Wreck Diving
Wrecks of the Red Sea

The Red Sea has been an important international waterway since time immemorial. The first record of a trading expedition in the Red Sea dates back to year 1493 BC, when Queen Hatchepsut of Egypt sent a fleet of five vessels from El Quseir, on the Red Sea mainland coast, to the Land of Punt, near present-day Somalia.

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THISTLEGORM

The Loss of the Thistlegorm: This ship was an Armed Freighter with gun platform fitted over her stern. Her master was Captain Ellis who had a crew of 39 and 9 Royal Navy gunners to man her 2 guns. In May 1941, in Glasgow, the Thistlegorm was loaded with supplies for the British 8th Army. Her cargo included; Land mines, ammunition, weapons, vehicles, Bren-carriers, BSA motorcycles, vehicle spares, aircraft parts, radios - and more. The motorcycles were placed onto the back of the trucks before loading. In addition, two Stanier locomotives, two tenders and two water carriers were carried as deck cargo. On 2 June 1941 she sailed for Alexandria via South Africa and arrived in the Gulf of Suez in September where she was assigned to “Safe Anchorage F” to await further instructions. The ship remained there for two weeks. In the early hours of 6 October, the ship was attacked by a German Heinkel He111. The ship had no time to defend herself and sank at 0130 hrs 6 October 1941. 4 members of crew and 5 gunners were lost.


Diving the Thistlegorm: This is one of the world’s greatest shipwrecks. She is basically upright at a depth of 32m although extensively damaged in the area of Nos 4 and 5 Holds near the stern. This was where the explosions occurred which sank the ship. The stern section itself is complete and undamaged and rests over at an angle of 45 degrees to port. The two guns and the accommodation below their platform are all intact. Heading forward, the remainder of the ship is upright and the damaged area comprises a pile of ammunition boxes on top of which are Bren-carriers and a trailer. As we approach the main body of the ship, the engines are partially obscured by debris. There is then a large sheet of upturned decking which stretches almost to the bridge deck.

In front of the bridge deck are two cargo holds. On either side of No 1 Hold are the water carriers and on either side of No 2 Hold the tenders. Below these, inside the holds, the various vehicles, motorcycles and weapons are still found. Altogether, these artefacts combine to create a veritable underwater “World War II Museum” and are the very reason why this ship remains the most visited underwater site on earth. It really is breathtaking.


Postscript: This wreck is a legend amongst divers and quite rightly so. She is, however, also a victim of her own status and is now in serious decline. None of us shall ever see this shipwreck as good as she was on the day she was re-discovered - relatively speaking, only a few short years ago. Please take care of her!

Ned Middleton is an award-winning, best selling author. For more information about this and other shipwrecks found within the Egyptian sector of the Red Sea, his book “Shipwrecks from the Egyptian Red Sea” (ISBN 1898162719 and 1905492162) is readily available. This book was declared “Underwater Publication of the Year” for 2007.

Location

Sha'ab Alley

Depth

32m

Constructed

1940

Launched

1940

Type

Armed Freighter

Displacement

4898

Dimensions

Machinery

Triple-expansion, 3 cylinder steam engine

Owners

Albyn Line.

Cargo

Military vehicles and stores plus rolling stock