Mantua (1909)



The name Mantua was used by P & O Line for two ships:

  • A passenger/refrigerated cargo ship completed in 1909 and described on this page
  • A tanker completed in 1960 and broken up in 1976

Mantua was the eighth of 10 'M Class' P & O passenger ships to be built before the start of WW1 and like many of her sisters built at Greenock by Caird & Co. and was named after Mantova - a city and province in northern Italy.

Mantua served with P & O as a passenger liner and was requisitioned by the Admiralty in 1914 and converted to an Armed Merchant Cruiser (AMC). She survived the war and was returned to provide passenger services until broken up in 1935.

Mooltan. Allan C. Green. Accession No. H91.325/1266 [20]

Basic Data

Item Value
Type Cargo/Passenger Ship (Ref)
Original Owners and Managers The Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation
Country First Registered UK
Shipbuilder Caird & Co Ltd
Shipyard Greenock
Country where built UK
Yard Number 316
Official Number 127544
Call Sign signal letters HNSR
Classification Society Lloyd's Register
Gross Tonnage 10,885
Deadweight (DWT) 7060
Net Tonnage 5,906
Length 540 Ft
Overall Length N/K
Breadth or Beam 61.3 Ft
Depth 24.6 Ft
Draught 28 Ft 6.5"
Engine Type Quadruple-expansion Steam Engine
Engine Details 2 engines each with cylinders of bore 30.5", 44", 61", 87" and stroke 54"
Engine Builder Caird & Co Ltd
Engine Builder Works Greenock
Engine Builder Country UK
Boiler Details 4 double-ended and 4 single-ended boilers
Propulsion Type Twin Screw
Power 1,847 NHP
Maximum Speed 16.5
Cost of Vessel £308,053
Crew 375
Passengers 400 first class, 200 second class
Cargo Capacity 202,896 Cu. Ft inc 81,171 insulated
Mooltan. Allan C. Green. Accession No. H91.108/1580 [20]

Additional Construction Information

  • 2 decks and spar deck
  • Fitted with electric lighting
  • Fitted with wireless direction finding equipment
Postcard showing the 2nd Class Dining Saloon [14]

Mantua was the first P&O liner to have Marconi radio equipment fitted from the outset.

The launch was performed on 20 February 1909 and Mantua was named by Miss Bessie Caird. This was reported in the 'Greenock Telegraph and Clyde Shipping Gazette' on the same day.

Cutting from the 'Greenock Telegraph and Clyde Shipping Gazette' [2]

Career Highlights

Date Event
20 Feb 1909 Launched and named by Miss Bessie Caird
15 Apr 1909 Completed
4 June 1909 Maiden voyage to Australia
5 Aug 1914 Requisitioned by Admiralty for service as an Armed Merchant Cruiser (AMC)
21 Jan 1919 Decommissioned and returned to P&O
21 Sep 1935 Delivered to breakers at Shanghai
Postcard showing Mantua [14]

Service Pre-WW1

The maiden voyage of Mantua to Sydney Australia on 4 June 1909 was announced by P&O in various newspapers including the 'Homeward Mail' on 15 May 1909.

Cutting from the 'Homeward Mail' [31]

In February 1910 Mantua was working on the India service but P&O had advertised that she would be available for 'pleasure cruises' in spring and summer of that year. The later cruises were to Norway, The Baltic and Russia.

Cutting from 'The London Daily News' 3 Jan 1910 [34]
Cutting from 'The Gentleman' 5 Feb 1910 [44]

Pleasure cruises became an annual event in between time spent on the India and Australia service and Mantua was busy through to the outbreak of WW1. It is interesting that P&O had ordered the 'M Class' ships specifically for the Australia service but perhaps they had overestimated demand for it and needed to ensure the vesssels paid their way.

Postcard showing Mantua [14]

Mantua was on one of her cruises in the Baltic as WW1 was breaking out and urgently recalled as there was a real risk of her being captured by the Germans. She made it back to the UK on 4 August 1914.

Service during WW1

On 5 August 1914 Mantua was requisitioned by the Admiralty to serve as Armed Merchant Cruiser (AMC) HMS Mantua. The conversion was completed in nine days and included installing eight 4.7" and two 6-pounder guns.

Examples of these weapons are shown below. According to Terence Dawson Lilley [46]:

In the British planning for armed merchant cruisers the basic objective was to fit ships with eight 4.7" guns. This allowed a broadside of four from either side of the vessel. These guns were obsolete weapons which had been removed from broken up cruisers. Stockpiles of 4.7" guns were arranged at strategic ports throughout the Empire to allow a quick conversion of liners taken up from trad whilst overseas. The first steamers taken up for the Tenth Cruiser Squadron were all fitted with these guns, typically suppplemented with two six-pounder guns for anti-aircraft purposes.
The 4.7 inch naval gun fitted to AMCs [46]
The six-pounder 'anti-aircraft' gun fitted to AMCs [46] has logs of the voyages of HMS Mantua from which a lot of this information is derived. [45]

Her complement as an AMC consisted of 44 officers and a crew of 320. She was assigned to the 10th Cruiser Squadron and put under the command of Captain C. Tibbits RN whilst retaining Captain F.W. Vibers of P&O as First Lieutenant. After an initial trip to Archangel in March 1915 she was put on patrol to blockade the area between the North-West coast of Scotland, the Faero Islands and Iceland.

On 18 June 1915 HMS Mantua encountered the Norwegian liner Kristianiafjord and fired blank shells to warn her to stop. Men were put on board and the vessel obliged to go to Stornaway on the Isle of Lewis.

Postcard showing Kristianiafjord [15]

On 30 September 1915 the Swedish vessel Avesta was intercepted and an armed guard put on board with instructions to sail to Kirkwall. The following day a German submarine was sighted and the guard hoped to hide their presence and 'bluff it out' if stopped. However there was a German crew member and there were concerns that he would raise the alarm to a boarding party from the submarine. By luck, a ship was seen in the distance and, thinking it was a British warship, the submarine departed. Avesta proceeded to Kirkwall.

Avesta after renaming to Osman [33]

Mantua arrived at Meadowside Quay in Glasgow on 9 September 1916 and spent a month in drydock after which she went to Belfast for a major refit at Harland & Wolff which took 5 months and included applying 'razzle-dazzle' camouflage paint.

She left Belfast for Devonport on 15 March 1917 and spent the rest of the war escorting convoys between Africa and the UK apart from a single trip to South America in 1918.

On 6 October 1917 there was a very unfortunate incident that occurred off the coast of Portugal when HMS Mantua encountered the three-masted square rigged French sailing vessel Quilotta. The sailing vessel failed to answer warning signals and the crews of each ship thought the other was a German raider. It seems the dazzle camouflage was very effective as the French ship mistook Mantua for a German warship and responded to warning shots by opening fire. Outgunned, she was soon ablaze and within 10 minutes sank as a result of the returning fire from HMS Mantua. The French crew took to the boats but during the process one man was killed and another six injured. The survivors were picked up by HMS Mantua at which time the mistake was realised.

Photo of Quillota [47]

There was later a Court of Enquiry for which details are held at the National Archives but unfortunately not available online. Apparently the blame was equally divided. A translated extract of the findings from a French website follow [47]:

The numerous contradictions noted by both sides in the depositions on the main points did not make it possible to establish the responsibilities precisely. It appears clearly that on both sides, on the MANTUA as on the QUILLOTA, the conviction was clearly established, before any action, that each of them was in the presence of an enemy. The Commission of Inquiry felt it necessary to impose blame on the two vessels. Both made mistakes. Nevertheless, the QUILLOTA's wrongs appear less than that of the British cruiser and a note has been addressed to the Admiralty.

.... Admiral SHEPPARD, President of the Commission wishes to express his appreciation for the attitude of the captain of the QUILLOTA who, believing he was dealing with an enemy, did not hesitate to engage in combat against a very superior ship and on the accuracy of his shot.

On 26 December 1917 HMS Mantua arrived at Birkenhead and spent the following month in drydock there. In February she returned to duty escorting convoys from West Africa and often carried cargoes of gold bullion from Freetown.

She made her final wartime voyage from Devonport on 9 November 1911 - two days before the signing of the Armistice - and sailed to Gibraltar from where she repatriated the crew of HMS Britannia - a battleship that had been torpedoed near Cape Trafalgar.

HMS Britannia
Photo of HMS Britannia [15]

Service Post-WW1

On 3 January 1919 Mantua, left for the Vickers Armstrong yard at Barrow-in-Furness to be refitted after her war service arriving there two days later. She was formally decommissioned on 21 January 1919.

Postcard showing Mantua [14]

A year later to the day she made her first post-war voyage to Australia and after 7 round trips was transferred to the Far East service.

Postcard showing Mantua [14]

In 1935 P&O decided she had come to the end of her highly useful life as, although in pretty good condition, she had become outdated. On 9 August 1935 she left Tilbury bound for Shanghai with a full cargo and complement of passengers arriving there on 15 September 1935.

On 21 September 1935 Mantua, the last survivor of the 'M-Class' ships was delivered to China Shipbreakers.

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