Friday, January 2, 2009

Nazi E-boat saved by military enthusiast

The last Nazi E-boat, which took part in an infamous raid during the Second World War, has been saved by a British military enthusiast.

Schnellboot-130, once the fastest vessel in the world, helped attack an Allied convoy off Slapton Sands, in Devon, in a battle in which nearly 1,000 Allied soldiers were killed.

On the night of April 27, 1944, the boat was one of nine German vessels patrolling the English Channel when they stumbled upon Operation Tiger, which was the rehearsal for the D-Day landings.

The convoy launched a raid and killed 946 Allied soldiers. Allied chiefs initially covered up the loss, keen to avoid the enemy becoming aware of what it had achieved or getting wind of any planned invasion of Europe.

After the war the Schnellboot was seized by the British and used to land spies behind the Iron Curtain during the Cold War but was then left in a dockyard and eventually began to disintegrate.

Enthusiast Kevin Wheatcroft has now come to the rescue of the vessel.

Mr Wheatcroft, whose family owns the Donington Grand Prix museum, in Leicestershire, paid just £1 for the hulk but will now spend around £3 million restoring it.

He recently acquired the salvage rights on three sunken Schnellboots off the Danish coast and plans to bring up original parts to help the restoration.

The project will take up to five years after which it is hoped the vessel will become a floating museum and visitor attraction.

Mr Wheatcroft said: "I've always been fascinated with Schnellboots and she is one of the most famous.

"The intention is to return her to her original state and into a moving museum."

He added: "Over the years I have collected a lot of parts including engines, gun platforms, a complete radio and bridge equipment.

"I have acquired salvage rights on three Schnellboot wrecks off the Danish coast. They were sunk after the war in 1948 and 1949, so are not war graves.

"I hope to be able to get an armoured bridge, torpedo tubes and mine racks from the sunken ships.

S-130 was recently lifted from the water and a building will now be put up around her while the work is carried out a few miles along the coast from Slapton Sands.

The Schnellboots were small, fast and effective – and had been devised as a result of the Versailles restrictions set at the close of the First World War.

With the Germans banned from building large warships they embarked on an ingenious naval development programme, resulting in the Schnellboots.

The allies called them E-boats – the "E" standing for enemy.

They were propelled by three powerful Mercedes diesel engines and could travel at 55 knots, faster than any other naval vessel.

The boats had a wedge on the stern that prevented the bow from rising as it accelerated so the guns fired more accurately. That technology is today used on US destroyers.

Wyn Davies, a naval architect and maritime historian, said: "She is the last survivor of a hugely important class of warship that gave our coastal forces quite a headache.

"They introduced several new features, the most useful of which was the use of diesel engines to power them.

"This ended the need for stocking inflammable petrol on board.

"These craft formed the basis for post war development of similar vessels for most Nato navies."


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