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The Wreck of X127

Manoel Island, Marsamxett Harbour, Malta.

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Water Lighter X127 (L9)

Designed by Walter Pollock, 3 Lloyds Avenue, London EC3 in February 1915.

Built by Goole Shipbuilding and Repairing Co, Goole, Yorkshire.

Shipyard, River Humber.
X127 Yard No 189.

At Cape Helles on the Gallipoli peninsular, two reservoirs were constructed by the Royal engineers, at the top of a 100’0” high cliff. The man-made harbour at Cape Helles is mainly where X127 would have operated from. The water was brought by tanker from Egypt and ferried by X127.

At an average cost of £8,747.0s.0d and conversion cost of £2,888.0s.0d (total £11,632) (excluding the pumping set supplied by the Admiralty) the water lighter X127 (L9) after serving and taking part in the withdraw of troops was taken to Constantinople early 1916, to be kept in reserve until closing of base (report 30.8.22), To be towed to Malta as evacuation progresses (report 30.7.23). Towed to Malta Sept 1923, propose to sell, then to be retained by Victualling Yard (report 31.10.24). Last report of the Navy list 1939, X127 Water Lighter Malta.

At the time sinking 6.3.42, X127 was being used as a fuel lighter, carrying Shale Oil for the Tenth Submarine Flotilla, Marsamxette Harbour, Malta called HMS Talbot on Manoel Island, it is not known if modifications were required to pump fuel oil. The war diary report dated 6.3.42 (Friday) - “a continuous alert from dusk to dawn was kept up last night by 18 raiders, and slight damage caused at Luqa and Ta-Kali. Today attacks were renewed on the submarine base and aerodromes Talbot (S/M Dept) and the submarine trot were twice attacked, and in the second attack P.39 and P.36 were damaged by near misses, and a Fuel Lighter was sunk.”

10.5.42 Captain S10 to Captain S1 HMS MEDWAY, subject: review of conditions in Malta, Quote: - “The following day (6th March) dive bombers approaching from the south eastward, near missed the UNA and P36 which necessitated patching P36 in two places and changing the bi-focal periscope due to splinter perforation. Half an hour later a second wave of bombers hit the fuelling lighter, forty feet from P39 and the lighter caught fire and sunk. The whole establishment was dowsed in shale oil, P39 received extensive damage.”

On 6 March Manoel Island took a further battering from the Luftwaffe. Once again, all electricity and telephone lines were cut. The boats themselves were being attacked. The log of our spare crew telegraphist, still with P39, describes one raid on that day:

“6 March. Three bombs dropped alongside, one sinking the oil lighter that was tied up alongside. I was sitting in the wardroom of P39. One ‘bang’ sounded as if the S/M had been hit for’ard. It must have been the bomb hitting the lighter. There was a shower of broken glass as all the wardroom and control room fittings were torn from the bulkhead by blast. A list to starboard had developed and water was pouring down the conning tower hatch. Thinking that the boat was sinking, we climbed to the bridge. Arriving on the bridge, we could see nothing. It was like a thick, thick fog in London. The oiler was on fire and gradually sinking. The S/M was gradually reverting to an even keel. Except for loose fittings and a strong smell of battery gases, nothing seemed to matter.”

P39 had been very seriously damaged and had to be towed into dock: 172 of her vital battery cells were cracked; warheads were wrenched from her torpedoes; machinery bedplates were fractured. The fuelling lighter sank shortly afterwards, covering the entire harbour in shale oil.


From its arrival in Malta, until the sinking X127 (L9) was operated by the victualling dept, Malta. The “X” and “L” numbers were retained throughout its life and was never given a “C” (dockyard) number.

Owned and operated at all times by the Royal Navy (not merchant), the lighter's only name was given to it by “Shrimp” Simpson in 1941 “Talbot”, this was totally unofficial and only local to Malta.

After sinking and when conditions permitted, archive material suggest X127 (L9) was to be lifted and repaired and continue its dockyard duties, but in Nov ’46, X127 (L9) was classed as a war loss and struck off the Royal Navy register. Lloyds wreck register have no archive material on X127 (L9) or any other war losses of X Lighters in Malta except X131 (Water Lighter) sunk no 3 dock, 21.4.42. Archive material states that X131 (L10) had a re-fit in ’47 and sold to the Greek Government in 1951.

The wreck of X127 (L9)

At all time, owned and operated by R.N X127 (L9) now comes under Maltese Maritime Law.