Schnellboot-class file photo (S 204) [21325]

Schnellboot-class Motor Torpedo Boat

Displacement105 tons standard
Length115 feet
Beam17 feet
MachineryThree 20-cylinder 2,000hp Daimler-Benz MB501 Diesel engines driving three shafts
Speed42 knots
Armament2x533mm torpedo tubes (4xMk 8 torpedos), 1x37mm Flak 42 gun, 1x2x20mm C/30 cannon, 1x20mm stern Oerlikon cannon, optional 6-8 mines, 2x12.7mm twin M2 or 2 x7.6mm Lewis machine guns


This article refers to the entire Schnellboot-class; it is not about an individual vessel.

ww2dbaseThe German S-Boat (Schnellboot) stemmed from a 1928 Lurssen designed luxury motor yacht, Oheka II, which had been built for an American client.

ww2dbaseWith a top speed was over 30 knots the design was immediately seized upon by the German Naval High Command who ordered a similar but smaller craft with a top speed of 37 knots. This vessel, Schnellboot S1, was completed in August 1930. It displaced 39 tons and had an overall length of 29 metres. It contained an armament consisted of one 20-mm AA gun and one machine gun. Two 21-in torpedo tubes were fitted on the forecastle although these, banned by the Versailles Treaty, could be removed in order to deceive any curious visitors to the yards. Following trial, production boats had their weight increased from 45 tons, in the S2-S5 frames, to 78 tons in the S6-S13 boats.

ww2dbaseThe German Navy had discovered during World War I that whilst planing craft could be very fast in light conditions they needed to slow rapidly in head seas to avoid slamming damage. By adding semi-displacement to the forward end, it was found that pounding could be reduced and deceleration likewise, enabling the craft to maintain high speed in adverse conditions.

ww2dbaseThe boat hulls therefore uniquely incorporated a round bilged hulls forward, with a flat after sections, and were typically constructed from teak on a steel or alloy frames, which increased weatherliness. From the break in the forecastle to the transom, canvas dodgers covered the rails and reduced the exposure of the deck crews. In service a half-height forecastle, enclosed the two torpedo tubes, flanked the low wheelhouse structure and the centreline gun pit. Typically one 20-mm autocannon and two 7.92-mm machine guns were carried.

ww2dbaseWith their mature diesel technology the Germans had the perfect powerplant to drive these high-speed torpedo boats. Early versions utilised the 1,320-hp MAN diesel engine, but later the 2,000-hp 20 cylinder V-form Daimler-Benz became the standard engines on the S18-S25 series boats and, ultimately, by 1945, some engines were developing almost 2,500-bhp.

ww2dbaseThe use of Diesel engines also meant that the German torpedo boats did not have to rely on the same fire-prone petrol engines that were utilised on similar British and American boats.

ww2dbaseFrom the outbreak of hostilities S-Boats (universally referred to by the British as "E-Boats") were a constant menace to the British East Coast convoys and operated as far afield as North Africa and Sicily. The mines that they laid off Malta were particularly damaging. The "E" probably stood for "enemy" and simply stuck, but other theories were put forward, one of which said that it stood for the technical term Lurssen Effekt, (Lurssen being the builder of most of the boats during the 1930s). However, the simpler explanations is probably the best.

ww2dbaseBy 1942 two main types of S-Boats were in production. A 100-ton vessel of 35 metres and a smaller one of 82 tons and 33 metres long. The latter had a smaller 1,600-hp engine reducing speed from 40 to 36 knots. The amount of armament also increased as the war went on with some boats carrying from one 20-mm cannon and two machine-guns to as many as five 20-mm guns and eight 7.92mm machine-guns. The stern 20-mm was sometimes replaced by a 37-mm gun and, on at least one boat (S208), a 40-mm Bofors gun was known to have been employed. This formidable boat had, despite the extra weight of an armoured bridge, a top speed of 45 knots and a displaced 105 tons.

ww2dbaseA total of 244 S-Boats were brought into service and there could have been more. By 1942, twenty-five hulls were being produced each month by Lurssen, but, unfortunately, only a dozen or so engines were being manufactured over the same time; sufficient only to fit out four boats.

ww2dbaseThe insistence in only fitting Daimler engines and the effect of Allied bombing caused great delays. Indeed by 1944 only one factory was producing engines for the S-Boats and that too was bombed so that, for a short period, no engines were produced at all. Also, by 1945, reliable foreign hardwoods had become virtually unobtainable in Germany, so that some boats were, in fact, built using poor quality home grown softwood, and some consideration was even given to building the hulls from steel.

ww2dbaseDuring World War II, Schnellboote were credited with sinking 101 merchant ships totalling 214,728 tons. In addition, they were credited with sinking 12 destroyers, 11 minesweepers, eight landing ships, six MTBs, a torpedo boat, a minelayer, one submarine and a number of smaller merchant craft. They also damaged two cruisers, five destroyers, three landing ships, a repair ship, a naval tug and numerous other merchant vessels. In addition mines laid by the S-boats were responsible for the loss of 37 merchant ships totalling 148,535 tons, a destroyer, two minesweepers and four landing ships.

ww2dbaseAlthough some 146 S-boats were were lost, their brave crews, in recognition of their war service, were awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross on 23 occasions, and the German Cross in Gold on 112 occasions.

Jane's Warships of World War II (Harper Collins 1996)
Terry Drewett, The Mosquito Fleet War (Practical Wargaming May/June 1991)

Last Major Revision: Apr 2014


German Schnellboot S 204 at coastal forces base HMS Beehive, Felixstowe, Suffolk, England, United Kingdom, 13 May 1945

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1. nuno rodriguez says:
8 May 2014 06:14:33 PM

olá,just wanted to thank,s for the excellent work done by the peter chan and all the colaborators! thank you! greetings from portugal.

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German Schnellboot S 204 at coastal forces base HMS Beehive, Felixstowe, Suffolk, England, United Kingdom, 13 May 1945

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