FOLLOWING MY LAST RED SEA safari, I had the opportunity of visiting a little-known dive-site. Our liveaboard had returned to Sharm el Sheikh, and our last dive before leaving Egypt was at the entrance to the port used by international cruise ships.
Visiting this dive-site is not encouraged by the local authorities, and it isn't found in the diving guide-books, mainly because it's so close to the Travco customs zone port.
We were all quite tired after a full-on week of diving and already on our way home in our dreams, so perhaps we weren't paying full attention to the dive-guide's briefing. Some little-visited wreck... so what’s so special about it?
If it’s little-visited, could that be because it's not all that interesting?
That’s why when we reached the bottom my first thought was: “OK, where is your wreck?” We were at 35m and could see a large shape but there was no sign of a bow, decks or a superstructure. Had powerful storms transformed this sunken ship into a shapeless pile of metal?
However, it turned out not to be a ship, or indeed a single shape. As our eyes grew accustomed to the light levels we were able to pick out individual details; a wheel, a drive-shaft, the remains of a cabin – a truck? Tracks and drive-sprocket wheels – a tank? So where is the turret and the gun?
The wreckage didn't seem big enough for a tank, and in fact it was only half the size of a truck. It looked like an open soap-dish with two caterpillar tracks.
We were intrigued, and even more so when we saw a second, then a third, then five of these strange machines, not tanks but a different type of military conveyance altogether.
As we found out later, apart from the Bedford truck we had seen initially these were Mk1 Bren Carriers (otherwise known as Universal Carriers), made in England.
These armoured personnel-carriers were 3.7m long, 2.1m wide and weighed about 4 tons. An 85hp petrol engine gave them a top speed of about 30mph.
The crew consisted of three or four infantrymen in the body of the vehicle and a driver and a machine-gunner in the cabin. The vehicle had no roof, and its metal sides protected only the lower part of the crew’s bodies (the cabin had a lowered floor) while the driver and gunner had only their heads exposed.
The Bren Carriers would tow loaded trailers and light artillery pieces. More than 100,000 units were produced to various specifications from the early 1930s until 1960, for use mainly by British and Commonwealth forces.

OUR GUIDE LED THE GROUP slowly along and upwards, examining the vehicles as we moved. The deeper machines were overlapping each other in some places, so it could be difficult to sort out what was what.
Closer to the surface, it was easier to distinguish individual vehicles. Some of them lay with their caterpillar tracks uppermost, some lay on their sides but others remained upright on their tracks.
At about 10m our group scattered, each buddy-pair finding their own armoured car. One of the divers settled himself in the driver’s location to pose for a picture.
The last vehicle lay at a depth of 6m. All in all I reckon we had seen the remains of some five trucks and dozens of Bren Carriers.
We took a short break and settled on our course back, heading out to sea while shedding accumulated nitrogen. Appearing at the surface near the port's customs zone was not a desirable option.
Once well out from the shore we climbed back into our boat and departed back towards the liveaboard.
On most dives everyone tries to stay in the water as long as possible, but this time we had the opposite motivation, our curiosity driving us to surface and ask questions. How could all this stuff have got into the water here? There was no trace of a shipwreck nearby.
As soon as we reached the liveaboard a spontaneous debriefing started, and that was when the dive-guide told us everything he knew about how these military vehicles got onto the seabed.
After the end of World War Two, as Israel started to form itself into an independent country, political tensions grew on the Sinai peninsula, erupting intermittently into active military confrontation.
To back up Egyptian forces in 1948 Britain gave them military equipment in the shape of Bedford trucks, Jeeps and the old-fashioned Bren Carrier Mk1 armoured personnel-carriers.
A lull followed the first Arab-Israeli War from 1948-1949, but the dangerous situation continued to simmer. Egypt and Israel carried out subversive actions against each other, and Egypt took steps to restrict the movement of its eastern neighbour across the Suez Canal and in the Gulf of Aqaba.
This manoeuvring reached fever pitch in the summer of 1956, when Egypt declared the nationalisation of the Suez Canal. This step affected not only Israeli interests but also those of leading European states, including Britain.
The result was the Suez Crisis and Israeli troops, supported by Britain and France, crossed the border with Egypt on 29 October . 
On 5 November, Sinai was seized when the Israelis' 9th Infantry Brigade took by storm the outpost with a strategic position in the Strait of Tiran – Sharm el Sheikh.
The USSR, the USA and the United Nations all became involved, and 15 November saw what can be considered the first deployment of the UN as a peace-keeping force, using newly formed units in the Suez Canal region.
France and England withdrew their troops from Sinai in December and the Israeli forces left the following March.
According to our dive-guide, the armoured carriers were pushed off a cliff either by Arab troops during the assault on Sharm or by the Israeli military as they left their war base in 1957.
Later I surfed the Internet and found that during the course of the war the Israelis had seized 460 vehicles, including Egyptian armoured carriers (they apparently had 283 Bren Carriers) and Bedford trucks.
The Israelis made use of any captured trophies that were in good condition and could be renovated, and even the unworkable vehicles had some scrap-metal value.
When they withdrew, they took all the military equipment with them.
So what happened to the vehicles we had seen? It’s possible to reconstruct events with a fairly high level of confidence based on historical data and eyewitnesses’ memories.

EARLY IN THE MORNING on 5 November, 1956, Sharm lay beneath a pall of black smoke that blotted out the sun. Storehouses were on fire following an air raid, and every now and again the silence would be broken by sub-machine gun fire from pockets of resistance around the town.
Trucks and armoured personnel-carriers littered the streets. Israeli equipment and troops could be seen on the surrounding hills even without binoculars – Sharm was clearly doomed.
Urgent destruction of equipment was underway at a military base located on
a high cape above the port. Fighting machines couldn't be allowed to fall into the hands of the Israelis, but there was no time to destroy every carrier or truck.
That’s why they were taken to a steep cliff overlooking a narrow 2m strip of shoreline and pushed down into the sea.

THE RESULT WAS A HEAP of smashed vehicles near the foot of the cliff. Some still had their engines roaring, caterpillar tracks grinding and wheels turning, reluctant to accept their inevitable end.
More and more metal boxes fell, and the heap grew higher.
Carriers that had landed upright crawled amid grinding sounds into the waves as a rainbow oil slick grew. Eventually the heap reached critical mass and many of the vehicles tumbled into the sea.
That was nearly 60 years ago. Those vehicles that remained on the shore were partly broken up by the surf but it seems that most were recovered for scrap metal.
Of those still under water the finer details have almost been dissolved by corrosion but the bodies and caterpillar tracks remain in quite good condition.
Corals haven’t really covered them, and the truck wheels are in particularly good condition, as corals don’t grow on rubber. For now, this hard-to-reach underwater museum remains open for visitors with tanks on their backs.