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USS Bolster (ARS 38)

- decommissioned -

The rescue and salvage ship BOLSTER was the first ship in the Navy to bear the name. The ship participated in the Korea and Vietnam Wars receiving seven battle stars for her Korean service and eight battle stars for Vietnam service. After more than 49 years of service, the BOLSTER was both decommissioned and stricken from the Navy list on September 24, 1994. Since then, she is laid up in the National Defense Reserve Fleet, Suisun Bay, Benicia, Calif., awaiting final disposal.

General Characteristics:Awarded: December 7, 1943
Keel laid: July 20, 1944
Launched: December 23, 1944
Commissioned: May 1, 1945
Decommissioned: September 24, 1994
Builder: Basalt Rock Co., Napa, Calif.
Propulsion system: Diesel electric
Propellers: two
Length: 213.6 feet (65.1 meters)
Beam: 43 feet (13.1 meters)
Draft: 13.1 feet (4 meters)
Displacement: approx. 1,900 tons
Speed: 16 knots
Armament: two Mk-68 20mm guns
Crew: 6 officers and 77 enlisted


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Crew List:

This section contains the names of sailors who served aboard USS BOLSTER. It is no official listing but contains the names of sailors who submitted their information.


Commissioning Crew List

Decommissioning Crew List



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About the Ship's Coat of Arms:

The seal illustrates a number of themes pertinent and unique to a salvage ship. The Navy Diver represents the divers themselves and the deep sea capabilities of the ship's equipment and systems. Flanking the diver are two, 8000 pound Ells anchors, symbolizing BOLSTER's primary mission - combat salvage - which utilizes the Ells anchors with sets of Beach Gear in various salvor methods. The ship in tow represents the sailors and their involvement in towing operations and their expertise with towing jewelry and extensive deck equipment. Finally, these three depictions are united under the trident.



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USS BOLSTER History:

USS BOLSTER was built by the Basalt Rock Company in early 1945 at Napa, California. She was taken to Vallejo (Mare Island) for outfitting and was commissioned on 1 May, 1945. BOLSTER was the first of six combat salvage ships. These steel-hulled ships were ''considered so valuable that operational doctrine developed during WWII called for stationing them outside the combat zone where they would not be exposed to unnecessary hazard but would be available for any major salvage situationsy'' writes Captain C.A. Bartholomew in his book "Mud, Muscle, and Miracles".

Crew size was about 120 men including the complement of divers, made complete with some unique features found onboard. Two fire monitors, capable of pumping out 4000 gallons of water per minute onto a flaming deck, aided in BOLSTER's 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 2100 feet of 2 inch 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 onboard. BOLSTER 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. Finally, the ship was outfitted with four 20mm anti-aircraft guns and one 40mm Bofors cannon.

BOLSTER'S expansive storage facilities allowed her to remain on station for over 40 days or travel over 9000 nautical mikes without replenishment.

The initial shakedown cruise was from Vallejo to San Diego. Determined fit for duty, BOLSTER picked up a floating drydock in Eureka, and headed for Hawaii. Performing several more towing jobs in the Hawaiian area, BOLSTER was in Pearl Harbor when the war ended. Then, leaving Hawaii, she sailed to Ulithi Atoll, where the fleet was assembled for the invasion of Japan. On to Okinawa and finally Yokosuka, Japan, BOSLTER began to raise scuttled Japanese ships from the bay, tow them to sea, and re-sink them.

Operating in Japanese watery for a year, followed by six months of repair and salvage duty in the Republic of the Philippines, BOLSTER transited east to her original homeport, Hawaii. For the majority of her service, BOLSTER was homeported in Pearl Harbor, rotating between overseas deployments which included Japan, the Philippines, Guam, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Korea, Australia, Vietnam, Fiji, the Marshall Islands, Alaska, California, and Washington.

During the Korean Conflict, BOLSTER towed and repaired battle-damaged vessels and acted as a screen. She was involved in the Inchon Landing (15 September 1950) and the Hungnam Evacuation (9-25 December 1950). She was awarded seven battle stars for her Korean service.

After the Korean Conflict, BOLSTER continued duties throughout the Pacific Ocean. In May of 1955, she was involved in operation Wigwam, a single detonation, deep submerged nuclear test operation occurring approximately 500 miles southwest of San Diego. BOLSTER's station was six miles upwind of the detonation point. Three hours after detonation, BOLSTER began retrieving submarine salvage pontons which had been 5000 to 11,000 yards from the detonation. BOLSTER towed two pontons to San Diego.

Throughout her history, BOLSTER has conducted countless salvage operations. In 1964, BOLSTER replotted the Philippine ship RAJAH SOLIMAN, and salvaged the USS FRANK KNOX (DD 742). During the Vietnam War, BOLSTER performed multiple salvage missions off the coast of Da Nang. The salvage efforts on the SEA RAVEN and EXCELLENCY occurred in 1965 and 1966. In 1973, BOLSTER worked with Air Force Pararescue Teams as the secondary recovery ship for Skylab 4. BOLSTER recovered the merchant ship LINDENBERY in 1975, rescued the USNS UTE (T-ATF 76) off the coast of mainland China in 1977, and in 1978 took under tow the USS PREBLE (DDG 46), which was adrift northeast of Oahu and brought her safely back to port after an open ocean transit.

In 1982, BOLSTER was tasked with salvaging a US Marine Corps F-4S in 225 feet of water just outside of the harbor in Subic Bay. The Navy's MK-12 Mixed-Gas diving rig (where divers breathe a mixture of helium and oxygen, allowing their bodies to perform at increasing depths) commenced its first working dive from the decks of the BOLSTER.

In June 1983, BOLSTER was assigned to Long Beach, California, at which time she also became a member of the Naval Reserve Force. Her armament and equipment was updated and the 40mm cannon and two of the 20mm guns were replaced by two .50 caliber machine guns. The divers received the technologically advanced MK-21 Surface Supplied Diving System and were now capable of going to depths of 190 feet below the surface. Four Caterpillar engines powered generators which in turn powered electric motors providing the BOLSTER with 3060 shaft horsepower.

For the next ten years until decommissioning, BOLSTER's operations have included numerous open-ocean tows of decommissioned cruisers, destroyers, frigates, repair ships, barges, and floating drydocks. In addition, BOLSTER regularly called upon to tow a decommissioned nuclear submarine from Rodman, Panama, to Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, Bremerton, Washington, a distance of almost 5000 miles.

In September 1994, the BOLSTER was decommissioned at Long Beach, California. Since then, she is laid up in the National Defense Reserve Fleet, Suisun Bay, Benicia, Calif., awaiting final disposal.


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The photo below was taken by me and shows the BOLSTER laid up at Suisun Bay, Calif., on March 27, 2010, awaiting final disposal. The tug in front of BOLSTER is HOGA (YTM 146) - the last floating ship present during the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.



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