The Thistlegorm has become one of the world’s most popular wreck dives and regularly ranks as one of the favorite dives in the Egyptian Red Sea. Today this iconic wreck is 70 years old. 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
The Thistlegorm was built in that proud British shipbuilding tradition, by Joseph Thompson & Sons shipyard in Sunderland for the Albyn Line and launched in 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 caliber machine gun. The Thistlegorm ran 3 successful voyages to the US, Argentina and West Indies before she was sent to the Red Sea to reinforce Montgomery’s troops in their desert battle.
Her last voyage
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 planes were passing through the area looking for a troopship that was reported to be in the area. But 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. She was carrying vast amounts of ordinance destined for the Western Desert Force and a lucky shot 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 or part of your liveaboard itinerary. Veteran divers will nearly always plump for the liveaboard option as it really enables you to enjoy the wreck at its quietest and most splendid as well as get a night dive in.
It is best dived in chunks. Here in the office we like to concentrate on the rear section (the anti aircraft guns and prop) followed by the penetration through the holds where you find wellies, guns, motorbikes, trucks… the list goes on! A second shallower dive is ideal to roam the decks, rope store and captain’s cabin. Here you find the wagons, winching gears and a mass of marine life. Drop off the bow to get a real sense of how vast this wreck really is.
And if you get a chance – do a night dive here! The wreck takes on a whole new atmosphere. Awesome and you 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.