The Thistlegorm is one of the world’s most popular wreck regularly ranking as one of the favourite dives in the Red Sea. Today, to celebrate the VE Day we want to bring your attention to this fantastic piece of history. So we take a moment to doth our caps and think about the Thistlegorm. Not just as one hell of a wreck dive, but for the tragic loss of life on that fateful night of October 6th, 1941.
A bit of history. Remembering the Thistlegorm on VE Day
The Thistlegorm was built by Joseph Thompson & Sons shipyard in Sunderland for the Albyn Line and launched on the 9th of April 1940. Few images exist of her at this stage but she did have 3 other sisters “Thistle” ships. She went almost immediately into war service, converted to an armed freighter with a 4.7-inch (120mm) anti-aircraft gun and a heavy calibre machine gun. The Thistlegorm ran 3 successful voyages, to the US, Argentina and West Indies. Her last mission was to the Red Sea to reinforce Montgomery’s troops in their desert battle.
The Thistlegorm’s last voyage
In May 1941, the Thistlegorm left Glasgow with a crew of 39 men under the command of Captain William Ellis. She was carrying vast amounts of ordinance destined for the Western Desert Force including rifles, motorcycles, trucks, field generators and aeroplane spares among others. Her destination was Alexandria, but the Mediterranean was in hands of the German forces making it too dangerous for allied ships. For this reason, the safest route was around Africa and into the Red Sea.
The story told by many a dive guide will run more or less along these lines. The Thistlegorm was at anchor at Shaab Ali, past what is today Rad Mohammed. She was waiting for the Suez Canal to open up after it had been closed for a few days. It is thought that 2 German Heinkel HE111 were returning from an unsuccessful mission looking for the Queen Mary, which was caring for Australian troops. Instead of finding the troopship, they stumbled across the Thistlegorm and her accompanying vessels. It was a simple case of aiming for the largest vessel. Unfortunately, it did not take long for the attack to lead to the sinking of the Thistlegorm. Two bombs hit the cargo hold number 4. A lucky shot that ripped through the rear hold with a huge explosion. 11 lives were lost.
Diving her today
There are two ways to dive the Thistlegorm. As a day trip from Sharm el-Sheikh, or as part of your liveaboard itinerary. Veteran divers will prefer the liveaboard option as it really enables you to enjoy the wreck at its best. You will also be able to complete at least 3 dives including a night dive.
It is best dived the wreck in chunks. “I personally prefer to do one dive concentrating around the stern. This will be the deepest dive and is best after the current has been moving from south to north bringing clear water. During this dive, I visit the guns, prop and the blast area. If the conditions are good, I like to have a look at and the remains of the locomotive” says Mario, our Photo specialist.
Often the second dive. It is a bit shallower, but you will have to keep a close eye on your dive computer as it is a square profile. Best starting from the lower level of cargo hold two, you can see trucks, motorbikes, trailers and scattered piles of rifles and boots. The shallower level has many motor trucks, field generators and aeroplane wings. The ceiling on this level is much lower than the deeper one so be careful not to hit your head.
The main deck
The decks are ideal to explore at the end of each dive when you head back to the accent line. Here you find the wagons, winching gears and a mass of marine life. If the current allows you you can swim away off the bow to get a real sense of how vast this wreck really is.
The wreck at night takes on a whole new atmosphere. The structure is a shelter for a range of marine animals. With a bit of luck have a good chance of bumping into the resident turtle.
No matter how you dive the Thistlegorm, do always remember this is a war grave and a testament to the sacrifices made during the Second World War by Merchant Navy and armed forces. We are privileged to be able to dive such a moment of history.
The Thistlegorm is a regular stop on the Wrecks and Reefs itinerary. If you have not dived it yet or wish to revisit this phenomenal wreck check out our £0 deposit trips to the Northern Red Sea and start planning your next dive holiday.