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".
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. The MFPs were protected by 20 mm-thick steel armor plating.
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.
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.