Rear Admiral Cuthbert John Pope

Cuthbert John Pope was born on 2 March 1887, at Tring, Hertfordshire, England, son of the Reverand Arthur Frederick Pope and his wife Catherine Isabella Ellen (née Rose) of Kilravock Castle, Inverness, Scotland. After education at Winchester College he entered HMS Britannia as a naval cadet in 1902. He served in HMS Euryalus as a Midshipman in 1904-05 during which time he visited Australia. Later as a Sub Lieutenant and Lieutenant he served in HMS Fantome and HMS Torch and completed a navigation course ashore.

In January 1914 Pope was loaned to the Royal Australian Navy for duty at the RAN College (then at Geelong, Victoria). When war broke out he applied to return to the Royal Navy but was instead appointed to HMAS Berrima, an armed merchant cruiser, and took part in the Australian occupation of German New Guinea. In October 1914 he joined the light cruiser HMAS Sydney as navigating officer and served in that ship until August 1919. He soon saw his first ship-to-ship action when Sydney destroyed the German cruiser Emden off the Cocos Islands on 9 November 1914. Sydney was later attached to the Royal Navy, patrolling off the east coasts of North and South America before joining the British Grand Fleet in the North Sea in September 1916.

Pope was promoted Lieutenant Commander in February 1916 and served with the Grand Fleet for the rest of the war. On 5 September 1918 he married Leslie Grant Cooper at Kilravock Castle. He formally transferred to the RAN in March 1919 and returned to Australia, in Sydney, in June; he then spent a year ashore in HMAS Penguin before joining the light cruiser HMAS Brisbane. Promoted Commander in July 1921, he attended the naval staff course at Greenwich, England, and on return joined the light cruiser HMAS Melbourne as fleet navigating officer. In June 1924 he was appointed to his first command, the sloop HMAS Marguerite, before he rejoined Melbourne. Pope later transferred to Sydney as the fleet navigator.

In 1927 he attended the inaugural course held at the Imperial Defence College, London, and then saw exchange service in the battle cruiser HMS Hood as the staff operations officer. Pope then served for several months in the Admiralty before he returned to Australia to become Assistant Chief of the Naval Staff and Director of Naval Intelligence at Navy Office. He was promoted Captain in December 1929.

In August 1931 Pope took command of the sea plane carrier HMAS Albatross and then in March 1933 he became Captain Superintendent, Sydney, and Captain-in-Charge, New South Wales. In June 1936 he was appointed Captain Superintendent Training in command of HMAS Cerberus in Victoria.

In June 1939, at his own request, he was placed on half-pay for twelve months and visited his mother in England. Arriving soon after war was declared he was given command of the armed merchant cruiser HMS California from November 1939 until December 1941; serving in the Northern Patrol in sub-Arctic and Icelandic waters, off the north-west coast of Africa and in the Halifax Escort Force. During this time California intercepted and captured the German merchant ship Borkum on 18 November 1939 in the North Atlantic and also forced the German blockade runner Klaus Schoke to scuttle near the Azores on 5 December 1940.

Pope returned to Australia early in 1942 and was appointed Naval Officer-in-Charge, Darwin, with the rank of Commodore. He arrived just after the first Japanese air raids. The task of restoring harbour and naval shore facilities destroyed in the early raids was severely hampered by inadequate resources and continuing raids. The few escort vessels and small craft based at Darwin were hard pressed to meet the many demands made upon them.

Supplemented occasionally by a destroyer from the south, local naval forces provided logistic support to Australian troops fighting in Timor, undertook support and rescue missions to and from the Netherlands East Indies and supported religious missions and coast watchers along Australia’s northern coastline. HMAS Voyager was lost in September 1942 while landing troops in Timor, and HMAS Armidale was sunk by air attack in early December 1942 with heavy loss of life.

Planning and controlling all these operations imposed a heavy load upon Commodore Pope who had only a small operational staff. By December the strain was affecting his health and the Naval Board appointed him to Western Australia as the Naval Officer in Charge from 27 December 1942. A number of revisionist historians have been scathing of Pope's command and leadership during this period, without fully understanding the shortage of resources (including men, materiel and ships) that he had to contend with coupled with the enormity of the tasks he had to undertake.   

Pope remained in Western Australia until July 1946 where his responsibilities included the berthing, safety and security of naval and merchant ships using the port of Fremantle and search and rescue operations. One extensive operation which Pope planned and directed resulted in all 143 survivors being rescued. In July 1946 he was promoted Rear Admiral and appointed as Flag Officer in Charge New South Wales, and Admiral Superintendent - Sydney. Rear Admiral Pope, then aged 59, retired on 25 September 1946.

A highly professional and dedicated officer, Pope had made a valuable contribution to the development, growth and efficiency of the young Australian Navy; he was appointed as a Commander in the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in June 1935. His service in World War II was recognised by his post-war appointment and promotion which was a fitting climax to his career.

Survived by his wife and two daughters, he died of cancer in Sydney on 4 August 1959.