Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘SCUBA’

SS Thistlegorm Bow

I like fish.

When SCUBA diving, as you descend through the water, just at that point where the reef or wreck features become clear, fish of all kinds will often swim right up to you and nibble anything they can, in order to get a better idea of just what you are.

It’s common practice to tuck away longer hair and keep your fingers balled up to avoid having them nicked by pesky fish passing-by.  In some parts of the diving world, the nibbles seem to take this habit to another level.

SS Thistlegorm Stern

I’ve dived in some of the same pristine blue waters as the “Father” of SCUBA diving, Jacques-Yves Cousteau, and his legendary dive team, but I’ve never descended through water in the Egyptian Red Sea where these were first ‘discovered.’

I’m talking about the SS Thistlegorm.

It’s a 4,900 ton British armed freighter that was launched in April 1940 during World War II.  In 1952, Jacques Cousteau ‘re-discovered’ the SS Thistlegorm Wreck after following fishermen’s information and in 1956, the National Geographic with Cousteau made the first documentary on this war grave.  The local folklore is that Cousteau chopped down the mast so others would not as easily find the wreck.

Cousteau on SS Thistlegorm.  Article in the February, 1956 National Geographic Magazine.  Photo by Luis Marden

After the SS Thistlegorm three successful voyages to collect war related resources from the United States, Agentina, and the West Indies, she set sail on her fourth voyage from Glasgow in June 1941, destined for Alexandria, Egypt.

The vessel’s cargo included trucks, armored cars, Norton 16H and BSA motorcycles, guns, ammunition, radio equipment , aircraft parts, railway wagons, and two steam locomotives, which were carried on deck. The cargo was to resupply allied forces in Egypt, which would become part of the famed British Eighth Army in September 1941.

The Albyn line named all of their ships after the thistle, the national flower of Scotland. Gorm is Gaelic for blue.  Between 1901 and 1960 the Albyn Line owned 18 ‘thistle’ ships, from the first Thistledhu, the black thistle, to the last, Thistleroy, or red thistle, the second of her name.

Motorcycles in Hold #2

Notably, there were more than 100 motorcycles aboard the SS Thistlegorm. The Birmingham Small Arms (BSA) produced the famous motorcycles found on the wreck, which are located in Hold #1.  The Norton 16H’s are in the lower level of Hold #2 and many are loaded onto Fordson War Office Transport (WOT) trucks.

Norton was the primary motorcycle supplier to the British Military during WWII, almost 100,000 of the Norton 16H Model were built for service. Due to the relatively high ground clearance and solid reliability the Norton, it was favored for despatch work, it was also used for training, reconnaissance, convoy control and escort duties.

Motorcycles in Hold #2

The Norton 16H had an extraordinarily long lifespan, they were originally introduced in 1911, then built through to 1954. The 16H was fitted with a 490cc side-valve engine and had a bore/stroke of 79/100mm. The “H” in the name simply means “Home”, the Nortons that were built for service overseas with the Australian, New Zealand, Indian and the Canadian Armies were denoted with a “C” for “colonies”.

The SS Thistlegorm was part of a convoy of 16 ships heading to Alexandria resupplying the British 8th Army at Tobruk.  The convoy was halted at Sha’ab Ali (Safe Anchorage F) because a tanker had run into a German mine at the entrance to the Suez canal, and the convoy had to wait until the wreckage was cleared.  The Thistlegorm was sunk during a surprise attack by a pair of Heinkel He-111 bombers dispatched from Kampfgeschwader (flight squadron) KG26 in Crete.  The German bombers were originally ordered to search for, and sink, the RMS Queen Mary.

After failing to find the RMS Queen Mary, they were heading back to base in Crete due to being low on fuel when they came across the ship convoy by accident.

SS Thistlegorm Prop

Four sailors and five members of the Royal Navy gun crew died in the bombing (Wreck Location Map: 27° 49′ 03″ N, 33° 55′ 14″E) as ammunition stored in Hold #4 exploded and ripped open the hull.

Most of the cargo remained on board following a long period of disinterest.  Until Dr. Adel Taher, the founder of Sharm’s Hyperbaric Medical Centre, ‘rediscovered’ the wreck in the early 1990s with three friends and dived it in secret for a few years.

Then growth of sport diving took off in the Red Sea and Sharm El Sheikh became a popular scuba diving destination.  The depth of the wreck is around 100 feet and makes it ideal for diving without the need for specialized equipment and training, but dive operators didn’t practice social distancing and word spread as the location became the most popular scuba diving and tourist destination in Egypt and the Red Sea.  Now there are severe issues with preserving artifacts and the history of the ship wreck.

1940’s Norton-Model-16H-Military

It would be tempting, even with unexploded ordinance, to retrieve a Norton or two, but the ship wreck is a war grave and not to be disturbed.

Bonus: A 1942 training film prepared for the British Army during World War II on maintenance of the Norton 16H via YouTube HERE.

References: Wikipedia, Dive Magazine UK, Dive Zone, Red Sea Wreak Project, The Thistlegorm Project 

NOTE: Trademarks, copyrights and other names or brands may be claimed as the property of others.

Photos courtesy of Denis Zorzin, National Geographic, Luis Marden, Dive Magazine UK, Super Jolly

All Rights Reserved © Northwest Harley Blog

Read Full Post »

SB2C Flying In Formation

I’ve written previously about the Kwajalein Atoll and what is known in military circles as the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Site.

It’s part of the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) and is a premiere asset within the Department of Defense Major Range and Test Facility Base. I happen to know a little about “Kwaj” (aka: Kwajalein Island) having lived, worked on the island and flown in/out of Bucholz Army Airfield.  I haven’t blogged about my SCUBA diving experiences while on the island or discussed what was called the ‘aircraft graveyard’ of Kwajalein Atoll, but this came to my mind today when Oregon State Police (OSP) reported that loggers discovered a WWII-era U.S. Navy aircraft, specifically a Curtiss SB2C Helldiver near Rockaway Beach, OR., as part of logging operations on private property.

Oregon SB2C - Oregon State Police Photo

Designed in 1939, the Curtiss SB2C ‘Helldiver’ was a single-engine dive-bomber intended as the replacement for the earlier Douglas-built SBD ‘Dauntless’.  SB2C stands for Scout, Bomber, second dive bomber contract from Curtiss, and the ‘C’ was the letter assigned by the Navy to all aircraft built by Curtiss Aircraft Corporation. The Helldiver carried a crew of two — a pilot and a rear gunner who doubled as the radioman. Early versions of the Helldiver were armed with a single machine gun in each wing while later versions carried a 20mm cannon. The aircraft had an internal bomb bay and could carry a variety of bombs as well as depth charges. The Helldiver had a top speed of 295 mph and good range, making it an essential tool in the Pacific war.

Oregon SB2C - Oregon State Police Photo

Flying from the USS Bunker Hill, Helldivers of Bombing Squadron 17 saw a lot of action over Kwajalein Atoll during Operation Flintlock, which was the assault on the atoll in early 1944. Helldivers helped sink a number of the Japanese ships that lie on the lagoon floor and which we often had the opportunity to dive on.  They flew strikes against targets on several islands within the atoll. After the Japanese airbase on Roi-Namur was captured by American forces the Marine squadron VMSB-151 was initially assigned to Roi with SBD Dauntless dive bombers. The aircraft graveyard near Mellu Island has the wreck of at least one Helldiver.  One wreck we found lies in 85 feet and has one wing in the folded position. Parts of the tail are nearby. The wreck is missing the canopy and dive flaps, and we were never able to determine the specific variant of this particular aircraft. Unless a data plate can be located and photographed that has the manufacturer’s serial number, the history of the plane is very difficult to determine.

SB2C at 85' Near Mellu Island in Kwajalein Atoll

But I’ve digressed and need to get back to Oregon’s SB2C find.

So the search process will begin with historians and analysis gathering to determine the air station where the aircraft flight originated.  The OSP Bomb Technicians have searched the area and found no signs of unexploded ordnance, but there is a possibility of human remains on the site and a team of U.S. Navy personnel are working on-scene to investigate.   All information is being shared with the Joint Prisoner of War/Missing in Action Accounting Command (JPAC) in Honolulu.

The nearby Naval Air Station Tillamook was primarily used to house blimps and was base operations for Squadron ZP-33.   Because of steel rationing during WWII the hangars were built entirely of wood.   It was decommissioned in 1948 and is located about 20 miles southeast of the crash site.   It’s unclear if this aircraft is from the Tillamook station, but the Navy team is on-scene and is making a thorough, undisturbed investigation as safety and integrity of the aircraft site is important.  Initial responders reported seeing a wing, tail section, landing gear and other debris spread out over an approximately 200 yard heavily-wooded area.

I’ll update this post as more information becomes available.

UPDATE: 26 March 2010 – Additional news reports HEREHERE and HERE.  OSP provided a news release last night stating information as to the exact location is not being released to media in an effort to maintain scene integrity.  Oregon State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) Archeologist Matthew Diederich advised that it is a violation of State Law (ORS 358.905-955) to alter, damage, or remove material from this archaeological site. Violators will be prosecuted.  Important to note that the aircraft was discovered on 18 March 2010, but OSP released information on the discovery a week later on 25 March 2010.  Photos from the location area seem to indicate that the logging crew had already cut and removed much of the timber.  It’s unknown if they did so prior to notifying authorities.  If they trampled the so-called “archaeological” scene with equipment prior to notifying LEO will they be subject to ORS 358.905-955?  The Oregonian reported that Sig Unander Jr. (a Cornelius resident) who has spent years researching and tracking down wreckage of military planes estimates there are approximately 30 military aircraft in WA., OR., ID., and MT., from the mid-1930’s through the mid-1940’s that are unaccounted for.

UPDATE: 31 March 2010 – Oregonian reported that a former mechanic for the Navy (Alvin Boese) remembered the crash which was first published on 1 April 1948.  A story which ran the next day stated the pilot was identified as Chief Aviation Pilot R.W. Smedley of Long Beach, CA.  The Navy has not confirmed this crash was the same or would they comment on the circumstances of this “new” find until they were confident of the results.

Photo’s courtesy of Bluejacket.com and OSP.

All Rights Reserved © Northwest Harley Blog

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: