Wessex Archaeology Scotland, in collaboration with Breaking Ground Heritage, are running a series of individual research projects designed by and completed by military veterans. The projects are based around the wrecks of two WWII X-Craft mini-submarines which are in the inter-tidal zone at Aberlady Bay, East Lothian. These mini-subs were considered surplus to requirements at the end of WWII and were used as experimental targets for aerial attack by Mosquitos and Seafires to investigate the effects of gunfire on submarine hulls. This work was completed by the Naval Construction Research Establishment in Rosyth, and was used to inform the strategies of submarine engagement for Coastal Command during the early Cold War. A video of the experiments has been donated to the Aberlady Historical Society, who have published it on Youtube.


Working with veteran volunteers these wrecks were photogrammetrically modelled to produce 3D models (below), allowing those who couldn’t access them directly to be able to investigate them.


Using these models as inspiration WA staff are guiding a group of veterans through the process of designing, researching and presenting their own projects. The purpose of this is twofold- firstly it teaches important heritage skills which are useful within the wider world for ex-service personnel and secondly it helps to combat the isolation that a lot of ex-service personnel feel once they leave the military. With Covid-19 having a considerable negative effect on the normal meet-ups and activities for these individuals, it is more important than ever to have routes to socialise and talk things through. Thanks to the funding from The National Lottery Community Fund, this work will bring together veterans in a friendly and supportive environment and give them skills they can use in the future.

Aberlady X-Craft project: Using archaeology to combat isolation amongst military veterans Aberlady X-Craft project: Using archaeology to combat isolation amongst military veterans

The projects kicked off in November 2020, with several exciting ideas already coming into shape, including the production of scaled models of the X-craft to compare with the wrecks, research into the biographies of some of the X-craft crews and investigations into the health effects of being a crew member on the mini-subs. Two volunteers have also been working on archive material and new marine geophysical survey data from other submarine wrecks in the Forth, with a presentation into the results coming out this week. Watch this space for more output and information on the projects!

An updated condition survey of the wrecks is in the process of being completed and will give additional information about the wrecks, as well as tying together any information uncovered through the research projects.

By Ben Saunders, Senior Marine Archaeologist

National Lottery Community Fund