Operation Tiger: Wheatcrofts German S130 Schnellboot was there…

The only known, surviving and seaworthy S-boot S-130, was built at the Johann Schlichting boatyard as hull number 1030 in Travemünde, on the Baltic Coast. Commissioned on October 21st 1943, h
er Commanding Officer was Oberleutnant zur See Gunter Rabe, she was assigned to the 9th S-Boot Flotilla under the command of Korvettenkapitän Götz Freiherr von Mirbach, one of the most famous S-Boot commanders of the war.

Oberleutnant zur See Gunther Rabe

With a range of up to 700 miles and a crew of 35, S130 was used as a fast-attack craft, for mine-laying, targeting submarines with depth charges and for covert operations. Built largely of lightweight wood and aluminum, it was powered by three 2,500-horsepower diesel engines.

The S-boat was based in Cherbourg, France, where it earned notoriety as part of the flotilla that ravaged a U.S. convoy during Exercise Tiger.

German authorities credited the S130’s crew with half of a “kill” after launching one torpedo which struck LST 507 during Exercise Tiger, at least 175 American soldiers and sailors aboard the landing craft were later confirmed dead.

After the Normandy invasion, it was seized by Britain and used by intelligence service MI6 as a British Baltic Fishery Protection Service, to infiltrate spies behind the Iron Curtain. It was subsequently returned to the German navy and used to train sailors in underwater weaponry before being decommissioned in 1991. It later served as a houseboat before being brought to Britain and falling into disrepair.

Dr. Harry Bennett, a World War II expert based at Britain’s University of Plymouth, compared the S130 to an “ocean-going shark.”

“The S-boats would go out into the English Channel looking for targets of opportunity, they would sit there in the dead of night with their engines idling, wait for the enemy, fire a torpedo and be gone before anybody even knew what was going on.”

S130 at speed

The last-known remaining craft of its type was bought by British military vehicle collector Kevin Wheatcroft, who is spending about 5 million pounds to return the boat to its original condition.

Restoring the craft is a painstaking process that is expected to take about five years. The ship’s guts have been stripped out and its armoured wheelhouse and bridge removed, the next step is for a 40ft keel weighing about two tons to be installed.

To complete the parts that were missing when Kevin purchased S130, he commissioned a team of divers to recover items from three E-boats that had been scuttled off the coast of Denmark.

As owner of the world’s largest privately held collection of military vehicles, Kevin Wheatcroft envisions the restored vessel as being a “living memorial to all sailors who died during World War II. It’s the only example of its type left in the world” he said, “I want it to become like something brought back from the past”.

Wheatcroft, whose family owns Britain’s Donington Park race circuit, described S-boats as “without a doubt the most sinister, purpose-built killing machines”.

War History Online was given exclusive access to the boatyard, which sits at the end of a winding country road near Plymouth to witness the restoration’s progress. When Kevin Wheatcroft opened the doors we were astounded at the size of the boat and of the restoration itself; the first thing to hit you is the incredibly imposing bow, with it’s new wood in place.

Bow section of S130

Walking around the huge boathouse you can’t really fully comprehend the size of the boat until you climb up the ladders and step on the deck –  here you see how big the S130 really is!!!  34.9 m (114 feet 6 inches).


From deck looking aft


Looking towards the Bow with L-R: War History Online’s Jack beckett, Neil Leavesley, Kevin Wheatcroft and John Owles (Boat builder)


Bow Torpedo Section


Internal Bow Structure


The newly fitted Rear Transom
Looking Aft from Midships


Rear Engine Room

Whilst looking around we also stumbled across 4 huge engines, 3 of which will be installed in to the S130…

These are 20-cylinder 2000 hp Daimler Benz MB501 diesels driving three huge prop shafts.

Mercedes Maybach Engine

To give an idea of the size of these ‘beasts’ I placed a fire extinguisher next to the engine for comparison…

Mercedes Maybach Engine

These massive engines enabled the S130 to attain a top speed of 43 knots (approx 50mph).

Built In Stuttgart Germany by Mercedes.

Daimler Benz V20


Daimler Benz

S-boats were configured with three diesel engines driving three prop shafts, specially developed MAN and Daimler Benz engines were fitted in the early S-boats. Although equal in horsepower, the in-line MAN motors tended to produce excessive vibration and had a high center of gravity, this led to breakdowns and unacceptable stresses on the boats’ light motor mounts.

In 1938 the Naval staff decided upon the reliable 20 Cylinder 2000hp MB501 V-engine as the standard S-boat powerplant. The MB501 proved highly dependable and a versatile basis for later improvements such as the addition of superchargers.

The final versions of the MB501 could propel the 100 ton boat to speeds of 43.8 knots.

Schnellboot Engine Room

Situated in the middle of the hull, the engine room reflected thorough German planning and smart design inherent in the entire S-Boat program. Although noisy, it was spacious, well ventilated and illuminated by skylights; conduits and wiring were neatly laid out to allow accessability for quick identification and repair. The risk of fire was greatly diminished by the use of diesel fuel and by a built-in Ardex fire extinguishing system. Aircraft style instrument panels monitored performance of the three engines and instructions from the bridge were received on a miniature engine room telegraph.

Mechanic monitors instruments. On his right, the engine telegraph.

Although the engines were technological marvels, it still took well trained crewmen with steady nerves to keep them running.


Kevin Wheatcroft aims to rebuild the S130 so that it performs exactly as it did when it left the Johann Schlichting boatyard in 1943…

“The idea is that you’ll really step back in time, however finding the bits is some task — we’re looking for mundane things like sinks, wash basins, the galley cooker, knives, forks and plates”. 

With this in mind, coupled with Kevin’s reputation for attention to detail and superb restorations, this boat will be stunning when completed!

Keith Nisbet