Purpose of this blog

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

Sunday, April 18, 2021

Attack Boat

 In both World Wars the Germans very quickly, if they ever had it, lost control of the English Channel. This led to a rather unique situation where the Allies controlled the sea and could utterly batter the German forces on land with little worry of reprisals. As the Germans could not match the naval might of the Royal Navy, they had to resort to some unique technology to try and tackle the problem. A few weeks ago, we looked at one of these attempts in the Second World War, so now it is time to see what happened in the First World War.


HMS Earl of Peterborough, a Lord Clive Class monitor. Laid down January 1915, and commissioned in September of the same year!

In the First World War the Royal Navy had a series of bombardment monitors which would sail up and down the coast bombarding targets at will. A prime target was Zeebrugge. Thus, the Germans deployed a unit to the area equipped with Fernlenkboot’s, (FL-boat). These were small boats, with a 1,500lb explosive warhead and two fuses, although a third fuse would be fitted later to cause the craft to self-destruct if it missed its target. The FL-boat could reach some 30 knots, powered by a powerful petrol engine of advanced design. This engine was based on the 400hp engine designed by Victor Despujols before the war. In 1914 he would use a similar craft to set the world speed record on the Seine river. However, before that the boat was used for racing, and doing extremely well. Then one day at a race in Monaco the French boat did not show up, leaving a German, named Schmidt to easily win. An investigation was held, and it was found that the French boat had been sold to the Germans, with the backing of the Bosch representatives at the port. These were acting on behalf of Siemens, and very shortly the boat was at the Siemens works being analysed and reverse engineered.
Controls for the boat were done via a cable, this was about 12 miles in length, and signals to turn to port or starboard were transmitted down the cable. The drum with the cable on it weighed some 1,800lbs! Guidance for the craft was done by a plane shadowing it. It would relay directions back to base using morse code. The base unit would then steer the boat.

A FL-boat being unloaded from a railway car.

Late in December 1916 a British monitor was spotted sailing along the coast, so a FL-boat was prepared, the engines started, and the boat sent on its way. After about 10 miles the boat entered a circle and remained in that hard turn. It soon became clear that it was not responding to signals. A German destroyer had crossed the path of the boat and severed the wire. To prevent the boat falling into enemy hands it was destroyed by a German warship.
Over the next few months, the extra fuse was added to self-destruct the craft should the cable be cut. In February 1917 there was another attempt, however the fuse failed and self-destructed the craft before it reached the target. 

A FL-boat and its concrete hangar built at Zeebrugge to protect them.

In March 1917 the Germans tried something a bit different. A FL-boat was launched, but the cable drum and control unit were loaded onto a trawler. This allowed much more range. The target of this FL-boat was the Belgium town of Nieuwpoort. The FL-boat functioned perfectly and struck the concrete mole at the harbour. It is not recorded if the warhead exploded or not, however, the British stated that it did no damage, and at least some of the wreckage was recovered, which gave the British sufficient information to understand the weapon. 


Thus, when on the 6th of September the British monitor M.24 saw a speed boat heading towards her, the crew had a good idea of what was heading towards them and opened fire. On the sixth salvo from the assorted weapons on board, and at a range of 300 yards, the FL-boat was obliterated. However, on the 28th of October HMS Erebus and nine destroyers were steaming off the Belgium coast when they were attacked by a FL-boat. There are no details of what occurred in the run up to the attack, but none of the escorts or the monitor were able to sink the boat, and it struck the side of the ship. The resulting explosion killed two sailors and wounded fifteen more. The damage was limited to ripping some 50ft of the torpedo bulge off the side, but otherwise left the ship undamaged. A final attack in November was foiled when the boat was seen approaching, and then destroyed by HMS North Star. 

HMS M.15, sister ship to HMS M.24

The idea of the FL-boat would re-appear with added technology in the Second World War with the Linsen craft. These were a pair of high-speed motorboats. One was crewed by two sailors, while the other was an explosive boat. One sailor would steer their own boat, while the other controlled the explosive boat by radio. There are conflicting sources that state some of the FL-boats had radio control fitted, which adds to the confusion if they were or not. 


Thank you for reading. If you like what I do, and think it is worthy of a tiny donation, you can do so via Paypal (historylisty-general@yahoo.co.uk) or through Patreon. For which I can only offer my thanks. Or alternatively you can buy one of my books.


Credits & Sources: