit the bill” of a 600-tonner, but it was soon judged impossible to meet requirements and revised in 1936, the bar raised to 800 tonnes. By default at the time, little consideration was given to allied inspection on these programmes.

In Italy, the Spica class however realized the impossible by achieving a 600+ tonnes design, but at great sacrifice. It soon showed its limits, notably in terms of sturdiness, seaworthiness and stability. The Mediterranean has relatively comparable conditions to the Baltic, but since the German designs were supposed to go out in the north sea to attack British lines of communications from the Jade, a sturdied hull was needed, yet while trying to find any ways to reduce tonnage.

Thus, the most distinctive design point of German WW2 torpedo boats, unique compared to all other designs of the time, was the choice of a flush-deck hull.
Italian, French, Japanese torpedo boats all had a forecastle and mimicked a destroyer in many ways.
The hull had a particular shape with a renforced prow, relatively large, and slanted hull, clipper bow, to battle large waves in winter. The hull shape was a way to rationalize construction and gain weight. Still, they had a low silhouette and were pretty “wet” in most conditions.

The particular semi-transom stern of T35, a Type 39.

Another particular was their armament: Main armament was standard, revolving around the 100 mm caliber, but just a single one aft, which was highly unusual, and unlike Italian designs they carried standard 21-inches (533 mm) torpedoes, for the maximal hitting power whereas armament was purely defensive. The accent was on first strike capabilities above all else, which contradicted their escort capabilities (the task they performed eventually).
Why lacking a forward gun ? It seems that due to their low freeboard, and despite their flare, a forward gun would be just sprayed to such point of being unusable. The lessons on the USN with their “flush-deckers” built in 1918-1921 was well understood.

The new wartime standard: 1939/41 Types

The design of the Type 1935/37 was definitely more suited to escort than attack, and thus, a mich larger type, reflecting the upscaling of German destroyers at the time, with some armed with 6-in guns, an enlarged and faster Type 1937 was sought after, soon called the Type 1939. They really fit the bill of Plan Z and were intended for long range operations. They were the brainchild of Grand Admiral Erich Raeder, CiC of the Kriegsmarine at the time, and not pleased with the too modest 1938B-class destroyer ordered in 1939. To compensate he wanted a 1,265 metric ton and 95-meter-long (311 ft 8 in) all-purpose torpedo boat, which specifications were written on 8 July. The idea that it could be built in larger quantities than proper destroyers. By September 1939 the shipbuilding program was reevaluated, the Type 1938B cacelled and the Type 1936A-class destroyer ordered instead. The Type 39 torpedo boat was far larger that previous types and the same high-pressure boilers but arranged into separate units (for safety, also giving them two funnels). They were alsmot equivalments to the 1938B design between their 102.5 meters (336 ft 3 in) overall, for 1,318t standard/ 1,780 metric tons deeply load and their hull was divided into 13 watertight compartments and double bottom. They ended as excellent, agile seaboats.

Hull shape and structure model, Type 1939

-The Type 1941 Type were a completely different matter: As the war started, Yards were soon starved of resources and personal, diverted to active army units and the Luftwaffe. One immediate effect was the outright cancellation of the Type 39 TBs with only 15 ships ordered, many never completed. It was decided later to create an enlarged version with a better propulsion machinery to reach 34 knots and adding another twin FLAK 37mm. They were, like the Type 1939, intended to take the pklace of sunken destroyers and assumed relatively similar roles.
In the end, on the 15 planned only a few were launched: T37–T42 in Schichau and later T43–T48, then T49–T51. The yeard being located in East Prussia the planned completion in 1945, soon fell through between labor shortages and the Soviet advance. All work ceased on 22 January and only three were towed further west for completion in Deschimag and Kiel but they were all captured.

Near-destroyers: 1940 Types

The transition towards a more ocean-going type saw some maturation in the concept. However they were very different:
-The Type 1940 was in all effect, practical destroyers ordered… in the Netherlands for the Dutch Navy in 1938. When the country fell in May 1940, the Germans soon captured all yards and vessels under construction were examined, documentation seized by the Kriegsmarine. These four Gerard Callenburgh class destroyers were now deprived of HNLMS Isaac Sweers, towed to be completed in UK, but Gerard Callenburgh was completed as ZH1. Philips van Almonde and Tjerk Hiddes were BU, but mist of their propulsion machinery was intact as well as some equipments, so the Kriegsmarine decided to design a ship tailored to be built in the Netherlands while recycling this now surplus material. If they were classed as torpedo boats, the Type 40 design were effectively destroyers in shape and tonnage.

In fact, using both Dutch yards and forced skilled workforce, which lacked in Germany, ambitious plans were to built no less 24 of these Type 1940, reclassed officially as Flottentorpedoboot and tasked to take the place of regular destroyers now in short supply.
However as the war went on, the enterprise looked grimer by the day and 12 were cancelled, and between sabotages and generally uncooperative workforce, and then shortages of all kind, none of these were completed before D-Day. The first three, most complete, were towed to Germany to be completed, one sank en route by Allied fighter-bombers and the last pair never completed. The remaining ones were BU in 1946.

Specifics of German WW2 Torpedo Boats

Main Guns:

12.8 cm SK/L45 C34:

These German guns were a fairly common models, internationally classed as 5-in (127 mm) but of slighlty larger caliber. They equipped the Type 34, Type 36 and Type 36B destroyers and other vessels, but also the Leopard and Luchs after conversion. For what we are concerned they were to equip the Dutch-built Type 1940. 15–18 rpm; mv 830 mps (2,700 ft/s); range 17,400 m (19,000 yd).

105 mm (or 10.5 cm) SK/L45 C16:

These equipped the vintage but modernized T107 group and T139 group. But also the Type 1923/24 “destroyers”. These WWI vintage guns were first developed for the first generation of German dreadnoughts like the Nassau class in 1907. The late C16 type was a single pedestal mounts in open half-shield version. The wartime modification was the one use, since there were still many in storage. They elevated −10° to +30 and hard a ax range of 17.6 km (10.9 mi). They were replaced by C28 or C32 during their 1936 refit and thus the model was no longer in use but on the T107 group and older TBs.

10.5 cm SK/L55 C28:

Use on the 1923/1924 types. Some were bored out to become the 12.7 cm/45 (5″) SK C/34 used on the Leopard and Luchs only. Firing the HE – 32.4 lbs. (14.7 kg), elevating -10 +30°, range 18,860 yards (17,250 m), mv 3,035 fps (925 mps), ROF 15 rpm.

10.5 cm SK/L45 C34:

Adopted for the 1935/37 Type and Type 1939. In their improved (nR, “nachgebohrte Rorhe” or “improved drilled barrel”) version they had better performances. ROF 15 rpm, firing the HE L/4,4: 53.4 lbs. (24.2 kg) Illumination round L/4,1: 50.0 lbs. (22.7 kg). Range 16,600 yards (15,175 m), hand-operated.

10.5 cm SK/L45 L44B:

Dual purpose models adopted for the never completed Type 1941 and Type 1944. On the latter, in two twin mounts located fore and aft. These elevated up to +75° and fired 15.5-or-17-kilogram (34 or 37 lb) shell at 835 or 785 m/s (2,740 or 2,580 ft/s) depending of the type. The 17-kgs shell could land at 19,000 meters (21,000 yd) from +48°. Rate of fire was 12–14 rounds per minute and 400 rounds were carried per gun. Added to the generous lighter AA, radar warning and radar-guided FCS, both the Type 1941 and especially the Type 1944 had a considerably better AA capability for escort.

Anti-aircraft artillery:

In standard, the 1923/24 types had two single 20 mm Rheinmetall guns. Not changed in the 1936 refit, but augmented to seven in all, in a Flakvierling (quad) mount and three single in 1944.
The Type 1935/37 had a more substantial AA when completed, with a single 37mm L83 C33 and fice to eight single 20mm C38 in various locations. A bow sponson extra 37 mm C33 was added on their bow in wartime, and some even had two 40mm L70 Bofors guns in place of their aft TT bank.
As completed the larger Type 1939 had four 37mm M42 AA (two twin mounts) and seven to twelve 20 mm AA guns, most likely with one or two Flakvierling and the rest in single mounts.
The planned, Dutch-built 1940 type had two twin 37mm as standard and two Flakvierling. The planned type 1941 had the same for 37 mm but only one Flakvierling and two twin 20 mm C38.

Torpedo Tubes

This was a mix in the interwar due to the origin of the vintage TBs from 1906 to 1913. They had still in the interwar the two twin ortiginal 450 mm TTs based of remaining WWI stocks. The 1923-24 type destroyers (later TBs) had 500 mm torpedo tubes. Possibly derived from the 50 cm (19.7″) G7 in service from 1913 on capital ships and some U-Boat types. Completely obsolete they were replaced by the standard 533 mm (21 in) during their 1936 refit. Conways says 1931, but the model was not in service yet (1935).
53.3 cm (21″) G7a T1: Standard for all types in WW2, two triple banks for the 1923/24, 1935/37, 1939/41 types but quadruple on the Type 1940.
Weight: 1,528 kg (3,369 lbs)
Overall Length: 7.186 m (23 ft. 7 in)
Warhead: 280 kg (617 lbs.) Hexanite
Settings: 6,000 m/44 kts, 8,000 m/40 kts, 14,000 m/30 kts
Powerplant: Decahydronaphthalene (Decalin) Wet-Heater
The German TBs also carried mines, but the type is unspecified. It can be the same model used by R-Bootes. They are not showing depht charge racks but the Type 39 were the only ones carrying four depht charge throwers and carrying a S-Gerät sonar. Both the 1941 and 1944 types were more AA escorts.

Organisation & Tactics

Z24 and T24 under aerial attack on 25 August 1944
Z24 and T24 under aerial attack on 25 August 1944. A good way to show that German TBs ended often in the same escort missions as destroyers despite their obvious limitations.

German torpedo boats were administratively grouped into several torpedo-boat flotillas (TBFs).

Flotilla Formed Assigned vessels Primary Class
1. Torpedobootsflottille 1935 T1, T2, T3, T4, T9, T10 Type 35 torpedo boat
2. Torpedobootsflottille T5, T6, T7, T8, T11, T12
3. Torpedobootsflottille 1937 T13, T14, T15, T16, T17, T18, T19, T20, T21 Type 37 torpedo boat
4. Torpedobootsflottille T22, T23, T24, T25, T26, T27 Elbing-class torpedo boat
5. Torpedobootsflottille 1938 TB Albatross, TB Greif, TB Falke, TB Kondor, TB Möwe Type 23 torpedo boat
TB Tiger (ex-Thor) Sleipner-class destroyer
T34, T35, T36 Elbing-class torpedo boat
6. Torpedobootsflottille 1937 T28, T29, T30, T31, T32, T33
7. Torpedobootsflottille 1940 TB Panther (Ex-Odin), TB Löwe (ex-Gyller) Sleipner-class destroyer
TB Leopard Type 24 torpedo boat
9. Torpedobootsflottille 1943 TA14, TA15, TA16, TA17, TA18, TA19, TA37, TA38, TA39 Torpedoboot Ausland
10. Torpedobootsflottille 1944 TA23, TA24, TA27, TA28, TA29, TA30, TA31, TA32, TA33

As for tactics, operational examples shows some clues on how they were used. In the interwar, they were supposed to enemy communication lines and avoid combat in which classic destroyers were at ease. The latter indeed were assigned to the fleet as escorts with the task of deterring other destroyers or cruisers. Thus, TBs were dispensed on paper of these fleet escorting and screening tasks, having neither the range or armament to face enemy destroyers. Oustide preying on enemy trade in relative proxmity, they were to be used for escorting convoys as they did during the early phase of the war, off Poland and Norway. Each flotilla could be used as an entire entity, but in reality they were spread in wartime and depending of assignations.
The 1935/1937 Type had only a single aft gun, giving clues that they were supposed to arrive fast, and in a stealthy way, launch a full torpedo broadside and retreat under enemy fire, again possibly under smoke. The 1939/41 types were more rounded with artillery and AA and thus were closer to “substitute destroyers” in their roles, with tactics closer to standard destroyers flotillas.

In wartime indeed they were tasked of the following:
-Escort: Troopship or transport convoys but also fleet escort (ie with destroyers, of cruisers and even capital ships) in many occasions and for relatively short trips.
-Minelaying: Not only they replaced destroyers when escorting minelayers and participating themselves in minelaying operations.
-Attack: They rarely had the occasion of preting on allied lines of communications but in the gulf of gascony and channel, and were only occasionally used in this role, such as the Normandy landing night raids. They were easy prey for patrolling allied destroyers.
-Evacuation: A last resort used forced by the events, notably Operation Hannibal in 1945.

Operations: Three examples

To illustrated the operating side, since space is lackng on this post to dwelve into the career of each and every of the 36 torpedo boats concerned (they were be seen in due time on individual class posts), here is three career examples, three picked-up among all those in service from three classes among the most remarkable ships to illustrate what their wartime career felt like. All in all, 12 (the totality) of the 1923/24 early types were lost in action during WW2. They were soon made “maids of all work” in the Kriesgmarine, and saw heavy action from the campaign of Norway (Albatros by fortified batteries of Olsofjord in 1940), Seeadler by MTBs, and the remainder by air raids. The 1924 type had more diverse fate: Collision, mine, torpedo (2), and air raids. The torpeding by British Submersibles of such shallow draft, fast vessels was no small feat.
As for the Type 1935 and 1937, the majority were sunk also by air raids, with a few suviving to end was Soviet and French reparations. The 1939 Type had a longer range and thus, could be operated on ports less under direct reach by the RAF. Three were claimed by German mines during a navigation error, two after a fatal encounter with British cruisers (Glasgow and Enteprise), one by cruisers and destroyers, one by Soviet MTBs, one mined and bombed. Those which survived were attributed to the US and Britain and soon handed over back to France and USSR, seeing some service in the 1950s after alterations.

Seeadler of the 1923 Type

Leopard of the 1924 type. Can’t find any photo of Seeadler but this one on alamy.
KMS Leopard was commissioned on 15 May 1928. She spent her time with the baltic fleet, and by the end of 1936 served with the 2nd Torpedo Boat Flotilla, deployed off Spain during the Civil War. She ran aground while leaving Cadiz in November 1936 and was towed back for repairs by Albatros. KMS Deutschland was hit by two Republican aircraft bombs on 29 May 1937, abd Adolf Hitler ordered Admiral Scheer to shell Almería in retaliation and on 31 May, joined by the 2nd Flotilla, notably silencing coastal artillery by Seeadler and Albatros. In June 1938, she was transferred to the 4th TB Flotilla (TBF).
Her unit was disbanded in 1939, and she joined the 6th TBD escorting the North Sea mining operations from 3 September. On 13 and 18-19 November, escort by two light cruisers they escorted back destroyers off the English coast. They patrolled the Skagerrak, inspecting neutral shipping. In December, Seeadler and Jaguar controlled six ships. In retaliation for the loss of Altmark in neutral Norwegian waters on 16 February, Operation Nordmark was mounted and Seeadler searched for Allied merchant shipping in the North Sea, up to the Shetland Islands. The 2nd Destroyer Flotilla, Seeadler and Luchs escorted Scharnhorst and Gneisenau and the heavy cruiser Admiral Hipper on 18 February and returned to the Skaggerak.

She took part in the Invasion of Norway in April 1940, in Group 4 (Kapitän Friedrich Rieve), escorted KMS Karlsruhe, to Kristiansand., departing on 8 April, arriving in heavy fog. Coast-defense guns at Odderøya Fortress fired on Karlsruhe at 05:32 and Seeadler and Luchs returned fire. Rieve turned away under a smoke screen at 05:45 though. But soon He 111 bombers exploded an ammunition dump next to the fortress and Rieve came back at 05:55 to provide them better Accuracy, but he withdrew again at 06:23, then trying to bombard the fortress at long range from 06:50, ordering Seeadler and Luchs to take the narrows until stopped by the fog. Rieve withdrew for good at 07:30, and came back at 09:00 as the fog lifted but withdrew again. Troops were moved to four E-boats to storm the harbor and the Norwegians spotted the Seeadler and Luchs approaching with the four E-boats, reporting them, but mistaking them for Allied, failing to open fire, making the landing and occupation successful at 10:45.

Underway back to Kiel at 18:00 Karlruhe proceeded with Seeadler, Greif and Luchs when torpedoed by the ambushung British submarine HMS Truant. Luchs evaded the other nine torpedoes and tracked the launcher, depht-charging Truant for the next several hours with the other TBs. Truant was damaged but survived. Rieve ordered the TBs to evacuate his crew and Greif to finish off ship. Lützow being also hit by a British submarine on 11 April, the three TBs were soon there to assist her too. On 18 April, Seeadler, Möwe, Greif, Wolf escorted minelayers in the Kattegat. She was later refitted at Wesermünde in May-August and moved to a Frenche port, freshly acquired, assigned to the 5th Flotilla with Greif, Falke, Kondor. They started minelaying the English Channel on 30 September to 1 October. With Wolf and Jaguar, they sortied without results off the Isle of Wight on 8–9 October. In their 11–12 October sortie they sank two Free French submarine chasers, two British armed trawlers. The 5th Flotilla was moved to St. Nazaire and they laid a minefield off Dover (3–4 December) and the Channel (21–22 December).

With Iltis and the Z4 Richard Beitzen they escorted another minelaying mission at the northern entrance to the Channel (23–24 January 1941). After another refit in Rotterdam in March-May 1941 she returned to the Skagerrak, on convoy escort. She was again refitted in Rotterdam (Dec. 1941 – Feb. 1942) and assigned back to the 5th TBF., escorting Scharnhorst, Gneisenau, Prinz Eugen on 12 February 1942 off Cap Gris-Nez (Channel Dash). On 12 March – 2 April they escorted the first sortie of the commerce raider Michel through the Channel, fighting off HMS Walpole and Fernie on their way. They did the same for Stier (12-19 May) but this time met heavy opposition, and on 13th, British MTBs locked on Seeadler, which took at least twop torpedo hits and capsized, broke in tow, and went down with 85 of her crew.

T17 of the 1937 Type

T21, 2 July 1946
No cc photo for T17, here is T21 of the same class, being tested by by the British in July 1946.
T17 was built in Schichau, and commissioned on 28 August 1941, plagued by shortages of skilled labor and raw materials. After initial training and fixes in October she served in the Baltic, in convoy escort. In early 1942 she was moved to France, and on 12 February as part of the 2nd TBF (T2, T4, T5, T11, T12) and 3rd TBF (T13, T15, T16, T17) she met KMS Gneisenau and Scharnhorst, Prinz Eugen for the famous “Channel Dash” back to Germany. On 19-21 March, T17, T15, T16 were transferred to Norway, escorting Admiral Hipper to Trondheim. Later T17 was refitted refitted in Kiel. On 1–3 October she was in the Baltic escorting Scharnhorst, Leipzig and Nürnberg and Z25, Z31 and Z37 ad some of her sisters.

T17 T28 of the 1939 Type

T 35 as DD-935 US seas August 1945
No cc photo for T28, here is T35 of the same class, being tested by the USN.
T28 was was built in Schichau, Elbing, commissioned on 19 June 1943. T28 and T29 were assitgned to Western France by late January 1944 and en route shelled by British coastal artillery and then two British Fairey Albacore. Near misses caused minor leaks in T28’s boiler room. She was refitted upon arrival until June. After the landings in Normandy on the 6th, theur unit, the 5th Torpedo Boat Flotilla (T28, Falke, Jaguar, Möwe) based in Le Havre made several sorties against the armada, mostly by night to the allied air superiority. They rather targeted isolated Allied shipping. Over time they encountered many, launched 50 torpedoes and spent mich ammunition but only managed to sink the Norwegian destroyer HNoMS Svenner. T28 was submitted to a RAF night raid on 14/15 June (clamining Falke and Jaguar) but emerged victorious. On the night of 21/22 July with three E-boats she sailed from Le Havre to Boulogne and encountered on her way HMS Melbreak, but ultimately she went back to Germany on the 27th despite multiple allied attacks.

On 20–21 August with T23 she escorted Prinz Eugen off Tukums, Latvia. She assisted the evacuation of Tallinn (Estonia) by mid-September 1944, and minelaying ops. in the Gulf of Finland. On 22 October with T23 she shelled Soviet positions near Sworbe, Saaremaa. On 19 November they did the same but had to fold up. In December she escorted the 6th Destroyer Flotilla (Z35, Z36 and Z43) to lay a new minefield off the Estonian coast. She herself laid 46 mines. The flotilla on the 11th encountered fould weather and Z35, Z36 due to poor visibility ended on “Nashorn” minefield, and sank. T28 came back and was refitted in Gotenhafen until December 1944.

Next, she escorted Prinz Eugen with two destroyers and her sister T23 for a counterattack against Soviet forces near Cranz (29–30 January 1945). She also escorted Admiral Scheer with T23 and T35 off the East Prussian coast (2–5 February) to shell Soviet positions near Frauenburg and again on 9–10 February. She also escorted Lützow foing the same south of Danzig (27 March) and then escorted evacuation convoys from Hela. On 5 May she recued part of 45,000 refugees from East Prussia, evacuated to Denmark, the others in Glücksburg on the 9th.
As a surviving ship she was allocated a war reparation vessel to the British by late 1945 and then retransferred to France on 4 February 1946, recommissioned as Le Lorrain. Overhauled in Cherbourg with a US radar and FCS, and 40mm Bofors guns installed, she was fully recommissioned in December 1949, escorting the Mediterranean Squadron from Toulon and later the ASW, ended her career as trials ship, stricken on 31 October 1955 and sold for BU.

Read More


Conway’s all the worlds fighting ships 1922-46 (Sieche, Erwin (1980). “Germany”.)
Campbell, John (1985). Naval Weapons of World War II. Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press.
Friedman, Norman (1981). Naval Radar. London: Conway Maritime Press.
Gröner, Erich (1990). German Warships 1815–1945. Vol. 1: Major Surface Warships. NIP
Whitley, M. J. (2000). Destroyers of World War Two: An International Encyclopedia. London: Cassell & Co.
Whitley, M. J. (1991). German Destroyers of World War Two. NIP
Campbell, John (1985). Naval Weapons of World War II. Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press.
Colledge, J. J.; Warlow, Ben & Bush, Steve (2020). Ships of the Royal Navy: The Complete Record Seaforth Publishing
Saibène, Marc (2004). Les torpilleurs légers français 1937-1945. Marines.
Salou, Charles (2004). Les torpilleurs de 600 tW du type “la Melpomène” Collection Navires et Histoire des marines du monde, Lela Presse.
Whitley, M. J. (2000). Destroyers of World War Two: An International Encyclopedia. London: Cassell & Co.


T23 on kbismarck.com/
type 23 on german-navy.de/
type 24 on german-navy.de/
on battleships-cruisers.co.uk
Torpedoboot Ausland
ZT107 on avalanchepress.com
TBs on navypedia.org
navweaps.com 10.5 cm L45 sk C32 gun
navweaps.com german Torpedoes
Type 23Type 24Type 35Type 37Type 39Type 40Type 41Type 44
On web.archive.org Melpomene TA9
surface flotillas of the Kriegsmarine
Torpedoboote Ausland german-navy.de

Model Kits

Heller 1031 T 23 Torpedo boat Type 1939-class
NIKO MODEL 7110 German torpedo-boat type 24 JAGUAR 1940
1/700 Niko Models German torpedo-boat type 37 T18 1941
NIKO MODEL German torpedo-boat Type 35 – T1
Niko Model German torpedo-boat Type 39 – T35 1945 1:700
WSW Modellbau German Torpedoboot T-23 N° 700-22-04 | 1:700

T-Boote nomenclature

Kriegsmarine T107 class (WWI)

The former G7 (T107) after her second reconstruction and modernization (pinterest).
In 1919, the Reichsmarine counted two series of old “destroyers” authorized in the entente classification. These twelve ships were the six former V1 class, 670 tonnes (1911) and the six of the G7 class, 660 tonnes (1912-13). Needless to say all post-1914 built HochseeTBs had been interned in Scapa Flow and/or distributed as war reparation to the entente nations and others. With the arrival of the Type 1923, the six boats of the V1 class were stricken in 1929 and kept as a reserve of parts to be cannibalized and keep the G7 group operational. With the 1924 Type in service, they were in turn reclassed as Torpedo boats, although all were assimilated as TBs anyway. The classification difference was only communicated to the armistice commission and retained by most authors de describe them.
As for proper “torpedo boats”, the Reichsmarine counted quite a disparate fleet of former destroyers (Hochsee TBs):
-T139-149 which were 1906-1907 533 tonnes models and T151 to T158 which were 558 tonnes. Due to their age, half were discarded before 1939.
T141 was retained for parts, BU 1933. T143,44,46,48,49 were discarded in 1927-28. T152 and 154 were discarded in 1928-31.
Next, there was a mix of assorted models of various types and tonnage: T168 (1911, 665t) stricken 1927, T175 (1910, 700t) stricken 1926. The T158, 190 and 196 were retained for service, as the smaller, older T139, T151, 153, 155-158.

For reasons of simplification, we will see in one swoop both T107 and T150 series will be seen here. The were World War I “torpedo boats” (Hochseetorpedoboote), technically in WWI assimilated to destroyers but classed in Germany still as large ocean-going TBs. They were still active in the interwar, and were modernized in the 1920s and 1930s. They were sent in auxiliary duties in 1939 but T107, T108, T110, T111 and T196 were still listed as active TBs. T151, T153, T155, T156, T157, T158 and T190 were rearmed by late 1939 and tooo, part in escort missions during the invasion of Poland and Norway and stayed active until Operation Hannibal, the east prussian evacuations.

T107 group: Former G7 type, they were reboilered in 1921-23, and underwent another major reconstruction in 1935-37 or later. They gained two modern 105mm/45, were lenghtened and displacement rose to 15%. They retained their prewar prefic letter related to their builders, V for AG Vulkan, S for Schichau, and G for Germaniawerft. In 1937 they were reclassified as “TB” properly with T-numbers. Precise information are had to get, as photos. If enough is found, they will be the object of a dedicated article.

T139 group: This is a highly artificial classfification as the ten boats kept active until 1939 and in WW2 were of various tonnage and capabilities (see above). They were modernized in Wilhelmshaven in the early 1920s, boilers changed, and had remodelled bridges and funnels layout. Again, if enough information is available, they will be the object of a dedicated post in the future. During their interwar carrer they were alternatively disarmed and rearmed, but used for auxiliary tasks. In 1927, T139 and 141 became the radio control ships “Pfeil” and “Blitz”. T153 became the rangefinder training ship Edward Jungmann in 1938.Apparently T151 and T156-57-58 and T196 were active, but T155, T175, T185 were in reserve in 1939. They all survived the war but T157 which hit a mine in 22 October 1943. T155 and 156 were scuttled in April and May 1945 due to the Soviet advance. T151, T153, T190 were attributed to the USA in 1945-46 and promtly scrapped. T158, 185 and 196 were attributed to the USSR. Same fate but T158 which became Prosorlivi in 1945 and was active for some time, and lated scrapped at an unknown date.

Kriegsmarine Type 1923 (1924)

Albatross, Falke, Greif, Kondor, Möwe, Seeadler

The six Type 23 torpedo boats (Raubvogel) were developed from 1918 unbuilt Hochsee TBs plans, unrealized and laid down as zerstörer (Destroyers) for the first time in the Riehchsmarine. The term reflected the Versailles treaty and Washington treaty classification to avoid confusion as Germany was specified to have twelve ships of each type, TB and Destroyers. Thus, the Reichsmarine built them to replace former Hochsee TBs that were themselves reclassed as “Torpedoboote”, helping to retire the WWI vintage TBs still in service. Thus two classes were ordered the Type 1923 and 1924, two batches of six to contitute a coherent twelve-ship destroyer force.

They entered service in 1926-1927. All built at Naval Dockyard at Wilhelmshaven, named and half launched the same day, leading to a grand ceremony. They were the also first to German ships built with the help of electrical welding, to reduce displacement. They were also the first with geared steam turbines. Indeed, even the models of destroyers planned in 1918 still had VTEs. Overall they were successful sea-boats, with good speed and agility, but based on such low tonnage, they were seen more as coastal ships, not on par with standard destroyers of the time and light away from large ones.

They mostly served with the 4th Torpedo Boat Half Flotilla and by 1936 and Albatros and Seeadler were in the 2nd TBF, Falke, Greif, Kondor, Möwe were in the 4th TBF, patrolling during the Spanish Civil War, especially after Deutschland was bombed by Republican aircraft in 1938, shelling Almería. In 1938 Seeadler joined the 4th Flotilla, Greif, Kondor and Möwe, the 5th TBF. The other were in refit at that time. WW2 was fierce for them: All supported the North Sea mining operations, they patrolled the Skagerrak, took part in 1940 to the Norwegian Operations, and they went on for various operations until 1944; notably mining the channel. All in all, Möwe was sunk by aviation on 16 June 1944, Falke too on 14/15 June, Greif on 24 May 1944, Kondor hit a mine on 23 May 1944, Albatros ran aground on 9 April 1940 and Seeadler was torpedoed by British MTBs on 13 May 1942.

Characteristics: (As built 1926)

Displacement: 798/923 long tons standard, 1,213/1,290 long tons FL
Dimensions: 87/87.7 x 8.25 x 3.65 m (287 ft 9 in x 27 ft 1 in x 12 ft) (o/a)
Propulsion: 2 shafts turbines, 3 × WT boilers, 23,000 shp (17,000 kW)
Speed: 32–34 knots (59–63 km/h; 37–39 mph)
Range: 1,800 nmi (3,300 km; 2,100 mi) at 17 kts
Crew: 127
Armament: 3× 10.5 cm (4.1 in), 2×3 500 mm (19.7 in) TTs, 30 mines

Kriegsmarine Type 1924 (1926)

Iltis, Jaguar, Leopard, Luchs, Tiger, Wolf

Torpedoboot “Luchs”

Six ships of 1924 Type “Raubtier” or “predator” class had been planned to carry the 12.7 cm (5-in) gun but instead went for the older 10.5 cm weapons. All were from the same Wilhelmshaven yard, but with speed and range improved but overall pretty close to the “Raubvogels” and upgraded in the late 1930s after entering service in 1927-1928. Like the former they had a lot of weather helm and thus “almost impossible to hold on course in wind at low speed”, and equipped with too many torpedoes for their role with the same six 50 cm (19.7 in) torpedo tubes in two triple mounts. Their AA was expanded, notably 20 mm guns in WW2, and by 1944 Jaguar received a FuMB 4 Sumatra radar detector and a proper Fumo surface radar.
Pushed hard they were all lost but one by mid-1942:
Wolf hit a mine on 8 January 1941, Iltis (Polecat) was sunk by British MTBs on 13 May 1942, Jaguar by aircraft on 14 June 1944, Leopard by collision with KMS Preussen on 30 April 1940, Luchs (Lynx) torpedoed by HMS Thames on 26 July 1940 and Tiger by collision with Z3 Max Schultz on 27 August 1939.

Displacement: 933 long tons standard, 1,320 long tons (1,340 t) FL
Dimensions: 92.6 x 8.65 x 3.52 m (303 ft 10 in x 28 ft 5 in x 11 ft 7 in)
Range: 1,997 nmi (3,698 km; 2,298 mi) at 17 knots

Kriegsmarine Type 1935 (1938)

T-1, ONI
T-1, ONI
The Type 35 torpedo boat were the first modern type specifically as torpedo bootes, and despite being called Type 1935, they were completed a few months after the start of World War II and still training when the Norwegian Campaign commenced in April–June 1940. Design-wise, German authorities lied when reporting theior official tonnage, 600 standard. In reality they displaced 859 long tons (873 t) standard and 1,108 long tons (1,126 t) at deep load, but even more in 1944 with AA additions. Very different design compared to the Type 23/24 they had no forward artillery, just a single aft gun and two torpedo tubes banks of the larger 21-in cal. They were also flush deck with a large raked bow to deal with heavy weather, alrhough it proved not enough and many had their bows raised and sharpened, clipper-style. Engineers soon realized that it was impossible to stick on the 600 tonnes limit after the 1930 London Naval Treaty and it was decided to scrap the clause entirely.

More so, the design was plagued by boilers issues to such a point that naval historian M. J. Whitley later stated “the whole concept, with the benefit of hindsight, must be considered a gross waste of men and materials, for these torpedo boats were rarely employed in their designed role.”. In all, twelve were built to replace older WWI units (T1-T12). The very last was commissioned on 4 july 1940. Nevertheless compared to previous ships they hhad one more boiler for more ouptut, better top speed, reduced crew and range.
They spent most their time escorting convoys and minelayers in North Sea, English Channel and later transferred to Norway trying to prey against shipping along the Scottish coast. Refitted in early 1941 they ended in the Baltic Sea to support operations from June. Four ended in reserve (manpower shortages) as well as in 1942, four were sent to France, escorting commerce raiders and later the “channel dash”. Two ended in the Torpedo School and the rest in 1943. Later in 1944 most were back in the Baltic. All in all, there were all sunk but three: T1 by aviation, 10 April 1945 as T2 (29 July 1944), T3 (19 September 1940), repaired, then mines, 14 March 1945, T4 (survived, Transferred US), T5 (mines 14 March 1945) T6 (same 7 November 1940), T7 (aircraft, 29 July 1944), T8 (same 3 May 1945), T9 (sunk 4 July 1940), T10 (aviation 19 December 1944), and T11 went UK and France, T12 to USSR, 1946.

T1 as the Type 1935 lead ship as completed
T1 as the Type 1935 lead ship as completed.

Characteristics: (As built 1938)

Displacement: 859 long tons standard, 1,108 long tons FL
Dimensions: 84.3 x 8.62 x 2.83 m (276 ft 7 in x 28 ft 3 in x 9 ft 3 in)
Propulsion: 2 shafts turbines, 4× WT boilers, 31,000 shp (23,000 kW)
Speed: 35 knots (65 km/h; 40 mph)
Range: 1,200 nmi (2,200 km; 1,400 mi) at 19 kts
Crew: 119
Armament: 1× 10.5 cm (4.1 in), 1x 37mm, 2x 20mm, 2×3 500 mm (19.7 in) TTs, 60 mines

Kriegsmarine Type 1937 (1940)

T21 of the Type 1937 after the war
T21 of the Type 1937 after the war
The Type 37 torpedo boat were only nine built, completed in 1941–1942 but the remaining were cancelled as the Type 39 was preferred at this point. Design wise they were virtually a repeat of the Type 35, better range, but the same troublesome boilers, assorted with maintenance issues exacerbated by poor access. They were commissioned qute late to participate to major operations and went on performing teh same tasks as the Type 35 boats like escorting commerce raiders, the “Channel Dash”, Operations from France, from Norway, from the Baltic, assignment to the Torpedo School. Those in Norway by early escorted vessels and off Francen they laid minefields. By 1944 some served as training ships and were pressed to support German forces in the Baltic. Five out of nine survived the war, ending as war reparations. The Soviet Union used its one was a test ship scrapped in 1960.

T13 in 1944
T13 in 1944

Characteristics: (As built 1940)

Displacement: 888 t standard, 1,139 t deep load
Dimensions: 85.2 x 8.87 x 2.83 m (279 ft 6 in x 29 ft 1 in x 9 ft 2 in)
Range: 1,600 nmi (3,000 km; 1,800 mi) at 19 kts

Kriegsmarine Type 1939 (1941-42)

T22 to T-36: 15 TBs

T35 as DD 395 in US tests, August 1945
T35 as DD 395 in US tests, August 1945
Großadmiral Erich Raeder, Kriegsmarine’s CiC saw the proposed Type 1938B-class destroyer in 1939 as too small for effective use and instead proposed a 1,265 tons 311 feet all-purpose torpedo boat instead. The new design was evaluated on 8 July and by September the Kriegsmarine, caught off-guard at the start of Plan Z, was forced to re-evaluate the whole shipbuilding program. The Type 1938B was definitely cancelled, more Type 1936A-class destroyers ordered as the Type 39 TBs. The latter represented a drastic leap forward in design, much larger and better armed than the puny Type 35/37 that still tried to “stick” to treaty limits.
The Type 39 was a properly designed torpedo boat with full features, adding to thier initial torpedo attack role, better escort and attack capabilities due to their large artillery, and better range due to a tonnage almost twice as large as treaty limits (from 600 to 1,300 tonnes). They however still share the same troubesome high-pressure boilers but their new propulsion machinery was separated in two widely spaced compartment to avoid a single hit any crippling effect, compounded by the addition of 13 watertight compartments and a double bottom covering 67–69% of their length. Their survivability increased thus several folds.
With a 336 ft 3 in long by 32 ft 10 in wide hull, 1,780 metric tons (1,750 long tons) fully loaded, increased height clipper bow, this time the new TBs were soon reputed excellent seaboats, very maneuverable in stark contrast of their precedessors. However they needed a larger crew, with 206 officers and sailors and in wartime, previous Type 35/37 were often placed in reserve due to manpower issue, the Kriegsmarine preferring reaffecting them to the new Type 39.

T35 in USN trials of Boston, September 1945
T35 in USN trials of Boston, September 1945

The Type 39 ships’s Wagner geared steam turbines, connected to three-bladed 2.5-meter (8 ft 2 in) propellers were fed by four Wagner water-tube boilers working at 70 kg/cm2 (6,865 kPa; 996 psi), 460 °C (860 °F) for 32,000 shaft horsepower (24,000 kW), reaching 33.5 knots (62.0 km/h; 38.6 mph). In service however steam consumption of the auxiliary machinery proved excessive, boilers failing to aise enough steam and lowering their top speed in practice (in moderate load and perfect weather, to 31 knots) their range also went from 2,300 to just 2,085 nmi (3,861 km; 2,399 mi) at the same 19 knots.

Armament-wise, they were a leap forward compared to the weak Type 35/37: Four 10.5 cm (4.1 in) guns instead of just one, and better AA (two twin 3.7 cm (1.5 in) and Fmakvierling and two single 2 cm (0.8 in)), but keeping the same two triple 533 mm (21 in) torpedo tubes. They could aso carry twice as many mines upt to 60 and for the first time, introduced four depth charge launchers to better perform their ASW escort role. This was completed by a S-Gerät sonar and FuMO 21 search radar from completion. They were started in Schichau, Elbing in 1940-4
and for that reason were almso called te “Elbing class”.

In wartime, they arrived late, at a time losses for the Kriegsmarine had been high: T22, the lead vessel, was commissioned in February 1942 but production issues delayed the others: T36 was only completed on 9 December 1944 and could do little at that stage. Apart T27 which ran aground in 1944 and T23, 28, 33 and 35 attributed respectively to France(2), USSR and USA, they were all sunk by aviation, mines, gunfire and torpedo. This class as the others will be covered on detail in a dedicated post in the future, including notably full careers.

Rendition of the Type 44, T25
Rendition of the Type 39, T25
Conways profile of T37, Type 1939

Characteristics: (As built 1938)

Displacement: 859 long tons standard, 1,108 long tons FL
Dimensions: 84.3 x 8.62 x 2.83 m (276 ft 7 in x 28 ft 3 in x 9 ft 3 in)
Propulsion: 2 shafts turbines, 4× WT boilers, 31,000 shp (23,000 kW)
Speed: 35 knots (65 km/h; 40 mph)
Range: 1,200 nmi (2,200 km; 1,400 mi) at 19 kts
Crew: 119
Armament: 1× 10.5 cm (4.1 in), 1x 37mm, 2x 20mm, 2×3 500 mm (19.7 in) TTs, 60 mines

Kriegsmarine Type 1940 (1944)

Rendition of the Type 1940 (conways)

“The Type 1940 torpedo boats were a group of 24 torpedo boats that were intended to be built for Germany’s Kriegsmarine during World War II. Although classed as fleet torpedo boats (Flottentorpedoboot) by the Germans, they were comparable to contemporary large destroyers. They were designed around surplus Dutch propulsion machinery available after the Germans conquered the Netherlands in May 1940 and were to be built in Dutch shipyards. Hampered by uncooperative Dutch workers and material shortages, none of the ships were completed before the Allies invaded Normandy (Operation Neptune) on June 1944. The Germans towed the three ships that were most complete to Germany to be finished, but one was sunk en route by Allied fighter-bombers and no further work was done of the pair that did arrive successfully. The remaining ships in the Netherlands were later broken up for scrap and the two that reached Germany were scuttled in 1946.”

Characteristics: (As built 1938)

Displacement: 859 long tons standard, 1,108 long tons FL
Dimensions: 84.3 x 8.62 x 2.83 m (276 ft 7 in x 28 ft 3 in x 9 ft 3 in)
Propulsion: 2 shafts turbines, 4× WT boilers, 31,000 shp (23,000 kW)
Speed: 35 knots (65 km/h; 40 mph)
Range: 1,200 nmi (2,200 km; 1,400 mi) at 19 kts
Crew: 119
Armament: 1× 10.5 cm (4.1 in), 1x 37mm, 2x 20mm, 2×3 500 mm (19.7 in) TTs, 60 mines

Kriegsmarine Type 1941 (1944)

T37 to T50: 14 boats planned, 5 to 96% complete.

T37 of the Type 1941 (conways)
In September 1939 the war caused the cancellation the bulk of Type 39 torpedo boats orders, with only 15 retained. Labor and material shortages also hampered their construction which dragged on until really starting by 1941. To compensate for the destroyers losses and spare strategic materials and labour time, the Kriesgmarine championed the idea in 1941 on a slightly enlarged Type 39 with an improvedmore propulsion machinery to reclaim 34 knots and more space to accomodate extra 3.7-centimeter (1.5 in) AA twin mounts.
In the end, the new Type 1941 reached 106 meters (347 ft 9 in) long for a 10.7 meters (35 ft 1 in) beam and 1,493/2,155 long tons displacement. They also had widely separated machinery spaces and 13 watertight compartments, 69% long double bottom. Using the same Wagner geared steam turbines and water-tube boilers they reached 40,000 shp (instead of 32,000) and carried 559 metric tons of fuel oil for 2,800 nautical miles. This was considered not good enough to replace destroyers and Schichau started work on an electric auxliary machinery, that was planned for the Type 1944, reaching 4,200 nm this time.

The main armament was essentially the same as the former Type 39, with four single 10.5 cm (4.1 in) guns (Although the KM44 dual purpose was planned to replace these), twin 3.7 cm a quadruple and two single 2 cm AA, same two triple torpedo tubes banks and four depth charge launchers. They also were to be fitted with the same S-Gërat sonar, but also the FuMO 21 radar, FuMB7 “Naxos” plus FuMB8 “Wanz G” radar detectors. Construction was postponed at Schichau until the first were laid down in October 1943, Fabruary and June 1944 and in 1945. None was completed. When captured by the allies, hulls were between 5% (T50) and 96.5% for T37, the lead boat. T38 and 39 were 84 and 76% respectively, both captured and scuttled by the British in 1946 while T37 went to the US for evaluation, in 1946. All the remainder were demolished on slipway but T40 that was launched and towed while in completion, accidentally ran aground on 12 March 1945, and was later scuttled by the British Forces.

Characteristics: (As planned 1945)

Displacement: 1,493t standard, 2,155t deep load
Dimensions: 106 x 10.7 x 3.72 m (348 x 35 x 12 ft)
Propulsion: 2 shafts turbines, 4× WT boilers, 40,000 shp (30,000 kW)
Speed: 34 knots (63 km/h; 39 mph)
Range: 2,800 nmi (5,200 km; 3,200 mi) at 19 knots
Crew: 210
Armament: 1× 10.5 cm (4.1 in), 3×2 37mm, 8x 20mm, 2×3 500 mm (19.7 in) TTs, 4 DCT

Kriegsmarine Type 1944 (1944)

T52 of the Type 44 as planned. It looked more compact and bulky than previous designs, more destroyer-like.
As the previous Type 39 torpedo boats, the Type 44s were general-purpose TBs, but improved over steam consumption of the Type 39′ auxiliary machinery. At the time, revolutionary three-phase electric motor which was found far more effective for a relatively small ship’s auxiliary machinery, partially automated to boot and fast-starting. Dipl.-Ing. Illies at Schichau-Werke’s shipyard, Elbing (East Prussia) which worked on this programme, had it ready for tests in 1942 and trialled connect with a single boiler, plus full-size mockups of turbine-boiler rooms were made for demonstrations. The Kriegsmarine’s staff however doubted the “Illies-Schichau” machinery would be ready before 1944 and so the Type 44 was designed with alternative powerplants in mind.

The hull was about the same as the Type 39, 103 meters (337 ft 11 in) long for 10.1 meters (33 ft 2 in) so a bit larger, and displacing 100 tonnes more at 1,418 long tons (1,441 t) standard, a protection including 12 watertight compartments, double bottom on 70%. Eventually two sets of Wagner geared steam turbines and four Wagner water-tube boilers were chosen, improved and producing 52,000 shaft horsepower (39,000 kW) versus 32,000 on the Type 39. This enabled the far more respectable top speed of 37 knots. This 300 metric tons of fuel oil aboard they also reached 4,500 nautical miles (8,300 km; 5,200 mi) at 19 knots, better than any destroyers of the time. The auxiliary intended electric machinery however only reached 25 knots but greatly increasing the range.

The planned main armament was essentually the same as the Type 39 but with KM44 dual-purpose guns in two twin-gun mounts instead of three singles. It was completed by an AA director on the bridge’s roof and a comfortable AA overall with no less than ten 3.7-centimeter in five twin mounts (with reserve to add Flakvierling or 20 mm quad mounts) and the same 533-mm banks amidships plus rails for 30 mines. This was quite an improvement over the Type 39, however at that stage, the nine Type 44s (T52–T60) ordered from Schichau on 28 March 1944 (yard n° 1720–1745 and 1447–1449) were scheduled for completion on 15 September 1946, but the fall of east Prussia to Soviet forces in January 1945 cancelled the facto these plans with little work done.

Characteristics: (As planned 1945)

Displacement: 1,418 long tons standard, 1,794 long tons FL
Dimensions: 103 x 10.1 x 3.7m (337 x 33 12 ft 2 in)
Propulsion: 2 shafts turbines, 4× WT boilers, 2 elec. mot. 52,000 shp (39,000 kW)
Speed: 37 knots (69 km/h; 43 mph)
Range: 4,500 nmi (8,300 km; 5,200 mi) at 19 kts
Crew: 222
Armament: 2×2 10.5 cm, 5×2 37mm, 2×3 533 mm TTs, 30 mines

Torpedoboot Ausland

Le Fier class plans
Le Fier class plans (later TA 1 class). Original, not German modified.
36 completed torpedo boats was not a lot to be sure, less than Italy, a droplet compared to the mass of escort destroyers built by US yards. But fortunately for the Kriegsmarine, the real estate area captured in 1940 provided a wealth of yards, and ships at anchor, under construction or completion which could be pressed into the Kriegsmarine. And in WW2 this force was nothing less than considerable, albeit very disparate to say the least: 49, so far more than “regular” torpedo boats, from which part were not even built in German Yards but in the Netherlands (12 in all):
They were not given the usual prefix “T-” but “TA-” for “Torpedoboot Ausland”, literrally “foreign torpedo boats”. The Kriegsmarine’s list went for TA-1 to TA-49, in order of capture. The paradox was that the first series were ex-French and Norwegian vessels never completed while the bulk of later series were ex-Italian vessels captured in late 1943.
Here is a review of these cases, class by class:

Kriegsmarine TA-1 class (French Le Fier, 1940)

The Le Fier class were sea-going torpedo boats laid down in 1940, they were incomplete at the fall of France. The shipyards were sized in June 1940, and Le Fier, L’Agile, L’Entreprenant, Le Farouche, L’Alsacien, and Le Corse were examined for completion to German standards. Le Breton was scrapped, seven others cancelled. The remaining ones were completed and modified with revised specifications by the Kriegsmarine as TA1-TA6. See the tables for the final specs.

Displacement was increased but dimensions were shrunk a bit (see the tables below), engines and propulsion remained the same, with full power reduced but they were rearmed with three 10.5 cm SK C/32 naval guns, two 3.7 cm SK C/30, nine 2 cm SK c/38 guns (Flakvierling + 5 single) and two triple 533 mm (21.0 in) G7 torpedo tubes. Work under German supervision was limited by material shortages and French sabotage and they never reached completion in 1945. By April 1943 already, efforts were concentrated to complete TA1 and TA4, using cannibalized parts. TA2 and TA4 were sunk by USAF aviation, refloated but work stopped after the Normandy landings. They were scuttled on 11 August 1944. For the anecdote the Spanish Audaz-class reused German plans and documents for these.

Characteristics: (As planned for 1944-45)

Displacement: 1,087 tons standard, 1,443 tons FL*
Dimensions: 93.2 x 9.28 x 3.08 m (305.8 x 30.4 ft x 10.1 ft)**
Propulsion: 2 shafts turbines, 4× WT boilers, 28,000 bhp (20,900 kW)***
Speed: 34 knots (estimated)
Crew: 119
Armament: 3x 10.5 cm, 2x 37mm, 9x 20mm, 2×3 533mm TTs****
*Original 859 long tons standard, 1,108 long tons FL
**Original 84.3 x 8.62 x 2.83 m (276 ft 7 in x 28 ft 3 in x 9 ft 3 in)
***Original 31,000 shp (23,000 kW)
****1× 10.5 cm (4.1 in), 1x 37mm, 2x 20mm, 2×3 500 mm (19.7 in) TTs, 60 mines

Kriegsmarine TA-7 class (Norwegian Sleipner, 1939)

HNoMS Sleipner
The Sleipner class were six Norwegian destroyers built from 1936, but not completed during the German invasion in 1940. Theu used aluminium bridges and superstructure, mast and funnel. Hull in extra strength special steel. Good main guns, AA artillery ASW weapons. Æger was bombed by German planes on 9 April 1940. Sleipner took refuge in UK, served with the Free Norwegian Navy. Gyller and Odin were captured by the Germans in 1940 at Kristiansand. Balder and Tor were captured uncomplete in the shipyard, complete by the Germans. They were used until 1945 as Torpedoboot Ausland as Löwe, Panther, Leopard, and Tiger. In 1945 Löwe escorted Wilhelm Gustloff whe she was was torpedoed, rescuing 472 passengers (worst sinking of all time).

Characteristics: (As built 1938)

Displacement: 735 tons long tons standard
Dimensions: 74.30 x 7.80 x 4.15 m (243.77 x 25.59 x 13.62 ft)
Propulsion: 2 shafts De Laval turbines, 4 WT boilers, 12,500 shp (9,300 kW)
Speed: 32 knots (59.26 km/h)
Crew: 75
Armament: 3× 10 cm, 1x 40mm Bofors, 2x 12.7mm AA, 1×2 533 mm TTs, 4 DCT

Kriegsmarine TA-9 class (Ex-French, La Melpomène)

La Melpomène class were 12 French torpedo boats (1933-1935) in service with the Marine Nationale, which after the armistice passed onto the Vichy French Navy (some Free French Navy, Royal Navy and Royal Netherlands Navy). After the scuttling of Toulon, the Regia Marina ceized most of them, to refloat.
a Melpomène was in a British port in June 1940. After brief service with the Royal Navy, she was transferred into FNFL (Free French) service. In 1950 was sold for scrap.
-La Pomone was seized by the Italians at Bizerte in November 1942: FR42, then German TA10 in May 1943. Duelled with HMS Eclipse near Rhodes, badly damaged, scuttled on 27 September 1943.
-L’Iphigénie Seized by the Italians at Bizerte, FR43, German TA11 (May 43), sunk by Italian MAS at Piombino, 10 September 1943.
-La Bayonnaise scuttled in Toulon, raised by the Italians as FR44. Seized by the Germans, TA13. Scuttled on 23 August 1944.
-Bombarde seized by the Italians at Bizerte, FR41 from September 1943 renamed TA9. Snk by aircraft off Toulon, 23 August 1944.
-Baliste scuttled in Toulon, raised by the Italians as FR45. German TA12, sunk by Allied aircraft on 22 August 1943.

Characteristics: (As built 1938)

Displacement: 610 tons standard, 834 tons full load
Dimensions: 81 x 10.5 x 2.65m (265 ft 9 in x 34 ft 5 in x 8 ft 8 in)
Propulsion: 2 shafts Geared turbines 4 boilers 33,000 shp (25,000 kW)
Speed: 34.5 knots (63.9 km/h; 39.7 mph)
Range: 1,200 nmi (2,200 km; 1,400 mi) at 19 kts
Crew: 8+94
Armament: 2× 10 cm, 2x 37mm, 2x 13.2mm, 3x 550 mm TTs

Kriegsmarine TA-14-49 class (Ex-Italian, various)

Solferino, of the Curtatone class in 1943, later TA 18 src

Curtatone class: TA16 class (ex-Castelfidardo), Achilles (ex-Calatafimi), TA15, TA19
TA16 had two twin 102/45 S-A M1919, four single Breda 20mm/65 M1939, 2×3 – 450mm TT, 16 mines. TA19: Twin 102mm/45 S-A M1919, One 102mm/45 S-A M1919, 5x 20mm/65 M1939, Twin 533mm TT, 16 mines captured in Aegean Sea in September, 1943. TA16 entered the Kriegsmarine on 14.11.1943, TA19 on 13.10.1943. By that time they reached 24kts and 600 at 12 nm.
By late 1943, triple 450mm TT; single 40mm/56 FlaK 28, Flakvierling C/38, single 20mm/65 M1939 or single 37/80 SK C/30. Both served in Aegean Sea. TA16 was damaged by British aircraft 31.5.1944, fore end was broken off, 2.6.1944 she was lost at Heraklion (Crete) as a result of explosion on s/s Gertrud, attacked by British bombers. TA19 was damaged by missiles from British aircraft 19.6.1944 and was under repair 1 month, 9.8.1944 she was sunk by a torpedo from Greek submarine Pipinos at Samos.
The full list (a dedicated article will be done on these ex-Italian Torpedoboote Ausland(i) for “Italien”).

TA14 (1927) 28.10.1943 in German service, sunk 15.09.1944
TA15 (1925), 30.10.1943, sunk 08.03.1944
TA16 (1922), 14.10.1943, sunk 02.06.1944
TA17 (1920), 28.10.1943, sunk 12.10.1944
TA18 (1920), 25.07.1944, sunk 19.10.1944
TA19 (1923), 19.09.1943, sunk 09.08.1944
TA20 (1915), 21.10.1943, sunk 01.11.1944
TA21 (1913), 08.11.1943, sunk 05.11.1944
TA22 (1915), 11.08.1944, blown up 03.05.1945
TA23 (1942) com. 17.10.1943, sunk 25.04.1944
TA24 (1943) com. 04.10.1943, sunk 18.03.1945
TA25 (1942) 16.01.1944, sunk 06.07.1944
TA26 (1943) com. 18.12.1943, sunk 15.07.1944
TA27 (1943) com. 28.12.1943, sunk 09.06.1944
TA28 (1943) com. 23.01.1944 sunk 04.09.1944
TA29 (1943) com. 06.03.1944, sunk 18.03.1945
TA30 (1943) com. 15.04.1944, sunk 15.06.1944
TA31 (1930) 17.06.1944 sunk 24.04.1945
TA32 (1931) 18.08.1944, destroyed 24.04.1945
TA33 (1942) destroyed 04.09.1944
TA34 (1916) 17.06.1944, sunk 24.06.1944
TA35 (1915) 09.06.1944, sunk 17.08.1944
TA36 (1943) sunk 18.03.1944
TA37 (1943) sunk 07.10.1944
TA38 (1943) scuttled 13.10.1944
TA39 (1943) sunk 16.10.1944
TA40 (1943) destroyed 04.05.1945
TA41 (1944) com. 07.09.1944, sunk 17.02.1945
TA42 (1944) com. 27.09.1944, sunk 21.03.1945
TA43 (1937) 22.02.1945, scuttled 01.05.1945
TA44 (1929) 14.10.1944, sunk 17.02.1945
TA45 (1944) comm. 08.09.1944, sunk 13.04.1945
TA46 (1944) comm. 20.02.1945
TA47 (1942) scrapped 1971
TA48 (1914) 16.10.1943 sunk 20.02.1945
TA49 (1937) comm. 01.01.1938, sunk 04.11.1944

WW2 German Cruisers (Kriegsmarine Kreuzer)

As we know, the development of German cruisers was cut short by the war starting in 1939 and the plan Z being postponed and finally cancelled during WW2. It left the Kriegsmarine with just ten light cruisers and four heavy cruisers, just completed, and some in completion. A force of 15 cruisers was certainly not able to turn the tables during the war and indeed they fought and were lost in different occasions, some for which they were not well prepared for (like the Invasion of Norway) and never gave their full potential as commerce raider as part of Raeder’s strategy. In this post we will see the full development of German Cruiser lineage from reserve Reichsmarine vessels to Plan Z projects.

The inheritance of WW1 cruisers

Reichsmarine cruisers


Reservenkreuzer: Gazelle class (1900)

KMS Niobe
KMS Niobe in Yugoslavian service as Dalmacija in Kotor harbour, 1941.

SMS Frauenlob
SMS Frauenlob in 1915


Gazelle appearance in 1914

KMS Niobe (later Dalmacija)

The Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes had initially been given the ships of the old Austro-Hungarian Navy after the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the closing days of World War I, but the Allied powers quickly seized the majority of the ships and allocated them to the various Allied countries. Left with only twelve modern torpedo boats, the new country sought more powerful vessels. It therefore purchased Niobe when Germany placed her for sale in 1925.[11] Since Germany was forbidden from exporting armed warships, Niobe was taken to the Deutsche Werke shipyard in Kiel and disarmed. She also had her conning tower removed. On 7 August 1926, she began sea trials before being transferred to her new owners. Niobe was taken to the Tivat arsenal in the Bay of Kotor, arriving on 3 September 1927.[12] There, she was renamed Dalmacija (Dalmatia), and received her new armament before she entered Royal Yugoslav Navy service, though the details are uncertain. According to Conway’s All the World’s Fighting Ships, she was equipped with six Škoda 8.5 cm (3.35 in) L/55 quick-firing guns, and initially four and later six 2 cm (0.79 in) anti-aircraft (AA) guns were added.[10] The naval historian Henry Lenton states that the main battery caliber was 8.6 cm (3.4 in), states that they were dual-purpose guns, and specifies four 2 cm single-mount AA guns.[13] But naval historian Milan Vego states that she carried six 8.3 cm (3.27 in) L/35 anti-aircraft guns, four 47 mm (1.9 in) guns, and six machine guns.[14] The historian Aidan Dodson concurs with Vego that the ship received six 8.3 cm guns, but instead states that they were 55-caliber guns of the Skoda M27 type. Dodson also agrees that she had four 47 mm guns but states her armament was rounded out by two 15 mm (0.59 in) Zbrojovka ZB-60 anti-aircraft machine-guns.[12]

After entering service, Dalmacija was employed as a gunnery training ship.[15] In May and June 1929, Dalmacija, the submarines Hrabri and Nebojša, the submarine tender Hvar and six torpedo boats went on a cruise to Malta, the Greek island of Corfu in the Ionian Sea, and Bizerte in the French protectorate of Tunisia. According to the British naval attaché, the ships and crews made a very good impression while visiting Malta.[16] In 1930, the ship underwent a minor refit and her foremast was modified, including by the addition of supporting struts that converted it into a tripod mast. Throughout the 1930s, the ship went on several training cruises in the Mediterranean Sea, and during this period she served as a flagship on a number of occasions.[12]
Dalmacija in Kotor after the German invasion in April 1941

In April 1941, during the Axis invasion of Yugoslavia, Dalmacija remained in Kotor and did not see action. Some forty years old by that time, the ship was kept in port as a harbor defense vessel, since her relatively heavy anti-aircraft armament could be used to defend against air attacks.[17] Following the Yugoslav surrender, the ship was captured by the Italians in Kotor on 25 April.[18] Renamed Cattaro, the ship was placed in service with the Regia Marina as a gunboat and gunnery training ship, based in Pola. On 31 July 1942, the cruiser was attacked by the British submarine HMS Traveller south of the village of Premantura on the Istrian coast, but all of the torpedoes missed.[19][20]

The ship’s fate is somewhat unclear; according to Hildebrand et al., Cattaro was later transferred to the Navy of the Independent State of Croatia, where she was commissioned as a training ship under the name Znaim. She returned to German service in September 1943 after Italy surrendered to the Allies, which significantly reduced the warships operating in the Adriatic Sea. A German and Croatian crew operated the ship, once again named Niobe, under the German flag.[8] According to Twardowski, however, the ship remained in Italian hands until Germany seized it in September 1943, thereafter turning her over to the Independent State of Croatia as Znaim before retaking the ship and restoring her original name at some point thereafter.[15] Aidan Dodson concurs that the ship remained in Italian hands until their surrender, and states that she was undergoing boiler repairs at Pola at the time. After falling into German hands, there was some debate as to what her name should be, with consideration given to Zenta or Novara in honor of Austro-Hungarian cruisers, but the Germans eventually settled on reverting to her original name.[20]

Nevertheless, after leaving Italian service the ship’s armament was six 8.4 cm (3.3 in) AA guns, four 47 mm AA guns, four 20 mm Oerlikon AA guns, and twenty-six 20 mm Breda AA guns, and she was commissioned on 8 November.[10] On the night of 21/22 September, while she was still refitting, two British Motor Torpedo Boats—MTB 226 and MTB 228—attacked the ship to the northwest of Zara without success.[21] Niobe began escorting convoys in the Adriatic, the first taking place on 13 November,[8] in support of Operation Herbstgewitter.[20] This convoy consisted of several transports carrying units from the 71st Infantry Division to the islands of Cres, Krk, and Lussino.[22]

On 19 December, Niobe ran aground on the island of Silba at around 18:00 as a result of a navigational error. The crew requested tugboats from Pola, but they were unable to pull the ship free. Local Partisans informed the British about the ship’s location, and three days later, the British Motor Torpedo Boats MTB 276 and MTB 298 attacked the ship and hit her with two torpedoes, and the tug Parenzo, which had been moored alongside to assist the salvage effort, was hit by a third torpedo and sunk.[23][24] Nineteen men were killed in the attack. The Germans then abandoned the wreck, apart from a small group tasked with removing or destroying weapons and other equipment. The wreck was then damaged further by the Germans before they abandoned it, and it was later cannibalized for spare parts by the Partisans. The wreck remained on Silba until 1947, when salvage operations began. She was raised and broken up for scrap by 1952.[10][23]

KMS Nymphe

“Nymphe was among the six light cruisers that Germany was permitted to retain under the terms of the Treaty of Versailles that ended the war. She was taken to Wilhelmshaven on 4 November 1920, where from November 1922 to early 1924 she was modernized at the Deutsche Werke shipyard. Her original ram bow was replaced with a modern clipper bow, which increased her overall length to 108.7 m (357 ft). She also received a new mast, along with a new battery of 10.5 cm SK L/45 guns in U-boat mountings. A pair of 50 cm (20 in) torpedo tubes in deck-mounted launchers were also installed. She was recommissioned on 30 November 1924 for sea trials, with KzS Ernst Bindseil as her first commander in the new Reichsmarine (Navy of the Realm). She was then assigned to serve as the flagship of light Naval Forces of the Baltic Sea on 18 December, under the command of Konteradmiral (KAdm—Rear Admiral) Iwan Oldekop. FK Georg Kleine relieved Bindseil as the ship’s commander in January 1925. In addition to routine training exercises that year, the ship visited Merok, Norway, from 25 to 30 June. KAdm Franz Wieting replaced Oldekop as the unit commander on 25 September.[7][8][9]

In 1926, Nymphe took part in a major training cruise into the Atlantic and the Mediterranean Sea, during which she made several stops in Spain, including Cadiz from 20 to 24 May, Mahón, Menorca, from 27 to 29 May, Málaga from 1 to 8 June, and Vigo from 12 to 13 June. After returning to Germany, she took part in the fleet maneuvers held in August. From 4 to 5 September, she visited Skagen, Denmark, after which FK Fritz Conrad replaced Kleine as the ship’s captain. KzS Wilfried von Loewenfeld replaced Wieting on 16 March 1927. The ship made more foreign visits that year, and while in the Bay of Biscay, she was damaged in severe weather that saw wind strength in the range of 10–12 on the Beaufort scale. She stopped in El Ferrol from 2 to 14 April, Santa Cruz from 17 to 20 April, La Luz in Málaga from 24 April to 2 May, Lanzarote in the Canary Islands from 3 to 9 May, Horta and Ponta Delgada in the Azores from 14 to 23 May and from 24 to 29 May, respectively, Seville from 3 to 7 June, and Cadiz from 7 to 8 June. She once again took part in fleet maneuvers upon her return to Germany.[10]

Nymphe participated in a fleet cruise to Norway in July 1928, which included stops in Bergen and Ulvik. Following the fleet’s return to Germany, it conducted another set of training exercises, and in September, FK Wolf von Trotha relieved Conrad, serving as the ship’s last commander. On 15 October, KAdm Walter Gladisch replaced Loewenfeld, though Nymphe remained the flagship for just six months, being decommissioned on 16 April 1929 in Kiel; her role was taken by the new light cruiser Königsberg. Nymphe was briefly retained as a barracks ship until 31 March 1931, when she was struck from the naval register. She was sold on 29 August and then broken up the following year in Hamburg.[7][11] ”

KMS Thetis

“She was one of six light cruisers Germany was permitted to retain by the Treaty of Versailles that ended the war. Modernized in the early 1920s, she was recommissioned on 2 April 1922 and assigned to the Marinestation der Ostsee (Baltic Sea Naval Station). Her first commander during this period was FK Walther Kinzel. The year 1922 passed uneventfully, apart from routine training exercises with other elements of the small German fleet. In 1923, the ship made a pair of visits abroad; the first, to Mölle, Sweden, was from 11 to 15 July; the second, to Loen, Norway, lasted from 18 to 24 July. In October, Kapitän zur See (KzS—Captain at Sea) Ernst Bindseil replaced Kinzel. At the same time, the fleet was reorganized and Thetis became the flagship of light naval forces in the Baltic, which also included her sister ship Medusa and I Torpedo-boat Flotilla. The commander of the unit was KzS und Kommodore (and Commodore) Iwan Oldekop, who was promoted to konteradmiral on 1 November.[12]

Thetis made another pair of foreign visits in July 1924, both to ports in Estonia, one of the countries that had been created from the dissolution of the Russian Empire after the war. The first was to Tallinn (formerly Reval) from 5 to 10 July, and the second to Pärnu from 12 to 14 July. On 30 November, the ship was decommissioned in Wilhelmshaven, with her sister Nymphe replacing her as flagship. The vessel was thereafter used as a barracks ship in Wilhelmshaven until early 1929; struck from the naval register on 27 March, she and the torpedo boats V1 and V6 were sold to Blohm & Voss. Thetis was broken up in Hamburg in 1930.[11][8] ”

KMS Amazone

KMS Amazon and Admiral Hipper at Blohm and Voss shipyards, 1939

“The Treaty of Versailles that ended the war permitted Germany to retain six light cruisers, and Amazone was among those kept in service of the newly reorganized Reichsmarine. She was modernized and rearmed at the Reichsmarine Werft in Wilhelmshaven between 1921 and 1923. Her ram bow was replaced with a clipper bow, and she received a new battery of ten 10.5 cm SK L/45 guns in U-boat mountings and two 50 cm (20 in) torpedo tubes in deck launchers. She was recommissioned on 1 December 1923 under the command of Kapitän zur See (KzS—Captain at Sea) Walter Gladisch to replace her sister Arcona She joined the light forces of the Marinestation der Nordsee (North Sea Naval Station), operating with the light cruiser Hamburg and II. Torpedo-boat Flotilla. She spent the year 1924 conducting training exercises and visits abroad, including a summer training cruise with the fleet to Bodø, Norway.[12][13]

In March 1925, KzS Eduard Eichel relieved Gladisch. Amazone repeated the same pattern of training with the fleet and visits to foreign ports that year, including a cruise to Rotterdam, Netherlands and fleet exercises in the Eidangerfjord in Norway from 25 June to 1 July. She went on a longer cruise to the Mediterranean Sea in May and June 1926, in addition to her normal training duties, and in September, FK Alfred Saalwächter took command of the ship. In 1927, she embarked on a major cruise into the Atlantic with the rest of the fleet, which lasted from 28 March to 16 June; in September, FK Albrecht Meißner took command of the vessel. During a visit to Norway in mid-1928 in company with the battleship Schlesien, she stopped in Molde and Merok. Fleet maneuvers were thereafter held off Skagen, Denmark. Amazone largely remained in German waters in 1929 and saw little activity of note, apart from a trip to Gothenburg, Sweden in August.[13]

The Reichsmarine conducted a reorganization of the fleet on 1 January 1930, dividing the ships into tactical units. Amazone was initially assigned to the Reconnaissance Forces Command, under now-KAdm Gladisch, but it was quickly determined that she had little value as a warship by this point, some thirty years after her launch. She was accordingly decommissioned in Wilhelmshaven on 15 January and thereafter used as a barracks ship. She was then struck from the naval register on 31 March 1931 and assigned to the Submarine Acceptance Commission in Kiel. In addition to serving as a barracks, she was later used as an auxiliary for the Warship Construction Test Office. During World War II, she was towed to Bremen, and after the conflict she was used as an accommodation hulk for refugees who had fled from formerly-German occupied territories in eastern Europe. She lay idle and unused from 1951 to 1954, and plans to convert her into a floating youth center came to nothing. The old cruiser was ultimately broken up for scrap in 1954 in Hamburg; she was the last member of the Gazelle class to be scrapped.[14][8] ”

KMS Medusa

“Medusa was among the six light cruises Germany was permitted to retain under the terms of the Treaty of Versailles that ended the war. The postwar Reichsmarine was obligated by the treaty to clear the minefields that had been laid in the North Sea during the war, and the command initially planned to convert Medusa into a mother ship for the planned 12th Minesweeper Half-Flotilla, but the unit was not created and Medusa therefore was not converted. Instead, she was recommissioned on 17 July 1920 with FK Alexander Werth as her captain, the first major warship to be commissioned in the interwar period. At that time, she was assigned to the Marinestation der Ostsee (Baltic Sea Naval Station), which also included two torpedo boat flotillas and the survey ship Triton. One of her first activities was to carry President Friedrich Ebert on a trip to East Prussia. She later visited foreign ports between 30 August and 5 September, including Fårösund and Visby on the island of Gotland in Sweden.[10]

On 10 February 1921, the battleship Hannover was recommissioned, and at the same time relieved Medusa as the flagship. The two ships, along with both torpedo boat flotillas, conducted training exercises in June and July in the western Baltic. Medusa then made another series of visits to ports in the Baltic between 28 July and 2 August, including Uddevalla and Gothenburg, Sweden. She operated as an icebreaker in the Gulf of Riga from 24 January to 12 February 1922, and during this period she visited Windau, Latvia from 2 to 9 February. She next visited Gävle, Sweden from 22 to 26 June, followed by ports in Finland between 29 June and 3 July. In September, KK Ernst Meusel replaced Werth as the ship’s captain; he was to be the vessel’s last commanding officer. Medusa returned to Gothenburg from 11 to 15 July 1923 along with I Half-Flotilla, followed by stops in Molde on 19 July and then Åndalsnes, both in Norway. In October, the Marinestation was reorganized, since by this time enough battleships had been recommissioned to create a separate Battleship Division; Medusa became part of the light naval forces unit. From 5 to 12 July 1924, she visited Gävle again and on 26 September, she was decommissioned.[10]

From 1 February 1928, Medusa began to serve as a barracks ship for torpedo boat and destroyer crews in Wilhelmshaven. On 29 March 1929, she was stricken from the naval register. In July 1940, during World War II, Medusa was converted into a floating anti-aircraft battery at the Rickmers Reederei shipyard in Bremerhaven.[11][9] Her armament at that point consisted of one 10.5 cm SK C/32 gun, four 10.5 cm SK C/33 guns, two 3.7 cm (1.5 in) SK C/30 guns, and four 2 cm (0.79 in) Flak guns.[12] She was then assigned to Naval Anti-aircraft Group 222, and remained in the harbor at Wilhelmshaven, anchored off Varel, beginning on 13 August 1940. She remained there for the duration of the war. On 19 April 1945, she was badly damaged by an Allied air attack that killed twenty-three and wounded forty-one of her crew. Her remaining crew scuttled the ship on 3 May, days before the end of the war in Europe. British occupation troops found the wreck lying next to the Wiesbaden Bridge [de]. The wreck was ultimately salvaged in 1948–1950 and broken up for scrap.[11][13]”

KMS Arcona

KMS Arcona (Reichsmarine) off Wilhelmshaven, stationed in Kiel, circa 1925.

“Following Germany’s defeat in the war, much of the German fleet was decommissioned, but there is no record of Arcona having been removed from service.[13] The Treaty of Versailles that ended the war mandated that Germany was responsible for clearing the mines that had been laid in the North Sea during the conflict,[14] and Arcona was selected in early 1919 to serve as a mother ship for the minesweepers that were tasked with clearing the mines; this decision was made after the old pre-dreadnought battleship Preussen proved to be unsuited to the task. Arcona was modified for the role at what was now the Reichsmarine Werft (formerly the Kaiserliche Werft) in Wilhelmshaven; all of her guns except the stern pair were removed, with those being retained to detonate mines that were encountered. After the work was completed, Kapitänleutnant (Captain Lieutenant) Erich Haeker took command of the vessel in May. She was then assigned to support V Minesweeping Flotilla and operated with the unit until February 1920, by which time the work was completed. Arcona was thereafter decommissioned to be rebuilt for fleet service.[15]

Arcona was modernized and rearmed, which included the reconstruction of her bow into a clipper-style prow that improved seakeeping. On 25 May 1921, she was recommissioned and assigned to the Marinestation der Nordsee (North Sea Naval Station), at that time commanded by KAdm Konrad Mommsen. Her first commander after returning to fleet service was FK Friedrich Hermann. Arcona visited Arendal and Sandefjord in Norway in August and then she steamed to Frederikshavn, Denmark, where a monument to the sailors who had died in the Battle of Jutland during the war. The ship was used as an auxiliary icebreaker in February 1922 in the western Baltic Sea and the Kattegat, and in the Gulf of Riga in March. While in the gulf, she was damaged by the sea ice and had to be relieved by the battleship Hessen so she could return to port for repairs. In mid-1922, she visited Balestrand, Norway, and in 1923, she steamed to Åbo, Finland and Karlskrona, Sweden. In July of that year, KzS Walter Gladisch relieved Hermann as the ship’s commander. On 1 December 1923, Arcona was decommissioned, her place in the fleet being taken by her sister ship Amazone.[15][16]

The ship remained in reserve for the next seven years, before being struck from the naval register on 15 January 1930. She was then used as a barracks ship for ships’ crews in Wilhelmshaven, later being moved to Swinemünde in 1936 and then to Kiel in 1938, by which time the Reichsmarine had been renamed as the Kriegsmarine (War Navy). She remained there after the outbreak of World War II in September 1939. In May 1940, Arcona was converted into a floating anti-aircraft battery in Swinemünde, where she was stationed initially.[17] Her armament now consisted of one 10.5 cm SK C/32 gun, four 10.5 cm SK C/33 guns, two 3.7 cm SK C/30 guns, and four 2 cm guns.[18] She was later moved to Wilhelmshaven, where she was assigned to Naval Anti-Aircraft Group 233, and she was transferred to Brunsbüttel later in the war. In closing days of the war in Europe, her crew scuttled the ship to prevent her from being captured, on 3 May 1945.[13][17]

Following Germany’s surrender, the British Royal Navy took control of the naval installation at Brunsbüttel on 7 May. Arcona was among the warships that were seized, including four U-boats and the badly damaged destroyer Z31. Their German crews unloaded ammunition and removed weapons from the ships under British supervision.[19] She was subsequently broken up for scrap in 1948–1949.[17]”

Reservenkreuzer: Bremen class (1903)

None of these were active in WW2, but some served in the interwar

The case of the Deutschland class (1931)

Graf Spee at the 1937 Spithead Coronation naval review – Colorized by Irootoko Jr.

KMS Emden (1925)

K class (1927)

Kriegsmarine’s cruisers and Plan Z


Leichtes Kreuzer Leipzig class (1936)

KMS Leipzig

Design of the last German light cruiser class

Started in 1927 on behalf of the Reichsmarine in Whilelmshaven, the Leipzig was an improved version of the previous “K” class, while keeping the essential, but also the flaws. The main part of its structure, especially the hull, was persevered, resulting in structural weaknesses and a “limiting” stability of the width of the hull. The chimneys were grouped together in a single structure, and the superstructure of the forecastle prolonged, the triple turrets rearranged in the axis, and the bow of “classical” again, for a longer length and an increased width. The Nuremberg, on the other hand, was attacked for the Kriegsmarine, and the frontiers of the Treaty of Versailles were freed. It resulted in an increase in size, protection, and weight… Moreover its bridge superstructure was revised, more massive and better protected. His diesels were a new, more economical model. At the end of Nürnberg was the only really successful cruiser of this series of “Leichte Kreuzer”.

The Leipzig class in action

Before the conflict, the two ships participated in the naval blockade of arms to Spain (1936-39). At the time of the war, Leipzig was involved in mine clearance operations off the coast of England when it was torpedoed by British submarine HMS Salmon, along with its “twin”, the Nürnberg. The Leipzig returned to Germany and was converted into a training vessel, in particular two boilers were replaced to make chambers and its speed had fallen to 27 knots.
She returned to service on the occasion of Operation Barbarossa (June 1941), bombing Russian advanced bases in the Baltic. He then remained in the Baltic for training, and entered during an outing in foggy weather in collision with the Prinz Eugen. Repaired, but suffering from problems, he was less and less active. In 1945, he was serving as a dock ship and DCA support at Whilelmshaven. Then he operated off Gdynia to try to slow down the Russian lead. He eventually surrendered to the British. It was scuttled in the North Sea in 1946.
The Nuremberg, on the other hand, also torpedoed by the Salmon when she was laying mines, missed operations in Norway. However, she sailed to a fjord for operations against the convoys of the great north, and alternated these missions with those in the Baltic. She eventually surrendered to the allies in Copenhagen in 1945 and was attributed to the USSR as a war-warrant, renamed Admiral Makharov. She retired from service in 1959, the only surviving German cruiser.

KMS Leipzig

KMS Nürnberg

KMS Nürnberg specifications

Dimensions: 177 x 16.30 x 5.65 m
Displacement: 6200 t/8380 tonnes FL
Crew: 1150
Propulsion: 2 shafts, Brown-Boveri turbines, 66,000 hp, 2 MAN diesels 12 400 hp
Speed: 32/19 knots (xx km/h; xx mph) Radius 5700 Nautical Miles
Armament: 9(3×3)x 152 mm, 6x 88 mm AA, 8x 37mm AA, 12(4×3) TT 533 mm, 120 mines, 2 planes
Armor: Belt: 30 mm (), Deck: 25 mm (), Turrets 30mm, Conning tower: 30 mm ()

Schwere Kreuzer Hipper class (1937)

The Hipper class comprised the first (and last) five German Navy heavy cruisers, of which only three were completed. The fourth, named Seydlitz, was suspended and later to be converted into an aircraft carrier. The fifth, Lützow, was sold half-finished to the Soviet Union in 1940 and never completed either.
The German-British Naval Agreement granted Germany a total of five heavy cruisers and Blücher, Admiral Hipper, Prinz Eugen were planned unless special circumstances made it necessary to build two more, which was confirmed on June 8, 1936 by Erich Raeder, cruisers “K” and “L” with an initial main armament or triple turrets and 15 cm guns in four triple turrets. However Adolf Hitler soon ordered their reconversion as heavy cruisers.

Hipper class specifications

Dimensions: 209 x 20.30 x 7.3 m
Displacement: 16,000 t/18,000 tonnes FL
Crew: 1150
Propulsion: 4 shafts, 4 turbines, 12 boilers, 320,000 bhp
Speed: 32 knots Radius 9,000 Nautical Miles
Armament: 4×2 152 mm, 6×2 105 mm AA, 6×2 37mm AA, 8×1 20mm AA, 4×3 TT 533 mm, mines, 3-4 planes
Armor: Belt: 80 mm, Deck: 30 mm, Turrets 100mm, Conning tower: 150 mm

Kriegsmarine KMS Hipper

KMS Prinz Eugen launch at Kiel, 22 August 1938
Hipper made two raid cruises in 1939, totaling 60,000 tons of merchant vessels. She took part in the Norwegian campaign (Weserübung), and off Trondheim badly damaged the destroyer HMS Glowworm. The latter managed however to maneuver just before sinking, ramming the Hipper, which left a deep hull depression and significant internal damage. However, this did not prevented Hipper’s landing party to erect the Nazi flag on Kristiansand, taking all the city’s organs (Telecommunication, energy, etc.) without the inhabitants noticing. The Hipper than departed and patrolled along the Norwegian coast accompanied by the battleships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, then returned to Kiel for repair.
Two new raids in the Atlantic has been later canceled due to turbine failures. From December she returned to the Atlantic, undetected, and from Brest, made some sorties against British trade, notably against convoy WS-5A in December 1940 and SLS64 in February 1941. She then joined Kiel for minor improvements and the addition of additional oil tanks, and returned to Norway. She remained there to operate against the Arctic convoys. She was severely damaged during an attack of one of These convoys in December 1942. After returning to Wilhelmshaven for repair, she remained there, set aside by Hitler’s order, completely disillusioned with surface ships. In January 1945 her partial repairs served her to evacuate civilians and troops from the ports of East Prussia, from the fury of the Russian troops (Operation Hannibal). She was broken up in Kiel in May 1945.

Kriegsmarine KMS Hipper

Prinz Eugen through Panama Canal in 1946
The Blücher had a power plant slightly different from its twin, but unchanged speed. She took part in the attack on Norway (Weserübung), as flagship of naval group 5 (including Lützow, Emden, three torpedo boats and 8 minesweepers under Oskar Kummetz), intended to land troops and men of the Gestapo destined to take organs of communication and power in Oslo. As she advanced by night in the fjord, her weapons remained perfectly aligned in a gesture of disdain against Norwegian fortifications, but she was nevertheless surprised by the patrol boat Pol III just before midnight. The latter raised the alarm, and Oscarborg battery’s gunners, although inexperienced and having only old 280 mm Krupp guns dating back from 1890, fired at 1600-1800 meters, seriously damaging the cruiser, who then could not reply. As a result, this first blood was followed by practically firing pieces of the coast, even minor ones.

Blücher was rapidly in flames, and sunk later at point-blank range by the Dröbak fjord batteries, 280 mm from Oscarborg and 150 mm from the Kopas battery, completed by torpedoes from Kaholm fort (old Austro-Hungarian Whitehead models from 1895). Nevertheless, and despite the icy waters, there were few victims, the banks being close. During the same event, the pocket battleship Lützow (former Deutschland) was also severely damaged and had to retreat. Oslo was saved, allowing the Royal family to leave the country. The Blücher still lies at 90 meters in the middle of the fjord, an attraction for divers. In 1994 an operation was carried out to extract the oil escaping from its rusting tanks. That gave an opportunity to retrieve an anchor, now exposed to Aker Brygge, and an Arado seaplane, now exposed in Stavanger Museum.

Kriegsmarine KMS Prinz Eugen

KMS Prinz Eugen, named after Prince Eugene of Savoy (in honor of the Austrian part of the new third Reich) was nicknamed the “lucky”. Launched in 1938, her construction costed at the tome some 104 million Reichsmarks. She was to participate in the operations in Norway but was not yet ready for service. On 2 July 1940 she was attacked and damaged by the RAF. On 23 April 1941 after substantial repairs, she was again put out of action by a magnetic mine. On 24 May, 1941 she was ready for Operation Rheinübung in the company of Bismarck.
This was her most famous action. Opening fire against the Hood, at maximum angle, it is very possible that her shells set fire to the rear boats deck (spreading into more vital parts of the ship, that blew her up). Then she was ordered to concentrate fire on the HMS Prince of Wales (which the Germans had taken for HMS King George V), scoring four hits. When the Bismarck was defeated, PE had to divert to France, to continue her mission against British trade.

On her first sortie she was to find the tanker Spichern, but turned back on 29 May because of turbine failures. Anchored in Brest, she was the target of constant attacks by the RAF. On the night of July, 1st, she was severely damaged by a bomb hitting the rear artillery control center, killing 60. On 11-12 February after repair, she escorted the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau through the channel, to the Baltic (operation Cerberus) with success. In February she went back to Trondheim Fjord.

In another raid she was torpedoed by HMS Trident, lost her stern and remained almost a year in repair at Kiel, only back into service in January 1943. Because of her troublesome turbines however she could not join Norway and spent the remainder of her service time in the Baltic, as an escort vessel and training ship. From October 1944 she assisted troops in East Prussia with her artillery, and later helped to evacuate troops and civilians during the siege of Danzig in 1945. On October 15, by foggy weather, she collided with the KMS Leipzig, and was sent to Gdynia (Gotenhafen) for repairs. After a final evacuation, she went to Copenhagen on 20 April.

KMS Prinz Eugen remained in Denmark due to lack of fuel. She was captured by the British on May 8, and after the war was attributed to the US Navy, renamed USS Prinz Eugen/IX300, and thoroughly examined by engineers. Her sonar was recovered and tested on a submersible, her magnetic amplifiers were reverse-engineered. She was eventually sent into the Pacific, through the Panama Canal. Stationed in the Bikini atoll for Operation Crossroads, she was badly irradiated by two nuclear explosions (tests Abel and Baker).
In September 1946, he was towed and sunk in the Kwajalein atoll where she remains. Her bell is currently exposed in the Washington DC Museum, and her propeller was repatriated in 1978, and is currently exposed in Laboe, Germany.

Kriegsmarine KMS Seydlitz

KMS Seydlitz being launched
KMS Seydlitz being launched
Both heavy cruisers were sister-ships of the Prinz Eugen, larger than the first Hipper. They were built at the Deutsche Schiff und Maschinenbau of Bremen, laid down in 29 December 1936 and 2 August 1937, launched in January and August 1939.
Seydlitz‘s construction was approximately 95 percent complete when halted. In March 1942 it was decided to convert her into an aircraft carrier. She was renamed Weser, and conversion work began in May 1942: All superstructures were erased (about 2400 tons), and a hangar was started, which could have housed ten Bf 109 fighters and ten Ju 87 dive-bombers.
AA artillery was to comprise 10x 10.5 cm SK C/33 guns in dual mounts, 10x 3.7 cm SK C/30 guns also in dual mounts, plus 24x 2 cm Flak 38 guns in quad-mounts. Work was halted again in June 1943, she was towed to Königsberg and stayed there unfinished, only to be scuttled in January 1945. Briefly seized by the advancing Soviet Army she was later sold for scrap.

Kriegsmarine KMS Lützow

Unfinished Lützow being transferred to USSR, 1940
The Lützow was the object of intense negotiations between the 3rd Reich and the USSR from October 1939 to February 1940, that thought to acquire her. Concluded, the transfer took place in April, but then she lacked half her battery and most of ther superstructure was missing. renamed Petropavlovsk she was to be completed by a German-advised Soviet shipyard in Leningrad. After Operation Barbarossa began of course all was halted, and the ship took part in the defense of Leningrad, before being silenced by German heavy artillery.
Sunk, then raised again in September 1942 she was repaired as Tallinn, and took part in the operations for taking back the city in 1944. After the war she served as floating barracks until broken up from 1953.

M class (1939)

M class specifications

Dimensions: 177 x 16.30 x 5.65 m
Displacement: 6200 t/8380 tonnes FL
Crew: 1150
Propulsion: 2 shafts, Brown-Boveri turbines, 66,000 hp, 2 MAN diesels 12 400 hp
Speed: 32/19 knots (xx km/h; xx mph) Radius 5700 Nautical Miles
Armament: 9(3×3)x 152 mm, 6x 88 mm AA, 8x 37mm AA, 12(4×3) TT 533 mm, 120 mines, 2 planes
Armor: Belt: 30 mm (), Deck: 25 mm (), Turrets 30mm, Conning tower: 30 mm ()

Other Z-Plan cruiser projects

Dornier Leichte Schnellboote (1942)

Leichte Schnellboote

Germany (1942-45) – About 27 LS boats 1936-1945

Genesis of the “light fast (T)boats”


The German Leichte Schnellboote were a series of small and light S-Boote or fast torpedo boats, originally designed to operate from a cruiser or auxiliary cruiser. In the end, design difficulties meant that only two were deployed on two auxiliary cruisers (or commerce raiders), seeing mixed results. Instead, the rest of the production was focalized on coastal warfare, taking place mostly in the black sea.

Resurrection of the torpedo mothership concept

The need to design a very small and light torpedo boat was not required until WW2 broke out, as the already proven S-Boote was already equipping coastal defence flotillas of the Kriegsmarine, with more improved models to come: the mass-built S38, S100, and S701 groups.

However, in 1939, a series of commerce raiders were commissioned (HSK or “Handels Stör Kreuzer”) individually named “schiff-“, with plans to arm them with surplus WW-I cruiser naval guns, FLAK, mines, torpedo launchers, even reconnaissance planes. However, the large dimensions and available holds aboard made some wonder if they could deploy small attack boats as well.

One such idea was some sort of “special operation” use of the Hilfkreuzers as they could enter any harbour where a target of choice was at anchor, then at night launch two or more midget MTBs, causing havoc on short notice. This was not the resurrection of the old torpedo mothership concept, tested by Britain, France, and Italy, the first two with dedicated carrier cruisers in the late 1880s.

In the old guise, the concept, created in the wake of the first torpedo boat flotillas and the realization of possible applications for the Whitehead torpedo, was the idea to use a large mothership to bring the powerful but range-limited Motor Torpedo boats into close range of the enemy before launching them, somewhat like aircraft from a carrier. The idea was, if the concept was valid, to spread midget TBs on battleships as well as their already planned use on cruisers. After all, the latter already carried steam pinnaces and picket boats, which could have been equipped with old-style spar torpedoes if required.

The reality was quite different: These midget torpedo boats were too frail and too wimpy to face sea conditions even moderate seas. They became slow and very wet, and their small coal reserve was soon eaten by trying to reach their top speed while riding waves that often were taller than the boats themselves. Both the Royal Navy’s HMS Vulcan and the French Foudre were abandoned as a concept, as was the Italian Duilio which had its own “torpedo boat well” at the stern. The “torpedo mothership” concept would be resurrected decades later, in 1918, with the first torpedo-carrying aircraft of the pioneering aircraft carriers.

The need for a midget Torpedo Boat

Author's profile of LS2
Author’s profile of the LS 2

Since the 100-ton, 40 m long S-Boote was totally unsuitable to be carried on any warship, it was obvious that a lighter model would have to be made for the Kriegsmarine’s inventory for these ‘Special Operations’ to work. On that note, the Regia Marina showed the way:

The MAS boats in service were already smaller than the German S-Boats, tailored for the Mediterranean, and new “spec ops” boats were tailored, to be carried by a mother ship/submarine, or even aircraft if needed: The 1939 MTM explosive motor-boat, the MAT or the MTR, but also midget torpedo boats, like the 1.7 tons MTS, MTSM, and MTSMA series, ranging from 1.7 to 3.65 tons and armed with two or a single 45 cm aviation type torpedo, launched aft like WWI MAS boats.

No doubt these nimble and very fast vessels carried quite a punch and could be carried and deployed by larger vessels. However unlike the Italian models, the LS boats were designed for long-range commerce raiding missions in all weather conditions and thus, their seaworthiness became the prime imperative, alongside other specifications, such as carrying mines and being able to deploy troops if needed. They were to be light, very fast, and versatile, to add real offensive value to a commerce raider or auxiliary cruiser (Hilfskreuzer).

Dorniers’s LS: Design Development (1936-1942)

Dornier LS-2 Meteorit
Dornier LS-2 “Meteorit” (Picture: EADS/Dornier GmbH )

In 1936 the Seekriegsleitung (SKl) or supreme command of the Kriegsmarine, requested a small S-boat suited to be carried by cruisers and auxiliary cruisers. The first design submitted by Lürssen was about 20 m long, with a layered monocoque structure of aluminum cladding backed by wood. The KSl declined production as it was still judged far too large to be operated on a mothership, and more notably, too large to be recovered. A draft was submitted in 1937 for a 12-13 m long boat, to be propelled by small but powerful diesel engines. Development of the latter however was left to be desired as none of the traditional specialists such as Maybach or MAN had any in R/D. However, Daimler Benz emerged as an unlikely leader in this category and began work on the engine.

Specifications also called for two either 53,3cm (21 in) standard marine torpedoes, or two airborne marine 45,7cm (18 in) models in tubes. It was also required that there should be one single 20mm FLAK gun, in an aviation-type glassed or plexiglass cupola. Studies with the trim after firing a torpedo led to a position during the design on the sides of the engine room rather than a classic stern-firing arrangement like WWI models, or a forward arrangement like in S-Boote.

Detailed blueprint of the LS-II
Detailed blueprint of the LS-II

Teams discussed the torpedo launch type, be it either stern-first or head-first. To deal with depth-steering stability, the torpedoes were to be launched stern-first. Otherwise, they ran the risk of being rammed by the boat. The steering arrangement and turning cupola design were redrawn, and the latter was posted aft of the bridge. Alternatives were studied, leading to different designs in 1938-39:

  • V2 (1937) Composite-built wood/aluminium
  • V2A (1938) All-aluminium prototype and mixed aluminium-steel (for the main framing), two boats ordered in 1938
  • “LS 1” composite wood/aluminium built at Naglo, Berlin.
  • “LS 2” all-aluminium built by Dornier, Friedrichshafen-Manzell.

Both had on paper the same Junkers V12 piston four-stroke aircraft-diesel engines: The JuMo 205. These were a provisional solution until replacement by the Daimler Benz lightweight diesel engines which were still under development. Originally, both were to receive 18-in torpedo tubes, launched in a forward direction, however, this required a big hatch into the hull, and thus it was scrapped from construction. However, the torpedos, at 12,5 m long, 3,46 m wide, and 80 cm deep proved too large. Instead, an airborne torpedo, the F5, with a 45 cm diameter, 4,8 m length, and a 737 kg weight was used.

Dornier Flukzeugwerke was founded in Friedrichshafen in 1914 by Claude Dornier. The company rose to fame with its giant floatplane, the Dornier Do X, alongside its commercial success, the Wal. But after it began production for the Luftwaffe, its designs diversified, leading to such iconic models as the Do-17 “flying pencil” and its long lineage, or the revolutionary twin push-pull engineered Do-335 ‘Pfeil”: the fastest piston-engine fighter of WW2. By its historical roots, Originally Dornier Metallbau, working for Zeppelin, the company was probably the most gifted to deal with light construction in Germany.

At the outbreak of WW2, only two experimental midget S-boats were still in the works: “LS 1” and “LS 2”. In 1940, however, interest in their development was revived and the Dornier boat “LS 2” was fitted for war and embarked on Hilfskreuzer Komet (HSK 7). LS 2 was nicknamed “Meteor”. The planned for 45 cm torpedo tubes being not ready on time, minelaying rails were installed at the stern, the goal now being for the boats to lay mines to blockade habour entrances or rivers, using their shallow draft.

LS-II minelaying gear

Design-wise this was an important move. This minelaying gear was housed in three wells built in the stern, just large enough for an oblong TMB lightweight magnetic mine, launched from these “laying tubes”, all three side by side with round opening hatches. “LS 1” due to her construction was judged too heavy and barred from any use onboard an auxiliary cruiser. Instead, it became a test vessel for coastal operations.

At the time the Kriegsmarine had trouble obtaining delivery of the planned 20 mm FLAK 38 and instead, opted to fit the WWI vintage 6 cm gun as a stopgap solution. During acceptance trials, the Junkers engine caused a lot of issues. To start with, due to the light construction, vibration became so excessive that the top speed of the boats had to be drastically reduced. Also, being originally an aircraft engine and relocated inside a closed hull, cooling proved soon inadequate and the engine’s placement had to be redesigned entirely. By the end of June 1940, final acceptance trials, after revisions, were performed off Kiel over 200 nautical miles. The LS.II achieved a seven-hour run at a measured 28 knots, with peaks at 32 kts, which was a satisfying result for such a small craft.

Cutaway of the LS V

LS 4 showing her DC ports open aft

LS-5 Depht Charge rack system

⚙ Dornier-Werft Friedrichshafen, LS-2 serie design specs

Dimensions 12.5 x 3.45 x 0.9 m ( feets)
Displacement 11.5 tons standard
Crew 7
Propulsion 2 Daimler-Benz MB 507 desel-engines 1100 PS
Speed 38 knots ( km/h)
Range Unknown
Armament 2x stern TTs 45.7 mm (18 in), 2cm/1x 15 mm HMG HD 151 turret

⚙ LS-4 serie

Dimensions 13 x 3.46 x 0.9-1.02 m ( feets)
Displacement 13 tons standard
Crew 7
Propulsion 2x Diesel Junkers JuMo 205M or Daimler Benz MB 507
Speed 38-42.5 knots ( km/h)
Range 300 nm at 30 kts
Armament 2x stern TTs 45.7 mm (18 in)/3-4 mines, 15/20mm HMG FLAK +2 MG42

LS Boote in action

LS-3 in tests

LS Boote speeding up

LS-3 on trials

LS-renditions 3D wargaming

“Meteor” (LS-II) as it was named, performed lifting tests using marine types heavy weight booms, notably aboard an auxiliary cruiser, where the commercial booms already in place were able to lift heavy bulk payloads, and thus LS-II. Difficulties with the Junkers engines eventually caused a total loss of “Meteor” in early service. The overheating problem was never really cured and enflamed the wood and eventually aluminium around it. Not a single mine was ever laid by “LS 2” during her service on “Komet”.

The use of a light MTB was also considered to be used by the final product of the conversion of the MS Steirark to its most famous guise, the Kormoran in October 1940. It was planned to have her equipped with a single LS boat, which was at the time still on paper. LS boats would also be deployed to the Komet and Michel (LS1 to LS4). The series “LS 13” – “LS 34” ordered in 1942, was stopped in 1944, and the boats “LS 13” to “LS 18” were still in France during the liberation and lived to see French use. Other orders were cancelled by Speer in 1944.

Design-wise, the LS Boote was originally created by Dornier, a company well experienced with aluminium and light construction, but the provisional aviation engines caused many problems. So much so that the “Meteor” could not be deployed from “Komet”. In the spring of 1940 four more boats were ordered. “LS 3” and “LS 4” at last received the intended Daimler-Benz light MB 507 diesel engines. These boats were designed also as minelayers, but with a slightly different system with four instead of three mines.

LS 2 experience on HSK-7 Komet was not stellar: LS 2 was scheduled to make a sortie on December 23, to lay a minefield in front of Rabaul, then held by the Australians. But she just refused to start. The mechanical problem proved to be irreparable, and she was simply scuttled off the Bismarck archipelago.

“LS 3” was completed and tested on October 14th, 1940 and was to be deployed on the auxiliary cruiser “Kormoran” (HSK 8). LS 3 was able to lay 4 mines and like LS-II, was deployed on a few occasions in the south Pacific and the Indian Ocean, until its destruction during the Kormorans’ duel against the Australian cruiser HMAS Sydney on November 19, 1941.

“LS 4” however received the intended two aft 45,7 cm stern torpedo tubes produced Dornier in three months as well as newly developed propellers. She was able to achieve 42.5 knots. She was deployed aboard the auxiliary cruiser “Michel” (HSK 9), entering service in July 1941. She was very successful, sinking two vessels and assisting with the sinking of four others, for a total of 46.000 BRT. Statistically, she was the most successful of the whole series: On 22.04.1942 she sank the US turbine tanker “Connecticut” of 8.684 GRT, on 06.06.1942 the “George Clymer”, a 7.176 GRT Liberty ship along with the Norwegian “Aramis” 7.984 GRT. Later, on 30.11.1942, she sank the Greek freighter “Eugenie Livanos” (4.816 GRT), and on 17.06.1943 the Norwegian tanker “Ferncastle” (9.940 GRT), as well as the Norwegian tanker “India” on 11.09.1943. Her commanding officer was awarded the Deutsches Kreuz in Gold. She also evacuated sunken vessels’ crews, a lifesaving decision in the icy waters she hunted in, at a rate of up to 30 at a time. These attacks were mostly performed at night. She was sunk when Michel was torpedoed by USS Tarpon in October 1943.

“LS 5” and “LS 6” had Junkers aircraft engines and were intended to carry torpedos as well, but due to their engine issues, they were never deployed aboard commerce raiders. The OKM ordered both units fitted as submarine-chasers with six depth charges in two specially designed wells aft. They were designed to be operated by “MR 7”, Mittlere Räumboot 7. These were 21-27 tons Lürssen, Vegesack R-Boats designed for riverine and coastal operations. These were relocated to the Aegean Sea, in the Mediterranean. Their unit was later moved to the Black Sea where they were tested, but due to their crippling engine issues, never became operational.

LS 5 and 6 were deployed as escorts, the first on Lake Constance, the second in the Aegean Sea.

“LS 7” to “LS 12” received the intended MB 507 engines and they were built to carry two torpedoes. “LS 7” was delivered on 08.10.1943 and “LS 12” on 12.07.1944. All were deployed in the Aegean Sea. “LS 12”, was sent to Yugoslavia to be tested at a local torpedo facility; the Torpedo Trials Institute (Torpedoversuchsanstalt), and was subsequently captured by the Soviets in 1945. LS 6 was sunk by RAF fighter bombers. LS 5 was seriously damaged, and blown up to avoid capture. “LS 7” through “LS 11” were still transported to the Aegean Sea.

LS 4 (Esau) could have been armed either with an MG 151/20 or a 2 cm Flak 30/38. She served onboard the HSK 9 Michel and was very successful as seen above. LS 5 & LS 6 were fitted as coastal ASW vessels and had a sonar in complement of the MR 7 mines, however, they had issues with their two-stroke 6-cyl diesel Jumo 205 engines. Their 11 depth charges (six in tubes, four on deck) were completed by a single 2 cm Flak 38. MR 6 and MR 7 were refitted in 1942 with two 45 cm torpedo tubes but kept their deck mines according to photos. Up to LS 6, they were all completed in 1941, and LS 12 was the last completed in 1944. LS-7 to LS-11 were likely completed in 1943. Their design was slightly changed, with their masts removed, and a whip antenna fitted directly on the turret. 15 mm MG 151 were used in a twin mount inside the turret, but they kept their 57.2 cm torpedo tubes. They apparently had no sinking recorded and saw little service, notably due to the lack of diesel.

Crews are trained on the Lake Constance near Friedrichshafen, and from September 1943, LS 7-11 formed the 21st Schnellboot-Flotilla, specially created for them. In the spring of 1944, their flotilla was sent by rail to Athens, to operate between the Aegean Sea and the Adriatic. There, they intended to cripple Allied convoys passing by Otranto. From June 1944, they were based out of a Phaleron base in Rhodes, as well as in Leros, Corfu, and Patras. Records of the raids carried out seem to have little impact. The last raid from Corfu against the port of Bari was canceled in September 1944 due to bad weather. Called back to the Aegean Sea, they all ended up scuttled or destroyed by October of that year.

As said above, LS’s 13-34 were cancelled while in construction at Dornier in 1944. LS 13 – LS 18 were captured by France, while still incomplete. However, they were finished after capture. Finally, LS 19 – LS 34 were cancelled on the slipways. There was a project to use a submarine as a mothership, inspired by the Italian experience with Scirè: This was to be the U Boat Type IIIA in 1934. Two LSs were to be carried in an aft-enclosed hangar tube. Overall the Kriegsmarine was very critical of these boats, which motivated the cancellation of the project in 1944: Apart from LS-4’s successes, they suffered from deficient engines, poor construction, frequent water ingress, and seaworthiness issues due to their very light construction, vibrations, and very light armament.

They were often associated with the ‘LM boote’ or Küstenminenleger, coastal minelayer, which borrowed some concepts. These will be treated in a future standalone post.

Hypothetical reconstruction of the U-Boat Type IIIA carrying LS boats (never built).

About the KS Boote (1943)

As for the KLEINST SCHNELLBOOT (KS-BOOTE), they came from a program to convert Küstenminenleger delivered or completed, as Kleinst Schnellboote (“very small speedboats”) between March 1943 and November 1944. At least 21 units were thus transformed, including those engaged in the Gulf of Finland which had not yet been destroyed. They had two external 45cm torpedo tubes aft and a twin MG 151 in a rotating HD 151 Plexiglas turret aft of the bridge, plus a single MG 15 (7.92 mm) placed above the engine compartment on a pintle.

These KS-Boote were given the same role as the LS-Boote but on a greater displacement and therefore were more stable. Indeed, poor results of minelaying operations had them converted into MTBs in order to improve the capability of the too weak LSs. They were deployed in the Gulf of Finland, Aegean Sea, Adriatic, and Black Sea. They mostly attacked convoys at night and performed escort missions. In 1943-44, 14 new units were built to constitute mthe 22 Schnellboots-Flottille in December 1942. Training dragged on until May 1944, and the uint was transferred to Italy by train.

They should have been transferred to the Black Sea to reinforce the Danube flotilla, but ended at Lignano, between Trieste and Venice, and were mainly used for the instruction of Croatian sailors. By September-October, eight of them were officially redesignated KS 1-8, delivered permanently to the Croatian Navy, operating from Rijeka as the Kroatische Küsten-Schnellboots-Flottille, subordinated to the 11 Kriegsmarine’s Sicherungs-Division German Navy, a coastal auxiliary police force. The Ustashi regime however was confronted with incessant insurrections, and thus the small Ratna Mornarica Nezavisne Države Hrvatske was also plagued by sedition.

On the night of December 13 to 14, 1944, the entire KKS-Flottille planned to defect and sail to lake Nemi, held by Tito’s partisans. It failed because the port was guarded by the German Army and all sailors were arrested, bar the commander of the flotilla and a few men who managed to get through. German authorities then decided to send these crews to Zagreb as infantry, while the vessels were stripped of their armament. Souces about operations in the Aegean Sea or the Black Sea are very scarce and are even less satisfactory than those on the LS Boats. Camouflage-wise, they all stayed in regular grey color, but the boats of KM.22 stationed on Lake Ladoga circa 1943-44, were painted with a three-tone grey pattern.

Sources & more:


None found so far.


On german-navy.de
On de.wikipedia.org
On ocdroid.net
On navypedia
On fra.wiki
On wlb-stuttgart.de
On s-boot.net
On aminoapps.com

Future developments:

Naval Encyclopedia will also cover the following:
-TS 1-TS 6 hydrofoils, VS serie Half-Submarine-S-Boat, VS 6 minelayer hydrofoil, VS 7 TB hydrofoil, VS 8-9 Transport hydrofoils, VS 10 light S-Boat hydrofoil, the 1944 German built SMA light TBs, Hydra, the Kobra type very light S-Boats, the KS (coastal minelayers) and KS TB serie, the Schlitten I and Schlitten II small torpedo carriers, Wal I-II-III superfast TBs and other K-Verband projects.

Type XIV “Milchkühe” U-Boats (1941)

Maintaining Wolf Packs at sea

One aspect of the Battle of the Atlantic was to maintain operating U-Boats at sea as long as possible. It mostly concerned the standard Type VII, which had a limited autonomy. In the massive expanses of the Atlantic, locating convoys was one thing, but reaching them was another, and the Type VII, which had a radius of action limited to the mid-atlantic, often misses convoys, being too far away or requiring too much fuel consumption to get there. The few possible “unsinkable” supply bases that existed in the mid-Atlantic were the Azores, and they were not under German control, despite Hitler desperatly begging for Franco to lease them.

In early 1941, despite successes against slower convoys, many U-Boats came home after running out of fuel in fruitless chases. Others, later in the war, had to escape multiple times and consumed also their fuel supply with little results to show for. Food could be rationed, torpedoes were rarely all fired, so the chief problem to maintain U-Boats at sea was the supply of diesel fuel, as the latter also fed the eletrical systems on board.

Like in WWI, the German Navy planned even before the hostilities commenced a network or supply vessels located in strategic points around the globe for their merchant raiders operations. One such vessel was the famous Altmark, captured in Norway, but there were many more. Although they were disguised as civilian vessels, an enquiry could have them tracked by the allies navies. In 1939-40 many chases against blockade runners and Merchant cruisers ended with the capture or destruction or supply ships. Having at least one such ship in the port of Vigo (Spain), in Galicia, northern coast on the bay of Biscaye, and in the Baleares was always a blessing, but imposed to U-Boat crews a long, and potentially dangerous trip to get there, arriving by night.

Dangerous indeed, as the Bay of Biscaye was the launching spot for U-Boats operating from the six French coastal bases, like Brest and Lorient, or Bordeaux later. Fleet air arm patrols and others surface gunboats and corvettes of the Royal Navy roamed the area day and night. So having U-Boats kept in the middle of the atlantic, ready to pounce on any incoming convoy, was the ideal solution. However, sending there supply ships alone was risky.

The Kriegsmarine’s U-Boat tenders

The Kriegsmarine had several U-Boat tenders in 1941: KMS Saar (1934), and the larger and more modern KMS Wilhelm Bauer, W. Kophamel and Otto Wünsche, which were proper, well armed military ships built in Kiel: They were nearly 6,000 tonnes vessels, armed with four 105 mm guns and a powerful AA. With 20 kts it was however hard for them to escape allied destroyers. The Kriegsmarine also operated civilian auxiliaries, KMS Donau, Weichel, Isar, lech and Erwin Wassner. In addition from late 1942, the radical influx of air cover for the allies in the Atlantic, made likely these ships would be discovered en route to their supply point in the Atlantic.

By early 1940 already, Admiral Karl Dönitz recoignised that on the long run, allied air power it would be more difficult to send supply ships out on the open. So he ordered a study to built “submarine tankers”, dedicated for the purpose of supplying his U-Boats at sea, the latter having the advantage contrary to ship, to escape detection easier, and in all cases, escape its threats.

Despite an obvious smaller capacity, it still would be less risky to send them rather than surface ships. Without the hindsight of the US entry into the war and British war production to keep watch on the Atlantic by late 1942, this was a bold move.

Development History

The search for an alternative solution to supply surface vessel came in a 1934 with a design proposal for a modified type IV U-boat, modified as an undersea tanker. It was submitted to te Kriegsmarine’s HQ, and called for a 2500 ton submersible tanker project, as a highly modified version of the type IXD attack type on paper at that time as a long range model. To make room there was to be no attack capability and in addition to fuel, in the double hull tanks, there was to be enough storage in the freed torpedo tubes rooms for food, torpedoes and medical aid.

These boats soon earned internally the nickname “Milk Cows” could prolongayte operations of a wolfpack to two weeks. However the limits of the Anglo-German Naval Treaty had the Naval Staff sidelining submarine tanker construction in 1935 and preferred optimizing the existing fleet, with a coastal force and ocean-going boats, in particular the promising Type VII. The subject of “U-Tankers” remained dormant until Admiral Karl Donitz resurrected the concept in a 1939 letter to Naval headquarters. He proposed construction of three supply boats, displacing 2000 tons. Donitz’s master argument was reaching the American coast for possible operations that far , based on the limitations of the type VIIC U-boat, carried only 114 tons diesel fuel (6500 miles), and they needed 2500 miles to arrive on station alone.

Donitz wanted floating fuel depots beyond the reach of the Allies capabilities, and his request was eventually given the go-ahead in 1940. Design specifications were drawn up and quickly, and approved as the type XIV, these U-Tankers being rated at 1,932 tons for a gross capacity of 430 tons of fuel.


The final design displaced 1,688 t (1,661 long tons) surfaced, 1,932 t (1,901 long tons) submerged for an overall lenght of 67.10 m (220 ft 2 in) overall, and 48.51 m (159 ft 2 in) for the inner pressure hull. Ther beam was larger than usual to accomodate the tanks, 9.35 m (30 ft 8 in) overall and 4.90 m (16 ft 1 in) for the pressure hull. Total height of the hull was 11.70 m (38 ft 5 in), to the tip of the CT, and a rather massive draught of 6.51 m (21 ft 4 in). The strength of their construction led their builder to give them the standard 240 m (790 ft) test depth figure, but some boats certaonly were able to dive well below this figure. Their pressure hulls still indeed were 1-in thick so they could safety dive well over 500 feet, which in effect was deeper than the type VIIC/IX.

Internal accomodations for storage included upper decks designed to be large clear storage areas in order to handle pelletised bulk stores. Designers made the IXD shorter but wider and deeper for a much greater internal volume, and double deck essentially. The flat main deck in practice proved more of a detriment than an aid to the crew. The boat made a wider target for aviation and was slow to dive compared to standard boats.


Since the design borrowed heavily on the Type IX, nearly all components which could be reused were utilised and this included also parts from Type VIIC such as their anchors, winches, hatches and other items. The powerplant comprised a set of two propeller shafts, mated to two MAN diesel engines which developed 2,800–3,200 PS (2,100–2,400 kW; 2,800–3,200 bhp) when surfaced, and two Siemens electric motors with an output of 750 PS (550 kW; 740 shp) underwater. This produced a top speed, surfaced, of 14.4–14.9 knots (26.7–27.6 km/h; 16.6–17.1 mph) and 6.2 knots (11.5 km/h; 7.1 mph) submerged. These were not stellar figures, but since they were not attack boats and only needed to get to a point, their major asset was still a range of 12,350 nmi (22,870 km; 14,210 mi) at 10 knots (19 km/h; 12 mph) surfaced, and still 55 nmi (102 km; 63 mi) at 4 knots (7.4 km/h; 4.6 mph) submerged to escape their pursuers.


These non-combatants carried 12 torpedoes but had no tubes to launch them. The type XIV in basic form had two light 37mm FLAK 38 located on deck, either side of the conning tower, and a single 20mm AA gun in the tower’s aft platform. Configuration differed and some boats had a raised platform aft of the conning tower to raise the aft 37 mm. In all cases, this combination proved deadly in mission, helping these U-Tankers surviving and even in some case repelling attacks of allied bombers and patrol planes.

Other specifics

They had in addition of fuel tanks, enough space to carry 12 spare torpedoes, up to 15-20 tons of parts, ammunition, food & medical supplies. There was evcen enough space onboard to create a small, yet full-blown bakery, able to produce fresh bread every day. There was also a small medical facility for a medical doctor, able to treat injured sailors. Discipline-wise, no prison aboard but a tiny two-man “brig” to carry punished U-boat crewmen for serious crimes back to Germany.

To transfer fuel lines and provisions, a single 20-ft inflatable work boat was stored under the deck to be deployed. it was also used to transfer boxed goods and mail, plus they possessed folded-down light-weight portable cranes, rigged to high-line priority cargo, also usable to carry people between boats in a high-line fashion.


The choice to gain time of the Type IXB as the base helped to have all blueprints ready by October 1940. The initial program specified a first batch of 25, with possibly more to come. However they were not prioritized, and construction dragged on until 1944, when the whole program was cancelled by Speer. By the time the axe fell, Three (U-491, U-492, U-493) were about 75% complete while the other eleven boats had not even been laid down when cancelled on 27 May 1944, Karl Dönitz also stopping construction on the Type XX U-boats hich were even larger transport boats as they would not have been completed before mid-1945. Heavy losses in 1943 (almost all were sunk, including four in July alone) and Speer’s condition to greenlight the new and promising Type XXI was in effect to cancel the program.

U-459 was the first laid down (lead boat) at Deutsche Werke, Kiel, Yard number 290, on 22 November 1940. Ten more would followed, although the program comprised 25 of them total, now receving the designation of Type XIV. She was followed by U-459, commissioned on 15 November 1941, U-460, commissioned on 24 December 1941, U-461, commissioned on 30 January 1942, U-462, commissioned on 5 March 1942, U-463, commissioned on 2 April 1942, U-464, commissioned on 30 April 1942, U-487, commissioned on 21 December 1942, U-488, commissioned on 1 February 1943, U-489, commissioned on 8 March 1943, and U-490, commissioned on 27 March 1943, sunk on 12 June 1944. Construction was stopped for a time and only resumed for the next three in early 1944.

Author’s depiction of the Type XIV U-Boat

⚙ Type XIV class specifications

Dimensions 67.10 x 9.40 x 6.50 m (220 ft x 30ft x 21ft 4in)
Displacement 1661/1900 tons standard/underwater
Propulsion 2 shafts Germania diesels, 2 electric motors, 1400/375 bhp.
Speed surface/underwater 14.4/6.3 knots (xx km/h)
Armament 2x 37/83 FLAK C30, 1x 20mm FLAK C30
Crew 53
Capacity 432 tonnes of fuel oil

General Assessment

These XIV boats were generally successful early on, while operating out of US coast at about 1000 km out of New York. Well before the “happy time” at the start of the war, there was the “mid-atlantic gap” cause by the absence of air cover 300-400 miles off the North American Mainland. This allowed the the smaller VIIC to operate in US waters, which they could not in normal conditions. This also allowed them to operate in the Caribbean in 1942 but due to better allied radar and air coverage the year 1943 (and enexplained losses – see below) completely hampered their operations and conducted to cancel the 14 remaining orders. The “Milch Cows” as soon as they were known for allied intel became a priority target for all Allied forces, and both USN and Fleet Air Arm/Coastal Command hunted them down with bombers and long-range patrollers.

Outside the precise Wolfpacks which they supported, indicated in the their career logs below, the Type XIV the precise number of U-Boats they suppied was registered, allowing us to spot the arguably most successful U-Boats of that class. According to this, the most successful of the class was arguably U-460, which supplied 86 U-Boats. In all, the ten boats supplied 437 U-Boats, or an average of 43 per U-Boat. Was it cost-effective ? For this, we should know how much tonnage was sunk by the U-Boats that could continue their mission.

  • U-459: 6 patrols, 72 U-boats
  • U-460: 6 patrols, 86 U-boats
  • U-461: 6 patrols, 75 U-boats
  • U-462: 5 patrols, 64 U-boats
  • U-463: 5 patrols, 74 U-boats
  • U-464: Sunk on her maiden patrol
  • U-487: 2 patrols, 25 U-boats
  • U-488: 3 patrols, 41 U-boats
  • U-489: 1 patrol (sunk), none
  • U-490: Sunk on her 1st sortie

289 men were killed while serving on the Type XIV for a grand total of 530-576 men for a total of 35 patrols, an average of 3,5 per boats, and three sunk on a maiden patrol plus two after just two weeks at sea. However there was a topic on which these boats proved their designed armament was worth it: With a powerful FLAK they shot down about four planes and damaged and repelled others. Their tally included a Whitley, a Sunderland, a Wellington and a Wildcat.

In the Allied Naval Headquarters in London order was issued of “Get the Milk Cows at any cost!” from prime minister Winston Churchill himself, informed of their existence in early 1942. Their very existence had them targeted as the highest priority in the Atlantic War since any of these U-Boat Tankers could keep twelve U-boats at sea for weeks. In fact this went directly to a redefintion of Allied hunter-killer groups’s priorities in turn.

U-459 commissioned on November 15 1941 and patrolling in March 1942 perhaps had one of the most successful career, supplying boats close to US waters all along 1942. The last U-490 sunk on June 11. 1944 was sent out to support the “Monsun boats”, the Type IX operating in the far east and Indian Ocean. She never get there, being sunk at her first sortie. The concept was dead fo all intent and purposes in 1944, although in 1942-43 there were parallel program of tankers and cargo subs (see below).

Serious issues

Sea trials quickly revealed the limits of the U-Tanker design: They appeared Ponderous, “pregnant”, lacking agility, and especially when loaded to the brim with fuel and provisions. This extra bulk prevented them to submerge as quickly as a regulat Type VII/IX, which proved fatal at least in three cases of air attacks. Captains feared the moment to “pull the plug”, diving deep in a hurry. To off set this massive shortcoming specific tactics were devised: If caught while refueling, the type XIV was to cut all lines and dive first, leaving the more agile attack U-boats to deal with the attackers by combine FLAK power alone, and dive in turn.

Another noted issue was their deck layout. Due to their low freeboard, transfer of bulk supplies was very hazardous in the North Atlantic (a reason why later boats were sent to the South Atlantic and African coast). The decks continually awash precluded the use of regular cargo hatches and davits so supplies had to be hand-lifted through conning tower hatches only. This made the whole proces painfully slow, but the whole crew took part in it. Given the sea state, this operation could be more or less dangerous and long to complete, often leading to crewmen washed overboard, drowning. With time, both the small rubber dinghy and high line (“tyrolian”) were used at the same time, the crew making a human chain from inside the boat, though the CT and on deck.

The refuelling operation was also difficult. First, the U-tanker had to take in tow its boat to resupply, the fueling line was floated in between as well as a telephone cable. Once piping connections were operatons, with the two boats maintaning a close distance at a constant 3-4 kts, fuel was transferred. And it could go up to five hours for a full refill. All at the surface, exposed to allied spotter planes.

Lastly, resupplying torpedoes, due to their size and weight was also understandably a gruelling process: Manhandling these in heavy seas required brute strength and skills, leading sometimes to crushed limbs, broken bones among handlers, for which the onboard doctor was a godsend. In calm seas in included the fitting to any torpedo, extracted on a ramp to the deck, flotation collars around the torpedo body. It was just floated to the receiving U-boat, hauled aboard via the standard folded deck torpedo loading apparatus of any U-Boat of that time.

The end (1943 black month)

The coup de grâce, what really basically eliminated all chances for the U-Tankers to be a viable solution was first and foremost the cracking of the Enigma code. If it was a blessing and game-changing event in order to win the battle of the Atlantic, it was decided to take all measures to prevent the Germans knowing the allies had cracked it. Which included painful decisions to allow some known U-Boat attacks to occur, and prevent careflly picked others attacks.

Given their priority status, all known resupply spots in the Atlantic, and planned rendez-vous in mid-ocean of a Type XIV boat with the rest of the fleet was a prime target on the list and always greenlight for attack, despite the risks in the grand scheme of things. Indeed, the Type XIV relied on high-frequency long-range radio communications to arrange these RDV points, which of course were intercepted and decoded.

Having their position known however presupposed having also the required a dedicated ASW task force, a -“rapid reaction force” in modern parlance- of escort ships in close coordination with coastal command and allied dedicated long range bombers. The result, combined with the slow-diving Type XIV was a slaughter in May-October 1943, with seven boats, 2/3 of the total, being sunk in succession. Mid-Atlantic waters were no longer a sanctuary. It must be however stated how courage was needed by these allied airmen to engage these U-Boats groups while refuelling, as the combined AA barrage was fierce.

In any case, the appealing losses conducted Dönitz to renounce the Atlantic in the end, sending U-490 to the Indian Ocean for “operation Monsoon” ro refuel the few IXC U-boats with an innovative experimental underwater refuelling apparatus. U-490 was sent to Penang, Sumatra, the Kriegsmarine’s easternmost operating base. Caught northwest of the Azores on 10 June 1944 by an ASW hunter-killer group based around USS Croatan (CVE-25), the boat was hedgehoged when spotted, and then mercilessly depth-charged while diving and deep underwater, about 1000 ft. Badly shaken for hours with too much flooding to survive much longer, captain Gerlach decided to save his crew and surface to surrender.

Type XIV alternatives and planned successors

The never built Type XV and XVI

Author’s modification of a Type X to attempt a rendition of the Type XV (1/750)

Both types were closely related as they shared the same designed hull with different internal arrangement, same powerplant and general features. The 5,000-ton Type XV was left in Initial designs only and listed on official documentation as “Long Range Transport Boat” but never developed and past the stage of first sketches.

U-Boats were to have been ocean going submarines designed for resupply of Frontboots in the open ocean. They would carry additional bunker fuel, torpedoes, stores, medical personnel and a workshop aboard for limited repairs of combat damage to the Frontboots. They were designed with a triple pressure hull design set three abreast, the displacement would have been in the area of 2,500 tons. Conventional diesel and electric propulsion was planned with 2,800 hp on the diesels and 750 hp on the e-motors. It was determined that this Type of submarine would make an easy target for ASW forces if caught on the surface, tending to another submarine and the project was abandoned. There were no Type XV U-Boats contracted for or built.

The Type XVI was intended as a very large repair boat variant (3,000-ton) intended to carry torpedoes, food, and oil as cargo. The engine layout was inspired by the Type VIIC. They could have been a larger version of the Type XV, to about 5,000 tons. Again, due to the fact that a submarine of this type, if caught on the surface tending to other submarines, would have made an easy target, the project was dropped, as for the Type XIV continuation. No Type XVI U-Boats were contracted for or built. It was never developed further and like the XV, no detailed specs exist.

The partly built Type XX

Rendition of the Type XX

These massive transport subs were designed in 1943 by AG Weser and the OKM (German Navy High Command). They were to be long-range transport U-boats, notably to carry material from the Far East and conversely, German plans and prototypes to Japan as it happened in late 1944 and 1945, a mission fulfilled by Italian submarines. For the borad design, the type XB minelayer was chosen to be adapted. In its final form, the design could accomodate some 800 tons of material, had no torpedo tubes, no deck gun but AA armament as the Type XIV. They were caracterized by a shorter hull than the Type XB, but greater beam and draft to accomodate for the storage areas.

They were to planned to be manned by 6 officers and 52 men. 30 contracts granted in all, including 15 to Deutsche Werft, Hamburg (U-1601 to U-1615) plus fifteen to Bremen-Vegesack yard (U-1701 to U-1715). Only 3 (U-1701 to U-1703) were eventually advanced when the war ended.

The Type XX as a project for a transport U-boat based on the Type XB could have be or better help to carry additional precious resources to Japan to continue the war, but of the thirty Type XX U-boats laid down in 1943, construction stopped in 1944 and the project was cancelled. On 15 August 1944, construction on three most advanced Type XX U-boats, U-1701, U-1702, and 1703 was restarted nevertheless, but stopped again in early 1945 and never resumed.

Planned specs:
Displacement 2,708 tons surfaced/ 2,962 tons submerged; Dimensions 255′ x 30′ 3″ x 21′ 9″; Engines Diesel and electric 2,800hp/940hp, surface speed 12½ knots, submerged 5.75 knots. 471 tons of diesel fuel for a 13,000 miles @ 12 knots radius and 40 miles @ 4½ knots underwater. Payload 800 tons of cargo, armament 1x 37mm, 2×2 20mm FLAK AA, crew 58.

Type XIV U-Boat records

U-459 (1941-43)

Type XIV, U-459 sinking
U-459 crippled, turning in circles, hit by a Vickers Wellington.

U-459 conducted six patrols, starting training with the 4th U-boat Flotilla and the 10th in April 1942, then 12th flotillas in November for operations. Her First and second patrols started from Kiel to Helgoland, the St. Nazaire on 15 May 1942, unter command of von Wilamowitz-Moellendorf, aged 48, a skipper veteran of WW1.

Her second patrol from 6 June 1942, her captain being promoted to Korvettenkapitän. It was an uneventful sorties from St Nazaire to mid-Atlantic where she operated with Wolfpack Eisbär (25 August – 1 September 1942). The third patrol was a foray into the south Atlantic and African coast down to Namibia from St. Nazaire on 18 August 1942, back on 4 November. Her fourth patrol started from the same port on 20 December 1942, to 7 March 1943, 78 days, but she headed for Bordeaux. She she went south to Cameroon (18 January 1943).

Her fifth patrol started from Bordeaux on 20 April 1943 and back on 30 May. In between, she was surfaced when spotted and attacked, but shot down by FLAK a lone CAC Armstrong Whitworth Whitley. The same day however she was attacked by a RAF Liberator dropping ten depth charges on her, also while surfaced. FLAK damaged the Liberator. Her last patrol started from Bordeaux on 22 July 1943, and while en route off near Cape Ortegal, Spain, on 24 July 1943, she was spotted and atacked by two British Wellington of No. 172 Squadron RAF. One was shot down, but 18 crewmen were killed on her deck, while near-misses had her badly damaged. Unable to dive and slowed down to a crewl her captain knew there was little chance now her position was known. He ordered her scuttled. 41 of her crew survived however and became POW. A famous photo show her turning circle, already hit, to escape the Wellingtons.

U-460 (1941-43)

U-460’s first patrol from Kiel on 7 June 1942 started through the Faeroe Islands, between these islands and Iceland. She went to mid-atlantic, and made a routine supply mision, being back to St. Nazaire, occupied France, on 31 July. Her second started from there on 27 August 1942, pass the Bay of Biscay, turned south and pass Cape Verde Islands, to the South Atlantic. This was uneventful and she was back to St.Nazaire, departing again from St. Nazaire heading west and staying for 39 days before going home. Her 4th sortie was the same and ended in Bordeaux.

Her fifth patrol started on 24 April 1943, lasted for 63 days bringing her in an area mid-way between South American and African coasts, to be back to Bordeaux on 25 June.

Her sixth patrol started at Bordeaux, and she was underway 30 August 1943, supplying on 4 October U-264, U-422, and U-455 in the North Atlantic, north of the Azores. There, a Avenger and Wildcat of VC-9, USS Card, spotted the group, a “juicy target” which caused panic: All but U-460 submerged in time. Heir tanker was sunk by depth charges, with only two crewmen surviving.

U-461 (1941-43)

U-461 made six wartime patrols, the first from Kiel to St. Nazaire and then to the Atlantic via the Faeroe Islands gap. She operated with the wolfpack “Wolf” (26 July – 1 August 1942). Her second patrol hd her reacing the most westerly point in the Atlantic on 30 September 1942. She operated with Wolfpack “Vorwärts” (16 – 20 September 1942).

Her third sortie from St. Nazaire on 19 November 1942 had her reaching a point south between South America and Africa, staying two days before heading west on 11 December 1942 and back to Bordeaux on 3 January 1943.

She arrived west of the Canary Islands (2 March 1943) and went back to St. Nazaire. She departed on on 13 February, and stayed with the Wolfpack “Rochen” (26 February – 1 March 1943) until back on 22 March.

For her fifth patrol she departed St.Nazaire on 20 April 1943, but attacked when back 23 April, by a Canadian Wellington (172 sqn RAF) with a Leigh Light. The bombs made near hits and damaged the boat, leaving a trail of oil behind. She went back to Bordeaux for repairs.

Her sixth and last patrol started from Bordeaux on 27 July 1943, but she was caught underway in the Bay of Biscay, north-west of Cape Ortegal in Spain on 30 July: An Australian Sunderland from No. 461 Sqn RAAF (Flight Lieutenant Dudley Marrows) spotted and attacked. The U-Boat was crippled by bombs but the Australian crew agreed to drop an inflatable dinghy to allow 15of her crew surviving, the other 53 going with the boat.

U-462 (1941-43)

U-462 conducted eight patrols, the first from Kiel on 23 July 1942, via St. Nazaire on 21 September and then making it through the Faeroe gap with Iceland. After her mission she came back past the Azores to St Nazaire. She operated with the Wolfpack ‘Lohs’ from 29 August to 2 September 1942.

Her second patrol had her stationed to a point west-southwest of the Cape Verde Islands from 9 November 1942 to be reached by U-Boats in supply needs. She was back in St. Nazaire on 7 December 1942.

Third sortie was from Bordeaux on 20 January 1943,but after an incident she was back on the 22nd. Her 4th sortie had her reaching her westernmost suply point, on 27 February 1943. She was back to Bordeaux on 11 March. He fifth patrol was routine, and shorter. Her sixth patrol was in the Bay of Biscay, whe she was attacked by Mosquitoes of 151 and 156 sqn RAF, on 21 June 1943. Matrosengefreiter Ferdinand Brunnbaur was killed by strafing, four wounded. Her AA fire did not hit the Mosquitoes, way too fast. She was back to Bordeaux for repairs and gathering replacement crewment on the 23rd.

Her Seventh patrol was also short. As soon as she headed northwest of the Spanish coast, British B-24 Liberator (224 sqn RAF) fell on her. Near hits cause enough damage to return to Bordeaux on 6 July. Her last patrol, the 8th, started also in the bay of Biscaye, and on 30 July 1943 while underway, U-462 was spotted and sunk by a British Halifax bomber (502 Squadron RAF) plus gunfire from Black Swan-class HMS Wren, Kite, Woodpecker, Wild Goose and Woodcock which arrived after her position was communicated. HMS Kite’s gunner hit her at 13,050 yd (11,930 m). As she was surfaced fortunately, only one crewman was killed but the rest of the crew survived.

U-463 (1941-43)

U-463 conducted five patrols. For her first one from Kiel on 11 July 1942, she reached St. Nazaire on 3 September and took the northern Faeroe Islands gap, arrived in the mid-Atlantic toward the Caribbean. She went home without hassle.

Her second sortie had her reaming the mid-Atlantic on 28 September 1942-11 November. He third sortie saw her passing the Azores, north and south when back. She was based in St. Nazaire, operating for a time with the wolfpack ‘Delphin’ (11 – 14 January 1943). Next was a patrol on 4 March 1943, but when back to France 17 April, she was order to move into Bordeaux, better protected against allied raids.

Her fifth patrol was also her last: U-463’s started from Le Verdon, north of Bordeaux and while underway in the Bay of Biscay, when she spotted, attacked and sunk on 16 May 1943 by a British Halifax from 58 Squadron RAF (Coastal Command, Wing Commander Wilfrid Oulton). Depht charges were on targer and she sank with all hands.

U-463 (1941-43)

U-464 only made a single patrol. She sailed from Kiel to Bergen, Norway, arriving on 9 August 1942. She departed on 14 August 1942. On the 20th, she was attacked SSE of Iceland, by a lone US PBY Catalina from VP-73. Two crew members were killed on the spot, but as she was surfaced, there were 52 survivors. The bombs only cause near-misses, but she was too damage to dive, and limited to eight knots. Later Captain Harms decided to scuttle his U-Boat after spotting the Icelandic trawler Skaftfellingur, allowing his crew to be rescued.

Since the 52 German submariners picked up onboard were to be made POWs by a seven-man crew, they were put in the bows, with a machine gun stand guard on the bridge and later transferred to a pair of British destroyers. That’s the official allied story but Captain Harms pretended later that his crew sized the trawler by force, heading for Germany, but intercepted by the British destroyers and taken prisoner.

U-487 (1942-43)

U-487 conducted two patrols, the first from Kiel on 27 March 1943, and went back, mission accomplished, to Bordeaux, in occupied France on 12 May 1943. The second patrol started from Bordeaux on 15 June 1943. On 13 July, she was spotted surfaced and attacked by five Grumman TBF Avengers and F4F Wildcats from USS Core. The crew were caught by surprise, since there were sunbathers on deck when it happened. One Wildcat was shot down by her AA fire, but 31 men were killed neverthless between rocket hits and bombs. 33 survivors were picked up later by USS Barker.

U-488 (1942-43)

U-488 made three war patrols, the first startin when she left Kiel on 18 May 1943, clearing the British Isles in the Faroe Islands-Iceland gap, ad doing her mission in the Atlantic with a first wolfpack, “Trutz” on 6 – 12 June 1943. On the return she went NW of the Azores to Bordeaux, occupied France, arriving on 10 July 1943.

For her second patrol she was attacked on 12 October 1943 by two Avengers from USS Card. They claimed the sinking, but U-488 survived and went on, carrying out her mission.

On 15 October, Maschinenmaat Karl Bergmann died of illness on board and on 25 November, Matrosenobergefreiter Heinz Heinlein fell overboard, dying later of heart failure. She was back to Bordeaux on 12 December 1943.

Her third patrol was from Bordeaux again, on 22 April 1944. On the 26th she as caught west of Cape Verde, but four escort destroyers, USS Frost, Huse, Barber and Snowden, and depth charged until she sank with all hands.

U-489 (1942-43)

U-489’s only patrol started from Kiel on 22 July 1943, going through the “Faeroes Gap” north of the British Isles, and she was spotted and attacked while surfaced by a PBY Catalina from No. 190 Squadron RAF, on 3 August 1943.

Due to the serious AA fire put up by U-489, the Catalina was hit twice and withdawn, jettisoning depth charges. When home, they found that their rudder cables were almost severed by FLAK shrapnel. However the U-Boat’s position was signalled to a Lockheed Hudson of 269 Squadron whih attacked her and caused damage. But she survived and her position passed on a lone Canadian Sunderland flying boat (No. 423 Squadron RCAF) which attacked her the following day south-east of Iceland.

The Sunderland however was shot down by the fierce AA fire put by U-489, but not before having taken several depht charges that wrecked her hull. She sank but surfaced when this happened, enabling 53 of her crew to escape. They were later picked up by the destroyers HMS Castleton and HMS Orwell which observed the attack, too far away to attack her.

U-490 (1942-43)

U-490’s only patrol started from Kiel on 4 May 1944, making her way into the Atlantic in the “Faeroes Gap”, between Iceland and the Faeroe, but was lost on 12 June when attacked in mid-ocean by the escort carrier USS Croatan and the destroyers USS Frost, Huse and Inch. It seemed she was surfaced amready and surrendered. There were 60 survivors and no casualties.

Sources & more:


Busch, Rainer; Röll, Hans-Joachim (1999). German U-boat commanders of World War II. Greenhill Books

Busch, Rainer; Röll, Hans-Joachim (1999). Deutsche U-Boot-Verluste von September 1939 bis Mai 1945 Mittler.

Gröner, Erich; Jung, Dieter; Maass, Martin (1991). U-boats and Mine Warfare Vessels. German Warships 1815–1945. Vol. 2.

Kemp, Paul (1999). U-Boats Destroyed – German Submarine Losses in the World Wars. Arms & Armour.


Various types on www.sharkhunters.com (archive)


Milk Cows on uboat.net

Video: U-boat Tanker – Type XIV ‘Milk Cow’ by War & History channel

On rmhh.co.uk

Assessment detail on uboataces.net

Article on facebook.com

uboat.net U-460 logs

On weaponsandwarfare.com


Model Kits

German Type XIV Submarine U-487 1/350 Scale Diecast Metal Model (cutaway)

On flyingmule.com

Type XXI U-Boats (1944)

The Elektroboot saga: Too late to win

The Type XXI were large scale production Kriegsmarine’s “wunderwaffe” planned by Nazi Germany at the end of the war. Alongside the smaller Type XXIII “Elektobote” and numerous “midgets” at a stage events verged on desperation, it was suppose to reverse their course. Announced as the boldest leap into the future for the Kriegsmarine so far, the world’s most advanced submarine design of their time, The Type XXI would be also a powerful inspiration for all navies in the next decades, and up to the 1957 USS Nautilus. But was it a real game changer in 1945, or just an overblown propaganda effort ? Here’s the detailed answer.

A technological revolution: From submersible to submarine

With the Type XXI, for the first time, Germny made a decisive step from a “submersible” to a “submarine”: The philosophy that prevailed since 1905 was that a “submersible” was essentially a torpedo boat that submerge at times, for all emergency. Such vessel cruise at the surface most of the time, running on sobre diesel engines, and went underwater on electric power generally to escape an attack.

Due to the limitations of electrical power at the time and having no accurate system to detect targets from underwater, a submersible was essentially slowed to a crawl, deaf and blind, limited in diving to it’s own lenght deep. Renewing the air or expelling surplus acid gases generated by the use of batteries caused “broths” detected for miles around the surface by planes on patrol, while the slightest noise on board betrayed their presence to more and more sophisticated hydrophones, not to mention their radar signature when surfaced.

This base principle stayed the same for all submersible models built by all nations from WWI to WW2. The so-called (improperly) “battle of the Atlantic” was led by U-Boats, essentially the same models as the WWI mass-produced (92 on 129 planned) Type UB III, notable ancestors of the WW2 Type VII (1936), a single, simple mid-range model, mass-produced until 1945. Although the latter was improved in many ways, limitations were stil present.

The conclusion of all reports for losses to the allies were plural in origin: More escorts, more ships to sink (Libery/Victory), better tactics, better detection system, better armament, constant naval aviation patrol, and unbeknownst to the German naval staff, full knowledge of impending attacks thanks to the breaking of the Enigma machine by the Turing computer at Blechley Park.

The 1943-44 “Wunderwaffen” craze

This traduced from mid-1943 onwards, to a growing, and soon unsustainable number of losses. It reached such a point in early 1944 that Grand Admiral Dönitz, now at the head of the Kriegsmarine since January, considered the battle as nearly lost. There were solutions though: Out-producing the allies was out of question, due to internal resources strained to the limits: But the credo at the time, by mid-1943, was to win the war by technological superiority: German quality versus allied quantity.

Many “Wunderwaffe” projects, some dated back from before the war were looked upon again. For the Luftwaffe, it was a rush towards jets which culminated with the Me-262. For the Heer, tanks such as the Königstiger. For the Kriegsmarine, the “poor child” of German arms as always, it was the Walter boats. Dönitz became passionated about the project.

Albert Speer’s reorganization of the production meanwhile allowed a move towards inscreased production of existing U-Boats, which was simplified, modularized and atomized between a constellation of sub-contractors working in relative security, to mitigate the effect of allied bombardment.

As a result, U-Boat production was maintained despite all odds. Choices were made, like axing of the large and costly oceanic Type XB and minelayers or specialized types gradually cancelled to concentrate on the late versions of the excellent Type VII alone.

But the Type VII still had its load of limitations, the ones described above. One innovation though, the Snorkel, was very promising and started to be adopted, as well as radars and a more effective FLAK, or better torpedoes. But since 1941 already, the research bureau of the Kriegsmarine was looking for a more radical approach, destined to completely change speed underwater, and giving the submersible an almost unlimited underwater range.

No technology at the time could provide a direct answer, but one man at least had a solution, leaning towards a modern “AIP” (“Air Independent Propulsion”). From these efforts, the initial program leading to the Type XXI can be traced back. This was Helmuth Walter’s turbine, the awaited game changer. For more, see also the U-Boat Types.

Towards the pure submarine: The Walter Propulsion

About Professor Walter

Professor Walter had patented a motor fuel system that uses nitrogen peroxide, a very unstable product that had the advantage of allowing these engines to remain completely autonomous, with little or no vibration, and above all to stay in operation. It allowed diving almost indefinitely, at high speed. This revolutionary process quickly interested the Nazis, who commissioned a first project in 1933.

However the rearmament priorities lowered this program, and it was postponed. It was not until 1939 that the first “Walter Propulsion” submarine was built. The V80, displacing 75 tons, for 22 meters long, thanks to its refined hull shape, easily reaching 28 knots submerged. This was an absolute record at the time, only beaten with the 1960s SSNs of the cold war. The following V300 in 1942 inaugurated a high-pressure turbine. She started as the first operational submarine in 1943, the U-791, giving birth to the U-792 and 793, 794 and 795, armed with forward torpedoes, which went through month of gruelling operational service (see below). But even with the emergency, the Kriegsmarine was dubious, cautious with this new technology.

Walter’s U-Boats

Various Walter Boats: V.80, Type XVIIA and XVIIB

The experimental propulsion that Professor Helmuth Walter advocated since 1931 was worth trying. A brilliant engineer her worked on a new gas turbine at the Germaniawerft shipyard (Kiel) from 1933, closed circuit propulsion system. Intended for submarines obviously, he proposed to replace ultimately both the electrical batteries and diesels by a new powerplant driven by hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) in a stabilized form, called Perhydrol.

This was a complex combustion process, but it helped creating a smaller, lighter engine with far less parts, occupying a small internal fraction of a normal U-boat, freeing space for whatever could be useful, like extra torpedoes. It was to stay for much longer underwater, not having to surface to recharge batteries and safely travel to its attack position. At the time, the Type VII did not even existed, but it was believed to be adapted on any U-Boat type in the works.

In October 1934, he proposed to the OKM (Oberkommand des Kriegsmarine) a special type of 300 tonnes U-boat, based on the Type IIA hull, but with a top speed of 26 knots and underwater speed of 30 knots, which was unheard of at the time: The average was around 7 knots. Endurance was also greater than the original, reaching 2,500 miles at 15 knots (500 miles submerged at that speed also). This “high speed U-Boat” however seemed far fetched, or had no practically use for the kind of submarine warfare thought at the time in Germany, just starting a gradual rebuilding of its submarine force, step by step.

Walter’s proposal was rejected as too unconventional, even deemed fanciful. Walter however never gave up. In 1937 he managed to show his revised plans to Karl Dönitz, at the time at the head of the small U-boat training flotilla. Dönitz was impressed enough to push for this project into the administrative echelons, through the top of the OKM, resulting at last in 1939 to a design contract. With war looming the proposal seemed interesting enough to fund a small research submersibles called V-80. But production out of the question.


V-80 was designed under supervision of Walter at Germaniawerft, Kiel, built under the greatest secrecy, on a slipway surrounded by a large fence. Launched on April 14, 1940 it was fitted out relatively quickly and started a serie of tests, at first in port, then at sea, and made a serie of dives. Test results, released in the spring 1940, with Walter himself at the controls, were brillant. As predicted, his turbine managed to propel his submersible to an amazing top speed of 23 knots submerged. This was a world record, quadruple of any model at the time.

It would wait second generation nuclear-powered attack submarines to reach that speed limit, such as the Soviet Alfa class (42 knots), so forty years later. Surface speed was also excellent, far better than any U-Boat in service so far. The turbines seemed also reliable at first, and although no max autonomy test was performed for safety, Walter was confident, the predicted range would be achieved.

The report, pushed by Dönitz into the OKM, made a sensation. The OKM upon this, suggested immediate construction of six coastal U-boats, based the V-80 design. Still, there was plenty of resistance in the U-boat department. They asked about how a real operational boat would perform, in proper combat conditions for such an untested solution. There were doubts also on how to manage a new logistical chain to hold the compounds involved in the combustion, and there was little room available in already hard-pressed shipyards to deliver the VII and IX U-boats, which seemed at the time more than sufficient for their task. In 1941 indeed, the results obtained by the early Wolfpack tactics were very encouraging. It was a war-winning strategy, dark days for the allies. Soon in early 1942, the “happy times” would commence for the U-boat arm.

Eventually, the OKM heard about these remarks and reworked the project to create a compromised design: The 600-ton V-300 (Later unique Type XVII, individually “U-791”). The goal was to produce a realistic militay model which can achieved 19 knots submerged. Construction started at Germaniawerft, but cancelled when Walter saw the design and told the OKM he could on the same basis obtain a much faster, 220 tons boat.

The semi-experimental Type XVII


A meeting with Dönitz in January 1942 had new contracts drafted, and awarded for 4 boats, all at Germaniawerft, Kiel, the Wk202 “serie” (U-792 and U-793) and in Blohm & Voss in Hamburg the Wa201 serie (U-794 and U-795), representing the Type XVIIA. Both series had the same dimensions but diverged in their shape and kiosk’s shape ad other details. They were armed with just two standard 21-in torpedo tubes for proper military evaluation. Keels were laid down eventually in December 1942 in both yards, with U-792 launched on 28 September 1943, followed by U-794, on 7 October 1943. Apart testing their powerplant, their goal was to training intensively to mimick combat conditions. As planned they reached 25 knots in 1944. In March 1944 U-794 performed a 24 knots run in in the Bay of Danzig, assisted by Dönitz and four other admirals.

In 1944 also were started boats of the Type XVIIB, now a full serie. U-1405 to U-1416 were to be built in Blohm & Voss, Hamburg. They were longer, and had the same Walter gas turbine rated for 2,500 PS (2,500 shp; 1,800 kW), doubled by a single Deutz SAA SM517 supercharged 8-cylinder Diesel engine, 210 PS (210 shp; 150 kW) for the surface, at 9 knots (17 km/h; 10 mph), an AEG Maschine AWT98 electric motor, 77 PS (76 shp; 57 kW) allowing 5 knots (9.3 km/h; 5.8 mph) submerged on electric drive alone, and 25 knots (46 km/h; 29 mph) submerged (with the HTP Turbine drive). They carried the same two bow 53.3 cm (21 in) torpedo tubes with two ready and two torpedoes in reserve. But these were only coastal models, at 312 t (307 long tons) surfaced, 337 t (332 long tons) submerged and 415 t (408 long tons) total, reaching 3,000 nmi (5,600 km; 3,500 mi) at 8 knots (15 km/h; 9.2 mph) surfaced. Only the first three were operational for a short while, scuttled in May 1945. The remainder, U-1408-U-1410 were incomplete when the war ended and the U-1411-U-1416 saw their contract cancelled. A dedicated article will cover them in the future.

Well before this, back in 1942, Walter proposed this time a large military U-Boat, of some 1,475 tons standard, to be called Type XVIII. It could carry 23 torpedoes, for four bow tubes. Two contracts were awarded, on Jan 4, 1943, to Deutsche Werke, Kiel for U-796 and U-797, and then cancelled on 28 March 1944. In between, discussions betwen the OKM and Dönitz prioritized the XXI. This was simpler, cheaper “spin-off” of the Walter design, with a massive battery capacity, and not the Walter turbine. By this trick, the Type XXI was still able to reach 17 knots submerged.

Indeed, in between, tests performed by Kriegsmarine crews in near-combat operation in 1943 went to the OKM, and were less stellar about their performances: The complexity of three powerplants, and the turbine itself, was really above the average level of training asked from Kriegsmarine rating at the time, maintenance was complex and costly, totally captive of a very uncertain supply of Perhydrol, for which no solid supply has been planned yet. Also, it was found the fuel was highly flammable. In fact, the Royal Navy also had engineers working on such concept, and eventually abandoned it as too dangerous for combat.

The legacy of the Walter boats was not lost however. It did not went into cold-war models, which rather derived from the more conventional Type XXI, but found their way in concept, in modern AIP systems used for conventional “diesel-sub” atack submarines. Technology made giant leaps to procure a safer system and reach even greater speeds and autonomy. But it took more than 70 years to reach this level. Prof. Walter did not lived long enough to see his vision realized, when he passed away in 1980. Germany indeed embraced only in the 2000s the concept of fuel cells, now propelling the Type 212, 214, 218 and modified 208-1400.

The clock is ticking: Inevitable Compromises

Not only this research progressed very slowly, but the limitations seen above were considered too much for the Kriegsmarine organization and for combat conditions. Priority was given to a simpler model eventually: The type XXI, marrying the new hydrodynamic hull resulting from the advanced researches in this field (with large models in test pools), but a more conventional, trusted diesel, and incorporating a massive provision of batteries, which allowed a final 17 knots or 220 miles at 9 kts submerged, which was enough to “disrupt” allied ASW warfare, combined with the advantage of the snorkel, to make the subs “stealthier”.

It was not the powerplant hich eally set apart the Type XXI from all other submersibles of the time, but the whole “package”: Anti-vibration system to separate the powerplant, making it more silent at low speed, when diving, magnetic jammers against Deep-Charges, the snorkel allowing to stay indefinitely submerged but at constant depth, or an oil/air releasing system to confuse observers (believing a successful grenade attack was made), the new high-speed automated torpedo launch system, the latest magnetic homing torpedoes.

Externally it went as well with a completely new hull and sail shapes, result of years of refinements, calculation and tests, or the new semi-automated anti-aircraft system with remotelly operated electric turrets, a new listening system, more powerful and accurate for underwater detection. And the crew’s comfort was immensely improved because of more automation plus more internal space (with a smaller crew !) better facilities, freezer for food, more sanitation spaces, proper showers and even a bathub.

Development of the Type XXI

Overview and internals, original blueprints reconstructed by the Bundesmarine.

Paying a staggering price

To get from the 1930s Type VII and IX to this “spaceship” was not a smooth ride, though. The first trigger was of course the degrading situation in the so-called “battle of the Atlantic”: First signs of this came in July 1942 – February 1943 when losses rose steadily. The better organized US Navy for convoy escort, and massive output of shipyards on both sides of the pond, which indeed had a massive impact in the matter. But what really turned the tables was the famous “black may”, or March–May 1943 which saw increase ferocity on both sides, and only 39 ships (235,000 tons) were sunk for 15 U-boats destroyed.

Later in May, in a single convoy, 30 U-boats attacked, but only managing to sink 13 merchant ships, for the loss of six U-boats. This was one U-Boat traded for two merchant vessels. Already an unnacceptable price to pay compared to the 1941-42 ratios. All in all this month alone, 43 U-boats were destroyed, 25% of German U-boat Arm’s at the time. At this rate, seemingly increasing, the whole “battle of the Atlantic” would be lost within six months, unless drastic changes took place.

Since Dönitz was at the head of the Kriegsmarine from January, submarine warfare was given all priority and major surface assets were transferred to Norway to operate aainst the Murmansk Convoys and tie down a substantial part of the Allies in effort escort. Submarine construction had all priority and resources, manpower available and it went to the existing Type VII and Type IX as well as a few Type XIV for refuelling. The 1943 Fleet Building Programme notably had Dönitz peesuading Speed on the provision 40 U-Boats per month being completed, despite a growing lack of steel, in high demand notably for the Heer.

On late November 1942, the OKM send three naval builders to Paris for a meeting with Dönitz. Dönitz then started to number the losses: In 1940, twenty four, 1941 thirty three, 1942 a bit less for the first half, but it has been steadily rising since then as in July 1942, nine were lost, in August twelve, in September nine in October fourteen as for November, 80% of those in the surface. The core problems that he had submersibles, not true submarines. Statistics were clear about this: His U-Boots needed to stay underwater longer. He also gave his hopes for the the construction of the new Walter submarines, and the Type XXVIII the largest of these. But he also expressed his concerns about this untested tech and delays, the great industrial risks it represented.

One of the yard, eager to get an order fast, proposed to just streamlining the hull and doubling the electrical ppiwer, or even quadrupling it, while building a much larger submarine, preserving its surface qualities, notably in rough weather. Dönitz expressed doubts about the fact hos boats needed to surface often anyway, and he was told about a new “all-weather” Schnorchel model. Another expressed their idea about a semi-automated reload system for torpedoes.

Dönite became very interested and to conclude, asked for when this alternative type could be ready, and he was answered spring 1943. This was the birth of the Type XXI.

When the first designs were presented in June 1943, as imperfect and rough as they were, Dönitz’s fears came true as the previous “Black May”, losses has been crippling. Now was not the time for tedious half-measures. A new submarine was needed fast. Development of the new Type XXI from there, now officially named, was given all priority and the Walter boats fell into low priority; In the end, three times more batteries were planned, an armoured bridge and new streamlined hull were all in the works.

The new electrical power allowed, combined to the streamlining, to make seventeen knots underwater, but it still only existed on paper. Now the same builders that met in Paris by November 1942 assured Dönitz that the first boat would be ready… in late 1944. Dönitz by now had to make a very difficult decision to either give up submarine warfare entirely, or held his breath, took measures to spare his crews, and gamble on the new type, provided there was a way to have it faster.

Depite the losses, keeping the crews at sea, was the only way to have his men staying sharp, and even they did little damage at this point of the war, this ASW campaign still tied down countless allied ressources for convoy escort alone. Plus he would have experienced crews to make the transition towards the new type. Meanwhile, both the Type VII and IX still filled the order books of the three yards in charge of submarine production in Germany. They will deliver both types up to the last day of the war, but at a lower rate.

The year in between, from mid-1943 to mid-1944, Dönitz also frantically worked to improve the tech of his actual Type VII/IX. Until late 1944 they were continually improved. Better engines, better range, deeper dive, a schnorchel, new radars, and plenty of anti-aircraft guns. Kapitänleutnant Hartmann was the first to sail the new anti-aircraft submarine type, but even through, he was attacked by several British fighter-bombers and severely damaged, with all hi men on deck killed, himself and his staff. She was back to port commanded by …the medic on board, sole officer left. Reserve-officers got on board and a few days afterwards, she was at sea again.

Meanwhile, German shipyards were geared up to new forms of production setup for the Type XXI. Albert Speer, Hitler’s secret weapon for Germany’s production, was the minister responsible for this programme, promising deliveries in May 1944, well befoe anticipated. And he kept his promises (see later).

Production planning of the Type XXI

The while the year 1943, and early 1944, were fought with the same types, it’s only in the spring of 1944 that the Type XXI submarine was scheduled to reach frontline. Back in July 1943, the The Central Shipbuilding Committee and the new building programme knew that plans for the new Type XXI were not ready, the Walter turbines was now appearing not suitable for operations, and the “backup solution” was ready, although many technological issues were still at hand. So development was given time: The comittee envisaged the completion of the first two of them, as serie protoype in November 1944 and the pre-production prototype in December 1944, with trials in the spring of 1945. The plan also comprised a production of 30 boats a month by the autumn of 1945.

In addition, this programme presupposed that Speer was prepared to provide all requisite building facilities and work would proceed without interference by air raids or bottlenecks, which Dönitz found unrealistic. Soon the increasing number of air raids and destruction of Hamburg gave him credit. While he asked Speer to submit counterproposals, the latter granted the first Type XXI completed in Apri 1944, which left hope production would start sooner.

Both men eventually struck an agreement over which the new type was accorded all priority freezing any alternative naval construction, and they they would benefit for prefabricated, mass-production principles, possibly in well protected, bunkerized final facilities in which the various final modules would be assembled. If it’s looking very modern to us, it was at least groundbreaking for major naval construction. After all, the Type XXI were planned to be much larger even than the Type IX.

Instructions planning for the new U-Boat models started at the Construction Office in Glückauf, Blankenburg. The Autumn of 1943 saw first orders placed with contractors involved already to provide U-boat electric batteries, as well as those for the pressure-hull sections and a galaxy of sub-contractors. On 8 December 1943, constructional drawings were at least completed. On 1st January 1944, the new programme was submitted for approval, targeting the completion of a prototype in April 1944 as agreed by Speer, with another date of 30 boats completed by July 1944. There same program did not concentrated exclusively on the Type XXI. Considering quantity also had a quality, the first Type XXIII, coastal “Elektroboote” were to be completed in February 1944, plus 19 delivered in April (see later).

Final Design

Inverted negative blueprint of the Type XXI.

General Overview

Colorized sections of the Type XXI- Green: living quarters, blue: central operation, purple: torpedo room, yellow and orange: batteries and accumulators, pink: Electric engines and diesels.

The general outlines of a Type XXI were nothing lile all previous designs, in stark contrast to the Type VII, IX and all the others. This was such a leap forward, early crews coming from older surviving U-Boats or new ones, trained on older models were just astonished to see something out of a Flash Gordon strip, a swatiska-carrying spaceship made for total superiority at sea.

The fruit of months of basin researches, starting for engineered shapes to achieve the least water resistance underwater, the Type XXIs lost their “surface-first” approach, with a relatively conventional hull over waterline level, with a flat deck, and clear separation between the outer hull and pressure hull below, a cylinder and square-section above.

The Type VII blended all these shapes in a single elliptic section all around, blending into the flat deck, which was still there. This was calculated a creating less disruption at high speed underwater. Far before the “droplet style” of more modern SSNs, this was the first attempt to design boats able to reach great underwater speeds, and great care was given to define the best penetration rate possible. Outside the all-rounded sides, the outer hull was not much deeper, but longer overall, creating a greater buoyancy reserve.

Crucially, the bow was no longer “clipper-like” but rounded, a feature universally adopted in cold war years (like for all converted “fleet snorkels”). This rounded bow indeed ctreate les turbulences at great speeds underwater. The forward part was still fine and narrow, sich its cutting edge below the bow curve, facing the three torpdo tubes forward, enclosed in recesses, with each their own shutter, as for previous classes. When closed, the hull was much more streamlined. Above the tube, in the inwards recesses directly below the bow was the larger section of the upper bow. The lower part, below the tubes, was thicker and reinforced to mitigate any impact on the seafloor or obstacle.

Not far below, mid-way of the downward curve, was installed a protruding sonar installation. The ends of the lower bulge was blended with the next belly section. As all previous types, the outer hull was dotted with filling ports all along. The inner pressure hull was about 50% volume compared to the outer, thinner hull. It stopped about 10 meters from the bow, mid-way at the torpedo tubes, and went aft about the same distance from the stern, at the end of the machinery space, which occupied about 1/3 of the total lenght, same for the crew spaces and battle stations in the middle, and the smaller section forward being used for the torpedoes. This space was reduced due to its automation. There was small access hatch for maintenance, but it was no longer crammed with railings, chains and pulleys needed for manual reloading as in previous boats. Nobody slept there either.

The last external changes were of course the absence of a deck gun from the start, and the AA armament in remote turrets fore and aft of the main island, which was itself self-enclosed and streamlined unlike previous “kiosks” opened conning towers with wave breakers and AA platforms. The new island was bulkier, but way cleaner. The central section was also the largest, both in beam and height, with three stages for the first time in any German submarines: The upper one was the main living quarters, with triple bunks for the crews, close to the central, which location did not changed, but this time over three levels, whil the rest of the two lower decks were entirely occupied by batteries, placed at low as possible for gravity. Cumulated with the island that was two-storey high, the Type XXI were the roomier and tallest German submarines ever built.

Modular Construction

The Type XXI sections in details. Note the kiosk, rebuilt postwar: This shows the Bundermarine’s Wilhelm Bauer.

The Type XXI comprised eight separate sections, each being its own sealed compartment, with safety hatches. These ovale sections were constructed in 13 different yards. This allowed on-site duplication and taylorisation with assemblu of sub-elements, often coming from other suppliers. This ensured that if a number of sections were destroyed in one yard, other provided the same sections. Redundancy complicated the chain supply though for each manufacturer.

Safety of this section-building up to the final assembly in the naval yards rose concerns as the most exposed, tipping point of the whole manufacturing chain, and in 1944 efforts were made to provide bomb-proof sheltering. The largest bunkers ever devised in Germany, larger even than the ones designed to protect in France U-Boats (the “u-boat pens”) was exemplified at Hamburg-Finkenwerder and Bremen-Farge, the two prototype buildings to deliver sections. A few others were improvised in less sensitive sites. Due to their size, sections could only be transported by water, whiwh restrained the list of possible sites.

A section-building yard was supplied with similar part-sections for the first section, like thee stern, with delivery of the remaining parts timed to ensure completion in sequence. At any given time, the same number of sections were always in progressive stages of assembly at each yard. Larger part-sections machined and prepared for assembly in the central line, corresponded to smaller ones from machine shops, on a conveyor-belt, creating a tree-like supply, typical of taylorisation. Same operations were repeated on each section by the same skilled team for speed.

The delivery of these completed sections ended in the U-boat assembly yards. There was one in Bremen (Deschimag), another in Hamburg (Blohm & Voss) and a third in Danzig (Schichau). Final assembly consisted in welding the section together, and fitting the last large parts (like the prop shafts), the island, etc. up to the launching under a strict time-table. Difficulties arose in early stages as many issues were discovered and fixed along the way to provide this smoothness.

Section-building yards initially were unable respect their schedule, mostly because of a delayed delivery from subcontractors, especially for the most crucial fittings, which blocked all subsequents steps. Also, the first part-sections sometimes were badly rolled, exceeding their specified tolerances when arriving a the final assembly yard. They often necessitated additional work. In addition, in the rush to keep the schedules, some supposedly complete sections arrived not only late but unfinished, requiring supplies and additional work.

The Central Shipbuilding Committee permitted no shifting in the tight schedule, ruthlessly insisting on their strict observance. This cause launched boats in such as state they needed much work remaining, pushing back for many weeks and even months any completion, and thus, commission. A lot of these finishing tasks were either botches or skimped entirely, which later forced the newly commissioned boats, long periods in dockyard to fix discovered issues. The first seven boats batch was therefore the most laborious of the whole serie, and crews were suspicious of their own safety onboard. The Kriegsmarine after a few trials, kept them for training and experimentations.

The whole program was so challenging, it grew tension and antagonism, even in the Central Shipbuilding Committee itself, but also with the Kriegsmarine Naval Command and dockyard authorities as well. It’s only by the summer of 1944 that there was some noticeable improvements, after weeks or ironing out the whole process and reorganizations. The Shipbuilding Commission under Admiral Topp was instrumental in this, created earlier that year, and acting as mediator and consultant, notably between the Naval Command and Armaments Ministry.

All was done under nerve-wracking reports going from all Germany to the administration of the Armaments Minister, caused mostly by bombing, which destroy assembly sites, the stopped the sub-contractors supply, or, in large final assembly yards often bombed, complete flight of dockyard workmen, notably in Hamburg and Dantzig. In the latter, the collapse of the Estern defence meant the destruction of bridges, pontoons and cranes badly needed to carry the sections. Most often in 1944, work was transferred to other, less exposed factories, and as much as possible, smaller parts were made by slave labor in tunnels, caves and underground.

Despite all odds, unthinkable production rates were meet: 234 U-boats were built in 1944 (220,000 tons), versus 238 in 1942, just as the bombing campaign was ramping up. The highest monthly rate was in December 1944, in which 31 submarines, including 22 of the new Type XXI were delivered. It was just 24 in October 1941 or 23 in November 1942, 28 in December 1943. Despite more and more severe bombins, the average monthly rate in the first quarter of 1945 stayed very high, and the continuous smoothing of the assembly process all along. Nevertheless, by transferring naval construction from the naval command to the minitry meant completion of the program time rose from eight to twelve months, so five behind schedule.

A set of Revolutionary Features

Design of the Type XXI Island

Aft view, from the reconstructed plans based postwar on the Whilhelm Bauer.

Hull Construction

It was suppose and announced thicker and stronger for deeper dives, and essential part of the design.

Details from the February 1946 British Portsmouth Commission report:

Plating is generally 4 mm (.16″) thick, splinter protection 17 mm (.67″) thick provided for the bridge and gun positions across the top, along the sides and at the ends. The material for the splinter protection is identified as “Wsho/Mo”, but its characteristics are not known.

Citing “The vertical keel extends aft from the fabricated forward structure, forming a deep centerline division extending up through the forward trim tanks and WRT tanks, to the forward end of the forward battery, where it is reduced in depth to 285 mm (11.2″) and extends aft at that depth to the after end of the after battery, except for the section in the way of the variable tanks, which is carried as a centerline bulkhead up to the pump room deck. Aft of the after battery it is carried at the full depth from the sole plate to the bottom of the pressure hull as far as the forward end of the after trim tank. It is carried aft through the after trim tank, but does not extend below it, as the longitudinal member at the bottom of the vessel is a bulb tee 120 x 6.5 (4.72″ x .26″). Connection is provided at the after end of the trim tank to the cellular structure which carries aft into the tail of the vessel”.

And also: “The stern frame of a casting (a weldment is permitted by the specifications) with carriers for the rudder and for the stern planes. Also at the after end of the vessel is a pair of fins which serve the dual purpose of stabilizers and struts for the propeller shaft bearings. As shown on plans, the fins are the widest part of the vessel”

Overall: “The hull structure is an interesting solution to the problem presented, and is a radical departure from previous German practice. At the same time, a number of the design details could have been improved. A number of details characteristic of previous types have been retained”

As for the critics, also noted by the German themselves:

-The method of connecting the upper and lower segments in the way of the battery compartments is generally faulty.

The commission also noted (absent from German reports):

-Noted failure of the lower segment under test below the designed value.

-External frames are deeper, but their are close to earlier vessels.

-Flanges have not been widened to improve the lateral stability of the frame section

-Unsatisfactory bulkheading, with collapsing pressure 50% as the designer’s spec

-Retention of bolted plates, rivets in shear is questionable.

-Weakness in the interruption of the circular section at the bottom of the vessel,

substitution of a heavy sole piece and,

additional deck and floors, detrimental to the stress distribution.


Hertha electric engine of type XXI Siemens-Schuckert AG 1944

As a matter of fact, despite the absence of a Walter Gas turbine, the Type XXI was a diesel electric, equipped with three powerplants for various uses:

Two MAN M6V40/46KBB

Diesel assembly into the first powerplant section (the second had all four electrical motors)

6-cylinder diesel engines, rated for 4,000 PS (3,900 shp; 2,900 kW) For surface navigation. They were used to power the Batteries, were lighter units, taylor-built for the Type XXI since space needed to be gained for more batteries, and on paper, were less powerful than those onboard the Type IX/VII.

The only way to mitigate that shortcoming was to add a supercharger using exhaut gasses, workong at 520 RPM Max. The major problem is that these new injectors were deficient when the Type XXI was produced, and proved to be woefully unreliable, leaving the diesels to their lowest basic output. As a result, surface speed suffered. As a comparison, the Type IX-D/42 had 9,000 horsepower (9,100 PS; 6,700 kW) for more than 33 kts.

The second point of interest was the schnorchel, which was supposed to feed the diesels underwater. This innovation was already applied to the Type VII and IX, however the system onboard the Type XXI was created with a new valve system for heavy weather (see later). Nominal surface speed was to be 15.6 knots (28.9 km/h; 18.0 mph) surfaced.

Two SSW GU365/30:

Battery accumulators (Bauer)

Double-acting Hertha electric motors from Siemens-Schuckert, with an output of 5,000 PS (4,900 shp; 3,700 kW) at 1675 R.P.M. These were the main electric units, bringing far more power (five times more) than the Type IX. The latter, which were lighter, had the SSW 1 GU 345/34 rated for 1,000 PS (990 shp; 740 kW). These were supposed to provide 18 kts to the new boats, later re-rated at 17.2 knots (31.9 km/h; 19.8 mph), versus 7.7 knots (14.3 kph) for the Type IX, but in reality were re-rated by postwar assessments to 15.

Two SSW GV232/28:

Silent Running electric motors. This new system was to provide a stealthy final approach (inside the convoy). Howeve that feature was at the time too advanced for the allied tech, largely relying on active sonar systems. Also built by Siemens-Schuckert, they provided 226 PS (223 shp; 166 kW) at 350 R.P.M., for 6.1 knots. As for batteries, Six battery divisions, each with 62 cells and 1300 A.Hr. (Cell type 44 MAL 740E) were provided.

Sas/hatch to the Machine Room

⚙ Performances (British report)
Cruising range – normal 15,500 mi. @ 10 kn. 2 engines
max. speed 11,150 mi. @ 12 kn. 2 engines
submerged 365 mi. @ 5 kn. 2 engines
// 285 mi. @ 5 kn.
// 170 mi. @ 8 kn
// 110 mi. @ 10 kn
Surface speed – max. 15.6 kn.
Submerged speed – 1 hr. rate 17-18 kn (sustained)


The other strong point was the new boat’s range, both surfaced and underwater. The hull was roomier and could accomodate more fuel oil, resulting in a surface speed of 15,500 nautical miles (28,700 km; 17,800 mi) at ten knots (19 km/h; 12 mph). To compare with the Type IX, the latter reached 13,450 nmi (24,910 km; 15,480 mi) at the same speed, so this was a clear-cut improvement, however not really tested or corroborated in post-war tests. On paper, the new Schnorchel was to enable that same autonomy at eriscope depth all the way, albeit at a slightly lower speed.

But the real “game changer” at this stage of the war, was of course their submerged autonomy, which promised to be formidable: They could indeed cruise over 340 nmi (630 km; 390 mi) at 5 knots (9.3 km/h; 5.8 mph) while submerged. For comparison, a type IX could only cruise for 63 nmi (117 km; 72 mi) at 4 knots (7.4 km/h; 4.6 mph) while submerged, a Type VIIC 80 nmi (150 km; 92 mi) also at 4 knots (7.4 km/h; 4.6 mph). So this was, on paper, 3-4 times better, allowing an U-Boat to start from the Jade estuary, Wilhelmshaven, then reach the confines of the Gulf of Gascony (Bay of Biscaye), or well past Scapa Flow in Scotland. With the new Schnorchel it was even possible to reload the batteries while staying at periscopic depth.

Submerging faster, Diving deeper

Other points that were specified to escape allied escorts, was the ability to dive fast, 20 kts on paper, and dive far deeper than any other u-Boat before. The first was achieved thanks to more filler ports along the outer hull and even the island, and a deeper, larger hull with more capacity, added to more powerful bilge pumps, hydraulically powered.

To dive deeper (Up to 300 m, which was the theoretical crush depth) enginers simply made the pressure hull far more thicker, and this was provided by Dönitz be granted by Speer and extra provision of high grade steel. The issue there however, was entirely related to the construction method by separated modules: The way they were jointed together was absolutely crucial for structural integrity.

But at the end, the Type XXI were able to dive at a test depth of 240 m (787 ft), 10 meters miore than the Type IX, and same for the VIIC, which was less than the 280 m anticipated. Some post-war tests rated this even only at 200m. So overall it was marginally better, and construction defaults had it toned down further.

It shoyuld be noted also that, if the hydraulic system was to fail, there was an emergency backup system for the steering.


Torpedo Tubes

The Type XXI were the first to get rid of their stern torpedo tubes. It was found that firing their torpedoes submerged, using the new acoutic system was enough of an advantage, and getting rid of stern TTs spared spaces for the powerplant. So the Type XXI ended with just their six forward torpedo tubes, always the standard 21 inches (53,3 cm). These tubes could fire a larger variety of torpedoes than all previous models through, had a revolutionary loading system (see later) and could also launch 12 mines also via the tubes.

New Torpedo Models

Type XXI Plate III, S75, torpedo reloading slide, cut

the Type XXI was equipped with several torpedo types. The normal ones, which need aiming first:

-The “Lut” or “Fat” which run in a straight-line for a while, then turn repeteadly, sailing in “zig-zag”.

-The “Zaunkönig” was the late acoustic torpedo version or G7e TV, following the propeller noises of the destroyers. These cannot evade it unless they say full-ahead, because this torpedo is a bit slow.

-The improved version T11, also acoustic, following destroyers and ordinary vessels but was faster and cannot be diverted by noise devices.

In practice, the Type G7e was the main supply. As a reminder, this torpedo was provided as the late types G7e(TIV) Falke and G7e(TV) Zaunkönig.

The Falke was the model allowing a sub to fire them while deeply submerged inside the convoy. Their main advantage was to start like a straight-running torpedo for the first 400 m (440 yd) to enable its acoustic sensors, then actively search for a target. Since this equipment was sentitive, the propeller needed to be as quiet as possible, by its shape, and also speed, at only 37 km/h (20 kn), while the Carrier sub was also to be dead silent. This model was mostly intended for merchant targets. its use was limited, as it was merely a “proof of concept” for the acoustic homing torpedo.

The common model however was the G7e(TIII) of 1942, straight-line model capable of 7,500 m (8,200 yd) at 56 km/h (30 kn). It was declined in 1943-44 into the G7e(TIII Fat II), and LuT (Lagenunabhängiger Torpedo), or the G7e(TIII Lut II) all pattern-running systems for convoy attacks. They made their course unpredictable.

Automatic Reloading System

Standard reloading system,external.

As noted in a confidential report dated February 1946 from the Portsmouth naval commission which investigated the Type XXI, REPORT 2G-21, S75-3 was about Torpedo Handling, loading and stowage states the following:

Although several of the design details of the handling, loading and stowage arrangements from earlier German types were retained on the Type XXI, the basic conception, to provide stowage for all torpedoes within the torpedo room with a ready means for servicing the torpedo tubes, was an innovation in German design. The stowage and handling arrangements adopted provide an interesting comparison with present U.S. designs. Several noteworthy features, in particular, the elimination of heavy stowage cradles, warrant consideration for possible inclusion in U.S. designs.

The basic hull design of the Type 21 submarine made it desirable to eliminate the topside stowage existing on the preceding types that were not designed primarily for high submerged speeds. Also as the requirement of a narrow cross section aft eliminated the possibility of after torpedo tubes, it became necessary to provide adequate stowage facilities for all reserve torpedoes in the forward torpedo room.

The German design to obtain this is shown on Plates I-IV. The functioning of this arrangement with torpedoes is fully discussed in the NavTechreport.

A limited number of mines can also be handled with this setup by the addition of the special supporting chocks shown on Plates VI and VII. 18 TMB mines (7.6 ft. long) or 12 TMC mines (11.2 ft. long) could be carried external to the tubes. When carrying mines but a third of the available space is utilized as only the inboard chocks (and cradles) are used. With the present U.S. designs the same cradles that are used for stowage of torpedoes can be used for the stowage of mines; a total of 16 mines (10 ft. long) forward and 12 mines aft are carried in the cradles.

The present German design has proven faulty under depth charge tests in that the elastic bolts securing the supporting arms to the pressure hull have sheared off. This arrangement provided for a total of 20 torpedoes, 6 in the torpedo tubes and 14 in the stowage. Three cradles were left empty so as to permit servicing of the torpedoes in the tubes. No berthing was installed within the torpedo room; adequate facilities for berthing the crew were provided within the large battery compartment.

Noteworthy Arrangement: The basic arrangement providing reserve torpedoes on the same level as the tubes to be serviced with a ready means of athwartship movement of the torpedoes on their supporting members is the same on both U.S. and German designs. The German design utilizes power to move the torpedoes both athwartships on their support arms, and into the tubes longitudinally, while the U.S. designs depend on rollers and hand control for similar transport. The relative advantages and disadvantages of hand control versus power control essentially balance each other.

The main advantage of the Type XXI arrangement lies in the overall weight saving by the use of chocks in lieu of cradles for the support of those torpedoes not lined up with the tubes. The cradles, less rollers, weigh 780 lbs. The chocks used weigh 75 lbs., or 150 lbs. for each torpedo, effecting a saving of 630 lbs. per torpedo.

The conservation of weight by using chocks on rollers in lieu of cradles, and by reducing the number of cradles to one for each layer of tubes, could be easily accomplished on existing U.S. submarines, if desired. This would, at the same time alleviate the awkward handling and stowage problem that now presents itself with a large number of empty cradles. It is to be recognized, however, that in order to carry mines it becomes necessary either to use additional special fittings, as in the case of the German design, or to retain the present stowage cradles.

CONCLUSION: The design adopted for the Type XXI submarine meets the German requirement to provide rapid, silent handling and maximum torpedo stowage facilities within the forward torpedo room. It does this at sacrifice in living accommodations (within this compartment) and overall mine stowage capacity. To properly assess a comparison of this arrangement, it would be necessary to know and discuss the effects that higher submerged speeds would have on the overall arrangement of a similar U.S. design. This is beyond the scope of this report. However, special noteworthy features present interesting studies for possible adaptation to and improvement of present U.S. designs. The lightweight chocks and cradles used are of particular interest. It is recommended that further study be made of an arrangement that uses light chocks in lieu of the present heavy stowage cradles so as to determine what sacrifices, if any, are necessary and what overall benefits are derived from such a change.

The key “pusher barillet” system to hold and distribute torpedoes

Torpedo handling, vertical view.

AA Guns

The two tailor-designed turrets house each two 30MM anti-aircraft guns, mounted on each end of the conning tower fairwater. For traverse, elevation and firing, they are controlled by the gunner, obtained by the main hydraulic system, with simple and directional controls. They are not remotelly operated as sometimes seen. The motors were close to small oil pump systems.

Each turret contains two pressure-tight ready service tanks, housing 250 rounds each, plus a gunner seat, with foot controls and related hydraulic gear, hand controls for the elevation and traverse. The 3 cm MK 303 (Br) Flak also called Flakzwilling (M44) was experimental in 1944, designed to replace both the 20 m and 37 mm FLAK, fitted on fixed or wheeled chassis and in specially created mounts for the Type XXI. Manufactured by Krieghoff in 1944, they were 222 delivered in 1944, 190 in 1945.

⚙ Krieghoff 3 cm MK 303 (Br)
weight 185 kg (408 lbs)
full lenght 3.145 m (10 ft 3.8 in)j/td>
Barrel length 2.2 m (7 ft 3 in) L/73
Shell 30×210mm
Caliber 30 mm (1.18 in)
Elevation -10°to ±85°
Traverse 360°
Rate of fire 400 rpm (cyclic)
Muzzle velocity 1100 m/s (3,609 ft/s) M-Schos
// HE 900 m/s (2,953 ft/s)
// AP/HE 950 m/s (3,117 ft/s)
Feed system 15 cartridge clip or belt (Type XXI)

There is a scuttle in the turret top, from which the gunner’s head protrudes. The forward face is shielded for extra protection, interlocked with the guns, rising when elevates. The turret seats on a ball bearing race, with the carrier ring on the fairwater having an internal toothed ring gear to engage the motorized spur gear. Stops limiting elevation and depression as well as rotation to 170 degrees on each side. When diving, the guns are locked at 5 degrees depression. Construction use the same special steel (Wsho/Mo) as the bridge armor plating, 17MM (0.67 in). It was judged simple enough, although the amount of hydraulic piping is excessive, prone to failure and in act the sole major source of contamination of the whole hydraulic system with salt water aboard.

There was however, as reported in blueprints, a project to replace what was seen as an interim solution, by two pairs of 40 mm guns instead, and that time in full remote operation. Little is known about this arrangement; But it allowed the submarine to fire semi-submerged, or while submerging, or just surfaced without delay, nor risks for the gunner.

View of conning tower fairwater, and turret access.

Sensors & Electronics


The FuMo 61 Hotenwiel radar and transmitter Type F 432 D2

The Type XXI was given a more extensive radar suite than any other submarine before: There were two working parts, the FuMB Ant 3 Ball radar detector coupled with an antenna fitting, and a FuMO 65 Hohentwiel U1 radar with a Type F432 D2 series transmitter device.

The FuMB Ant 3 Bali radar detector and antenna were located on top of the snorkel head. it was a small device, but with extended range, able to catch radar pulse from 50 km? away. Introduced from February 1943, the Biskayakreuz was replaced by the FuMB Ant 3 Bali with worked on the 137-166 cm wavelenghts, mounted on top of the schnorchel mast. A second oscillator was added (FuMB 1) from July 1943 due to the British introducing the 10 cm ASV Mk.III and type 271 radar not detected by Metox. The latter was retired after it was found to be detected by aircraft.

The FuMO 65 Hohentwiel U1 with the Type F432 D2 radar transmitter were installed on the right side of the conning tower fairwater. The latter was a trusted model designed from 1938 and largely used on planes, surface ships and subs. On the latter, its detection range was limited to 10 km, so it was a “last warning” resource. A plane 10 km away could very quickly be on target. Frequency was 525–575 MHz/57.1-52.1 cm (low UHF-band), PRF 50 Hz, pulsewidth 2 μs, azimuth left 30°, middle, right 30°, and power 24V 30A, Synchronous inverter. It was folded inside a “trench” alongside the conning tower roof to protect it when diving.

Hohentwiel telescopic Mast detailed blueprint.

Sonars: The Nibelung-Parisfal suite.


The passive component of the sonar installation, was the Gruppenhorchgerat (GHG) passive sonar installed in the keel (“Parisfal”), under a protruding cover. This system was not “invented” for the Type XXI but already used from 1942 in some older Types VII/IX. It consisted of two groups of 24 sensor, 12 per side, with tube preamplifier each. 48 low frequency signals were routed to a switching matrix. This allowed the sonar operator to determine the direction of the sound source and relative distance. Switchable crossover ranging from 1 to 6 kHz center frequency improved the reception. There was a dead zone of 40° fore and aft, which was corrected on the “full range” installation on the Type XXI. Its detecation range was 20 km for single shis and up to 100 km for an entire Convoy.

Its active component was the advanced “Unterwasser-Ortungsgerat Nibelung” non-line-of-sight system. To make the fullest use the new rapid loading system and acoustic torpedoes fired from deep below, the Unterwasser-Ortungsgerät NIBELUNG mounted in the bow enabled an approach from deep inside the convoy, emit short active sonar bursts to fix the target location, without being detected. The torpedo room worked in conjunction with the sonar, receiving targeting data, which was inputted into the new Lageunabhangiger Torpedo system.

U-3008 Kiosk details

Another innovatove system, the U-Bauer Decoy Ejector, located in the stern compartment. It could sent bubbles and oil to the surface to make think a captain his target has been sunk.


Conning tower design showing the location of the antennae, radars, schnorchel and persicopes.

Along the conning tower fairwater were located the two receiving surface whip antennae, the radio emitter antenna, the main day attack periscope, the smaller night persicope, mosty used for star-based navigation, the main Hohentwiel radar and in front of it, the large schnorchel mast, with the exhaust and air intake tubes, an ball mount admission system. On top of it was located the FuMB Ant 3 Bali radar detector. It seems the periscopes models were less innovative, based on the same models used in earlier Type IX, possibly the type NLSR C/9 day attack periscope. More on their uses and procedures can be found here. The main attack model on the Type XXIII was however the ASR C/6 periscope, with an ocular box of type NLSR C/9 (night periscope and day periscope combined). Possibly the day model was the StaS C/2 attack periscope. The only point to underline here, is that excessive vibrations on the early boats precluded the use of periscopes while under schnorchel’s navigation.

U3008, Hohentwiel and main persicopes. (ONI)

U3008, same, rear view.

Production: “Like sausages”

Albert Speer organized mass production with great efficience as agreed in the Summer of 1943, however the first series would be operational in November 1944, not July as first planned, but later. The first had teething issues and commission was delayed. Prefabricated sections were used, that could be built ashore in tunnels, blockhouses, underground sheds, then transported by boat in immense Block-building sites made by Todt for final assembly. The latter, bomb-proof installation were capable of producing hundreds in a month, at the edge of large rivers.

The final assembly was mostly to be carried out in the Valentin submarine pens, a massive and bomb–hardened concrete bunker, built at Farge, near Bremen between 1943 and 1945, using 10,000 concentration camp prisoners and POWs by Todt. It was 90% completed when bombed in March 1945, using the Grand Slam “earthquake” bombs. cracked open, it was abandoned and captured a few weeks after by British troops.

A feat as spectacular as the submarine itself

Crude section

Section in construction, central module.

The mass-construction of the Type XXI at the same path of the American libery-ships, for the most sophisticated submarine ever built was a great accomplishment by German planners at all level, under constant day and night bombings. The total order, in 1945 was to reach 1,170 Type XXI alone, and more than 2,000 Type XXIII, while the entire submarine production until that point in Germany was 1,043. The game changer was a complete reorganization of the production for maximum efficiency, befitting to a “total war”. At last by late 1943 Germany adopted standards of the allies, producing more with less, sparing materials, simplifying, cuttiing work hours, better employing skilled labour, using masses of slave workers in less skilled tasks, but trying not to compromise too much on the technological edge.

The first serious bottleneck was found in the dual requirement for a rapid setup of mass production while maintening the same delivery rate for existing older types, for a 6-months transition. This necessitated indeed the provision of twice as much materials, as well as manufacturing capacity with a network already saturated and stretched to the absolute maximum. At the worst case scenario, the full transition was to be performed over eight months.

Far more materials needed

Prefabricated scheme

Step up the production of U-boat batteries soon appeared paramount, as the new types asked twice more, added to the old types. To achieve this the Armaments Ministry’s had to produce the requisite machinery and equipment for at the expense of current contracts but for aircraft production, which between all arms was given absolute priority. The sheer quantity of lead and rubber needed for them grew acute, but this was later overcome.

The Type XXI also needed very powerful electric motors, outside batteries, that needed to be developed, and the boats were also using many other electrical fittings. This included the cruising motors and trimming plus bilge pumps as well as the new, powerful echo-ranging gear and associated underwater listening station, equally modern and powerful radio and radar sets, search receivers, which at this point focused the attention of the entire German electrical industry, curtailing production of replacement power-stations and locomotives for those destroyed by the bombardments. The population suffered as the result of these shortages.

Another issue was to gather enough high-grade steel plating for the pressure hull. On this particular topic, the Heer was adamant it needed all the capacity to produce larger and better protected tanks: This commodity constituted indeed the worst bottleneck for the German industry as a whole. The allies had the same problems, and in both ship construction and aviation, wood made a comeback. The old type VII still needed these supplies, and the new types, larger, required more. But the autumn of 1943, the output needed was 3.5 times greater as what was allocated until then. Soon, the Kriegsmarine had to make choices, like cancelling all surface vessel production, stopping ongoing contructions (like the many times postponed Graf Zeppelin, cancelled for good), and even warships repair was cancelled or further prioritized (like the Tirpitz). Shaping ready rolled pressure-hull sections was also a challenge.

At this point, the Gamble of the Type XXI was a nightmarish one, especially for one man, the director of the Central Shipbuilding Committee, Herr Merker. There was indeed a Considerable risk involved in mass-producing this new U-boat without trials or standard development phase. Failure was not an option as the prodigious efforts needed would have been in vain, especially of up to 200 new U-boats were to be scrapped in the end. This was double risk as developed alongside an unprecedented level of prefabrication with mass-production methods never used in shipbuilding before in Germany. And if this was not complicated enough, wartime conditions took their toll in a semi-predictable way all along. If a major supplied was destroyed, the whole supply chain was too, triggerring massive delays in delivering an intested type that was badly needed to reverse the situation at sea.

In fact many experts of the time were worried that completing the task as early as possible was an unsurmountable task overall, but this does not prevented a firm order for 360 Type XXI and 118 Type XXIII to be passed, added to a Mediterranean ports extra order for 90 supplementary Type XXIII. New specialized, smaller and simpler types of both were also studied for future production in 1945. The Type XXI/XXIII production was to create a basis for future developments, testing the waters.

More delays before and after commission

Even if Boats were completed on time, having crews trained on board, on such brand new boats, was not as simple as it seems. A ship and its crew needed to work like a tightly, well oiled man-machine clock. No procedure was ever done for all new systems designs, and documentation was provided along the way. With the initial production delays showed above, the whole new U-boat building programme dropped five months behind schedule. And meanwhile, crews needed to be assembled and trained on boats that were still unfinished.

The first or these U-Boats was launched as scheduled in April 1944, but needed a lot of extra work to fix its multiple issues, that would have been normally avoided if sections has been perfect. So it’s onli by June 1944 she was officially commissioned. The start was slow but after December 1944 it was believed that a rate of 20 Type XXI would be completed monthly, meaning finding and training 57 men each time (so 1140 monthly) was not easy. Shortcuts were found, as captains, usually taking command during completion, visited the boats from time to time, but mostly trained in dedicated building, on sub-sytems when available, trying to reproduce a semblancy of working environment with limited means.

Even when the crew entered the boats, after commission, actually starting proper training, at leat on the first seven boats, frequent interruptions for repair and modifications allowed the initial crew to train in not three months as it was usual, but six. Constant reporting along the way and close co-operation between the Construction Office (Blankenburg) and U-boat Acceptance Staff, plus the U-boat Training office eliminated all most serious defects in a few months. By the autumn of 1944, all these informations has been passed onto the while construction chain and incorporated into newly-built boats; The normal crew of a Type XXI consisted in fifty men and seven officers. To compare, a larger Type IX was about the same, about 56. But with a much tighter space and far worse living conditions.

⚙ Type XXI class specifications

Dimensions 76.20 x 8 x 6.32 m (252 x 26 x 21 feets)
Displacement 1,621 tons standard, 1,819 tons Fully Loaded, submerged
Crew 57 (5 officers, 52 sailors)
Propulsion 2 shafts MAN M6V40/46KBB supercharged 6-cyl. diesels 4,000 PS
2 SSW GU365/30 double-acting electric motors (4,900 shp)
2 SSW GV232/28 silent running electric motors (223 shp)
Speed 15.6/17.2 knots (29/32 km/h) or 6.1 kts silent running.
Range 15,500 nmi/10 knots surfaced, 340 nmi/5 knots submerged.
Armament 6×53.3 cm (21 in) TTs bow, 4×2 cm C/30 FLAK turrets
Max test depth 240 m (787 feets), estimated crush depth +300m

The Type XXI in action

Ed Tambunan colorized photo of the surrendered U-3034, May 1945. Note the yellow markings.

In early 1945, the Allies were prepared to strike Germany from the South, East and West. The ports in France had to be abandoned and the ships were withdrawn to German, Danish and Norwegian ports. The training divisions had to abandon their training places in the Baltic one by one: Pillau, Danzig, Gotenhafen… But despite of that, they went on with the trainings with the new vessels —now that they were launched in droves— hoping to fight until the last moments.

In the last days of April 1945, U-2511 sailed from Bergen, Norway. She went away from her sisters and gained speed as for the first time, a Type XXI would face the enemy. Men on board were already well trained and knew that they could trust her to sail fast and be kept submerged for a long time. Within days she would fight the enemy, show that all the expectations on her were right. She was commanded also by an ace, Korvettenkapitän Schnee, U-boat veteran with 200,000 tons sunken in seventeen engagements and since her had worked for the Naval Construction Commission, perfectly in tune with the Type XXI and its capabilities…

Two sorties and a controversy

Crew of U-3016 in 1945

U-2511 and U-3008 were in fact the only Type XXIs used for operational war patrols, in actual combat. … but neither sank any ship. The first’s commander claimed to have spotted a British cruiser on 4 May 1945, just when news of the German cease-fire was received and that he made a successful mock attack before leaving the scene undetected. U-2511 trained in the 31st U-boat Flotilla from 29 September 1944 to 14 March 1945 and then the only active 11th U-boat Flotilla from 15 March to 8 May 1945 under command of Captain Adalbert Schnee, making her first an last patrol on 3–6 May 1945.

However postwar analysis had completely disclaimed Schnee’s accounts as dodgy at best. It happened that already during his ten combat patrols on U-60 and U-201 he overclaimed 50% of this kills. According to cross postwar records, he did not departed on 30th april, but 3rd of May 1945 from Bergen, could not spot HMS Norfolk escorted by destroyers, as there were none, could not spot the cruiser again on 5 May off Beegrn as he was there on the 6th, and at that time, HMS Norfolk was NW of the Shetlands, bound for Scapa. He also claimed to have been taken onboard the cruiser for interrogation, which was just straight out impossile as the sub did not surrendered before the 9th, and no record of his interrogation as noted in the cruiser’s logs. Also his “eye witness”, war correspondent Wolfgang Frank was not aboard when Schnee made his “mock attack”.

Later in 1988 the investigating Gröner group was joined by Dr. Niestlé, could not find U-2511 log,s but had the one from Norfolk, and now declassified Ultra decripts pointing aout the position of U-2511, interviewed eye witnesses, and it appeared his boats hat day at 8:00 on the 5th was 110 miles south of Norfolk. He did not evaded a Corvette on the 4th allegedly, as she was too far away to the west, nor Norfolk, too far north from U-2511.

On her side, U-3008 left Wilhelmshaven for her first and also last patrol on 3 May 1945, but returned to port after the surrender. On 21 June 1945, she was seized by the Allies in Wilhelmshaven, and sent to Loch Ryan. From there, she was transferred to the United States and reached New London in Connecticut, on 22 August (see later US evaluation).

All in all, for 121 boats “commissioned” before V-Day, only about half were ever operational, making a few sorties after a training period. The very first boats completed wee riddled with problems and only fully operational by the mid-1945. Apart two active war patrols, the others performed short semi-operational training cruises. There were losses, even though no ship was ever sunk, traducing the extreme state of affait for the Kriegsmarine that late into the war: U-2503, 2509, 2514, 2515 and 2516, U-2521, 2523, 2524, 2530, 2532, 2534, 2537, 2542, 3003, 3007, 3028, 3030, 3032, 3505, 3508, 3512, 3519, 3520 and 3523 were all lost, between enemy action (in the most cases, not ASW action but rather air attacks, including in ports) and other due to accidents. In fact the attrition rate was revealing in the production rush and problems with the whole concept. The remainder surrendered or were scuttled.

General assessment: Debunking the “wunderwaffe”


Reality’s ugly head postwar basically destroyed the optimistic views/outright propaganda about the initial capabilities of the Type XXI, and it’s postwar myth of “super weapon”. It might be argued that Dönitz was eager to have his project prioritized towards Hitler and stated paper specs that were very tasty but far fetched indeed. The problem is that they were taken as such and publicized in some general public books and, notably in History Channel’s “Nazi Megastructures: Hitler’s Killer Subs”. In this documentary many claims were made.

The latter indeed was supposed to be quieter and diving much deeper than any other sub that came before.

Her top speed was 17 knots based on 5,000 shp.

With her reloading system she had the potential to sink 18 ships in 20 minutes.

Her diesels could reload her batteries in just one hour

Despite a much larger hull, the streamlining meant her acoustic signature was much smaller

The schnorchel was ingenious, allowing her to stay underwater even in rough weather

Her sophisticated echo chamber could identify, track and target multiple targets at once, so she could blindly fight from 160 feet deep.

US evaluation post-war showed the batteries could be recharged, based on far lower output, in four hours, not one. The point on top speed, 17 kts submerged was debunked in several ways. First off, she was designed to dive fast, in 20 secs. as specified. Second, as she was given for this many freeing ports, these added 28% to her drag. During a submerged run on 8th Nov. 1944 U-3506 achieved only 15.93 kts. This was compounded by British own tests, which doubted that 15 kts could be achieved, even with a one hour run. This was also confirmed by a German war log in 1-15 January, confirming 15 knots was achieved.

Also, test bed results for the two main electric motors only achieved 1800 Kw or 2413 hp, which, with fully loaded batteries, could be maintained for just an hour, not 4-5 as stated. Others stats showed 15 kts could ebe achieved at max power for just 50 minutes. It appeared also that to house the many new batteries, German engineers’s newly developed, lightweight diesels were rated at 1970 bhp and each were given superchargers driven by exhaust gas (turbo).

However it appeared in US tests that these diesels were very weak. On trials they were limited to 1700 bhp due to overheated exhaust gas, and proving hazardous when snorkeling so deactivated, which further crippled the boat’s speed on surface. Without the superchargers, their output fell to just 850 bhp, making for 12 kts on surface, but on paper only, as the British found the boats were “ploughing” and the deck was constantly flooded, creating massive drag, so it fell to 10 kts and below in practice. For loading the batteries, US tests shown this was even worse, with superchargers deactivated, and that 6 hours were necessary at max capacity.

It appeared also the “all-weather” Snorkel was not an innovation of the Type XXI but in reality was found also on the late Type VII and IX as well. What was unique however, was the Type XXI telecopic mast, but it never worked properly: Only 10.9 kts could be achieved due to eddy shedding from the mast and periscope, thus severe vibration reducing in practive top speed to just 6 knots. The British downwards hated this ‘snot head’.

For torpedo stowage, the US reported that idle positions forced a practical stowage of 20, not 23 torpedoes. The British found that if carrying 14 reload torpedoes, six were to be accomodated in the automatic reload system and these needed a classic loading, which took far more time, just as a Type VII/IX. The idea that 18 ships could be dealt with in 20 minites is therefore just ludicrous. There was also the fact the Type XXI was supposed to carry four types of torpedoes, the G7e, and others, making impossible to fire the same way 18 torpedoes.

As per the “deeper diving”, it was not that stellar: As designed, 135 m was the safe depth, 200 the test one and 330 (1073 ft) the crush one. However, when a design defect was found on the torpedo hatch during a 16 March 1945 test dive, a fix was needed, which was successful on 8th May 1945, far too late for operations. Numerous manufacturing defects were also found by the allies which restricted their operatoinal depth to 108 m (350 feets), barely better than for a Type VII (102 m/330 ft) and a test depth at 160m/520 ft. A far cry to the 280 m (919 ft) claimed in the documentary.

About the alleged acoustic stealthiness, passive sonars were not a thing in WW2, as active ones (ASDIC SONAR) were used instead, pinging the hull, which, streamlined or not, bounced back the signal. According to British reports the Type XXI had a larger, deeper hull, presenting even a larger surface on which to ping than a regular Type VII: She was less stealthy. As for the noise, even at 8-9 kts underwater she was established as noiser than a Type VII even running at 3-4 kts ! (Malcolm Llewellyn-Jones).

As for the 260 tonnes of batteries supposed to propelled the sub underwater for 11 days, allied tests deflated this to just less than seven. It was still far better than a Type VII/IX, but still the sole point that stands out. However this was done at great risks. Indeed, postwar British evaluation pointed that after their U-3017 tested in August suffered a battery explosion that crippled her, their enquiry suggested that German practice had caused a number of explosions, possibly not initially taken as loss causes. This was coumpounded by four wartime German engineers reports. Also, it was observed that the electic cables running under the battery compartment were poorly insulated, and water wfrequently seeped in the bilges, causing shorts, arcing, combined with poor ventilation and hydrogen emanations during the charge. Perfect recipe for a catastrophy.

Another innovation point was also debunked: The use of hydraulic power to spare electrical motors, used in fact for the preiscope hoist, bow/stern plates, rudder, TT doors, torpedo reloading and other sub-systems. Toroughly examined by the US and Britsh engineers, the system appeared to have been improperly designed, was over-complicated and too fragile overall for combat operations. The piping and fittings were at the mercy of manufacturing quality and were not made leakproof. Seawater as a result contaminated the network on a daily basis.

A conclusion: A Game changer ?

U 2501 in May 1945, in front of the Elbe 2 bunker with submarines pens near the Hamburg shipyard in Gowaldt. This boat arrived in March-April 1945 while the bunker was built for the final assembly and repair of the Type XXI. The only officer on board was Oberleutnant Engineer Noak, ordering its scuttling. It was flooded at 7 AM, May 3, 1945, before leaving.

The Type XXI sure had qualities, but they needed all more time to be ironed out, to achieve their true potential. The whole program was rushed in such a way it spelled disaster. But outside this, how this boat could be used tactically ? Where these old tactics were still applicable ? – It appeared that first off, the Type XXI actual performances were not ideal for the usual tactic of moving faster than the convoys. Six knots while snorkeling, or 15 kts for 50 min. were not sufficient for this. Daylight attacks were impossible, and only nigh attacks could have been planned, just like the old Type VII.

As for communications, this was possible for the Type VII to report a location and course to the others in the wolfpack, by radio for coordinated attacks, but it was impossible for submerged Type XXIs. Another set of tactic was then need to reach the potential of this new submarine.

The German HQ knew about this, and planned for these “Wunderwaffe” individual “free for all” operations, like in the early days of sub warfare. Operations in shallow waters was ruled out, and only oceanic ones were possible with that kind of boat, with the understood limitations of the absence of direct route after the lost of the French and Dutch coast. When captured and interrogated, officers stated that indeed, they had received no operational tactics or even a coherent concept of operations. At first, they operated alone, but wanted a return to the pack tactics, perhaps using the new “burst” radio tranmitter.

Pictures of the Hamburg/Elbe shipyard after the surrender. Eight submarines are visibke: U 5052, U 3042 and U 3056, and behind them U 3053, U 3043 and U 3057. A bomb explosion disloged U 3052 and crushed it. U 3042 nearby had its bow significantly damaged. Nearby in the adjacent portico, U 3060 (right) and U 3062 (left) could be seen, behind them U 3061 and U 3063. Racks are visible in another, for completed boats on April 18-20, 1945 with the U 3050 and U 3051 and U 3058, U 3059 located on the slipway nearby.

As for the possibility to locate and attack convoys, true, less boats could do a bit more. There were on paper 90 Type XXI commissioned in January 1945, but their complexity meant contrary to the Type VII of which 12% were at eas at all times, this was true for less tha 5% for the Type XXI. But they were able to make 110 miles per day instead of 60, so making possible to have 12 to 15 of them at all time in the Atlantic, a far cry to the 50 in March 1943, and less in “Black May”. Since the Luftwaffe had lost most of her FW-200 long range recce planes, finding a convoy would have been more a question of luck.

The sole paper found in the achives about the operational mode of a Type XXI to attack a convoy, alone, was to make a submerged approach to a convoy, preferrably diagonally, from forward of the beam, penetrating the screen at slow speed, underwater fully or at periscope height and then find an angle and fire a salvo of six LuT torpedoes. Next it would submerged, dive under the convoy to reload, keeping contect with it through the Nibelung Asdic and GHG hydrophones, reporting movements on a polotting table, enabling firing from deep two more salvoes.

The third and last one was followed by the boat remaining deep for two hours, and then escaping at slow speed, with 15% of her battery power until then and 80% in all by using this methodology. This implies that the boat was to surface afterwards for the long reload (up to 6 hours !). That meant an approach at noon if possible, and attack before midnight until one hour AM, and escape at around 3H AM, and a reload until dawn and in few hours in the morning, thus keeping a marging of safety for crash dives due to aviation during the remainder of the day. Knowing the enormous resources for ASW warfare of the allies in 1944-45, it was unlikely a captain would have use this tactic, knowing that he had only 20% batteries left for safety.

In the end, it is Erich Topp, Konteradmiral of the Bundesmarine until 1969, former U-Boat ace and expert in German sub-warfare in 1944, also commanding two Type XXIs, which in his 1970s memoirs judged that:

The boats did by no means live up to the boasts that Dönitz had made to Hitler and us U-Boat officers… Compared to the older Type VIIC boats, the Type XXI version undoubtedly represented progress and innovation. But it could never by itself have turned the tide on the war at sea, let alone in the overall conflict”.

He estimated anyway that an U-Boat commander needed to keep at least 60-70% battery capacity at all times to face any emergency.

So it seems clear that, unless the whole allied froze up in 1944, enabling one year to the German HQ to improve production and iron out defaults on their design, having more of them, trained with the right tactics… the Type XXI as it was indeed, could not change anything in the “real word”. It’s “wunderwaffe” status was only one of propaganda at the time.

A “wunderwaffe” that nailed the Kriegsmarine’s coffin

In the end, Dönitz’s enormous demands of materials and resources for this project accelerated the defeat of Germany, not helping the war effort one bit: As stated by Naval War College Review, Marcus Jones—an associate professor at the U.S. Naval Academy, “the program cost the war effort some five thousand tanks, a very consequential figure, and could be said to have hastened the defeat of Germany on the Eastern Front”. Because in the end, and despite having schedules respected at enormous cost and stress, there were just too many teething problems to fix still, resulting in two submarines ever truly operational on 90 commissioned, and a third lost mainly due to air attacks, for no kills, not a single allied vessel sunk.

One could argue that was also true for all others “wunderwaffe” of Nazi Germany in 1944. Eating a lot of resources that could have been turned to mass production or existing, trusted weapons systems, and a distraction in the war effort. An “irrational faith in technology” that plagued the country’s Nazi clique in the end. The lackluster results of the Type XXI, in which Dönitz gambled everything, is arguably the worst, most abject failure of any “Wunderwaffe” of the third reich. In the end, it’s legacy was rather a technological one -if anything positive could be learned for it. The Type XXI redefined the submarine type and made it the formidable naval asset it is today. It took the nuclear energy as a substitute to hazardous AIP, but the basis of what a submarine could be, were all setup by the last German U-Boat. This even had some long-term benefit for the Bundesmarine, which modern conventional subs met huge export success on the International Market, somewhat a recoignition of these earlier technological advances.

Other Elektrobbote

Type XVIII, the abandoned Walter boat

This U-boat was the original 1943 project for a main attack model using the Walter propulsion system. Only two, U-796 and U-797 were laid down in 1943. Construction however was cancelled in March 1944. In many aspects they precluded the famous Type XXI, albeit smaller and lighter due to the smaller Walter turbine. The whole complexity of the Walter system would have doomed any scale production of reliable boats before the end of 1945.

Type XXII Küsten Walter Boote (1943)

type xxii

A Coastal submarine type, with only two prototypes U-1153 & U-1154 built at the end of the program. U-1153 was laid down on September 30, 1943, but the contract was canceled on November 06, 1943. The “Advanced coastal boat” was rather short and stubby (see picture), intended for coastal and Mediterranean use. They used the Walter propulsion system. The crew was limited to a couple of officers and 10 men. Three torpedo tubes, with two at the bow and one aft was all their armament, with limited refills. The program noted the delivery of 72 contracts to Howaldtswerke (in Hamburg and Kiel) of which only two were delivered. The situation quickly deteriorating in the Mediterranean changed priorities. It was not specified if the boats had to pass through Gibraltar or were to be assembled locally after shipping them by rail and sections.

Dimensions: 27.1 x 3 x 4.2 meters. Surface displacement: 155 tonnes at 7 knots, Diving Speed: 20.1 knots, Propulsion: 1 x Diesel 12 cylinders Deutz R12 V26/340, 1 x Walter turbine 1850 hp Electrical: 1 x 77, Gas-Oil capacity 12 tons + 30 tons of H2O2, Armament: 3 torpedo tube 3 refills, Range: 1150 nautical miles in Surface at 6.5 knots, 96 nautical miles in Diving at 20 knots. Crew: 12

Type XXIII Kleine-Elektroboote (1945)

type xxiii

Conceived on the same basic request as the Type XXI, Types XXIII were a simplified coastal version of “Elektroboote”. They were to be commissioned in 1944-45 by the thousands, produced in prefabricated sections and launched from the same gigantic factories under bunkers on the great German rivers. In particular, they had only one engine similar to that of the XXI type, but with dimensions and tonnage giving them excellent performance, better than the XXI. They were in fact the fastest submarines worldwide at that time, reaching speeds unheard of.

Their limited area of operations included the British Isles. Their internal dimensions were so small that they only loaded two torpedoes in addition to those already housed in their tubes, which limited the duration of their mission. In the end, 61 boats were commissioned (out of more than 300 planned, later discovered in completion or laying in sections), six of which were able to operate around the English coast in January-March 1945. Scuttled shortly before the capitulation, none was sunk in action, but they actually had better success than the Type XXIs.

Unlike the latter, their radical concept born from desperation did not influenced future development of conventional attack submarines. They were a “viable” complement to the innumerable micro-submersibles built in mass at the end of the war, whose fate was written in advance. A future dedicated post will be made on them.

Technical specifications: Displacement: 234t surface/ 275t submerged, Dimensions: 34.60 x 3.40 x 4.30 m, Propulsion: 1 propeller, 1 diesel MAN, 1 electric motor, 1 schnorkel, 580/615 hp and 15/22 knots surface/submerged, Miscellaneous: Crew 14; Range: 6000 nautical miles at 10 knots, crushing depht 180 m; diving speed 15 sec. Armament: 2 TTs 533 mm (av, 2 torpedoes).

Other Projects

Type XXIV (1943): The Type XXIV was a 1943 design for an ocean-going boat using the Walter system. The blueprint counted 14 torpedo tubes, six bow, but also four each side, aft, which was pretty impressive and never match by other submarines types. Type XXV (1944): The Type XXV U-boats had an electric propulsion on the same style as the Type XXI, but for coastal use. The main reason was also that fossils fuels became a rarity in Germany at the time. This was a 160 ton design but the crew was 58. Armament was limited to two torpedo tubes in the bow. Type XXVI (1944): This Type XXVI was a small high-seas model with its bow fitted with the Walter system. The crew was limited to three officers and 30 men. The Type XXVI was armed with ten torpedo tubes: Four forward plus six in the “Schnee organ” arrangement but and no deck guns to keep a streamlined profile. 100 contracts were initially awarded to the Blohm and Voss yard in Hamburg numbered U-4501 to U-4600. Production was indeed started with sections already under construction for the four boats U-4501-U-4504 when the war ended.

Allied evaluation of the Type XXI

British Evaluation

unknown Type XXI

UK obtained U-3017. The three innovations were all considered with great interest: The Snorkel for example was seen as a viable invention, at least on paper, but in practice, heavy weather in the north sea and north atlantic basically precluded its use most of the time, as shown by GUPPY’s crews operating with NATO in these areas in the 1950-60s. The snorkel was not brushed aside but iot was recoignised a better system was needed to make it viable on the long run, notably longer flexible systems for example, already tested on tanks by the Germans for Operation Seelöwe, the planned invasion of Britain.

The second innovation, the Walter turbine, was also considered with great interest, but after evaluation was found too risky, and dependent on a chemical compound that was hard to procure, and overall not that reliable for combat. They came out with the same conclusions as the German commission evaluating Walter boats, eventually uling this systm out and going for the Elektroboote.

The third innovation, the massive electrical output for greater speeds, was considered with the greatest interest for more direct applications. It was simple and reliable, and while testing the war prize Type XXI, U-3017, commissioned into the Royal Navy as HMS N41, the concluding all existing escorts would find attacks on a 17 knot submarine far more difficult. The early GUPPY, USS Odax managed to outrun a destroyer escort in exercizes, not once, but several times.

These faster submarines could out-range wartime sonars with ease and escape detection altogether, until reliable long-range sonars such as the US SQS-4 and equivalent came about. As late as 1973 Soviet submarines still relied on speed, rather that deep diving or silence for evasion. The HMS N41 was used for extensive tests until being scrapped during November 1949. During these, the staff found the new type more practical in intermediate speeds and underwater endurance at low speed rather than systematic high speed.

They also considered increased torpedo performance allowed fast submarines to attack from beyond sonar range, so they worked out new tiorpedo models (WW2 Japanese influence also counted a lot) and so range was tripled, speed increased. They considered the use of homing and pattern-running torpedo, adjusted for any target angle. Periscope ranging radars for torpedo fire control were to be improved looking at what the German developed for their own Type XXI, with generally better scopes. The new tactic being developed was around limiting areas of approach.

The Royal Navy concluded that a 15-knot underwater speed was not improving survivability and their own WW2 experience dictated that a sub would be detected anyway, and counter-attack with homing torpedoes was the best way. They envisioned with these new boats a next tactical step, the underwater wolfpack coordinated by underwater telephone. Fear of detection for them was over-rated as it rarely happened overall, and even in that case it was transmitting directly at an escort at high power, an unlikely, very inlucky case.

1944-1945 two courses of actions were defined, submarine development with this new propulsion technology, and concurrently new countermeasures and new ASW concept as a whole, integrating the snorkel (“snort” in the UK) fitted on ll subs, but improved and only used in the right conditions. The “A” class, which was still under construction in late 1944 had one early version, first tested on HMS Truant in 1945, and planned for the III batch, and later retrofitted on the entire “A” class and others of the earlier WW2 fleet, like the “T”.

The programme was done rapidly after the war, while an improved “A” class was designed, with relatively minor change initually until modified in July 1945 by Flag Officer Rear Admiral George Creasy, or the Pacific, at the time with Japan still at war. He wanted an equivalent of the XXI, with a large battery capacity combined to a snort and refined streamlining, no deck gun and new fin. There was hope that also to use a more reliable British version of the Walter turbine, but this was ultimately rejected for a purely experimental British Walter boat, HMS Explorer. Meanwhile, the A and T were entirely rebuilt and improved in the 1950s. The postwar Porpoise class was in fact closer to the original Type XXI. The HMS N41 was eventually discarded in 1949 and BU.

USN Evaluation

U-2513 off Key West tested by the US Commission

A classified report was written and sent to the Chief of Naval Operations, in July 1946, about the U-2513, a brand new Type XXI electro-boat allotted to the U.S. Navy as war prize. She was previously commissioned and commanded by Erich Topp, a famous U-Boat ace but had very little time to work out the crew training to their complicated machine and arrived too late to actively participate in the war.

Superficially at first, the US crew was quite impressed with with her top speed submerged under sea trials, and the way it was achieved, through six sets of storage batteries, 372 cells in all, enabling her to quietly sprint at about 16 knots for about one hour. It was deemed sufficient to escape from any ASW vessel at the time. Alternately, she could cruise submerged at slower speeds but for many, many hours, thus also giving all chances to escape after an attack ro taking all the time to approach her target unspotted.

The next most impressive feature related to, was her Schnorchel (snorkel), a breathing tube/mast having both air intake and exhaust ducts. Having the two diesels running while submerged was another great advantage, as long as there were no aircraft in patrol to spot here slo close to the surface… Also it was proven possible to rig one diesel or even both and charge the batteries, still while submerged, so that she could in theory remain underwater for most her mission, another game changer.

The US examiners also were in awe of her periscope optics and passive sonar. They estimated them much superior to USN standards. They were also fitted with an ingenious hydraulically operated torpedo-handling gear, reloading in automatic mode all six bow torpedo tubes in five minutes, with the push of a button. The third reload was just twenty minutes away, so three torpedo volleys could be fired from bow tubes during this period.

When in drydock, the examiners marvelled at the thickness and strength of her pressure hull. It was estimated enough to give the boat a 1,200 feet limit, which was twice the Gato’s safe depth limit. It put the Type XII way below all depht settings among the allies at the time. The sub was also fitted with an equally impressive “automatic pilot” for precise depth-keeping at high speeds.

These details, and others, caused an utter sensation in naval circles, experts al agrees it represented a giant leap forward and close to a “true submersible.”. Howevr admirations about the new boat by US examiners ran dry as they examined other aspects over time, and were less stellar about these aspects. They even reported these as grave design and manufacturing faults, stating in fact that, provided it would have been available one year prior, it could not have made a big difference in the Battle of the Atlantic.

-It was reported about the Type XXI poor structural integrity due to hurriedly prefabricated moduled, in 32 different rather inexperienced factories to assemble eight major hull sections. Examining other boats of the time in Germany, it was established these were crudely, did not fit together properly, so would never reach the planned max sea pressure stated, not sustain close depth charges detonations. In fact the Germans themselves reported a failure at a simulated depth of 900 feet, while the British reported 800 feet, inferior to that of a Type VII.

-Weak diesel engines: The new six-cylinder diesels had superchargers to reach the required horsepower. But it was poorly designed and manufactured, so the diesels could not use these. Therefore the on-paper 2,000 shp went down in practice to 1,200 shp, way too little to have the larger and heavier Type XXI run properly. Top surface speed fell to 15.6 knots, and this lower output also made a full battery charge much slower.

-It was also believed the whole hydraulic system was a mess. Main lines, accumulators, cylinders, pistons involved into acting on the diving planes but also the rudders torpedo tube outer doors, even the remotelly operated antiaircraft gun turrets, were a step too far in tech. They proved too complex and delicate while being outside the pressure hull. Not only they could not be repairs, but their location made them more vulnerable. They could eb the subject of saltwater leakage and corrosion also, leading to many crippling failures.

The Snorkel was not operating properly. In moderate seas, the snorkel mast dunked and thus, closed the air intake and exhaust ports, causing frequent “shutdowns” in diesel propulsion. Salt water also poured into the bilges and and noisy pumps were needed to avoid flooding, making the su easy to detect with a sonar. When closed, the diesels sucked air from inside the boat while exhaust gas backed up also inside. Snorkeling therefore in the north atlantic was quite a painful experience, usable in special occasions only.

it took years to the US Navy to integrate the process into at frist modernizaing their large numbers of Gato/Tench/Balao, making the famous “fleet snorkels” of the 1950s. New conventional attack submarines were developed in small series, prototypes, in order to test the water of the concepts seen in the Type XII. The USSR did not have the same issues with the design and right away designed their own ass-produced version of the Type XXI, the “Whiskey” class attack submarine, which necame a major concern for NATO in the 1950-60s. The developmet of a “true submarine” was eventually seen in the US as getting rid of batteries and snorkels, leading to the design of the USS Nautilus in 1952.

French Evaluation

Roland Morillot at sea c1950

The French obtained U-2518. It became the “Roland Morillot”, and retained not only for tests, but as an active unit. Indeed, unlike its allies, French submarine production stopped completely in WW2, while losses were still important. In 1945, the whole prewar fleet was considered obsolete, and any new sub, especially one with such advanced caracteristics, was desirable in the French post-war fleet.

Therefore, the ex-Type XXI was used for active service, and even operated during the Suez Crisis in 1956, staying in commission as Q426 until 1967, scrapped in 1969. This was a unique case among allies, but it left plenty of time for the crews to appreciate the design and fully evaluate it in a variety of environments and operational conditions, quite an insight about the type. Its influence on French conversions and newly built vessels was very impactful (see later, legacy).

The Roland Morillot started service on 13 February 1946, apparently it was not in French hands since August 1945*, so six months were spent evaluating the type as it is sometimes stated. Nevertheless in 1946, the French were writing an extensive report and eventually converting the boat, after repairs, for French use (notably all german-written indication onboard), and some compatibility with torpedoes (although there were enough German model stocks left in France in 1945, at Lorient notably) and general practice.

For uboat.net however, U-2518 (commissioned 4 Nov 1944 under command of Oblt. Friedrich Weidner, Kptlt. Friedrich Weidner, operaring with the 31. Flottille (training) and 11. Flottille (active), having no kills, and surrendering on 9 May 1945 at Horten, Norway, was transferred to Oslo 18 May, then Lisahally, Northern Ireland on 7 June, but apparently only transferred to France on 14 Feb, 1946. So she was “Frenchified” later; This is confirmed by another French source stating she was integrated gradually from her arrival in Cherbourg on 13 Feb. 1946, and officially leased for two years by the RN, towed to Cherbourg.

It’s only on 20 August 1946, after repairs and overhaul that she started her first sea sortie and later joined the Mediterranean fleet. In 1947, she could have been scrapped, all evaluations done, but it was decided to modifiy her for active service: In 1947 notably she had a major overhaul, her FLAK 37 A.A. guns were removed, some periscopes put to French standards as her armament, staying compatible in the long run. This was all to provide her a long active service as seen above. She later received the code S-12 and on november 11, 1947 experienced a diving incident, waterway by snorkel, being repaired later in Brest. On January 1948 she made a Crossing Toulon-Casabianca entirely underwater, and in April 1, 1948, the leasing expired and she was definitively ceded to the French Navy.

Roland Morillot, ex-U-2518, with its plastic rebuilt fin, was disarmed in 1967.

She would have her FUMG radar dismounted followed in November 1948 by her major overhaul in Brest in which her turrets were removed and the entire kiosk/fin streamlined and rebuilt. She started her post-overhaul sea trials in early 1949 and by April 7, 1949 was back in the Med Fleet, Toulon. She was only officially named Roland Morillot by February 14, 1951, participating in March/April 1954 NATO exercize “Medflex Able”, the only ex-Type XXI ever seen in this. In 1955 her kiosk was modified again, with a rear and top addition in platic to improve further her streamling, and this was her last major modification in her career.

French evaluations in 1946-48 noted her surface speed was 13,2 kts, underwater speed 16 kts, less than her on-paper performances, and she could cover 5,100 nautical miles at 15,6 kts, which they found the most impressive, 15,500 nautical miles at 10 kts and 280 nm at 6 kts underwater. For them, the AA armament in a postwar context made no sense, and it was planned to remove it soon. They also evaluated her buoyancy to 227,8 tonnes and her coeficient for the latter to be 12,6%. The snorkel’s advantages were recoignised, but also its drawbacks, and it was judged more suited for the calmer Mediterranean, and even so, problems were soon found.

The electrical power however was considered a real bonus, to be applied on the reconstruction of the La Creole class, and applied to the postwar Narval class, almost a carbon-copy of the type. The French discarded the AIP system as far-fetched for the tech of the time, and in fact no serious attempt has been made to design one before the famous Australian Barracuda shortfin order in the 2000s, by Naval Group, altough the Scorpene class (all exported) was in some cases to be equiped with the MESMA AIP system, later adopted for the Spanish version.

Soviet Evaluation

Four Type XXI boats were allocated to the USSR by the Potsdam Agreement, in accordance to their contribution: U-2529, U-3035, U-3041, and U-3515. Upon arrival, they were all commissioned directly into the Soviet Navy as B-27, B-28, B-29, and B-30.

Western intelligence believed more has been catpured in fact, notably those from Dantzig. A U.S. Joint Intelligence Committee review for the Joint Chiefs of Staff in January 1948 estimated no less than fifteen Type XXIs were operational in Soviet hands, and they would simply copy it, having six more within 2 months and another 39 within a year, just using existing German prefabricated sections from captured factories assigned to the Danzig yard, all in the Soviet area of occupation.

U-3538 to U-3557 (renamed TS-5 to TS-19 and TS-32 to TS-38) remained incomplete in Danzig, scrapped or sunk in 1947 and the four boats allocated wree exnensively tested and trialled until 1955. They were then eventually scuttled or expended as targets in 1958-1973. The although knowledge about Soviet evaluation of the time remains largely classified to this day, the type formed the basis for several successive Soviet design projects, namely Pro’yekt 611, 613, 614, 633, and 644 (NATO Zulu, Whiskey, Romeo). They came with most of the original boats features, snorkel and electrical power, better optics, better sonar (although the Soviets were long lacking in this field), and early acoustic torpedoes. They got rid of the embedded AA armament, but strangely for the first batches reintroduced the deck gun.

Postwar legacy

The ex-Type XXI Wilhelm Bauer rebuilt in service with the Bundesmarine in the 1960s. Note the kiosk’s missing AA guns, replaced by a glassed section, heavy weather helm.

It would be an understatement as how important the Type XXI design was. Even without the initially projected AIP turbine, the whole package it represented was enough to have all submarine-building nations reset their software. The war prizes as we saw her a considerable influence on many WW2 boats conversion as with new designs, many still in service at the end of the cold war in 1990. It is a paradox for a boat which a so insignificant tally compared to previous Types in WW2. Despite the massive resources poured in it, it came far too late to change anything, but it’s the groundbreaking tech behind that really constitutes its legacy.

Wilhelm Bauer as preserved in Bremershaven

In Germany itself, the Bundesmarine resurrected in 1957, the sunken U-2540, scuttled in 1945. She was was raised and refitted as the research vessel Wilhelm Bauer. It was also operated by both military and civilian crews, for research purposes until 1982. Its role was also to help creating the first postwar class of German subamrine (albeit a mediocre one), the Hai class and Type 201 although they arguably were more derived from the Type XVIII elektroboote than the Type XXI. In 1984, Wilhelm Bauer was made available for display to the public, at the Deutsches Schiffahrtsmuseum or German Maritime Museum in Bremerhaven, Germany. It is now in permanent display as a museum ship.

The Type XXI was directly the basis for the development of the Project 613, NATO “Whiskey” class, and thus, inspired the Zulu and Quebeck classes attack submarines as well. The Romeo was however a brand new generation, and the Foxtrot, the last “classic” conventional type, arguably derived from the Type XII after a long lineage. The base recipe was still there, only improved. It could be argued also that the 1970s Ming class, based on Soviet blueprints (Romeo class), also had still some Type XXI DNA in them.

USS Pomodon, 1947

In the US, the first impact was on the reconverstion of most still commissioned WW2 Gato/Tench/Balo in post-war years, starting with the long GUPPY program (Greater Underwater Propulsion Program), in what became the “fleet snorkels”, allowing them to serve for another 20 years, or even more in many NATO fleets as well. The measures taken were essentially all inspired by what the Germans did on the Type XXI, consisting in improving the electrical power massively, reworked the bow, the fin, and fit a better sonar and navigation radars, among others. Alongside this overhaul, the semi-experimental Barracuda, Tang and Darter Classes were all derived from these conversions in the 1950s.


In Great Britain, the impact of the Type XXI design on postwar conversions, which mirrored the GUPPY program, concerned the Streamlined and converted T class subs. This also concerned the “A” class designed for the Pacific, most of which already were completed too late so see action in WW2. They were later completely modernized and renamed the “Acheron class”. Another round of remaining conversion in 1955 gave an additional twenty years of service. The first true “new built”, the Porpoise class patrol submarines (1956) were in straight line with these conversions inspired by the Type XXI, as the 1959 Oberons.

La Creole class
France also had it’s “GUPPY” with the prewar built, suspended, then modernized and completed La Creole class. However only two, Artemis and Andromede, had the full rebuilt, allowing them to serve until 1961-67. The Narval class (1954) was very closely based on the Type XXI Roland Morillot. The next Arethuse and Daphne (1957, 1959) were more coastal in nature, but draw on this basic design.

Sources & more:


Blair, Clay (2000). Hitler’s U-boat War: The Hunters 1939-1942. London: Cassel & Co.
Breyer, Siegfried (1999). German U-Boat Type XXI.
Fitzsimons, Bernard, general editor. The Encyclopedia of 20th Century Weapons and Warfare, Volume 24
Gröner, Erich; Jung, Dieter; Maass, Martin (1991). U-boats and mine warfare vessels. German Warships 1815–1945.
Kohl, Fritz; Eberhard Rossler (1991). The Type XXI U-boat. Conway Maritime.


U-2540 cutaway model

Detailed construction on uboatarchive.net
Detailed blueprints reconstructed by the Bundesmarine
Video T.Lyon “Type XXI, the true story”, Royal Institution of Naval Architects
On uboataces.com
On www.uboat.net
Postwar British evaluation of the Type XXI
On hisutton.com
On uboat.net
On weaponsandwarfare.com
On sudden-strike-maps.de
Type XXX on lexikon-der-wehrmacht.de
hubertcance.com: About the Type XXXI
weaponsandwarfare.com about the Type XXI tech
On the Roland Morillot
Same, late service and modifications
Some hardly known aspects of the GHG, the U-boat’s group listening apparatus
Marcus O. Jones, USN academy prof. “INNOVATION FOR ITS OWN SAKE”
On warriormaven.com – The Type 21 fail
Many cc photos of the Wilhelm Bauer

Model Kits

On modelingmadness.com
Type-XXI U Boat Anatomy Ship, Anatomy of the Ship Series
1/700 Skywave

3D Renditions

In world of warships



TypeXXI U-3008 (British war prize)


U-3016 Type XXI January 1945 AGW

U-2511 Bergen

U-3003 row

German submarine U 3008

German Sub U-3008 recommission in US service for test.

U-2540 Wilhelm Bauer Type XXI berthed

Side launch of U-3001

U3505 in drydock, photo taken in in 1946

U3060 in assembly, showing the separate modules

Various captured Type XXI onning towers, dhowing various colors and patterns. The middle one seems to have been entirely painted white or yellow.

Early Type XXI in sea trials off Norway, fall 1944. Note the fair grey livery and apparently darker wornout paint of the conning tower.

TypeXXI engine room

Siemens type 2 GU-365-30 electric unit

Various CT configuratios, notably portholes designs, and masts/periscopic depth

Onboard the W. Bauer: Valves for the compressed air regulation manifolds.

View of the Torpedo Room. The four upper tubes;

Single tube interior

Flooding Valve Manifold

Stern room


Kitchen (Galley)

Crew’s bunks, there were three on each side, superposed.

The officer’s mess

Depth Gauge and Depth Pad Control

Internals of the Type XXI, BP

snorkel scheme

Sections designs

Sections designs

Conning Tower design

Sections designs

pressure hull design

Aft tail of the Type XXI

Yard’s differences between Vonning Towers

U2518 in drydock, inspected by the allies

U-2505 and other subs captured in May 1945.

Design of the Schnorchel

Design of the Schnorchel with an anti-magnetic? or anechoic? paste

Major sections being assembled

Main command center design, with the radio and sonar rooms.

Deutschland class Cruisers (1931)

Germany (1931) – KMS Deutschland, Admiral Graf Spee, Admiral Scheer

The “pocket battleships” of the Reichsmarine

These ships were mostly made famous by the Graf Spee in the southern Atlantic, in the first naval battle of ww2, at the river plate in 1939. She somewhat eclipsed the other two: Scheer and Deutschland (later renamed Lützow). Indeed the three were designed during the “rebirth” of the German Navy and despite the Versailles’s treaty strict limitations (way stricter than the Washington treaty), which applied to Germany after the first were lifted after the 1935 Anglo-German naval agreement. The idea of the “Panzeschiffe” as called in the German terminology, incorrectly dubbed “pocket battleships” by the press in 1939 were the attempt of doing more on a very limited displacement. Before the Washington treaty, no Navy went so far in this area, and all three were not designed as proper battleships but emerged as their own concept: Powerful, long range commerce raiders designed to fight cruisers and to flee battleships. Their natural predators at the time were battlecruisers, but the only ones in existence with the Royal Navy were kept at Scapa Flow.
At any rate, with the Deutschland class, German engineers managed the impossible. But in practice their battle records was somewhat disappointing. Submarines and civilian commerce raiders did more, with less, to disrupt the allied trade lanes. Nevertheless, they became the springboard on which were developed the Scharnhorst class and battlecruisers projects of plan Z.

Poster of the Deutschland class, all camouflage liveries and evolution

Development history

There are many common developments between the Scharnhorst class and earlier commerce raider projects. Emerging from the Versailles treaty, the Reichsmarine or “state navy” of a democratic, republican Germany, was severely limited in size and quality, with just six pre-dreadnought, six light cruisers and a handful of torpedo boats, also obsolete. The flower of the Kaiserliches Marine, largely untapped by WWI was laying at the bottom of Scapa Flow in the cold, barren and windy Orcades Islands. It was agreed the oldest “capital ships” were scheduled for replacement when twenty years old. But by treaty, Germany was not authorized a ship larger than 10,000 tonnes standard. Of course potential rivals by then had no limitations and the race for 50,000 tonnes leviathans was on, until limited to 35,000 long tons by the Washington Naval Treaty. Gun caliber was not regulated by Treaties for Germany, but under the strict supervision of the Naval Inter-Allied Commission of Control (NIACC). They indeed had full authority to regulate any new armament planned in the Reischmarine, and the 28 cm caliber already used by the pre-dreadnoughts seemed a good limitation, agreed by all. The Allies’s hoped these limitations would limit the German Navy to a typical Scandinavian coastal navy.

admiral Paul Behncke By that time, RMS Preussen (laid down 1902) approached its replacement date in 1922. The earliest design studies started in 1920, and the admiralty worked on two simple options: Either the new Reichsmarine was to build a heavily armored, but slow and and small warship related to Scandinavian coastal battleships like the Sverige class (Gustav V was in completion at that time, and around 7,000 tonnes) or a large and fast but lightly protected ship related to a cruiser. The first studies on the first option started in 1923 under Admiral Paul Behncke. But by 1924, the German economy virtually collapsed, and all work was halted. Admiral Hans Zenker then took command of Reichsmarine, and immediately pressed on to resume design work. By 1925 at last the first three proposals were drafted, added to the 1923 studies, for five different design philosophies.

-Design 1923 “I/10” 32-knot (59 km/h; 37 mph) cruiser, eight 20.5 cm (8.1 in) guns
-Design 1923 “II/10” 22-knot (41 km/h; 25 mph) well armored ship, four 38 cm (15 in) guns.
In addition, I/10 had turbines, oil-only boilers for 80,000 shp and 4×2 210 or 208 mm turrets, plus 4x 88m, 8x50mm
II/10 had turbines steam turbines with boilers burning coal and oil for 25,000 shp, 22 knots, 2×2 150mm, 2x 88m, 2x50mm

-Design 1925 “II/30” had six 30 cm (12 in) as IV and V. here are the details:
-II/30 – Diesel 24,000 shp 21 knots, 3×2 305 mm turrets, 4x 105mm
-IV/30 – Same, 2×3 (all fore) 305 mm turrets, 2×2 150mm, 4x 105mm
-V/30 – same, 2×3 (1 fore, 1 aft) 305 mm turrets, 6x 150mm 3x 88mm
-I/28 – same, same as above, 2×2 150 mm, 6x 88mm
-II/28 – same, 3×2 (2 offset aft) 305 mm turrets, 4x 150 mm, 4x 88mm
-VI/30 – same, 2×2 (1 fore, 1 aft) 305 mm turrets, 2×2 150 mm, 4x 88mm

The Reichsmarine eventually settled as said above for the 28 cm (11 in) caliber, well known and for which still existed molds and machining, so not to provoke the Allies. This also lifted the burden for the engineers to design and develop, adapt to their design a brand new gun. From first draft to delivery, a new gun in peacetime could be a five years enterprise. In addition, although light, the trusted German 28 cm guns had a better muzzle velocity, so potentially better range compared to the British 12 in (305 mm) before WW1, and better anyway than 8-in guns, and with mount and breech block improvement, could also be as fast as a heavy cruiser gun.

The Reichsmarine held a conference to evaluate these designs in May 1925. Results were inconclusive, and affected by the recent French occupation of the Ruhr industrial area, the result of payment default, and depriving Germany of any option of delivering quickly a large-caliber artillery. The design staff prepared two more designs:

-Design 1925 “I/35”: A heavily armored ship with a single triple turret forward
-Design 1925 “VIII/30”: Less armour but two twin turrets.
The VII/30 walked on Diesel engines for a total output of 24,000 shp providing 21 knots, and two forward 12-in (30.5 cm) main turrets, 2×2 150 mm, 4x 88mm
VIII/35 design also used a Diesel but output halved at 16,000 shp, for 19 knots, a triple forward 305 mm turret, and 6x 88mm
VIII/30 also used Diesel but output reached 36,000 shp for 24 knots, with a two twin 305 mm turrets configuration, same secondaries.

Design I/26
Design (‘Entwurf’) I/M26, alternative proposal for the Panzerschiffe

Entwurf II/30, one of the early designs, had six 305 mm/280 mm main guns in three twin turret and a top speed about 24-26 knots, and a 100 mm armor belt

Reichsmarine’s admiral Hans Zencker wanted to lay down the first of these in 1926, but the design still needed to be finalized. The Reichsmarine 1926 maneuvers had some interesting retuens: One was that a greater speed was desirable. So two new designs were prepared, closing in on the definitive concept:
-Design 1927 “Panzerschiff A”: Prepared in 1926, its first draft was ready in early 1927, but it was finalized in 1928. In between, admiral Zenker announced on 11 June 1927 that the Reichsmarine settled on the definitive armament, two triple turrets with 28 cm guns. This gave the:
-I/M26 Diesel 4,000 shp, 28 knots, 2×3 (fore & aft) 280 mm turrets, 4×2 120 mm DP, 6x 37mm
-II/M26 Diesel 54,000 shp, 28 knots, 2×3 (fore & aft) 280 mm turrets, 4×2 120 mm DP, 6x 37mm

Entwurf-3-b (): A possible successor of the Deutschland class, Similar but with larger displacement, higher speed and better Armor, up to 220mm for the armor belt.

Political opposition to the new design was considerable and in order to quell them, the Reichsmarine delayed the order until after the Reichstag elections of 1928. Social Democrats notably strongly opposed the new ships and campaigned with “Food not Panzerkreuzer.” By May 1928, the elections saw a majority in favor of the ships (notably twelve seats to the Nazi Party), and in October 1928, the Communist Party initiative of a referendum against it failed. The lead ship was at last authorized in November 1928. Of course, as soon as the the particulars of the design were known by the Allies, they tried to halt their construction. The Reichsmarine offered to comply in exchange of Germany being levelled up to the Washington Treaty, and with a ratio of 125,000 long tons (127,000 t) compared to UK’s 525,000 long tons (533,000 t) for capital ship tonnage, abrogating the Versailles Navy clauses altogether. Although Great Britain and the United States were ready to make concession, France refused to bulge (there was also the question of war reparations). Nevertheless, these new “Panzerschiffe” did not violate per se the Treaty, so the Allies had no ground to interdict them after failing to negotiated a settlement. Soon, Deutsche Werke, Kiel was granted a contract for the construction of “Deutschland”, laid down on 5 February 1929, the only one started in the “roaring twenties”. The next two by Reichsmarinewerft in Wilhelmshaven, with a one year gap. The lead ship name was obvious, but for the next, to proclaim a lineage with historical figures not so long ago now dead and honored, the next were named about admirals: Reinhard Scheer, in charge of the Hochseeflotte during the war, and Graf (Count) Maximilian Von Spee, the famous commander of the East Asia Squadron. Two of these ships were completed before the Reichsmarine transitioned to the Kriegsmarine, and Hitler was present for the two launches (1st April 1933 and 30 June 1934) and at the commissioning of Deutschland in April 1933 (He was elected in March 1933).

The Launch of RMS Deutschland in 1931 with President Hindenburg and naval staff attending.
Another view of the launch.
Germany April 1934: Accompanied by the Reich War Minister, Colonel General von Blomberg (2nd from right) and the Chief of Naval Command, Admiral von Raeder (2nd from left), Adolf Hitler takes a trip to the North Sea on board KMS Deutschland.

Why “Panzerschiffe” ? Since the parliament was “sold” to these ships the name was mostly a question of prestige for the German population at large. They were armoured indeed, but just slightly more than an average heavy cruiser and could have been compared to a sort of “armoured cruiser” in the old sense, although protection did not match the main caliber guns by a long shot. The Kriegsmarine reclassified them as “Kreuzer” anyway during WW2. They displaced even less than the heavy cruisers of the Hipper class.


The Deutschland-class varied slightly in dimensions, although all reached 181.70 meters (596.1 ft) long at the waterline and 186 m (610 ft 3 in) overall. Deutschland and Admiral Scheer had limited “clipper” bows installed in 1940–1941 so to reach 187.90 m (616 ft 6 in). The beam varied from 20.69 m (67 ft 11 in) on Deutschland to 21.34 m (70 ft 0 in) (Scheer) and the “fattest”, 21.65 m (71 ft 0 in) Graf Spee. Deutschland and Scheer draft in standard was 5.78 m (19 ft 0 in), 7.25 m (23 ft 9 in) FL while Admiral Graf Spee was slightly deeper at 5.80 m and 7.34 m FL. Displacement also diverged, and in addition, increased over time, from 10,600 long tons (10,800 t) on the lead ship to 11,550 long tons on Scheer and 12,340 long tons on Graf Spee, no less than two thousand tonnes more, mostly explained by their beam. Fully loaded it was 14,290, 13,660, 16,020 long tons. Indeed from 1933 Hitler took little care of sparing the allies and allowed to blatantly ignore Versailles limitations for the next two ships. This was confirmed anyway after the London treaty of 1935. Officially, still, as published in international specialized publications, all where stated to be 10,000 long tons standard.

Their hulls were constructed with transverse steel frames and like light cruisers, 90% were assembled by using welding, saving 15% weight. This allowed both more for armament and armor. As designbed their normal peacetime crew comprised 33 officers and 586 ratings. From 1935 it was increased to 30 officers and 921 to 1,040 sailors and as squadron flagship, 17 more officers and 85 sailors went on board. These ships carried boats installed between the main bridge and funnel, two picket boats, two barges, one launch, one pinnace, and two dinghies.

Sketch of Panzerschiff A
Sketch of “Panzerschiff A” – src Pocket Battleships of the Deustchland class, Koop & Schmolke – Seaforth Publishing > scribd

Main features

Close view of the Graf Spee’s bridge. The last two of the class had this particular bridge instead of the simpler structure of Deustchland, dictated by weight savings;


Sun Tse allegedly said “be like the water, fight the weak, flee the strong”. The Deutschland class was very much inspired by this concept. It needed to be more powerful than any cruiser, yet fast enough to distance any battleship. That was also the essence of battlecruisers. This made them perfect commerce raiders, as it was rare to protect convoys with battleships. And as commerce raiders, the most important was not speed, but range. It was the main reason of their adoption of diesel engines. They were more frugal than steam turbines.

Their machinery spaces housed four sets of 9-cylinder, double-acting, two-stroke diesel from MAN. This choice was a radical innovation, contributing as well as welding to save weight. Each set was connected to a transmission built by AG Vulcan. Two diesels were paired on two propeller shafts. At the end of these, three-bladed propellers 4.40 m (14 ft 5 in) in diameter. Initially 3.70 m (12 ft 2 in) propellers were intended, but replaced soon before lauch. Total output for all diesels was 54,000 metric horsepower (53,261.3 shp; 39,716.9 kW). This resulting in a top speed of 26 knots (48 km/h; 30 mph) on paper. It was less than cruisers of the time, capable of 30 knots, the main tradeoff of diesel engines. Output figures on trials happened to be weaker than expected, but they exceeded nevertheless their design speeds. Total output achieved was 48,390 PS (47,730 shp; 35,590 kW) for the lead ship, 52,050 PS/28.3 knots for Scheer, and 29.5 knots as recorded for Graf Spee.

Chancellor Adolf Hitler onboard “Deutschland”, on the roof of the officer’s mess, taking part in exercises with Erich Raeder nearby, April 1934.

Various details of the ships

Autonomy was permitted thanks to 2,750 t (2,710 long tons) of fuel oil carried, enabling a top range of 17,400 nautical miles (32,200 km; 20,000 mi) at 13 knots. At 20 knots (37 km/h; 23 mph), it fell to 10,000 nmi. Admiral Scheer carried less fuel, at 2,410 t for range of 9,100 nmi at 20 kn. Graf Spee carried not much at 2,500 t for even less, 8,900 nmi. Electric output came from four Siemens electric generators rated at 220 volts, powered by diesels. Total output was 2,160 kW (Deutschland), 2,800 kW (Admiral Scheer), 3,360 kW (Admiral Graf Spee).
On trials, they revealed themselves as good sea boats, with just a slight roll caused by their slender hull. They were wet in rough sea however, especially the low stern, although mitigated by the adjunction of a clipper bow in 1940–1941. They were very agile despite having a single, but large rectangular rudder, helped by the diesel engines, as half could be reversed, ensuring very tight turns. They heeled over up only to 13 degrees in a hard over turn, not affecting much their aiming.


Main armament:

Rear triple 280mm turret of the Lützow

Certainly the trump card of the design: They carried as much firepower as three pre-dreadnoughts, by having no less than six 28 cm guns. To reach this level, this main battery of of SK C/28 guns was mounted into just two turrets but triple mounts (with independent elevation). They were mounted for and aft, and to make room for the large barbette yet keeping slender hull lines, the latter was sloped downwards. These turrets of the Drh LC/28 type allowed an elevation of 40°, and a depression to −8°, providing a top range of 36,475 m (39,890 yd). For comparison, the County class cruisers’s own 8-in guns -their probable adversaries- were limited to 28 km. So they were completely out-ranged. This was even better than the Queen Elisabeth’s own BL 15 in guns, at 33,550 yards (30,680 m), and only for the Mk XVIIB/Mk XXII streamlined shell. These figures improved even for the next Scharnhorst class. These guns fired a 300 kg (660 lb) AP shell at 910 meters per second (3,000 ft/s) and 630 rounds were stored in peacetime, later raised to 720 shells during WW2.

Secondary armament:

There was a battery of eight 15 cm SK C/28 guns: They were fitted in single MPLC/28 mounts due to the lack of space for twin turrets, and arranged amidships along the superstructure. Elevation was 35°, depression −10°, range 25,700 m (28,100 yd) and a total of 800 rounds of ammunition were carried in peacetime, yet again raised during the war to 1,200 rounds. These were HE shell weighing 45.3 kg (100 lb), existing the barrel at 875 m/s (2,870 ft/s).

37 mm SK30
37 mm SK30

Tertiary armament:

The anti-aircraft battery originally comprised three 8.8 cm SK L/45 AA guns in single mounts, the classic solution retained by all previous German ships. Obsolete, thet were replaced in 1935 by six 8.8 cm SK C/31 guns, this time in twin mounts.
Graf Spee and Deutschland were rearmed in 1938 and 1940 with six 10.5 cm L/65 guns in twin mounts, one amidship on platforms at roof superstructure level, one aft on the centerline on the quarterdeck roof, and four 3.7 cm SK C/30 guns, completed by ten single 2 cm Flak guns. On Deutschland the latter were augmented to 28 during the war, whereas Admiral Scheer was only rearmed by 1945, with six single 4 cm (1.6 in) guns and eight 3.7 cm guns (four twin) plus thirty-three 2 cm FLAK guns.
As an argument also to destroy some of their targets, all three vessels were provided two quadruple 53.3 cm (21.0 in) torpedo tubes banks, placed at the stern. In heavy weather, their use was downright dangerous, as they could impact after launch a wave and detonate prematurely.

Armour Protection

The weaker part of the design, constrained by the treaty. Fortunately the choice of diesels and welding reduced their toll on the displacement, allowing to increase protection figures. Here are the detailed figures of the design, nearly identical for all three ships*:
-Main armored belt, sloped: 80 mm (3.1 in) amidships, tapered down to 60 mm (2.4 in) beyond the citadel.
-The bow and stern: unarmored.
-Longitudinal splinter bulkhead: 20 mm (0.79 in).
-Upper deck: 17-18 mm (0.6-0.7 in)
-Forward conning tower: 150 mm (5.9 in) walls, 50 mm (2.0 in) roof,
-Aft conning tower: 50 mm walls, 20 mm (0.79 in) roof.
-Main battery turrets: 140 mm (5.5 in) faces, 85 mm (3.3 in) sides, 85-105 mm (3.3 to 4.1 in) roofs
-Barbettes: 100 mm walls over the deck
-15 cm guns shields: 10 mm (0.39 in) gun shields.
-Torpedo bulkheads: 40-45 mm (1.8 in).

*The upper edge of the belt on the first two ships was at the level of the armored deck but on Graf Spee it was one deck higher. Also the lead ship had 45 mm bulkheads but 40 mm on Admiral Scheer and Graf Spee. They also had and armoured deck reduced to 17 mm (0.67 in) in thickness, intermediate decks ranging from 17 to 45 mm. On the first two its did not extend over the entire width but it was the case on Admiral Graf Spee. Torpedo bulkheads also for the first two stopped at the double-bottom but for Admiral Graf Spee, it extended to the outer hull.

Admiral Scheer and Admiral Graf Spee had some improvements in armor thickness. Deutschland’s barbettes of 100 mm were of 125 mm for her sisters. Admiral Graf Spee had a 100 mm belt and its main armored deck was reinforced by strays of 70 mm in some place. So she was arguably the one with the best armour characteristics, able to mitigate or stop 8-in rounds.
On all three ships, the hull was divided into twelve watertight compartments and below their double bottom extended on 92% of the hull’s total lenght.

Evolution of the Deutschland, to Lützow
Evolution of the Deutschland, to Lützow (the blueprints)

Evolution of the Admiral Scheer
Evolution of the Admiral Scheer (the BP)

Construction and fate

RMS Deutschland was laid down at the Deutsche Werke shipyard, Kiel in February 1929 and her contract name was “Panzerschiff A”, nominally replacing the old Preussen and in the yard, known as construction number 219. Launched on 19 May 1931, she was christened by German Chancellor Heinrich Brüning but accidentally started sliding down during his speech. Sea trials started in November 1932 and she was commission on 1 April 1933. Despite of this, political opposition grew to such a point the Admiral Scheer narrowly escaped cancellation; The Social Democrats indeed abstained from voting, leaving the communists alone. “Panzerschiff B” was nevertheless delayed until 1931 despite the yard was available at Wilhelmshaven. Scheer replaced Lothringen, and she was laid on 25 June 1931 (construction number 123), launched on 1 April 1933, christened by Marianne Besserer (daughter of Admiral Scheer), completed on 12 November 1934, and commissioned the same day.
Lastly, the third sister ship was authorized this time without much fuss, but from the same yard, waiting the basing to be free. She was known under the contract name “Panzerschiff C”, replacing Braunschweig. Laid on 1 October 1932, under construction number 125, launched on 30 June 1934, she was christened by the daughter of Maximilian von Spee, and completed on 6 January 1936, commissioned the same day.

By late January 1943, commerce raiding had proved a failure and Hitler wanted the two remaining ships to be scrapped. The admiralty preferred to have them converted as light fleet aircraft carriers instead. Admiral Raeder ordered plans to be prepared. For this, their the hulls were to be lengthened by 20 meters (66 ft) and many more modifications made, using 2,000 tons of steel while it was estimated a two years work. They would have shared many characteristics with the KMS Seydlitz, also converted from 1942, but the overall cost and duration of this project meant it was dropped and both ships spent the rest of their career idle in port.

KMS Graf Spee at the May 1937 Spithead coronation review

KMS Deutschland specifications

Dimensions 186 x 20.69 x 7.25 m
Displacement 10,600 tons standard, 14,290 tons FL
Crew 33+586, see notes
Propulsion 2 shafts, 4 diesels 9-cyl MAN, 54,000 shp
Speed 28 knots (42 km/h; 20 mph)
Armament (1933) 2×3 280 mm, 8 x 150 mm, 3 x 88 mm AA, 2×4 TT 533 mm
Armament (1939) same but 2×3 105 mm AA, 8×2 37mm AA, see notes
Armor Belt: 76-80 mm (3 in), Deck: 38-45 mm (2 in), Turrets 140 mm (5.5 in), Conning tower: 152 mm (6 in)

KMS Graf Spee
KMS Graf Spee in 1939, with its superstructures-only green camouflage

KMS Deutschland
KMS Admiral Scheer en 1944, with dark gray Northern Sea type straight angular striped pattern.
Author’s old illustrations

Sources/read more:

J. Gardiner’s Conway’s all the world fighting ships 1921-1947.

Naval Camouflages of the Lützow, Scheer and Graf Spee

Lützow in 1942
Lützow in 1942

Lützow in the summer of 1943, one of the rare color photos of the time, allowing to discern four colors: Medium grey, white, medium blue-grey, and dark grey. Both were adaptated to the northern lights.

RMS Deutschland in December 1933 as commissioned
RMS Deutschland in December 1933 as commissioned

Deutschland 1937
KMS Deutschland during the Spanish civil war in 1937. Note the neutrality bands using the old colors of red, black and white.

Lützow in 1941
Lützow in 1941

Lützow in the Baltic, May 1942
Lützow in the Baltic, May 1942

Lützow in July 1942
Lützow in July 1942

Lützow in July 1943
Lützow in July 1943

Lützow in June 1944, her last known camouflage pattern
Lützow in June 1944, her last known camouflage pattern

KMS Admiral Scheer, 1936
KMS Admiral Scheer, 1936

KMS Admiral Scheer, May 1941
KMS Admiral Scheer, May 1941

KMS Admiral Scheer, Oslo September 1941
KMS Admiral Scheer, Oslo September 1941

KMS Admiral Scheer, Wilelmshaven, December 1942, major modernization
KMS Admiral Scheer, Wilelmshaven, December 1942, major modernization

KMS Admiral Scheer, in the Baltic, November 1944
KMS Admiral Scheer, in the Baltic, November 1944

KMS Admiral Graf Spee, South Atlantic December 1939
KMS Admiral Graf Spee, South Atlantic December 1939


The D class by Drachinfels

KMS Scheer in completion at Wilhelmshaven in 1934


Bidlingmaier, Gerhard (1971). “KM Admiral Graf Spee”. Warship Profile 4. Windsor: Profile Publications.
Breyer, Siegfried (1973). Battleships and Battlecruisers of the World. Translated by Alfred Kurti. London: McDonald & Jane’s.
Campbell, John (1985). Naval Weapons of World War II. London: Conway Maritime Press.
Gardiner, Robert & Chesneau, Roger, eds. (1980). Conway’s All the World’s Fighting Ships, 1922–1946. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press.
Gröner, Erich (1990). German Warships: 1815–1945. Vol. I: Major Surface Vessels. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press.
Hildebrand, Hans H.; Röhr, Albert & Steinmetz, Hans-Otto (1993). Die Deutschen Kriegsschiffe. 5. Ratingen: Mundus Verlag.
Hümmelchen, Gerhard (1976). Die Deutschen Seeflieger 1935–1945 (in German). Munich: Lehmann.
Jane’s Fighting Ships. London. 1939.
Meier-Welcker, Hans; Forstmeier, Friedrich; Papke, Gerhard & Petter, Wolfgang (1983). Deutsche Militärgeschichte 1648–1939. Herrsching: Pawlak.
O’Brien, Phillips Payson (2001). Technology and Naval Combat in the Twentieth Century and Beyond. London: Frank Cass.
Pope, Dudley (2005). The Battle of the River Plate: The Hunt for the German Pocket Battleship Graf Spee. Ithaca: McBooks Press.
Prager, Hans Georg (2002). Panzerschiff Deutschland, Schwerer Kreuzer Lützow : ein Schiffs-Schicksal vor den Hintergründen seiner Zeit (in German). Hamburg: Koehler.
Preston, Antony (1977). Battleships 1856-1977. Phoebus Publishing Co.
Preston, Antony (2002). The World’s Worst Warships. London: Conway Maritime Press.
Rohwer, Jürgen (2005). Chronology of the War at Sea, 1939–1945: The Naval History of World War Two. Annapolis: US Naval Institute Press.
Whitley, M. J. (1998). Battleships of World War II. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press.
Williamson, Gordon (2003). German Pocket Battleships 1939–1945. Oxford: Osprey Publishing.

Various views of the Graf Spee on world of warships

Model Kits

Italeri 1/700 Graf Spee
On scalemates.com model kit database
I made the Italeri kit of the Graf Spee, nice detail for the time. It is now distributed by World of Warships.

First Published July 22, 2016.

KMS Deustchland (Lützow 1941)

KMS Deutschland in 1936, with the early superstructure design

Here in Naples in 1938

Here in Naples in 1938 during one of her numerous good will visits

KMS Deutschland started her sea trials began in November 1932, to be commissioned on 1st April 1933, so five months later, which quite long for post-trials fixes. This time was spared on the next ships of the class. KMS Deutschland spent both 1933 and 1934 in training manoeuvrers in the Baltic and home waters. Speed trials indicated that the best speed to spare machinery was 25 knots (46 km/h; 29 mph) and in December 1933 she was at last ready for active service. As it was peacetime, the ship was proudly featured in the German medias of the time, as a symbol of the rebirth of the German Navy. Bearing the name of the country, she also became its ambassador around the world, and made a series of goodwill visits, starting with Gothenburg in Sweden. In April 1934, Adolf Hitler visited the ship. In October 1934, she made a state visit to Edinburgh. In 1935 she started a series of long-distance training voyages into the Atlantic, starting with the Caribbean and South American waters. After routine maintenance work back in Germany she saw the installation of extra equipment, a new fire control system and a catapult fitted between her main bridge and funnel. She received two Heinkel He 60 floatplanes. At the beginning of 1936 she participated in fleet manoeuvers in German waters, soon joined Admiral Scheer. Both started a cruise in the Atlantic which brought them to Madeira.

Heinkel He 60 floatplane
Heinkel He 60 floatplane. The three ships kept these until the end of their operations

The Spanish Civil War and “Deutschland incident”

KMS Deutschland off spain in 1936

The Spanish Civil War broke out in 1936, and Deutschland, Admiral Scheer were deployed on its atlantic coast from 23 July 1936. They were part of a multinational naval force tasked by the league of nations to to conduct non-intervention patrols and prevent arms deliveries to both sides. For this, KMS Deutschland received large black, white and red bands on her main turrets for aerial identification, called “neutrality bands”. All present nations did the same. She evacuated refugees and under orders started protect German ships carrying supplies for Francisco Franco’s Nationalists, infringing deliberately the neutrality policy. She also gathered intelligence for the Nationalists, using her spoter planes for reconnaissance.
In May 1937, the ship she was docked in La Palma, Majorca island with other neutral warships (notably British and Italian) when attacked by Republican aviation. Her anti-aircraft crews were scrambled into action, and the planes were driven off. As it was felt other Republican attacks were possible, the torpedo boats Seeadler and Albatross joined Deutschland in Ibiza on 24 May. And indeed, another Republican bombers raid (two SB-2 bombers) flown by Soviet Air Force pilots deliberately targeted the ship. The first bomb penetrated her upper deck, close to the bridge, managing to detonate below the thin main armored deck. The second hit the third starboard 15 cm gun, starting a massive fire below deck. This left a tolly of 31 dead and 74 among the crew.

KMS Deutschland, Library of Congress archives
KMS Deutschland, Library of Congress archives

Fearing other air attacks the ship was ill-prepared to fight, her captain ordered to lift anchor and left. She met Admiral Scheer and proceeded to Gibraltar to bury the dead with a ceremony, and start provisional repairs. Hitler ordered them to be exhumed and repatriated in Germany. Wounded sailors were treated in Gibraltar’s hospital. Hitler was adamant Admiral Scheer must retaliating by shelling the Republican-held port of Almería in retaliation but orders were intercepted by Stalin to forbid attack on German and Italian warships, while Molotov made an apology.
In 1938-1939 KMS Deutschland made training maneuvers with the fleet and further goodwill visits (like at Naples). She made another visit to Spain after the Nationalist victory and participated in a large fleet exercise with Admiral Graf Spee, Köln, Leipzig, Nürnberg, destroyers, U-boats, and support vessels. This was the largest Atlantic German fleet manoeuver before the war.

Operations of 1939

On 24 August 1939, Deutschland left Wilhelmshaven to find a useful spot south of Greenland, waiting for orders as the war was imminent. From there she would be able to prey on merchant traffic and the supply ship Westerwald was assigned to her. Her captain however was ordered to observe prize rules, meaning intercepting, warning, stopping and search ships for contraband, and only afterwards to sink them after ensuring their crews were evacuated in boats with a heading and life support. She was ordered to avoid combat with even inferior naval forces, so to keep away from cruisers and destroyers. Hitler still at this point hoped to secure a negotiated peace with Britain and France and Deutschland only was greenlight to start operations by 26 September. At that time, Deutschland had chosen the Bermuda-Azores sea lane as an hunting area. On 5 October, she sank the British transport Stonegate, but the latter managed to send a distress signal. Deutschland next turned north, and headed for the Halifax route. On 9 October, she met the US 4,963 GRT City of Flint. The freighter inspected revealed “contraband” and was seized and escorted back to Germany via Murmansk, seized by Norway and later returned to the original crew. On 14 October, she sank the 1,918 GRT Norwegian Lorentz W Hansen and intercepted and inspected the Danish steamer Kongsdal, which later warned the British Royal Navy, confirmed Deutschland’s position and heading back to the North Atlantic.
Severe weather however aborted this raiding mission.

1940 Operations of Lützow

Meawnhile, The French Force de Raid (Battleship Dunkerque’s task force) protected convoys around UK and was dispatched to search for the Deustchland. In early November because of this, she was recalled home by the Naval High Command, reaching Gotenhafen on the 17. For a first mission, this was meagre. In 1940 she was overhauled, gaining a raked clipper bow and new AA. She was both re-rated as heavy cruiser and renamed KMS Lützow as Hitler feared the propaganda effect if she was sunk. Erich Raeder pushed also for this, knowing it would cause some confusion for Allied intelligence. Indeed the name was already affected to one of the Admiral Hipper-class cruisers sold to the Soviet Navy and wanted to hide the transaction. Lützow left the drydock on March 1940, and was tasked for another raid in the South Atlantic but in April she was redirected to support the invasion of Norway.


Operation Weserübung
Lützow was assigned to Group 5 with Blücher and Emden (Konteradmiral Oskar Kummetz). Group 5’s main mission was to capture the capital Oslo, and for this carried 2,000 mountain troops, Lützow for her part having 400 of these, disembarked by using her own boats. Leaving on 8 April and crossing the Kattegat, the flotilla was attacked en route by HMS Triton, but the later missed. just before midnight on 8 April Group 5 passed the outer ring of Norwegian coastal batteries, Lützow in line behind Blücher, and Emden astern at 12 knots. between heavy fog and neutrality rules of engagement, the Norwegians which had these ships in their scopes, had to fire warning shots first. But it was not to be. Oscarsborg Fortress, on high alert, however and they opened fire without warning with their 28 cm, 15 cm and 57 mm guns. This was the Battle of Drøbak Sound. Blücher was shell hit and take also two torpedoes hits, causing large flooding. She listed rapidly and capsized with most of crew, including the soldiers.

Oscarborg Fortress
Oscarborg Fortress (src www.tallgirlsfashion.no)

Lützow was also hit, three times and by 15 cm shells (Oscarsborg’s Kopås battery), on her forward gun turret (center and right guns HS), the second hit penetrated both decks and started a fire in her hospital and operating theater. The third struck her superstructure (close to the port-side aircraft crane), burning a plane, killing four gunners. At that point, she pointed her aft turret at the fort and opened fire but also her captain ordered she reversed course with the rest of the squadron, and later landed her troops in Verle Bay and then covered them by providing fire support. On 9 April, thes Norwegian fortresses were captured and negotiations for surrender started. Lützow was ordered at that point to return to Germany for repairs. What left of Group 5 resumed operations meanwhile, centered on Emden. En route to Germany, Lützow, at full speed, was interecpted by the submarine HMS Spearfish. On 11 April she launched her torpedoes and scored a hit, destroying Lützow’s stern while her steering gear was blown off and seriously jammed. Dead in the water, the cruiser had to be towed back to port. There, she was decommissioned for repairs lasting a year. Lützow’s commander nevertheless was awarded the Knight’s Cross for his actions at Drøbak Sound, taking command of the task force after the flagship Blücher was lost.

Deustchland in ice, winter 1939-1940
Deustchland in ice, winter 1939-1940 (ONI)

Operations of 1942

Lützow was recommissioned on 31 March 1941 while another commerce raiding mission as planned, with Admiral Scheer. On 12 June, she headed for Norway with destroyers, but the RAF sent torpedo bombers, which attacked her off Egersund. They scored a single torpedo hit, disabling all her electrical system while she took a severe list to port. Her port shaft was damaged as well. Emergency repairs were done as she could reach Germany and stayed in Kiel for six months, basically emerging again only on 10 May 1942. It was decided to send her to Norway again.
Leaving Kiel on 15 May 1942 she arrived and mer Scheer on 25 May in Bogen Bay. The became flagship of Vizeadmiral Kummetz (Kampfgruppe 2) but both vessels were now plagued by Fuel shortages. Both Lützow and Admiral Scheer made some limited training exercises but stayed inactive, that is until Kummetz received detailed on Operation Rösselsprung. It was a planned attack on the convoy PQ 17 heding for Murmansk. On 3 July, Kampfgruppe 2 departed to soon be lost in heavy fog. Lützow and three destroyers ran aground, suffered significant damage. Meawnhile tBritish intelligence was warned of this, and decided to scatter the convoy. As surprise was lost, the destruction of PQ 17 was turned to U-boats and the Luftwaffe. It was a cranage, as 24 ships out of 35 transports were efectively sunk as a result. Lützow returned to Germany for repairs again, lasting until the end of October 1942. She was back in Norway on 12 November, but based in Narvik.

ONI recoignition photgraph of KMS deutschland, 1937
ONI recoignition photograph of KMS deutschland, date unknown

On 30 December, she made another sortie with Admiral Hipper and six destroyers. This was Operation Regenbogen, the attack of convoy JW 51B. Kummetz wanted to divide his forces, sending Hipper and three destroyers north first, drawing away the escorts while Lützow and three destroyers would attack later from the south. At 09:15, 31 December, HMS Obdurate spotted the german destroyers screening forward of Admiral Hipper, and the destroyers opened fire as soon as she was spotted. The convoy was defended by five destroyers and they all rushed to join the fight. HMS Achates however laid a smoke screen to cover the convoy, and as planned, Kummetz turned back, trying to draw the destroyers away while Captain Robert Sherbrooke (the escort commander) ordered two destroyers to stay behind in case. The remaining four were steaming north. Lützow was in sight of the convoy at 11:42 and opened fire, but visibility was poor as customary in the area in winter, with heavy weather and high waves. Accurate fire was near impossible. She stopped firing at 12:03, failing to observe any hits.By then, Rear Admiral Robert Burnett’s Force R, (cruisers Sheffield and Jamaica) in distant support until then rushed to the fight, and engaged Admiral Hipper, achieving complete surprise. Lützow was ordered to break off and rish to help Admiral Hipper, and inadvertently came alongside bioth British cruisers and engaged them. British cruisers then turned their fire on Lützow, as Hipper, and Burnett quickly decided to withdraw, having a hard time with his puny 6 in (150 mm) guns. Later, Kummetz ordered the reunited force to head back to Norway. Needless to say, the failure to sink a single ship in the convoy infuriated Hitler which showed a bout of unalterated rage, ordering the while surface fleet to be scrapped for spare metal. Kummetz was sacked, Raeder resigned, replaced by Karl Dönitz. It was the later, despite his personal agenda with the submarine force, which pleaded hitler to spare the surface fleet and persuaded him to use different tactics.

Late career 1943-45

By March 1943 Lützow was based in Altafjord. But at that time, it was not fuel shortage but her worn out diesel engines which had her inoperative. Undergoing a thorough invertigation, the propulsion system was declared unreliable and needed a complete overhaul. After staying in Norway until September 1943 as an immobile deterrent (the allied had no idea she was unable to sail out), she was sent back in Germany and the overhault ended by January 1944. She was in the Baltic for post-overhaul trials and training cruises with new naval personnel. However she would never return to Norway. On one hand, it was considered she would be transformed as an aicraft carrier, but the idea was both costly and labout-intensive and the project was dropped. Instead, she was left at anchor in Kiel, inactive for the remainder of 1944 and early 1945.

wreck of Lützow in Kiel in April 1945
Bundesarchiv, the wreck of Lützow in Kiel in April 1945 after being hit by a Tallboy bomb

On 13 April 1945, the RAF launched a massive night bomber raid, Avro Lancaster attacked Lützow and Prinz Eugen, with poor results due to a covered sky. On 15 April, another raid showed the same result. On 16 April however the weather improved just enough for eighteen Lancasters from 617 (“Dambusters”) squadron hit Lützow with a single Tallboy bomb (plus 3-4 near misses that seriously shook her) as she was berthed to the Kaiserfahrt. She sank in shallow water, her hull still 2 m (6 ft 7 in) above water, rendering her a stationary gun battery. She would soon shell the advancing Soviet forces (Task Force Thiele) until 4 May 1945, until renuuing our of battery ammunition. The crew was tasked to scuttle her, but a fire prematurely exploded the charges. Peace was signed in Europe, and Lützow waiting her fate, seized by the Soviet Navy. Sources are diverging at this point, if she was raised in September 1947 and BU in 1948–1949. It was discovered later in dclassified Soviet archives that she was sunk in weapons tests in the Baltic Sea, off Świnoujście (Poland) on 22 July 1947.

KMS Lützow in the Kaiser canal, next to the craters of RAF’s Tallboy bombs.

KMS Admiral Scheer

Bundesarchiv captain Wilhelm Marschall RMS (‘ReichsMarine Schiff’) Admiral Scheer was ordered from Reichsmarinewerft shipyard, Wilhelmshaven. The bill ordering her was delayed for obe year, and budget for Panzerschiff B “Ersatz Lothringen” only secured by poltical absention. On launching, she was christened by Marianne Besserer, daughter of the namesake Admiral Reinhard Scheer and completed by 12 November 1934, commissioned the same day. The political context had changed radically by then. Her first command was Kapitän zur See Wilhelm Marschall. She spent December 1934 in sea trials and training and in 1935, as the navy was to be renamed Kriegsmarine, a catapult and landing sail system as fitted. Contrary to her earlier sister ship she was not given He-60 floatplanes but Arado models instead, better fitted to operate in heavy seas. Until 26 July 1937 her captain was Leopold Bürkner, future head of foreign intelligence. In October 1935, she started her first long range cruise, stopping at Madeira and other ports and back to Kiel in November. She then departed for a summer cruise between the English Channel and the Irish Sea, and stopped in Stockholm when back.

Like her sister ship Deustchland, Scheer was deployed in Spain by July 1936, mainly to evacuate German civilians in areas close to the frontline. On 8 August 1936 she served with Deutschland enforcing non-intervention patrols, making four tours of duty, until 1937, officially to prevent arms smuggling, but she reported Soviet ships with supplies and protected German ones. Ernst Lindemann (future captain of Graf Spee) was her first gunnery officer during that time. After “Deutschland incident” on 29 May 1937, Admiral Scheer was ordered to shell Almería in reprisal and started at 07:29, on shore batteries, naval installations and ships present. By June 1937, she was relieved by KMS Admiral Graf Spee, but returned to the Mediterranean until October, with captain Otto Ciliax in command.

KMS Admiral Scheer before the war

ADMIRAL SCHEER in habor during the 1936 Olympic Games.

1940 Operations

In September 1939, Admiral Scheer was in Schillig roadstead (off Wilhelmshaven) with Admiral Hipperand a few days later attacked by five Bristol Blenheim bombers. The crews on high alert managed to shoot down one of these, and she was lucky with just one bomb hit, but a dud, and three near-misses, including another dud. A second group of five Blenheims arrived shortly after to be greeted by a vengeful AA and all shot down. In November 1939, Theodor Krancke took command of the ship. After a refit she was prepared for her first commerce raiding mission, in the Atlantic. Duing the early months of 1940, she was fitted with a new raked clipper bow, a lighter conning tower, modified bridge and superstructures, radar and AA, and was reclassified as “Schwere Kreuzer” (heavy cruiser). On 19–20 she was again targeted by RAF bombers but took no hits. She departed on October 1940 and slipped through the Skagerrak by night on 31 October-1st December.

AMC HMS Jervis Bay
AMC HMS Jervis Bay

In the north Atlantic, Her B-Dienst radio interception system catch emissions from convoy HX 84 from Halifax. Her Arado seaplanes took off and soon located the convoy on 5 November 1940. It was protected at the time only by the armed merchant cruiser (AMC) HMS Jervis Bay, sole escort for the convoy. As soon as Scheer was spotted, the AMC issued a report and sailed towards her in an attempt to protect the convoy, latter ordered to scatter under under cover of a smoke screen. Admiral Scheer starting firing on Jarvis Bay, scroting hits, disabling her wireless radio and and steering, the bridge, killed the staff and captain Edward Fegen and the fire went on for 22 minutes until she sank. But this decision delayed any actopn on the convoy, which escaped. Nevertheless, her spotter planes localized five ships, on 37 ships that she was able to catch up and sink. On 18 December the 8,651 tons GRT refrigerator ship Duquesa was sunk, but not before she sent a distress signal. Scheer’s captain still hoped to draw British naval forces nearby, luring them while Admiral Hipper now just exited the Denmark Strait for her own mission. This was a success as soon, Scheer became the target of aircraft carriers HMS Formidable and Hermes, the cruisers Dorsetshire, Neptune, Dragon (Polish), the AMC Pretoria Castle. But Admiral Scheer eluded them while capturing the 8,038 GRT oil tanker Sandefjord on 18 January 1941, which prize crew was landed at Bordeaux. Until 7 January, she resupplied with the Nordmark and Eurofeld, and the auxiliary cruiser Thor. Until 20 January she captured three more Allied vessels for a total of 18,738 GRT and spent Christmas 1940 in the mid-Atlantic, later heading for the Indian Ocean in February 1941.


1941 Operations in the Indian Ocean

On 14 February she met the auxiliary cruiser Atlantis and both were supplied by Tannenfels, 1,000 nmi east of Madagascar, making a brief about Allied merchant traffic in the area. They separated on 17 February. Admiral Scheer steamed towards the Seychelles, north of Madagascar. She took the 6,994 GRT oil tanker British Advocate and sank the 2,456 GRT Grigorios and latter the 7,178 GRT “SS Canadian Cruiser” (which sent a distress signal) and later the 2,542 GRT Dutch steamer Rantaupandjang. Of course the last two signals were catch by the British cruiser HMS Glasgow patrolling the are. She launched her reconnaissance aircraft, spotting Admiral Scheer on 22 February. Vice Admiral Ralph Leatham, (East Indies Station) sent in reinforcement the HMS Hermes and the cruisers Capetown, Emerald, Hawkins, Shropshire, and HMAS Canberra. Captain Krancke decided to veer south-east and reached South Atlantic by 3 March 1941. Thuis drew attention on her while Atantis started her own rampage close to Australia. The hunt was abandoned on 25 February.


Admiral Scheer was able to sail north up to the Denmark Strait which she reached on 26–27 March, spotted but evading the cruisers HMS Fiji and Nigeria. She reached Bergen on 30 March, Grimstadfjord to resupply and crew’s rest. She was joined by destroyers for her trip back to Kiel, arriving on 1 April. This was not bad for a start, covering 46,000 nautical miles (85,000 km) and with a tally of 7 merchant ships for 113,223 GRT. So far she had been the best capital ship commerce raider of the war, but it was her last raiding mission. Wilhelm Meendsen-Bohlken became her captain in June 1941 and with the loss of Bismarck in May 1941, and gradual destruction of the while German supply ship network, Atlantic raiding operations were abandoned. In September, she was based in Oslo, attacked without success by a raid of No. 90 Squadron RAF, and she departed later to a less exposed Swinemünde.

Stern view, September 1941
Stern view, September 1941

1942 Operations in Norway

On 21 February 1942, Scheer teamed with Prinz Eugen, escorted by the destroyers Z4, Z5, Z7, Z14 and Z25 and proceeded to Norway, stopping in Grimstadfjord before making it to Trondheim. On 23 February, en route HMS Trident torpedoed Prinz Eugen, causing her to retire. Admiral Scheer participated in Operation Rösselsprung on 2 July 1942, trying to catch PQ-17, with Lützow in their own group, Tirpitz and Hipper in the other in a giant pincer. However Lützow and three destroyers ran aground and the group was dismissed while Admiral Scheer joined Tirpitz and Hipper in Altafjord, detected by the British. The convoy was scattered and left by U-boats and Luftwaffe. In August 1942 Scheer was sent to participated to Operation Wunderland, in the Kara Sea, with a destroyer escort, until Novaya Zemlya. Due to heir range, Scheer was left alone from this point. The plan called for strict radio silence and captain Meendsen-Bohlken was in full autnomy on this mission. On 16 August, Admiral Scheer met thick ice in the Kara Sea, but started searching for merchant shipping with its Arado floatplanes also spotting paths in the ice fields. On 25 August, they spotted the Soviet icebreaker Sibiryakov, which was sank after launching a distress signal. Scheer then turned south and arrived in Dikson, damaging two ships in the port, shelling the harbor facilities but renounced to send a landing party as Soviet shore batteries started firing. Meendsen-Bohlken then decided to head back to Narvik, arriving on 30 August. These were meagre results to say the least. On 23 October she teamed with Tirpitz and 5 destroyers from Bogen Bay to Trondheim and they left Tirpitz for repairs while Scheer and Z28 resumed their trip back to Germany. By the end of November, Fregattenkapitän Ernst Gruber took command and in December she was sent to Wilhelmshaven for a major overhaul. There she was damaged by an RAF attack and she was moved to Swinemünde.

Admiral Scheer in September 1941
Admiral Scheer in 1942
Admiral Scheer in 1942

1943-45 Operations

In February 1943, Richard Rothe-Roth became her new captain, but until the end of 1944 she no longer took part in active raisding missions and instead she was versed to the Fleet Training Group operating in the Baltic. Her last commander was Ernst-Ludwig Thienemann, from April 1944. On 22 November 1944 she departed with Z22, Z35, and the 2nd Torpedo Boat Flotilla in support of the task force guarding the island of Ösel against Soviet incursions. The Soviet Air Force launched raids which were largely unsucessful. During the night of 23–24 November, the island was evacuated, and the heavy cruiser repatriated 4,694 troops with the help of the destroyers and flotilla. By February 1945, Admiral Scheer was based off Samland for possible Soviet sorties. On 9 February, they started shelling Soviet positions and until 24 February, she covered a counterattack near Peyse and Gross-Heydekrug.

Admiral Scheer in Kiel in 1945
Admiral Scheer in Kiel in 1945

A land connection was restored briefly to Königsberg, allwing civilian and military evacuations. However in March 1945 her guns were completely worn and she departed the eastern Baltic for Kiel, carried 800 civilian refugees and 200 wounded soldiers on board. A minefield was spotted so she had to divert to Swinemünde, disembarking her passengers and still managing to shell Soviet forces outside Kolberg until the last shell was out. She loaded then more refugees before departing Swinemünde, and her captain managed to get through minefields, and down to Kiel. She dropped anchot on 18 March and soon work started. Her aft guns were replaced at the Deutsche Werke shipyard in April and her crew was sent ashore, leaving her defenseless during the 9 April 1945 night raid by the RAF, 300 heavy bombers in all. Admiral Scheer was hit by several bombs, quickly filled and capsized. At this oint nothing was done to salvage her, the war was over. She will be partially broken up after the war, and what was left was filled with rubbled, signalled on maps and left in plane.

Admiral Scheer turned over after capziging following the 8-9 April 1945 night Kiel bombing raid.

KMS Admiral Graf Spee

KMS Graf Spee before the war

Captain_Konrad_Patzig_first_commanding_officer_Graf_Spee Admiral Graf Spee, perhaps the most famous of the three, but also with the shortest career, was ordered as “Ersatz Braunschweig”, replacing Braunschweig and christened by the daughter of Admiral Maximilian von Spee, completed on 6 January 1936 and commissioned the same day. She spend until early April in extensive sea trials and training, under command of Kapitän zur See (KzS) Conrad Patzig (photo), replaced in 1937 by Walter Warzecha. Officially joining the fleet she became the flagship of the German Navy and during the summer 1936, joined the Atlantic for non-intervention patrols off the Spanish coast, hed mostly by the Republicans. Until May 1937 she made three tours of duty here, and stopped on her way in Great Britain for the Spithead Coronation Review held for King George VI, on 20 May 1937.
In between fleet manoeuver, she made a fourth and fifth and final patrol in February 1938 in the same role. That year, KzS Hans Langsdorff took command and conducted his ship in a serie of goodwill visits, inluding Tangier and Vigo. She took part to the large fleet maneuvers in German waters, the last before the war, and a fleet review held for the reintegration of the port of Memel into Germany, in honor of Admiral Miklós Horthy, Regent of Hungary. Until 17 May 1939 she made another cruise into the Atlantic, stopping in Spain and Portugal but by August 1939, she departed Wilhelmshaven to join her probable operating area in South Atlantic as war was looming.

Von Spee’s rampage in the south atlantic

The prow of admiral Graf Spee before the war
The prow of admiral Graf Spee before the war

In September 1939, Graf Spee was ready to start her first commerce raiding mission, delayed until it was certain Britain would not propose any peace treaty and she was ordered to strictly adhere to prize rules. Thus, Hans Langsdorff was also firbidden to engage any warship, large or small and change positions as much as possible. On 1st September, she was resupplied by the Altmark, southwest of the Canary Islands, also transferring superfluous equipment as its boats, flammable paint, and two 2 cm AA guns installed on the tanker instead. On 11 September, her Arado floatplanes spotted the HMS Cumberland approaching. She was still supplying with Altmark, and Langsdorff ordered a quick to departure at high speed. He managed to evade the British heavy cruiser, and on 26 September, received at least the greenlight for unrestricted commerce raiding operations. Her first prize was spotted by her Arado planes: This was the Clement, off the coast of Brazil, transmitted the classic “RRR” distress signal. She was stopped and inspected, her captain and chief engineer took prisoner while her crew was sent out in lifeboats. The freighter was sunk using 30 main and secondary rounds and two torpedoes. Langsdorff ordered himself to send a distress signal to the nearby naval station in Pernambuco, making sure the crew’s rescue. The British Admiralty issued a warning to merchant shipping.

Overview of the Graf Spee as seen from its Arado floatplane

The hunt is on

On 5 October, both the British and French navies formed no less than eight groups to hunt for Admiral Graf Spee in the South Atlantic. The aicraft carriers HMS Hermes, Eagle, and Ark Royal, the French Béarn, escorted by the Renown, Dunkerque and Strasbourg and 16 cruisers were sent to locate her. Force G (Henry Harwood) sailed to the east coast of South America, with the cruisers Cumberland and Exeter, later reinforced by the Ajax and Achilles, sending Cumberland to patrol off the Falkland Islands. The other three cruisers patrolled off the River Plate in Argentina. Admiral Graf Spee meanwhile captured the steamer Newton Beech and sank later the merchant ship Ashlea, taking on board officers. On 8 October, she sank Newton Beech, at first used to store prisoners, but she was too slow to keep up. On 10 October, she captured the Huntsman. Lacking space of the prisoners, Langsdorff contacted the Altmark on the 15 for a meeting, to refuel and transfer his prisoners, added to the steamer Huntsman. Prisoners aboard Huntsman were transferred to Altmark, and she was sunk on 17 October. On the 22, Admiral Graf Spee sank the Trevanion and Langsdorff sailed to the Indian Ocean, south of Madagascar. His idea was to divert Allied warships away from the South Atlantic and by that time she already covered 30,000 nautical miles. Her engines now needed badly an overhaul. On 15 November she sank the tanker MV Africa Shell, and spotted but spared a Dutch steamer. Back to thee Atlantic on 17-26 November she met Altmark ro refuel and resupply, while her crew started to built a dummy gun turret and second funnel behind the aircraft catapult. The idea was to make a different silhouette and disrupt identity checking by the allies.

Arado 196
Arado 196 onboard the Scheer and Graf Spee

Her Arado floatplane later located the merchant ship Doric Star. She was stopped but able to send out a distress signal. The officers were made prisoners and crews evacuated by lifeboats, but the signalled was eagerly awaited by Commodore Harwood. he rushed his three cruisers at full speed to the mouth of the River Plate, suspecting Langsdorff to head for. On the night of 5 December, the Graf Spee sank the steamer Tairoa and a day after, met again Altmark, transferring 140 prisoners. Her last victim was the freighter Streonshalh on 7 december. On board were secret documents with maps of shipping route, and based on this, Langsdorff planned a trip off Montevideo. On 12 December her Arado 196 were lacking maintenance and could notfly. Her disguise was removed in case of a “bad encounter”, not hinder her operations.

Battle of the River Plate (13 December 1939)

KMS Graf Spee camouflage in December 1939

This famous episode started at 05:30 on the morning of 13 December 1939, when Graf Spee’s lookouts spotted masts on the horizon, at her starboard bow. Captain Langsdorff assumed thos was a convoy previously mentioned on the captured documents but as identification became finer, at 05:52 lookouts realized these were no civilian ships, and they identified warhips. Later the head vessel was recoignised to be the HMS Exeter accompanied by what was thought to be destroyers, with perspective, but revealed themselves as Leander-class cruisers. Langsdorff decided it was worth fighting due to her superior firepower, the crew’s own motivation and own possible speed with wornout engines. Battle stations was ordered, and full speed ahead to close in. At 06:08 Harwood spotted the Graf Spee and order to split gunfire of her main battery. The duel indeed opposed six 280 mm plus eight 150 mm versus eight 203 mm and sixteen 150 mm. But the German warhip had to rage advantage and opened fire first at Exeter. Her secondary battery four broadside guns were trained on Ajax at 06:17. Exeter returned fire three minutes later followed by Ajax and Achilles in a few minutes. For thirty minutes, the duel was on and Exeter was hit three times: Both forward turrets were knock out, as her bridge and her aircraft catapult. She was also crippled by shrapnell and on fire. Ajax and Achilles tried to divert attention on them by closing in so much Langsdorff thought them in position to make a torpedo attack. He decided to turn away and release a smokescreen.

Exeter was able, thanks to this manoeuver to retire but continued firing with her only operative aft turret, and deplored 61 dead and 23 wounded. Nevertheless, her captain manoeuvered as to bring her close on Graf Spee and still have her aft turret trained, but the latter spotted this and fired on Exeter again. This time Exeter was crippled and had to withdraw again, with a list to port. At 07:25, Ajax was hit, loosing her aft turrets but by then both sides broke off. Admiral Graf Spee headed to the River Plate estuary. Harwood stayed outside its range, in observation. on Admiral Graf Spee it was time for a report. Langsdorrf was informed her ship had been it around 70 times and 36 men were killed, 60 wounded including Langsdorff himself by shell splinters on the open bridge. The ship had some damage but nothing really serious, nevertheless the only wise decision was to join Montevideo for repairs ad treat wounded men.

Graf Spee entering Montevideo, battle damaged

The most urgent issue was the destroyed oil purification plant. It was problem as impacting the quality the diesel fuel for the already worn out diesels. Any long range trip was also impossible as water reserves were impacted by the destruction of the desalination plant and the galley. She had been hit in the bow too, which impacted her seaworthiness, especially if she tried to make it across the Atlantic. In addition her ammunition stocks were low. The majestic but battered warhip arriving in port and wounded crewmen were quickly taken to local hospitals, dead were buried with full military honors, and the few captive allied seamen released. Repairs were a problem, as estimated to take at least weeks. Therefore, British naval intelligence put some tricks of its sleeve, and on one hand, force the Uruguayan Governement to enforce neutrality rules, of 72h stay (Hague Convention of 1907), and in the other, that a powerful fleet was away at sea. Langsdorff weighted his options and considered an attempt to break out of the harbor, as asked by Berlin. Another option was to flee to Buenos Aires for an internment, waiting perhaps the end of its neutrality, or third, to scuttle the ship and spare his men. Being a humanist and sailor in the tradition of men such as Felix Von Luckner (Seeadler) in the last war, he choose this path.

Closer view of Graf spee’s battle damage and camouflage in Montevideo

On 17 December 1939, Langsdorff ordered to seize and destroy all important equipment, dispersing remaining ammunition and prepare explorive charges to scuttle the ship. On 18 December he sailed away with a skeleton crew on board of 40 men and moved the ship in the outer roadstead. There, the 72h delays passed in this evening, with a crowd of 20,000 watching the events unfolding. Scuttling charges were set leaving time to the crew to be loaded by the Argentine tug nearby. Explisions started at 20:55, also detonating ammunitions. This was quite a spectacle as darkness came on a bright sky. The ship slowly san to the bottom in these shallow seas and would burn for the next two days. Sadly, Langsdorff was also aware of the consequences to act against Berlin’s orders for his family and decided to shot himself in full dress uniform, lying on the ship’s battle ensign. The crew buried him with battle honors, and was later picked up by late January 1940, on the then neutral American cruiser USS Helen. Some men were able to visit the wreck of Admiral Graf Spee, and were disembark in Argentina, interned for the remainder of the war. The impressive wreck was not a threat to navigation as long as the visibility allowed it, but nevertheless it was partially broken up in 1942–1943. Later, salvage rights were purchased from the German Government via a Montevideo engineering company. Only in February 2004, her wreck was raised and gradually dismantled for good, but a commemorative plaque was left after a ceremony.

The wreck of Admiral Graf Spee off Montevideo
The wreck of Admiral Graf Spee off Montevideo

S-Bootes (E-Boats)


Germany (1934-45)
Schnellboote – 9 classes*, circa 300 total +280 ordered

The perile of S-Bootes: Called S-Boote (short for “Schnellboote”, literally “fast boats”) and known as the “E-Boats” by the allies (“E” for enemy, and also encompassing R-Boats), these nimble torpedo boats caused much concerns to the allies. Less than U-Boats though, but they still made dangerous all approaches of the occupied coast of Europe, roamed the Baltic, the black sea, Mediterranean, and all along the Atlantic wall, from Norway to the bay of Biscaye. They were especially active in the English channel, and obscured by the “big naval battles” that made headlines, there met in countless unnamed naval clashes against British light gunboats (MGB) and MTBs. They obliged the Royal Navy to develop and maintain a massive fleet of light boats. Somewhat overlooked for their action in the Kriegsmarine, they did performed quite a sizeable damage of their own:
S-Bootes in total for WW2, on all fronts, claimed 101 merchant ships (214,728 GRT), 12 destroyers, 11 minesweepers, 8 landing ships, 6 MTBs, 1 torpedo boat, 1 minelayer, 1 submarine, and many smaller craft. They damaged 2 cruisers, 5 destroyers, 3 landing ships, 1 repair ship, a naval tug and many, many merchant vessels. Also S-Boote and R-boote laid minefields which claimed 37 merchant ships (148,535 GRT), a destroyer, two minesweepers, and four landing ships during the war. Development started during the interwar, but really took of during wartime. Indeed at the outbreak of WWII, only 18 Schellboote were in service. Howver until 1945, 230 more were build, and more planned and latter cancelled. All shared the same basic design, propulsion and armament, and were designed and build at Lürssen, Vegesack.

German E-Boat S-204 surrenders at Felixstowe
German E-Boat S-204 surrenders at Felixstowe, 13 May 1945

Early developments: The inheritance of WW1

Experience with Fast torpedo Boats started during the Great War. Development of these German torpedo boats launch really started in 1922, when earlier units ordered for the Hochseeflotte in 1917 were completed or remained on slip. These were the LM20s, 21, 22, 22, 23, 26, 27 and 28, which served as testbeds, reformed in the 1930s. The Versailles Treaty was unclear concerning this type of ship, used rather for defense. But as a precaution the first researches were carried out secretly by S. Lohmann in 1923, culminating in Abeking & Rasmussen’s making of the “K”, a prototype capable of 40 knots, based on a Thornycroft type, purchased and studied. Called the Lür it was built by Lürssen, Vegesack. She was capable of 33.5 knots. Later, Caspar Werft’s Narwhal was able to reach 34.8 knots. All of these early units were reclassified as submarine hunters (U-Boote zestorer) or UZ11-18 in 1929.

While the German navy managed to create an effective training system in 1925, was taken the decision by Admiral Fortlotter, of studying a new generation high-speed torpedo boats and the first flotilla was organized. The first exercises were held in 1925. In 1928, the leadership of the Wehrmacht began to show interest in the Fr. Lurssen Bootswerft, where speed boats were built. And already in 1929 the first torpedo boat was built at the shipyard after a long break at the initiative of Admiral Raeder. On July 7, 1930, the UZ(S)16 U-BOOT Zerstorer entered service, renamed by March 16, 1932 “S1”. This 40 tons boat was armed with two 21 inches (533 mm) torpedo tubes and was capable of 32 knots. Soon it was named in the Kriegsmarine ordnance, the “Schnellboote S-type”, under the general category of Kleinkampfverbande.

The Reichsmarsine always had this option and opportunity to build a maximum of these inexpensive ships, not limited in any way. But the Navy leadership was still worried however about a possible reaction to the rapid development of this new class of warships. Early development and testing within the Reichsmarine were carried out under the strictest secrecy, via civilian shipbuilding, and Lürssen, well known for its yachts, was the perfect cover. From 1932 already, the Reischmarine ordered four more of these to be built, S2-S5. In 1933, the S6 marked a new standard and it became a decisive step forward. The German navy was indeed the first to procured these vessels with powerful diesel engines. They both allowed a far superior cruising range while keepin the top speed up to 36 knots, which was destroyer standard.

Early S-Boat before the war
Early S-Boat before the war

In 1934-1935, while the fleet was in full transition oto becom the Kriesgmarine, seven more (S7-S13) were ordered, and by July 1935, a first torpedo boat flotilla was created. Next appeared the 92 tonnes serie S14-S17, fitted with three diesel engines for 2000 shp and 39.8 knots. They went into the first flotilla of S-boats and the olest went to the 2nd and 3rd flotillas. In all, 12 of these standardized S-Boats were ready for defense. In 1936-1938, the tactical and technical requirements changed, as these nimble ships were now to be able to patrol up to 700 miles, from the west coast of Germany and deep into the North Sea, and Baltic Sea eastwards to the islands of the gulf of Finland. Diesels were improved, and speeds up to 45 knots could be reached. There was no shortage of young commanders for these vessels, armed with deadly torpedoes and AA, and lightning speed. S-Boat Sailors however were carefully selected and had a special training, including mechanics and navigators.

In the Kriegsmarine, S-Boats tasks were defined, and first their primary mission was to attack large ships, and secondary, to infiltrate harbors and bases, preying on merchant lines following sea routes, and raiding bases and installations along and enemy coast. In addition, S-Bootes should be capable of defensive operations, ASW patrols and coastal convoy escort, but also reconnaissance and minesweeping. Torpedo boats had also many advantages of speed and discretion, minimal crews and supplies and low cost.

About Lürssen Vegesack

Four years after the proclamation of the German Empire, on 23 July 1875, Fr. Lurssen founded the company in Bremen. Already in 1890, the yard was producing the first German high-speed boat. By 1910, 700 left the shipyard’s slipways, well noted internationally for their top speed for that time. In 1917, Fr. Lurssen Bootswerft received an order from the Navy for a first torpedo boat, launched and active. The company in 1916 provided also remote-controlled boats to enter occupied ports or attacking heavily armoured ships for the fleet. The yard swelled and started to built shallow minesweepers (F boats) and submarines and also its first military launches of the ML class.

Lürssen also produced large quantities of coastal minesweepers/Minelayers during WW2 (Raümboote or “R-Boats”), but wartime production was taken over by Abeking & Rasmussen, Lemwerder and
Schlichting, Travemünde.

After world war I, treaties focused on large warships and measures taken to limit the fleets never applied to surface ships below 600 tons. Each country could develop and launched these in any quantity which it saw fit, at discretion. The role of TBs was largely underestimated by the naval powers in 1919, and the idea of speedboats used for combat operations seemed ludicrous or a waste of time fr the admiralties, for which the only credo t of the time was still Mahanian, revolving around battleships. This view prevailed, even despite some spectacular successes, like the Italian MAS. Lürssen meanwhile had shrink from 700 to 100 employees. Since the main plant in Aumund was entirely burned down, a new plant was established to Vegesack by 1924, which became the main yard we know today. Civilian production restarted, and the company, still searching advertising sold in the USA the world’s fasted yacht, Oheka II, equipped with three Maybach engines for 34 knots. In 1929 the Reichsmarine ordered the UZ (S) 16 for testing, 28m long and weighting 51.6 tons. It became the S1 in 1932 and by 1933 the model became the basic pattern for German military TBs, an activity which was now played in the open. In 1929, minesweepers restarted in cooperation with Abeking & Rasmussen. Before and during the war, the company (with a network of suppliers and subcontractors) produced some 250 S-Boats, with 280 more on order in 1945. These boats became much more important as the war became defensive. The loss of the French coast curtailed however their use.

Jaguar type
The Jaguar class were classic MTBs of the 1960s very much in inheritance of WW2 S-Boote. The next decade saw the company looking for FACs

Lürssen Vegesack returned to civilian production after the war, starting in 1946 to produce fishing cutters, and back from captivity in 1947, the brothers Gert and Fritz-Otto Lürssen reorganized the company, which became in 1952 Lürssen-Werft, obtaining orders for fast patrol boats. But the game changer truly was the building of the Jaguar in 1959 for the Bundesmarine. Inspired by WW2 era S-Boats, it was larger and more powerful, and attracted a lot of attention of many navies around the world. Exports started to built in the 1970s as the company teamed with France for the “La Combattante” serie of large, fast patrol boats (FPB). The company also built large patrol vessels and minesweepers. Official website. The company also never stopped its yacht production, breaking new records.

Elster (P6154), a fast attack craft of the Tiger-class
Elster (P6154), a fast attack craft of the Tiger-class

Technical evolution and specifics

S38 and S100 group, Author’s illustrations. more are awaited.

In 1930 Kriegsmarine’s design department took over the design of the fast yacht Oheka II built for an American customer, and the Lür, to design the new generation of VLTs. It was, in 1930, the S1, built by Lürssen, like all those who followed until 1945. It was followed by the S2 to 5, all sent in 1938 to Nationalist Spain. These first units, 27 meters long for 40 to 46 tons, ran 34 to 33.8 knots but all had only two torpedo tubes for two in reserve.

Propulsion of S-Boote

MB518 diesel, credits dave-mills.yolasite.com. Newly discovered German photos of this V20 Type MB 518 used in late E Boats later captured at Menai Bridge, inspected by Saunders Roe staff. The Expert Kalle Scheuch suggested MB 501 or MB 511 were more common, the latter likely used on the S701 boats.

Almost of boats were propelled by Daimler-Benz engines, generally diesels, but with a few exceptions:
-The experimental S1 had petrol engines, as well as the S-2 group in 1932. The S3 group had MAN diesels in 1934, and the standard arrived with the S-10 group of 1935, the first with Daimler-Benz diesel engine, which procured the range which was lacking on previous series, while still able to procure them 35 knots.
These Marine Daimler-Benz models were upgraded constantly. On the S-100 group they were of the MB 501 model, procuing together an output of 7,000 bhp. This was truly remarkable for 100 tonnes ships, allowing a top speed of 44 knots. Power output always splitted betwene three shafts, three engines from the S1, rose indeed from 2,700 bhp to 1960 on the S6 to S30, 6000 on the S38 group and 7,000 on the S100 group, and 5,00 bhp more on the S701 group.

Armament of S-Bootes

S-204 of the S80 group
S-204 of the S80 group.

S-Boats were armed with torpedoes, followed by light QF autocannons and machine guns. This light artillery by September 1939 was typically a single 20 mm Rheinmetall C/30 FLAK autocannon on a L/30 mount installed aft on a platform, and two pintle-mount Mauder 7.92-mm MG 34 LMGs. On the S-38 serie, a second autocannon was placed in a deck turret on the forecastle. The S-30 were retrofitted that way at the end of 1941. These guns however had a relatively low rate of fire and reliability, which caused frequent criticism and by 1941-1942 they were replaced by the C/38.

Due to frequent clashes with Royal Navy’s MGBs drastic measures were taken to strengthen the armament. The standard 37-mm semi-automatic C/30 was no longer suitable as only capable of 40 rpm. The obvious alternative was the Swedish 40 mm Bofors and from October 1942, three boats in each of the 1st, 2nd and 4th flotillas, two in the 5th and 6th fleets, received a Bofors at the stern. In total, 14 S-Boats were so rearmed: The S-29, S-39, S-42, S-44 – S-46, S-51, S-81-S-83, S-98, S-99, S-112, and S-117. However the Bofors still had a low rate of fire and no armor-piercing shells. It became clear for the Kriegsmarine, that there was no other weapons suitable for these S-Boats. Still, the 50 mm Flak 41 developed for destroyers weighed over 3 tons, and a lightened version of the MK-103 30 mm airborne cannon was under development for future marine applications.

2cm Flak C38 in a M43U Zwilling Mount
2cm Flak C38 in a M43U Zwilling Mount

Nevertheless, some S-boat commanders improvised, and fitted at the stern a paired 20 mm autocannon (S-65) or a quad mount (Flakvierling). Another favorite location was behind the wheelhouse, and there a single or twin 20 mm or a twin or triple 15 mm MG-151/15 MG could fit. There is even evidence of the use of 20 mm MG FF cannons in improvised mounts. Cramming the deck with such installations, this went up to eight cannons and MGs. In early 1944, the 30 mm autocannon became available and were fitted from the S-170 onwards, in complement of twin C/38s installed behind the wheelhouse as a standard. Late 1944, stern mounted with a single 37 mm (Flak 36/Navy M42) was alternative to a 40 mm Bofors. The planned rearmament by a 30 mm MK-103 gun was never fully implemented. The twin 30 mm mounts never achieved its development, and two single MK-103 were installed instead. In 1944, some S-Boats even had a 86 mm RAG M42 multiple rocketed launcher system with AA rockets, in standard 30 fragmentation rockets and 60 incendiary rockets.

Designers found it much easier and faster to develop self-protection of E-Boats, than practical way to launch torpedoes. The great advantage was to use large tubes to carry standard anti-ship 21-inches models (53 cm). They were powerful and largely available. Steam-gas models were improved, but electric models were also tested by S-Boote but not used operationally. They were stealthy, not betrayed by a trail of bubbles but slower with a lesser range and only used by U-Boats which approached masked. Stastically torpedoes were not very successful however as for all the torpedoes fired during the war, destroying 369 warships it took on average 82 torpedoes to sink a single ship. On E-Boats, German engineers wrapped their head around problems such as avoiding the torpedo to explode just after launch at high speed, when colliding with a wave. Fixed bow, low above water, seemed the best way, as the missile nose forward. Launch from the stern, the old way of WWI, was more complicated and dangerous.
The typical L7 models carried was 718 cm long for 53,3 in diameter, weighting 1,528 kg. and hed three speed settings: 30, 40 and 44 knots with cruising ranges respectively of 12,500, 7,500 and 5500 m. They carried a 280 kg warhead using a fuse detonator of the KHB Pi1 or KHB Pi1 8.43-8.44 types, which could be setup for non-contact explosion.

General advantages and issues of the E-Boats
E-Boats were strongly built. Accidental fires were rare, and they could resist the ramming blow of a destroyer, a mine explosion or 4-in shells. As an example, on March 15, 1942, S-105 came back to base riddled by 80 shell fragments, bullets and shell holes. Their enormous cruising range, up to 800-900 miles at 30-knot was an eneormous advantage over traditional MTBs, but they operated mostly by night, early on during the conflict. They were also very stabled due to their elongated round bilge contours. From the S-100 in particular, the armoured forecastle and built-in torpedo tubes improved the overall seaworthiness, and S-Boats were still able to fire and function on a force 4-5 gale, while keeping a low silhouette. Comparative tests were made between German and British boats after the war. They showed by night, E-Boats were more stealthy while still able to spot the enemy first. The main criticism revolved around their on-board artillery, falling behind the British. In terms of detection also, S-boats lagged behind their opponents as they never received a small-sized radar. When the Germans deployed the Naxos radio intelligence station, the situation improved, but this was still not worthy of a radar. By 1944, the British adopted the Foxer, a ship-towed device diverting the torpedo towards itself, with a “bait” which was the device own acoustic field, more intense than the ship’s propellers noise. Until the German deployed their Lerche wire-controlled torpedoes.

ASW equipments:
Late schnellboote were equipped with two aft grenade throwers and racks for six WBF depth charges 139 kg each for ASW warfare. Commanders indeed had the idea of droppin these depht charges into the wake of pursuing vessels.
Active protection:
Smoke canisters were also carried (Nebelkannen), two, and up to eight, including German and French models. Each layed a blanket of smoke lasting 20 minutes.

Mines were not included as standard but experiments started before the war and the first S-Boat minelaying mission took place on the night of July 11, 1940, in British waters. It was a success, to they started to be more widely used by S-Boats and became more effective at the end of the war. Due to the allied air superiority, these missions were mostly performed by night in 1944.

S-Bootes in action

S-Boat high speed

The Kriegsmarine started the war with the S38 group; with their two tubes and four torpedoes, two 30mm FLAK and 42 knots, they could create a fear factor in coastal operations.
Operations with the Kriegsmarine started with the Baltic Sea in 1939, and the north sea German coast, until the western campaign in May-June 1940. The fall of France opened the while French coast to S-Bootes, which now could prey at leisure in the English Channel. They started earlier, thanks to their range, intercepting shipping from and to English ports. This became a reisky business, forcing the British to devise a brand new category of gunboats to patrol the channel. Slow, but with long range and bristling with guns, their main task was to intercept and destroy E-Boats. In May 1940 already at Dunkirk, E-Boats were roaming the channel, preying on troopships.

The Dunkirk evacuation (May-June 1940)

The press started mentioning S-Boote at the end of May 1940, during the nine-day evacuation of the BEF and some French troops from Dunkirk and other coastal cities. They just republished German radio announcements; Like in May 22, 1940 when a British auxiliary cruiser was sunk in the English Channel or in May 26, in Ostend, when it was a Bitish destroyer and off Gelder, a submarine.
In June, these were the destroyers HMS Basilix, Keith and Havant and in all 24 vessels were lost, less than E-Boats than from mines, U-Boats and the Luftwaffe. The British established three routes across the English Channel to be defended: The central, western and eastern roads. On May 28, British and French ships used the eastern route down to the Quintwisle buoy, one hour from Ostend, from where German torpedo boats operated. On May 29 they sank HMS Wakeful with troops on board as she broke in half. HMS Grafton and the minesweeper Lidd picked up survivors, later joined by the drifter Nautilus and pilot ship Comfort, but Grafton was torpedoed by another S-Boote, unnoticed.

HMS Comfort and Nautilus moved away and panic led to friendly fire which added to casualties. HMS Comfort was also torpedoed. The English historian D. Devine analysed and compared document records of opposing forced in Dunkirk, and found the British lost in reality 226 out of 693 ships including 6 destroyers, 5 minesweepers and around 200 small ships and about the same number more or less seriously damaged. Three German torpedo boats flotilla took part in the operations by late June, but it only started from 21 May, when two flotillas were transferred from Norway, operating on the southern part of the North Sea. This was not a spectacular single battle at open sea, and the press seldom mentioned it. The operation cost far more than the press was relating, not to cripple the nation’s morale. Many mines were laid by the German aviation, which recorded most of the kills.

S-Boote Flotillas

After the Dunkirk evacuation and from other French cities along the coast, several flotillas were based, but they also soldiered on in Norway. Here are these records.
– 1st flotilla Baltic 1939, Polish campaign, Operation Weserubung, transferred to the West, Baltic summer 1941, Finland. 1942-44 Black Sea (Romania), 1944 Baltic.
-2nd flotilla: North Sea 1939 (S-10-S-17), Operation Weserubung, Ostend, to operate in the English Channel. Summer 1941, Baltic, Finland. 1942-45 English Channel. They were supplied by the requisitioned ex-Chinese tender and floating base KMS Tanga.
-4th flotilla: Created 1.10.1940, North Sea, English Channel. 1944: Belgian Canal Zone, HQ Rotterdam.
-5th flotilla: Created 07/15/1941 Finland. 1941-44 English Channel, 1944 Helsinki & Reval. In 1944–45 Swinemunde, Baltic, and English Channel.
-6th Flotilla: Created 1.3.1941 station “Nordsee”. English Channel, 1942 Norway, and back. 1944 Finnish waters, and back.
-8th flotilla Created 11/01/1941 Norway, Kola Bay area, Murmansk convoys. disbanded 1942, recreated, Norwegian coast. 1943 North Sea/English Channel, 1945 Baltic.
-9th flotilla: Created 1.4.1943 North Sea, English Channel.
-10th flotilla: Created March 1944, North Sea/English Channel.
-11th flotilla: Created 5/20/1943 Feodosia (Crimea) with Italian ASW VAS Boats. 1943 Romanian Navy. Re-established May 1944 Sassnitz, June 1944 English Channel.
-21st flotilla: Created Sept. 1943 in Eckernfjord, srved in Norway.

When the RCAN (Royal Canadian Navy) joined the fray in 1942, they were given a wealth of motor gunboats (MGBs), motor torpedo boats (MTBs), motor launches in addition to their frigates and destroyers to patrol the north sea and channel, down to the Bay of Biscaye, frequently encountering S-Boats and R-Boats along the way. These small clashes never received much publicity. Operations went on until preparations for operation Overlord, and a large scale landing exercise Operation Tiger in April-May happened to be a disaster, with friendly fire and a battle opposing an US amphibious group and E-Boats:

The Battle of Lyme Bay (28 April 1944)

Battle of Lyme Bay 28 April 1944
The Battle of Lyme Bay, 28 April 1944 src: Mark Beerdom via pinterest

The battle happened off Portland, Lyme Bay in the English Channel and an US Convoy went apparently off-course, comprising 8 LSTs protected by a Corvette. The battle resulted in the loss of two LSTs while two other were badly damaged, 749 killed and more than 200 wounded, for no loss on the German side, which deployed a whole squadron of nine Schnellboote. Convoy T-4 was carrying vehicles and precious staff and personal from the 1st Engineer Special Brigade. It was spotted in Lyme Bay by nine German E-boats which left Cherbourg shortly after midnight and evaded successfully the barrage of patrolling British MTBs. Around 0130 hrs the first six E-boats of 5th S-Boot Flottille (Korvettenkapitän Bernd Klug) spotted eight dark ships, and deployed into three pairs to torpedo attack, Rotte 3 (S-136 & S-138), Rotte 2 (S-140 & S-142), and Rotte 1 (S-100 & S-143).

Three more E-boats from S-Boot Flottille Götz Freiherr von Mirbach (S-130, S-145 & S-150), later spotted red flares and joined in at full speed. S-100 collided with S-143 and were damaged enough to leave under over of smoke while S-145 attacked the convoy at short range with gunfire. The attack ceased around 0330 hrs and the corvette HMS Azalea was at the end of the straight line and missed the battle. HMS Scimitar also missed the batle due to repairs, and it went missing in communication because of different standards. HMS Saladin was dispatched but never arrived in time. It could have change the outcome. The Corvette had a single gun and was mostly fitted with ASW grenades. LST-289 basically was set on fire but survived, LST-507 torpedoed and sunk, as LST-531 and LST-511damaged by friendly fire from LST-496.

E-Boat award One month later on June 6, E-boats of the 9th flotilla left Cherbourg harbour at 5 a.m. on 6 June 1944, spotted the entire invasion fleet and closed in, moving in pair to divert attention and counter fire, laying smoke to cover their approach, and fired their torpedoes at maximum range. They quickly retreated and returned to Cherbourg, not achieving a single kill.
These numerous clashes were celebrated at home, less than U-Boat exploits, they never were that popular. Crew members could earn the “Schnellbootkriegsabzeichen” a badge depicting an E-boat passing through a wreath as a dedicated award. The criteria were good conduct and distinction in action, plus participating in twelve enemy actions. It could be also awarded under special circumstances or upon proofs of the utmost gallantry. In all until the end of the war, E-boat crewmen were awarded 23 Knight’s Cross and 112 Gold Cross.

Clashes in the Mediterranean

Some Schnellboote were transferred in small numbers to the Mediterranean, by land and river. There was always the possibility to sail along the French and Spanish coast down to Gibraltar, but crossing it afterwards would havve been a suicide and there was no way to cross spain via canals or river west to east. Two operational units were created, the 3rd flotilla (3.schnellbootflottille), which was created on 15.5.1940 first fot the coast of the Netherlands and Belgium. It was transferred to Vindava in Eastern Baltic in 1941 and by the fall of the year, to the Mediterranean Sea. In 1943 it was part of the 1st division of torpedo boats. Also the 7th flotilla created on 10/01/1941 in Swinemunde and trained until April 1942 were under command of the 5th flotilla, stationed in the Baltic. By November 1942 they went along European rivers down to the Mediterranean Sea.

Clashes in the Black sea

Some Schnellboote were based in the Black Sea. Ordered by the OKW, these were the six E-boats of the 1st S-flotilla, released from action in the Baltic and refitted. They operated from the Romanian port of Constanța. It was quite a logistical feat to transport them: Superstructure and all weapons were removed and carried by train, and the hulls arrived at Ingolstadt, and were transferred to water, reaching Linz. There, they were reunited with their superstructures and equipment and proceeded down the Danube to Galați, to receive their main engines and interio fittings. Complete, they headed by themselves for Constanța, and then supplied with ammunition and the last equipments, in 24-26 May 1942. S-27 was lost in operation after a malfunctioning torpedo, and later four more boats to be kept in reserve were setn the same way, S-47, S-49, S-51, and S-52. S-28, S-72 and S-102 were in heavy maintenance, leaving the S-26 and S-49 in operatio but by January 1944, the 1st S-flotilla had an operational strenght of six boats. S-28, S-40, S-45 and S-51 decommission for long maintenance work. Three more S-boats arrived and on 1 June 1944, the stranght was 8 boats (S-28, S-40, S-47, S-49, S-72, S-131, S-148 and S-149) but not sorties often due to fuel shortages. Four were later transferred to Sulina (Danube mouth). On 19 August, three were destroyed by a Soviet air attack. S-148 was lost to a mine off Sulina and later S-42, S-52 and S-131 in turn were destroyed by Soviet air attack. For all this time, they disrupted the traffic, attacking merchant convoys.

Operation Jungle: NATO’s Spec-ops S-Boats

At the end of the war about 34 E-boats were surrendered to the British and three of them, P5230 (ex S-130), P5208 (S-208), P5212 (S-212) were intensively tested. The Gehlen Organization was an intelligence agency created by the US occupation forces in Germany, manned by former Fremde Heere Ost (Foreign Armies East). They used these three Royal Navy’s E-boats to infiltrate the Baltic states and Poland. The idea came from RN Commander Anthony Courtney, the operation planned and carried out by John Harvey-Jones (Naval Intelligence Division). P5230 was modified to reduce its weight and has two extra cruiser, silent Napier Deltic engines (2,500 hp each). Operation Jungle also tried to preventing Soviet navy vessels from interfering with German fishing boats and destroy stray mines. They were based in Kiel and they landed Lithuanian agents in 1949 up to 1955 replaced by three new Bundesmarine motorboats.
The Royal Danish Navy bought twelve former S-Boote after the war, augmented in 1951 by six more formerly in the Royal Norwegian Navy. P568 Viben, the last active, was retired in 1965.


Yugoslavian Orjen class

Outside Germany, Yugoslavia was the first country to use the S-Boat. Indeed, the Orjen class were built in Germany by Lürssen, based on the S2 class in 1936. They had a 7kts cruiser speed thanks to a single 100hp Maybach engine which propelled a central shaft. Numbered at first 1-8, they became the Orjen, Dumitor, Suvobor, Kalmakclalan, Velebit, Dinaira, Rudnik, and Triglav. On 16 april 1941 Durmitor and Kajmakcalan successfully escaped to allied-occupied Crete, and later sailed to Alexandria. They went back in service with the new Yugoslavian Navy as TC5 and TC6, discarded 1962-1963. The others were captured and reused by the Regia Marina (MAS3D-8D and MS41-46 by 1942). Two scuttled September 1943, other captured, used by the Kriegsmarine and scuttled in 1944.

Italian MS boats:

The limited seaworthiness of MAS boats used at the start of World War II led the Regia Marina to order vessels similar to German E-boats, the CRDA 60 t type, “MS” (Motosilurante). The prototype was derived from one of the earlier E-boats from the Yugoslav Navy, captured in 1941. In all, 36 MS-Boats were built, in two batches of 18 (Type 1 and 2) by CRDA in Montfalcone. They both had two 21-in TTs, two 20 mm Breda guns and LMGs, but the Type 2 in addition had two 18-in TTs two more Breda 20 mm guns, and all possessed Depth charge racks. Later, the Italians devised a derivative called VAS boats specifically tailored for ASW warfare, circa 60 boats. MS-boats scored the biggest kill fo this kind of boats of the war, sinking the cruiser HMS Manchester in August 1942. They stayed in service during the early cold war as well, some until the 1970s.

Spanish Schellboats (motolancha)

S-Bootes also saw service with the Spanish Navy as Franco was awarded six E-boats during the Spanish Civil War, and six more during WW2 plus six more built in Spain with Lürssen assistance. They were not numbered but named. “Falange” allegedly laid two mines off Almería crippling the British destroyer HMS Hunter on 13 May 1937. They served until the 1960s-70s for some.

Romanian S-Boats:

Germany sold four E-boats to Romania on 14 August 1944, 65 tons boats capable of 30 knots thanks to their three Mercedes diesels totalling 2,850 hp. They were peculiar as having smaller, 500 mm (19.7 inch) torpedo tubes. These were the former S-151, S-152, S-153 and S-154, renamed and active in the black sea in the Romanian Navy until 1954.

Chinese S-Boats:

The Chinese Nationalist Navy operated three S-7 class boats during the Second Sino-Japanese War: Yue-22, 253 and 371. The first was destroyed by Japanese aviation, Yue-371 scuttled to avoid capture and Yue-253 captured by the PLAN in 1949 during the civil war. It was renamed HOIKING and was used as a patrol boat until 1963. The Chinese Nationalist government ordered also eight S-30 class boats and a tender (Qi Jiguang) to Germany but they were requisitioned in September 1939, the tender being renamed KMS Tanga.

extra photos: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:S-Boot

Nomenclature of S-Bootes

Lürssen S 1 (1930)

S1 boat
While the Reichsmarine was renamed in March 1935 the Kriegsmarine the S 1 entered service, later integrated into the 1st Schnellboothalbflotille. It was supported by the escort ship “Tsingtau”. Built in 1930 at Lürssen Vegesack, S1 derived from a long lineage started by Kaptain Lohman and his Seetransportabteilung. In 1923-26 already, former Imperial LM20-23, 27, 28 were modified and in 1926, Abeking & R. delivered the “K”, a 40 knots copy of the British Thornycroft 55ft CMB. Lürssen “Lür” followed at the same time, pitted against a third competitor, Narwhal from Caspar Werft Travemünde. These three boats were renamed UZ-11 to 18, officially sub-chasers. But Lürseen collaboration with K-Amt wich alreayd signed the yacht Oheka II. In 1930, UZ-16 (ex-Lür) became W1 and in 1932, S1. The boat mostly was used for trials and was operational in the 1st flotilla until 1938, when it was sold to Franco’s Spain.

Tech profile of S1. The S2 serie was about one meter longer.

Displacement: 39t, 50t FL
Dimensions: 26.80 x 4.20 x 1.06m
Propulsion: 3 Daimler-Benz petrol, 2,700 hp. 34.2 knots.
Armament: 2x 500 mm TTs, 1x 20 mm gun.
Crew: 18

Lürssen S 2 group (1932)

S4 bearing the Reichsmarine flag, after commission. Slightly longer hull but essentially similar to the S1, they had the same engine arrangement but with upgraded petrol engines for a better output but apparently a slight loss in speed (33.8 versus 34.2 knots). Armament was also the same. In 1938 these four boats were sent to Franco and were no longer in the inventory in 1939.

Displacement: 46t, 58t FL
Dimensions: 27.95 x 4.20 x 1.06m
Propulsion: 3 Daimler-Benz petrol, 3,300 hp. 33.8 knots.
Armament: 2x 500 mm TTs, 1x 20 mm gun.
Crew: 18

Lürssen S 6 group (1933)

The first series of 4 units, S6 to 9, S10 to 13, S14 to 17, and the eight of the group of S18 were in service in 1939. They went from 32.40 to 34.62 meters and from 80 to 92 tons empty. They were capable of 35 to 37 knots. The S6 group adopted MAN diesels for the fist time, which benefited to range, but they proved unreliable. Output was better, but due to much increased dimensions and almot sdouble displacement, top speed was limited to 35 knots. Upgrade in armament as they now carried larger standard 53 cm torpedoes and were large anough to carry two spare torpedoes. Reloads operations were complicated at sea. The crew was slightly larger to 21, which stayed standard until the S701 of 1944.

With the “S 6”, the Reichsmarine received its first diesel boats. Their three MAN L-7 four-stroke diesels delivered 960/1320 hp each. With 36 t their first speed trial showed only a top speed of 32 knots. S7 and 9 were commissioned in 1934 and 1935. The risk of explosion was reduced and low fuel consumption also reduced operating costs. These were given a foredeck with kinked ribs in order to improve seaworthiness.
In September 1934, Captain Günther Schubert took command of the second semi-flotilla and all the S-1 to S-8 boats were combined in 1935 as the 1st Schnellbootshalbflotille conducted by the escort ship “Tsingtau” in service by September 24, 1934.

S6 Specifications
Displacement: 78t, 92t FL
Dimensions: 32.40 x 4.90 x 1.21m
Propulsion: 3 Daimler-Benz diesels, 6000 hp. and 39.5 knots max.
Armament: 2x 533 mm TTs (2 in reserve), 1x 20 mm gun.
Crew: 21

Lürssen S 10 group (1934)

No big changes in this serie, slightly lighter becayuse equipped with more compact and more reliable Daimler Benz engines, which procured the same output, also for 35 knots. The rest of the specs were identical.

Same but displacement: 78t, 95t FL
Propulsion: 3 Daimler-Benz diesel, 3,390 hp. 35 knots.

Lürssen S 14 group (1936)

Since the top speed of the S 10 group did not meet the military requirements, Lürssen for the next S 14 commissioned in 1935 adopted larger MAN four-stroke diesel engines L 11. This required a larger hull and greater displacement, but the prize was a sustained 37 knots but burst of 39.8 knots. The rest was basically a repeat of previous boats.

Displacement: 92t, 114t FL
Dimensions: 34.62 x 5.10 x 1.44 m
Propulsion: 3 MAN diesel, 6,150 hp, 37.5 knots.

Lürssen S 18 group (1938)

Basically a repeat of the S14 group with minor modifications, and faster. S18-25 entered service in 1939.
Displacement: 92t, 115t FL
Propulsion: 3 Daimler-Benz diesel, 6,000 hp. and 39.5 knots max.

Lürssen S 26 group (1940)

The four of the S26 group dating back to 1940 prefigured the large wartime series. These were the first with torpedo tubes cast into the hull. There were also 16 additional type “export”, close in characteristics of the S10 group. (S30-37, 54-61). All were completed in 1940-41. They were capable of 36 knots. Their hull was a tad longer at 34.92 m and deeper at 1.52 m.
This increased the reserve buoyancy, protected exhausts from the weather, and the command post was moved back to the front of the bridge. On August 1st, 1938 2.SFltl was deployed in exercises, assisted by the escort ship “Tanga”. Two flotillas were subordinate to the TB leader (FdT).

Lürssen S 30 group (1939-41)

S30 group
Basically export models, slightly smaller, lighter, but also less powerful and fast than the S 26 group. Same armament. When the war broke out, eight boats of this group were under construction for export customers and requistioned, renamed S 30 – S 37, deployed until the summer of 1940.

Displacement: 81-82t, 100-102t FL
Dimensions: 32.76 x 4.90 x 1.21 m
Propulsion: 3 DB diesel, 3,960 hp, 36 knots.
Crew: 16

Lürssen/Schlichting S 38 group (1939-43)

S38 group IWW
S38 group – IWW

S-bootes of the S38 group derived directly from S26. This became the “standard” wartime type, valid until the end of the war, with weapons additions in later developments. This S38 group consisted of 90 units, the latter entering service in 1943. Some were built in Schlichting, Travemünde, and from S 67 they received a new armored bridge, reshaped in a “tank turret” style adopted by the S 100. AA additions ranged from 3 x 20 mm and a 40 bofors/37 mm FLAK to two twin 20 mm, a Bofors and a 37 mm. They were also capable of carrying mines and depht charges. Between November 1940 and September 1941 S 38 to S 53 were kept in port for trials and training, with three MB 501 diesels. They also had a brand new 2 cm Flak embedded in the forecastle, served by a ring mount. Reinforced, it was later able to carry a twin mount.

Specifications S38
Dimensions: 34.94 x 5.10 x 1.52m
Variable armament, rest as S 26.

Lürssen S 100 group (1943-45)

E-Boat S100

The S100 group of 1943 included 86 units, equipped with new more powerful Mercedes Benz diesels. It allowed them to be much faster. For the first of the series, these engines gave 7,500 hp for 42 knots and the rest of the order 9,000 hp for 45 knots. They were fitted with a 40 mm AA Bofors gun instead of a 20 mm gun. The series stopped at S 500 but in reality after 347 units ordered. 261 were never completed or even never started, leaving 85 in active service.

Specifications as S38 but:
Displacement: 100/105/107 tons standard, 117 to 124 DP.
Propulsion: 3 Daimler-Benz diesel, 7,500/9,000 hp, 42-45 knots.
Armament: 2x 533 mm TTs, 1x 40 mm, 1x 20 mm guns, see notes.

Lürssen S 701 group (1944-45)

Hannibal S Boote

S-Bootes of the 701 group of 1944 had four tubes loaded and ready to fire, bow tubes and additional two set obliquely on the aft deck. The group S701 of 1944 was destined to a larger and faster mass production to counter the long awaited allied landing operation. The Yard was repeatedly bombed by the RAF and under Albert Speer, construction was delegated to multiple units, built in tunnels, underground, old quarries and transported by train, by the Danziger Waggonfabrik. Of the planned 100 units (S701-S800), only 8 were ever completed, early in 1945. They were the first to have four torpedo tubes, and twin 30 mm FLAKs which proved troublesome and were replaced in completion by standard twin 20 and 40 mm guns.
Danziger Waggonfabrik commissioned the first boats based on the plans of the model 219. Their two stern torpedo tubes were firing astern, covered and hidden by canvas. No reloads therefore were necessary at sea. The planned armament of three twin 30 mm automatic cannons was quite ambitious but never ready in time, but would have procured the best firepower of any light boat of that time.

S701 group schematics
S701 group schematics – From Steve Wiper: German S-Boats

Displacement: 107t, 114t FL
Dimensions: 34.94 x 5.10 x 1.52m
Propulsion: 3 Daimler-Benz diesel, 7,500 hp, 42 knots.
Armament: 2x 533 mm TTs, 1x 40 mm, 1x 20 mm guns, see notes.
Crew: 23

Midget S-Bootes: LS1 class (1942-45)

The Leichte Schnellboote (LS)


When the war broke out, mini-speedboats LS 1 and LS 2 had been designed to be carried and deployed by auxiliary merchant cruisers and German well-armed merchant raiders. Indeed some were carried in the first missions, but proved disappointing in operations. These light metal boat were developed by Dornier, an aicraft manufacturer, completed and brought first carried by the auxiliary cruiser “Komet” (HSK 7) and “Meteor”. The planned 45 cm torpedoes (airbone model) was not ready in time, so these boats carried three mines and could be used as a fast minelayers for port entrances. The built-in aircraft engines also caused problems. In the spring of 1940, four more boats were commissioned from Dornier. They had the new Daimler-Benz light diesel engines MB 507, which equipped LS 3 and LS 4. They also received a new mine release device, allowing to carry four mines. LS 3 was delivered on October 14, 1940, used onboard “Kormoran” (HSK 8). LS 4 at last received its intended two stern torpedo tubes and the newly developed propeller allowing to reach 42.5 knots. It served on the “Michel” (HSK 9). For the next batch, LS 5 and 6, only Junkers aircraft engines were available. Both were prepared under OKW instructions as ASW vessels, with depht charges, and deployed in the Aegean Sea. Howevr their associated vehicle MR 7 was relocated to the Black Sea and both LS boats were left unusued. The LS 7-LS 12 serie were given the MB 507 engine and carried torpedoes. LS 7 was delivered on October 8th, 1943 and the last, LS 12, on July 12th, 1944. LS 7-LS 11 were deployed in the Aegean Sea but LS 12 ended in Yugoslavia, used by the torpedo research institute, and became a Russian war prize.

Riverine S-Bootes: KS class “Hydra” (1945)

At the end of 1944, the Construction Office of the High Command of the Navy (OKM) made comparative tests of prototypes “Hydra”, “Kobra”, “Schlitten” and “Wal” anwsering to a navy spec for light coastal TBs. “Hydra” won the contest but still failed to meet requirements. It was longer than the required 10 m maximum to be carried on a standard truck trailer. It was powered by two Avia-Hispano-Suza Otto aircraft engines with an output of 650 HP each, without reversing gear. These boats also carrier two aviation torpedoes of the F5b type, 45.7 cm, launched by the stern, and a single an anti-aircraft machine gun for self defense. The design was shortened and eventually approved on December 4th, with a series of 50 boats ordered from various shipyards: Lürssen, Kröger, Danziger Waggonfabrik, Schlichting, and Vertens. A second order for 115 boats was made on 02/08/1945. But in May 1945 only 39 had been completed, organized under the Hydra special command (‘1st Hydroflotilla’). No Operational deployment registered. This unit comprised the KS-201, 202, 212, 213, 215, 219 and 220.


Picture, Fock “Schnellboote Bd. 2”

This class of small fast attack boats were designed as light coastal minelayers able to carry up to 4 mines, and operate close to enemy coastlines. Very small, less than 16 meters they were lightly armed and counted on their small size and speed to evade. 36 boats were ordered, plagued by unreliable engines, so theyr were used for riverine operations on the eastern front instead. 20 were equipped with torpedo tubes and some re-equipped as mine hunters. Most were captured or gave as war prize to the Soviets. In 1943/44 some KM boats used for coastal minelaying were converted as small speed boats. They were were built at six different shipyards and redesignated “KS” boats, assigned to the 22nd Schnellbootflotille deployed in the Adriatic, and then handed over to the small Croatian Navy in the autumn of 1944 and then taken back by the Kriegsmarine after the latter returned their jacket and started a partisan war.


Type 3, Type 4 and UTR-type fast attack crafts, unbuilt K-Verband projects (from pinterest)

Kleinstschnellboot Projekt:

A Project of a small fast attack boat, called “Typboot 3”. It was the result of the evolution of small attack craft designs by K-Verband in 1944/1945. These were intended for coastal areas after the invasion in Normandy, counting on its speed and small size. It was the base for further developments notably in the area of Hydrofoils. None was built.
Known specifications: Dimensions 14,2 m x 3,0 m x 1,2 m, armed with no less than five 2 cm autocannon and a single 1,3 cm AA Machine Gun, four 86 mm Rocket Launcher and two 45,7 cm Torpedo tubes, or in alternative ten Depth Charges. Propelled by a 3-shaft arrangement for aviation high octane petrol engines for 2100 hp total, 47 to 50 knots (est. trials)

Tragflügelboot Projekt:

A Project of a small hydrofoil attack boat, it was based on the previous design, but fitted with foils. Called Typboot 4, this design was the result of earlier studies to reach faster target approaches and disengagement. In addition to the foils there was a 400 hp power increase, for an additional 8 knots, so around 55-56 knots top speed. However at that stage, Germany had no operational experience for hydrofoils whatsoever. Specs were about the same as the Type 3, but it towered at 3 meters above the waves when up. Armament was reduced to four 20 cm autocannons in the nose, and five rocket launchers. None built.

Turbojet Tragflügelboot Projekt:

Another hydrofoil using a small turbojet, this was an incremental step to reach better speeds, and facilitates disengagement and approaches. The shaped hull have made wonder some authors of its possible stealthy qualities, in addition to a wood construction. Called Project 5B, this hydrofoil possessed the same tripod foil arrangement (two forward, one aft), and general specs were unchanged but the weight with the additon of two Jumo turbojets. Tests were already performed by K-Verband in 1944, with the “Tornado”, which underline several issues, notably its use by calm sea only and control problems. But the boost it procured was seen as a real advantage as with the addition of the two TBJ adding a total of 2900 kp top speed reached now 65 knots.

Submersible Tragflügelboot Projekt:

This was a small submersible hydrofoil attack boat, not unlike the Manta, which was even more radical. Another way to approach allied fleets, was to have a submerged MTB. It was a submersible hydrofoil, so capable of 55+ knots top speed when surfaced to attack, but also equipped with a Schnorchel and periscope. It could be used for stealthy approach and in shallow waters. It had dive tanks and rear torpedo tubes. Technical data is unavailable, but estimated comparable to other Wendel FACs.

Read More:

On alternate history

Schnellboote: A Complete Operational History by Lawrence Paterson
Bellars, Robert A. & Freivogel, Zvonimir (2010). “Question 24/46: German E-Boats Based in Sicily”. Warship International.
Dallies-Labourdette, Jean Philippe (June 2003). German S-boote at War, 1939–1945. Histoire and Collections.
Krakow, David (August 2013). Schnellboot in Action (2nd (Warships) ed.). Squadron/Signal Publications.
Krakow, David & Connelly, Garth (January 2003). Schnellboot in Action (Warships). Squadron/Signal Publications.
Williamson, Gordon; Palmer, Ian (September 18, 2002). German E-boats 1939–45. Osprey.
Macpherson, Ken. Ships Of Canada’s Naval Forces (Warships). Collins Publications.
Williamson, Gordon (2011). E-boat vs MTB: The English Channel 1941–45. Oxford ; Long Island City: Osprey.
Margaritis, Peter (2019). Countdown to D-Day: The German Perspective. Oxford, UK & PA, USA: Casemate.

The models’s corner:

Italeri made the S-38 and S-100
Italeri made the S-38 and S-100 at 1/35 scale


Stukas Of The Sea – German Speedboats In World War II

Mark Felton, the last E-Boat

German Patrol Boats of World War 2 (Deutsche PatrouillenSchiffe des zweiten WeltKriegs)