Rescue and salvage ships such as the ARS-38 Bolster Class save battle damaged combat ships from further damage and tow them to safety. Built at the end of World War II, the ARSs displaced about 2,000 tons and were a little longer than tugs, at 213 feet overall. Originally, 22 ARSs were built, with ARS 44-49 being cancelled. The ARSs remained active in both the Atlantic and Pacific fleets, in the Naval Reserve Force and in the Coast Guard until the early 1990s.
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 Navy has responsibility for salvaging US government owned ships and, when it is in the best interests of the United States, privately owned vessels as well. During World War II, a large number of rescue and salvage ships called ARSs joined the fleet. Some were converted Bird-class minesweepers and others were wooden ships built for the war. But the Navy knew that steel salvage ships were more rugged than wooden ones. Between the ATFs, and the ARSs, the Navy had a formidable towing and salvage fleet for combat operations.
USS Conserver, a Bolster class salvage ship built at Napa, California, was commissioned in June 1945. She arrived in Japanese waters in September 1945 and operated there in support of occupation activities until March 1946. She then went to the Central Pacific, where she was involved in the Operation "Crossroads" atomic weapons tests well into 1947. During the remainder of her long career, Conserver alternated service areas between the U.S. Pacific coast area, the Central Pacific and the Far East. In 1950-53, she was intermittently employed in Korean war operations. The salvage ship was also present during the 1958 Quemoy crisis.
Over the decades of the 1960s, 70s and most of the 80s, Conserver continued her work of salvage, towing and other important fleet support. She deployed to the Western Pacific nearly every year. In 1965, Conserver helped salvage the stranded destroyer USS Frank Knox (DDR-742). She operated in Vietnamese waters regularly from 1966 into 1972 and was engaged in search and recovery operations after the Soviet Union shot down a Korean airliner in 1983.
Laid up in September 1986, Conserver returned to active service a year later. Her subsequent operations were generally in the Hawaiian area, with occasional deployments to the U.S. West Coast and the South and Central Pacific. Pearl Harbor-based USS Conserver (ARS 39) received a 1993 Secretary of Defense Maintenance Award. The maintenance awards program was established to encourage maintenance excellence, to recognize outstanding achievement in maintenance management and production, and to demonstrate the essential role of maintenance in the readiness and sustainability of the Armed Forces. USS Conserver was recognized for meritorious service in the performance of organizational and intermediate level maintenance while deployed to the Middle and Eastern Pacific.
After almost a half-century of hard work, the ships of this class were decommissioned and stricken from the Naval Vessel Register in 1993 and 1994. In April 1995 a 15-man Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit Two detachment embarked on the USS Mohawk to provide diving and salvage support for a six-month Mediterranean deployment, the first such scheduled T-ATF deployment made necessary by the decommissioning of the ARS-38 class salvage ships.
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