Last week, we travelled to Cornwall to see S-130 which is being restored by The Wheatcroft Collection.

S-130 is the only surviving example of the German S-Boot, or Schnelleboot, which means ‘fast boat’. They are also commonly known as E-Boats which is the name coined by the British – the ‘E’ stood for ‘Enemy’.

S-130 has an exciting past. She is possibly most famous for her participation in Exercise Tiger, but her operational history spans into the Cold War too, where she served as a Royal Navy vessel transporting MI6 agents in and out of the Soviet Union.

Contents

The S-Boot

The development of the Schnellboote began in the interwar period. After World War I, the Treaty of Versailles severely limited the size and capabilities of the German military and navy. Specifically, Germany was forbidden from having submarines or large warships.

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However, the treaty did not restrict the development of smaller boats, which allowed Germany to explore and innovate in this area without violating the treaty’s terms. This exploration led to the idea of the S-Boot.

German E-boat S-204.

It was to be a small vessel (in comparison to other naval warships) but with the teeth to sink a battleship, while also being exceptionally fast. What’s more, the S-Boot had to be a robust machine, initially designed for the harsh conditons of the Baltic Sea, although their operational capacity would extend to the Western Approaches in the Atlantic, and the English Channel and North Sea as the war progressed.

In 1929, the German Naval command contracted the German ship builder Lürssen to build a modified version of a luxury motor yacht they had built two years earlier, in 1927, called the ‘Oheka II’.

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The Oheka II was 22.5 meters long, featured a round-bottom displacement hull, and was powered by three 550 hp Maybach engines which gave the vessel a top speed of 34 knots. She was also very light; this can be owed to the construction of her hull, which utilised wooden planking over alloy frames.

A German E-Boat after surrendering, on its way to Gosport.

The German Naval command saw potential in the Oheka II, but, being a pleasure vessel, some adjustments needed to be made – such as added torpedo tubes on the forecastle.

Improvements were also to be made to increase the top speed.

The vessel made by Lürssen was named the S-1. It was the first S-Boot and served as the foundational model for all subsequent S-Boots constructed throughout World War II.

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S-130 was built at the Schlichting boatyard in Travemünde, Germany, and was commissioned on 21 October 1943. The vessel was part of the S-38 class, which had seen many changes since the S-1.

The vessel was around 35 meters long with a displacement of 110 tons. She was powered by three MB501 engines which had 20 cylinders in a ‘V’ configuration. They gave S-130 a top speed of around 43 knots.

Exercise Tiger

S-130 is probably most famous for her actions in late April, 1944. Exercise Tiger was intended to be the rehearsal for the D-Day landings on Utah Beach. The exercises took place on Slapton Sands in Devon. The events surrounding Exercise Tiger are heavily debated and there are several stories that circulate relating to the events that unfolded that day.

On 27 April, the waters off the south of England were a hive of activity. Hundreds of ships were scattered around the coast participating in Exercise Tiger.

American soldiers land on Slapton Sands during Exercise Tiger.

It is suspected that German naval intelligence intercepted radio transmissions that drew their attention to the ship movements occurring at Slapton Sands on the afternoon of the 27th. To investigate, six S-Boots from the 5th Schnellboot Flotilla and three from the 9th Flotilla departed from Cherbourg at roughly 9pm.

The S-Boots were first tasked with passing Allied motor torpedo boats undetected, which were operating near the Cherbourg area. They then proceeded towards Lyme Bay.

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At around 11pm, the 5th Flotilla broke away into three pairs to look for targets, not having much luck until just after midnight, when, S-136 and S-138 spotted and engaged two ships that they identified as destroyers. S-138 opened fire with two torpedoes followed by S-136 firing at the ships with torpedoes a minute later. All four torpedoes failed to hit their mark.

With their torpedoes now exhausted, S-136 and S-138 headed back home to Cherbourg.

S-130 in her current condition. Restoration work is set to begin in the coming weeks.

At around 1am, to the West of the previous engagement, S-140 and S-142 sighted what they believed to be three steamers. At 1:13am, they made an initial attack with torpedoes and attempted to radio any other S-Boots in the area to inform them of the convoy location. The pair moved in to make a second attack at around 1:30am, but their torpedoes failed to hit their target.

The pair of S-Boots then sighted a convoy of ships in the distance. This was the T-4 convoy, which mainly consisted of LST’s or ‘Landing Ship, Tanks’ that were carrying tanks and infantry soldiers that were to take part in the beach landings.

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S-140 and S-142 didn’t have any torpedoes left, so, they decided to highlight the convoy’s position to the other S-Boots by firing their deck weapons at the convoy. They hoped that the other boats would see the tracer fire and launch an attack. At 1:45am, the two S-Boats headed back to Cherbourg, sure that the other S-Boots were on their way.

The tracer fire had indeed alerted the remaining pair of the 5th Flotilla, S-100 and S-143, who raced toward the action and upon acquiring a target, both fired two torpedoes each. One of the torpedoes found its mark.

One of the huge MB501 diesel engines. They are 134 litre V20’s that produce up to 3,000 hp. Each S-Boot had three of these. If you look closely, we’ve placed a Red Bull can nearby for scale.

The bright tracer fire also alerted the S-Boots of the 9th Flotilla. Now, S-150, S-145 and S-130 were heading for the convoy. The three boats closed the distance, and S-130 and S-150 both targeted the same ship while S-145 broke off to target another vessel.

After the attack, two LST’s were sank and one other was critically damaged. The official death toll stands at 749 men, however, this total is disputed. Author Nigel Lewis has suggested that the figure is 639.

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Ultimately, the US suffered 197 casualties on Utah Beach on D-Day – that includes killed, wounded and missing. This means that the American fatalities and missing persons from Exercise Tiger were around three times higher than the total casualties incurred on Utah Beach, the very event this exercise was meant to prepare for.

The End of the War

The operational history of S-130 was quite eventful even after Exercise Tiger. In May, 1944, the boat would be part of a patrol with nine other S-Boots. One of these, S-141, had the son of the Chief of the German Naval Staff, Karl Dönitz, on board.

The S-Boots were identified by the Royal Navy and pursued by destroyers. S-141 would be sunk during the engagement that followed, with Dönitz’s son among those that perished.

The bow of the boat with a great view of the structural design that allowed the S-Boots to travel so quickly. The hull is made up of wooden planks, attached to an inner frame made out of aluminium.

D-Day

On the morning of June 6, 1944, D-Day, the Allied fleet was attacked by 31 battle-prepared S-Boots, including S-130. Despite the reporting of several successful engagements, the massive assault force faced by the Kriegsmarine—encompassing thousands of warships, and complete dominance of the airspace over the landing zones and approaches—meant that little could be done to obstruct the extensive Allied landings.

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It was reported that the 9th Flotilla, to which S-130 was assigned, succeeded in sinking a number of landing craft, though there is no record of any being specifically credited to S-130. The fact that two members of S-130’s crew were killed, however, suggests its close involvement in the conflict.

The period following saw a strategic withdrawal along the Channel and North Sea shores as the Allied armies pushed toward the Rhine and into Germany, with the goal of persistently challenging and disrupting their sea lines of communication.

The starboard side of the boat looking aft. This is where the bridge and forecastle would be, also, you can see the groove in the hull where the starboard torpedo would launch.

The detailed records of the skirmishes that unfolded during the winter of 1944-45 are largely absent, but it is clear that the 9th Flotilla, and S-130 in particular, were frequently engaged in action.

With the approach of spring in 1945, German naval operations in the southern North Sea had virtually ceased. At the point of Germany’s surrender, S-130 was located in Dutch waters.

S-130 After the War

S-130, along with S-208, would be taken to Gosport in England for evaluation. During this test period they had all armament removed and S-130 had all three engines swapped for the new Napier-Deltic engines which gave the boat a new top speed of roughly 45 knots.

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The two S-Boots were then transferred back over to Europe under the command of Lt Cdr John Harvey-Jones. They were tasked with gathering intelligence on the Soviet Fleet in the Baltic.

One of the engine rooms midship. Two of the MB501 engines would be housed here. The third would be in a separate compartment aft.

In the late 1940s, the establishment of the “British Baltic Fishery Protection Service (BBFPS)” was decided upon as a façade. Its main aim was to obscure an initiative led by the British Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) for secretly deploying agents into the Baltic States.

MI6 had prepared agents, chosen from Latvian, Lithuanian, and Estonian expatriates, for re-entry to connect with the anti-Soviet factions that had been resisting Soviet control and surviving in forests since World War II ended.

On the deck of S-130 looking fore toward the bow.

The Royal Navy was optimistic about its ability to assemble a German crew for a flotilla tasked with this perilous mission. Among the tens of thousands of Kriegsmarine personnel who had previously served the Royal Navy under the British-supervised German Mine Sweeping Administration and its successor, the Cuxhaven Mine Sweeping Group, was Hans–Helmut Klose.

Klose, an S–Boot veteran, had led the 2nd Fast Torpedo Boat Training Flotilla in the Baltic Sea during the intense final phases of the war. His command included a variety of critical missions such as escorting transports, conducting reconnaissance, secret agent deployments, and even saving high-profile individuals from besieged areas.

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In May, 1949, Klose began operating in the Baltic, using S-Boots to move MI6 agents to and from sites in Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. The S-Boots were crewed by German personnel who served on S-Boots during the war.

Mind your head! Above the entrance of the newly constructed workshop, six torpedoes are stowed.

These operations spanned into the early 1950s and even saw collaborations with the CIA, who would also utilise the S-Boots for transportation behind the iron curtain.

The landings were stopped in 1955. The operations were deemed too risky and KGB countermeasures were becoming quite effective. There were several instances of agents being caught by the KGB and being either sentenced or converted into double agents.

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In 1957, S-130 and S-208 were handed back to Germany from the Royal Navy. The vessels were repurposed as training ships, known as UW 10 and UW 11, for the underwater warfare training facility.

The Restoration of S-130

S-130’s service would end in 1991, when she was bought to become a house boat. She remained in Wilhelmshaven until 2003, when she bought by The Wheatcroft Collection to be restored.

The Wheatcroft Collection is one of the largest private military vehicle collections in the world. They have roughly 200 vehicles in the collection, 88 of which are tanks.

Seeing the size of S-130 in person, it was hard to believe this monster could travel at 43 knots!

Their assortment of German vehicles alone is astounding, boasting Panthers, a StuG, a Panzer III & IV and Hetzers. Ten Sherman tanks of varying type are also under restoration along with two Churchills and an M10 tank destroyer. The work to get S-130 back in the water is set to start immediately. Once she is sea worthy again, she will be sailed down to Appledore in North Devon, where she will be drydocked.

We had the privilege of being shown around S-130 by Professor Harry Bennett from Plymouth University. It was a fascinating experience and we’d like to extend our thanks to Harry and The Wheatcroft Collection for allowing us access to this amazing piece of history. Professor Harry Bennett has written a book about the S-Boat, which you can find by clicking on the image above.