The project of the „Black Sea Unit Ships“ (SME) and their construction at the Korneuburg shipyard during the Second World War

Wilhelm M. Donko

In the issue ÖMZ 3/2018, there have already been reports of high-sea KT cargo ships, which were originally designed to solve the replenishment problem in North Africa and were partly built on the Danube, in Hungary (4 ships) and in Austria (7 ships). It is also hardly known among naval experts that this series-building program of war transporters (KT), in which about 60 construction contracts were awarded and about 40 ships were completed (the majority in Italy), was not the last construction program for high-sea cargo ships on behalf of the Kriegsmarine in the European Southern region. The Black Sea Unit Ships (SME) program, which began a little later, was launched in parallel with the still ongoing war transporters and was intended to provide the Black Sea with much-needed ship space in the form of modern coastal motor ships, which were called Black Sea Unit Ships in large-scale. The designation indicates mass production, but only twelve construction numbers were assigned at two shipyards, which could not have been more different from their location: in Korneuburg in Lower Austria and Elmshorn in Schleswig-Holstein. Only a total of eight ships were built. The SME construction program goes back in its roots to massive replenishment problems of the Army Group South in Russia at the beginning of 1942 and was started in parallel with the ongoing KT construction program. In terms of concept, these were modern coastal motor ships (Kümos) to be built on Danube shipyards. In addition, prefabricated components for entire ships were to be brought to the Danube region in northern Germany. Shipbuilding, the SME was much more than the KT to be valued as pure merchant ships, the KT to a much greater extent than "real" warships. If one takes the entire dimension of the German naval armament as a benchmark in the second half of the war and compares it with the American one, the question arises whether the decision-makers on the German side really had no idea about the extent of the Allied resources or deliberately ignored it. In any case, it is difficult to understand that intelligent people could be responsible for continuing the military resistance from these points of view. For the German Reich, the program for the construction of the Black Sea unit ships was a failure, as no ship was completed in time. For the shipyard in Korneuburg and (after the end of the war) in Budapest, one advantage was at least that these two inland shipyards were able to start early in the construction of offshore coastal motor ships after the war due to their know-how.