Orville H. Larson wrote:RF wrote:Orville H. Larson wrote:A most provocative question, RF!
STEPHEN HOPKINS went down after taking a hellacious pasting from the combined fire of STIER and TANNENFELS, but not before inflicting fatal damage on STIER, her principal antagonist. Captain Paul Buck was the better man who commanded the worse ship.
This is what Captain Gerlach of STIER said about the battle:
"It was immediately clear that this was not an ordinary merchantman. She was either an auxiliary, possibly even an AMC, whose armament was estimated as one 5.9 on the stern, two four-inch or five-inch on the bow, two of the same forward of the funnel and two more behind it,
plus some 40mm and 20mm."
Come off it, man! This is a seemingly deliberate exaggeration of his enemy's fighting capacity. Gerlach was probably ashamed--he should have been--that he lost his ship to a vastly unequal foe.
The problem for Gerlach, like Burnett in the Sydney, was that he was caught pants down by an alert, efficient enemy. If Buck had blundered instead into Michel, with von Ruckteschell in command, would the battle have been different?
No doubt STEPHEN HOPKINS would have been sunk. Given the superiority of the raider, that's the only reasonable outcome.
However, as long as HOPKINS' gun crews remained alive and at their guns, MICHEL would not have had an easy time of it. Ensign Kenneth Willett, USNR--the remarkable young officer who commanded the Armed Guard detachment--handled the four-inch gun with superb accuracy and determination. (This, despite being fatally wounded and barely conscious.) To quote SALVO!:
EPIC NAVAL GUN ACTIONS by Bernard Edwards:
"...Ensign Kenneth Willett and his fourteen Armed Guard gunners, a wartime addition to the STEPHEN HOPKINS' crew, had also spent their time well, stripping, cleaning, and endlessly drilling with their armament. The Liberty carried a stern-mounted four-inch, two 37-mm quick-firers and six machine guns, four of .50 caliber and two of .30 caliber. If and when the time came, Willett was confident that his guns would speak with some authority...."
As long as Willett and his men remained alive, they would have given MICHEL a good pasting.
Here are relevant quotes from SALVO!: EPIC NAVAL GUN
ACTIONS about Ensign Willett and his men:
"Ensign Kenneth Willett, commander of the Armed Guard, raced out on deck at the first sound of the alarm bells straight into a storm of bursting shells and ricocheting bullets. The young Californian was immediately seriously wounded in the stomach, probably by flying shrapnel, but he staggered aft to the poop, collecting a second wound on the way. Although grievously hurt--some observers claimed that his entrails were spilling out of his stomach wound--Willett took charge of the 4-inch and opened fire on the STIER. At the same time Second Mate Joseph Layman was directing the fire of the twin 37-mm guns forward and other gunners had gone to the six machine guns and were in action.
"Firing over open sights, Willett, assisted by Cadet Edwin O'Hara, fought a hopelessly one-sided duel with the STIER, his single 4-inch against the raider's centrally-controlled battery of 5.9s....
"The STEPHEN HOPKINS was beam-on to the rough seas heaped up by the line squall and rolling awkwardly, driving rain seriously reducing visibility. Kenneth Willett was by now barely conscious, but some kindly Providence must have been guiding his aim on that grim September morning in the South Atlantic....
"The two ships, merchantman and ex-merchantman, fought it out at close range for another twenty minutes in the midst of a howling gale. The outcome of the fight should never have been in doubt, for the German's guns were heavier, were precisely aimed and outnumbered the American's six to one. But, although the STEPHEN HOPKINS was steadily being reduced to a burning wreck
by the STIER's 5.9s and many of her crew were dead or wounded, there was no sign of her yielding. Willett and his Armed Guard crew handled the single 4-inch superbly, putting 35 shells into the STIER, fifteen of them below the waterline...."