This shipwreck is like an underwater WWII museum…
In April 1940, the SS Thistlegorm was launched. The large ship boasted a multi-expansion steam engine with 1,850 horsepower, making the British private ship the envy of the 7 Seas. Today, the boat sits at the bottom of the Red Sea with many classic cars and other interesting items buried in the depths, creating a strange kind of time capsule that divers have explored and documented.
Ever since the SS Thistlegorm was built during World War II, the Merchant Navy ship was armed. A 4.7-inch anti-aircraft gun helped protect against attacks from above, while a 40 mm machine gun added to the stern after the boat was completed provided additional protection.
It was on 6 October 1941 that the SS Thistlegorm sank. The ship had departed Glasgow, Scotland, in May, bound for Alexandria, Egypt. Instead of just carrying regular consumer goods, the ship was loaded with supplies for the British 8th Army stationed in Egypt as the struggle for North Africa during World War II intensified. The captain wanted to avoid the Mediterranean, where Italian and German ships as well as planes would prevail, so this meant sailing around the southern tip of Africa and passing through the Gubal Strait.
Ammunition and other supplies destined for the troops included Bedford Morris and Ford trucks, Norton 16H motorcycles, Matchless G3/L motorcycles, Triumph and BSA motorcycles, tanks and 2 LMS Stainer Class 8F steam locomotives. However, the ship was involved in a collision in the Suez Canal and had to be moored before reaching Alexandria harbor.
In a turn of events, two German Hienkel HE III aircraft took off from the island of Crete to search for and sink the Queen Mary. Despite failing to find its prey, one of the planes located the SS Thistlegorm, dropping two bombs on it during the night and hitting it squarely. The munitions exploded and the ship quickly sank, killing 4 sailors and 5 members of the Royal Navy's weapons crew. It also trapped all those war vehicles far below the surface of the water.
It was Jacques-Yves Cousteau who tracked the wreckage, rescuing some items, including one of the motorcycles. People forgot about the find until 1992, when an Israeli fishing vessel showed up, spreading the find. Now divers from all over the world travel to the Red Sea to explore the SS Thistlegorm and see all the historic vehicles that still remain inside the hull.
Diving into the SS Thistlegorm certainly has its dangers. Diving in any enclosed space, whether it's an underwater cave or a sunken ship like this one, can be risky. Not only is it easy to become disoriented, leading to panic, a dive team has documented how easily someone can be injured by the sharp edges of the wreckage. About 7 years ago, they got off the ship, but they weren't wearing hoods. One of the divers received a very good cut on the head, blood flowed into the water. Fortunately, that blood didn't attract a shark frenzy, and the wound wasn't bad enough to knock the man unconscious. This illustrates that when you come across an abandoned stash of classic cars, it's always best to be careful.