SS Thistlegorm, the best-preserved shipwreck in history

SS Thistlegorm,
the best-preserved shipwreck in history

 The remains of the Thistlegorm wreck have become a place of pilgrimage for all divers in the world. Shipwreck lovers from all over the world can’t help but travel to the Egyptian Red Sea again and again to visit this submerged wonder.

A series of wonderful coincidences and circumstances turned its remains into a perfect place for any type of diver. This is why the Thistlegorm is, today, one of the best wrecks for recreational diving worldwide.

The Thistlegorm wreck, a bit of history:

During World War II, Axis troops occupied the Mediterranean. German U-boats awaited convoys of supply ships at the entrance to the Straits of Gibraltar and planes patrolled from the southern Italian islands looking for prey to attack. The only safe way to resupply Allied troops in North Africa was to go around the African continent and enter the Red Sea.

Both the supply of material and that of troops were carried out using this alternative route.

The SS Thistlegorm leaves the port of Glasgow on June 2, 1941, in the direction of Alexandria, and after several weeks of a long journey, she manages to reach the Egyptian waters of the Red Sea safe and sound.
But not everything was going to be a bed of roses for our protagonist… another allied ship traveling the same route had collided, a few days before, with a submerged mine at the entrance to the Suez Canal, preventing the passage of the other convoys.

The Captain of the SS Thistlegorm, William Ellis, is ordered to anchor his ship in one of the safe zones established for this type of situation at the Egyptian Red Sea, the safe zone in the lagoon of Shaab Ali, in front of the Sinai Peninsula.

Built-in North East England in 1940 and sunk by German bomber aircraft in the Red Sea in 1941

A stroke of bad luck:

Meanwhile, the Germans had not ceased in their efforts to cut off enemy supply. His spies had reported that the largest cruiser in the British fleet, the Queen Mary, was headed with thousands of soldiers to North Africa, following the same route as the SS Thistlegorm. A great trophy for any of the German pilots eager for recognition and honors for which they had decided to lighten their planes, load fewer bombs and more fuel, and thus extend the range of their patrols.

On the night of October 6, 1941, 2 Heinkel He 111 bombers on patrol in the area looking for the Queen Mary, spotted the lights of a ship and decided to drop their bombs, one of them entering the ammunition hold of the Thistlegorm and sinking it in a few minutes together with 9 of his crew.

Shipwrecks attract divers and it is probably due to the mystery behind the sinking of an artifact that was made to float and navigate. If we add a tragedy and some historical problems, it has all the ingredients to become a good dive site that will attract many divers.

The SS Thistlegorm dive site:

After almost 10 years of resting under the sea, an expedition led by Commander Jacques Cousteau investigated the wreck, after interviewing some fishermen in the area, and obtained the approximate position of the sinking site.

Today, the SS Thistlegorm dive site is so popular that you cannot say that you have been to the northern Red Sea and not dived on it. The Blue Force fleet has many cruise routes in the area that include a visit to the wreck.

The boat is 32 m deep on a sandy bottom near the reef. The shallowest parts of the wreck are between 16 and 18 m deep. The dive is not difficult, but it should not be considered a beginner’s site, because some of the most iconic and interesting sections of the wreck are below deck, in the holds, which means diving under the roof. The still recognizable motorcycles and trucks are some of the most impressive sights on this site. We have seen many images of them but seeing them in person is unforgettable. Life on the wreck is abundant with many lionfish filling the shaded parts of the wreck. Large crocodile fish are easily seen on deck. Visibility is good depending on the season, ranging between 18 and 30 m.


The cargo, a submerged museum:

The ease of access to its holds, the possibility of going from one to another while observing its content and its variety have turned this shipwreck into a submerged museum about the Second World War.

When you go down to the ship and see it from the outside you can see the crew cannons, a locomotive, the destruction of the bombs, and the Bren Gun Carrier tanks supporting the infantry, they are belly up showing their chains. From there we can begin to introduce ourselves between the lines of trucks and motorcycles and reach the warehouse of rifles and aircraft parts such as wings that are still preserved. In warehouse number two we will find more trucks and see BSA M20 motorcycles assigned to Field Marshal Auchinleck, who was in charge of the British troops fighting Rommel. The G3L was designed specifically to be used in the desert and the Norton 16H.

We can also see Bedford MW and OY trucks, built for supplying troops. The Morris Commercial CS8 for artillery transport, the large Ford WOT 2 and 3, and the Tilling Stevens TS19.


When and how to dive the SS Thistlegorm wreck?

For more than 25 years, all our routes in the Sinai area spend a day diving into the SS Thistlegorm wreck. Normally you arrive in the afternoon when the rest of the boats return to the port and take the opportunity to dive at sunset and another at night.

The next morning we dive again to explore the ship again so that no area is left unvisited.

From March to January you can dive into this place, just check the availability of the routes on our website.

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The Umbria - Bahia Blanca Maritime Transport

Diving the Umbria Wreck

The Umbria,
the exciting story of
one of the best wrecks in the world

The Umbria wreck


Heading to the Past

We are pleased to share the spectacular video showing the exciting history of one of the 5 best shipwrecks in the world, the Umbria. This video is a preview of the documentaryHeading to the Past” shot partially in the Sudanese Red Sea on board the Red Sea Blue Force 3, by the team of WE ARE WATER FILMS productions company.

This trailer corresponds to the part dedicated to the Umbria wreck.

Enjoy it!

On board the Blue Force Fleet vessel that operates in Sudan, you can also discover and enjoy from just 5 meters deep the spectacular 155-meter-long shipwreck loaded with hundreds of tons of intact weapons and much more. Come and find out the exciting story of this mythical shipwreck. 

Story of this mythical shipwreck.

Nine years after its on purpose sinking (June 10, 1940) it was explored for the first time by Hans Hass, one of the most famous diving pioneers. The remains of the Umbria are undoubtedly one of the best wrecks in the world and every diver traveler must include her in the TOP 10 list of shipwrecks to dive. It is the perfect wreck to dive since it sank peacefully in shallow water, without explosions or damage caused by bombs or torpedoes, so it houses intact the immense load of weapons it was carrying, as well as a large amount of marine life that has colonized it. 

Built in Hamburg, it was launched as “Bahía Blanca” on December 30, 1911; she was a cargo ship, capable of carrying more than 2,000 passengers and 9,000 tons of cargo. In 1912 she entered service with the Hamburg-America line and they plowed the route between Europe and Argentina until the outbreak of World War I. In 1918 the ship was acquired by the Argentinian Government and later, in 1935, transferred to the Italian Government, who changed her name to “Umbria” and turned her into a troop transport ship. For two years she transported thousands of soldiers to various colonies in East Africa, before finally being sold to the Triestino Line in 1937 to cover the route between Italy and various ports in the Mediterranean and the Red Sea.

The Umbria - Bahia Blanca Maritime Transport

On the night of May 28, 1940, Captain Lorenzo Muiesan left Naples after personally supervising the cargo she was carrying for the Italian troops stationed in the East African colonies. The Umbria had in its cellars several Fiat armored vehicles, bottles of wine, provisions, thousands of bombs, a large quantity of weapons and 20 boxes of “Thalers de Maria Teresa” (a currency adopted by Italy to pay the payrolls of soldiers posted in its Eritrean colony). 

On June 3, 1940, she arrived in Port Said, loading water and coal, trying to look like a simple cargo ship. Although Italy was expected to ally with Germany at any time, it remained technically neutral so the British-controlled port officials were unable to delay the ship and the cargo she was carrying from reaching its destination, on June 6 she was finally allowed to go on with her journey. On their way to Eritrea, on June 9, two English warships, the corvette HMS Grimsby and the battleship HMS Leander, intercepted the Umbria, forcing her to anchor near the coast of Port Sudan, with the clear intention of seizing the ship and all cargo. On the morning of June 10, Captain Muiesan was listening to the radio and became the only man on board to know that Italy had formally declared war. Therefore, his ship would pass into enemy hands as soon as the news reached the English. His decision was swift, and secretly he ordered the chief engineer to sink the ship. He then gathered the crew on deck and ordered the ship to be evacuated simulating a routine salvage drill. When the English realized the deception, it was too late and they had no choice but to abandon the ship to her destination. In this way, the Umbria sank forever the 10th of June of 1940, before her cargo was confiscated thanks to the ruse of her captain.

Umbria wreck from the air with Blue Force 3


Diving the Umbria Shipwreck

The shipwreck is lying on its port side between -5 and -33 meters deep. You can dive her 155 meters long hull and her immense cellars, engine room, kitchen, corridors, dining room … The exterior of the wreck is easy to dive due to the depth at which is found and the absence of currents. However, the internal exploration of the Umbria wreck represents a real adventure for the divers who enter her, since no salvage and recovery work was ever carried out on the wreck after its sinking and both its interior and its cargo are practically intact. The deepest part of the wreck has a thick layer of silt and sediment and visibility can be poor. Its hull is upholstered with soft and hard corals, sponges and anemones. An exceptional marine life develops around the wreck, including crabs, lobsters, crinoids, clown fish, Spanish dancers, snappers, sweet lips, butterflies, humpback parrotfish and barracudas … For photography lovers, pay special attention to backlights through the portholes in the dining room and interior corridors and the starboard propeller that at just 18 meters deep offers spectacular views. Inside we will discover the engine room, the FIAT Lungo 1100 vehicles, warehouses full of cement bags, glass bottles, ammunition for rifles, aircraft parts, incredible walls with more than 300,000 stacked bombs, the kitchens still intact, the impressive hallways and dining room.


How and when to dive in the Umbria wreck

On board the Red Sea Blue Force 3, you can enjoy diving in a spectacular submerged archaeological museum. Due to weather conditions, the best diving season in Sudan is from February till May. All the liveaboard safari routes that Blue Force Fleet offers in Sudan include diving the Umbria wreck. Check the schedule of safaris and routes in SCHEDULE BLUE FORCE SUDAN, all the additional information you need about this destination you will find it on the BLUE FORCE FLEET – RED SEA – SUDAN website, as well as downloading the Brochure SUDAN – SHARK DIVE EXPEDITION Don’t dream about it, live it and book your liveaboard trip in Sudan with Blue Force now!

would you like to go there?

Visit our Sudanese Red Sea section

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Red Sea Wreck: Kingston

Red Sea Wrecks, the Kingston

Red Sea Wrecks, the Kingston

The Kingston, a reef in a wreck


Red Sea Shipwrecks, Story of the Kingston

For years, dive boats operating in southern Sinai took their divers to the Danabaa reef, also called Shag Rock, located a short distance from where the SS Thistlegorm lies. The plan was to visit the remains of another red sea wreck, the labeled “Sara H”, which was later simply reduced to “Sarah”.

It was not until 1996 when Peter Collings, the well-known British wreck diver, obtained enough information to correctly identify her and return her real name, “KINGSTON”.

The Kingston was built in 1971 on the banks of the Wear River, in the Oswald shipyards, Sunderland. She was commissioned by the Commercial Steamship Company. Like the Carnatic, Ulysses, and other ships of the time, the Kingston was a hybrid of sailing and steam, measured  262 feet long, and weighed 1,449 tons. The engine, whose model only ten units were manufactured, endowed her with a cruising speed of 10 knots.

Like other contemporary ships, she was prepared to transport both cargo and passengers, although in this case, her main task was the transport of coal.

Red Sea Wreck: Kingston


The Final voyage

The Kingston left Cardiff on the 28th of January 1881 bound for Aden with a crew of 25 and 1,740 tons of coal. On the 16th of February, she crossed the Suez Canal at 9 in the morning, and a few hours later, at 11:50 p.m. in calm sea conditions, she struck Shag Rock Reef at 9 knots speed.

On the 18th the ship “Columbian” attempted rescue after more than 70 tons of coal had been jettisoned but was unable to help the Kingston. That same afternoon, the ship begins to make water and on the 19th the captain gives the order to abandon her. 16 of the crew were then picked up by the ship “Almora” and 8 others and the captain remained on board, making unsuccessful attempts to save the ship. Finally, on the 20th the Kingston sinks, and the survivors are picked up 4 days later by the “Strathmore”  on the island of Gubal, to where they had arrived in one of the auxiliary boats and were transferred to Suez.

Diving Kingston Wreck

Currently, the Kingston is one of the favorite dives for underwater photographers in the South Sinai area. When the conditions are favorable and the current is not strong, the impressive coral garden she is sitting in, the number of corals that have colonized her, the maximum depth of the place (17 meters), and the amount of sea life around the wreck, make of this site a dive into history not easy to forget …

would you like to go there?

Visit our Egyptian Red Sea section