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Exploring the SS Thistlegorm: Diving into the Wreckage of a WWII Time Capsule

Updated: May 9, 2023

The SS Thistlegorm was a British Merchant Navy ship that was built in 1940 by the Joseph Thompson & Sons shipyard in Sunderland, England. It was named after the Scottish thistle, which is the national emblem of Scotland, and the Latin word "gorm", meaning blue.

SS Thistlegorm

The ship was a Class B armed freighter designed for use during World War II, and it was built to transport a variety of goods, including ammunition, weapons, and vehicles.

The SS Thistlegorm was constructed using steel and was powered by a steam turbine engine, which gave it a top speed of around 10 knots. The ship was 415 feet long and 64 feet wide, with a draft of 28 feet. It had a total carrying capacity of around 5,000 tons.

One of the unique features of the SS Thistlegorm was its armament. The ship was equipped with a 4-inch gun on the stern, a 12-pounder gun on the bow, and several machine guns for defense against enemy aircraft.

The SS Thistlegorm was launched in April 1940 and completed its first voyage in June of that year, transporting supplies to Cape Town, South Africa.

The ship was then assigned to a convoy that was headed to Alexandria, Egypt, where it arrived in June 1941 with it's cargo of tanks, trucks, motorcycles, and ammunition destined for the British Army's 8th Army in North Africa.

On the night of October 6, 1941, the SS Thistlegorm was anchored in the Red Sea when it was attacked by German bombers. The attack was part of a larger campaign by the German Luftwaffe to disrupt British supply lines in the Mediterranean and the Middle East. The bombers were able to hit the ship with two bombs, causing a massive explosion that tore the ship apart.

The crew of the SS Thistlegorm consisted of 41 men, including 9 Royal Navy gunners who were tasked with protecting the ship from enemy attacks. Sadly, a number of crew members were killed in the attack, including several of the gunners. The remaining crew members were rescued by HMS Carlisle.

The sinking of the SS Thistlegorm had a significant impact on the war effort, resulting in the loss of vital supplies that were desperately needed by the British Army in North Africa.

Artillery Case On SS Thistlegorm

For many years, the wreck of the SS Thistlegorm remained undiscovered, lying at a depth of about 30 meters on the bottom of the Red Sea. It wasn't until 1956, when Jacques-Yves Cousteau, the famous French explorer, stumbled upon the wreck while he was conducting a survey of the Red Sea.

Cousteau's discovery of the SS Thistlegorm was a significant event in the history of underwater exploration. The ship was well-preserved, and it provided a unique insight into the wartime supply routes and the type of cargo that was transported during the Second World War. The discovery also marked the beginning of recreational diving in the Red Sea, as the wreck became a popular destination for scuba divers.

Over the years, the SS Thistlegorm has become one of the most famous shipwrecks in the world. It is considered to be one of the best-preserved wrecks of a merchant ship from the Second World War, and it is home to a wide variety of marine life, including barracudas, lionfish, and moray eels. The wreck is now a protected site, and it is a popular destination for recreational divers and underwater photographers.

One of the highlights of diving the SS Thistlegorm is exploring the ship's cargo holds, which are filled with military equipment and supplies, including motorcycles, trucks, and even steam locomotives. It's like diving into a time capsule and getting a glimpse into the past.

Diving the SS Thistlegorm is an unforgettable experience that combines history, adventure, and natural beauty. However, it's important to dive responsibly and respect the wreck and its inhabitants. The site is a protected area, and all divers should follow strict guidelines to ensure its preservation for future generations

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