Chamberlin, Jr., Arthur Richard

 

Arthur Richard Chamberlin, Jr.
Born: November 24, 1921
Hometown: Piedmont, CA
Class: 1943
Service: Merchant Marine
Position / Rank: Deck Cadet
Date / Place of death: September 27, 1942/
South Atlantic, 28-08′ S, 11-59′ W
Date / Place of burial: September 27, 1942 /
South Atlantic, 28-08′ S, 11-59′ W / Lost at Sea
Age: 20

 

 

Arthur R. Chamberlin signed on aboard the newly delivered Liberty Ship SS Stephen Hopkins as Deck Cadet on May 16, 1942 at San Francisco, CA. Also signing on as Engine Cadet on the same day was Edwin J. O’Hara.

After sailing across the Pacific with war cargo, the Stephen Hopkins called at Durban
and Cape Town, South Africa before sailing across the South Atlantic, bound for
Paramaribo, Suriname. On September 27, 1942 the visibility was reduced due to fog
and haze. Despite having five lookouts no one aboard the Stephen Hopkins sighted
either the German Raider Stier (known as Raider J) or its supply ship Tannenfels until
1235 GCT when they appeared out of the mist. Ordered to stop by the Stier, the
Stephen Hopkins’ master, Captain Paul Buck, refused and turned the ship away from
the Germans to bring his heaviest weapon to bear, a single 4″ gun.

The Stier was armed with six 150mm guns, one 75mm gun, a twin 37mm anti-aircraft
gun and four 20mm anti-aircraft guns with modern fire control and trained naval
gunners. The ship also had two float planes and two torpedo tubes. The Tannenfels
was only armed with anti-aircraft machine guns. Against this armament the Stephen
Hopkins had one 4″ gun, two 37mm and several .50 and .30 caliber anti-aircraft
machine guns manned by a small detachment of Naval Armed Guard and the ship’s
crew.

At 1238 the Stier began firing on the Stephen Hopkins at close range. Shrapnel and
machine gun bullets rained down on the Stephen Hopkins’ crew wounding or killing
several men, including the Armed Guard Commander, Lieutenant (j.g.) Kenneth M.
Willett, USNR. Despite his wounds, Willett got the guns manned and began returning
fire at a range of about 1,000 yards. Willett steadfastly continued to direct fire from the
Stephen Hopkins on the two German vessels while the ship’s Captain, Paul Buck,
maneuvered to keep the ship’s stern pointed at the German ships. In their exposed
post the Naval Armed Guard crew was decimated by shells and machine gun bullets,
leaving only the wounded Willett to keep the 4″ gun firing at the Stier’s waterline,
inflicting heavy damage. When the ammunition magazine for the 4″ gun magazine
exploded, Willett was out of action. However, Cadet Edwin J. O’Hara who was nearby
rushed forward to take his place firing the five shells left in the ready service locker.
O’Hara fired the five remaining shells on the Tannenfels, before being mortally
wounded by enemy fire.

After twenty minutes of intense shelling with the ship on fire and sinking, Captain Buck
gave the order to abandon ship. The Second Assistant Engineer and the steward
lowered the only undamaged lifeboat over the side, and several other crew members
lowered rafts. When last seen, Lt. Willett was cutting loose life rafts. The lifeboat then
made the rounds in the water, collecting those crew members on rafts that it could
reach until the men in the lifeboat could no longer see in the fog and mist. One raft with
five men, including possibly Captain Buck, could not be reached and was never seen
again. The survivors were able to see the Stephen Hopkins sink stern first and shortly
afterward heard the detonation of the Stier’s ammunition magazines, sinking that ship.
Only nineteen of the sixty men aboard the Stephen Hopkins made it to the lifeboat,
including five wounded men. Among those who did not survive the battle were Cadets
Edwin J. O’Hara and Arthur R. Chamberlin.

On September 28 the survivors of the Stephen Hopkins set their course west for South
America. After a voyage of 31 days and 2,200 miles, fifteen of the men arrived at Barra
do Itabopoana, Brazil, on October 27. The survivors told the story of the Stephen Hopkins’
fight with the two German ships to Timothy J. Mahoney, the American Vice Consul in
Brazil the next day. However, press reports of the Stephen Hopkins did not appear until
December.

When the press was able to report the story of the Stephen Hopkins the ship was hailed as a “Hero Ship” and cited the action as the first between a German surface raider and U.S. merchant ship which resulted in sinking the raider. For the action of September 27, 1942 the SS Stephen Hopkins, and its crew, were awarded the U.S. Maritime Commission’s Gallant Ship Unit Citation.

The men of the Stephen Hopkins were also honored by a grateful nation. Lt. (j.g.) Kenneth M. Willett, USNR was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross for his actions. Of the crew, Paul Buck, (Master), George S. Cronk (Second Assistant Engineer), Joseph Earl Layman (Second Mate), Richard Moczkowski (Chief Mate), Edwin J. O’Hara (Engine Cadet) and Ford Stilson (Chief Steward) were awarded the Merchant Marine Distinguished Service Medal. The awards for Buck, Layman, Moczkowski and O’Hara were made posthumously.

Five ships were named in honor of the crew of the Stephen Hopkins and of the ship itself.

SS Paul Buck; SS Richard Moczkowski; SS Edwin Joseph O’Hara; SS Stephen Hopkins II
and USS Kenneth M. Willett (DE 354)

In addition to the Gallant Ship Unit Citation, Cadet Arthur R. Chamberlin was
posthumously awarded the Mariners Medal, Combat Bar, Atlantic War Zone Bar,
Pacific War Zone Bar, Victory Medal, and the Presidential Testimonial Letter.

Arthur “Artie” Chamberlin was the oldest of Arthur R. and Sadie Chamberlin’s three
sons. According to the 1930 Census Arthur Sr. was an X-Ray technician. Artie is
remembered by his brothers John and Bob as a great sailor and a skillful “scrounger.”
John recalled that as a boy Arthur caught a few pollywogs, and traded them for a Boy
Scout knife, which he traded for a flashlight, which he traded for a pair of roller skates,
right up the line, ultimately ending with a Snipe sailboat that he kept at the Berkeley
Yacht Harbor. During the Depression Arthur always had spending money because he
had two paper routes and also worked at the Sixth Street Market in Oakland. In his
“spare time” Artie also sold Christmas trees during the holidays and magazines “door-to-door” throughout the year. Bob fondly remembered sailing trips with his oldest brother
on Lake Merritt in Oakland and on San Francisco Bay. The latter included an
adventurous overnight sail in San Francisco Bay that was very impressive to his eight
year old brother.

In his book “Unsung Sailors: The Naval Armed Guard in World War II”, Justin F.
Gleichauf reports that Arthur Chamberlin formed a close friendship with Wallace Breck,
one of the Hopkins’ Armed Guard gunners. According to Gleichauf, Chamberlin taught
Breck seamanship and navigation. Breck survived the sinking of the Hopkins and
visited Chamberlin’s family to offer his sympathy and share the details of Chamberlin’s
death.

Photos may include:The Chamberlin Brothers with their Mother (l-r John, Bob, and Arthur);
Artie Chamberlin at home; and John, Bob and Artie in the tub

One thought on “Chamberlin, Jr., Arthur Richard

  1. Read the book by Gerald Reminick, Action in the South Atlantic, the Sinking of the German Raider STIER by the Liberty Ship STEPHEN HOPKINS, for a full description of the events before, during and after the sinking of the Steir and Hopkins and the role of the Cadet-Midshipmen Chamberlin and O’Hara.

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