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German Coastal Defenses
Military Intelligence Service, Special Series No. 15, June 15, 1943
[DISCLAIMER: The following text is taken from a WWII U.S. War Department Special Series publication. As with all wartime intelligence information, data may be incomplete or inaccurate. No attempt has been made to update or correct the text. Any views or opinions expressed do not necessarily represent those of the website.]



a. General

The Sperrbrecher ("obstacle breaker"), of which Germany has a fairly large number along the western coast of Europe, is a converted, medium-sized merchant ship that bristles with guns. The number of its weapons, of various types, ranges from 8 to 13, the average number being 9. A typical example of the armament of one of these ships is as follows: two 4.1-inch guns, on platforms erected on the poop deck and the forecastle; two 37-mm guns on a twin mount, on a platform aft; 20-mm antiaircraft guns, on four high platforms; and machine guns, on the stump mainmast and on the bridge.

Sperrbrechers are especially useful as antiaircraft ships, but they are often seen acting as escorts for convoys of U-boats and of merchant vessels. As such, they provide protection against mines and aircraft. They also serve as auxiliary antiaircraft defenses in harbors.

b. Means of Recognition

Some characteristics which usually distinguish the Sperrbrecher from the normal merchant ship are as follows:

(1) One of the masts have been removed.

(2) One or more of the masts have been cut down one-half to one-third the usual height, in order to carry a platform for a light antiaircraft gun or searchlight.

(3) The forward well deck is partly covered by a light deck, which is about the height of the bulwarks; this deck is believed to cover the electrical mine-sweeping gear. The German swastika is nearly always painted in a prominent position on the deck mentioned above, on a hatch, or on the roof of the deckhouse, so that it can be clearly seen from the air. It is between 10 and 15 feet in diameter.

(4) Motor launches, additional boats, and life-saving floats are carried on deck.

(5) A light mast is usually placed amidships, attached to the navigating bridge or funnel, to carry the wireless aerial and the signal halyards.

(6) A small number of derricks are carried; sometimes only one is visible, in a position to handle motor launches.

(7) The large number of guns is always a conspicuous feature.

(8) Gun platforms on these vessels are usually circular; only a few square ones have been noticed.

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