Schnellboote, referred to as E or Enemy-Boats by the British, were small, fast torpedo boats used by the Kriegsmarine throughout the Second World War. During the First World War the German navy fitted airship engines to small vessels to create an improvised force of high performance craft for operations in littoral waters. The Lürssen Werft in Bremen continued the development after the war and in 1928 produced the plans for the S-1 based on an enlarged motor yacht. From 1929 onwards the production for naval use was undertaken. The basic design had doubled in size by 1939 and wartime boats displaced around 100 tonnes, had a wooden hull, were 35 metres long and carried two torpedo tubes in the bow. They were also equipped with light calibre weapons and could carry about six mines. Initially petrol engines were fitted but, as these were prone to catch fire, from 1933 newly developed high performance diesel engines were used. With these the boats could develop speeds of up to 42 knots and had a combat radius of between 300 and 350 nautical miles (345-403 miles, 556-648.6 km). The key characteristic of the Schnellboote was their round-bottomed hull that enabled them to operate in rough open waters and at high speed without leaving a detectable wake.
Originally the boats were designed for operations against the Soviets in the Baltic Sea, but during the war they were used in all coastal regions and were particularly effective at attacking Allied coastal shipping in the English Channel. In total around 200 boats were built and together they accounted for over 350,000 tonnes of shipping sunk by torpedoes or mines. On 28 April 1944 Cherbourg-based Schnellboote were able to inflict heavy damage on an American LST flotilla during a training exercise for Operation Overlord, killing over 600 servicemen.
Taken from Ship, edited by Andrew Lambert.