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Other names: Victoria, Natale
Sisters: Mesaba, Marquette, Mohegan, Menominee
Builder: Furness, Withy & Co., West Hartlepool, yard number 321
Launched July 31, 1897; maiden voyage January 6, 1898; broken up in Italy, 1925
Hull: length 475' 6"; beam 52' 2"; 6,849 tons
Power: single screw; triple expansion engine by T. Richardson & Sons of Hartlepool; 763 n.h.p.; 13 knots
Registered in West Hartlepool; official number 106971; call sign MNM
The Victoria was built originally for the Wilson & Furness-Leyland Line and was one of five sister ships purchased by the Atlantic Transport Line on or soon after completion to replace ships requisitioned by the U.S. government for use in the Spanish-American War. The Atlantic Transport Line paid an average of £140,000 for each of these ships. Victoria sailed on her first voyage for the Atlantic Transport Line on September 4. Among her passengers on that occasion were Lemuel Potwin and his wife Julia, who later published a journal of their trip to Europe that describes their voyage. By the time of her second sailing this ship had been renamed Manitou and she is recorded in the Morton Allan Directory of European Passenger Steamship Arrivals making 54 voyages to New York for the Atlantic Transport Line between February 1898 and February 1905.
When the Minne class ships began to enter service in the early 1900s she was transferred to the Red Star Line. From June 1902 to 1914 she worked the Antwerp to Philadelphia route for that company. During a voyage to Philadelphia in 1906 her propeller shaft cracked and she had to put back into Falmouth. Once fitted for wireless her call letters were "MNM."
When the German army captured Antwerp in August 1914 she transferred to Liverpool and was converted to carry 1,100 persons in third class and given extra lifeboats. She was one of five liners that left Gaspe Bay (Quebec) in October 1914 carrying troops to England early in World War One. A. A. Milne's Winnie the Pooh stories were inspired by a real bear at London Zoo named Winnie. Veterinary Surgeon Harry Colebourn from Winnipeg sailed on the Manitou with a bear cub he had bought for $20. When forbidden to take Winnie to France Colebourn lent her to London Zoo. Winnie quickly became a great favorite with children, one of whom, Christopher Robin Milne, was even allowed inside the cage to feed her condensed milk.
From 1915 the Manitou served as a British military transport under the command of Captain John McMath O.B.E., who died following an operation in July 1918 aged 46 years, and was buried in Port Said. On April 16, 1915, shortly before the Gallipoli campaign was unleashed, the Manitou was attacked by the Turkish torpedo boat Demir Hissar. The attack does not seem to have been very well carried out, for both of the torpedoes fired missed and the torpedo boat was subsequently beached by her crew while being pursued by the cruiser HMS Doris. There is a detailed account of the incident in The Story of the 29th Division - A Record of Gallant Deeds.
The Manitou may have escaped a submarine attack on March 21, 1917, while she was en route for Alexandria and U 38 had her in her sights off Tobruk on May 30, 1917, until she changed her course and escaped. In December 1917 the Manitou was west of Malta bound for Marseilles in an escorted convoy when the Austrian submarine U 40 (Lsch.Lt. Krsnjavi) tried to attack the convoy but the range proved too great. The UC 27 had the Manitou in her sights off Tunisia on April 18, 1918, but again the range was too great. And another convoy that the Manitou was sailing in was attacked by UB 68 on November 4, 1918 west of southern tip of Sardinia.
The most dramatic attack experienced by the Manitou occurred on June 17, 1918, while she was in convoy north of Tunisia with Kandy escorted by the sloop Lychnis and the armed boarding steamer Partridge II. At 16:05 hours U 64 (Kptlt. Moraht) fired one torpedo at the Manitou, which then tried to ram U 64's periscope. The submarine later damaged Kandy but broke the surface when she was herself damaged by two depth charges fired by Lychnis only to be rammed by Partridge II and to dive again. A few minutes later U 64 surfaced yet again and engaged in brief a gun fight with the two escorts before sinking with the loss of all but five of her crew.
The Manitou survived World War One and was transferred back to the Red Star Line, fitted to carry 1,100 third class passengers, and renamed Poland. She transferred again to the White Star Line in 1922 for the Bremen to Southampton, Quebec and Montreal service. She had completed only three voyages when the St. Lawrence froze over and she had to be laid up. It was not long however before she was sold as scrap for £18,000. She was renamed Natale for her voyage to the breakers yard.
Sources: The Atlantic Transport Line, 1881-1931; The Ships List; www.red-duster.co.uk; Military History Encyclopedia on the Web; The Story of the 29th Division - A Record of Gallant Deeds, Captain Stair Gillon, Naval & Military Press, 2002; Passenger Ships of the World Past and Present, Eugene W. Smith, Massachusetts, 1977; Fourteen Months Abroad, Julia Hedges Potwin, published privately, Cleveland, Ohio, 1911; The Great War Forum; Merchant Fleets in Profile 2; the Ships of the Cunard, American, Red Star, Inman, Leyland, Dominion, Atlantic Transport and White Star Lines, Duncan Haws, 1979
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