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CALIFORNIA SHIP SANK NAZI RAIDER : LITTLE-KNOWN BATTLE RECALLED.

Byline: James O. Clifford Associated Press

A woman whose father went down with his ship in World War II has given a history lesson to San Francisco, a city proud of its maritime heritage.

Friday was declared SS Stephen Hopkins Day in honor of a sea battle that had more local angles than Lombard Street, the crooked road that attracts tourists by the busload every year.

The saga of the Hopkins has been overlooked for too long, said Jean Dierkes-Carlisle, the sailor's daughter.

Her quest started when she decided to learn all she could about the death of her father, 1st Assistant Engineer Charles L. Fitzgerald.

``I didn't know what happened to him,'' said Dierkes-Carlisle, 64. ``There was a news blackout during the war, and it was much later that I found out. The more I learned, the bigger the story became.''

The first and last voyage of the Hopkins reads like a Hollywood script, she said.

The Hopkins took on two German ships, one a heavily-armed raider, in the South Atlantic on Sept. 27, 1942. The battle ended with the raider and the Hopkins both sunk and the other German ship damaged.

According to Dierkes-Carlisle, the fight marked the only time a merchant ship sank an enemy vessel during the war. Allied freighters were easy targets for Nazi submarines, raiders and planes.

The U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, N.Y., said the raiders were powerful weapons. One even sent an Australian cruiser to the bottom.

Its records show the Stier, the raider the Hopkins faced, captured or destroyed almost 50,000 tons of Allied shipping.

The Stier was disguised as a dirty-gray freighter, but it actually concealed six 5.9-inch guns, anti-aircraft guns and two torpedoes. It even carried two seaplanes. The other vessel was her tender, the Tannenfels, armed only with anti-aircraft guns.

The raiders captured cargo vessels whose crews seldom fought back and were allowed to abandon ship.

It looked like the Hopkins would do the same.

The Hopkins' main weapon was merely a 4-inch gun mounted on the stern.

``We were about a half-mile apart,'' said Moses Barker, 71, of Fort Worth, Texas, a gunner's mate aboard the Hopkins. ``We had just come out of a storm, and some of the shells were rusted.''

Barker said he doesn't recall much of the battle.

``I was too busy loading,'' he said. ``We were trained well to do our job.''

Navy records show several shells hit the German ship below its waterline.

The Hopkins had a crew of 42, plus 15 Navy sailors to work its guns. One civilian passenger was also aboard. Only 15 of the 42 survived after a 31-day voyage to Brazil in an open lifeboat.

The Hopkins really is a local story, said Dierkes-Carlisle.

``It was built in Richmond, and the home port was San Francisco,'' she said. ``Everyone aboard signed on here.''

She blames wartime secrecy for the lack of interest in San Francisco, home to the National Maritime Museum and the SS Jeremiah O'Brien, last of the Liberty Ships still seaworthy. The bridge from the cruiser USS San Francisco, pockmarked with shell holes from heavy pounding during the Battle of Guadalcanal, overlooks the Pacific near the Golden Gate.

It was not until after the war that Navy investigators found out the German raider ship definitely rested with the Hopkins in 2,200 fathoms, the academy said.

Supervisor Sue Bierman of San Francisco introduced the resolution declaring an SS Stephen Hopkins Day at the urging of Dierkes-Carlisle.

``She has given San Francisco a wonderful history lesson,'' the supervisor said.

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Photo: Jean Dierkes-Carlisle

Father died fighting
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Sep 29, 1996
Words:608
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