The Kriegstransporter Programme

The Kriegstransporter Programme

Background

1941 was not a good year for the German naval supply capacity in the Mediterranean, with many of the vessels that were present at the start of operations in North Africa in February being lost by the end of the year. The tonnage losses amounted to about 70,000 tons lost out of 124,000 tons available at the start of the year, or 57%. It was of course impossible to send major vessels into the Mediterranean to replace these ships.

The shortage was particularly acute when it came to faster vessels, that could make the run to North Africa at higher speed, reducing their vulnerability to interception. Furthermore, there was also a lack of smaller vessels that could use the heavily degraded ports on the North African coast, which were strewn with wrecks from 18 months of warfare.

In reaction to this challenge, and the continuing need to supply German forces in North Africa, an emergency construction programme was established, based on a newly designed standardised type of a relatively small steamship of easy construction, called a Kriegstransporter abbreviated KT (literally: war transport). This programme was in addition to the considerable construction programme of Marinefaehrpraehme, MFP (literally: Navy Ferry Barge – called ‘F-Lighters’ by the Royal Navy), which had commenced at Palermo in September 1941.
 
The Kriegstransporter
Unlike the flat-bottomed MFP, the KT were proper ships with about five times the displacement (1,200 tons fully loaded (I guess) instead of up to 220 tons for version A of the MFP), higher speed (14.5 knots instead of 10.3 knots), and about four times the carrying capacity (400 tons instead of up to 105 tons for Type A of the MFP).  They also had the advantage of running on coal, rather than scarce Diesel or fuel oil, and had considerably more range and were more seaworthy (one of the first MFPs in the Mediterranean sank on its maiden voyage due to constructive weakness). Just like the MFP, the KT were not given names, but were simply numbered, starting with KT1 (KT3 was the type ship, and the only one constructed in Germany).
 
The KT could take as many tanks as the MFP in one load, six, and they had the ability to unload these themselves in harbour, through the use of a 30t crane that was installed amidships. This was sufficient to handle any tank then in the German or Italian arsenal.
 

KT1 after launch, September 1942 at Genoa. Source: Seekrieg WLB

KT1 after launch, September 1942 at Genoa. Source: Seekrieg WLB

 
Defining the Kriegstransporter Programme
The programme was discussed in January 1942 at the offices of the Kriegsmarine naval transport section in Naples, and the entry of its war diary is given below. Despite the ambitious timeline, only two vessels were commissioned before the end of 1942. In other words the programme failed to achieve its ultimate aim, to alleviate the shortage of merchant tonnage on the North Africa route in 1942. 
 

24 January 1942 10.30am

Conference at the Naval Attache concerning the construction of Kriegstransporters, with participation by Captain Kleikamp, Lt.Com. Aust from the German Naval High Command, Director Scholz of Deutsche Werke yard Hamburg and Commander German Naval Transport Italy. Captain Kleikamp informed as follows about the Kriegstransporter:

Length: 62 m

Width: 11 m

Height to main deck: 4.2 m

Draught: 2.9 m

Displacement loaded: 1,200t

Stowage space: 980 cbm

Carrying capacity: 400 tons

Bunker capacity: 160 tons

Range: 1,500 nautical miles

Speed: up to 14.5 knots

Hatch 1: 6.75×5.4 m, space for 2 tanks

Hatch 2: 9.8×7.4 m, space for 4 tanks

Cranes: 1×30 t, 4×5 t or 1×30 t, 1×10 t, 3×5 t

Armament: 1×7.5 cm gun, 1×3.7 cm AA gun single barrel, 2×20 mm guns

All the material for 20 transporters, including engines and secondary engines, will be delivered from Germany. The construction plan foresees the following dates for the first group of four steamers:

Laying down: 15 March 1942

Launch: early June 1942

Commissioning: end of August or early September 1942

Another meeting was held at the Italian naval ministry in Rome on 27 January, with high-level representatives from the four shipyards designated to carry out the programme, and the Italian naval ministry. The conclusion of this was a programme that foresaw materials being delivered from February to May 1942, and for five steamers to be ready by the end of September 1942, with another two coming in October and November each, and another four in December, for a total of 12 being ready by the end of the year, and the remaining eight to be finished by the end of August 1943.

This meeting was followed by another meeting during the morning of 28 January in the Naval Ministry, at which the German side was informed by the Italian navy that because of an intervention by the Italian Minister for Transport, the programme had to be halved, because it otherwise threatened the Italian construction programme. The new programme foresaw five steamers to be ready in September, with the remainder coming in the fourth quarter of 1942.

In the end however it was to take to 3 February 1943 to reach the number of four completed KT from Italian yards. Construction continued until the end of the war, when 40 of the KT had been completed on Italian yards, and another two in a French yard. 30 KT were launched by Ansaldo Genoa alone by the end of the war. KTs were also assembled in the Black Sea. Despite these numbers, I am not aware of a surviving example.

Further Reading

An excellent source for these little-known vessels is Wilhelm Donko, Die Kriegstransporter KT1 – KT62 der Deutsche Kriegsmarine: Konzept, Einsatz und Verbleib

There is a very informative thread including many pictures at this link.

There is a great diver article on the wreck of what is probably KT11 at this link.

The history of KT3 can be read at this link.

Luftwaffe Report – Air Attacks on Convoy Operation MF 3, 16 to 19 Jan 42

Luftwaffe Report – Air Attacks on Convoy Operation MF 3, 16 to 19 Jan 42

Background

Convoy operation MF 3 was a combination of two two-ship convoys, both from Alexandria to Malta, MW 8A, and 8B. from 16 January to 21 January 1942. Full detail can be found at this link. They had substantial escort support, of a total of 14 destroyers and four light cruisers, indicating how severe the situation in the Mediterranean was viewed by the Royal Navy’s command at the time. Out of convoy MW 8A, the Norwegian freighter Thermopylae of 6,655 GRT (details including a detailed account of her loss and pictures at this link) was hit off Derna on its way to Alexandria, after being detached for technical trouble. She had 30 crew, and 336 troops from 65 LAA Regt, with 16 Bofors 40mm AA guns and 10 tanks embarked to reinforce the garrison. Reports about losses are conflicting, ranging from 33 to 124 men who were killed in this attack and the subsequent rescue operation.

No other damage to either of the merchants in the convoys was reported, although the L-Class destroyer HMS Ghurka went down after being torpedoed on the outbound journey off Sollum by German submarine U 133. The three freighters reached Malta with their substantial supplies and reinforcements, and they were crucial in enabling the island to hold out during the siege. A comment on the Malta GC blog (at this link – many thanks to Robert Dimech) gives the surviving cargo as follows:

  • 85 men of A Squadron 6 RTR with 8 A9 and A13 cruiser tanks
  • 21 officers and 421 men of 65 LAA Regiment with 20 Bofors 40mm AA guns
  • 18 4,000 lbs ‘Blockbuster’ bombs for the Wellingtons based on Malta

The weather at the time was quite severe, so bad in fact that one of the escorting destroyers, the Dutch HNMS Isaac Sweers, had to return to Alexandria with weather damage. An important strategic advantage for the operation was the air cover which could be provided from Cyrenaica, which was still under control of the Commonwealth at the time.

Naiad

A huge bomb bursting just astern of HMS NAIAD during Operation MF3. Possibly the attack at 1245 hours. IWM A9577

ULTRA Intercepts

An ULTRA intercept (CX/MSS/640T24) contains the German air command report on the attacks. Punctuation and spelling as in the original, notes indicated in brackets.

The following report was sent by SULTAN 1C A.O.C.-in-C. South 1C [1]:

Heights of attack during operations carried out against ship targets on 18/1 and 19/1/42 were as follows:

0915 hours 18/1: 1 Ju. 88 carried out dive bombing attack against merchant ship in BENGHAZI harbour: bombs released at 1200 metres – no result. Defence by HURRICANE and heavy anti-aircraft fire.[2]

0735 hours 19/1: 1 Ju. 88 carried out dive-bombing attack on freighter of 5000 tons in position 23 degrees East 3488. Bombs released at 800 metres; direct hit amidships. [3]

0739 hours: 1 Ju. 88 carried out level bombing attack against destroyer in position 23 degrees East 3488: Bombs released at 2,500 metres, results not observed. Owing to having received hit by anti-aircraft fire no dive bombing attack was carried out.[4]

0945 hours: Level bombing attack from 3500 metres carried out against warships in position 23 East 3316. Result not observed. Very heavy anti-aircraft fire of all calibers.

1240 hours: Dive bombing attack by 2 Ju. 88s against medium-sized merchant ship in position 23 East 4336 without result. Bombs released at 2,500 metres. Fighter escort by 2 Blenheim heavy fighter a/c encountered.

1255 hours: 1 Ju. 88 carried out a fliding approach attack against destroyer(s) in position 23 East 3486. Height of release 2800 metres. No result. Strong anti-aircraft fire.[5][6]

Notes

[1]SULTAN was the code name for the Air Commander Greece, the 1C position was the staff intelligence officer. A.O.C.-in-C. South (Air Officer Commanding in Chief) was Field Marshal Kesselring.
[2]This attack was not aimed against the two convoys.
[3]This must have been MV Thermopylae – there is good detail on her including pictures at this link.
[4]It is noteable that the fact that an explanation was submitted as to why the far more effective dive-bombing attack was not carried out.
[5]This was most likely the remaining escort of Thermopylae, which included the AA cruiser HMS Carlisle.
[6]What is notable about all of the final three attacks is the high level of bomb release, and the emphasis on the heavy defense encountered.