In the waters off the coast of Rogaland, Norway and after resting on the seabed for over 80 years, the wreckage of HMS Thistle has been discovered.
The Second world War, 1939-1945
The world is in the midst of a brutal conflict. In these tumultuous times, naval warfare played a pivotal role, and submarines were vital tools of espionage, disruption, and defense. Among these was HMS Thistle whose final resting place was unknown.
The North Sea – April 1940
In the belief that a German invasion of Norway was imminent Flag Officer Submarines ordered the Thistle to Stavanger, Norway with orders to sink any enemy vessel that she may spot in the harbour.
On 10th April HMS Thistle signaled her intentions in complying with this order and reported that she had two torpedoes remaining after an unsuccessful attack on a U-boat. With this in mind the Admiralty changed her orders to patrol off Skudenes.
No further contact was made with the Thistle.
It was later discovered that U4, the U-boat HMS Thistle had previously attacked, had sighted the submarine on the surface and sunk her with torpedoes.
At 17.05 hours on 9 April 1940, HMS Thistle (N 24) (Lt Cdr W.F. Haselfoot, RN) missed U-4 with a spread of four torpedoes southwest off Stavanger, Norway. The Germans had observed one torpedo passing ten metres ahead and evaded further attacks by diving.
Afterwards they managed to surprise the British submarine on the surface some hours later and at 02.13 hours on 10 April fired a spread of two torpedoes. A G7a torpedo missed, but a G7e torpedo hit and sank the submarine with all hands near Skudenes.
HMS Thistle Discovery
Image courtesy of RN Subs
The Institute of Marine Research (IMR)
The story of the discovery begins with a team of researchers involved in the Mareano program, which aims to document the biology and geology of the seabed.
The Mareano team, during a planning session for a spring expedition noticed unusual structures on their maps. Intrigued by these shapes, they decided to investigate the area further.
Which Submarine was this?
As the team expolored the area their cameras revealed the unmistakable silhouette of a submarine resting on the seabed. The identification of the submarine wasn’t straightforward. The wartime sinking locations were not precisely marked due to the navigation methods of the time. However, researchers started the task to try and indentify the vessel. Their investigations determined that what they had found was a British submarine, but not which one, as there were two possibilities. HMS Oxley or HMS Thistle. HMS Oxley sank just before the war, whilst HMS Thistle was lost during the war. Examination of the photographs led to the conclusion that it was probably HMS Thistle.
Present Day – Positive Identification
A new expedition in October (2023) provided an opportunity to definitively identify the wreck. This time, the researchers knew what characteristics to look for, making it possible to confidently identify the wreck as HMS Thistle.
The final resting place of HMS Thistle and her crew of 53, is in the North Sea, off the coast of Rogaland, Norway.
She, like others lost during wartime, is considered a war grave. Ownership of the wreck is held by the Royal Navy.
Details on the submarine. Photo: Mareano / IMR