One of the principal liners on Royal Mail Lines' service from Southampton to South America between the two World Wars was the 22,048 ton Asturias.

She and another vessel Alcantra were the first big ships to be fitted with diesel machinery.

The Duchess of Abercorn, wife of the governor general of Northern Ireland, launched Asturias on July 7, 1925.

Captain EW Morrison was in command for the maiden voyage, which started from Southampton in the February of the following year.

The liner carried 408 passengers in first class, 200 in second class and 674 in third-class.

Speed was about 18 knots and standards of accommodation were far higher than in earlier liners.

A few days after the start of the Second World War, Asturias arrived at Southampton from a Mediterranean cruise, and within a few hours left for Belfast to be fitted out as an armed cruiser.

This resulted in the loss of her forward funnel so that the deck and hull could be strengthened for the installation of guns.

For a time HMS Asturias was flagship of the South American Division but in July, 1943 she was torpedoed while escorting a slow-moving floating dock. The attack, which occurred around 400 miles from Freetown, severely damaged the vessel and killed four of the crew.

When victory was in sight and more escort ships were available she was towed to Gibraltar to be made watertight and then on to Belfast for permanent repairs.

The liner never resumed the South America run; instead she was used for trooping voyages or taking emigrants to Australia until she was finally broken up in 1957.