In the year 1894, Germany built the last small torpedo boat in the 19th century. Then there was an over 20-year hiatus.
Only in 1915, due to the emergence of a new theater of military operations, the construction of a series of 25 small A I torpedo boats had begun. Their construction was entrusted to the Vulcan AG shipyard in Hamburg, some of them dismantled and sent by rail to Hoboken shipyard in Antwerp, where they were finally assembled and put into operation for the fleet. The situation that arose in 1914 after the seizure of the Belgian coast by the German army forced the local naval command to send appropriate forces to the new maritime theater. Already at the beginning, it turned out that the specificity of this reservoir (numerous shallows and many mine barriers) almost precludes the use of standard torpedo boats and destroyers. They were simply too big and their draft was too great, which put them in a huge danger of hitting mines. The newly designed Type A I units were to be better adapted to operate off the coast of Flanders. Their full displacement was 137 tons, and the length of the hull was 41.58 m. Driven by a steam engine with a capacity of 1200 HP, it reached the speed of 19–20 knots. The armament consisted of a 50 mm or 52 mm cannon and two 450 mm torpedo tubes. These torpedo boats, apart from the typical tasks for this category of ships, were also supposed to act as minesweepers, miners and even net builders. Therefore, in addition to the standard weapons, they could carry four mines and a trawl. Nevertheless, the type A I torpedo boats did not meet the expectations of the German naval command. They were too brittle and too small, with poor seaworthiness. They suffered heavy losses during the war.
Despite their failure, the Germans did not want to give up these small and cheap ships, which they thought would prove very useful if their bases were brought close to the enemy. This was in fact the case of the Zeebreege base on the Belgian coast, which became the main base for type A torpedo boats. When making the decision to continue the construction of this type of torpedo boats, apart from the disadvantages of the first series, big influence had a significant increase in the importance of bases in Flanders due to the stationing of submarines there. Type A torpedo boats turned out to be less complicated to build and faster than submarines. Besides, torpedo boat crews could be trained faster than submarine crews. Therefore, the next series of type A II torpedo boats was designed. Thanks to the increase in the size of the hull, it was possible to increase the swimming range and strengthen the armament. At the turn of 1915 and 1916, 30 type A II units were ordered. Ultimately, the fleet received 28 units built at the Schichau shipyard in Elbing. Twelve ships were transported by rail or sea in sections to Antwerp and completed there. Type A II (A-26–A-55) torpedo boats were much larger than their predecessors – they displaced 227 tons and their hull was 50 m long. Thanks to a steam turbine with a power of 3506 HP, they could reach a maximum speed of 25.8 knots. They were armed with two short-range 88 mm short guns and a single 450 mm torpedo launcher, as well as one sweeping gear. The cruising range was 690 miles at a speed of 20 knots and a fuel supply of 53 tons of oil.
The last series of small torpedo boats, 37 units, built from 1917 to the end of the war, was referred to as type A III (A-56-A-95). It was to consist of 60 ships, but units A-83–A-85 and A-96–A-113 were not completed. The torpedo boats of the last series were much larger than those of the previous series (A II), although the armament remained unchanged. They were built in the shipyards: Vulcan in Sttetin, Schichau in Elbing and Howaldtswerke in Kiel, and they differed in details. The units built in Elbing had Schichau turbines with a toothed gear, and the units built in Sttetin and Kiel had AEG Vulcan TE turbines. The turbines were powered by steam from two boilers, each of which occupied a separate compartment. The speed was 26 knots, although during the tests some of the units slightly exceeded 28 knots. In practice, the speed did not exceed 21–22 knots. The hull was divided into seven watertight compartments, three of which were occupied by propulsion devices. Particular ships differed in the shape of their stems, sterns, and masts and funnels. Like the previous series, they were designed to be transported by rail in sections. One ship (A 82) was sent to Pola on the Adriatic Sea as a tender for the German Mediterranean Flotilla of submarines and sunk there (October 29, 1918). After the war, on December 9, 1919, by the decision of the Council of Ambassadors, four ships were placed under the white and red flag. These were the torpedo boats built in 1917–1918: “Ślązak” (A-59), “Krakowiak” (A-64), “Kujawiak” (A-68) and “Góral” (then “Podhalanin”, A-80). The original armament in Poland was replaced with 2 × 75 mm (range up to 1000 m), two MGs and a twin 450 mm torpedo launcher. The crew consisted of 70 people.
Referred to as küstentorpedoboote – coastal torpedo boats – to distinguish them clearly from the older seagoing V, T and S designs. In fact, they were difficult to classify as torpedo boats because their torpedo armament was rather symbolic. And on the last ships there was none at all. Apart from the small number of torpedo tubes, the shortcomings include the small caliber of torpedoes. The power of the explosion of 450 mm torpedoes was insufficient to sink even a medium-sized ship, although the A 59, A 60 and A 61 torpedo boats seriously damaged the British HMS “Terror” monitor on October 19, 1917. In the case of artillery, two 88 mm Krupp guns with a barrel length of 30 and 45 caliber were used. The first one, widely used not only on torpedo boats, referred to by the Germans as: mod. 1892 8.8 cm SKL/30, had a 2.64 m long barrel and a weight of 644 kg.
In summary, the Type A III torpedo boats can be thought of as small high-speed gunboats, although they approached the size of the early destroyers. They were characterized by great seaworthiness and good maneuverability. On their basis, a series of 24 torpedo scavengers (TF-1–TF-24) for the Kriegsmarine was designed in 1939–1940.
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