On 24th July 1940 the French liner Meknes was repatriating French servicemen from Southampton to Marseilles when she was spotted off the English coast by a German E-boat, the S-27. Although the Vichy French government had been informed that Frenchmen were aboard, the German naval authorities had apparently not been informed. Meknes, brightly lit and with a large French flag painted on her sides, stopped and attempted to identify herself to the German vessel. However around 10.30pm the E-boat opened fire with machine-guns and then fired a torpedo into the liner. Meknes sank within ten minutes. There were over 1200 men aboard, and nearly 400 died – exact figures were never released.
The Vichy French government had insisted that all French servicemen in Britain should be repatriated, since France had surrendered and was no longer at war with Germany. Only those men that had already volunteered to serve with the Free French Forces were to be permitted to stay. A number of vessels were allotted to repatriate the returning Frenchmen.
Built by Chanters et Atlier de St Nazaire, Grand Quevilly, she was a 6,757grt twin-propeller vessel with a service speed of 14.5 knots, and accommodation for 112 in First Class, 32 in Second and 406 in Third. She was originally named Puerto Rico, but was renamed Meknes in 1929, although still operating for CGT. Her peacetime route was from Bordeaux to Casablanca.