The Gallantry of An “Ugly Duckling”

Outgunned by the Nazi raider, the Stephen Hopkins could have struck her colors. Instead she elected to fight

Whenever an unescorted American freighter encountered strange ships in the South Atlantic in 1942, her master knew that within minutes he might face a bitter decision: to surrender and have his vessel captured—probably scuttled—or to fight and be sunk. This was the quandary of Paul Buck, captain of the Liberty Ship Stephen Hopkins , when two unidentified vessels appeared out of the morning mist at 9:35 on September 27 of that year. A smaller object, possibly a small boat, seemed to be moving in the water between them.

Pride Of The Seas

Nineteenth-century American courage and resourcefulness carried our merchant flag to the world's harbors and our nation to world prominence. The proud affection of a sea-conscious nation is reflected in our portfolio of ships by artists of three continents. Our essay, by C. Bradford Mitchell, former editor of Steamboat Bill and information director of the Merchant Marine Institute, charts the curious historic twists of public attitude and official policy that have alternately fostered and stunted our merchant navy.

On February 6, 1783, nine weeks after the Revolution ended, a new flag flew in the Thames. It flew, said the London Times, from “the ship Bedford, Captain Mooers, belonging to the Massachusetts [sic].” That oil-laden Nantucket whaler was, the report continued, “the first vessel which displayed the thirteen rebellious stripes of America in any British port.” Read more »