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Liberty Ship SS Stephen Hopkins by schooner - FINISHED - BlueJacket

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Liberty Ship SS Stephen Hopkins - BlueJacket Shipcrafters - 1/192 scale




While mulling over what kit to select for my next build I was giving some thought to taking a break from warships and BlueJacket’s Liberty ship kit caught my attention because of the amount of rigging on it:




Although I never served on any type of cargo or replenishment ship I figured “How complicated can it be?” Doing some photo research I came across the next photo of BIG CHAINS hanging from the masts of the SS John Brown and realized there is a lot I don’t know about cargo rigging and that this might be a good way to learn about it so I will be building BlueJacket’s kit of the Liberty ship SS Jeremiah O’Brian, which is still operating in San Francisco (BTW, I eventually found out that the chains are called Bull Chains).




The next decision was what Liberty ship to model. With over 2700 Liberty ships built between 1941 and 1945 there is an embarrassment of ships to choose from but after a little research the choice was obvious.  Although the Stephen Hopkins had a very brief life, being sunk on her maiden voyage, she would be a contender in any contest to name the greatest fighting ship in American history, despite being an “SS” vice a “USS.”  It’s an amazing story, one that I’m surprised Hollywood hasn’t pick up on. So I won’t be taking a break from building warships after all . . .



You can read her full story at http://www.armed-guard.com/hoppy.html, but in brief, after fitting out in San Francisco as one of the earliest Libertys, the Hopkins crossed the Pacific and the Indian Oceans, steaming alone and entered the South Atlantic  where on 27 Sep 1942, in low visibility, she encountered at the range of about a mile two ships laying to. The ships turned out to be the  heavily armed German raider Stier and the blockade runner Tannenfels. With a crew of 340, six 6-inch guns, torpedoes and numerous smaller caliber weapons the Stier had the armament of a light cruiser, in fact ten months earlier the similarly armed raider Komoran sank the cruiser HMAS Sydney off the West coast of Australia, although the Komoran was sunk also.

The Stier opened fire immediately and the Hopkins’ Master decided to fight it out rather than surrender as most ships in her position would have done. The Hopkins’ single, obsolete 4-inch gun was moved by hand cranks and manually loaded but her Naval Armed Guard had been practicing at every opportunity and it began to show. The Hopkins quickly knocked out the Stier’s steering and repetitive hits along the waterline soon caused fires to break out in the Stier’s engineering spaces and she went dead in the water, as the Hopkins did too, with her boilers disabled. Both ships continued to drift and fight at about a thousand yards distance, like something out of the War of 1812.


The heavy firepower of the Stier began to tell and after about 20 minutes the Hopkins was afire and sinking with two-thirds of her crew of 55 dead. Engineering Cadet Edwin O’Hara, from the US Merchant Marine Academy, made his way to the 4-inch gun after the engineering spaces were abandoned. He found the gun crew dead and the magazine destroyed but was able to locate 5 loose shells and single-handedly fired them at the Stier just before before he was killed.



Nineteen survivors from the Hopkins managed to launch the one undamaged lifeboat. Meanwhile the Stier’s crew was unable to control the fires spreading out of the engine room and she had to be scuttled. Her survivors were recovered by the Tannenfels, who made no effort to aid the Hopkins survivors. Under the command of the 3rd Engineer and without any charts or navigation instruments except a compass the Hopkins’ boat set out to cross the Atlantic to Brazil. Amazingly enough they made it 30 days later with 15 men still alive.


The ships were built in 18 purpose-built yards, which themselves were constructed in remarkably short time, turning mudflats into complex shipyards in just a few months. Locations of the yards were based on available manpower, however untrained, and political considerations to “spread the wealth” of government contracts across the coastlines.





The Libertys were based on the then yet-to be built British “Ocean” design that was, in turn, based on successful coasters. The goal was to design a ship that was both inexpensive and quick to build, simple enough in design that inexperienced shipyards and workers could build them, that could make 11 knots and carry a significant amount of cargo. They departed from the British design in that they were largely welded, most of the accommodations were in a large deckhouse, rather than divided among the foc’sle, midships and aft.. Their boilers were water tube vice Scotch, and were oil-fired rather than coal. Without having to accommodate coal bunkers they could be fitted with heavier masts rather than king posts.

Although by 1941 the advantages of turbines over reciprocating steam engines were well known, the technical skill required to build turbines was much greater and the small number of plants capable of producing them were all dedicated to warship construction so the decision was made to go with reciprocating engines.


The Ocean design was further simplified to minimize the amount of curved plates in the hull and wherever possible bulkhead penetrations for piping were avoided by running them outside the skin of the ship. Cost saving measures included waiving a large number of US regulations related to Merchant ship safety, comfort and, ominously for the Hopkins, fireproofing. The ships had little in the way of forced ventilation and had the reputation of being hot and uncomfortable in most climates.  


Although the building time varied between shipyards , the common trend was that as they gained experience the time required to complete the ships steadily dropped. The first few could take up to 5 months to launch, although most only required a few weeks. The record was set by the SS Robert E. Peary, while admittedly a publicity stunt involving a lot of pre-fabrication and unlimited manpower, required only 4 days, 15 hours from keel laying to launch. By the end of the war an average of 3 Liberty ships a day were being launched.




If you are interested in learning more about the Liberty ships this URL will take you to a decent study produced by the American Bureau of Shipping:




 and this one will take you to a one-hour, color, wartime documentary film about the ships and the shipyard in Richmond, CA where the Hopkins was built:




I'll be using the following references: 

  1. SS John W. Brown, a working Liberty ship berthed in Baltimore. Although she has some modifications from her conversion to carry troops and as a school ship in NYC she is still in remarkably good condition and largely unchanged from her WWII days. I was able to spend a few hours onboard, take a lot of photos, and watch the cargo booms at work. She takes day trips from ports along the East Coast.
  2. A Call to Arms by Maury Klein. Although the book covers the entire US WWII industrial mobilization, the chapter on shipbuilding is well done.
  3. Ships for Victory by Frederic C. Lane. Thank God I was able to get this from the library rather than spend any money on it. If 900+ pages of meeting by meeting and memo by memo descriptions of bureaucracy at work excites you then this is your book. Even while skimming it I was worried that I would pass out and then drown in the puddle of my own drool. The book provided some insight into the welding problems encountered in the early program but that was about it.
  4. Websites devoted to the SS John W. Brown, SS Jeremiah O’Brian, and SS Hellenic Victory all have extensive onboard photos to help with details

5)  http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/library/policy/army/fm/55-17/ch3.htm   is a webpage that has extensive info on cargo rigging, it will be my primary reference for rigging.



In the next post I’ll give an overview of what comes in the kit

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Count me in, I've always had an interest in Liberty Ships. I have a couple of bits of treasure from the SS John Barry, sunk in the Straits of Oman after radio silence was broken by the Brittish purposely exposing her location to the German U-Boat known to be in the area. She was carrying 2,000,000 silver Saudi Ryals to start the company ARAMCO. There's a book on it called Stalin's Silver. She is in 8,900' of water and about 500,000 of the coins were recovered by the Sheik of Oman in the late 90's. Fun ships they all have a story. My recollection is the SS is for SteamShip as they weren't Naval Ships.


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Hi Tim, a friend of mine was involved in the salvage and I got 50 of the coins from him. It was done with a Drill Ship and once located (my friends information as he had the Ship's Purser under contract) a string of drill pipe was lowered and punched through the deck and a gel which solidifies when mixed with salt water was injected to cover the silver coins, then a grappel was used to pick up the globs and bring what they could to the surface. Slow and expensive so they quit when they had around 500,000 of them. The cost then was $20Mil for 500,000 coins. They weigh about an ounce and look like new. The Shek kept the coins so there aren't many of them around. Fun project.



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Tim, I have not taken much time to look but it seems like photos of specific Liberties or other wartime merchant ships are rare. I have not been able to find pictures of any of the 5 or 6 different ships my father sailed on. I know from his papers that he sailed from several east coast ports but the only way I know where they went is from him telling me. I guess the destination was secret. He did go to Murmansk but the Russians would not let them go ashore.

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Hi Alde,

 Believe me I know how hard it can be to find pix of individual ships. Have you tried Googling each ship's name with SS in front of it?

The attached URL lists all the ships and what ultimately happened to them but not their operational histories:




If you get a chance please post the names of his ships and I will see if I can find anything. Part of the problem I think is that although the government built the ships most of them where then turned over (leased maybe?) to individual shipping companies and the govt has no records thereafter.

I found a book "the Liberty Ships" by Sawyer and Mitchell on Amazon as a used book for a few bucks but it doesn't give much more info for most of the ships than what is in the website above. As far as finding out where each ship went during the war that would probably be a research nightmare, given that the Navy only cared about them when they were in a convoy (many sailed independently at times) and most shipping company records were probably tossed when they went out of business.


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OK, here is a list of the ships my father served on with date and place of discharge from the ship. He joined July 27, 1942 which was one month after his 16th birthday. I'm not sure this list is complete but he did spend several months in London after his ship was damaged on a trip.


1. S.S. Sahale out of New York August 24, 1942 and returned to Boston Oct 21, 1942. I believe this ship was a Hog Islander built in 1918. He was aboard during this Convoy PQ 18 as shown on this link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Convoy_PQ_18


2. S.S. George F. Patton out of Portland Main June 1, 1943 and return New York Aug 9, 1943. I think this is a Liberty Ship


3. S.S. Casimir Pulaski out of Boston March 16, 1944 and return New York Sept 20, 1944. I think another Liberty Ship


4. S.S. George F. Patton out of Boston Nov 24, 1944 and return New York Jan 25, 1945


5. S.S. Marine Devil out of Boston Aug 15, 1945 and return Newport News, VA Oct 9, 1945. I think this one was a troop transport.


If you would like scans of any of the papers for your research just let me know. I am happy to share any info that I have.



Edited by alde
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Al, Here's what I was able to find about your father's ships, hope it helps:


SS Sahale


1) Looks like you can get a photo from the Army Heritage and Education Center at:



2) mentioned in article about racial problems in 1942 at https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=2211&dat=19420411&id=Bh0mAAAAIBAJ&sjid=sv0FAAAAIBAJ&pg=4829,1171630&hl=en


3) Ship’s Purser decorated for heroism in Sept 42 at http://www.usmm.org/heroes.html


4) Reported near torpedoing at http://uboatarchive.net/ESF/ESFWarDiaryMar42APP4.htm




SS George F. Patten (note different spelling of last name)



1) listed in a USN convoy escort War Diary from Dec 1943 at: 



2) A local Mass newspaper with news from the troops in Jun 1945 mentions the ship as being in the Atlantic on pg 3 of the following (just above “Plummers News” at the following:



3) From:  http://ww2ships.com/acrobat/us-os-001-f-r00.pdf

Built at North East aShipbuilding Corp yard in Portland Me

Hull # 802

Laid down 3/29/1943

Launched 5/22/43

Completed 5/31/43

Completed Service Mar 1970



4) involvement in a 1951 lawsuit at:



SS Casimir Pulaski


1) from: http://ww2ships.com/acrobat/us-os-001-f-r00.pdf

 Built at Southeastern Shipbuilding Corp in Savannah, Ga

Hull # 1053

Laid down 4/13/43

Launched 6/25/43/completed 7/16/43

Went to US Reserve Fleet at some point


2) probably a photo of the ship at https://www.jstor.org/journal/georhistquar


3) Included in a Merchant Marine officer’s memoirs at: https://books.google.com/books/about/The_Memoirs_of_a_Seagoing_Soldier_in_Wor.html?id=jX84twAACAAJ


4) photos from a sailor who served on the ship in the Naval Armed Guard at:





SS Marine Devil


1) Not a Liberty, but a larger C4 ship, listed here:



2) service mention at:







3) Photo available on Google under “SS Marine Devil”

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Hello Tim, count me in as well.  My first technical schooling was to become a ship's machinist and was certificated in the various trades needed on board merchant ships.  Switched over to my real love, aircraft maintenance and engineering and piloting.

My father served in the Royal Navy (Netherlands) but was killed in action during the battle of the Java Sea against the Japanese Imperial navy.


One of my planned builds is a model of a Dutch merchant ship of the KPM (Koninklijke Paketvaart Maatschappij or Royal Packet Company).  My wife's father retired as the captain of that ship in 1952, the MS Musi.  He was also Lieutenant Commander in the Dutch Royal Navy and captured by the JIN at sea and made a POW.


Needles to say my interest in your project is of the highest rank.





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Dgbot - This will be a solid hull, it comes from Bluejacket about 85% to shape so it it just a matter of sanding it to final shape and dimensions, I will post a photo of the hull and other kit parts soon.


Piet & Brian - welcome aboard, kit pictures to follow


Robin b - I think you are referring to the USS Belinda, which was a fictional troop transport from the book and movie "Away all boats." I enjoyed both. This ship will look similar but smaller and without all the landing craft.

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Liberty Ship SS Stephen Hopkins - BlueJacket Shipcrafters - 1/192 scale


Kit Contents


 Although this kit has been in the BlueJacket inventory for quite a few years, it was updated just a couple of years ago to take advantage of new technologies and materials.


Difficulty Rating

BJ uses a 1-9 ranking to help customers figure out if a kit is within their skill level. They rank this kit “8” with the elaboration:

“Construction experience with more complex kits is helpful.”

I would not recommend this kit for a first time build mainly because the instructions tell, and sometimes show, WHAT to do but not always HOW to do it because prior experience is assumed. If you are interested in trying this kit I recommend you call Bluejacket and have a talk with them about your previous builds, they may recommend a simpler (and less expensive) solid hull kit to get you up to speed.


Instruction Book

The 28-page instruction book contains:

  • a list of recommended tools (just simple had tools, nothing most folks would not have on hand)
  • recommended construction sequence with explanatory sketches
  • a parts list that should be used to inventory the kit on arrival (mine had everything) 




3 sheets of plans show the ship in both plan and view, fore or aft views of sub-assemblies where needed, rigging plan, and multiple copies of the hull lines which you cut out and glue to cardboard as templates for shaping the hull.



When I opened the kit the hull was wrapped in brown paper, I left it wrapped and put it aside while I looked at the plans. Looking at the stern area I thought “How am I going to shape the rudder area???!!!” since the rudder post sits on a integral projection of the hull that looked complicated to bring out. Fortunately when I got around to unwrapping the hull I found the rudder rest already carved.

The basic hull shape and dimensions are in place. There are machining plugs at the bow and stern which are easy to remove, after that it is just a matter of sanding the hull until the templates for each station fit properly. The hull is 27.5 inches in length.



Laser Cut

One of the updates to the kit involved more use of laser cut wood. In addition to the expected pieces which are stacked to construct the deckhouses there were several pleasant surprises. Although the printed catalog photo of the finished kit do not show them, there are now etched hatch covers showing all the individual hatch covers. After discovering this I’ll be leaving most of the hatches uncovered and even trying to open a couple of them up. Another nice surprise was the bulwarks. I don’t know if they were always in the kit but I had assumed that like many solid hull kits with bulwarks I would have to carve down the deck leaving the bulwarks as a thin “fence” around the deck. On a model of this size that’s a lot of wood and I am a poor hand with chisels - I might as well use a chainsaw since it would be quicker and no worse than my chisel work. Fortunately the kit provides the bulwarks, with the scuppers in place (there are a ton of them). The bulwarks are simply attached to the deck edge along a rabbet. The last surprise is that thin facing pieces with portholes in place are provided to cover the exterior of the deck house. Drilling portholes has always been my bane, I either get tear-outs or have 1 or 2 that are out of line with the rest of them, now I don’t have to worry about that. 





There is also a sheet of laser cut plastic for gun tubs and other fittings. 


Photo Etch

There is just a little PE supplied with this kit which is not surprising - it is used for delicate parts and there was nothing delicate about Liberty ships. Having just finished a 1/350 scale USN frigate with hundreds of tiny PE parts it will be nice to get away from that stuff for a while.


Brittania Metal Fittings

There are quite a few Brittania and brass metal fittings provided, all of them well cast and largely free of flash. This kit does not have any resin fittings.


Misc. Parts

There are wood dowels, wire, brass rod for fabricating parts and a sheet of rub-on letters specific for the Jeremiah O’Brian, and rigging thread.



All told, it looks like there is everything needed for a nice model.

Edited by schooner
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Dgbot, you're right, their kit is of the Jeremiah O'Brian, I'm going to modify the kit to reflect the Stephen Hopkins. The only differences between the two ships were the guns they carried. The BJ kit has what probably 90% of the Liberty ships carried. As one of the earliest Liberties launched, the Hopkins was fitted out with whatever could be scrapped together so I will have to scratch build the 4-inch gun, 2 37-mm AA guns, and modify the kit-supplied 20-mm guns into 50-cal guns. These are relatively small details, for all the big stuff like hull, superstructure and cargo booms the 2 ships were identical.

Edited by schooner
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Hi Tim, looks like a good project. Don't know if you are aware or not, but the real Jeremiah O'Brien is moored in San Francisco Bay and you can take rides on her out into the bay. Good place for a photo op. You can tour all over it. If I recall when James Cameron filmed the Titanic, he used the engine room from the O'Brien to film since it is one of the few engines of an era and they were somewhat similar in function. The O'Brien uses an Ajax Iron Works 3 cylinder engine so the effects worked out for him. You can probably pull photographs from the O'Brien website.


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