USS PRESIDENT JOHNSON -- Two Stories
1 . Alone at sea on the way to Hawaii when Pearl was hit.
2 . Departed in convoy for the Philippines, January 1942.
3. Research of the ship
4. I saw the wake of the torpedo as it went by.
U.S. Army Transport SS President Johnson pushed westward through the choppy waves of San Francisco Bay, passing beneath the steel span of the Golden Gate Bridge. Formerly a luxury liner with a passenger quota of 250, she now carried upwards of 3,000 men and officers, most of whom were soberly viewing for the first time the rapidly diminishing shores of their native land. -- typical reference
1 . I was in the ground echelon of the 19th Bombardment Group (H), 32nd Bomb. Sqdn. and 38th Reconnaissance Sqdn, as part of PROJECT PLUM. We sailed from San Francisco (Angel Island Embarkation Base) on 5 Dec 1941 on the USS President Andrew Johnson. Our mission was to reinforce the military build-up in the Philippine Islands. The Air Echelon and ground crews of the Hdq. and Hdquarters Sqdn., 93rd Bomb Sqdn. and the 30th Bomb. Sqdn were already at Clark Field, PI by Dec 7 1941, having left the Albuquerque Army Air Base on or about 1 Oct 1941.
The departure of the 32nd Bomb Sqdn and 38th Reconn. was delayed in order to fill personnel slots of those in the Group that were at school or on leave etc. (There were, no doubt, other reasons that I was unaware of at the time ... being only a Pvt). Our Air Echelons, pilots and air crews, were at the Sacramento Army Air Base awaiting delivery of new B-17 D Flying Fortresses and transitioning to the new models. The 38th Reconn. Sqdn, Air Echelon, was the B-17 flight that arrived at Pearl Harbor during the raid on Dec 7, 1941 with the guns strapped down and B-4 bags packed for service at Clark Field. The 32nd Air Echelon had not departed Sacramento AAB at the time of the raid. We were joined later at Kern County Airport in early January, 1942. 25 hour inspections were made and our air crews left for Australia. Rumor was that they participated in the Battle of Macassar Strait.
We sailed from San Francisco on Dec 5, 1941 as a single ship--no convoys--- remember, we were not at war yet. Our speed in this elderly ship couldn't have been over 5 knots. By the morning of Dec 7 we may have traveled 250 miles, more or less. On the morning of Dec 7th, the word got out that Pearl Harbor had been bombed (Latrine-O-gram). There was much doubt but when our officers confirmed it the disbelief disappeared.
Later, in the morning of a nice clear day at sea, the USS President Johnson made a beautiful 180 degree turn. With the smoke stack emitting dirty black smoke we headed back to San Francisco. We disembarked on the 9th evening and were billeted at the Polo Grounds in Golden Gate Park. We pitched our tents (shelter halves) on the hill side ... our Captain (Jarvis) obtained some straw from the horse corrals for use as a mattress. It also made for a slippery bedding and some of us ended up down the sloped campsite during the nite.
Note: If you want more of the story of the 32nd ground echelon, let me know. I don't know what happened with the Pres. Johnson after we debarked. Maybe you can get more of its story from others.
2 . My father was in the Army, 1936-on from Fort Benning, GA. He was only 16
when he joined, due to troubles, civil, at home. He did not even make the
first physical, because he was underweight, but the Army recruiter, who lived
next door, told him to go home, eat a bunch of bananas, and try again. He served
in the Panama Canal Zone, before the war, was on his way home to my
Grandmother's house in Racine, WI, in 1941, when Pearl Harbor hit.
Already being in the
Army, among his medals, included expert marksman, coastal artillery, tanks.
He was also radioman, and knew his way around radar stations, including the
radar station where the enemy planes were detected, prior to the attack on Pearl
Harbor, only a month or so after the fact. He was shipped to San Francisco, by
train. The men ate cold ham sandwiches on Christmas Day, 1941, in the Cow
My Dad shipped out on the President Johnson (Army Transport Service),
along with a bunch of Marines in a convoy "larger than the human eye could see",
by way of the Aleutians (my Dad said they froze their butts off, as all they
had was fall gear on). They were on their way to reinforce the Philippine
Islands. My Dad said the convoy was split up. Half went to reinforce the Hawaiian
Islands, the other half continued on to the Philippines. The President Johnson
entered Hawaiian Islands, Jan. 7th, 1942. They were fired upon by a Japanese
submarine, thought to be midget, with two torpedoes. The Captain of the
President Johnson called all men to go to port, as all the men were on the deck. The
torpedoes missed the bow, by twelve feet. My Dad said it would have been
another Pearl Harbor. Half the men on this ship could not swim. The ship carried
4500-5000 men. A P-40 (flown by Lt. Edmundsen - Honolulu paper, or Stars and
Stripes) circling overhead, dropped a 500 lb bomb at the start of the torpedo wakes.
I have read about this attack in print. I cannot put my finger on the book,
even though WWII to me was a much more interesting time, than the Romans
conquering Carthage. My questions to you.
(1) Do you have info on this attack?
(2) What of the convoy that sailed on to the Philippines? My Dad said they got
bombed and shelled in Manila Bay.
My father's rank was Army Staff Sergeant.
When the Pacific quieted down in 1945, they almost sent him to Germany, before he
said "Enough is enough", and was discharged after 8 years, active service. My
Grandma never saw him, from 1937-1945, until after the war. He is 82 years
old, going on 83, and he is still pretty sharp, and God Bless Him, he is still alive.
I had determined to look up your dad's convoy of Dec 1941 before you asked
towards the end of your note, because I was under the impression that no convoys were sent to the Philippines after Dec 7. In fact the Army's planner, a fellow named D.D. Eisenhower, formerly of MacAuthur's staff, wanted to write off both the Philippines and Australia.
The SS President Johnson was under Army contract and she continued
transporting troops through the end of the war. Not being Navy, she is not found in my usual books or web sources. Here are the references I have found so far, because this is a correction to common knowledge and fits beautifully
with the "Little Known Facts" that I enjoy putting on the WW2Pacific website. -- J
S.S. President Johnson
Built 1904 by New York Shipbuilding Co., Camden, New Jersey.
LOA=615'4", LBP=600'0", B=65'0", D=51'3", Draft=33'6"
Displacement=26,700 LT, Deadweight=12,300 LT, Gross tonnage=15,543
Cargo capacity: 577,816 CuFt., Passengers: 252, Speed=15 knots
Machinery: Twin screw, two 4-cylinder quadruple expansion steam engines, 11,000 total HP. Four double-ended and 4 single-ended fire tube boilers, 215 PSI, originally coal fired but converted to oil fired in 1919.
Built as Manchuria for and operated by Pacific Mail Steamship Co. from 1904 to 1915. Sold to Atlantic Transport Co. 1915. After service as a troop transport in World War I was employed in North Atlantic and Intercoastal trade. From 1925 until 1929 operated in the Pacific by Panama Pacific Line. Sold to Dollar Steamship Lines in 1929 for round-the-world cruises. Robert Dollar had the largest fleet of passenger and cargo liners operating under US flag at the time. In 1938 the line transferred to the USGov, Maritime Commission, in exchange for depression era debts and renamed the American President Lines with increasing military contract work. On 29 November 1941 President Johnson was acquired by the Army and served as a troop transport under APL operation making eight trips to Hawaii in 1942-43. On 8 November 1943 the ship sailed from San Francisco for the South Pacific to spend the next 2 years in support of the amphibious operations including Eniwetok and Guam, Marshalls; Ulithi, Carolines; Peleliu, Palaus; and Espiritu Santo, New Hebrides until returning to San Francisco January 14, 1946. Sold to Transmar Navigation Co. January 10, 1947, and subsequently operated by Tagus Navigation Co., Panama, renamed as Santa Cruz. Scrapped in Italy,1952.
3 . Reader's Research Section
Readers of my www.ww2pacific.com/ have expressed an interest in
SS President Johnson which was active from before Pearl Harbor until 1946.
A reader has sent his reserch --.
I have not researched her in depth, but enclose the following following things
uncovered including hree voyages to give her a presence on your usefull website.
Note: The entire American President Line was owned by the government and converted to transports -- over a dozen ships.
I have tried to simplify this history using ship names as of 1940, when the government took over for military use and the Navy then ran wild with renamings.
President Buchanan (ex-Pres Monroe) ; in 1944 coverted to hospital ship renamed Emily H. M. Weder
President Cleveland in 1941 renamed USS Tasker H. Bliss ; 1942 sunk during invasion of North Africa.
President Coolidge ; 1942 mined and sunk off Espiritu Santo.
President Fillmore 3 (ex-Pres van Buren) ; 1944 to converted hospital ship, renamed Marigold.
President Grant, 1940 renamed USS Harris.
President Grant 2 (ex-President Adams) ; 1944 wrecked at New Guinea.
President Madison (ex Pres Garfield) ; 1942 renamed USS Kenmore, then 1944 USS Refuge
President Harrison ; captured by Japanese, renamed Kakko Maru, 1944 sunk by sub USS Pampanito
President Jackson, 1940 renamed USS Zeilin
President Johnson (ex-Manchuria) operated under that name throughout the war
President Pierce, 1941 renamed USAT Hugh L. Scott ; 1942 sunk U-130.
President Taft, 1941 renamed USAT Willard A. Holbrook.
President Taylor (ex-Pres Polk) ; 1942 destoryed by Japanese aircraft at Canton Island.
President Tyler (ex-Pres Hayes); 1941 USAT Howard McCurdy.
1. Departure Date: 41-12-05
Embarkation Place : San Francisco
Vessel SS President Johnson
Units on Board : ground echelon of 19th Bombardment Group (H), 32nd Bomb. Sqdn. and 38th Reconnaissance Sqdn
Convoy Number : single ship
Debarkation Place :San Francisco
Arrival Date: 41-12-09
Source of Information : http://www.ww2pacific.com/johnson.html
Notes: Enroute to the Phillipines, turned around on news of Pearl Harbor
* Eight trips between San Francisco to Hawaii in 1942-43.
* Many trips to and about South Pacific and the Western Pacific 1943-1946
2. Departure Date: 44-07-21
Embarkation Place : San Francisco
Vessel SS President Johnson
Units on Board ; 85th Chemical Battalion (Motorized) ; Minister to New Zealand ; others ; total: 3,000
Convoy Number : ???
Debarkation Place : Noumea , Milne Bay , Oro Bay, Finschhafen, New Guinea
Arrival Date: ? , ? , ? , 44-08-24
Source of Information : http://www.4point2.org/hist-85D.htm
"On the 21st of July, 1944, the U.S. Army Transport SS President Johnson pushed westward through the choppy waves of San Francisco Bay, passing beneath the steel span of the Golden Gate Bridge at 1830. Formerly a luxury liner with a passenger quota of 250, she now carried upwards of 3,000 men and officers, most of whom were soberly viewing for the first time the rapidly diminishing shores of their native land. D Company of the 85th Chemical Battalion (Motorized) was on its way; "overseas" was no longer a lecture theme to be laughed at by skeptical trainees.
. . .
"Soon the Johnson crossed the International Date Line, gaining one day, and then the round-topped, green hills of New Caledonia were sighted. The ship cautiously approached the outlying coral reefs of the port of Noumea, where the Minister to New Zealand and his wife debarked. The Johnson stopped next at Milne Bay and then at Oro Bay, both on the southeast coast of British New Guinea. On the 24th of August, D Company debarked at Finschhafen, New Guinea. "
3. Departure Date: 45-01-18
Embarkation Place : Hawaii
Vessel SS President Johnson of ATS
Units on Board ; 130th CB.; perhaps others.
Convoy Number ???
Debarkation Place : Eniwetok, Marshall Islands, perhaps on to Saipan, Marianas.
Arrival Date: 45-01-28 , if to Saipan, then 45-02-06
" I'm doing research for an essay about my father-in-law who was with
the 130 CBs [ Construction Battalion,SeaBees - Jim ] in the invasion of Okinawa. Just for your info, if you
care to add it to the web page @ www.ww2pacific.com/johnson.html, the
President Johnson transported the 130th CBs from Hawaii at least as
far as Eniwetok, Marshall Islands, starting 18 Jan 45 and arriving 28
Jan (crossed dateline 22 Jan). It most likely also carried them from
Eniwetok on to Saipan, but the note in the 130th 'yearbook' doesn't
say. It only says they arrived Eniwetok 28 Jan, and then arrived
Saipan, Marianas on 6 Feb 45. From there they boarded LSTs, so there
is no further note about the Pres Jonhson." -- e-mail to WW2Pacific.com
4 . I was on the that ship when it was fired on by two torpedos. I was on the
forward deck and saw the wake of the torpedo as it went by . It hit the beach and
the sand blew in the air . I did not see the second one but saw the wake after it went by .
I stayed in the ship for all the trips to Hawaii . We also went to Christmas
Island, then went to Hawaii . We had transfered most of our fuel to a destroyer
so were riding pretty high ; it was a fun trip ; we ran into a big storm -- the
ship was really rocking . I left the ship shortly after that when the navy took over
the guns . By the way, the guns listed in the article are wrong -- on the first couple trips
we had army field pieces which were worthless, then 4- 3 inch and 1- 4 inch naval guns
were installed plus 10 or 12 50 cal. machine guns.
Cyril F., April 2010
What was your job on her at the time?
I was in a group of 44 army guys put on board to man the guns . The Navy was
apparently short handed and as I said they took over later . I was 20 years old and
originally with a national guard outfit from Park Rapids, Minn . It was pretty good duty we slept
in state rooms and ate in the crews mess ; we had 3 meals a day, the troops only got 2.
Shortly after I left the ship I transferred to the Army Air Force.
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