The SS Thistlegorm was built in 1940 in England by Thomson & Sons. It measures 131 metres long and 17.5 m wide.
Coming from Cape Town, loaded with war material (ammunitions, mines, locomotives, tank cars, motor bikes, boots, medicine etc.) to supply the British troops in North Africa.
German bombers coming from Crete on October 6, 1941 attacked it, the bombs hit the aft hold.
The remains of this tremendous explosion can still be seen, it has become the area’s most sought after wreck.
Thistlegorm was build to transport refurbished wartime materials for the British troops. In May1941 with a crew of 39 me it had left the port of Glasgow, Scotland, with a cargo of munitions, bombs of different kinds, anti tank mines, Lee Enfield MKⅢrifles, a hundred of BSA motorcycles, BSA W-M20, Matchless G3L and Norton 16H, Bedford, Morris and Ford trucks, two light Bren Carrier MK Ⅱtanks, two steam Stanier 8 F locomotives complete with two coal tenders and water tankers necessary for travel in desert zones, transport trucks, portable field generators, spare parts for airplanes and automobiles, medicine, tyres abd rubber boots. The cargo was destined for British 8th Army stationed in Egypt and Cyrenaica(Lybia); yet the German forces controlled the Mediterranean so circumnavigating Africa and passing through the Suez Canal to reach the port of Alexandria was considered safer route. The Thistlegorm was already on its way up to the Red Sea when it received the order to anchor in Gubal and wait as the Suez Canal was temporarily obstructed by a vessel that had hit a German mine, On the night of 5-6th October two German Heinkel HeⅢ bombers, coming from their base in Crete, sighted and attacked the ship. It was hit by two bombs on hold no.4 where the munitions deposit was situated. The explosion was very violent and tore the ship in two whilst the locomotives, despite their weigth of 126tons each and the fact that they were tied to the deck, were catapulted into the air, sinking to seabed about 30mat 1.30am on 6th Oct 1941.It was Jacques- Yves Cousteau with his ship Calypso who discovered the wreck in 1955 and who mentioned it in an article published in February 1956 in the monthly National Geographic Magazine, however, did not reveal the position of the wreck, thus it went forgotten for almost 40 years until 1992 when it was rediscovered by an Israeli skipper. In a short time a great favorite with scuba divers from all over the world and is now the most visited wreck in the whole Red Sea.
Exploration of the ship is usually done in two phases. The 1st dive is a general tour of the wreck resting in its NW-SE position; the 2nd dive includes penetration of the holds. Descent s and ascents are done along the ropes with which dive boat is moored to the wreck. Visibility is not always good and tidal currents from bow to stern can be present and sometimes very strong.
Shag rock situated about a mile south of Sha’ab Ali and 6miles away from the wreck, Thistlegorm, is the name given to a shallow reef marked by a small metal lighthouse on its southeastern side. A big sandy plateau by this lighthouse extends to 8-10m, with a fixed mooring. On the northern side of the reef on the sandy seabed at 15m, there is a small wreck lying in a south north direction with its bow stranded on the reef. It is British cargo Kingston sunk in February 1881. The exploration of the ship starts at the stern at 15m where the still intact propeller can be observed. The route continues into the inside of the hull, easily accessible as the wooden bridge is no longer there and the area is well illuminated by sunlight. The remains of the engine room with the boiler are still nicely visible whereas the bow area situated at 4m is destroyed. To the right of the wreck you can see the remains of the mast resting on the seabed. The fauna here is particularly interesting and comprises surgeonfish, rabbitfish and nudibranchs. From here you continue the dive either to the east or west to explore the reef populated by rich fauna represented by jackfish, groupers, snappers, turtles and Whitetip reef sharks or Eagle rays. Schools of dolphins are regularly spotted in this area.