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between 12:00 Friday 15th December and 12:00 Monday 18th December


[unknown] X-craft: Aberlady Bay, Firth Of Forth

Midget Submarine(S) (20th Century)

Site Name [unknown] X-craft: Aberlady Bay, Firth Of Forth

Classification Midget Submarine(S) (20th Century)

Alternative Name(s) Midget Submarines; Gullane Sands; Outer Forth Estuary; Xt ?

Canmore ID 114354

Site Number NT48SE 8008

NGR NT 45184 81448

NGR Description NT 45184 81448 and NT 45263 81614

Datum Datum not recorded


Ordnance Survey licence number AC0000807262. All rights reserved.
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Administrative Areas

  • Council East Lothian
  • Parish Maritime - East Lothian
  • Former Region Lothian
  • Former District Maritime
  • Former County Not Applicable

Archaeology Notes

NT48SE 8008 45184 81448 and 45263 81614

N56 1.371 W2 52.772 and N56 1.461 W2 52.698

NLO: Aberlady Bay [name centred NT 457 808]

Gullane Sands [name centred NT 455 815].

Formerly entered as Site no. 8643 at cited location NT 4520 8140 [N56 1.21 W2.52.45].

See also NT48SW 8002 and NT48SW 8003 and NT48SE 150.

Surveying Details


Archaeological Diving Unit (ADU) investigated two X-craft. One of the wrecks is still charted as an obstruction and so it was easily located. Access is possible from the village of Aberlady and the Gullane nature reserve but the wrecks lie a mile away across the sands. Both X-craft and the remains of other unknown wooden wrecks were inspected and photographed.

MS 5455, Liscoe 1994.

Hydrographic Office, 1995.

Two wrecks of WW2 submarines are known to lie in Aberlady Bay and have been visited by locals. The area of the wrecks lies well out from the shore and was not visited during the survey. Position of wreck located from 1974 aerial photograph. B758 971-2 12/6/74.

Site recorded by GUARD during the Coastal Assessment Survey for Historic Scotland, 'The Firth of Forth from Dunbar to the Coast of Fife' 1996.

(Cited as 'XT?' in both cases and date of loss cited as May 1946: locations cited as N56 1.43 W2 53.15 and N56 1.35 W2 52.75). These two midget submarines were moored [sic.] as targets for aircraft attack about 100 paces/yards N and S respectively of a concrete block.

I G Whittaker 1998.

Material reported under RoW amnesty (2001):

A3188 1 bronze casting of unidentified function and about 20lb in weight: from seabed.

(Not specifically assigned to either vessel).

NMRS, MS/829/35.

These features can be identified on vertical air photographs (Fairey Coastal Colour, 1:10,000, 7343/20/971-2, flown 12 June 1974), but cannot be accurately located for lack of identifiable control points on the coastline around. The more westerly of the two locations cited by Baird appears, however, to be erroneous.

Information from RCAHMS (RJCM), 25 February 1997.

B Baird 1993.

(X-craft at cited location NT 4479 8156). The remains of two midget submarines lie in the middle of the sands near the low tide mark, in association with an anti-tank block (most probably used as an anchor point for the craft. The remains are still coherent, but much degraded with large rents in the outer hulls and little remaining of the internal machinery.

Historical information indicates that early in May 1946 trials were carried out to ascertain the effect of 20mm canon shells on the hulls of X-craft that were moored in a position where they could be examined at low tide. The submarines were attacked by Seafire and Mosquito aircraft using various types of ammunition. The submarines were badly damaged and they were left where they were as being of no further use once the effect of the strikes had been ascertained.

According to the RN Submarine Museum (Gosport) it is likely that they were 'XT' (training) craft rather than 'X' or 'XE' (operational) boats. Baird suggests that they were two out of X20, X21 and X25.

NMRS, MS/2083 (p. 23).

The wrecks of two midget submarines ('X-craft') are situated (190m apart) within small pools (probably produced by tidal scour) on either side of the target indicator NT48SE 150. They lie in the intertidal sands of Aberlady Bay about 1100m NNW of Aberlady Point and 1800m SSW of Gullane Point, and about 100m from the water's edge at Low Water Neap tides. Both wrecks are filled with sand to a depth of (probably) about 0.8m.

(The positions cited were obtained by GPS).

(NT 45184 81448: N56 1.371 W2 52.772). The more complete submarine lies 87m SSW of the target indicator. The wreck is orientated NW (bow) - SE (stern), and lies listed about 45 degrees to port. Most of the pressure hull has rusted away above the water line but remains substantially intact below it. The (superimposed) upper casing and most of the ribs are intact; the piston rods of the single engine and the motor (aft) and a single air or gas tank of elongated cylindrical form (within the starboard bow) are identifiable above the sand that partially fills the interior. The propellor has been removed.

Externally, the vessel measures 15.7m in length overall (15m from the bow to the ends of the after planes) by an estimated 1.7m in beam. No tanks, batteries or side cargoes are apparent. From bow to stern, the visible fittings comprise:

1. (bow) mooring ring or cleat (0.15m diameter, 0.45m high),

2. mooring and/or anchor hawse (0.15m diameter), 1.5m aft on starboard side,

3. V-angled front of upper casing (3.7m aft of bow: casing 0.5m above hull),

4. forward hatch (0.7m diameter, 0.5m high, centred 1.5m aft of front of casing), hinged on starboard side and slightly open,

5. raised circular fitting, probably wet/dry diver's hatch (0.95m diameter, 0.45m high, centred 2.2m aft of centre of forward hatch): no evidence for opening but fitting on top may be pressure equalisation valve,

6. aft (conning) hatch (0.75m diameter, 0.35m high, centred 2m aft of centre of diver's hatch): no hinge apparent,

7. (possible) air intake (0.15m diameter, 0.6m high) on starboard side,

8. cruciform planes and vertical stabilisers with rudder frame assembly behind: steering wire still attached on starboard side, but detached on port side. The stern rudder frame measures 1.75m transversely; the rudder itself is 0.55m deep, projects 0.45m behind the rudder head, and is partially balanced.

(NT 45263 81614: N56 1.461 W2 52.698). Situated 103m NNE of the target indicator, this wreck has been rendered much more skeletal than the first; almost all the pressure hull has been lost and many of the ribs have been rendered incomplete, particularly on the starboard side. It lies, similarly, listed heavily to port and is orientated N (bow) - S (stern). The cause of the greater degree of deterioration of this wreck is unclear.

The loss of the hull plating has left the motor and (probable) clutch more clearly exposed. No remains of the engine are apparent above the infilling sand, but a shelf-like feature (possibly a locker or seat) survives on the starboard side within the stern, as does an air or gas tank of elongated cylindrical form within the starboard bow. In the case of this wreck, the ribs can be seen to measure 0.3m in chord aft as against 95mm amidships. The inter-rib spacing amidships is 0.2m and the height of the casing (above the centreline) 0.4m.

The external features and fittings of this wreck are apparently almost identical with those noted on the wreck to the SW, although the following possible divergences are evident:

1. the bow cleat is of different form, apparently having rearwards

2. immediately aft of the diver's hatch and on the centreline there is a probable periscope standard (0.17m external diameter, 0.08m internal diameter, 0.2m high).

3. immediately forward of the diver's hatch and on the port side, there is a thin upwards-projecting pipe with a flattened head at the level of the top of the hatch; this may be no more than a stanchion supporting the flat upper casing.

The rudder assembly has been reduced to its constituent elements, is apparently inverted, and is probably detached from the main body of the hull. This structure extends to a distance of 2.4m beyond the coherent structure, which itself measures 13.45m in length.

Visited by RCAHMS (RM, DRE), 22 February 2003.

The available records of the histories of the various British vessels of this type do not allow the specific identification of the craft at Aberlady Bay.

Information from RCAHMS (RJCM), 26 November 2004.

J J Colledge 2003.

('Wreck A': location cited as N56 1.362 W2 52.866). This wreck was visited on four occasions (19 December 2004, 18 March 2005, 2 May 2005 and 9 July 2005), and was recorded by drawing and photography. Basic dimensional measurements were taken, and more detailed survey was carried out around the following specific areas: the forward 'step', the 'wet or dry' (escape) hatch, the periscope dome, and an area on the starboard side.

This wreck lies close to Low Water Mark and within a deep scour pool in the compacted sands of the beach. It lists to port on an orientation of 130/310 degrees, the bows being to seaward (on the former alignment). About half of the lower part of the hull is sunk into the sand, and what can be seen above this level has deteriorated badly. The outer skin [plating] is missing, as is about three-quarters of the inner skin [plating]. The bows are mostly covered by sand and water, and may survive in better condition than the remainder of the wreck. The forward towing cleat was noted on one occasion, but was later obscured by sand.

Moving aft, the frame of the 'front step' is clearly visible, as is the slightly-opened 'wet and dry' hatch. Aft of this, and below the level of the main [upper] deck, there are the remains of a pipe connection (possibly an induction pipe). There are no further deck fittings until the bulge of the periscope housing is reached, with its distinctive 'eye' (the remains of the periscope). The main hatch lacks its lid, and a large tear down the starboard side of the hatch tube has apparently been blown open from within. Aft and to starboard of this hatch, there is an upright tube which measures 560mm in height by 140mm in external diameter at the top; this may be all that remains of the compass housing. The ribs of the wreck are missing aft, allowing access to the interior, and sight of the diesel engine and electric motor. At the stern, the propeller and vertical rudder are missing but part of the starboard hydroplane (with linkage mechanism still attached) lies in the scour pool directly behind the vessel. The upper linkage mechanism for the vertical rudder remains attached to the hull, and hangs over the port side.

Collateral evidence for these vessels is provided by a report issued by the Naval Construction Research Establishment (NCRE), Rosyth, and held in the archives of the Royal Navy Submarine Museum (RNSM), Gosport, Hants. This records trials including firings by aircraft-mounted 20mm cannon against X-craft moored in Aberlady Bay during May 1946. It neither specifies which type of midget submarine was used in specific trials, nor nominates individual vessels. However, it refers to the forward compartment as an 'escape' compartment rather as 'wet or dry' in accordance with a distinguishing feature of the 'XT' (training) craft, as against the 'X' (operational) type. The fittings recorded in survey area also consistent with this being an 'XT' vessel, only the characteristic induction mast being missing. The design of the periscope housing is indicative of the periscope being fixed (as in the training vessels), as is the detailed layout of the area of the starboard side that was examined in detail.

An addendum note (dated December 2005, and included) details information from the archives of the National Maritime Museum, held at the Royal Arsenal, London. This records that XT-5 was of lengthened form. A further site visit (on 4 February 2006) established that Wreck A was incompatible with this particular vessel, and must be equated with one of XT1-4 or -6. It was also discovered that the fixed projector compass was located between the 'wet and dry' hatch and the periscope dome, being incorrectly identified as an induction pipe. The pipe noted aft of the main hatch is most probably a signal [flare] ejector tube.

('Wreck B': no location cited). This wreck was not recorded in detail, but was 'extremely badly deteriorated'. Again, the design of the periscope housing indicates that this was a training vessel from the 'XT' series.

[Illustrations include annotated colour photo-mosaics and detail photographs of the remains, and survey sketches and drawings, with comparative photographs of XT-craft in service, and drawings (including longitudinal arrangement section) of such craft as built].


The wreck ('Wreck A') described in detail by Mrs Fuller-Shapcott is evidently the more complete of the two recorded by RCAHMS in 2003, and lies to the SW. The location cited (N56 1.362 W2 52.866) is compatible with that (N56 1.371 W2 52.772) noted previously.

By exclusion, 'Wreck B' is the wreck lying to the NE (location previously cited as N56 1.461 W2 52.698).

Information from RCAHMS (RJCM), 6 April 2006.



Diver Inspection (1994)

Archaeological Diving Unit (ADU) investigated two X-craft. One of the wrecks is still charted as an obstruction and so it was easily located. Access is possible from the village of Aberlady and the Gullane nature reserve but the wrecks lie a mile away across the sands. Both X-craft and the remains of other unknown wooden wrecks were inspected and photographed.

MS 5455, Liscoe 1994.

Reference (2011)

Whittaker ID : 4

Name : XT ?

Latitude : 560121

Longitude : 25245

Registration : LONDON


Tonnage : 30

Tonnage Code : D

Length : 16

Beam : 2

Draught : 2m

Position : Exact Position

Loss Month : 5

Loss Year : 1946

Comment : Approx 100 paces S of concrete block. Used as target for A/C attack

Condition Survey (19 September 2020 - 30 June 2021)

A condition survey of the X-craft mini-submarine wrecks within Aberlady Bay, using photogrammetry modelling.

Information from OASIS ID: waherita1-404054 (K Hutton and B Saunders) 2021

Field Visit (19 September 2020 - 30 June 2021)

NT 45261 81614 to NT 45181 81444 Wessex Archaeology, alongside military veteran volunteers, completed a training event focusing on photogrammetric survey and inter-tidal wreck assessment on the Second World War X-Craft wrecks within the inter-tidal zone at Aberlady Bay. The project formed part of a wider project to connect military veterans left isolated by the temporary closure of support services due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The results of the survey were used to create an updated condition report that discussed the current physical condition of the wrecks, as well as identifying potential routes for future research, some of which were investigated by the veteran volunteers in their own research projects.

The survey succeeded in correcting the minor errors in

component identification from the earlier RCAHMS surveys of both wrecks, as well as updating the information of the condition of both wrecks, which has degraded during the last 15 years since the surveys, and certainly in the last 10 years since the last full survey of the western wreck. The exposed areas of both wrecks have clearly become more broken down and lighter- weight material lost during this period. The proportions of the wrecks that are exposed above the sand has changed over this period as well, although at no time have the wrecks either been fully exposed or fully covered. Given the current condition and rate of decay, it is likely that the majority of the exposed areas of the eastern wreck will break down first, potentially in the next 10–20 years, while the more extensive exposed remains of the western wreck may take longer to be removed. Further loss of material will make the formal identification of these wrecks with one of the six XT Craft built effectively impossible, and it is likely that this would only now be completed with the discovery of additional archive records relating to the wrecks. The extensive photography of the wrecks at this stage however means that their layout and structure has been recorded and this material will pass into the archive at HES.

Archive: NRHE

Funder: National Lottery Community Fund

Ben Saunders – Wessex Archaeology

(Source: DES Vol 22)


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