The Thistlegorm Project

One of the most famous wrecks to dive on is that of the SS Thistlegorm, a British merchant steam ship that was sunk by German bombers on 6 October 1941 near Ras Muhamad (Red Sea, Egypt).

The University of Nottingham, Ain Shams (Cairo) and Alexandria University have joined forces to create a 3D model of the ship’s wreck. Spread out over 12 dives they’ve collected 24,307 high resolution image files (amounting to 637Gb of data) and have recorded several 360° videos.


360 video of a dive on the SS Thistlegorm

The conversion of the 2D images to a 3D model was done using a piece of software called Agisoft Photoscan Pro, and amounted for quite a lot of time:

  • 42 (1008hrs) days of local computing runtime
  • 23 days (556hrs) of cloud computing runtime
  • 65 (1560hrs) days of continuous computer processing in total

The result is amazing though: not only have they created 3D scenes of the exterior of the wreck’s site (embedded at the top of this post), they’ve also created 3D models of the various floors of the SS Thistlegorm. If you have a Cardboard Viewer you can watch ‘m in true VR style.

The Thistlegorm Project →
The Thistlegorm Project: 3D Programmetry →
The Thistlegorm Project: 360 Videos →

💁‍♂️ SS Thistlewhat?

In September 1941, during WW2, the SS Thistlegorm and HMS Carlisle could not transit through the Suez Canal to reach the port of Alexandria due to a collision in said canal. Awaiting unobstructed passage of the canal they moored at a location the Allies labeled “Safe Anchorage F”.

In the night of October 5 to October 6 1941 the Germans dispatched two Heinkel He-111 aircraft from Crete to locate Allied troop carriers, but failed to do so. On their way back however they spotted the SS Thistlegorm and bombed it. By pure chance the bombs hit cargo hold #4, which also contained (part of) the ammunition the ship was holding, resulting in a huge explosion which made the ship sink fast.


Plan of the SS Thistlegorm (click to enlarge)

The fact that the ship is so famous is because of several reasons:

  • At a depth of 30m it rests at an accessible depth.
  • The wreck sits upright, making it also accessible (wrecks that don’t sit upright can make you nauseous)
  • Even though Jacques Cousteau discovered the wreck in the late fifties it was forgotten for a long time. It only became a dive site in the late nineties, which means things were left intact for over 4 decades.
  • It’s a wreck with lots of things to see. Since it was left untouched for a long time, most of the cargo is still in place: trucks, boots, motorbikes, rifles, shells, airplane wings, tanks, steam locomotives, … they’re all still there just like they were stored at the time of the explosion. (Note that much has been salvaged over the past 20 years though, unfortunately)
  • The wreck can easily be penetrated, with one or more exits always in sight.


One of the motorbikes aboard the Thistlegorm

In March earlier this year I did two dives on the SS Thistlegorm. It can confirm that it truly is a beautiful wreck to dive on. Beware the possible strong currents though 😉

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