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S-Boats in the Kriegsmarine 1935 - 1945

War-Zones of the S-Boats

West Campain 1940

On 10.05.1940 the offensive in the west commenced. The Group West (Gruppe West) requested urgent operations of S-boats in the Channel. On 12.05.1940 the 2. SFltl was taken out of covering actions in Norway, on 14.05.1940 also the 1. SFltl. Both flotillas were transferred to Borkum with nine boats ("S 22", "S 23", "S 24" and "S 25" of the 1. and "S13", "S 30", "S 31", "S 32" and "S 34" of the 2. SFltl) and  tender "Tanga"on 19.05.19340. During the nights 20./21. and 21./22.05.1940 the first operations off the Netherlands and the Belgium coasts took place in which a steamer and the French destroyer "Jaguar" were sunk.

The transfer of the flotillas to Den Helder which had provisionally been prepared as a S-boat base followed. From there the Führer Torpedoboote = CinC Torpedoboots (F.d.T.) (Kpt.z.S. Bütow) led the two flotillas. On 26.05.1940 the operation "Dynamo" commenced, the withdrawal of the British and the French army units. It was concluded on 04.06.1940 and the Allied succeeded in withdrawal of 340.000 men under summoning of over 800 vessels among them 56 destroyers from Dunkirk to England, however, without their equipment. The S-boats were the only offensive forces of the navy to fight this evacuation fleet. During this operation the enemy lost 72 vessels, however, most of them on the merit of the Luftwaffe. The boats could sink the British steamer "Abukir", the British destroyer "Wakeful", the French destroyrer "Sirocco", and the British trawlers "Stella Dorado" and "Argyllshire". 

Award of Knights Cross to Oblt.z.S.Fimmen and Oblt.z.S. v. Mirbach - Picture: FRom heritage of Kpt.z.S. Künzel Veranda at Urville Nacqueville today - Picture: Benoît
The officers of 1. SFltl and Helene in front of the quarters at Urville - Picture: From heritage of Kpt.z.S. Künzel Hotel de la Plage at Urville Nacqueville today - Picture: Benoît
Crew-Bunker at Urville Nacqueville today - Picture: Benoît Hotel de la Plage, Bunker and Veranda at Urville - Image: Google Earth

Furthermore the French destroyer "Cyclone" was torpedoed, but could enter the harbour of Dover and afterwards reach the shipyard at Brest where she was blown up when the German army marched in. On 31.05.1940 the two flotillas transferred to Hook van Holland were also the newly formed 3. SFltl (Kptlt. Kemnade) joined with two boats. On 03.06.1940 the three flotillas transferred to Rotterdam. Most of the fired torpedoes during the various operations went wrong dur to magnetic and contact fuse problems.

On 11.06.1940 the transfer of the 2. SFltl to Boulogne took place. When entering harbour the boats were taken under fire by own artillery, but without damage. After a fierce bomb attack by British bombers with the result of six personnel killed in action (see picture below) already on the very day the flotilla transferred back to Rotterdam on 12.06.1940. On 17.06.1940 it transferred again to Boulogne. In the meantime the 3. SFltl had transferred back to Germany. 

The six personnel of the 2. SFltl killed in action on 12.06.1940 at Boulogne (ObLtnt. z.S. Kecke - Kdt S 35, ObMaschMt Glienke - T1 S 31, BtsmMt Zumpe - Nr. 1 S 31, MatrObGefr Weber - S 30, MachObGefr Dörnberg - S 30, MaschGefr Hütte - S 31, FkGefr Kluin - S 31) - Picture: Archives R. Mundt

The boats now attacked the British convoy traffic along the English south and southoast coasts from Boulogne and Rotterdam. On 21.06.1940 "S 32" run into a mine and sank on position 50o 42'N 000o 58' E. Six crewmembers were killed in action: The commanding officer Oblt.z.S. Carl-Eberhard Koscky, StmMt Lothar Jäckel, BtsmMt Wilhelm Pieper, MatrObGefr Gerhard Muthwill, MatrObGefr Fritz Witzl and FkObGefr Rudolf Linke. The chief engineer StObMasch Wilhelm Bartels died on 24.06.1940 in the hospital due to his woundings. Two further ratings were wounded. The survivors were fished up by "S 31" and "S 35".

AS we have learned in the meantime, the remains or des MatrObGefr. Gerhard Muthwill were washed ashore on 18.08.1940 south of Scheveningen. He was burried  on the General Cemetery on Kerkhoflaan at The Hague. On October 20, 1942, the remains were excavated and reburried at Westduin Municipal Cemetery at The Hague as unknown RAF airman in row 3, grave 52.

Row 3, Grave 52 - MatrObGefr G. Muthwill - "Unknown RAF airman" - Picture: Tommy Hamelink

On 27.06.1940 the 1. SFltl transferred to Cherbourg and the  2. SFltl to Ostend. 

Boats of the 2. SFltl leaving a Channel Harbour (Picture: Fr. Meier "Kriegsmarine am Feind"

On the 1. SFltl consisted of the boats "S 19", "S 24" and "S 26". The boats were at sea every night but found no targets. On 03.07. came "S 20" as reinforcement. On 05.07. the boats bumped into four strugglers from a convoy the Luftwaffe had fought. "S 24" and "S 20" fired four torpedoes which all went wrong. "S 26" (Oblt.z.S. Fimmen) sank the freighter "Elmcrest" (4343 BRT). "S 20" hit after reloading the tanker "British Corporal" (6972 BRT) and the freighter "Hartlepool" (5500 BRT), both could be towed in.

The 2. SFltl consisted of the boats "S 1", "S 31", "S 35", "S 36" and "S 32". During the night to 02.07. the boats performed an advance against the convoy-route at Beachy Head, found no targets and were hunted by destroyers. On 03.07. "S 31" sailed to Wilhelmshaven for motor-check-ups. 

During the night 06./07.07. the boats performed an advance against Beachy Head and Dover. "S 1" had to be relieved early due to bad weather. The three boats sighted pickets but no worthwhile targets. When they entered Boulogne, "S 34", "S 22" and "S 23" joined as reinforcement. "S 22" and "S 23" belonged to the 1. SFltl and were to sail on to Cherbourg. In the night to 08.07. "S 36" (Oblt.z.S. Babbel) sank a picket, the British trawler "Cayton Wyke".

On 10.07. "S 30" (Lt.z.S. Roeder) arrived as a further reinforcement . In the night to 11.07. the flotilla with the available seven boats laid 12 mines and 24 explosive buoys in the Thames estuary. 

In the night to 12.07. the 2. SFltl advanced with seven boats against a convoy off Kentish Knock. On the march thereto "S 23" run into a mine, all engines fell out, 8 meters of the aft ship had been torn off. "S 30" acted as tug for the boat. After three hours "S 22" took over the tugging line, which  broke after about 20 minutes. The wind had freshened to 6 Beaufort from SSW with a seastate of 4 - 5; "S 23" was not to keep and sank after it was blewn up. Previous to that "S 35" had taken over all weapon, documents and peronnel not required. There were no personnel losses.

On the next evening boats "S 30", "S 35", "S 34", "S 36", "S 22" and "S 23" advanced against a konvoy of nine freighters having been reported by the Luftwaffe. "S 25" had to be relieved in advance because of engine problems. Just before 3 o'clock on 15.7. a freighter was attacked. Three torpedoes went wrong and the steamer turned away. The boats than bumped into two MGB but avoided them. They entered Boulogne at 06.10.

After that some nights with minelaying operations followed  which were more or less successful. On 23.07. "S 37" (Oblt.z.S. Schulze-Jena) arrived at Boulogne. On 24.07. on the march back from the fifth mining operation "S 35" was detached to Wilhelmshavn for engine-check-ups.

On the evening of the 24.07.1940 two packs of the 1. SFltl were to operate south of Portland Bill ("S 19" and "S 27") and east of the Isle of Wight ("S 26" and "S 20"). At 23.10 Uhr the pack "S19"/"S 27" discovered a wight light on starboard and turned toward it, because it was believed to be a light of a German flying boat that had carried out an emergency landing on the day before. But he light came from a  Passengership of estimated 18.000 BRT on a westerly course. "S 27" and "S 19" fired one torpedo each but both of them passed the ship. The steamship stopped. Two further torpedoes were fired by the two boats but both passed the ship. Thereupon "S 19" started firing at the stopped steamer showing navigational lights with her 20mm machinegun. At 00.12 "S 27" fired one more torpedo which turned out to be a surfacerunner but hit the steamer in the rear end, which caused it to sink slowly.  It was the French steamer "Meknés" (causing the death of 420 French soldiers on their way back to France, which had capitulated in the meantime; 900 soldiers were rescued by British ships and boats). As Monsieur Jaque Ragot from Amélie reported, on 24.07.2010 (70 year after the disater) was a stele officially disclosed at Saint-Martin-en-Campagne/Normandy as memory of the 420 victims of the sinking of "Meknés". On her the names of the victims are ingravated. Every year on the 24th of July a march to the stele is organized.



Until 08.08.1940 the boats of the 1. SFltl, "S 20" (Oblt.z.S. Götz von Mirbach), "S 21" (Oblt.z.S. Bernd Klug), "S 25" (Oblt.z.S. Siegfried Wuppermann) and "S 27" (Oblt.z.S. Herbert Büchting) under command of the Fltl-Chef Kptlt Heinz Birnbacher on "S 27", out of the convoy CW 9 "Peewitt" the three British steamers "Holme Force", "Fife Coast" and "Ouse" (according to official reports by collision when trying to evade a torpepedo). Damaged were the motorships "Polly M" and "John M". Up to this date the German S-Boats had furthermore sunk the British steamers "Roseburn", "Elmcrest", "Broadhurst", "London Trader" and "Lulonga", the British tanker "Albuera", the British motorships "Kingfisher" and "Mallard" as well as the British armed trawler "Cayton Wyke". Damaged were the British freighters "Hartlepool" and "British Corporal"


Report of the OKW (Picture: Fr. Meier "Kriegsmarine am Feind")

On 11.08. "S 21" had to be reported "not ready" because of a damage to the crankshaft-case. Shortly thereafter metal splinters of undetermined origin were observed in the crankshaft-case of "S 25".

On 14.08. Kptlt. Birnbacher with "S 27", "S 20" and "S 26" left harbour in order to carry out an advance against the area west of Portland. They bumped into wo destroyers, "S 27" and "S 20" fired two torpedoes each, which all went wrong. The destroyers turned towards the boats and took them under fire. Also a pattern of "S 26" went wrong. The boats could escape from the destroyers "Malcom", "Verity" and "Volunteer".

On 14.08.1940 Oblt.z.S. Fimmen and Oblt.z.S. v. Mirbach were awarded the Knights Cross.

As we nowadays know from the British records of sunken ships the commanding officers very often overestimated the size of the ships send to the bottom of the sea.

In this phase of the war the German S-boats also laid mines on the convoy routes along the English coast in four operations.

As own losses were to note "S 32" and "S 23" by mine hits. During the bomb attack against the boats at Boulogne there were eight men killed in action and ten men were wounded. Because of the mine hits there were six men killed in action and two wounded on "S 32".

On 11.08.1940 the 1. SFltl was ordered to stay in readiness for search and rescue operations for the Luftwaffe with priority. On 13.08.1940 commenced the Eagle's Day ("Adlertag"), the fight for the air superiority over Great Britain, which was considered by the OKL as a prerequisit for the operation "Seelöwe" (landing in Great Britain).

The propaganda-machinery tried to produce a war-enthusiasm in the people with all means, so with book and collection-pictures. The example of a collection-picture issued by the savings bank Gersdorf in Chemnitz County shown below makes clear how the political leadership tried to influence the people. 

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Collection Picture by Savings Bank Gersdorf in Saxony - Picture: Archives Förderverein

On 15.08.1940 a sabotage act occurred in Ostend, to which the torpedo control center and the torpedo store with 42 torpedoes were victims. By the fragments and wrackage parts the boats "S 24", "S 31", "S 35", and "S 37" were so severely damaged that they had to go back to Germany for shipyard repairs. As a consequence the 2. SFltl practically was fallen out and the 1. SFltl with the boats "S 18", "S 20", "S 21", "S 25", "S 26", and "S 27" were ordered to Rotterdam on 19.08.1940, in order to operate from there against convoys in the Thames estuary. In the time to follow torpedo and minelaying operation were conducted alternatingly.

On 22.08.1940 "S 201" (Lt.z.S. Ulrich Roeder) was commissioned at the Gusto-Shipyard at Schiedam, on 23.08. "S 55" (Oblt.z.S. Opdenhoff) followed at Lürssen. Of the boats damaged on 15.08.1940 "S 37" became ready on 26.08. and "S 36"on 27.08.  as well as "S 33" on 31.08..

On 28.08.1940 the 1. SFltl with "S 27", "S 26", "S 21", "S 25" and "S 18" reinforced by "S 54" of the 3. SFltl left Rotterdam. "S 19" and "S 22" were to join off  Hook van Holland. Target was a convoy reported east of  Great Yarmouth consisting of 14 ships. On the march thereto the commander 1. SFltl received the report that "S 19" had run into a mine, "S 22" was tugging the boat. During the night the wind freshened to Beaufort 6 from SSW with seastate 4 - 5, so that the flotilla had to return. When entering harbour "S 26" rammed a pier. A second try in the evening of the 31.08. had also to be broken off.

In his "Memories of the Schnellboat-operations in the West 1940 - 1945" ("Erinnerungen an den Schnellbootseinsatz im Westen 1940 - 1945") the former 1 A op at the Staff of F.d.S., Kptlt. a.D. Bernd Rebensburg, writes: "... Furthermore it is to state that our UK-equipment ... already 1940 was monitored by the English ... as its use gave us away it was rather used as FuMB (Funkmeßbeobachtungsgerät = ESM) since 1941 ..."

On 01.09.1940 the 2. SFltl entered Ostende as reinforcement. Originally there were only the boats "S 33", "S 36", "S 37" and "S 55". But now there were 10 boats ready fo action at the western front. The 1. SFltl had performed to unsuccessful advances against the convoy-route in the night to the 01.09. and in the following night. The first planned operation of the 2. SFltl for the night 01./02.09. was cancelled because the submarinechaser , "UJ 121" had sunken after a minehit in the harbourentrance and blocked it for some days.

In night to 03.09. an advance of the 1. SFltl against a convoy at Smiths Knoll was without success, the same happened to the 2. SFltl with an advance against a convoy at Orforness.

In the following night the 1. SFltl with "S 18, "S 21", "S 22" and "S 54" had successes to report. "S 21" (Oblt.z.S. Klug) reported the sinking of to steamers of 6000 and 8000 BRT, "S 18" (Oblt.z.S. Christiansen) reported sinking of two steamers of  8000 and 5000 BRT and "S 22" (Oblt.z.S. Grund) a tanker of 12000 BRT as well as "S 54" (Lt.z.S. Wagner) a destroyer of Imogen-Class. The real losses on the side of the British were: Freighters "Corbrook" (1729 BRT) and "New Lambton (2709 BRT) by "S 21", freighter "Joseph Swan" (1571 BRT) and the Netherlander "Nieuwland" (1075 BRT) by "S 18", freighter "Ewell" (1350 BRT) by "S 54" and freighter "Fulham V" (1562 BRT) by "S 22".


"Flag "Z" hoisted up i an Pre-War Attack-Exercise on a Boat Type S 14 - Picture: PK Photo

During an advance of the 2. SFltl in the night  03./04.09.1940 with boats "S 33", "S 36", "S 37" and "S 55" against the British convoy-route several torpedoes were fired but all went wrong.

Two further resultless advanced wer conducted against the Thames-Estuary with "S 33", "S 36", "S 37" and "S 55" during the night 05./06.09.1940 and against the British convoy FS.237 during the night 06./07.09.1940 with the same boats.

"S 13" entering Wilhelmshaven (Picture: Fr. Meier "Kriegsmarine am Feind")

On 07.09.1940 a British bomb-raid was carried out against the boats at Ostende. Thus boats "S 36" and "S 37" were damaged and had to go to Rotterdamfor repairs, from where they returned to the flotilla on 12.09.1940.

On 08.09.1940 the 3. SFltl (Kptlt. Kemnade) came as reinforcement from Kiel with the boats "S 1", "S 10", "S 11", and "S 13". When entering Vlissingen "S 1" and "S 13" collided slightly, a lighter hit "S 10" at the stern, such that only " 11" and "S 13" were ready for action. 

It followed a break enforced by the weather until the night 21.09.1940. The 2. SFltl with boats "S 30", "S 33", "S 37" and "S 55" sailed a ressultless advance against the British convoy-route. During the following night followed another resultless advance.

On 29.09.1940 a mining-action against the convoy-route was broken off by the 2. SFltl with boats "S 30", "S 33", "S 34", "S 36", "S 37" and "S 55"  because of the weather.

During anothr mining-action against the convoy-route on 03.10.1940 with the same boats "S 33" had to return earkly due to an enginefailure. From 04. until 10.10.1940 no operations were carried out by the flotilla due to the weather-situation.

During the night 11./12.10.1940 in a mining-operation of the flotilla against the British convoy-route the laying of mines of conducted at a other position than planned because of the many pickets, in the course of which "S 37" run into a mine, broke in two peaces and sank. 13 men were killed in action: teh commanding officer Oblt.z.S Hans Schultze-Jena, ObFhr.z.S Heinrich Schlösser, ObBtsmMt Gerhard Schramm, FkMt Josef Weitner, MaschObMt Karl Pöpel, MaschMt Friedrich Krückemeyer, MatrObGefr Günter Böckstiegel, MatrObGefr Alfred Lorz, FkObGefr Jakob Rehsen, MaschObGefr Heinz Polte, MatrGefr Helmut Schilder, FkGefr Johannes Herzog, MaschGefr Georg Vollmer. Of the 11 personnel rescued by "S 30" MechObGefr. (T) Helmut Wessels and MaschObGefr Walter Becker died later in conscequence of their woundings.

The 3.  SFltl was at sea with "S 18", "S 24", "S 33", "S 54" and "S 12" but found no targets.

On 13.10. during a directed advance a convoy of 70 ships off  Burnham the 3. SFltl had no sightings. The 2. SFltl had to break off the planned mining-operation dur to the weather-situation.

On 12.10. the order by F.d.T. to transfer the 1. SFltl to Rotterdam  arrived, the transfer on 13.10. had to be brojken off dué to the weather. From Rotterdam the 1. SFltl operated resultless against the English eastcoast, while the 2. SFltl withit "S 33", "S 36", "S 30", "S 55" and "S 56" laid mines east of Orfordnes. "S 56" was slightly damaged on the way back by a minehit and had to go to a shipyard.

In the night 16./17.10. the die 1. SFltl found the convoy on which their were dircted to operate but could not approach it unnoticed because of the bright moonlight. The boats were taken under fire by a destroyer  at large distance. The  3. SFltl with "S 54", "S 12" and "S 57" broke off its operation by reason of the weather.

In spite of the fall-weather the 1. SFltl attacker convoy FN.311 off Smith Knoll. "S 18" (Oblt.z.S. Christiansen) fired two torprdoes at a freighter of  6000 BRT and a tanker of estimated 7000 BRT. The freighter sank, of the tanker the stern-section sank. "S 24" (Oblt.z.S. Töniges) reported to hits on a tanker of 12000 BRT and "S 27" (Oblt.z.S. Büchting) torpedoed a freighter of 7000 BRT. The boats escaped from a destroyer which had detected them by ASCIC (Sonar) und had taken them under fire with macximum speed. The Wehrmachtsbericht (armed-forces report) claimed the the flotilla had sunk to merchant men and two tankers amounting to 33000 BRT., In reality "S 18" sank th freighter "Hauxley" ( 1595 BRT), "S 24" and "S 27" torpedoed the coal-freighter "Gasfire" (2972 BRT), which hab been declared as tanker because of the backships position of the chimney, and the French coal-freighter "P.L.M. 14" (3754 BRT). Both could be tugged into harbour.

During the same night the  2. SFltl laid a mine barrier between Kentish Knock and Shipwash.

Operation "Seelöwe" (ivasion of England) was defered finally Mid October 1940. Until this point in time the S-boats had in spite of hindrances by the weather and engine problems and other damages to the boats by fights with British guards and bomb attacks against the harbours sunk the British freighters "Corbrook", "New Lambton", "Fulham V", "Ewell", "Joseph Swan", "Continental Coaster" and the Netherlands freighters "Nieuwland"  and  "Stad Alkmaar". The successes of the minebarriers laid by the S-boats have not been reported.

On 21.10.1940 the Gruppe West ordered the transfer of the 1. SFltl to Norway and its subordination to Gruppe Nord (Group North). With that remained the 2. SFltl with five boats ("S 30", "S 33", "S 34", "S 36", and "S 55") and the 3. SFltl with three boats ("S 12", "S 54", and "S 57") in the west area. The 1. SFltl arrived on 28.10.1940 at Bergen with the boats "S 20", "S 24", "S 27", and "S 28". "S 25", "S 26", and the new "S 38" were to follow to Bergen when ready for action. The boats "S 19" and "S 21" having belonged to the 1.SFltl were assigned to the newly formed 4. SFltl upon getting ready for action.

In order to operate against the Shetland islands the 1. SFltl was transferred to Stavanger on 30.10.1940. Starting 04.11.1940 the flotilla conducted escort duties. On 11.11.1940 was besides of two boats which contionued to do escort operations again assigned to Gruppe West. 

With the few remaining boats in the western area minelaying and torpedo operations were conducted. The fall weather did however not permit many operations. Not earlier than 19.11.1940 an operation was carried out during which "S 38" (Oblt.z.S. Detlefsen) was sunk by artillery hits from the British destroyers "Campbell" and "Garth". There were many men wounded, five men were killed in action and 18 men became P.O.W.s (among them the CO).


"S 33" passing a bigger own Unit (Picture: Fr. Meier "Kriegsmarine am Feind")

In order to operate from Norway against the Shetlands the 1. SFltl was ordered to move to Stavanger on 30.10.1940 what was only carried out on 02.11.1940 because of bad weather, the flotilla moved to Kristiansand on 04.11. and on 05.11. to Frederikshavn, "S 24" and "S 27" had to go to motor-check-ups to Kiel and "S 20" aund "S 28" were to carry out escort operations from Frederikshavn, what did not happen due to bad weather. On 11.11.1940 thee 1. SFltl besides of two boats, which had to continue escort operations, was subordniated the Gruppe West again. 

Gales and fog prevented other operations until 13.12.1940. The 3. SFltl obtained with "S 58" (Lt.z.S. Geiger) and "S 59" (Oblt.z.S. A. Müller) two new boats.  On 21.12.1940 British aircraft again attacked the Channel harbours. At Ostend "S 34" and "S 56" were slightly damaged, "S 33" had to go into a shipyard. The only sucessful operation was conducted on 23.12.1940: All three flotillas had left harbour to operate against British convoys. They found two strongly defended convoys, "S 28" sank the British trawler "Pelton", little later "S 59" sank the Netherlands freighter "Stad Maastricht". The boats were taken under fire by the escorting destroyers and pushed away from the convoys. 

Until the end of the year stormy weather prevailed such that the boats were kept in the harbours.

S-Boat of Type 38 off Boulogne Winter 1940/41 - Picture: Archives Roger Albrigtsen

Both sides were subject to false estimations during this phase of the war:

The German S-boats reported the sinking of 44 merchant ships (230.500 BRT) by torpedo hits on merchant ships and the sinking of 11.330 ts of warships. In reality they sank 26 merchant ships and auxiliaries (49.985 BRT) and three destroyers. Seven merchant ships (21.428 BRT) and two destroyers were damaged.

The British side believed at a stationing of 50 boats in the flotillas with 12 to 14 boats each along the Netherlands, the Belgiuan, and the French coasts.

The own losses were a mine hit on 28.08.1940 on "S 19", which, however, could be towed to Calais, the sinking of "S 37" by a mine hit and severe damaged by a bomb hit on "S 36",  fragment damages on "S 33", "S 37", and "S 13" as well as 17 killed in action or died respectively, six severely wounded (among them also Kptlt. Kemnade), two slightly wounded and four slightly wounded during the explosion of the torpedo store at  Oostend. 

The tactic employed by the S-boats to lay in lurking positions along the convoy routes without sufficient air reconnaissance caused the boats often to advance into empty areas.

In the year 1940 20 new S-boats were commissioned. With four boats lost that meant a growth of 16 boats.