Operations with the Kriegsmarine
S-boats were often used to patrol the Baltic Sea and the English Channel in order to intercept shipping heading for the English ports in the south and east. As such, they were up against Royal Navy and Commonwealth (particularly Royal Canadian Navy contingents leading up to D-Day) Motor Gun Boats (MGBs), Motor Torpedo Boats (MTBs), Motor Launches, frigates and destroyers. They were also transferred in small numbers to the Mediterranean, and the Black Sea by river and land transport. Some small S-boats were built as boats for carrying by auxiliary cruisers.
Crew members could earn an award particular to their work—Das Schnellbootkriegsabzeichen—denoted by a badge depicting an S-boat passing through a wreath. The criteria were good conduct, distinction in action, and participating in at least twelve enemy actions. It was also awarded for particularly successful missions, displays of leadership or being killed in action. It could be awarded under special circumstances, such as when another decoration was not suitable.
Schnellboote of the 9th flotilla were the first naval units to respond to the invasion fleet of Operation Overlord. They left Cherbourg harbour at 5 a.m. on 6 June 1944. On finding themselves confronted by the entire invasion fleet, they fired their torpedoes at maximum range and returned to Cherbourg.
During World War II, S-boats sank 101 merchant ships totalling 214,728 tons. In addition, they sank 12 destroyers, 11 minesweepers, eight landing ships, six MTBs, a torpedo boat, a minelayer, one submarine and a number of small merchant craft. They also damaged two cruisers, five destroyers, three landing ships, a repair ship, a naval tug and numerous merchant vessels. Sea 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.
In recognition of their service, the members of Schnellboot crews were awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross on 23 occasions, and the German Cross in Gold on 112 occasions.
Italian MS boat
The poor seaworthiness of the MAS boats led the Italian Navy to build its own version of S-boats, called simply MS (Motoscafo Silurante). The prototype was designed on the pattern of six German-built S-boats captured from the Yugoslav Navy in 1941. Notably, two of them sank the largest warship (the British cruiser HMS Manchester) that was sunk by this kind of vessel in World War II. Two MS boats were used to infiltrate a party of 14 Italian marines behind the Allied lines in Egypt on 3 September 1942. The marines blew up a railway and an aqueduct before being captured. Thirty-six of these vessels were completed by 1943.
The Kriegsmarine supplied the Spanish Navy with six S-boats during the Spanish Civil War, and six more during the Second World War. Another six were built in Spain with some assistance from Lürssen. One of them, either the Falange or the Requeté, laid two mines that crippled the British destroyer HMS Hunter off Almería on 13 May 1937. The German-built boats were discarded in the 1960s, while some of the Spanish-built ones served until the early 1970s.
S-Boat in China
The Chinese Nationalist Navy had three S-7 S-boats during the Second Sino-Japanese War (World War II in China). One was destroyed by Japanese planes, one was lost, and one was captured by the People's Liberation Army during the Chinese civil war. The People's Liberation Army Navy used it as a patrol boat until 1963. The Chinese Nationalist Government had also ordered eight S-30 S-boats and a boat carrier, but they joined the Kriegsmarine in 1939.
At the end of the war about 34 S-boats were surrendered to the British. Three boats, S-130 (renamed P5230), S-208 (P5208) and S-212 (P5212) were retained for trials.
The Gehlen Organization, an intelligence agency established by American occupation authorities in Germany in 1946 and manned by former members of the Wehrmacht's Fremde Heere Ost (Foreign Armies East), used Royal Navy's E-boats in order to infiltrate its agents in the Baltic states and Poland. Royal Navy Commander Anthony Courtney was struck by the potential capabilities of former S-boat hulls, and John Harvey-Jones of the Naval Intelligence Division was put in charge of the project. He discovered that the Royal Navy still had two S-boats, P5230 and P5208, and had them sent to Portsmouth, where one of them, P5230 (ex-S130), was modified to reduce its weight and increase its power with the installation of two Napier Deltic engines of 3000 hp apiece. Lieutenant-Commander Hans-Helmuth Klose was assigned to command a German crew, recruited by the British MI16 and funded by the American Office of Policy Coordination. The missions were assigned the codename "Operation Jungle". The boats carried out their missions under the cover of the British Control Commission's Fishery Protection Service, which was responsible for preventing Soviet navy vessels from interfering with German fishing boats and for destroying stray mines. The home port of the boats was Kiel, and operated under the supervision of Harvey-Jones. They usually departed for the island of Bornholm waving the White Ensign, where they would hoist the Swedish flag for a dash to Gotland, and there they would wait for orders from Hamburg. The first mission consisted in the landing of Lithuanian agents at Palanga, Lithuania, in May 1949, and the last took place in April 1955 in Saaremaa, Estonia. Klose was later assigned the command of a patrol boat in the German navy and became commander-in-chief of the fleet before his retirement in 1978.
In 1947, the Danish navy bought twelve former Kriegsmarine boats. These were further augmented in 1951 by six units bought from the Royal Norwegian Navy. The last unit, the P568 Viben, was retired in 1965.
After World War II, the Norwegian Navy received a number of former Kriegsmarine boats. Six boats were transferred to Denmark in 1951.
There is just one surviving S-boat, identified as S-130. S-130 was purchased and towed from Wilhelmshaven, Germany to the Husbands Shipyard, Marchwood, Southampton, England in January 2003, under the auspices of the British Military Powerboat Trust. In 2004, S-130 was taken to the slipway at Hythe, where, under the supervision of the BMPT, she was prepared and then towed to Mashfords yard in Plymouth, England to await funding for restoration. In 2008, S-130, having been purchased by Kevin Wheatcroft, was slipped across the Tamar River and set up ashore at Southdown in Cornwall to undergo restoration work involving Roving Commissions Ltd. As of June 2012, this work continues and includes an S130 Members' Club.