Place Category: Others DiveSite
The 126m long ‘Thistlegorm’ was built and launched in Sunderland in 1940. Together with her sister-ships, e.g. ‘Thistlebrae’ & ‘Thistledor’– named after the Scottish national plant, the thistle, and a colour (gorm = blue), she immediately started war duties, after being fitted with an old 4.7 inch gun and a heavy calibre anti-aircraft gun.
In May 1941 the Thistlegorm left Glasgow, loaded with supplies essential for the 8th Army and the relief of Tobruk. It was carrying landmines, shells, ammunition, Lee Enfield rifles, Bedford trucks, armoured cars, Bren gun carriers, BSA motorcycles, Morris cars, trailers, vehicle spares, aircraft and aircraft parts, trailer-mounted generators, radios and Wellington boots (the boots were supposedly on there to confuse spies as to the destination of the ship). There were also to railway engines with two coal and two water tenders for the Egyptian railways.
The safest route to Alexandria was via South Africa and up the east coast of Africa before finally entering the Red Sea where the Thistlegorm was ordered to wait because of two shipwrecks blocking the Suez Canal.
On the 6th of October 1941 2 ‘German Heinkel He 111‘ aircraft coming from Crete crossed the north Egyptian coast on reconnaissance for the Queen Mary that was – allegedly – due to travel through the Suez Canal with 1200 troops destined for North Africa. Low fuel forced them to turn around, at which point one pilot spotted the Thistlegorm at anchor. The two bombs he released penetrated hold no 4, where it detonated a lot of ammunition. The explosion sent the two locomotives spiralling into the air as the ship was ripped open like a huge tin can. The vessel began to sink and the crew quickly abandoned ship – most of them leapt straight into the sea. The captain and other survivors were rescued by the “HMS Carlisle”. 9 crew members lost their lives. For the rest this was just the start of their misery, their pay was stopped, and they had to make their own way home!
Jacques Cousteau first discovered the wreck in the 1950’s, and raised several items from it, including one of the motorcycles, the captain’s safe, and the ship’s bell. He did not however reveal the position of the ship and it was not rediscovered until the early 1990’s.
The Wreck Today
The main section is upright and on an even keel with the bottom at 31m. The starboard anchor is deployed, some railings are still in place and all the winch houses, winches, blocks, windlasses and other paraphernalia are there to be found. On the main deck there is a railway water carrier on either side of hold no 1, with the one on the portside resting precariously over the edge of the hold.
Hold 1: Bedford trucks, BSA motorcycles, parts and spares.
Hold 2: Two large armoured cars (port side), Bedford trucks, BSA
motorcycles, Morris cars, trailers, airplane wings. On top are the coal tenders.
Hold 3: Bedford trucks, Lee Enfield rifles packed in crates of 8, Wellington boots, BSA motorcycles. In the broken up section look for the propeller shaft, ammunition boxes and Bren gun carriers.
The stern itself is canted over at an angle of 45° degrees and is as interesting as any other part of the ship. The two deck-mounted guns are still in place. On the port side is one of the two locomotives, only around 20m away from the ship. The second locomotive rests on the starboard side beside cargo hold no 2, with another wheel about 20m towards the stern of the wreck.
Don’t enter or exit through hold no 3. Also avoid going into the coal storage rooms behind hold no 3. These areas are not safe anymore because of metal sheets peeling of the ceiling.