Round three of my ongoing double P-2 pursuit found me back in San Francisco for the undocking and final departure of the U.S.N.S. GENERAL JOHN POPE to a Brownsville, Texas scrap yard. The 1943-built P2-S2-R2 type vessel had been transferred after 40 years in layup at Suisuin Bay (see prior post) to BAE Systems San Francisco, one of the West Coast’s leading shipyards, for dry docking to clean her keel and hull of lead-based paints and to insure no other substances were leaking from her hull. The POPE is one of some thirty five outmoded Suisuin-based vessels slated for disposal by the U.S. Maritime Administration. She is the very first of two classes of twenty one transports commissioned for World War Two troop and repatriation service and the very last to survive. She follows the last four VICTORYs, the last T2 tanker SANTA YNEZ and the last P-2-SE2-R1 troop ship U.S.N.S. GENERAL EDWIN D. PATRICK, which departed San Francisco for Brownsville on May 3, 2010.
All photos by and copyright Peter Knego 2010 unless otherwise noted. Please click on image to see a larger version.
The ship’s undocking was scheduled between 8:00 and 9:00 AM, so I arrived at BAE Systems a little after 7:00 in the hopes of going into the dock and taking photos from beneath the POPE’s massive keel as it rested on a series of concrete blocks. But when I got to the dock, it was sealed off and beginning to submerge…
By the time I reached the far end of the flies off her starboard side, sea water had begun to trickle in.
Over the course of the next ninety or so minutes, the POPE would return to her element once and for all. Unusual and rarely seen features such as the hook underneath her forepeak, her keel fins, blade-like rudder and twin bronze screws would gradually disappear in a torrent of brackish green sea water.
I crossed back and forth to capture the ship’s re-immersion as the massive dock gently rattled lower and lower. A small crew was on board the ship making sure the process went without hitch while a massive crane began to hoist the gangway off the fly.
The process stopped for approximately two hours as inspectors checked for leaks in the ship’s keel. At that point, I climbed down from the flies and took a few final shots from yard level.
At approximately 11:00, I returned to the park across from the shipyard to watch as the POPE was moved to a berth to await the overseas tow. The weather had gradually deteriorated from merely gloomy to gusty and wet. As the ship slowly slipped out of the now fully submerged dock, a small group of people had gathered. One gentleman, Don Oclassen, had come to watch the ship that brought him to the U.S. from Manila in June of 1945 when he was seven years old.
It was so easy to imagine the POPE in the form of her near cousin, the PRESIDENT ROOSEVELT, the rebuilt version of the identical, 1944-built GENERAL W.P. RICHARDSON.
The ship’s deep draft, the strong currents and gusty wind must have provided a few logistical challenges. After nearly two hours, the maneuvering was complete. The POPE was eventually secured to a temporary berth to spend one final night in San Francisco Bay.
Tuesday, May 18, 2010
At 10:00 AM, the long distance tug was already attached to the POPE’s anchor chains. Two other tugs hovered as a third approached from the Westar Towing berth at nearby Pier 50. Don Oclassen returned with his sister Jeanette Woods, to say a final goodbye to the ship that had such a profound impact on their lives. Jeanette brought a Red Cross newsletter with photos of her and Frank, their two siblings, grandmother and mother on board the POPE. Instead of my usual gushing about the ship’s magnificent lines, I will let portions of a wonderful letter from Jeanette serve as the narrative for parting images of the POPE as she was towed away from San Francisco.
“On Tuesday, May 18th, Don and I plan to be in the vicinity of Pier 70 to say goodbye and shoot video & pictures of ‘our’ ship. We, definitely, have nostalgic, warm feelings toward the USS General John Pope.” — Jeanette Woods.
“My siblings and I have, with great interest through the years, kept track of the whereabouts of this ship. Our father, Frank Joseph Oclassen was an American citizen born in Manila, P.I. Before WWII he was an executive with Philippine Long Distance Company and also a member of the Board of Directors of RCA. During the latter part of the war, he was ‘invited’ to join the guerilla forces under Captain Miller of the US Army and we did not see him again until the US Military liberated us.” — Jeanette Woods.
“On August 1, 1945, my Mom, Grandmother, my 3 siblings and I, a 12 year old, (Dad came a few months later) boarded (along with many troops) the USS General John Pope bound for San Francisco. I have vivid memories of the bunks in the sleeping quarters.” — Jeanette Woods.
“A favorite pasttime was watching the porpoises from the deck. The troops taught us a number of war time songs. We all celebrated VJ day, as well as my brother Don’s 7th birthday on August 14, 1945. The cook even baked him a birthday cake!” — Jeanette Woods.
“On August 17th we docked in Seattle (I was told there was too much celebration in SF), the Red Cross met us at the gang plank, provided us with lodging, food and new clothing and a few days later we boarded a train to SF. I have the original Red Cross newsletter that included an article and photos of our arrival including one showing us walking down the gangplank.” — Jeanette Woods.
As the POPE was towed around Alcatraz and into the outbound sea lanes, the morning gloom melted away. From the promontory near the Golden Gate, in a soundtrack of gently breaking surf, traffic on the bridge and chirping birds, the last P2 made her approach.
Just as with the PATRICK’s departure two weeks prior, there was just enough time to get to Land’s End for final views of the ship as she entered the Pacific.
Very Special thanks: BAE Systems, Bob Brown, Frank Cleope, Martin Cox, Dennis Deisinger, Mary Ferlin, Don Oclassen, Rob Di Stefano, Erhard Koehler, Oscar Niemeth Towing, Steve Perry, Randy Sautner, San Francisco Bay Pilots Association, Doug Satterblom, Bart Selby, Jeff Siragusa, U.S. Coast Guard, Barbara Voulgaris, Westar Marine, Jeanette Woods. End of Post
Having documented over 400 passenger ships and taken more than 200 cruises, MaritimeMatters’ co-editor Peter Knego is a leading freelance cruise writer, a respected ocean liner historian and frequent maritime lecturer both on land and at sea. With his work regularly featured in cruise industry trades and consumer publications. Knego also runs the www.midshipcentury.com website which offers MidCentury cruise ship furniture, artwork and fittings rescued from the shipbreaking yards of Alang, India. He has produced several videos on the subject, including his latest, The Sands Of Alang and the best-selling On The Road To Alang."