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  S-Boats in the Kriegsmarine - Channel 1941



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S-Boats in the Kriegsmarine 1935 - 1945

War-Zones of the S-Boats


English Channel 1941

At the outset of the year 1941 the S-boat force consisted of the 1., 2., and 3. SFltl as well as of the 4. SFltl which was under formation:

1. SFltl

1. SFltl Kptlt. Birnbacher
S 26 Oblt.z.S. Fimmen
S 27 Oblt.z.S. Büchting
S 28 Oblt.z.S. Klug
S 29 Oblt.z.S. Frhr. von Mirbach
S 101 Oblt.z.S. Stuhr-Christiansen
S 102 Oblt.z.S. Töniges

2. SFltl

2. SFltl KorvKpt. Petersen
S 30 Oblt.z.S. Feldt
S 33 Lt.z.S. Popp
S 34 Oblt.z.S. Obermaier
S 36 Oblt.z.S. Babbel
S 55 Oblt.z.S. Opdenhoff
S 56 Oblt.z.S. Meentzen
S 201 Oblt.z.S. Roeder
S 202 Lt.z.S. Howaldt

3. SFltl

3. SFltl Kptlt. Kemnade
S 54 Lt.z.S. Wagner
S 57 Lt.z.S. Erdmann
S 58 Lt.z.S. Geiger
S 59 Oblt.z.S. Müller, Albert
S 60 Oblt.z.S. Wuppermann

4. SFltl

4. SFltl Kptlt. Bätge
S 11 Lt.z.S. Lüders
S 22 Oblt.z.S. Priebe
S 24 Lt.z.S. Stöve
S 25 Lt.z.S. Schneider


January and February 1941 were marked by heavy winter gales, so that the boats could only come to six sorties. On 07.01.1941 "S 101" could sink the British freighter "H.H.Petersen" (975 BRT). On 06.02.1941 "S 30" sank the British freighter "Angularity" (501 BRT). On 12.02.1941 "S 102" sank the Britsh freighter "Algarve" (1355 BRT) out of a convoy - she had reported the sinkíng of a freighter of 6000 BRT and of a tanker of 4000 BRT. 

Upon the end of the danger of icing on Schelde river the 3. SFltl transferred from Ostend to Rotterdam. On 25.02.1941 "S 30" and "S 33" of the 2. SFllt lay stopped about 12 nm north of Lowestoft when they detected the northbound coastal convoi FN.417. They fired two torpedoes each. Both missed their targets. "S 30" (Oblt.z.S. Klaus Feldt) reloaded and fired a torpedo on the Hunt-Class destroyer dscort HMS "Exmoor". The hit caused a big explosion in the aft part of the ship and she sank immediately. 104 crew-members including the commanding officer, Kaptlt. R.T. Lampard, were killed in action. More than 40 survivors could be rescued by the sloop HMS “Shearwater” and a trawler. Oblt.z.S. Feldt was awarded the Knight’s Cross (Ritterkreuz). The Wreck of “Exmoor” is laying at a waterdepth of 33 m in position 52o 30’ 16’’N 002o 05’E. Since 2006 the wreck is protected by the Protection of Military Remains Act of 1986 as a “Protected Place”. 

Sinking the "Exmoor" caused the convoi to change course, so that neither the 2. nor the 3. SFltl could launch further torpedoes. The 1. SFltl operated further to the north and "S 28" could sink the steamship "Minorca" (1123 BRT) by torpedo.

Ice in the Harbour of Rotterdam - Picture: Archives O. Erlandsson

The 3. SFltl got reinforcement by "S 61" (Oblt.z.S. von Gernet) and "S 31" (Oblt.z.S. Meyer).

 Bad weather prevented all S-boat activities prior to the 04.03.1941, when seven torpedoes fired by "S 30" and "S 55" against British destroyers failed. On 07.03.1941 all flotillas with total of 16 boats attacked the convoy-traffic along the British southcoast. "S 101" sank the British steamship "Norman Queen" (957 BRT), "S 28" the freighter "Rye" (1049 BRT) and "S 20" hit the freighter "Dotterel" (1048 BRT), so that she had to be set on ground and could not be salvaged any more. The 3. SFltl believed that they had sunk two destroyers in two runs, but "S  31" sank the steamship "Kenton" (1047 BRT) and "S 61" hit the freighter "Boulderpool" (4805 BRT), which could be sat on ground, however, could not be salvaged any more. "S 102" sank the steamship "Togstone" (1547 BRT). The three flotillas believed, to have sunk two destroyers and six freighters with a total of 28.000 BRT during that night, however, it was seven freighters with 13.134 BRT. A success not having been achieved until then.

"S 28" sank the British motorship "Treventoe" (5257 BRT) on 09.03.1941. The other boats of the flotilla had missed eight times. They were prosecuted persistently and fired at by destroyers.

During the following nights bad weather, bright moonlight or poor visibility prevented any success. The boats were taken under fire in some cases by destroyers or were attacked from the air, however, without suffering losses. End of March Kptlt. Kemnade believed that the enemy had radar to his disposal and that therefore the boats had no successes any more.

The first half of April brought much fog and thus a break for the boats. On 17.04.1941 the 1. SFltl. laid a mine barrier off Cromer with 10 boats and then took up a lurking position without meeting enemies. The 2. SFltl laid a mine barrier off Cross Sand lightvessel with five boats and bumped into a convoy out of which they believed to have sunk four freighters with a total of 13.000 BRT and to have hit another freighter. Sunk were the Britsh freighter "Efra" (1446 BRT) and the Netherlands freighter "Nereus" (1298 BRT). On board the freighter "Eskburn" two sailors died by gun-fire, the freighter "Ethel Radcliffe" (5673 BRT) had to be sat on ground. The 3. SFltl laid a mine-barrier off Haisborough Sand with six boats and operated in vain against a convoy. In a gun fight with three British MGBs "S 58" had to take a hit in the engine room and in the forecastle, an engineering petty officer was wounded.

Thereafter the boats had to stay in harbour due to bad weather. Not earlier than on 28.04.1941 the 1. SFltl could lay a mine-barrier again. Thereafter they attacked a convoy of 57 ships. "S 26" and "S 29" believed to have sunk three ships with a total of  9.500 BRT, sunken was the British steamship "Ambrose Fleming" (1555 BRT). On 29.04.1941 "S 39" and "S 40" collided. The boats were taken under fire by destroyers and came  into a gun fight with British MGBs. The 3. SFltl laid a barrier off Hammond Knoll with four boats. On their way back the pair "S 61" and "S 58" run into a gun fight with the British  MGBs 61 and 59.

Also May 1941 brought many gales. The boats were stuck in their harbours. During an attempt to carry out a mining operation off the British coast on 18.05.1941, the mines tore themselves loose and caused damage to the boats.

On 23.05.1941 the 1. SFltl, on 25.05.1941 the 2. SFltl and on 27.05.1941 the 3. SFltl transferred to Kiel in preparation of the operation "Barbarossa", where the last boats secured on 28.05.1941.

After withdrawal of the 1., 2. and 3. SFltl only the 4. SFltl remained in the western area. On 01.06.1941 it was configured as follows:

4. SFltl Kptlt. Bätge
S 19 Oblt.z.S. Müller, K.
S 20 Oblt.z.S. Meyer
S 22 Lt.z.S. Karcher
S 24 Oblt.z.S. Frhr. von Mirbach
S 25 Oblt.z.S. Wilcke

With that a S-boat warfare on the level performed hitherto was no longer possible. On 02.06.1941 the flotilla left harbour to operate on an aircraft carrier reported by the Luftwaffe. They bumped into a "big ship" escorted by a destroyer and several minesweepers. "S 22" fired two torpedoes, "S 24" one torpedo. All tree hit. They were taken under fire by the sloop "Kittiwake". The big ship was "Tender C" a merchant ship of 7924 BRT retrofitted to a fake-aircraft carrier. The ship had to be abandoned. 

On 06. and 10.06.1941 the boats laid mines, on which the British freighters "Gasfire" (3001 BRT) and "Kenneth Hawksfield" (1546 BRT) sank on 21.06.1941. Due to bad weather the next sortie was not possible earlier than during the night 16./17.06.1941 with boats "S 202, "S 24", and "S 25". They laid mines at buoy 57 on which the British freight steamer "Hull Trader" (717 BRT) sank on 23.06.1941. On their way back they stopped two Netherlands air force officers, who tried to escape to England with their canoe.

Bad weather permitted the next operation not earlier than on 19.06.1941. "S 22" and "S 20" laid mines on the convoy route and were involved in a gun fight with three MGBs.

On 24.06.1941 the 4. SFltl transferred to Cherbourg. The operations on 25. and on 28.06.1941 were without results.

On 06.07.1941 "S 107"  was commissioned by Oblt.z.S. Wilcke, on 11.07. "S 49" (Lt.z.S. Max Günther) and on 25.07. "S 50" (Lt.z.S. Karcher) were commissioned after Oblt.z.S. von Mirbach already on 20.06.1941 had commissioned "S 48" and had conducted the first operation with her in the night to 06.07.1941.

In the night to 10.07. "S 22", "S 19", "S 48" and "S 20" laid 24 TMA in the seaarea soth of th Isle of Wight and dogged around with two destroyers. In the night to schlugen sich mit zwei Zerstörern herum. In the night to 23.07. the flotilla laid 18 TMA and four tearbouys soth of Portland Bill and was taken under heavy fire by British coatal artillery.

On 26.07. the new "S 49" (Oblt.z.S. Karcher) arrived at Boulogne together with two R-boats. She stayed there since the 4. SFllt was to transfer to Boulogne end of july. 

During another mining action on the convoy-route between the Isle of Whight and Portland Bill the four boats laid another 18 TMA, with that the flotilla had laid a total of 155 TMA and 20 tearbouys in eight nights until the 29.07.1941 without any noteworthy incidents.

On 29.07.1941 the flotilla transferred back to Boulogne. From there short sorties were conducted into the pass of the Channel with support of Funkmeßstelle Wimereux (radar site). 

On 07.08.41"S 49", "S 19", "S 48" and "S 20"  left harbour to attack a convoy of five freighters, some escorts and two destroyers reported south of Folkestone. All fired torpedoes went wrong, only "S 48" (Oblt.z.S. von Mirbach) thought to have sinked a freighter of 4000 BRT which could not be confirmed.

"S 19" was dismissed and marched to Kiel. On her march she was attacked by a fighter with airweapons, one sailor was wounded. The aircraft was shot down and fell burning into the sea.

A further new construction for the flotilla was "S 51", commissioned on 08.08.1941.

On 09.08. boats "S 107" and "S 50" transitted from Rotterdam to Boulogne. "S 107" had a rudder malfunction and was towed in to Calais by picket "V 1512" where she was docked. 

On 10.08. l "S 49", "S 20" aund "S 48" left Boulogne for an attack against a reported convoy off Dover. Although the visibility was poor they could find the convoy because of position-reports by a Freya-Funkmeßgerät. "S 49" torpedoed the British Freighter "Sir Rusell" (1548 BRT). The ship broke apart. Reloading was not possible because the torpedoes jammed. "S 20" fired on a freighter of 4000 BRT and heard a detonation. A destroyer of Hunt-class and other escorts repelled the boats, which singly returned to Boulogne in the early morning hours. They had more than once been tracked by British radarstations.

After transit of the flotilla to Rotterdam onm 17.08.1941 "S 49", "S 20", "S 48" and "S 51" operated on 19.08. against a convoy off Orfordness. "S 48" sank the Polish freighter "Czestochowa" (1971 BRT) and torpedoed the believed tanker of 5000 BRT, the British freighter "Dalewood" (2774 BRT) which could be towed in. "S 20" missed a British destroyer with two torpedoes.

On 22.08.1941 "S 20" was ordered to transit to Kiel where she was handed over to the 6. SFltl as a training-vessel.

The next actions on 01./ 02.09. with "S 48", "S 49", "S 50", "S 51" and"S 107" and on 03./04.09 with the same boats plus "S 52" (Oblt.z.S. Karl Müller") werewithout results. 

On 07.09.1941 the boats "S 48", "S 49",  "S 50", "S 51", and "S 109" had a chance to shoot.  They believed to have sunk five freighters with a total of 13.500 BRT, but only the British freighter "Duncarron" (478 BRT) and the Norwegian freighter "Eikhaug" (1436 BRT) sank.

During the night 07./08.09.1941 the flotilla believed to have sunk four merchant ships with a total of 25000 BRT, the real success was much lower, "S 50" torpedoed the British steamer "Tetela", "S 51" sank the British steamer "Teddington" (4762 BRT). 

There followed two resultless sorties during the nights 26./27.09.1941 and 29./30.09.1941. On the march back a bomb fell so close to "S 50", that the engine foundations were torn apart.

A sortie on 02.10.1941 was without result. On 03.10.1941 the RAF attacked the harbour of Rotterdam. "S 107" was damaged severely and was out of order for eight weeks, "S 51" and "S 52" got away with light damages from debris. The next sortie took place with the newly commissioned "S 109" (Lt.z.S. Bosse), "S 49", and "S 52" on 12.10.1941. Again a destroyer was sighted, which instantaniously took the boats under fire.

Upon the end of the operations of the 1., 2., and 3. SFltl in the Baltic Sea all boats were "ready for the ship yard", i.e. they were not ordered back to the western front. The 1. SFltl was to transfer to the Black Sea after the time in the ship yard, the 3. SFltl to the Mediterranean Sea.

The 2. SFltl (Kptlt. Feldt) transferred back from Kiel to Gruppe West at the end of the shipyard repairs on 01.10.1941 in two groups with a total of six boats. The boats "S 42", "S 44", "S 45", and "S 46" were to join the newly formed 8. SFltl after a total overhaul. On 09.10.1941 the 2. SFltl was laying in Rotterdam with the following structure:

2. SFltl Kptlt. Feldt
S 41 Oblt.z.S. Popp
S 47 Oblt.z.S. Stöve
S 53 Oblt.z.S. Block
S 62 Oblt.z.S. Opdenhoff
S 104 Oblt.z.S. Roeder
S 105 Lt.z.S. Howaldt

On 11.10.1941 the Staff of the F.d.T. arrived at Scheveningen after 5 months of action in the Baltic area and controlled from there the S-boats, KKpt. Petersen was officially still commander of the 2. SFltl, but was acting as second in command of F.d.T.. The 2. SFltl was commanded by Kptlt. Feldt. 

On 12.10.1941 the 2. SFltl left harbour for the first operation, they bumped into a convoy and while the first group run gun fights with escorts, "S 41", "S 53", and "S 105" had a chance to shoot. They believed to have eliminated six merchant ships with a total of 18.000 BRT, the real result was: "S 53" sank the Norwegian freighter "Roy" (1768 BRT) and "S 105" sank the British freighter "Chevington" (1537 BRT). The tactic used during this attack was awarded by the F.d.S. and recommended to the other flotillas. The 4. SFltl had taken a lurking position on a convoy route but did not see any enemies.

The German press published the two articles below with respect to this attack of the 2, S-Floila and its supposed success.


During the following days bad weather was prevailing, the two flotillas lay in their bunkers. On 25.10.1941 a convoy was reported, both flotillas left harbour, but had to return because of bad weather. Similarly it happened to the two flotillas on 04.11.1941. From 05.11. to 11.11.1941 the weather kept boats in harbour again. On 12.11.1941 the next sortie of the 2. SFltl occurred, which again had to be broken off due to bad weather. 

On 18.11.1941 a significant innovation for the S-boats by interaction of the F.d.T. the so called "Schnepfentafel" was introduced. The method used hitherto with the key "M" had in the past months proven as too troublesom and had caused considerable delays in the communication during actions.                      

The Schnepfentafel was only determined for guiding S-Boats in operations in the Channel and along the English eastcoast and was only for the use on the S-Boot-Welle (S-Boat-Channel). 

With Schnepfentafel (short for Marine Dienstvorschrift 79 - MDV 79 - "Signaltafel Schnepfe") 174 four- letter codes for fighting-signals ("Destroyer from north" of "Am fighting with"), for course- and speedreports (e.g. "Heading northwest" or "Full speed"), for geographic points resp. quadrants (e.g. "Buoy 54F" or "Humber lightvessel"), for times and figures (e.g. "20 o'clock or 0 - 9) and for addresses and signatures (e.g. "F.d.S." or "C-Fltl 3. Gruppe") were used. A combined message "Northbound Convoy at 01.00 o'clock at bouy 54A" could thus be transmitted unencoded.

For each operation one of 10 of the watersoluble pages of a Schnepfentafel was used three times and was then destroyed. Which page (which table) had to be used and, therefore, was permitted be taken out at sea for an operation was ordered at the pre-action-briefing. This procedure made sure, that the British Intelligence could not decipher the reports made by the F.d.S. to the boats and vice versa.

Details of Signaltable Schnepfe can be studied in "Historischen Marinearchiv" contributed by FKpt a.D. Urs Heßling:


The code for a position, as e.g. AN 7316, was derived from the so called Marine-Quadratkarte.

Extract of der Marinequadratkarte - Source: Deutsche Marinequadratkarte

Die Positionsangabe erfolgte in vier Schritten:

1. Quotation of the large area by two letters, e.g. AN
2.  Indication of the large square 54 x 54 nm, e.g. 73
3. Indication of the smal square 16 x 16 nm, e.g. 1
4. Indication of the smal square therin 4 x 4 nm, e.g. 6

Concrete indications could be added as e.g. lK = linke Kante (left border), Heligoland had in accordance with that a position: AN 9566 rK (rechte Kante = right border).

How little the Luftwaffe og the Kriegsmarine Navy were focussed on co-operation during their operations can be seen by the fact that both services used differnet coding systems for positions and that the transmission of enemy contact reports could not be performed directly between aircraft and boats/ships because of different comunication systems used.

During the night 19./20.11.1941 the 2. SFltl bumped into a convoy. The 1. group of the 2. SFltl had a chance to shoot. "S 105" sank the British freighter "Aruba" /1159 BRT), "S 41" the freighter "Waldinge" (2462 BRT), and "S 104" the Navy tanker "War Mehtar" (5502 BRT). The 2. group was fought by escorts. "S 53" had to take hits. In an attempt to close up to the convoy "S 47" collided with "S 105", "S 41" collided with the avarist "S 47" and had to be abandoned later. Since the scuttling charges did not sink the boat fast enough, the MGB-crews could gather equipment, charts, logbooks and the flag of the boat before it sank.

In the meantime the 4. SFltl hard lurked at buoy 55A but not sighted any enemy. During the night 23./24.11.1941 "S 109" fired from the same lurking position against a destroyer but hit the British gasoline tanker "Virgilia" (5723 BRT), "S 52" sank a freighter estimated to have  a tonnage of 4500 BRT, the Netherlands freighter "Groenlo" (1984 BRT). "S 50" reported a torpedoed freighter of 3000 BRT, "S 51" reported also a 3000 BRT-freighter as sunk, it was the the British freighter "Blairnevis" (4155 BRT). "S 110" missed a destroyer and a steamer with four torpedoes. All boats returned to Rotterdam. "S 109" had a grounding during the approach to the harbour and was damaged. 

During the night 28./29.11.1941 the 4.SFltl laid mines on the convoy route. On their way back "S 51" fired on a 7000 BRT-tanker, she sank the coal freighter "Cormarsh" (2848 BRT). "S 52" fired on two steamers and an escort. She sank the British freighter  "Empire Newcomen" (2840 BRT) and missed the escort. "S 64" sank the British tanker "Asperity" (699 BRT), which was also estimated too big with 1000 -1500 BRT. On the way back the boats were involved in a gun fight with MTBs. "S 51" got a hit in the steering house, one sailor was slightly wounded. 

Early December some mining operations were carried out. There followed a bad weather period, so that the next mining operations were conducted during the nights 19./20.12. and 20./21.12.1941.

The last operation of the year was conducted on 31.12.1941. The minefields of the  2. and 4. SFltl were laid as according to plan.

The effects of the minefields were enormous: Between the 02.12. and 25.12.1941 12 merchant ships sank on the barriers with a total of 50.396 BRT and off the Humber estuary sank the trawler "Henriette" (261 BRT).