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1942 - 1946: X Class

Laid down in 1939, the prototype X-craft was built by one of the leading advocates of midget submarines - a First World War submariner, Commander Varley - and, following successful trials off Scotland in October 1942, was commissioned as X3 (X1 was an experimental fleet submarine built in 1925, and X2 was a captured Italian submarine). A second prototype vessel X4, was constructed and based on these two boats, operational craft were quickly developed.

In December 1942, Vickers began to build six X-craft (X5 to X10) for employment in European waters. Their obvious primary operation was to attack the German battleship Tirpitz, which was 'holed up' in Alten Fjord, Norway. By September 1943, the six X5 Class midget submarines and their hand-picked, highly trained crews were ready to undertake a mission that was to write a chapter in the history of submarine warfare.

An X5 Class midget submarine being 'launched' into Buccleuch Dock
An X5 Class midget submarine being 'launched' into Buccleuch Dock

With engines that generated 42 hp (surfaced) and only 30 hp (submerged), the X-craft were too small to undertake long passages and were, therefore, always towed to their target area by full-sized submarines, at maximum speeds of 10.5 knots (surfaced) and 12 knots (submerged). As can be expected, towing midgets reduced the endurance of submarines - the S Class, for example, had a 30 per cent reduction in endurance, and the comparable figure for the larger T Class was 5 1/2 per cent.

Six further X-craft, X20 to X25 , were built in 1945, five of which were scrapped at the end of the war. The sixth, X22, was lost in a collision with HM Submarine Syrtis in the Pentland Firth



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1941 - 1958: V Class1943 - 1946: XT Class