In February 1915, The Director of Naval Construction (DNC) at the Admiralty received instructions to design a large type of lighter or barge. This was to be self-propelled, suitable for transporting troops, horses and field guns, and capable of landing them on a shelving beach. Too hundred were needed for the proposed Gallipoli campaign. Construction was to be overseen by Walter Pollock of James Pollock & Son based at 3 Lloyds Avenue in London.
The request came at the same time as a smaller lighter, designated the ‘Y’ class, was being considered. The larger landing craft were to be designated as ‘X’ class. The matter was one of extreme urgency, and the design was completed in just four days. Twenty-seven yards in the North East of England and three on the Clyde were appointed to construct the lighters, which were given the nickname ‘Black Beetles’.
Following the 1915 order for 200 X-lighters for Gallipoli a total of 25 motor store lighters were built in 1916; these were designated X-201 to X-225. In addition some 25 dumb (non-propelled) lighters were constructed; these were designated DX-1 to DX-25. A number of the surviving ‘X’ lighters are listed on the National Register of Historic Vessels, including SPITHEAD (X-44), PETER P (X-57) and BRANDRAM (X-67).
The design agreed involved an angular pontoon shaped bilge section amidships, tapering to a ship shape form at the ends, with a spoon shaped bow to enable the vessels to beach successfully. The hull was constructed of mild steel. Certain small departures from the specification were permitted to take account of limitations in the plant available at some of the smaller yards, in order to facilitate the speedy construction of the vessels.
Each of the vessels was first given a yard number, but on acceptance by the Admiralty they were designated ‘X’ lighters and numbered from X-1 to X-200. Despite the allowance for ‘certain small departures’ only, variations in speed of production, stock availability and local materials resulted in significant constructional differences from one yard to another. Of the 200 built in 1915, 14 were converted to carry and pump water; in 1916, a further nine were converted to water carrying, and five were converted to carry oil fuel.
Not all the X-lighters built ended up going to Gallipoli. Those that did were given an operational number; those used for transporting men and horses were given a ‘K’ number; those for transporting water were given an ‘L’ number.
BRANDRAM was built in 1915 by the Sunderland Shipbuilding Co. Ltd. Her yard number was 309, and on acceptance by the Admiralty she was assigned the number X-67. Contrary to the design specification her hull was of iron plate construction. She was powered by two Gardner diesel engines, a model 6LW port engine and a model 6L3 starboard engine.
As X-67, BRANDRAM was used as a landing craft during the First World War, but she made it no further than France during her service. From 1920, many of the 200 lighters were sold to private firms and shipping agents as well as to the governments of France, Egypt, Greece and Spain. Sixteen were taken to Malta, which had been the support base for the Gallipoli Campaign.
Where is she now?
As C-7 BRANDRAM was requisitioned by the government during the Second World War. In the years between the two world wars she was used variously as an oil barge, a sand barge and a general cargo barge. She has been owned by her current owner since 1968 and worked as a general cargo carrier until 1981. BRANDRAM is based at Stoke on the River Medway.
David Mallard, X-Lighters - The Black Beetles