X-Lighter X127

Lazzaretto Wharf located on the Manoel Island peninsula served as a submarine depot for the 10th Flotilla in the Mediterranean throughout the Second World War, making it a prime target for German and Italian aerial attacks, particularly since the Flotilla was extremely successful at sinking Axis shipping.

Throughout 1942 the area around the submarine base was heavily bombed, damaging, and even sinking, several submarines and their supply vessels. These supply vessels were known as X-lighters and were flat, barge like ships. X-lighters were originally commissioned by the Admiralty in 1915, with 200  ordered for use in the ill-fated Gallipoli Campaign. With the end of the campaign many of the X-lighters were used for troop transport, later being sold to either shipping agents or other European governments. A number of these X-lighters were towed to Constantinople and later on to Malta, where they were retained by Victualling Yard in 1923. With the outbreak of the Second World War, X-lighters were once again used for the transportation of services, such as water and fuel, this time for the 10th Submarine Flotilla.

In early March 1942, intensified aerial bombings resulted in the sinking of an X-lighter as she lay alongside the submarine P39 at Lazaretto Wharf. Some plans were made to raise the wreck, however, by late 1946 the X-lighter was declared a war loss. 

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The Wreck.

For the better part of a century this wreck has been resting on a slope, and has become a popular recreational dive spot due to its easy shore access and shallow depths. The local diving community referred to the wreck as the ‘Carolita’, however, surveys conducted in the early 21st century confirmed the wreck’s identity as an X-lighter, with evidence pointing towards it being the X127, a fuel lighter ferrying fuel to the 10th Flotilla.

Bomb Damage

Lazaretto Wharf was home to the Royal Navy’s 10th Submarine Flotilla resulting in the area being heavily bombed throughout 1942. The submarine base was serviced by a number of other vessels, ferrying fuel and other necessities from the wharf to the submarines. Amongst these vessels was a fuel lighter that was bombed during a German aerial raid on 3rd March 1942, as it was lying next to the submarine P39. The damage sustained by the bomb was concentrated around the mid-section of the lighter, on the port side. Construction plans of the 1915 lighters indicate that this area is where storage tanks were located, with each vessel having four 450-gallon tanks. The outward direction of twisted sheets of metal indicate that an explosion occurred in the vicinity of the tanks, which in the case of the X127 was full of shale oil. Additionally, recent studies have indicated that the interior of the storage area is full of black encrustations, pointing towards the location of a fire, and thus the explosion that sunk the vessel.

Bow

The spoon-shaped bow of the X127 is a characteristic feature of all lighters constructed during the First World War. This particular shape was an intentional feature that allowed the vessels to approach and land on steeply shelving beaches, that accommodated the disembarkation of troops, horses and armaments on the beach. Footholds bolted into the bow section of the lighter facilitated the disembarkation process, which was usually enabled through the use of a separate drop-down bow. In the case of the X127 this separate bow is not located on or near the wreck, however, the presence of large bollards and fairleads at the bow, on both the port and starboard side, point towards the use of such a drop-down bow.