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Athenia was built by Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering, Glasgow and was launched in January 1922. She made her maiden voyage for an Anchor-Donaldson/Cunard joint service on 21 April 1923 from Glasgow and Liverpool, to Montreal.
On 3 September 1939, while en-route to Montreal, Athenia became the first merchant marine casualty of World War Two, when she was torpedoed and sunk by a German U-boat, some 200 miles west of the Hebrides. Unable to summon assistance when her radio room was damaged by shelling from the U-boat after it surfaced, Athenia developed a severe list which impeded the launching of all of her lifeboats. There were 112 fatalities out of the 1,418 on board, most occurring when three lifeboats were lost.