SS Thistlegorm

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Aft view Thistlegorm.jpg
Aft view of the walkway leading to the bridge of Thistlegorm.
Civil Ensign of the United Kingdom.svg United Kingdom
Owner: Albyn Line
Builder: Joseph Thompson & Son
Launched: 9 April 1940
Sponsored by: Mrs. K.W. Black
Completed: January 1941
Homeport: Glasgow, Scotland
Fate: Sunk 6 October 1941
Status: Wrecked
General characteristics
Tonnage: 4898 gt
Displacement: c.13,000 tons fully loaded
Length: 128 m (419 ft)
Beam: 18 m (59 ft)
Installed power: three-cylinder, triple-expansion, steam engine, 1,850 I.H.P (1,380kW))
Propulsion: single screw
Crew: 41
Armament: 4 inch (101mm) low angle gun and a 3 inch (77mm) anti-aircraft gun (per admiralty record AFO 1524/41)

SS Thistlegorm was a British armed Merchant Navy ship built in 1940 by Joseph Thompson & Son in Sunderland, England. She was sunk on 6 October 1941 near Ras Muhammad in the Red Sea and is now a well known diving site.

England Country in north-west Europe, part of the United Kingdom

England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Wales to the west and Scotland to the north. The Irish Sea lies west of England and the Celtic Sea to the southwest. England is separated from continental Europe by the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south. The country covers five-eighths of the island of Great Britain, which lies in the North Atlantic, and includes over 100 smaller islands, such as the Isles of Scilly and the Isle of Wight.

Red Sea Arm of the Indian Ocean between Arabia and Africa

The Red Sea is a seawater inlet of the Indian Ocean, lying between Africa and Asia. The connection to the ocean is in the south through the Bab el Mandeb strait and the Gulf of Aden. To the north lie the Sinai Peninsula, the Gulf of Aqaba, and the Gulf of Suez. The Red Sea is a Global 200 ecoregion. The sea is underlain by the Red Sea Rift which is part of the Great Rift Valley.



Thistlegorm was built by Joseph Thompson & Sons shipyard in Sunderland for the Albyn Line and launched in April 1940. She was powered by a triple-expansion steam engine rated to 1,850 hp (1,380 kW).[ citation needed ] The vessel was privately owned but had been partly financed by the British government and was classified as an armed freighter. She was armed with a 4.7-inch (120 mm) anti-aircraft gun and a heavy-calibre machine gun attached after construction to the stern of the ship. She was one of a number of "Thistle" ships owned and operated by the Albyn Line, which was founded in 1901, based in Sunderland, and had four vessels at the outbreak of World War II. [1]

The vessel carried out three successful voyages after her launch. The first was to the US to collect steel rails and aircraft parts, the second to Argentina for grain, and the third to the West Indies for rum. Prior to her fourth and final voyage, she had undergone repairs in Glasgow. [2]

Final voyage

Diving the Thistlegorm ThistlegormLarge.jpg
Diving the Thistlegorm
Anti-aircraft gun on the stern of the Thistlegorm Thistlegorm gun.jpg
Anti-aircraft gun on the stern of the Thistlegorm
Trucks, part of the cargo of the Thistlegorm Thistlegormtruck.jpg
Trucks, part of the cargo of the Thistlegorm

She set sail on her fourth and final voyage from Glasgow on 2 June 1941, destined for Alexandria, Egypt. The vessel's cargo included: Bedford trucks, Universal Carrier armoured vehicles, Norton 16H and BSA motorcycles, Bren guns, cases of ammunition, and 0.303 rifles as well as radio equipment, Wellington boots, aircraft parts, railway wagons [3] and two LMS Stanier Class 8F steam locomotives. [4] These steam locomotives and their associated coal and water tenders were carried as deck cargo intended for Egyptian National Railways. The rest of the cargo was for the Allied forces in Egypt. At the time the Thistlegorm sailed from Glasgow in June, this was the Western Desert Force, which in September 1941 became part of the newly formed Eighth Army. The crew of the ship, under Captain William Ellis, were supplemented by nine naval personnel to man the machine gun and the anti-aircraft gun.

Glasgow City and council area in Scotland

Glasgow is the most populous city in Scotland, and the third most populous city in the United Kingdom, as of the 2017 estimated city population of 621,020. Historically part of Lanarkshire, the city now forms the Glasgow City council area, one of the 32 council areas of Scotland; the local authority is Glasgow City Council. Glasgow is situated on the River Clyde in the country's West Central Lowlands. It is the fifth most visited city in the UK.

Alexandria Metropolis in Egypt

Alexandria is the second-largest city in Egypt and a major economic centre, extending about 32 km (20 mi) along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea in the north central part of the country. Its low elevation on the Nile delta makes it highly vulnerable to rising sea levels. Alexandria is an important industrial center because of its natural gas and oil pipelines from Suez. Alexandria is also a popular tourist destination.

Egypt Country spanning North Africa and Southwest Asia

Egypt, officially the Arab Republic of Egypt, is a country in the northeast corner of Africa, whose territory in the Sinai Peninsula extends beyond the continental boundary with Asia, as traditionally defined. Egypt is bordered by the Gaza Strip and Israel to the northeast, the Gulf of Aqaba and the Red Sea to the east, Sudan to the south, Libya to the west, and the Mediterranean Sea to the north. Across the Gulf of Aqaba lies Jordan, across the Red Sea lies Saudi Arabia, and across the Mediterranean lie Greece, Turkey and Cyprus, although none share a land border with Egypt.

Due to German and Italian naval and air force activity in the Mediterranean, the Thistlegorm sailed as part of a convoy via Cape Town, South Africa, where she refuelled, before heading north up the East coast of Africa and into the Red Sea. On leaving Cape Town, the light cruiser HMS Carlisle joined the convoy. Due to a collision in the Suez Canal, the convoy could not transit through the canal to reach the port of Alexandria and instead moored at Safe Anchorage F, [5] in September 1941 where she remained at anchor until her sinking on 6 October 1941. HMS Carlisle moored in the same anchorage.

Cape Town Legislative capital of South Africa

Cape Town is a legislative capital of South Africa, colloquially named the Mother City. It is the legislative capital of South Africa and primate city of the Western Cape province. It forms part of the City of Cape Town metropolitan municipality.

HMS <i>Carlisle</i> (D67)

HMS Carlisle was a C-class light cruiser of the Royal Navy, named after the English city of Carlisle. She was the name ship of the Carlisle group of the C-class of cruisers. Carlisle was credited with shooting down eleven Axis aircraft during the Second World War and was the top scoring anti-aircraft ship in the Royal Navy.

Suez Canal Canal in Egypt between the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea

The Suez Canal is a sea-level waterway in Egypt, connecting the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea through the Isthmus of Suez. Constructed by the Suez Canal Company between 1859 and 1869, it was officially opened on 17 November 1869. The canal offers watercraft a more direct route between the North Atlantic and northern Indian oceans via the Mediterranean and Red seas, thus avoiding the South Atlantic and southern Indian oceans and thereby reducing the journey distance from the Arabian Sea to London, for example, by approximately 8,900 kilometres (5,500 mi). It extends from the northern terminus of Port Said to the southern terminus of Port Tewfik at the city of Suez. Its length is 193.30 km (120.11 mi), including its northern and southern access channels. In 2012, 17,225 vessels traversed the canal.

There was a large build-up of Allied troops in Egypt during September 1941 and German intelligence (Abwehr) suspected that there was a troop carrier in the area bringing in additional troops. [5] Two Heinkel He 111 aircraft of II Staffeln, Kampfgeschwader 26, Luftwaffe, [6] were dispatched from Crete to find and destroy the troop carrier. This search failed but one of the bombers discovered the vessels moored in Safe Anchorage F. Targeting the largest ship, they dropped two 2.5 tonne high explosive bombs on the Thistlegorm, [7] both of which struck hold 4 near the stern of the ship at 0130 on 6 October. [5] The bomb and the explosion of some of the ammunition stored in hold 4 led to the sinking of the Thistlegorm with the loss of four sailors and five members of the Royal Navy gun crew. The survivors were picked up by HMS Carlisle. Captain Ellis was awarded the OBE for his actions following the explosion and a crewman, Angus McLeay, was awarded the George Medal and the Lloyd's War Medal for Bravery at Sea for saving another crew member. Most of the cargo remained within the ship, the major exception being the steam locomotives from the deck cargo which were blown off to either side of the wreck. [4]

<i>Abwehr</i> military intelligence of the Reichswehr and Wehrmacht

The Abwehr was the German military intelligence service for the Reichswehr and Wehrmacht from 1920 to 1945. Despite the fact that the Treaty of Versailles prohibited the Germans altogether from establishing an intelligence organization of their own, they formed an espionage group in 1920 within the Ministry of Defense, calling it the Abwehr. The initial purpose of the Abwehr was defense against foreign espionage—an organizational role which later evolved considerably. Under General Kurt von Schleicher the individual military services' intelligence units were combined and, in 1929, centralized under his Ministry of Defense, forming the foundation for the more commonly understood manifestation of the Abwehr.

Heinkel He 111 Medium bomber

The Heinkel He 111 was a German aircraft designed by Siegfried and Walter Günter at Heinkel Flugzeugwerke in 1934. Through development it was described as a "wolf in sheep's clothing". Due to restrictions placed on Germany after the First World War prohibiting bombers, it masqueraded as a civil airliner, although from conception the design was intended to provide the nascent Luftwaffe with a fast medium bomber.

<i>Kampfgeschwader</i> 26 military unit

Kampfgeschwader 26 "Löwengeschwader" was a German air force Luftwaffe bomber wing unit during World War II. Its units participated on all of the fronts in the European Theatre until the end of the war. It operated three of the major German aircraft medium bomber types; the Heinkel He 111, Junkers Ju 88 and the Junkers Ju 188. The unit engaged in both strategic bombing, close air support, anti-shipping and aerial interdiction operations. The majority of its operational life – not entirely unlike another Luftwaffe wing designated KG 40 — was spent on anti-shipping missions.

Discovery by Cousteau

In the early fifties, Jacques Cousteau discovered her by using information from local fishermen. He raised several items from the wreck, including a motorcycle, the captain's safe, and the ship's bell. The February 1956 edition of National Geographic clearly shows the ship's bell in place and Cousteau's divers in the ship's lantern room. Cousteau documented diving on the wreck in part of his book The Living Sea.

Rediscovery and recreational dive site

Steam windlass and mooring winches Thistlegorm train parts minus red edit.jpg
Steam windlass and mooring winches

Following Cousteau's visit, the site was forgotten about except by local fishermen. In the early 1990s, Sharm el-Sheikh began to develop as a diving resort. Recreational diving on the Thistlegorm restarted following the visit of the dive boat Poolster, [8] using information from another Israeli fishing boat captain.

The massive explosion that sank her had blown much of her midships superstructure away and makes the wreck very accessible to divers. The depth of around 30 m (100 feet) at its deepest is ideal for diving without the need for specialist equipment and training.

The wreck attracts many divers for the amount of the cargo that can be seen and explored. Boots and motorcycles are visible in Hold No. 1. Trucks, motorcycles, Wellington boots, rifles, Westland Lysander wings, [9] about twenty Bristol Mercury radial engine exhaust rings and a handful of cylinders [10] and Bristol Blenheim bomber tailplanes [11] are visible in Hold No. 2. Universal Carrier armoured vehicles, RAF trolley accumulators, [12] and two Pundit Lights [13] can also be found. Off to the port side of the wreck level with the blast area can be found one of the steam locomotives which had been stored as deck cargo and the other locomotive is off the starboard side level with Hold No. 2. [4]

The wreck is rapidly disintegrating due to natural rusting. The dive boats that rely on the wreck for their livelihood are also tearing the wreck apart by mooring the boats to weak parts of the wreck, leading to parts of the wreck collapsing. For this reason, in December 2007 the Hurghada Environmental Protection and Conservation Association (HEPCA) a non-governmental organisation installed 32 permanent mooring buoys and drilled holes in the wreck to allow trapped air to escape. [14] During this work, the vessel was closed off to recreational diving. However, as of 2009, none of these moorings remain as the blocks themselves were too light (resulting in ships dragging them), and the lines connecting the moorings to the wreck were too long (meaning with the strong currents in the area, people would find it impossible to transfer from the mooring to the actual wreck). As a result, all boats now moor off directly to the wreck again.

Common interesting animals around the wreck are tuna, barracuda, batfish, moray eel, lionfish, stonefish, crocodilefish, scorpionfish, and sea turtle.

The Times named the Thistlegorm as one of the top 10 wreck diving sites in the world. [15]

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The following index is provided as an overview of and topical guide to recreational dive sites:

Outline of recreational dive sites Hierarchical outline list of articles about rereational dive sites

Recreational dive sites – Specific places that recreational divers go to enjoy the underwater environment or are used for training purposes


  1. "National Maritime Museum". Retrieved 26 February 2013.
  2. Submitted by John Kean on Tue, 27/03/2012 - 18:00 (27 March 2012). "The SS Thistlegorm book". Retrieved 26 February 2013.
  4. 1 2 3 [Sharm el-Sheik Diving Guide ISBN   977-304-000-3]
  5. 1 2 3 Diver Magazine December 2006 [ dead link ]
  6. Rohwer, Jürgen; Gerhard Hümmelchen. "Seekrieg 1941, Oktober". Württembergische Landesbibliothek Stuttgart (in German). Retrieved 12 April 2015.
  7. "75 Facts about the Thistlegorm". Dive Magazine. Dive Magazine. Retrieved 2 September 2019.
  8. Diver Magazine February 2006 [ dead link ]
  9. Frost, Chris (30 October 2011). "Westland Lysander | Schweboo Magazine". Retrieved 26 February 2013.
  10. Frost, Chris (30 October 2011). "Bristol mercury radial engine | Schweboo Magazine". Retrieved 26 February 2013.
  11. Frost, Chris (9 November 2011). "Bleinheim bomber parts | Schweboo Magazine". Retrieved 26 February 2013.
  12. Frost, Chris (30 October 2011). "Trolley acculmulator | Schweboo Magazine". Retrieved 26 February 2013.
  13. Frost, Chris (2 November 2011). "Pundit lights | Schweboo Magazine". Retrieved 26 February 2013.
  14. HEPCA Archived 10 November 2010 at the Wayback Machine
  15. Ecott, Tim (3 March 2007). "World's best wreck diving". London: The Times. Archived from the original on 24 September 2011. Retrieved 9 November 2009.

Coordinates: 27°48′51″N33°55′12″E / 27.81417°N 33.92000°E / 27.81417; 33.92000