Schnellboote: A Complete Operational History by Lawrence Patterson, pub. 2015
Reviewed by Dom Sore
I am of an age where Commando comics, amongst others, were my introduction into World War 2. I only remember E-boats interfering with the valiant efforts of the British Navy Motor Torpedo and Gun Boats as they attempted to rescue a flight crew/deliver a commando team/retrieve an important resistance member, or any other mission that required a fast boat. Until now that’s about all I knew about E-boats. So I was interested to read Lawrence Patterson’s Schnellboote. The first thing I learned is that they were called S-boote by the Germans followed by the revelation we do not know why they are called E-boats by us Brits. The book itself is 338 pages of packed text with a large number of relevant photographs strewn amongst the text rather than collated in sections.
This is a comprehensive history of the S-boats covered chronologically by area of operation from the inception of the first Schnellbootshalbflottille until their final operations in 1945. Some operations get more detail than others mainly due to little happening in those operations. The description of S35 and S60 attacking and sinking Russian submarine S3, including getting close enough to use hand grenades, is one of the more interesting missions in the book and delivered well. There is much made also of the lack of numbers the S-boats had, for example on the eve of the Allied Invasion of France there were just thirty-one operational S-boats, five torpedo boats, and five destroyers, against eighty Allied destroyers alone. That provides some scale to the problems the Kriegsmarine faced throughout the war. The information is presented in a neutral manner, however, and any sinkings Patterson describes have been corroborated using available sources from both sides. In the process, you will discover that an S-boat captain was likely to greatly overestimate the tonnage he sank, and that the S-boats often collided.
It is not all plain sailing though when reading this text because it is a near pure recounting of the operations with all the dryness that implies. There is nothing wrong with that, yet the pieces of witness accounts that have been used really add to the story and more would have been appreciated. In the same vein some of the operations would benefit the reader if they contained more detail. There are also occasions where you need to track back to work out dates, or to check which S-flotilla is being referenced. A better edit should have covered that. Finally, this book feels like it could do with a summary at the end, detailing what was sunk, and also an analysis of the effectiveness of the S-boats.
This is a book chock full of wargame inspiration, with some excellent reference photographs and a great grounding in this area of World War 2. For being what could be a very dry subject it is a surprisingly easy read yet does suffer from a lack of clarity at times. It has definitely broadened my knowledge and whetted my appetite for more. The aforementioned encounter with the Russian submarine and some of the encounters with Yugoslav partisans are ripe for basing skirmish scenarios on, while the convoy attacks will suit a larger scale game. I now need to find some naval rules, some ships, and a big enough table to get more use out of this book.