The SS Thistlegorm was a British armed Merchant Navy ship which was sunk while at anchor in the Red Sea in the early hours of the 6th October 1941 by two German Heinkel He 111 bombers. It was waiting to enter the Suez canal, destined for Alexandria, and was carrying a rich cargo of munitions, ammunition, vehicles, trucks, motorbikes, aircraft parts and railway wagons and locomotives to help the Allied war effort in Egypt.
Nine men (5 gunners and 4 merchant seamen) died in the attack but the rest of the 41 crew managed to escape the burning ship before the munition on board resulted in a massive explosion which broke the wreck in half and took it quickly to the bottom. Today it is considered to be one of the most spectacular dive sites in the world and is the best known and most popular wreck dive site in the Red Sea.
The SS Thistlegorm Wreck lies now in 30m of water. The deepest point is the prop, about 32m deep and the shallowest part is only 16m deep. Current can sometimes be quite strong on this spot and can make the dive quite challenging. The visibility is often good but can be reduced by the silt in the water depending on the current and weather conditions. This dive is reserved to Padi Open Water Advanced and its alternatives.
The marine life around the Wreck is really great and you can encounter Batfishes, a resident turtle, Barracudas, Snappers, schools of Jacks and all the usual reef fishes of the Red Sea.
As it is the most famous dive site in the Red Sea, it can get VERY crowded meaning it the same underwater with various dive groups in the same spot. So try not lose your dive buddy amongst the crowds!
The best is to explore the SS Thistlegorm during a Liveaboard tour. You will be there early in the morning before all the day trips boats from Sharm El Sheikh arrive. If you dive this wreck from Sharm El Sheikh, you will need to get up very early as it takes about 4 hours to reach the dive site! Day trips usually include 2 dives on the shipwreck before heading back to Sharm El Sheikh. Night diving is also possible if the conditions are right.
In 1952, Jacques-Yves Cousteau re-discovered the SS Thistlegorm Wreck after following fishermen’s information. In 1956, the National Geographic made a first documentary about this wreck. You can watch this amazing video of one of the first dives on the SS Thistlegorm in the 1950’s just after it was discovered by Cousteau.
In 1991, Sharm El Sheikh became a popular scuba diving destination and soon Dr. Hossam Nasef began to explore again the shipwreck.
The Thistlegorm Project
The Thistlegorm Project is part of a wider maritime archaeology project called Presence in the Past, which is a Newton Fund project directed by Dr Jon Henderson of the University of Nottingham. When the rest of the world thinks about Egypt and its history, places such as Pyramids and the Sphinx are widely known but the history goes far wider and deeper (no pun intended!) that these iconic places. The underwater heritage is out of reach to most, so the University of Nottingham, Ain Shams (Cairo) and Alexandria University are collaborating on 3D and virtual reality platform that bring submerged subjects to the surface and let everyone appreciate just what lies on the seabed.
You can also chech 3Deep Media view of the wreck.
Thistlegorm Wreck Summary
Thistlegorm Reef Basics: Wreck diving
Depth: 16 – 33m
Visibility: 15 – 25m
Currents: Can be strong
Surface conditions: Generally calm
Water temperature: 22 – 28°C
Experience level: Intermediate – advanced
Number of dive sites: 3
Diving season: All year round
Distance: 40 km (3 hrs) west of Sharm El Sheikh, 65 km (4½ hrs) north of Hurghada
Access: Daytrips and liveaboards