The S.S. Stephen Hopkins was a Liberty ship-one of hundreds that freighted goods of war across the seven seas in World War II.
There were guns on the Hopkins, but they were not intended for a pitched battle against a heavily armed foe. She had only the regular Liberty crew of 42 merchant seamen, plus about fifteen gunners of the naval armed guard.
After a long voyage which had included runs to Army bases in the South Seas, the Stephen Hopkins left Cape Town in ballast on September 19, 1942, and proceeded on a course for Dutch Guiana to load bauxite, vital ingredient of aluminum.
The sea was fairly calm and the trip had been uneventful when, at 9:30 o'clock on the morning of September 27, two strange ships suddenly broke from a bank of haze bearing from the north and about three points off the starboard bow.