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An Online Photo Album

While the Schnellboot was a superbly successful example of designing the maximum firepower, survivability and capability into the smallest possible vessel, the same concept failed with the Flottenbegeleiter (fleet escorts).

The design of this small warship was based on an ambitious pre-war OKM requirement for a small vessel to fill numerous roles such as fast minesweeper, mine layer, merchant escort and sub hunter. Mindful of the Versailles treaty, the weight was limited to 600 tons. The result (which actually exceeded the limit by about 100 tons) was essentially a frigate, an aggressive looking miniature warship with two stacks and two 10.5cm gun turrets.

Even before the war broke out, the multi-purpose approach was a proven failure. In order to comply with the specification for high speed, the ship was built with a narrow beam, sharp bow and untested high pressure steam turbines. Inevitably, the combination of these features compromised the ship's seaworthyness, reliability and firepower. The Kriegsmarine planners failed to anticipate the qualities that would make ships like the British Flower Class successful convoy escorts: they were cheap, uncomplicated, slow and, ultimately, expendible. The Flottenbegleitschiffe were none of these things. They were, after all, German.

During the war these ships found a somewhat suitable role in minesweeping flotillas as command and control vessels or fast minesweepers. Their engines, however, were notoriously unreliable. Although most of the class of ten vessels survived WW2, F9 had the dubious distinction of being one of the very first German ships sunk in WW2. On 13 December 1939, she was struck by two torpedoes from the submarine HMS Ursula while escorting cruisers Nurnberg and Leipzig. F9 sank within three minutes.

It was not long before tragedy again struck the F class. A convoy of troop transports under their protection was struck by a British Submarine on April 10, 1940 resulting in heavy casualties. Click Here

Kriegsmarine planners learned from these ships and their next generation of multi-purpose escorts, the T class torpedoboats, were extremely successful.

The Flottenbegeleiter probably served their most important role during the pre-war years. In the absence of a large fleet, these diminutive warships served as valuable advanced training ships, standing in as destroyers and cruisers in manouvers, and giving officers and crew valuable hands-on experience. The intensity of that training is evident in this online photo album. Click on the thumbnails below to view the full size photos.