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Passage On The U.S.N.S. GENERAL JOHN POPE, Part One

Posted on Thursday, May 13, 2010 by

Last Monday afternoon, just after I returned from following the scrap-bound GENERAL EDWIN D. PATRICK out to San Francisco’s Land’s End, my cell phone buzzed with a new voice mail message. “Peter, this is Bob Brown. Give me a call back about the GENERAL JOHN POPE when you get a chance. I’m doing her move from Suisuin to San Francisco on Wednesday, May 5. Would you like to work as a linesman for the day?”

Bob Brown? I rang and/or wrote a dozen or so people the prior week, some of whom I did not know, referrals from friends in the hopes of reaching a contact with access to either the PATRICK (before she left the San Francisco region) or the POPE (before she left Suisuin for San Francisco in preparation for her journey to the scrappers). Mr. Brown, a professor at the California Maritime Academy, was on the call list. Suffice it to say, if it were not for him, this latest trek would not have been possible, so it is to Bob Brown that I dedicate this blog with the utmost gratitude and respect.

I spent the next day at Home Depot and Trader Joe’s, shopping for a hard hat, safety goggles, flashlight, work gloves, trail mix and bottled water. Fortunately, I already had my steel-toed boots handy from recent Alang visits.

Night ride through the Carquinez Strait.

Very early on the morning of May 5, 2010, I joined sixteen cadets from the California Maritime Academy aboard the 4,300 hp Oscar Niemeth tug AMERICAN EAGLE, which was tied up at the Vallejo-based campus’ jetty. After signing liability waivers and donning PFDs (personal flotation devices), we were off at 3:30 AM sharp.

My weary eyes welcomed the chilly wind as we sped through the Carquinez Strait and into the ink dark waters of the Suisuin Bay, home of the U.S. Naval Reserve Fleet, where the GENERAL JOHN POPE has been tied up for no less than four decades.

All photos by and copyright Peter Knego 2010 unless otherwise noted.  Please click on image to view an enlarged version.

Tugs gather in Suisuin Bay to prepare for the day's work.

During our relatively short night passage, we were assembled on the EAGLE’s fantail for some line-handling lessons and safety tips. Half of our contingent would assist with the removal of the POPE from her raft and the other eight would tend to the transfer of the 1957-built fleet oiler, USNS SHOSHONE, between moorings.

We edged toward a cluster of fellow tugs that were lashed to the side of the USNS GREEN MOUNTAIN STATE, the former Moore McCormack cargo ship, MORMACALTAIR of 1965, now serving as a floating port crane facility.

Ghostly glow in the "Ghost Fleet". USNS GENERAL JOHN POPE (center).

Off in the distance, in the vague, greenish glow of a searchlight, I could make out the distinctive funnel and superstructure of the POPE sandwiched between several other vessels.

Launching a new class of ship. The USNS GENERAL JOHN POPE at Kearny, New Jersey. U.S. Army Photo -- Public Domain.

The GENERAL JOHN POPE was the first of eleven P2-S2-R2 type transports built in Kearny, New Jersey by the Federal Shipbuilding and Drydock Company for the U.S. Navy’s World War Two service. The GENERALs, like the aforementioned ADMIRAL class transports from Alameda, were intended to ultimately serve as passenger liners after the war but only a few sparingly enjoyed such a purpose. The POPE and her sisters measured 17,800 gt and could carry 5,142 troops. They were 622.5 by 75.5 feet with a draft of 25.5 feet and were armed with no less than 28 guns of varying power. Dual boiler and engine rooms drove twin screws via geared turbines at a speed of 21 knots. And while both GENERALs and ADMIRALs enjoyed eye-pleasingly balanced silhouettes with twin funnels, this class was more dynamic looking, with taller funnels and raked bows.

The USNS GENERAL JOHN POPE in World War Two service. U.S. Army Photo -- Public Domain.

Ironically, the POPE, the first in her platform, has quietly outlasted all of her sisters, except the nearly equally long-lived 1944-built GENERAL W.P. RICHARDSON, by well over two decades. The RICHARDSON was the only one of the class to become a bonafide ocean liner and ultimately a cruise ship, having sailed for American Export Lines as the LA GUARDIA, Hawaiian Textron as LEILANI, American President Lines as the PRESIDENT ROOSEVELT, Chandris Cruises as the ATLANTIS, Eastern Steamship and Admiral Cruises as the EMERALD SEAS and a few lesser incarnations until her final service as the OCEAN EXPLORER I. That ship, which was vastly altered over the years, was broken up at Alang in 2005. Two fellow P2-S2-R2s, the GENERAL W.H. GORDON and the GENERAL M.C. MEIGS, served as austerity liners immediately after World War Two but neither  went on to their proposed conversions as proper American President Liners. These powerful looking ships were apparently too costly and difficult to operate in commercial service with their dual power plants and heavy hull plating.

USNS GENERAL JOHN POPE in World War Two service. Dan Cottle collection.

In her two years of World War Two service, the POPE steamed to nearly every corner of the earth, then spent a year repatriating troops until going into temporary lay up in New York’s reserve fleet.

The POPE in Korean War service. U.S. Army Photo -- Public Domain.

In 1950, she was reactivated by the Military Sea Transport Service for Korean War duty until 1955 and in 1958, she was laid up with a number of other P2 vessels at Olympia, Washington. During the Korean War, the POPE received no less than six battle stars for her services.

Military sea power exemplified in the POPE's dynamic lines. U.S. Army Photo -- Public Domain.

In 1965, the POPE left for San Francisco where she began trooping voyages to Asia in support of the Vietnam conflict until her final retirement in 1970, when she was laid up at Suisuin Bay. In 1990, she was stricken from the registers and eventually sold for scrap in March of 2010.

Starboard wing illuminated.

With the rest of the tugs assembled, the SHOSHONE crew departed for their day’s work and we rumbled off towards the eerily-lit POPE, where at the northern end of her raft, we disembarked at the bottom of a steep gangway alongside the USNS CAPE GIRARDEAU. This 1968-built former American Mail Lines break bulk cargo ship (ex ALASKAN MAIL) is just one of many fascinating vintage vessels still in “ready reserve” status.

“Only three at a time on the gangway”, we were instructed. Darting flashlights guided our steps as we clambered up to the GIRARDEAU’s foredeck and then over three more vessels until reaching the POPE. With a half moon hovering between her mast and forward funnel, we laid down our gear in the shelter of the POPE’s superstructure.

Loosening the lines from the POPE to the MOUNT WASHINGTON.

A crew from MARAD removed the gangway and the POPE’s starboard lines were loosened in succession, from the base of her superstructure to the tip of the fo’c’sle. We formed our cues and synchronously hoisted eight pounds of rope per foot over the tops of rusting bollards and through the hawsers.

Sunrise over the AMERICAN EAGLE.

The AMERICAN EAGLE pivoted off our stern as the sun began to rise and the line duties continued from the POPE’s starboard promenade to her fantail.

USS MOUNT WASHINGTON bridge.

Gradually, the sleek form of the neighboring 1963-built two-island type tanker MOUNT WASHINGTON emerged from the darkness. Yet another good-looking ship tucked away in reserve…

The raft is split.

The AMERICAN EAGLE nudged between the two vessels and began to push the four ships on the northern end of the raft away from the POPE. Meanwhile, we undid the POPE’s port lines from the 1956-built USS MONTICELLO, a naval dock landing vessel.

Pushing out the POPE.

Once cleared of all ties, the POPE was gradually pushed forward and ultimately freed from her raft.

Twin funneled shadow in the Ghost Fleet.

The POPE’s massive funnels cast a long parting shadow over Suisuin’s sheltered waters.

Merchant ships in a row.

Just ahead lay a motley collection of outmoded but beautiful merchant mariners.

S.S. AMERICAN RACER at Suisuin Bay.

At the end of the next raft lay the rakish, 1964-built S.S. AMERICAN RACER, a former United States Lines cargo ship that has been laid up since 1983.

The gap closes behind the POPE.

As the POPE awaited clearance to proceed, the raft behind her was gradually closed.  Although I am sure the ship looked magnificent from afar in the morning light, I wouldn’t have traded places with anyone at that moment.

S.S. GREEN MOUNTAIN STATE at the end of the next raft...

With the AMERICAN EAGLE and her fleetmate SILVER EAGLE on either side, the POPE slowly proceeded past her soon-to-be-former reserve fleetmates. The USNS GREEN MOUNTAIN STATE was at the end of the next raft.

U.S.S. SHOSHONE at Suisuin Bay.

The USNS SHOSHONE led the next gathering, her curvaceous features bathed in the morning sun.  Tugs were already alongside to move her to her next berth within the fleet.

U.S.S. IOWA.

The battleship IOWA was next in the line up.

Westernmost raft at SBRF.

Before much longer, the POPE had passed the last of Suisuin’s silent sentinels as she gained momentum on her short passage to San Francisco.

To Be Continued….

End of First Post

Click here for part two

Click here for part three

27 Responses to Passage On The U.S.N.S. GENERAL JOHN POPE, Part One

  1. Philippe

    May 13, 2010 at 11:50 am

    I just remember having been aboard the USS IOWA having tour and escorted French vistors aboard as I was the only French navy man available in Le Havre who was speaking English.
    It’s amazing so far to see such ghost ship still afloat like your POPE as we do have many in France too causing such a lot of trouble. Remembering the final course of the aircraft carrier CLEMENCEAU which made a remarkable cruise to nowhere facing Indian coast and back to Brest in France via the Cape Run without sinking.

    Would have been nice to the NORWAY returning home…
    God bless all crew who sailed on the POPE, and she has to rest in peace now at least !

  2. Mage B

    May 13, 2010 at 6:00 pm

    Thank you so much….
    As usual, I am holding my breath for the next installment.

  3. Patrick

    May 14, 2010 at 1:52 am

    Incredible set of picture of those sad ships waiting to die.

    I was very surpised to see the battleship Iowa there as I thought all the American battleships had been preserved in various States

  4. Robert B

    May 14, 2010 at 9:25 am

    Fascinating and well written. I felt like I was there. Thank you Peter! Can’t wait for the next installment!
    P.S Great photos too!

  5. Michael McDermott

    May 14, 2010 at 10:11 pm

    Since the Patrick was next to the Pope we, the USS Hornet volunteers, have the chance each month to go aboard the Reserve Fleet for parts. Have done it for 12 years while I have done it for three years. Now the sentiment to save these ships is heartwarming but impractical in reality. First, you need a large bank account and valid plan to show the ship won’t be a ward of the country. Museum ships are an expensive affair and more so as the years take their toll. Both the Patrick and Pope were in sorry shape on the outside while the inside was generally messy but clean. The Patrick did have a major leak which filled a 4th deck compartment completely. Two, you need to have a dock and not every harbor is anxious for an old ship. Look at the Iowa. Three, you need dedicated volunteers and that is a lot easier said than done, believe me.

    While all the capital ships disappeared in the late 90’s with the Oriskany and Oklahoma City the last to leave there is still history there. The oldest ship, Sperry, was launched from Mare Island on 12/17/41. The Iowa of course is there and to walk her decks by yourself is a real treat. The Holland, an important part of the Cold War is there. She serviced nuclear subs at Holy Loch, Scotland, and has a immense hold for storing Polaris and Poseidon missiles. The Tulare which took many a Marine to Vietnam in the early years. An icebreaker, the Glacier, at first Navy and then Coast Guard with a storied pasts of many firsts in Antarctica. The Hoga, which helped put out the fires and pushed the Nevada aground at Pearl Harbor. Even the Pope has a great Vietnam story told to me by a merchant marine electrician who was there. One day these trips back into history will end and while many here may have learned something I will truly miss my visits to them. Nothing like lunch sitting next to Turret 3 on the Iowa.

  6. Bill Daugherty

    May 15, 2010 at 4:37 pm

    Why was the USNS SHOSHONE being moved? To another row I presume, but to what purpose? And do you know which ship is supposed to go next? The Gettysburg?

  7. Peter Knego

    May 15, 2010 at 9:01 pm

    Not sure why SHOSHONE was moved — originally, I thought she was going to replace the spot held by POPE but that raft was closed as we left Suisuin. And, yes, the GETTYSBURG is the next to go, departing on May 21.

  8. Corey

    May 16, 2010 at 12:40 am

    Sadly shiplovers are a minoritie. Old buildings are always being restored but ships are scrapped. You go to a bookstore and you go to transportation and you will see a single book on titanic and than maybe one train book and the rest on Cars and trucks and motorcycles. Thank god there are people like bill miller still writing ship books. And thank you to maritime matters for a great website. I remember when all my ship news was from steamboat bill and the news would be six months to a year old.times have changed. Thanks Peter for sharing ur trips. It makes me happy

  9. Captain George Woodward USN (Retired)

    May 16, 2010 at 12:36 pm

    The USS IOWA (BB-61) is looking for a home somewhere to become a museum ship like the three other IOWA-Class battleships. Groups in several locations (Stockton, San Francisco, Vallejo and elsewhere) have expressed interest, but failed to meet the Navy’s insistance on substantial funding (as mentioned above) to prepare and maintain a site and rehab the ship. It also takes a substantial organization of mostly volunteers to provide ongoing maintenance and conduct a viable educational program for visitors. I understand that a group in Los Angeles is presently interested in IOWA as a museum ship in San Pedro. The many WW II, Korea and mid 80’s IOWA crew members hope something happens soon to insure the ship is preserved and put on display to share with others this important piece of naval history.

  10. David Walker

    May 17, 2010 at 5:49 am

    I’m hearing Tuesday May 18 as her tow and departure date from SF? Peter can you confirm this as well?

  11. Peter Knego

    May 17, 2010 at 6:23 am

    I believe tomorrow, Tuesday, May 18 at 11:00 AM. She is being undocked this morning…

  12. Peter Knego

    May 17, 2010 at 4:12 pm

    Documented the undocking today from the rim of the drydock. POPE is still scheduled to depart at 11:00 AM tomorrow. Hopefully, there will be no delays and the weather will accommodate…

  13. Kim

    May 18, 2010 at 10:57 pm

    Great article! You mentioned Alang – is there a link to any photos/stories from your time there?

  14. Lyle W Freund

    May 26, 2010 at 11:32 am

    Hi Shiplovers;
    I just wanted to compliment you on your websight. The USNS General John Pope carried my unit to Viet Nam in July, 1967. It wasn’t a bad ride, except that the air-conditioning was turned off, to acclimate us, and there was only two shower stalls with fresh water, the rest being brine. It is where I decided that I never wanted to be immersed in sea water ever again. I still love ships though, and I didn’t remember how attractive the Popes’ lines were. Lyle

  15. David Walker

    June 26, 2010 at 7:36 am

    Peter, I didnt see where Parts 2 and 3 were linked in this article? THANKS!

  16. Peter Knego

    June 26, 2010 at 11:43 am

    Thanks for the head’s up, David. I interlinked each chapter so hopefuly one can get to all three of them without too much hopping around. Many thanks!

  17. John Martin

    September 18, 2010 at 1:33 am

    Also sailed from San Diego July 67 bound for RVN (USMC). Orders amended prior to docking at White Beach Okinawa and debarked to spend a year on Oki. Great duty. Great memories of doing PT 3x a day on the forward deck after rollcall. Also volunteered to sweep the decks after hours to enjoy the night salt air and to smoke that last day’s cig. USS General John POPE, thanks for the memories, aloha.

  18. hale bradt

    December 28, 2010 at 8:12 pm

    Peter:
    Would you like three great photos of the USS Gen Pope taken with returning troops on Oct. 8, 1945 in San Francisco harbor – to add to your story. If you would, give me an email address to which I can forward them.

    My Dad was on that ship that day – and I loved your story of its final days.
    cheers
    Hale

  19. James Crow

    March 21, 2011 at 5:03 pm

    The USS General John Pope transported my unit from Oakland Army Terminal to Vietnam in April 1967, 22 days afloat, with a stop in Subic Bay to refuel. All in all, not a bad trip. When I returned from Vietnam I was talking with my uncle about going over by ship and he asked me what ship. When I told him the General Pope he told me he had made 3 assault landings off the Pope in the South Pacific during WWII. The Pope served the Crow family well, we both returned home.

  20. Peter Knego

    March 21, 2011 at 8:35 pm

    James, thanks for sharing these amazing stories and for your family’s service. The POPE was quite a ship and I’m so happy to have been able to experience her. I’m glad she did not go without some recognition.

  21. John Tripcevic

    March 22, 2011 at 1:59 am

    Hey James, my unit was also transported to Vietnam by the Pope from Oakland Army Terminal in April 1967. I remember well the stop in Subic bay.
    Yep not a bad trip at all. It’s a shame that they scraped her. She had a glorius history. My father even returned home on her from the Pacific at the conclusion of WWII.

  22. John

    April 8, 2011 at 7:48 pm

    Thanks for the memories of the USS Gen. John Pope. I was 17 when orders were cut for our unit to go to VN, the 199th Inf. I was only 17 at that time so the CO says I can fly over when I turn 18 or go with the company, the 87th combat Eng. I turned 18 on the trip over. I left The Oakland Port Nov.22/1966. (Turned 18 11/29/1966) I was a country boy and when I saw the door on the side of the ship it worried me. Ant seen that before, wont it let water in? I live in Santa Rosa Ca so when in the Bay area I scanned the storage area at Benicia and would the old Pope just setting and waiting for its next call.
    We stopped at Okinawa for around 8 hrs, got drunk then went on our way to Vung Tau VN.
    I have some photos at http://87theng.smugmug.com stop by and visit.
    John Walker
    RVN 1966-1968
    87th Combat Engineers, 199th Inf

  23. Thomas Wade

    April 24, 2011 at 7:11 pm

    A sincere thanks for preserving the General John Pope’s last voyage. I too traveled on the same trip as the previous commenter 11/22/1966. The trip over was a bit exciting for most as we were traveling across the North Pacific in early winter and caught some rough weather. Memories of White Beach Okinawa and finally after dropping the 199th, moved north to make the iconic beach landing at Na Trang in full combat gear, amid beach goers made up of off duty GI’s who hooted at our sight.

  24. Larry D. Barton

    April 29, 2011 at 7:30 pm

    I, too, boarded the General John Pope in April, 1967. We had been on a troop train from Fort Hood with the 633rdCC&S Company. If my memory serves me correctly, there were three ships out together and one had to stop in Hawaii for repairs. We went to stop at Subic Bay and were let off the ship for four hours. We hopped a ride into the NCO club and I got to taste San Miguel beer for the first time. We boarded back and three days later were in Nam at the end of April. I have not been on a cruise ship since it took me where I did not want to go and would no bring me back when I was ready to leave. But, thanks for the memories.

  25. WILLIE MCLEAN JR

    January 17, 2014 at 4:31 pm

    I WENT TO VIETNAM ABOARD THE USS POPE APRIL 1968 WITH THE 10TH CHEMICAL PLATOON, WE STOPED IN SUBIC BAY.

  26. John R. Moses

    February 28, 2014 at 12:57 am

    This was the ship that took my Dad and his 43rd Cavalry Recon Troopers, along with the rest of the 43rd and the 118th Army Engineers they trained with, to Auckland for R&R in 1944. I just posted my Dad’s account of that voyage at http://www.frozenprose.com. It’s great to see this description of the ship’s move, although I’m sad it was scrapped. This ship wound up in the Suisun Mothball Fleet along with the USS/USCG Glacier and other vessels with such distinguished careers.

  27. Marty Mooney

    March 24, 2014 at 4:01 pm

    I am delighted to have this opportunity to present an anecdote of a Pacific crossing on the Pope..not uneventful by any means. Sept 1966..typhoon season. Combat MP Battalion from Ft Lewis..Wash. We shoved off from Seattle (Puget Sound ) enroute to ‘Nam..two days out at sea my battalion and a transportation company were notified of a change of orders..going to Okinawa instead of ‘Nam. What was supposed to be a 13 day voyage took 17 days..I’m guessing about 2-3 days from the island a major typhoon took aim at Okinawa with 140 MPH winds..The seaworthy Pope just circled for about 24 hrs.. there was a beautiful blue sky but the the residual swells from the storm were huge..being on deck was off limits..the Pope was rolling as the bow became airborne then crashed back into the sea ..just like you see in WWII documentaries..this went on for 24 Hrs..fortunately I was quartered in the bow so I only had to endure the lifting out the water then crashing back in..that was bad enough..but the majority of troops were quartered in midships in the “belly” quite cramped with racks one on top of the other..everyone was sea sick there..wasn’t a pleasant aroma..well we arrived at White Beach,a small naval facility, on the Pacific side island which was devastated as a result of the typhoon..took a direct hit..debris everywhere. I do hope some of the crew may read this from a young soldier’s perspective and I’m sure they will chuckle..they did a hell of a job and the Gen John Pope proved once again it could take a pounding from the sea..the Pope pulled out of White Beach and headed south to ‘Nam with the remaining troops. I made it home unscathed 14 months later and I pray they all did too.. Thank You All for your service and God Bless !

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