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  S-Boats in the Kriegsmarine - Mediterranean 1943



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S-Boats in the Kriegsmarine 1935 - 1945

War Zones of the S-Boats


Western Mediterranean 1943

The 3. SFltl (Kptlt. Kemnade) operated at the outset of the year 1943 from Bizerta, the 7. SFltl (Kptlt. Trummer) had also transferred there as reinforcement. On paper the two flotillas existed of 18 boats:

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

*) Deputy Commanding Officer, in Action Kptlt. Kemnade

In reality is looked a lot worse. Of the 3. SFltl the boats lay not ready for action in Sicilian harbours as follows: "S 30", "S 35", "S 36", and "S 59" in Palermo, "S 54" and "S 56" in Augusta. So the flotilla existed of four ready for action boats.

On 06.01.1943 the weather permitted another minelaying operation of the 3. SFltl Minenoperation based on Bizerta. In the Bône-Bight "S 58" sank the British navy-trawler "Horatio".  On 07.01.1943 the 7. SFltl entered Bizerta with seven boats as reinforcement.

During the night 07./08.01.1943 the 3. SFltl laid mines in the Bône-Bight with five boats. Thereafter bad weather rsp. full moon kept the boats in harbour. Mid January the 3. SFltl consisted of 3 ready for action boats, "S 33", "S 55", and "S 61", the other boats were not ready for action in Sicilian harbours. "S 155" of the 7. SFltl was also not ready for action in Augusta.

On 23.01.1943 during an American air attack against Augusta one man of "S 57" was killed in action, "S 115" was damaged by fire in the forecastle and in the steering house, two men were killed in action and two men were severely wounded. On 29.01.1943 during an attack against Porto Empedocle one man of "S 60" was killed in action. During the night 29./30.01.1943 the 3. SFltl laid mines with four boats in the  Bône-Bight and came into a gun fight with three British MTBs.

During another air attack against Augusta on 30.01.1943 "S 155" was damaged by fire. Two men were killed in action, two men were severely wounded. During the night 30./31.01.1943 the 3. SFltl laid mines again in the Bône-Bight and had a battle contact with some MTBs. 

On 04.02.1943 the harbour-entrance of Philippeville was mined by the 3. SFltl. 

The next minelaying took place during the night to the 28.02.1943, "S 36" and three boats of the 7. SFltl were to lay mines off Bône, "S 54", "S 55", and "S 35" were to cover the operation. Bad weather caused them to turn around. "S 54", "S 55", and "S 35" took picket stations in the Strait of Sicily.  Around 07.00 "S 54" and "S 55" moored at Ferryville. When it became obvious that "S 35" was missing, "S 54" and "S 55" left harbour again at 09.45 in order to search for "S 35". Around 17.00 "S 55" found a  part of the with framing and a little later another part of the hull from Abt. V and VI with rubbing  strake and auxilliary exhaustpipe and the rubber boat of "S 35" were found. The rubber boat was unused and no sign of the crew was detected until late afternoon. It was assumed that "S 35" had run into a mine of the barrier (160 mines) that the British minelayer "Abdiel" had laid the same night. The killed in action were:  Oblt.z.S. Karl-Heinz Stolzenburg (Kdt), ObMasch. Ernst Knoop (L.M.), BtsmMt. Heinz Roggenkamp (Seem. Nr. 1), Strm.d.R. Friedrich Pahl, ObMaschMt. Max Stehr, MaschMt. Harry Pietrowski, MatrObGefr. Fritz Jendreyko, MatrObGefr. Georg Stephanblome, FkObGefr. August Sachse, FkObGefr. Eugen Striebeck, StrmObGefr. Paul Scherer, MechObGefr. Stephan Martinek, MaschObgefr. Bruno Mans, MaschObgefr. Hermann Rassenhövel, MaschObGefr. Ewald Steinbrink, MatrGefr. B., MatrGefr. Denzin, MatrGefr. Heinz Steinfeld, FkGefr. Hans Sperling, MaschGefr. B., MaschGefr. Herbert Korthaus and MaschGefr. Günter Mühle

Minefield near Tabarka - Picture: J.P. Misson

The cancelled minelaying was performed during the night 01./02.03.1943 under cover of "S 54", "S 55", and "S 36" which became subjects of fierce fire by coastal batteries. 

Due to bad weather the next operation was not possible earlier than 11.03.1943, the mines of "S 55", "S 60", and "S 54" could be laid as planned, however, the boats were again fired at by coastal batteries. During the next night the 3. SFltl and the 7. SFltl were on minelaying operation again with three boats each. In a battle with two British cruisers and teo destroyers "S 158" (Oblt.z.S. Schulze-Jena) and "S 55" succeeded in the sinking of the destroyer HMS "Lightning". On "S 158" one man was killed in action, on "S 55" and "S 60" one man was severely and one man was slightly wounded. "S 55" and "S 60" were damaged by fragments.

Because of the full moon the next minelaying operation of the 3. SFltl with five boats was conducted on 05.04.1943, but had to be broken off due to continuous contacts with British destroyers. The next minelaying operation took place in the night 11/12.04.1943 off the harbour of Sousse. 

Early April the 7. SFltl obtained reinforcement by boat "RA 10" (RA = Räumboot Ausland), the ex British "MTB 314" captured off Tobruk. 

In the second half of April 1943 the 3. SFltl laid mines almost every night, the 7. SFltl performed the covering. The two flotillas performed the covering of a minelaying operation of the German destroyer "Hermes" in the Strait of Sicily during the night 19./20.04.1943. 

Bombraid on (probably) Bizerta - Picture: Archives Erling Skjold

"RA 10" was sunk on 30.04.1943 by a British Spitfire-attack. Six men were killed in action, eight men were wounded. "S 57" was dismissed for engine overhaul at Augusta, "S 158" was not ready for action at Bizerta. With that the 3. SFltl had to its disposal two, the 7. SFltl three ready for action boats.

In the first days of  May 1943 bad weather prevailed. On 05.05.1943 the boats took on board base personnel and soldiers, destroyed the harbour installations of Bizerta, mined the harbour entrance, and transferred to Porto Empedocle. The smaller boats of the 7. SFltl because of bad weather entered initially Trapani.

On the latter mine barriers sank the British minesweeper "MMS 89" and the British motorlaunch "ML 1154". The British minesweeper "Fantome" and the American tanker "Yankee Arrow" (8046 BRT) were damaged.

With the loss of Tunesia the boats were revoked from the basis of operations along the African Northcoast, the air superiority of the Allies became overwhelming. Own air reconnaissance practically no longer was performed. The 3. SFltl and the 7. SFltl each had five boats to their disposal. On 16.05.1943 the 3. SFltl commenced with the laying of defensive barriers in front of Porto Empedocle. On 17.05.1943 an attack commenced with gliding bombs. On "S 55" all engines fell aout, one man was killed in action, three men were wounded. "S 57" towed the boat into harbour. On 23. and 24.05.1943 further mines were laid in front of Porto Empedocle.

In the afternoon of the 25.05.1943 an air attack with 33 bombers covered by five Lightnings was conducted. A further attack was conducted against Licarta and against Porto Vesma (Southsardinia), which served as base for the 7. SFltl. "S 55" was damaged again, two men were wounded. Four days thereafter the order was received to abandon Porto Empedocle and Augusta as bases and to transfer to Marseille.

Transit in the Mediterranean - Picture: Archives Erling Skjold

On 01.06.1943 the 3. SFltl transferred initially to Trapani. Four boats advanced during the night 01./02.06.1943 from there to Pantelleria. Because of the bad weather the flotilla transferred not earlier than 08.06.1943 to Porto Vesma. From there the boats operated against the Northafrican coast without finding targets.

On 11.06.1943 the island Pantelleria capitulated. During the night to 12.06.1943 the 3. SFltl would operate against the Golf of Hammamet. En route they bumped into six MTBs, which were initially taken for destroyers and all six boats fired torpedoes on them which, however, did not hit. A gun fight was avoided and the 3. SFltl entered harbour again. During this night four Allied S-boat-groups were operating in the Strait of Sicily (two British MTB- rsp. MGB- and twoi US-PTB-groups).

On 14.06.1943 an advance in vain was sailed to evacuate Luftwaffe soldiers from the island Lampione, the island had already been evacuated. During the night 26./27.06.1943 the 3. SFltl with seven boats advanced against a convoy having been reported by air reconnaissance. However, the convoy came not in sight, since it had changed course.

On 06.07.1943 eight British Hurricanes attacked Porto Empedocle, "S 59" got a direct hit, burst to flames and sank, "S 55" and "S 61" were damaged by fragments. Two men were killed in action. 

On 08.07.1943 Korv.Kpt. Kemnade gave over the command to his eldest CO, Kptlt. Müller, A., since he had had a automobile accident because of which he had to go to hospital for a longer period. Since almost every day air attacks were encountered the flotilla transferred via Palermo to Augusta. Here the crews got to know, that the Allies had landed on Sicily. En route "S 61" and "S 54" were fallen out.

The flotilla operated with five boats in the sea area south of Sicily. No suitable targets came in sight and two boats suffered from engine failure. The next operation was then only been carried out with three boats - "S 55", "S 61", and "S 33" - and the 7. SFltl with "S 151", "S 152", "S 154", and "S 155" called back from Cagliari (Sardinia). On their march back they bumped into a group of MTBs, with which a gun fight was taken up, concluded by the Italian cruiser "Scipione Africano" by sinking one MTB and damaging another one. The boats entered, in order to have repairs being carried out. There it was discovered that the COs of "S 61" and "S 33" had to go to hospital due to jaudice. With that of the 3. SFltl only "S 55" was ready for action.

On 16.07.1943 the new commander of the 1. Schnellboots-Division, Korv.Kpt. Schultz, H., arrived, him were subordinate the 3. and the 7. SFltl in future. 

During the night 19./20.07.1943 "S 30", "S 33", "S 54", "S 61", "S 152", and "S 155" left Salerno, sailed through the Strait of Messina and attacked off Syrakuse (since 12.07.1943 in Allied hands) three destroyers and three transorts. "S 612 reported the sinking of a destroyer, "S 33" also reported the sinking of a destroyer, "S 54" reported a torpedo-hit on a steamer of 8000 BRT. - Post-war literature and official British records on losses do not confirm the successes reported by the S-Boats. - The third destroyer hunted the boats, one man on "S 61" was killed in action. "S 152" reported the sinking of a struggler of 3000 BRT. The boats sailed to Crotone for replenishment, however, there neither torpedoes nor fuel were obtainable. Shortly after entering harbour the boats had to leave with alarm start since enemy units were approaching the harbour. Shortly thereafter the harbour was taken under fire. "S 30" had one torpedo left, all other boats were shot empty. Therefore, the boats sailed to Taranto. But also here there were neither torpedoes nor fuel. 

On 25.07.1943 Mussolini was brought down. The same day "S 59" was sunk by an US bombraid on Porto Empedocle.

After one week support goods arrived and the boats could operate in the sea area off Syrakuse during the nights 27./28.07. snd 31.07./01.08.1943, however, without sighting of ships. 

At this point in time the two flotillas were ready for action with three boats each. The 3. SFltl had tree boats "S 30", "S 33", and "S 61" in Crotone. "S 54" and "S 602 were not ready for action in Taranto, "S 36" was wothout crew at Vibo Valentina, "S 55" not ready for action in Salamis, "S 58" not ready for action in the shipyard of Castellamare, "S 57" was not ready for action at Toulon. The 7.SFltl had "S 152", "S 154", and "S 155" in Taranto. "S 151", "S 153", "S 156", "S 157", and "S 158" were not ready for action in Toulon.

"S 30" on shipyard trials on river Weser - Picture: Lürssen-Werft

During the night to 02.08.1943 two British cruisers took the harbour of Croton under fire which caused damage to the harbour installations. On 02.08.1943 "S 30", "S 33", and "S 61" transferred from Taranto to Crotone for refuelling and torpoedo replenishment. Off Vibo Valentia "S 36" joined the unit. After refuelling at Naples the unit entered Salerno in the late evening. 

From there four boats operated duing the night 04./05.08.1943 off Palermo, which was in Allied hands since 22.07.1943. "S 58" fired two torpedoes against to US destroyers, which immediatedly started to hunt the boats. Little later they fired at US PTBs. Since the German boats did not find further targets, they returned to Salerno. 

During an air attack against Naples on 04.08.1943 "S 155" was damaged, two men were killed in action. 

During the night 06./07.08.1943 "S 36", "S 572, "S 58", and "S 61" again left harbour. Although they sailed until 1000 m in front of the harbour of Palermo, no enemy ship came in sight. Strong winds caused to brake off an operation on 08.08.1943. On 13.08.1943 the next advance againt Syrakuse was performed. The 7. SFltl had to go through a batlle with three US PTBs during the night to the 16.08.1943. All boats took hits. On "S 153" five men were wounded. Until 17.08.1943 the boats of the 3. SFltl being clear for action performed several operations without successes to mention. On this day the withdrawal of German and Italian troops from Sicily was concluded. 

In the evening of the 26.08.1943 an US air attack against Taranto took place. All boats were damaged. The boats damaged most, "S 30" and "S 33", were dismissed to the shipyard at Pola. On "S 30" one man was killed in action.

In the morning of 08.09.1943 the 1. S-Div. was indormed, that a big landing force was standing west of Palinuro. That caused all mobile establishments of the flotilla to march to the north. 

On the same day the armistice between Italy and the Allies was signed. "S 54" and "S 61" were in Taranto. They and the navy ferry "F 478" got free withdrawal and mined the harbour entrance when leaving harbour, without the Italians taking notice thereof. On these mines the British minelayer "Abdiel" sank on 10.09.1943.

The three boats bumpded into an Italian auxiliary minelogger, the crew was sent into the lifeboat, the boat was blown up. At an encounter with the Italian cruiser "Scipione Africano" she took no notice of the boats, which had precausiously blown up "F 478" and taken the crew on board. The two S-boats got into a mine-net-barrier in the bight of Valona, but could free themselves without damages and sailed to Ragusa. "S 54" run into a mine but remained undamaged. 

On 11.09.1943 "S 54" fired two torpedoes on a modern Yacht off Ancona, the torpedoes hit amidships but did not detonate. "S 61" fired one torpedo which sank the - as was determined  later - the yacht of the Italian admiralty "Aurora". Towards morning of the 12.09.1943 "S 54" captured with 10 men under command of Kptlt. Winkler the Italian motorship "Leopardi" (4572 BRT) with 1500 Italian soldiers on board, little later was the Italian freight steamer "Saubasia" (1590 BRT) taken as prize by "S 61". In the afternoon "S 54" stopped about 30 nm south of Venice the Italian steamer "Pontinia" (715 BRT), the approaching desstroyer "Quintino Sella" was sunk with two torpedoes, the "Pontinia" was taken as prize with two men of "S 54" and left on scene to rescue survivors. "S 54" called "S 30" and "S 33" by radio from Pola to help,which could, however, not leave harbour because the Italians held them back.

"S 54"  and "Leopardi" entered Venice. The ensign had been covered and the uniforms of the sailors had been made unrecognizable such that the Venicians believed that an Italian unit had entered harbour. Two hours later also "S 61" with the two other prizes entered harbour.  Both boats were completely out of fuel, water, and provisions. "S 61" had one torpedo left, "S 54" was shot empty. Threatening with a Stuka-attack and an attack of tank i n readiness Oblt.z.S. Schmidt together with the Consul General and the railway authorized representative obtained the capitulation of the Commander in Chief Northern Adriatic Sea and of the Chief of the Navy Station Venice. In Venice were about 10.000 men Italian navy, the Italian destroyer "Sebenico", the Italian torpedoboat "Audace", two Italian submarines, eight auxiliaries, and 30 merchant ships. The CO "S 54", Oblt.z.S. Schmidt, had thereby accomplished the most remarkable deed of a S-boat-CO in World War II. He was, together with Bootsmann Blömker, Seaman Nr. 1 of "S 61", who had commanded the boat in absence of a CO, awarded the German Cross in Gold (Deutsches Kreuz in Gold). On 22.12.1943 Oblt.z.S. Schmidt was awarded the Knight's Cross (Ritterkreuz).

"S 61" in front of Piazza St. Marco, Venice, on 11.09.1943 (Picture: From Conelly/Krakow: Schnellboot in action)

"S 30" and "S 33" had made the boats provisionally ready for sea and for action after the Italian armistice with the Allies. When "S 54" requested help they could leave harbour after some time, the Italians had been threatened with air attacks, so that the finally opened the harbour barriers.  When the boats dis not find the pair "S 54" and "S 61" nicht fanden, they entered harbour again. On 14.09.1943 they sailed until the harbour barriers of Venice. After the occupation of Pola by the 71. Infantery-Division the covered the support traffic and supported the army in fighting partisans. On 22.09.1943 occured a partisan assault against Pola, one man was killed in action and two men were wounded.

After the change of fronts of the Italians the stock of boats of the 3. and the 7. SFltl in the operation area western Mediterranean was on its lowest stand:

3. SFltl S 57 and S 60 clear for action
S 56 and S 58 not clear for action at Toulon
S 30, S 33, S 54, and S 61 in the Adriatic Sea
S 36 and S 55 not clear for actin at Salamis
7. SFltl S 151, S 153, and S 154 ready for action
  S 152, S 155, S 156, S 157, S 158 not clear for action at Toulon

During the night 10./11.09.1943 "S 57", "S 153", "S 151", and "S 154" left Civitavecchia to carry out an advance against the sea area off Salerno. They bumped into a convoy escorted by two destroyers. The US destroyer "Rowan" was hit by a torpedo in the ammunition room, blown to pieces and sank within 40 seconds.

During the night 12./13.09.1943 the boats after they had avoided MGBs, attackedg a cruiser, all shot went wrong. On the march back two Italian motorsailers were brought up.

The boats tried in the next night always to achieve successes. But the radars on the enemy destroyers and the bright moonlight did not permit that, the boats were taken under fire several times. The boats had also mainly to suffer from torpedo replenishment problems. Not earlier than 18.09.1943 torpedoes came by navy ferry to Civitavecchia, so that the boats again could perform advances in the bight of Salerno. All torpedoes fired went wrong and that also happened in all nights until end of September. 

In the first half of October the boats could only carry out one advance on the supply traffic to Naples, which was in Allied hands since 01.10.1943. Six torpedoes were fired on a tanker and a destroyer, all shot went wrong. During the nights 03./04.10. and 04./05.10.1943 mines were laid off Sardinia and Corsica after the German troops had withdrawn from the island.

The advances against the ship traffic in the Bight of Naples during the second half of October were all together without results. When ships were sighted, destroyers pushed the boats away.

End October the decision about the further employment of the S-boats in the Mediterranean was made. It was decided that the boats had to be transferred to the Adriatic or Aegean Seas. At this point in time of the 3. SFltl the boats "S  56", "S 57", "S 58", and "S 60"were not ready for action at  Toulon, "S 30", "S 33", "S 54", and "S 61" in the Adriatic Sea, of the 7. SFltl "S 153" and "S 157" were ready for actioin at Viaqreggio, "S 154" and "S 156" were also there but not ready for action, "S 151", "S 152", "S 155", and "S 158" were not ready for action at Toulon. On 20.11.1943 "S 56" was victim to an Allied bomb attack, "S 58" and "S 155" were lighter damaged. "S 56" was decommissioned on 15.12.1943 and broken off.