Originally named BAYERN the ship had been built and completed by Bremer Vulkan at Vegesack in 1921 for the Hamburg America Line, for whom she did one voyage to New York and then switched to the Far East Service.

In 1936 she was acquired by an affiliate of the French Messageries Maritimes to carry Foreign Legion troops to Indo China as stated, and re-named SONTAY [after an MSL liner famously torpedoed during WWI, in 1917].

As such she had fallen under Vichy French control and was boarded and captured by the British en route from Tamatave to Dakar in West Africa on Feb. 25, 1941, becoming a British trooper managed by Union Castle.

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