The Gallantry of An “Ugly Duckling”

PrintPrintEmailEmail

“Attacked by enemy raiders … approx. lat. 31, long. 16, at 9:38 A.M. September 27th. Shelled by two armed merchant ships for about 29 minutes.… Ship went down in flames.…

SEPTEMBER 28TH. Found two abandoned rafts but no sign of men on them. Took stores and water breaker… from two rafts and set sail for the coast of South America.…

OCTOBER 1ST.… Cut water ration to 6 ounces per day per man, so as to give more to wounded men.

OCTOBER 2ND. Strong winds from southeast. Sailing due west. Have no idea of position of ocean currents or prevailing winds as there is no South Atlantic chart in boat.…

OCTOBER 6TH.… Rain water caught has bad taste due to chemical in sail cloth.

OCTOBER 7TH .… McDaniels, and cook, died at 6:30 P.M. Stopped ship for 5 minutes and buried him.…

OCTOBER 8TH.… Gun crewman Brock has infected shoulder from shrapnel.… [Messman] Romero died at 2:30. Buried at sunset.…

OCTOBER 11TH. Good breeze until 9 A.M. , ran into rain squall, caught 1 gallon water. Becalmed. Something sent up a green rocket right over our mast from a very short distance. Apparently from a submarine. We answered with 2 flares from very pistol. All this at about 3:15 A.M.

OCTOBER 12TH. George Gelogotes, fireman, died this morning.…

OCTOBER 16TH.… Wiper Demetrades died at 7 A.M.

OCTOBER 17TH. Took in sea anchor 6 A.M. Steering northwest. Fill all water casks and empty ration tins with water.…

OCTOBER 19TH. High winds and seas, shipping lots of water, bailing all night, everybody wet from rain and spray. Most everyone has sores that won’t heal. Violent squalls. Steering northwest. Hove-to all night. High seas.…

OCTOBER 23RD. Poor breeze, just steering way. Sun hot, everyone kind of weak. Cut food ration in half 4 days ago. Now getting 1 oz. of pammicon [pemmican], 1 oz. of chocolate, ½ oz. of malted milk tablets, 1 type C ration biscuit per man per day, water ration 20 oz. per man per day due to rain water caught.…

OCTOBER 24TH. Been becalmed for 24 hours. Very hot, everyone very weak. Seen some kind of sediment floating in water. Saw a butterfly and 2 moths.… Very poor visibility.… Fair breeze at sunset. Steering west.

OCTOBER 25TH.… Seen a yellow moth. Makes us think we are near land.…

OCTOBER 27TH. Hurrah, sighted land 4 A.M. Landed at the small Brazilian village of Barra do Itabopoana.…

The survivors—fifteen men of the Hopkins ’ total complement of fifty-seven—were reported to be “in wonderful condition, considering what they’d gone through,” according to Lieutenant Joseph E. Rich, who travelled from Vitoria, Brazil, by taxi, Piper Cub, and locomotive to meet them.

One could not help but feel the deepest admiration for these men who had faced such odds and were never for one moment beaten. After thirty days of being battered together on a cramped lifeboat, they were still lavishing praise on one another, helping one another.

George Cronk modestly refused credit for his epic thirty-day voyage in an open boat. Instead he paid tribute to Ensign Willett and Cadet O’Hara.

Although the Stephen Hopkins ’ battle with the Stier and the Tannenfels was but a brief episode in a very big war, it was memorable in the annals of the Navy and the Merchant Marine. Not until the war’s end was it definitely known that the Stier followed the Stephen Hopkins to the bottom in the 2,200-fathom deep above which they had duelled. The Tannenfels, although damaged, made Bordeaux, carrying Kommandant Gerlach and his officers, men, and prisoners who had abandoned the Stier.