Recently people have been joining me on my Sunday Walks in Downtown Albany. Typically, I walk in Albany when I'm scheduled as a tour guide on the USS Slater. A slide show and a map are detailed at this blog entry. I plan on walking on Memorial Day, Monday, May 27. You can contact me at:

More on the USS SLATER (

Sunday, September 30, 2012

This day, seventy years ago - 09/30/1942

Seventy years ago on this day, Wednesday, September 30, 1942 during the Battle of the Atlantic four merchant ships were sunk: the unescorted British steam merchant Empire Avocet was torpedoed and sunk by U-125; the unescorted British steam passenger ship Kumsang was torpedoed and sunk by U-125; the unescorted British motor merchant Siam II was torpedoed and sunk by U-506; and the unescorted British steam merchant Alipore was torpedoed and then sunk by gunfire by U-516.

There were 108 U-Boats at Sea (Events this day - U-Boat Net).

During September, 1942: 101 ships (454,957 tons) were sunk and 15 ships (119,941 tons) were damaged by U-boats and mines. The German Army was engaging the Russian Army in Stalingrad.  The British were engaging the German Afrika Korps (General Rommel) in North Africa; and the American Marines were engaging the Japanese in Guadalcanal.  A Japanese submarine launched a seaplane which dropped bombs in Oregon.

On Tuesday, 15 September 1942, on the carrier Wasp, at 14:44 a lookout reported "three torpedoes ... three points forward of the starboard beam". A spread of six Type 95 torpedoes were fired by the Japanese submarine I-19. Wasp put over her rudder hard to starboard, but it was too late. Three torpedoes struck in quick succession, all hit in the vicinity of gasoline tanks and magazines. There was a rapid succession of explosions and Water mains in the forward part of the ship had been rendered inoperable. After consulting with Rear Admiral Leigh Noyes, Captain Sherman ordered "abandon ship" at 15:20. All badly injured men were lowered into rafts or rubber boats. The abandonment took nearly 40 minutes, and at 16:00—satisfied that no one was left on board—Captain Sherman abandoned the ship. The Wasp was sunk at 21:00 (9:00PM).  An oral history of the sinking was recorded by Rudolph Cusson in 2008. During the attack, 193 men had died and 366 were wounded.

The USS San Francisco (Frank Slater's ship) was 2500 yards on the Wasp's starboard quarter when the torpedoes struck. 

On September 27, 1942, en route from Cape Town to Surinam, the new liberty ship the SS Stephen Hopkins encountered the heavily armed German commerce raider Stier and her tender the Tannenfels.

This was a David and Goliath Battle. The main gun on the Stephen Hopkins was a 4" 50 Cal, which fired a 33 pound shell at a rate of 9 rounds per minute. The Steir had six - 5.9" (L45) guns, which fired a 100 pound shell at 7 rounds per minute. In one minute the Stephens could deliver approximately 300 pounds of shells on target. During the same period the Steir could deliver over 4,200 pounds on target (if all guns could bear on target).

Because of fog, the ships were only two miles apart when they sighted each other. At 8:55 am, the first round from the Hopkins disabled the Steir's rudder. The second round a water feed pipe in Stier’s engine room. The Steir was dead in the water, but it returned fire and soon the Hopkins was a flaming wreck. 

The Hopkins sank at 10 am. Forty-two of her crew were killed in the action, and three more died later; the fifteen survivors finally reached Brazil 31 days later.

Meanwhile Stier had been fatally damaged; unable to make headway, and not responding to the helm, Gerlach made the decision to abandon ship. Stier exploded and sank at 11:40.

Stephen Hopkin's commander, Captain Paul Buck, was posthumously awarded the Merchant Marine Distinguished Service Medal for his actions. So was US Merchant Marine Academy cadet Edwin Joseph O'Hara, who single-handedly fired the last shots from the ship's 4". The Destroyer Escort Kenneth M. Willett (DE-354) was named in honor of Kenneth Martin Willett who was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross during the action. Lt. Willett commanded the Stephen Hopkin's Armed Guard Unit.

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