Schnellboot in the Spanish Armada Schnellboot Archive

Schnellboote of the Armada

By Alejandro Yanez, Spain.

As a result of the Civil War, Spain broke into two sides and most navy units fell into Republican hands. In order to counter his naval inferiority, General Franco asked his allies, Italy and Germany, for help. Italy sold Spain two old destroyers and some torpedo boats. Italy also dispatched several submarines to patrol the Spanish coast as a "peace keeping" operation. At the time, the Kriegsmarine was in the process of rebuiding after the Armistice with little to spare and urgent needs of its own. German naval help was mainly in the form of military advisors. Later, help was delivered to Franco in the form of the Kriegsmarine's highly effective Schnellboot.

In 1938 Kriegsmarine sold five decomissioned S-boote, S-1 to S-5 to the Nationalist Navy. These were somewhat worn-out experiemental boats already considered obsolete by the Germans, so their practical military value was doubtful. However, they were the first of a family of seventeen boats which was to survive in Spain as active naval units well into the 1970s.

These first five units were given names, but soon were renamed "LT" for Lancha Torperdera (torpedo boat) There is no known reason for begining the number from 11, it was perhaps a ruse to mislead enemy intelligence.

Ex German Spanish Name Spanish Number (later)
S-1 Badajoz LT 15
S-2 Falange LT 13
S-3 Oviedo LT 12
S-4 Requete LT 11
S-5 Toledo LT 14

Once the Second World War began, the Spanish Government felt the need to boost their armed forces in order to guarantee neutrality and defend the frontiers. They again turned to Germany, their closest ally, for assistance. Germans were also intersted in keeping Spain friendly, as it was an open frontier to German trade and raw materials, but mainly because Hitler wanted Spain to enter war as a co-beligerant and deny the Gibraltair straight to the Royal Navy. Furthermore Spain's strategic situation would allow Germany to better evade the Allied blockade.

Although officially neutral, Spain was decidedly pro-German, allowing German U-Boats to resupply in Spanish ports, for example. In order to maintain this pro-German attitude, the German Government entered into negotiations code-named "Programa Bar" which led to delivery from Germany all kind of military equipment, (air warning radars, Flak control stations, tanks, aircraft, small arms, ammuntion etc.).

The navy also received a share of the goods. This was mainly equipment to upgrade their existing ships but also included several Schnellboote, and the transfer of rights, blueprints and technology to build these and other light units in Spain. Plans were made to build U-boote, S-boote, and M-boote (minesweepers), even some Spanish-designed destroyers were inspired by the German types. After successful negotiations, several modern S-38 type S boote were aquired by Spain. These were followed by a domestic building program conducted in Spanish boatyards.

Also as part of the agreement, several Spanish crews were sent to Germany to receive training in the use of their new equipment. These crews participated the same training programs as the German recruits in Swinemunde. A number of these Spanish sailors participated in combat action against the Russians in the Baltic Sea.

In all, six Kriegsmarine S-38 type boats were transfered to the Armada (Spanish navy). Transfer was done in Burdeos (France) in two groups during August 1943. Originally painted in Schnellbootweiss, they were all overpainted in medium grey and given neutrality markings (Spanish flags painted on the hull side) before sailing to Pasajes (Spain) manned by their newly trained Spanish crews.

Names Comissioned Transferred to Spain Decomissioned
Ex S-73 / LT21* 19/02/42 /08/43 19/06/56
Ex S-78 / LT22 03/06/42 /08/43 19/06/56
Ex S-124 / LT23 15/04/43 28/08/43 19/06/56
Ex S-125 / LT24 16/05/43 28/08/43 18/06/55
Ex S-126 / LT25 12/06/43 28/08/43 18/06/55
Ex S-145 / LT26 10/08/43 28/08/43 23/11/57

* Numbers from LT-15 to LT-20 were given to Italian built boats

As can be seen, some of these boats were previously used by the Kriegsmarine, before delivery to Spanish crews for training. However, the last deliveries were of new boats. Once in Spain, they were sent to Puntales in Cadiz, where they were based, while waiting the new Navy Station at Tarifa (near Gibraltar) being completed. Also, as part of the program, Germany transfered to Spain the technology (motors,screws, hull design, etc) and plans needed to built their own S-38 class boats. So the building program was stablished following orders dated 26/11/44, and work began in the Arsenal de la Carraca, Cadiz (Navy facilities at La Carraca, Cadiz).

The German defeat in May 1945 left the program incomplete, and the subsequent international blockade against General Franco´s Spain made it very difficult to obtain the necesary materials to continue the building program. As a consequence, work on the Schnellboot suffered delay and advanced very slowly. The first boat took nearly a decade from laying down to commissioning. The program to license build the Type VII U-boat was cancelled alltogether.

Finally only six Spanish Schnellboote were completed, some of them taking several years to finish.

Name Laid down Launched Comissioned Decomissioned
LT27 31/10/44 09/06/49 10/07/53 21/01/63
LT28 31/10/44 22/12/49 10/07/53 24/01/63
LT29 22/12/49 27/09/50 10/07/53 04/08/61
LT30 18/06/50 16/02/53 26/09/53 31/07/77
LT31 13/03/53 02/07/54 21/07/56 31/07/77
LT32 30/11/54 27/02/56 06/11/59 12/08/74

When finished, all them were based at Tarifa and remained there during the length of their active career in the Armada. Although the Italians built a licensed version of the early S-14 class boat, the Spanish Navy was the sole foreign country allowed by Germany to build the advanced S-38 class. This required Germany to transfer its most advanced torpedo boat and engine technology abroad.

The delays in the Spanish building program, coupled with the great technical advances of WWII, made the boats obsolete from their first day of service. Yet they were fast and good boats which admirably served in the Armada until the last was decomissioned in 1977. As one can see in the photos, these were beautiful boats that displayed their proud Kriegsmarine heritage. (The sole alteration was LT-32's tripod radar mast.)

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