The armed merchant ship SS Thistlegorm was bound for Egypt with a wide range of military supplies including two steam locomotives. Because of German airpower in the Mediterranean almost all supplies for Egypt went all the way around Africa before coming up the Red Sea and through the Suez canal. In early October the Suez was blocked after a ship hit a mine in the canal.
The Thistlegorm was at anchor with other freighters waiting south of the canal on the 6th October when she was spotted by two Heinkel III bombers. The Thistlegorm was the largest ship in the group – and a sitting duck.
John Whitham was on watch:
I was on watch at twelve o’clock and about one o’clock we heard the sound of aircraft. We looked across to the Carlisle and there was nothing indicating from her and the sound of the aircraft got nearer and the first thing that we realised was that he was planting a few bombs on us, which, unfortunately, dropped in number four hold, possibly number five, but number four I do know, because there was some flames shooting out from there and we……we’d quite a good fire going for a while.
The Thistlegorm’s position in the Red Sea makes her one of the most visited of all the ships sunk in World War II, one of the prime wreck dives in this part of the world.
For more see Thistlegorm.com