Bolster-class rescue and salvage ship

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USS Conserver (ARS-39) underway off Oahu, Hawaii (USA), on 26 April 1967 (NH 96918).jpg
USS Conserver (ARS-39) off Oahu, Hawaii, 26 April 1967
Class overview
Builders: Basalt Rock Company
Built: 1944–1946
In commission: 1944–present
Planned: 12
Completed: 6
Cancelled: 6
Active: 1
Retired: 5
General characteristics
Type: Rescue and salvage ship
  • 1,497 long tons (1,521 t) (lt)
  • 2,048 long tons (2,081 t) (fl)
Length: 213 ft 6 in (65.07 m)
Beam: 39 ft (12 m)
Propulsion: diesel-electric, twin screws, 2,780 hp (2,070 kW)
Speed: 15 knots (28 km/h; 17 mph)
Complement: 100
Armament: 2 × 40 mm guns

The Bolster class were a series of rescue and salvage ships designed and built for the United States Navy during World War II. Rescue and salvage ships such as the Bolster class save battle damaged combat ships from further damage and tow them to safety. Rescue, salvage and towing ships provide rapid fire fighting, pumping, battle damage repair and rescue towing to warships in combat and tow them to repair ships or bases in safe areas.


The Basalt Rock Company's Steel Division built all six of the vessels in the Bolster class. The company was located south of Napa, California, on the Napa River. As the name suggests, the company had originally started in 1920 as a rock quarry operation, but by 1938, it had begun constructing its own barges.[1]

The U.S. Congress passed legislation on 24 October 1941 establishing the Naval Salvage Service. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, the legislation allowed the navy to begin salvage operations through a contract with Merritt-Chapman and Scott on 11 December 1941. In addition, it allowed the U.S. Navy to have Merritt-Chapman and Scott train future naval salvage operators. A salvage crew's main job was to augment damage control beyond the capacity of the ship's crew. This could include fire fighting, towing ships to repair facilities, and clearing harbors of scuttled ships and vessels targeted in combat. The U.S. Navy quickly learned that it was far faster to repair a damaged vessel than to construct a new one. During the island-hopping campaigns of the Pacific in World War II, for example, salvage crews cleared the beaches of landing craft while also retaining many of the damaged ones for repair. The craft and their cargoes could then be used in future operations, but, more importantly, the beaches were cleared for additional assault waves as the beach heads became staging areas.

The U.S. Navy designed and ordered the Bolster class, which was a group of salvage ships. The navy's own Bureau of Construction, along with naval officers and the salvage industry, developed this new class during World War II. The salvage ships were sturdy, oceangoing tugs equipped with diesel-electric propulsion units and strong, auto-tensioned towing winches. The U.S. Navy modeled the Bolster class on the Diver salvage-ship design. The key difference between the two types of salvage ships was that the Bolster class had 5 ft (1.5 m) longer beam, which made it more stable and allowed it to carry more equipment. Otherwise, the Bolster and Diver classes were identical.[2]


Ship name Hull number Commissioned Decommissioned Fate
Bolster ARS-38 1 May 1945 24 September 1994 Sold for scrap, 12 April 2011
Conserver ARS-39 9 June 1945 1 April 1994 Sunk as a target, November 2004
Hoist ARS-40 21 July 1945 30 September 1994 Sold for scrap, 17 July 2007
Opportune ARS-41 5 October 1945 30 April 1993 Sold for scrap, 5 December 2003
Reclaimer ARS-42 20 December 1945 16 September 1994 Sold for scrap, 12 April 2011
Recovery ARS-43 15 May 1946 20 September 1994 Transferred to Taiwan, 30 September 1998; currently active
Retriever ARS-44 never never Construction cancelled, 13 August 1945
Skillful ARS-45 never never Construction cancelled, 27 August 1945
Support ARS-46 never never Construction cancelled, 12 August 1945
Toiler ARS-47 never never Contract cancelled, 12 August 1945
Urgent ARS-48 never never Contract cancelled, 12 August 1945
Willing ARS-49 never never Contract cancelled, 12 August 1945



Crew size was about 120 men including the complement of divers, made complete with some unique features found on board. Two fire monitors, capable of pumping out 4,000 US gallons (15,000 l; 3,300 imp gal) of water per minute onto a flaming deck, aided in rescue efforts. A full machine shop allowed patches to be cut and assembled, repairing damaged hulls long enough to return to port for any major repairs. The forward boom could lift up to 20 tons while the one aft, on the fantail, had a maximum lift of 8 tons. Also on the fantail was the Almon Johnson Towing machine which held 2,100 feet (640 m) of 2-inch (51 mm) wire rope capable of a maximum pull of 50 tons.

Further, in her salvage holds was an extensive inventory of portable salvage equipment- pumps, generators, and welding machines of various sizes that could be placed wherever needed. Plus, eight complete legs of beach gear, each capable of generating up to 60 tons of pulling power, were maintained on board. The ships could lift up to 150 tons off the bottom of the ocean with its main bow rollers and an additional 30 tons on its auxiliary bow rollers. A recompression chamber was available for treating diving related sicknesses and the MK-5 Surface Supplied Diving System was in use.[4]

The ship's crew also had the ability to make minor repairs to Bolster-class ships themselves while underway. A small DC electric shop complete with a welder was located on the main deck, while a larger machine-and-electrical shop that could replicate parts and conduct repairs was on the second deck. The crew could fabricate minor parts using onboard machines, including a drill press, grinder, and lathe. Crewmembers also had access to onboard equipment to patch salvage vessels, but shipyards generally performed the larger and more complex repairs that superseded the crew’s ability.[5]


Navigation of the ship took place on the bridge, and the electronics were updated throughout the vessels' service life. The bridge contained a compass, engine-order telegraph, gyro repeater, and helm. Behind the bridge on the starboard side was the chartroom while the radar room with a fathometer was on the port side. In the aft section of the bridge deck were communications rooms that received and sent communiqués. The gyro room was on the first platform beneath the navigation bridge[6]


During World War II, the U.S. Navy equipped the Bolster class with defensive armament and safety equipment. The Bolster class' 40-millimeter (1.57 in) gun was primarily used as a defensive weapon against aircraft and small ships. After the war, the navy switched the ship's armament to two 20-millimeter (0.79 in) guns and two 50-caliber machine guns. Eventually, the Bolster class only carried the 50-caliber guns. In case of sinking, there were two 35 ft (11 m) craft in cradles and seven rubber lifeboats available off the navigation bridge.[7]


This article incorporates text from the public domain Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. The entry can be found here.

External links[edit]

  • Photo gallery of Conserver at NavSource Naval History no nationality or prefix;