This is the story of a forgotten ship with a prosaic name. But when I came across it accidentally in the course of some other research I thought it a story that it would be good for America to be reminded of. And, possibly, good for America’s enemies to be reminded of, too.
The Stephen Hopkins was a Liberty Ship built during the Second World War to carry cargo, mainly across the Atlantic. It was armed with a single 4-inch gun, firing shells weighting about 32 pounds, mounted aft and meant to discourage pursuing submarines, a smaller gun forward, and some machine-guns.
These were meant to be manned by an “armed guard” of 15 men, and it had a merchant crew of about 40. Commanded by Captain Paul Buck, the Stephen Hopkins made its first voyage in September 1942.
The Stier was a German auxiliary cruiser, converted for commerce-raiding. It was armed with six 150-mm guns, firing shells of about 100 lbs., two torpedo-tubes and heavy and light anti-aircraft weapons. Thus its main guns fired shells about 20 times the weight of the Stephen Hopkins’s gun, with a shattering effect a multiple of that.
It had modern gun-directors and fire-control. A similarly-armed raider had sunk a battle-hardened cruiser with all hands in a point-blank gun duel a few months before. It carried a crew of 324.
ON SEPTEMBER 27, 1942, the Stier was taking on supplies from the German armed support-ship Tannenfels in the South Atlantic when she spotted the Stephen Hopkins. Because of rain-squalls and poor visibility, the ships were very close together before they sighted one another.
Instead of surrendering to its overwhelmingly more powerful enemy when the first German shells arrived, the Stephen Hopkins turned its stern to the Stier to bring its 4-inch gun to bear and started shooting back.
The smaller forward gun, which would not bear on the Steir, was firing at the Tannenfels. With the distance down to about 1,000 yards, every machine-gun on the three ships was also firing, the Stier and the Tannenfels sweeping the Stephen Hopkins’s decks and the exposed gun-positions.
The Stier concentrated its fire on the freighter’s stern gun. As one gun-crew was mown down or blown to pieces, another took its place, the merchant seamen replacing the “armed guard” men as they died, until there was no one left, and the gun fell silent.
Cadet Edwin O’Hara saw the 4-inch gun deserted and its crews dead and dismembered on the deck around it. O’Hara loaded and fired all 5 shells left in the ready box. A few moments later he too was killed by a shell-burst.
With all the ammunition gone, and the Stephen Hopkins on fire from end to end, the last 19 men somehow got away in the only surviving lifeboat.
FINALLY THE STIER stopped firing. The Stephen Hopkins was a burning, sinking wreck — but so was the Stier. Estimates of how many of the Stephen Hopkins’s shells hit vary between 15 and 35.
According to some survivors’ accounts, all the last five shells O’Hara fired hit. However many hits there were, they were enough. The Stier’s rudder was smashed, its engine-room was ablaze, and the fuel-oil pipes to the furnaces were wrecked, the spilt oil feeding the fires. Its store of torpedoes was about to explode.
The Stephen Hopkins’s scratch and amateur gun-crews, working the gun in fire and flying steel that turned men into instant anatomist’s diagrams, without even a rudimentary gun-shield, and with no central fire-control or direction, had fired with astonishing coolness and accuracy, hitting the raider again and again at the waterline.
The burning Stier was dead in the water. It was flooding and its pumps were gone.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?