It served a variety of roles (transport, minelayer, escort, gunboat) in the Mediterranean, Baltic and Black Seas as well as the English Channel and Norwegian coastal waters. Originally developed for the proposed invasion of England (Operation Sea Lion), the first of these ships was commissioned on 16 April 1941, with approximately 700 being completed by the war's end in May 1945. Allied sources sometimes refer to this class of vessel as a "Flak Lighter" or "F-lighter".
Design and development
Several Types (A-D) were developed, whose size and armament grew from Type to Type. Some specialised derivates such as artillery vessels and minelaying vessels were also built on the basis of these craft. They were not mainly used for their initial invasion role, but for transport and supply duties, escort and harbour protection.
This first version of the MFP was to be of all-welded construction in order to save weight. But a shortage of skilled welders meant that only the original prototype, F100, was built in this fashion. All following examples featured extensive riveting.
The MFP-A's original intended power plant was to be two 600 hp 6-cylinder surplus BMW aircraft engines and one 6-cylinder Deutz diesel truck engine. Operating with all three engines at full throttle, the MFP-A could make 13 knots. But the BMW aircraft engines proved mechanically trouble-prone and used excessive amounts of fuel and it was decided to install a standard set of three Deutz diesel truck engines instead. Though this reduced the vessel's maximum speed to 10.5 knots, the loss of speed was more than offset by the power plant's greater reliability and more economical cruising range.
These were intended for use in Operation Herkules, the planned but never-executed Italo-German invasion of Malta. Ten of them were specially modified to each carry a captured Russian KV-1 or KV-2 heavy tank. This required strengthening and widening of the well decks and internal ramps and outward repositioning of the bow ramp counterbalance weights in order to accommodate these vehicles.
The Artilleriefährprahm or AFP (Artillery Ferry) was a gunboat derivative of the MFP. These ships were used for escorting convoys, shore bombardment and minelaying. They were fitted with two 88mm guns and light AA guns.
|General characteristics AFP Artillery Ferry|
|Propulsion:||3 Deutz Diesel 390HP|
|Armament:||2 - single 88 mm (or 105 mm) guns m 8×20 mm AA (2x4 Flakvierlings), 1×37 mm AA,|
|Armour:||20 mm steel plus 100 mm concrete|
In preparation for its proposed invasion of Malta, Operazione C3, the Regia Marina (Italian Royal Navy) secured design plans from the Kriegsmarine for the MFP-A in late 1941 and placed an initial order for 65 vessels, numbered 701 through 765. These motozattere (or Bette MZ as they were officially designated) were built in Italian shipyards, primarily in and around Palermo, and gave the Italian Navy the necessary amphibious capability to land infantry, armored vehicles and supplies directly onto an open beach. Up to three M13/40 medium tanks and 100 fully equipped infantrymen could be carried or an equivalent weight in cargo. The only major design changes were to substitute Italian-made diesel engines (OM BXD 150 hp six-cylinder types as used in the Littorina diesel trains) for the German powerplant of three Deutz truck engines and to replace the German-made 7.5 cm deck gun with a 76 mm/40 quick-firing Italian gun.
The first motozattera was laid down in March 1942. By July of that year, the month slated for the Malta invasion, all 65 MZs had been completed and were ready for deployment. On 27 July, however, the invasion was indefinitely postponed and many Italian MZs were diverted to the task of ferrying supplies from Italy to Libya and between ports along the Libyan coast in order to support Panzerarmee Afrika's advance into Egypt.
In September 1942, 40 additional MZs (761-800) were ordered. This modified version featured a raised bow to improve sea-keeping, a strengthened keel, larger fuel tanks for increased range, a lining of concrete “armor” 100mm thick for anti-splinter protection and a second 20mm AA gun mounted amidships.
A third series of 40 MZs was ordered in June 1943 but none were ever completed. A further 20 examples (MZ 801-820) were also planned, being an exact copy of the MFP-D (including the same engines and armament), but this too never materialized as by then the war situation for Italy had worsened considerably and her armed forces had been expelled from North Africa.
In all, 95 motozattere were built in Italian shipyards prior to Italy’s signing of an armistice with the Allies on 8 September 1943.
Between January and October 1943, Marinefährprahm were used to evacuate the Wehrmacht's 17th Army from the Kuban bridgehead on the Taman Peninsula in southern Russia despite repeated Soviet attacks during this period. The sea evacuation brought out 239,669 soldiers, 16,311 wounded, 27,456 civilians and 115,477 tons of military equipment (primarily ammunition), 21,230 vehicles, 74 tanks, 1,815 guns and 74,657 horses to the Crimea.
In February 1944, three ships were transferred to the Romanian Navy, being renamed PTA-404, PTA-405 and PTA-406.
- Reynolds, Leonard C. Motor Gunboat 658: The Small Boat War in the Mediterranean 1955/2002. ISBN 0-304-36183-6 - several encounters with "F-lighters" during Dog 658's tour in the Med.
- Heckmann, p. 283
- Marcon, p. 221-224
- Pickert, Wolfgang (1955). Vom Kuban-Brückenkopf bis Sewastopol. Flakartillerie im Verband der 17. Armee. Vowinckel, Heidelberg (Die Wehrmacht im Kampf 7, ZDB-ID 521615-1). External link in
- Koslinski, Stănescu, Armata Română 1941-45, Volume 2 (in Romanian)
Media related to Marinefährprahm at Wikimedia Commons
- Landing craft tank, an equivalent Allied naval class
- Gabriele, Mariano. Operazione C3: Malta Ufficio storico della marina, 1965.
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