Civil Ensign of the United KingdomUnited Kingdom
Owner: Albyn Line
Builder: Joseph Thompson & Son
Launched: 9 April 1940
Sponsored by: Mrs. K.W. Black
Completed: January 1941
Homeport: Glasgow, Scotland
Fate: Sunk 6 October 1941
Tonnage: 4898 gt
Displacement: c.13,000 tons fully loaded
Length: 128 m (419 ft)
Beam: 18 m (59 ft)
Installed power: three-cylinder, triple-expansion, steam engine, 1,850 I.H.P (1,380kW))
Propulsion: single screw
Armament: 4 inch (101mm) low angle gun and a 3 inch (77mm) anti-aircraft gun (per admiralty record AFO 1524/41)
The SS Thistlegorm was a British armed Merchant Navy ship built in 1940 by Joseph Thompson & Son in Sunderland, England. She was sunk on 6 October 1941 near Ras Muhammad in the Red Sea and is now a well known diving site.
She set sail on her fourth and final voyage from Glasgow on 2 June 1941, destined for Alexandria, Egypt. The vessel's cargo included: Bedford trucks, Universal Carrier armoured vehicles, Norton 16H and BSA motorcycles, Bren guns, cases of ammunition, and 0.303 rifles as well as radio equipment, Wellington boots, aircraft parts, railway wagons and two LMS Stanier Class 8F steam locomotives. These steam locomotives and their associated coal and water tenders were carried as deck cargo intended for Egyptian National Railways. The rest of the cargo was for the Allied forces in Egypt. At the time the Thistlegorm sailed from Glasgow in June, this was the Western Desert Force, which in September 1941 became part of the newly formed Eighth Army. The crew of the ship, under Captain William Ellis, were supplemented by nine naval personnel to man the machine gun and the anti-aircraft gun.
Due to German and Italian naval and air force activity in the Mediterranean, the Thistlegorm sailed as part of a convoy via Cape Town, South Africa, where she refuelled, before heading north up the East coast of Africa and into the Red Sea. On leaving Cape Town, the light cruiser HMS Carlisle joined the convoy. Due to a collision in the Suez Canal, the convoy could not transit through the canal to reach the port of Alexandria and instead moored at Safe Anchorage F,in September 1941 where she remained at anchor until her sinking on 6 October 1941. HMS Carlisle moored in the same anchorage.
There was a large build-up of Allied troops in Egypt during September 1941 and German intelligence (Abwehr) suspected that there was a troop carrier in the area bringing in additional troops. Two Heinkel He 111 aircraft of II Staffeln, Kampfgeschwader 26, Luftwaffe, were dispatched from Crete to find and destroy the troop carrier. This search failed but one of the bombers discovered the vessels moored in Safe Anchorage F. Targeting the largest ship, they dropped two bombs on the Thistlegorm, both of which struck hold 4 near the stern of the ship at 0130 on 6 October. The bomb and the explosion of some of the ammunition stored in hold 4 led to the sinking of the Thistlegorm with the loss of four sailors and five members of the Royal Navy gun crew. The survivors were picked up by HMS Carlisle. Captain Ellis was awarded the OBE for his actions following the explosion and a crewman, Angus McLeay, was awarded the George Medal and the Lloyd's War Medal for Bravery at Sea for saving another crew member. Most of the cargo remained within the ship, the major exception being the steam locomotives from the deck cargo which were blown off to either side of the wreck.
The SS Thistlegorm was built by Joseph Thompson & Sons shipyard in Sunderland for the Albyn Line and launched in April 1940. She was powered by a triple-expansion steam engine rated to 1,850 hp (1,380 kW). The vessel was privately owned but had been partly financed by the British government and was classified as an armed freighter. She was armed with a 4.7-inch (120 mm) anti-aircraft gun and a heavy-calibre machine gun attached after construction to the stern of the ship. She was one of a number of "Thistle" ships owned and operated by the Albyn Line, which was founded in 1901, based in Sunderland, and had four vessels at the outbreak of World War II.
The vessel carried out three successful voyages after her launch. The first was to the US to collect steel rails and aircraft parts, the second to Argentina for grain, and the third to the West Indies for rum. Prior to her fourth and final voyage, she had undergone repairs in Glasgow