A Tanker Fights Back-and Wins!

A Tanker Fights Back-and Wins!

In “Ugly Duckling Turns Warrior” (Sea History 91) author William Langenberg illustrates the heroism of the crew of the SS Stephen Hopkins very well.

However, this was not the only rime an auxiliary cruiser was sunk by a merchant ship it had attacked.

On 5 November 1942, the Durch Shell Tanker Ondina, about 9000 tons, with a speed of 12 knots and armed with a 10.5cm (4.1″) gun and 6 Lewis machine guns, left Fremanrle,

Australia, in ballast with 200-300 tons of grain in her forward hold for the Persian Gulf.

She was accompanied by a minesweeper of the Royal Indian Navy, Bengal. Bengal was about 400 tons, with a speed of 16 knots, and armed with one gun of7 .3cm (3″).

The ships were to stay together until Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean.

Thereafter, the Ondinawas to continue her voyage to Abadan, and Bengal to Colombo, Ceylon. On 11 November, two Japanese armed merchant cruisers,

Aikoku Maru and Hokoku Maru, opened fire on the two Allied vessels, some 550 miles SSW of Cocos.

The Japanese vessels were some of the most modern of the Japanese merchant marine, built in 1939, ofl0,500 tons, with a speed of2 l knots.

Each had a formidable armament of six 15cm (5.9″) guns, anti aircraft guns, torpedoes and two seaplanes.

A long battle followed. The Ondina sustained many hits, but a hit from the Ondina on Hokoku Maru caused the explosion of torpedoes and ammo on the afterdeck, and she sank with great loss oflife.

The other Japanese raider took her survivors on board, fired two torpedoes into the Ondina and left the battle, assuming the tanker was sinking.

Bengal, after a gallant fight, retired, greatly overmatched by the cruisers’ 5.9″ guns.

She reported that the Ondina was lost. The crew of the Ondina had actually abandoned ship.

However, the vessel did not sink. The crew reboarded, managed to activate the engine room, and by clever pumping and ballasting saved the ship.

On 19 November 1942 the vessel arrived in Fremantle ; five crew members, including the captain, had perished.

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