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Built 1942

Tonnage 7,176/10,800 tons

Cargo: 64.020 bags of wheat.

Sunk 27 Sep 42 by Raider Stier on pos 24º 44”S 21º 50”W.

43 Dead

15 Survivors 

On 18 September, the Stephen Hopkins (Paul Buck, Captain) sailed from Cape Town, South Africa, to Paramaribo, Dutch Guiana. Several days out of Cape Town, the radio operator received a message warning of German raiders. On the morning of the 27th a lookout spotted two ships in the haze flying signal flags. They were in reality the 5,000-ton raider Stier and the 7,800-ton Tannenfels. Both immediately began firing on the Liberty ship, and what ensued was one of the most remarkable surface engagements of the war.

Captain Buck immediately turned the Hopkins stern to the raiders. The armed guards manned the four-inch stern gun to defend the ship. The gun crew fired as rapidly as possible on the smaller raider. Fire from the Stier killed the gun crew one by one and volunteers replaced those who had fallen. At the same time, the Tannenfels remained at a distance, raking the Hopkins with machine gun fire that was returned by the Hopkins. The Stier had a fire control system that enabled her to fire salvos and hit the Liberty ship repeatedly.

One shell hit one of the main boilers, reducing the speed of the Stephen Hopkins to one knot. Shells struck the Hopkins near the waterline, and incendiary shells eventually set fire to the main deckhouse as the ship slowly sank. The Stier, however, had paid for attacking the Stephen Hopkins. The Hopkins crew had repeatedly struck the smaller raider, now in flames and in a sinking condition. After about twenty minutes of fierce firing, the master sounded the ship’s whistle to abandon ship.

In one last act of defiance, Cadet Midshipman Edwin O’Hara fired the last five remaining shells from the four-inch gun, and all struck the Stier. A salvo aimed at the gun killed O’Hara after he had fired the last round. The able-bodied men helped place the wounded in the only undamaged lifeboat. This boat searched for two hours picking up survivors.

The ship’s complement originally consisted of eight officers, thirty-three men, and fifteen armed guards but only nineteen men cleared the ship. Only fifteen of these men survived – gunners, one officer and nine men. After a thirty-one day trip they made landfall at a small fishing village of Barra de Itabapoana on the northern coast of Rio de Janeiro - Brazil.

Artistic rendition on the sinking of Stephen Hopkins seen in flames whilst Stier hardly hit is in background. Painting by IWM ID 7445, by

Above the German Raider Stier which was sunk following a fierce battle with the Merchant Stepen Hopkins in Mid South Atlantic.



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