SS Stephen Hopkins

SS Stephen Hopkins was a United States Merchant Marine Liberty ship that served in World War II. She was the only US merchant vessel to sink a German surface combatant during the war.

Picture of Stephen Hopkins at her launch.
Name: SS Stephen Hopkins
Namesake: Stephen Hopkins
Builder: Permanente Metals Corporation
Launched: May 1942
Fate: Sunk in battle September 27, 1942
General characteristics
Class and type: Liberty ship
Displacement: 7,181 GRT
Length: 441.5 ft (135 m)
Beam: 57 ft (17 m)
Draught: 27.75 ft (8 m)
Propulsion: triple expansion, 2,500 ihp (1,900 kW)
Speed: 11 knots (20 km/h; 13 mph)
Armament: 1 × 4 in (102 mm)/50 caliber gun (Mark 9)[1] 2 × 37 mm cannon; 6 machine guns

She was built at the Permanente Metals Corporation (Kaiser) shipyards in Richmond, California. Her namesake was Stephen Hopkins, a signer of the Declaration of Independence from Rhode Island.[2]

Action of 27 September 1942

She completed her first cargo run, but never made it home. On September 27, 1942, en route from Cape Town to Surinam, she encountered the heavily armed German commerce raider Stier and her tender Tannenfels. Because of fog, the ships were only 2 miles (3.2 km) apart when they sighted each other.[2]

Ordered to stop, Stephen Hopkins refused to surrender, and Stier opened fire. Although greatly outgunned, the crew of Stephen Hopkins fought back, replacing the Armed Guard crew of the ship's lone 4-inch (102 mm) gun with volunteers as they fell. The fight was fierce and short, and by its end both ships were wrecks.[2]

Action of 27 September 1942
Part of World War II
DateSeptember 27, 1942
Result Mutually destructive engagement
 United States  Nazi Germany
Commanders and leaders
Paul Buck   Horst Gerlach
1 liberty ship 1 auxiliary cruiser, 1 supply ship
Casualties and losses
42 killed
1 liberty ship sunk
2 killed
1 auxiliary cruiser scuttled, 1 supply ship lightly damaged

Stephen Hopkins sank at 10:00. Stier, too heavily damaged to continue its voyage, was scuttled by its crew less than two hours later. Most of the crew of Stephen Hopkins died, including Captain Paul Buck. The survivors drifted on a lifeboat for a month before reaching shore in Brazil.[2]

Captain Buck was posthumously awarded the Merchant Marine Distinguished Service Medal for his actions.[3] So was US Merchant Marine Academy cadet Edwin Joseph O'Hara, who single-handedly fired the last shots from the ship's 4-inch gun. Navy reservist Lt. (j.g.) Kenneth Martin Willett, gun boss for the 4-inch gun, was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross.

The Liberty ships SS Paul Buck, SS Edwin Joseph O'Hara, and SS Richard Moczkowski, and the destroyer escort USS Kenneth M. Willett were named in honor of crew members of Stephen Hopkins, and SS Stephen Hopkins II in honor of the ship itself.


O'Hara Hall, the gymnasium facility at the United States Merchant Marine Academy, is named in honor of Midshipman O'Hara.

See also


  1. Campbell 1985 p.143
  2. Sawyer, L. A. and Mitchell, W. H. The Liberty Ships: The History of the "Emergency" Type Cargo Ships Constructed in the United States During the Second World War, Second Edition, pp. 13, 141-2, Lloyd's of London Press Ltd., London, England, 1985. ISBN 1-85044-049-2.
  3. Tribute to Paul Buck
  • Campbell, John (1985). Naval Weapons of World War Two. Naval Institute Press. ISBN 0-87021-459-4.

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