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Launched as the Pittsburg, she was built for International Navigation Co (America Line), and while laid down in November 1913, she was not completed until after a lengthy delay due to the first world war. The SS Pittsburg was chartered by the Red Star Line under her original name during 1925 and 1926, after which the Red Star Line purchased her and renamed her the SS Pennland.
Powered by three triple expansion steam engines, the Pennland was chartered by the British Ministry of Shipping (later on the British Ministry of War Transport) and equipped in Liverpool for troop transport. She took part in the failed attack of the Free French and British forces on Dakar, capital city of the French colony Senegal, in September 1940. Single trips with troops across the Atlantic as well as a trip with 640 German and Italian prisoners of war from the British and French colonies to Jamaica followed.
In 1941 the troop-ship was directed towards Suez where she arrived via South Africa in March 1941 with 2,500 British troops. During Operation Lustre the Pennland carried Australian and British soldiers from Port-Said and Alexandria to Greece, before becoming involved in actions to recover them. On 23 April SS Pennland was directed from Alexandria to Megara in order to participate in 'Operation Demon'. On April 25th , near the isle of Agios Georgios in the Gulf of Athens the Pennland being the largest ship of the convoy was attacked by a Junker 88 bomber. She received a direct hit which caused immense damage to the bridge and the steering house. Furthermore a near-miss created a large hole in the ships’ plating which caused the hold in front of the bridge to flood. The engine installation however was still intact which made captain Van Dulken decide to return to Crete for repairs. On the way it appeared that the hold just behind the bridge also started to make water.
Pennland was attacked again by a German bomber. This time she received a direct hit on the starboard boat-deck. The bomb penetrated all decks and exploded in the engine room. Four deaths resulted and the engine room was totally destroyed. The 303 crew were transferred to the accompanying destroyer HMS Griffin which then sank her with gunfire.