Purpose of this blog

Dmitry Yudo aka Overlord, jack of all trades
David Lister aka Listy, Freelancer and Volunteer

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Germany's answer to D-Day

Just to let you know, articles for the next couple of weeks are going to be shorter ones than normal as I'm a bit busy.

On the evening of 26th of April 1944 a convoy of five Landing Ship, Tank left Plymouth harbour. On-route to their objective they linked up with another three LST's. This force was escorted by HMS Azalea, a Flower Class corvette. Their mission was to conduct a practice landing exercise at a place called Slapton Sands. This convoy was spotted by a Luftwaffe plane, and its position reported. That night a total of nine S-boot's, from the 5th and 9th flotillas at Cherbourg, were given the mission of attacking the convoy as it crossed Lyme Bay.
A US LST, in th background, at work
There should have been an additional escort, HMS Scimitar. However, she had been damaged in a collision the day before and was unable to take station. When this was reported to Naval Command HMS Saladin was dispatched but was unable to reach her station in time. Not that it mattered. Aware they might be attacked by S-boots the Royal Navy had planned several other defensive measures to protect the landing ships laden with troops. Other combat units were stationed as a screen further out, and three MTB's were dispatched to keep an eye on Cherbourg.
As darkness fell the S-boots slipped their moorings and proceeded to sea. Total radio and light control meant they were able to slip past the MTB's and the various warships screening the convoys undetected. About 0130 the first of the LST's were spotted. Keep in mind these LST's were not entirely defenceless, mounting several 20mm and 40mm AA guns, a burst from which would cause severe damage to an S-boot. The problem was identifying the S-boot before it was in position to launch a torpedo, and then hit it with the guns. The confusion of the battle can best be described by the following entries from the log of one of the LST's, in this case LST-58.

  • 0133: Gunfire directed at convoy. Probably AA to draw return fire. 0133.5 General Quarters sounded. No target visible. Order to open fire withheld to protect position of convoy.  
  • 0202: Convoy changed direction to 203 degrees. Explosion heard astern and LST 507, the last landing craft in the convoy, seen to be on fire.  
  • 0215: LST 531 opened fire but no target visible from LST 58. 0217 LST 531 hit and exploded.
  • 0218: Decision to break formation and to proceed independently. 0224 order given on LST 531 to abandon ship.  
  • 0225: E-boat sighted at 1500 metres. Four 40mm guns and six 20mm guns on LST 58 fired off 68 and 323 rounds respectively. The E-boat turned away and at "cease fire" was about 2000 metres distant when it disappeared from view.  
  • 0230: LST 289 was hit.  
  • 0231: LST 289 opened fire but target not seen from LST 58.  
  • 0237: Surface torpedo reported off bow of LST 58.  
LST 289 after the torpedo hit on her stern.
Some two months later those LST's would be heading for shore again, only this time it was for real, D-Day had arrived. Again, the S-boots sortied from Cherbourg, heading out to sea en-masse about an hour before dawn. As the sky began to lighten, they looked ahead, there was a solid wall of shipping. The two flotillas had put forth thirty-one boats, between them they could manage 124 torpedoes. Before them there loomed the silhouettes of the invasion armada. Over 1200 warships alone were deployed in this fleet. Lumbering slowly through the ships were several large masses that were too huge to be ships, and whose purposes were unguessable. These were the Phoenix caissons.
The commander of the S-boots knowing that a charge towards that firepower would be utterly un-survivable, especially with the impending daylight, ordered his boats to fire their torpedoes at maximum range, without aiming. With such a mass of ships some torpedoes would strike home. Some did. The USS Partridge,HMT Sesame, LST-538 were all hit. Another torpedo hit one of the Phoenix Caissons and sunk it. As the S-boots returned to base, at least one was attacked by the mass of Allied aircraft overhead. A bomb exploded near one boat, S-130 and injured five men.

S-130 is currently the only surviving S-boot in the world, having had a long an interesting career, including a spell landing spies into Soviet occupied eastern Europe.

Image credits:
devoninww2.weebly.comwww.exercisetigermemorial.co.uk, www.wrecksite.eu and www.strijdbewijs.nl