The German 3rd and 7th S boat flotillas
The allies called these small, fast torpedo boats "E-boats" whereas
the Germans called them "S-boats" - Schnelleboot I will use this
term in the following account.
There is some confusion over who actually sank Lightning. Official British
reports of the period state that it was S158 of the Seventh S-Boat Flotilla.
German reports record it as S55 of the Third S-boat Flotilla. Both flotillas
were operating out of Bizerta at the time of the sinking. Here is S55 when
she had just finished commissioning.
S55 was built by F. R Lurssen Bootswerft at Bremen-Vegesack and commissioned
during August 1940 (at Kiel) to form part of Third Flotilla.
Her Captain was Oberleuntnant Horst Weber.
Displacement of 100 tons, 115 ft x 16.5 ft x 6.5 ft. Powered by three Daimler
Benz 16 cylinder engines, each of 2000 HP giving a maximum speed of 42 knots.
Endurance 700 miles @ 30 kt. Armament: 2 x 21 inch torpedo tubes, 2 single
20 mm guns, spare torpedoes on deck or depth charges. Crew 21.
The Third S-boat Flotilla at the time of entering the Mediterranean comprised:
S55, S35, S61, S31, S34, S56, S54, S57, S58, S59
Short History of S55
On completion of its service in the Baltic the Third S-Boat Flotilla had
been moved to Wilhelmshaven for a thorough refit. When this work was finished,
the journey to the Mediterranean began on the morning of 7 October 1941.
Divided into two groups (S55, 35, 61, 31 , 34) and (S56, 54, 57, 58, 59)
the boats set out from Wilhelmshaven for Rotterdam.
Rough weather was encountered in the North sea and S54 and 57 suffered damage
which necessitated a delay in Rotterdam for repairs. From there the journey
down the Rhine was carried out at an average speed of 15 knots and in daily
stages until reaching Strasbourg. From here the route led through the Rhine
- Rhone canal, through 167 locks, down to the Bergundian gate, along the
River Doubs to the estuary where it joins the Saone at St Sinforien, thence
down the Saone and finally into the Rhone at Lyons. From here the boats
proceeded down river to the Mediterranean. The first group of boats completed
the journey quite quickly and by December 1941 they were ready to undertake
their first operations from Sicily on the night of 16 December 1941, when
they laid mines off the entrance to the Grand Harbour, Malta.
The second group required somewhat longer to complete the journey to the
Mediterranean, the low level of water in the Rhone holding them up for six
weeks, so that it was 10 January 1942 before they could move on. They reached
La Spezia in northern Italy on 15th January 1942, and from there continued
to Augusta in Sicily, where the first group had already started their operations.
The journey from Germany was extremely difficult due to narrow locks and
low bridges. Because the S-Boats with the 20 cylinder engines were too large
for the Rhine-Rhone canal locks, the 3rd Flotilla , whose boats had the
smaller 16 cylinder engine, was chosen. Even with these boats, extensive
modifications were still found to be necessary. In addition alterations
had to be made for reasons of camouflage, eg the aft 20 mm AA gun was removed
and the torpedo tubes covered with sheet metal plating. A thick funnel was
placed over the forward engine fanlight. The bridge house was reduced to
about half its height and the cut away top placed on the after deck. This
meant that the helmsman had to stand in the open. Finally the boats were
painted pitch-black and the Reich Service Flag flown (as worn by fleet auxiliaries).
The intention was to give them the appearance of air-sea-rescue vessels.
The crews wore civilian clothes and all military talk in front of strangers
was strictly forbidden. Throughout the journey to the Mediterranean there
was a total clampdown on mail and leave.
S55 and the Third S-boat Flotilla moved to the port of Bizerta on 8th November
1942 (just as HMS Lightning was completing her refit), and left when Tunisia
was taken by the Allies in May of 1943, two months after the sinking of
She later took part in capture of the island of Leros in the Autumn of 1943
and was finally sunk in 1944 by bombing.
The following War Diary recently came to light and still has not been completely
translated and so there are still some questions left to resolve. This does
however open up the question of which E Boat sunk Lightning. It is apparent
that both the 7th and 3rd S Boat Flotillas were independantly patrolling
the area that the four British ships crossed, searching for the convoy.
It appears that the 7th made first contact and were the first to hit Lightning,
disabling her. The 3rd Flotilla then made contact with the four British
ships and fired the fatal shot into Lightning. Hence the official confusion
over which ship sank Lightning.
by Flotilla Commander Corvette Captain Trummer
War Diary of 7th S Boat Flotilla
"The 7th S Boat Flotilla comprises:
S151 - First Lieutenant at Sea Holzapfel
S152 - Lieutenant at Sea Heye
S153 - Lieutenant at Sea Rautenberg
S154 - Lieutenant at Sea Kelm
S155 - Captain Lieutenant Babbel
S156 - First Lieutenant at Sea Thomsen
S157 - Flotilla Commander Corvette Captain Trummer
S158 - First Lieutenant at Sea Schultze-Jena
Commenced: lst March 1943 Completed: 15 March 1943
1/3/43 - 3/3/43
Final comments regarding mission:
The mine laying mission with the MTA (navigation instrument ?) was carried
out successfully in good weather conditions, good visibility and through
the good timing of the diversion tactics of 3rd S Flotilla. Ship position
was exact, providing torpedo course as expected, MTA was positioned well
north of harbour entrance.
3/3/43 - 10/3/43
Bizerta - Ferryville
Due to weather situation, action impossible.
Intended mission: 3rd S Flotilla mine laying off Philippville, 7th S Flotilla
distraction and deception off Bone.
1745 - Biserta - Mole., East 2-3, swell 2, cloudy, thunderstorm. Nothing
unusual occurred on the passage to Bone.
2300 - East 4-5, swell 3-4, waves variable, cloudy
2317 - Receipt of FT (radio message) Returning to base. Commander of 3rd
S Flotilla. Since by that time the 3rd S Flotilla had not yet reached Philippville,
I presume that the 3rd S Flotilla dropped their mines off Bone.
0030- Bearing 240 degrees 11 sm (nautical miles) from Cap de Garde, SE 4-5
swell 3-4, visibility medium. To avoid alerting the enemy defence unnecessarily,
I return to base with my flotilla. No unusual occurrences during the passage.
0430 Biserta - Ferryville. All boats at anchor.
Final comments regarding the mission:
During the passage the weather situation was such that the limit for weapons
deployment was exceeded, and I only stayed to create a diversion by my presence
off Bone as ordered.
Due to our own large convoy from Sicily and Sardinia to Biserta in progress
tonight, the 7th S Flotilla is ordered by Markado (headquarters?) to take
up position at the Western Patrol Line until
S55 probably after her refit October 1941
1755 - Biserta Ferryville. S157, S158 and S156 cast off Ferryville.
1832 - Biserta, passed Mole, NNW 3-4, swell 3-4
2018 - 3rd S Flotilla advises cessation of mine laying mission due to swell
4 and rough conditions.
2110 - NNE 4, swell 3. Reached southern patrol line. Commenced patrol due
north, 15 knots. Tactical nos 2 and 3 (S156, S158) fall back to keep within
2110 - Receive FT from Commander 3rd S Flotilla position CJ 7675, located
enemy naval forces at 315 degrees
2125 - Receive FT from Commander 3rd S Flotilla: Enemy broken through, I
am following, course 050 degrees 30 knots. After forming up the reported
forces must have reached the patrol line. Since so far no sighting by Commander
of 3rd S Flotilla, I continue along patrol line.
2140 - Since the FT received at 2110, FT on the leaders craft (S157) not
very clear, tactical number 2 (S158) is called in for verbal communication.
2155 - Tactical no 2 casts off to take up position.
2156 - UK(signal lamp?) message from S156: BB(?) 4 shadows on my beam. UK
order to all (from S157): Rot Willi Null Sofie Toni (?)
2200 - FT from Commander 3rd S Flotilla: My position CJ 7658
2200 - UK order to all (from S157): Joint firing, target distribution from
right. At that moment enemy unit (HMS Lightning) turns from NE direction
onto easterly course straight in the direction of the flotilla. Therefore
the tactical nos 1 and 2 (S157, S158), which are close together, position
to the north of the enemy, tactical no 3 (S156) stands on towards the enemy.
2204 - UK order: All boats - permission to fire at your own discretion -
according to situation
2207 - Double fire by S157 on most northerly destroyer, course 070, speed
2208 - Destroyer hit by S158, positioned between leaders craft and destroyer.
Immediately after the torpedo firing by S158 I notice that the destroyer
veers off and the torpedo crashes into it.
2210 - Receive FT CJ 7662 - 4 destroyers, course NE, full speed
2210 - S157 turns stern side on to the (enemy) unit and goes NE running
on one engine, for reloading. Just notice to the right in front of the hit
destroyer on another unit a torpedo detonation with an unusually high, very
pointed detonation mushroom, probably fired by S156 (probably fatal hit
on HMS Lightning by S55 of 3rd S Flotilla). Problems with reloading on S157,
continue running on one engine NE.
2215 - Renewed detonation on the destroyer which sinks after a short while.
2235 - 2 destroyers (cruisers) sighted astern, which follow obstinately
and catch up slowly. Since visibility poor at the moment and reloading not
completed, I try to withdraw, but am continuously in unfavorable position
when moonlight breaks through.
2250 - To encourage my other boats, issue the following message: Engaged
in combat with 2 enemy destroyers CJ 7636.
2253 - Astern in the direction where vessel was sunk strong LG (searchlight
or flares?) light seen. (Possibly S158 going amongst survivors).
2255 - The pursuing destroyers (cruisers) have stayed a little astern in
order to get to the dark horizon to the east, I pull in front of them in
2300 - Destroyers (cruisers) have again veered to the west, later south
east. I go full speed south in order to reach the black curtain of rain
2335 - Rapidly changing cloud, variable visibility, rain showers and breakthrough
of clear moon. Wind 5-6, occasionally 3-4, north easterly/westerly directions.
At 2314, 2318 and 2334 receive FT from Commander 3rd S Flotilla reporting
location, attack and sinking of further destroyers and reports that remaining
destroyers have stopped attacking him and are rescuing survivors. This is
in agreement with my view regarding the LGs which are appearing in the direction
of the sinking site and are sinking fast. Subsequent consideration of the
firing sequence leads to the assumption of a larger enemy unit (cruiser).
Due to the exceptionally black curtain of rain in the south lit in the west
and north by the moon, I go full speed south.
2340 - S158 reports: Pursuing destroyer CJ 7692
2340 - FT from Commander 7th S Flotilla: Destroyer in the west out of sight,
lost contact. Go to western patrol line
2358 - Commander 3rd S Flotilla reports his return to western patrol area.
0000 - Turned west.
0003 - FT from commander Markdo Tunisia: S boat men bravo.
0010 - From Commander 7th Flotilla to S158 Question: Is everything in order?
0040 - FT from S158: Everything in order. One prisoner of sunk destroyer
0035 - In the north 2 shadows come into sight (cruisers), which move slowly
to the west. Leaders craft moves to attack. Visibility not clear, enemy
silhouette cannot be made out clearly. Since my FuMB (?) broken down half
an hour ago, I cannot use visual firing and have to reckon with being located