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A speedboat is a small warship that is powered by internal combustion engines ( diesel or gasoline engines through to gas turbines ) and can reach high speeds of sometimes over 50  knots (kn) (over 90 km / h). Originally, speedboats were armed with torpedoes . Today's speedboats are equipped with anti-ship missiles as their main armament.

History until 1945

The development of the speedboat goes back to the time of World War I when Great Britain , Italy and Germany each developed small armed boats powered by internal combustion engines.

Great Britain

MTB return from a speedboat defense patrol protecting the invasion forces in 1944

Even before the First World War, the Royal Navy was developing small boats that were to be brought to the coast as dinghies by cruisers . During the war they should be able to drive over the minefields off the German coast due to their shallow draft . Initially mostly without torpedo armament , they were called CMB ( Coastal Motor Boats ). Even during the First World War, they grew to a size of 17 t displacement with torpedo armament. These boats were already operating independently to monitor the coast. The smaller CMB with a displacement of less than 10 t carried a single torpedo, the larger two torpedoes in a channel in the stern, which simply slid backwards into the water, and otherwise had at most one or two machine guns for armament.

During the Second World War , the Royal Navy used different boats. The range ranged from a few boats, which roughly corresponded to the larger CMB of the First World War, to units that were very slow for speedboats (less than 30 knots) with a displacement of almost 100 t. For the most part, however, it was small planing boats with a displacement of 40 to 50 t that could only be used to a limited extent under the conditions of the North Sea and the Atlantic, also due to the weather. They were powered by gasoline engines, which limited the range due to the high fuel consumption. In addition, the boats caught fire more easily in firefights with German boats. They were of little offensive use and were mainly occupied with fighting the German speedboats. In contrast to their German counterparts, they were also equipped with sonar and radar as soon as they were available .

The Royal Navy mainly focused on armament specialization in its speedboats. The MTB (motor torpedo boats) were mostly equipped with two torpedo tubes, machine guns and, in the course of the war, with one or two automatic cannons and depth charges. The MGB (motor cannon boats) carried no torpedoes, but more machine weapons and artillery up to a caliber of 7.5 cm. These two variants should complement each other in battle with their respective strengths.

After the war, boats were also equipped with powerful Napier Deltic diesel engines or gas turbines (e.g. Vosper class ). Some such boats have also been delivered to the United States , Norway, and other allied navies. After 1958, the Royal Navy no longer procured any new speedboats.


The development of the boats known as MAS in Italy began even before the First World War. The abbreviation originally stood for " M otobarca A rmata S VAN" (armed motor ship SVAN), whereby SVAN was an Italian shipyard (Società Veneziana Automobili Nautiche), but was later used as an acronym for " M otoscafo a nti s ommergibile" (Anti-U Boat-motorboat). At first one saw the main task of the MAS in the anti-submarine defense, and the armament consisted accordingly of cannons . The boats were soon also equipped with torpedoes, then MAS also stood for: " M otoscafo A rmato S ilurante " (armed torpedo motorboat). The Italian Navy achieved a spectacular success with a boat of this type in 1918 when MAS 15 sank the Austro-Hungarian battleship Szent István .

MAS 96, which was used in the 1918 attack on the Austro-Hungarian naval base in Bakar

The variety of types of Italian speedboats is enormous. Practically every shipyard brought out its own designs in small series (sometimes only individual boats). In terms of armament and performance, the picture is confusing, also because some of the boats have been considerably converted and reclassified.

The first boats were so small that their seaworthiness was very limited and they represent the lower limit for boats that could still carry effective weapons. They were only 16 m long, almost 2.5 m wide and had a total weight of around 14 t. The armament consisted either of two torpedoes (without tubes) and machine guns, or of one or two light guns (up to 7.6 cm). Equipped to lay mines , they could lay up to four mines. The drive was initially carried out with Otto engines from 400 to 500 hp, with which speeds of 17 to 27 knots were reached.

Influenced by English constructions, the boats grew in size towards the end of the First World War and by the Second World War they reached dimensions of around 20 m in length, 4.5 m in width and almost 30 t in weight. Based on German designs, boats with almost 100 tons were also built during the Second World War. The mileage increased to over 40 knots. Nevertheless, types with much smaller dimensions always remained in use.

Soviet Union

Soviet Komsomolez- type speedboat of the Second World War

After the Soviets made the acquaintance of English CMBs that were used against them in the conflicts following the October Revolution , they developed their own designs as early as the mid-1920s. These came from the aircraft designer Tupolev and had many features from aircraft construction. However, these boats did not prove themselves in World War II. Instead, during the war, the USSR received MTB and PT boats as part of US armaments support.

United States

PT speed boat

The United States developed in World War II speedboats, the Patrol Torpedo Boats or short PT Boats were called, although the official name and Motor Torpedo Boats had. The boats were primarily intended for use in the Pacific as surveillance forces in the island world of Polynesia , which consisted of reefs and atolls . The designs were heavily influenced by British MTB, and like these and Italian boats, they were limited seagoing planing boats.

PT boats were predominantly equipped with Packard 12-cylinder V- Otto engines and armed with four torpedo tubes as well as various automatic cannons and depth charges. The equipment with automatic cannons varied greatly, in some cases multiple grenade launchers and torpedoes without tubes were used.

A total of more than 700 PT boats were built and used in the Pacific as well as in the Mediterranean and English Channel . PT-109, whose commander was the future President of the USA, John F. Kennedy , became particularly well known . PT boats were also given to Allied navies.


The development of German speedboats is closely linked to the Lürssen shipyard in Bremen - Vegesack . Before the First World War, this shipyard was a leader in the construction of motor sports boats in Germany.

Germany experimented with small motorized boats for a variety of purposes. Various armaments and engines were used, including powerful airship engines from 1916 onwards . The German boats should attack British monitors in Flanders and, due to the shallow draft, should be able to pass the network barriers in front of the monitors. Boats with torpedo armament were commissioned by the Reichsmarineamt in 1916 and put into service as LM 1 - LM 28 from the same year until 1918 . They were 7 t tall, equipped with a torpedo tube or a 3.7 cm gun, and ran around 30 kn at 700 hp.

In the 1920s one began under civil guise under the direction of Vice Admiral a. D. Adolf von Trotha with first attempts to develop new speed boats using six old LM boats and the LM boat "Luesi 1", which was only completed after the war. From 1926 onwards, by order of Captain ZS Lohmann, these boats formed an experimental flotilla with which extensive tactical and material tests were carried out. This type of ship, which was not covered by the Versailles Peace Treaty , offered the opportunity to increase combat strength and the number of trained personnel within the restrictions. Nevertheless, the development initially took place in secret, because there was fear of reactions from the victorious powers.

Mine load from a German speedboat

The development of the typical German speedboat of the Second World War began in 1928 when the Schnellboot S 1 , based on the plan of the fast motor yacht Oheka II , was developed. The boat was put into service in 1930 as the "UZ (S) 16" submarine destroyer. From 1932 it formed the 1st S-Flotilla with seven remaining boats from the First World War and four newly added boats. At the same time the official type designation "Schnellboot" was introduced.

The new speedboats were powered by three gasoline engines with a total of 3000 hp on three screws and had a displacement of about 40 tons (t), two torpedo tubes and ran about 37 kn. The lines of the hull turned out to be very successful and was retained on all boats until the end of the Second World War. Since petrol engines had an increased risk of fires and explosions due to gasoline vapors, the following buildings were given the significantly safer diesel engines for the first time . Another advantage was the lower consumption of the diesel engines. This enables a greater range of up to 700  nautical miles . At first they experimented with 7- cylinder in - line engines from MAN and 20-cylinder V-engines from Daimler-Benz . Since the latter proved to be much more useful, the MB 501 engine series with 2000  hp became the standard engine for German speedboats. The maximum speed with these engines was 39 knots. As part of the further development of the MB 518 , the engines were boosted to an output of 2500 hp, increasing the top speed to 42 knots. With this motorization, the area of ​​action expanded to the entire North Sea and Baltic Sea up to the Gulf of Finland.

S 204 with a white flag after being handed over to the British Navy

The German speedboats, which eventually m a length of about 35 during World War II and a weight had 100 t, received (from 26 S two to improve the seaworthiness in) Back built torpedo tubes with characteristic cut-outs for the flaps of the torpedo tubes and (ab S 68 ) a bridge. There were also several light guns of various calibres, the number of which increased steadily during the war. From the series beginning with S 100 , the boats had a domed bridge armored with 10 to 12 millimeter Wotan steel in order to protect at least the bridge personnel from the effects of weapons from low- flying aircraft . The fuselage was a composite construction with a frame structure made of an aluminum alloy and multilayered wood planking ( diagonal cranks ).

These speedboats, of which over 200 were used, attacked coastal shipping around the British Isles, especially at night, but were also relocated to the Mediterranean and the Black Sea via motorways and inland waterways .

The Allies called the German speedboats "E-Boats", an abbreviation for "Enemy Boats" (German: "enemy boats"). From around 1943, the main burden of the offensive was transferred to the speedboats by surface forces, as the large units were either destroyed or could no longer operate with any prospect of success. The losses suffered by the speedboat drivers were correspondingly high, although the boats themselves proved to be very robust.

A speedboat from this time, the former S 130 , was used by the German Navy for various purposes until the 1970s and has been preserved to this day after many modifications. S 130 is now privately owned in England, but is looked after by the British Military Powerboat Trust, which owns various historic military boats. The trust currently lacks the funds for restoration, so the boat is currently not open to the public. But in the future it will be shown in an exhibition.

Speedboats of the German Navy (from 1945)

Federal Navy

Jaguar boats in a "package"
Three boats of the class 143 and one of the class 143 A in the base Hohe Düne
Project 131.432 of the People's Navy of the GDR
LTS type "Iltis"

In the construction phase, the German Federal Navy took over two speedboats from the Second World War and six modified replicas of the later herring gull class (class 149) from the Federal Border Police, which was built under Allied supervision, and the BBFPS . This was followed by the first new designs with the 30 boats of the Jaguar class (class 140/141) and 10 boats of the sable class (class 142). These constructions were still typical torpedo speed boats with four (two on each side) V-shaped torpedo tubes pointing forward and two rapid-fire guns of the 40 mm / L70 caliber .

The Schnellbootflotille, in which all speedboats were combined, consisted of three to four squadrons on the Baltic Sea and at times one squadron on the North Sea. In the NATO strategy, these boats were intended to protect the access to the Baltic Sea around Denmark and to ward off landing companies.

In the 1970s, their armament was obsolete. The Zobel-class boats were modernized with two wire-guided torpedoes and operated until the mid-1980s. The older Jaguar class was taken out of service one after the other from 1973 and replaced by the Tiger class (class 148) bought in France . This class was armed with the most powerful Exocet missiles at the time . As German Eigenentwurf then the missile fast patrol boats came Albatros - and Gepard class (Class 143 / 143A) which will later also the boats Zobel replaced class. What all these classes have in common is the drive with four diesel engines and four fixed propellers.

People's Navy

The People's Navy of the GDR had a large number of speedboats. They were combined in the 6th Flotilla of the People's Navy in Dranske / Bug on Rügen . Initially, the boats were often Soviet models, such as the high-speed rocket boats of the Osa class , later also in-house designs. Most of them were small (<100 t) planing boats that were intended for use in calm seas and then reached very high speeds; the boats of the Iltis class, for example, 52 kn.

German Navy

After the security situation had changed considerably in 1990 and West Germany's coasts were no longer threatened by the Warsaw Pact , the speedboats lost their original defensive function in the area of ​​the Baltic Sea accesses. The older speedboats were sold abroad or scrapped (e.g. the Tiger class). Only ten boats of the Gepard class remained in service. These were combined in the 7th Schnellboot Squadron with a tender of the Elbe class (class 404). The squadron was stationed at the Warnemünde naval base in Rostock - Hohe Düne and was subordinate to Flotilla 1 in Kiel .

In recent years, the speedboats have been used for maritime surveillance as part of the international fight against terrorism in the Gulf of Aden and the Strait of Gibraltar . Until 2016, two to four German speedboats belonged to the UNIFIL association for monitoring the coast of Lebanon .

On November 16, 2016, the era of speedboats in the German Navy ended when the 7th Schnellbootgeschwader was decommissioned.

Other states after 1945

Because of the relatively low costs and demands on military infrastructure, speedboats were particularly interesting for small navies and countries with low military budgets. Even before and during the Second World War, this type was spreading. After the war, some countries took over, e.g. B. the Philippines and Indonesia, Allied speedboats. The Federal Republic of Germany later also exported speedboats to many countries, including Sweden, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Turkey and Argentina. Most recently, six of the decommissioned German Albatros class speedboats were sold to Tunisia.

After difficulties with the War Weapons Control Act , the German Schnellbootwerft Lürssen collaborated with the “Chantiers des Constructions Mechaniques de Normandie” in Cherbourg in the early 1960s . This resulted in the La Combattante II class , which was introduced in Germany as class 148 . This class was very successful for France in export and has been developed further to this day.

Soviet Turya class hydrofoil speedboat

The Soviet Navy built the largest fleet of speed boats in the world after World War II. With the introduction of the first boats with anti-ship missiles ( Komar class ), the USSR took over the technological leadership at the end of the 1950s when it came to the offensive power of the speedboats. The defensive equipment of various Soviet boat was with the introduction of the AK-230 - short-range defense system ahead of the late 1960s, the Western boats long time. At the beginning of the 1970s, the Turya class was the first and, for a long time, the only hydrofoil speedboat to be introduced into regular fleet service. However, the Soviet Union still built conventional torpedo speedboats (for example the Stenka class ) until the mid-1970s , but these were mainly used by the border guards or were given to allied states.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union , a large part of the speedboat fleet was decommissioned or sold abroad. Boats of Soviet design can therefore not only be found in the navies of the former Warsaw Pact .

The People's Republic of China still has a large number of speedboats today. Some of these are based on or based on Soviet construction, but also increasingly in-house developments.

The countries in which the speedboat concept was developed have largely turned away from it today. In Europe, the Scandinavian navies are still active in the further development of speedboats, as such boats are particularly suitable for the fragmented coasts with sometimes shallow waters. But even there, the boundaries between corvettes are becoming increasingly blurred .


The development of small, fast warships is currently going in two different directions. On the one hand, the somewhat larger but also slower type of ship, the corvette, is being reintroduced in many navies instead of speedboats . On the other hand, the speedboats that are currently under construction or under development should be even faster and also almost impossible to locate.


In order to be able to locate the new boats as difficult as possible, they are built according to the so-called camouflage principles . The most important thing is to reduce the radar reflection. For this, all outer walls must be inclined and specially coated. Rocket launchers, guns, dinghies, etc. must also be disguised accordingly. A second point is to reduce the heat radiation, as this can be located by IR sensors. The main problem here are the exhaust gases , which are therefore mixed with air in a complicated process and cooled before they are emitted. Sometimes even entire outer walls of the boats are cooled with cold water.

The advantage of these many expensive techniques is that the ships are more difficult to locate and therefore only late by the enemy. After the location, the ship should only be visible to the enemy as a very small object, well below the real size. One disadvantage is that the ships are relatively expensive due to their technology and, for reasons of cost, many navies therefore order a smaller number of boats than from the previous classes, which should be compensated for by the increased performance of the new boats.

Speed ​​increase

Vosper speedboat jet with turbine drive of the German Navy

In boats that are optimized for top speed, the engines make up the largest proportion of the vehicle's mass. So for a long time it was primarily a problem to develop more powerful engines for small boats. Because of their better power-to-weight ratio, gas turbines in particular are used here today .

Classical displacement boats with their stable position on the lake are limited in their maximum speed due to physical laws ( hull speed ), which cannot be overcome even with any engine power. On the other hand, the options previously used to achieve speeds of significantly more than 40 kn, planing boats and hydrofoils or hydrofoils, are always associated with a considerable loss of seaworthiness. That is why special hull designs are now being used, which should enable relatively stable behavior in sea ​​conditions despite high speed .

Various ideas have been implemented here so far:

  • The Chinese Navy has commissioned a class of catamaran speedboats, which is believed to be in service by now. Instead of a conventional hull, the boat has two small, very narrow hulls, which significantly reduces water resistance.
Norwegian Skjold in motion
  • The Norwegian Navy put the six-unit Skjold-class into service until 2009. The boats have a so-called "SES design", a mixture of catamaran and air cushion boat . Left and right there are two very narrow hulls (much narrower than catamarans) and in between, as soon as higher speeds are required, an air cushion is inflated. This reduces the draft and extremely high speeds can be achieved.
  • The US Navy is currently testing the five-hulled boats of the M80 Stiletto class, which form a "foam cushion" under the hull as the speed increases kn can be achieved.

Individual evidence

  1. ^ A b c Sea Warfare, Chris Bishop, De Agostini Aerospace Publishing, London 1999
  2. ^ For the entire paragraph: Angus Konstam: British Motor Torpedo Boat 1939–1945 . Osprey Publishing Ltd., Oxford 2003, ISBN 978-1-84176-500-6 (English)
  3. Italian speedboats at schnellboot.net ( Memento of 13 May 2008 at the Internet Archive )
  4. ^ The boats S 1 to S 6 were sold to Spain in the Spanish Civil War in 1936, six more boats sold to Spain in 1943 remained in service there until 1956/57; see [1]
  5. S130 at the BMPT
  6. The German fleet 1848-1945, Kroschel - Evers, ISBN 3-920602-12-9
  7. ^ The ships of the German Navy and Air Force 1939–1945; Erich Gröner, Lehmanns Verlag, Munich - 1954
  8. DVD-Stukas of the seas; Archive of the Lürssen shipyard / on-board companionship of the speedboat drivers
  9. Frank Binder: The era of speedboats is coming to an end . In: THB Deutsche Schiffahrts-Zeitung . 69th year, no. 222 , November 15, 2016.

Web links

Commons : Speedboat  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Schnellboot  - Explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations