Although the United States has remained embroiled in a war of one sort or another fairly consistently since the final days of World War II, something about that war prevents it from waning out of our cultural lexicon. War stories about later conflicts, like Vietnam and Korea, have been transposed to film and television, of course, but as our collective attention span left those historic battles behind, we’ve clung to World War II, continuing to produce films about it like “Dunkirk” even 15 years into a new kind of globe-spanning warfare, the War on Terror.
No matter how tight a grip we keep on our popular culture interpretations of the largest war our planet has ever seen, we can do little to stave off the passage of actual time, as it wears away at the physical manifestations of our collective memory. The men and women who fought in World War II are, sadly, fading away to time, as are the most prolific and lasting of monuments to their struggles: the warships that were sunk in battle.
There is little we can do to limit the personal, cultural, and philosophical loss to our collective global society as the men and women of that era succumb to age, but, thanks to things like the Thistlegorm Project, we can at least capture a permanent glimpse of some of those true battle monuments that haven’t been swept away by modernization and progress as they were on land. Naval vessels that were sunk in combat, for the most part, remained where they were, but even deep beneath the sea, there’s no stopping the tides of time.
The Thistlegorm Project is named after the ship it aims to digitally save from fading away into the annals of history, the SS Thitslegorm, a British armed freighter that sank when attacked by German aircraft in September of 1941. Since its discovery by the famed Jacques Cousteau in 1955, it has been a tourist attraction for divers who are eager to get a peek of the wreck for themselves, but now, thanks to the Thistlegorm Project, all of us can explore it beneath the sea.
“It’s an absolutely amazing wreck to dive,” Jon Henderson, a marine archaeologist at the University of Nottingham and British Director of the Thistlegorm Project said. “There’s the cargo — Bedford trucks, armored vehicles, motorcycles, Bren guns, ammunition, aircraft parts … and the massive steam locomotives on the decks themselves. Every time you dive into it, you find something else.”
They’ve compiled a 360-degree tour of the Thistlegorm, much of which you can enjoy from your phone or computer. Click on the image (on a computer) to move your view around the shipwreck in the videos below. With many smartphones, you can actually move the phone around as though it’s a window into the underwater world.
Here are a few of their videos, but to see the rest, make sure to check out their channel here.