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1. On 27 September, 1942, while the STEPHEN HOPKINS was en route from Capetown to Paramaribo, two armed enemy merchant ships suddenly appeared out of the mist and opened fire. The smaller vessel, later identified ss RAIDER "J" (German Ship #23), was heavily armed with 6", 4" and 3" guns, while the larger - the blockade runner TANNENFELS - carried guns of smaller caliber.
TWENTY BLAZING MINUTES
2. Although immediately wounded by flying shrapnel, Lieut. (j.g.) Kenneth Willett, USNR, in command of the armed guard, directed a furious fire from the STEPHEN HOPKINS' 4" gun against the raider. When enemy salvos decimated his men and exploded his magazine, Lieut, (j.g.) Willett manned the gun himself and continued action until the last shell was expended. At approximately 1,000 yards, 35 four-inch shells were poured into the raider - practically all at the water line.
3. In the meantime, Second Mate Joseph E. Layman was directing the fire of the forward 37 MM against the TANNENFELS, while the STEPHEN HOPKINS' six machine guns raked the decks of both enemy ships. Casualties aboard the Liberty ship were heavy. Salvos from the raider exploded the main boiler, demolished the radio shack and mast, wrecked the steering engine room and splattered the deckhouse and hull. With superstructure afire, and the vessel in a sinking condition, the Master reluctantly gave the order to abandon ship.
4. RAIDER "J" by this time was ablaze from stem to stern, heavily listing and down by the stern. The blockade runner was seen to maneuver alongside in the heavy sea and attempt to take off the crew. After about ten minutes the runner backed away and disappeared in the mist. A short time later heavy explosions were heard, believed to be scuttling charges left aboard to hasten the raider's doom. Aboard the sinking STEPHEN HOPKINS, Lieut, (j.g.) Wiilett was last seen cutting loose life rafts for his men and the merchant crew. "For extraordinary heroism and conspicuous courage" he was awarded the Navy Cross.
5. The above engagement is the only known instance in which a U.S. merchant ship has sunk an enemy surface vessel - a raider of many times her own fire power.
6. RAIDER "J", believed to be the 4,778-ton Atlas-Levante ship CAIRO, (renamed Stier) was fitted out at Stettin in December, 1941. In May, 1942, she proceeded audaciously down the Channel to the Gironde where, after taking on additional supplies, she departed for the South Atlantic.
7. The forenoon of June 4th, RAIDER "J" intercepted and sunk the British GEMSTONE at 01-52 West, and took aboard the survivors as prisoners. (Reports indicate that 24 hours prior to this attack, the raider may have shelled and sunk a small schooner.)
8. The next victim was the U.S.-owned 10,169-ton tanker STANVAC CALCUTTA, which was intercepted on June 5th or 6th, and sunk with heavy casualties after a stiff resistance in the vicinity of 05-00 South 28-00 West.
9. After transferring prisoners from the above ships to the tanker CHARLOTTE SCHLIEMANN at a South Atlantic rendezvous, the raider continued her prowl in search of further prey. Her next victim was the 7,983-ton WILLIAM F. HUMPHREY (U.S.) which was sunk by gunfire and torpedoes (two ship-borne MTB's cooperating) on July 16th at 05-37 South 00-56 West. Then probably followed the GLOUCESTER CASTLE, DALHOUSIE and HAMLA (all British) - although the last named ship may have been taken as a prize by RAIDER "H" (German auxiliary cruiser Michel), while the ARABISTAN (Br.), credited to that raider, may have been the prize of RAIDER "J".
10. RAIDER "J" apparently met the TANNENFELS (on passage from the Far East to Biscay) prior to September 27 - possibly to take on supplies and to accompany the runner through the "high-risk area" of the equatorial Atlantic. The TANNENFELS, although badly damaged in the engagement, arrived at Bordeaux November 6th.
11. The only German raider known to be still active is RAIDER "H" (Ship #28), now operating in the Indian Ocean. (See Op-l6-F-8 Serials 13-43 and l4-43, and Op-l6-FT Serial 70-43.)
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