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Romania`s torpedo boats: „Zmeul”, „Sborul”, „Nãluca”. Part I


Historical context

When the First World War started, the Romanian Danube fleet had four monitors and eight modern torpedo boats which were deemed to be enough to cope with the Austrian-Hungarian Danube fleet. Not the same can be said about the maritime fleet where acquisition programs commenced in 1914 but they could not be completed because of the start of the war.

romanian torpedo boats
78T under Austrian-Hungarian flag Source: wikipedia

The war compensations received by Romania after the First World War will address this situation. Consequently, in accordance with the arrangements established by the Supreme Council in Paris, the Naval Commission part of it, assigned to Romania, on account of the damages of war, Austrian-Hungarian torpedo boats with pennant numbers 74 T, 75 T, 80 T, 81 T, 82 F, 83 F and 84 F, built between 1913-1914 at the shipyards of Fiume and Trieste. These ships were delivered by the Naval Council of Adriatica to the delegate of the Romanian government, commander Mihail Gavrilescu, in Venice, on 19 January 1921, 15:25 hours.

Design and technical characteristics

Designed in 1910 by the Naval Technical Committee of Austrian-Hungarian empire, these torpedo boats were devised as brown water ships, the technical specification providing a displacement of 275 tons, a speed of 30 Kt that was supposed to be maintained for 10 hours, the ships being designated as blockade breakers. In order to achieve this speed, the Austrian-Hungarian committee had selected a steam turbine for propulsion, as all the available diesels were not powerful enough.

romanian torpedo boats
81T in Austrian-Hungarian service Source: wikipedia

The first eight ships (were called „T”, having pennant numbers 74 T to 81 T) were ordered to Stabilimento Tecnico Triestino which  decided to use Parsons steam turbines.

A new tender for another four ships followed soon. The winner, Ganz & Danubius shipyard provided a significant discount so the initial order was increased to 16 ships (they have been called „F”, with pennant numbers from 82 F to 97 F). Ganz & Danubius chose AEG – Curtiss steam turbines. The “F” batch had two funnels instead of one as the initial batch had.

A third contract comprising three vessels was assigned to Cantiere Navale Triestino who chose the Melms-Pfenniger steam turbines. They also had two funnels and were named „M”, with pennant numbers from 98 M to 100 M.

Regardless of the selected turbines, all the ships had two Yarrow boilers, one with oil fuel, the other with coal. When commissioning all 27 ships were said to be provided with two 66 mm Skoda naval guns, four 450 mm torpedo tubes and the ability to lay around 10 to 12 naval mines.

The ships had initially received only pennant numbers but they were later named „Vifor” – ex. 74 T, „Vijelia” – ex. 80 T, „Vârtej” – ex. 75 T, „Zmeul” – ex. 83 F, „Sborul” – ex. 81 T, „Fulgerul” – ex. 84 F and „Năluca” – ex. 82 F as per the Official Gazette no. 35 as of May 18, 1921. So, Romania received four ships of the „T” batch – „Vifor”, „Vijelia”, „Vârtej”  and „Sborul”, respectively three of the „F” batch – „Zmeul”, „Fulgerul” and „Năluca”.

Technical characteristics of „T” batch:

  • Displacement: 262 t, 330 t loaded
  • Length: 57,84 m
  • Beam: 5,78 m
  • Draft: 1,52 m
  • Machines power: 5.000 HP
  • Speed: 24 Nd
  • Range: 980 Mm at 16 Nd
  • Crew: 39
  • Armament:
  • 2 x 13,2 mm machine-guns („Vijelia”, „Vârtej”)
  • 2 x 66 mm naval guns („Vifor”)
  • 2 x 381 mm torpedo tubes („Vârtej”)

Technical characteristics of „F” batch:

  • Displacement: 266 t, 330 t loaded
  • Length: 57,84 m
  • Width: 5,78 m
  • Draft: 1,52 m
  • Machines power: 5.000 HP
  • Speed: 24 Nd
  • Range: 1200 Mm at 16 Nd
  • Crew: 38
  • Weaponry:
  • 2 x 13,2 mm AA machine-guns
  • 2 x 66 mm naval guns
  • 2 x 450 mm torpedo tubes

Commissioning and service. Upgrades

„Vijelia” went to Romania at the beginning of August 1921, towing the last two “M.A.S.” boats purchased from Italy. “Zmeul”, „Vârtej” and „Vifor” arrived in September 1921, towed by „Pronto”. As the tow line broke during a gale in the Black Sea, “Vârtej” was lost, but later recovered by the same “Pronto”. „Fulgerul” and „Năluca” left Venice, late 1921. On their way home, in the evening of February 9, 1922, due to heavy weather conditions, “Fulgerul” grounded at Cape Kilios. It was never recovered. Though the information is scarce, we may however presume that “Sborul” arrived in Romania during the same period.

They were homeported at Naval Base Constanta and included in the Maritime Division. As per Official Gazette no. 33  as of May 17, 1922, they were considered commissioned on January 19, 1921 which is rather interesting as “Fulgerul” was not yet recovered from Cape Kilios but it is very likely they were hoping to recover it.

romanian torpedo boats
Sborul – notice Sb on the bow Source: Marina Romana in Al Doilea Razboi Mondial, Ed. Modelism, 1996

Relevant information about the torpedo boats can be found in the Official Gazette no. 110 as of May 24, 1924 and no. 155 as of July 17, 1929. In 1924 “Zmeul” and “Viforul” were allocated to the Naval Fighting Squadron while “Sborul” and “Vârtej” were allocated to the Naval Training Squadron. In July 1929, “Năluca” was on active duty, “Sborul” and “Zmeul” on maintenance, while “Vifor”, “Vârtej” and “Vijelia” were already decommissioned. At the beginning of Second World War only three ships were still active as part of the Torpedo Squadron within Maritime Division.

Within the fleet’s 1937 arming program, the torpedo boats were upgraded with modern anti-aircraft weapons consisting in a 37 mm Rheinmetall anti-aircraft gun that replaced one of the old 66 mm gun and later with a 20 mm Oerlikon anti-aircraft gun. Though the ships were all provided with II x 2 450 mm torpedo tubes, they received the torpedoes only in 1942. As to my knowledge, they never used the torpedoes in combat.

Another modernization effort commenced in July 1941 and included especially the bridge, signal and navigation means, as well as new radios. Special marks for aerial and periscope identification were painted on the deck and on the sides of the bridge as shown below. The ships were designed for the warmer Adriatic Sea so the bridge was open but despite this they managed well in the colder and much more violent Black Sea.

romanian torpedo boats
Special marks painted on the hull and bridge for identification Source: Marina Romana in Al Doilea Razboi Mondial, Ed. Modelism, 1996

After the sinking of the leader “Moskva”, June 26, 1941, the Soviets haven’t used  surface ships anymore but relied only on submarines and planes to attack the coastal Romanian shipping lines and ports. As a result, the Romanian command decided to send the ships in the open sea were they belonged, under protection of mine barrages.

Outbreak of World War II

Each deployment of “Delfinul”, Romania’s only submarine at that time, was a laborious escort mission for the other ships of the navy, at least until the submarine was safely diving. With increased activity of the Soviet submarines in the vicinity of the naval base, there was a risk for “Delfinul”, either to be hit by a torpedo, or by a mine laid by the Soviets. Such a mission started on July 9, 1941, when “Delfinul” was scheduled for deployment.

romanian torpedo boats
Naluca in camouflage colours during WW2 Source: Marina Romana in Al Doilea Razboi Mondial, Ed. Modelism, 1996

In this type of mission there were several ships involved: the newer and smaller torpedo boats „Vijelia”, „Viscolul” and „Viforul”, which at 2:00 were sent South of Tuzla and then to East, in search of Russian submarines and minesweepers „Stihi” and „Dumitrescu”, under direct protection of „Sborul”, in search of drifting mines. In the same time, “Năluca”, under the command of Horia Popovici, was conducting antisubmarine search, South of Tuzla. The whole operation was monitored by the destroyer „Mărăşeşti”.

romanian torpedo boats
Dumitrescu underway during WW2 Source: Marina Romana in Al Doilea Razboi Mondial, Ed. Modelism, 1996

When “Stihi” sighted a periscope immediately alarmed the other ships. While all the ships started to maneuver as to avoid a torpedo attack, „Năluca”, the closest ship, accelerated to the South-West, on the direction where the periscope was signaled.

It should be noted that, although the sea was calm, thick fog waves permanently rolled over the vessels. Therefore, it’s no wonder that „Năluca” spot the periscope at only about 60 meters forward on the port bow.

romanian torpedo boats
Stihi in WW2 Source: Marina Romana in Al Doilea Razboi Mondial, Ed. Modelism, 1996

It immediately opened fire with its artillery and put the bow on the submarine which withdrew its periscope. As „Năluca” was closing to the last location of the submarine it launched two anti-submarine grenades which, for the moment, appeared to resurface the submarine as they were reportedly fighting in relatively shallow waters. As time was passing by, oil, diesel and air bubbles were surfacing. „Năluca” turned over the spot and launched two more anti-submarine grenades while “Dor de mare”, a cutter with anti-submarine capabilities, arrived in the area, was launching five more. All these events were taking place around 14:00 and the submarine was probably damaged.

Around 14:17, “Dumitrescu” alarms and signals to „Vijelia”, „Viscolul” and „Viforul” a periscope seen to West-South-West bearing North-West. The information from “Dumitrescu” is corroborated with those from “Stihi” which reports a periscope 2 nautical miles South of the last buoy of the dredged area. The very fast torpedo boats rapidly arrived in the area. Having arrived where the submarine was spotted, the torpedo boats launched antisubmarine grenades and soon oil and air bubbles were seen.

Under these circumstances it was decided to postpone by a day the departure of “Delfinul”. As the depth in the attack area was just of 50 m, the crews tried to confirm the sinking of the submarine, without any luck though.

romanian torpedo boats
SC type soviet submarine Source: wikipedia

As per the Russian historic sources it is known that two medium displacement (650 to) submarines were deployed in the area: SC 204 and SC 208. Black Sea Fleet have lost contact with SC 204 after July 4, in the same period with the action described above and with SC 208 after July 17. The Soviets credited mines with the destruction of the two submarines while the Romanian crews never got the confirmation of sinking. It was a well known practice of submariners during World War Two to release oil and debris trough their torpedo tubes to create the illusion of their sinking.

To be continued

 

Nicolae Hariuc

 

Sources:

Marina română în al doilea război mondial, Nicolae Koslinski, Raymon Stănescu, Volumul 1, Ed. Făt Frumos, Bucureşti, 1996

Glorie şi dramă – Marina Regală Română 1940 – 1945, Jipa Rotaru, Ioan Damaschin, Ed. Ion Cristoiu, București, 2000

Marina română în al doilea război mondial, Nicolae Koslinski, Raymon Stănescu, Volumul III, Ed. Făt Frumos, Bucureşti, 1996

Marina Romana in Al Doilea Razboi Mondial, Comandor (r) prof. univ. dr. Jipa Rotaru, Dr. ing. Cristian Craciunoiu, Ed. Modelism, Bucuresti, 1996

Romanian Official Gazette no. 35 as of May 18, 1921

Romanian Official Gazette no. 110 as of May 24, 1924

Romanian Official Gazette no. 155 as of July 17, 1929

Wikipedia

 

 

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