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DEPARTMENT OF THE NAVY -- NAVAL HISTORY AND HERITAGE COMMAND
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Biesbosch

A marshy body of water--covering approximately 80 square miles--located between the Dutch provinces of North Brabant and South Holland and formed by the flooding of the region in November 1421.

(Id. No. 2499: dp. 1,100; l. 160'; b. 25.3'; dr. 12'6" (mean); s. 8 k.; cpl. 62)

When the United States entered World War I, Biesbosch--a steel hulled, single screw steamship built in 1916 at Groninjen, Holland, by J. T. Wilmink and Co. for the Hollandsche Algemeene Atlantic Scheepvoorts Maatschapij of Amsterdam--was seized by the United States Government under the right of angary, apparently at New York City. The ship was inspected by the Navy in the 3d Naval District on 1 April 1918 and was taken over on 12 August 1918. Fitted out for service as a salvage ship and given the identification number (Id. No. 2499), Biesbosch was commissioned at Stapleton, Staten Island, N. Y., on 18 November 1918, Lt. (jg.) Elvin M. Harker, USNRF, in command.


Assigned to the Southern Salvage Division, 7th Naval District, Biesbosch took on board wrecking gear and continued fitting out at Stapleton through the first week of December 1918. During this period, the salvage ship saluted President Woodrow Wilson on 4 December when he arrived in port on board George Washington.


Biesbosch departed Staten Island on 10 December on the first leg of a voyage south. The ship reached Norfolk on 12 December, took on board additional salvage gear, and returned to sea on the 14th bound for Key West. At 1230 on the 19th, a day from her destination, a fire was discovered in the port forward coal bunker. The crew immediately turned to, men going below to shovel the coal back and to douse the blaze with water. The fire was extinguished two hours later. The vessel proceeded on her way and anchored off Key West at 2120 the following day.


The problem of fire in the coal bunker, however, surfaced again. The watch detected another one at 0200 on the 21st, while the ship rode at anchor off Key West. Bringing the fire under control within an hour, Biesbosch then moored at the Naval Reserve Base Dock, Key West, before she went alongside the coal docks, where the ship's company, augmented by men from the naval base, bent to the dirty task of transferring the dusty fuel ashore so that an investigating party could determine the cause of the recent fires. The board apparently reached its conclusion with little difficulty for, on 23 December, the crew began the construction of a wooden bulkhead, eight inches from the existing steel one, to insulate the fuel.


After reloading the coal, Biesbosch sailed to undertake her first salvage task. Underway at 1424 on Christmas Eve, the ship set course for Sapelo Sound, Ga., and arrived off her destination, St. Catherines Island, at 0545 on the 27th. There the crew sighted the object of her attention, the stranded freighter SS Bedminster. Biesbosch anchored at 0812 and immediately sent a party of men on board to determine the extent of the damage and to learn what work the salvagers would be required to perform. This done, Biesbosch's motor launch soon returned for the necessary gear and additional men.


With the subchasers SC 109 and SC 295 aiding in the operation by serving as despatch boats and fast transports, Biesbosch remained in the vicinity into the third week of January 1919, her artificers working to refloat Bedminster. Success ultimately crowned their efforts; and, by 16 January, the merchantman was ready to be towed. After "threatening weather" delayed departure a day, Biesbosch got underway at 0730 on the 18th with the recently arrived tugs Underwriter (Id. No. 1390) and Volunteer towing Bedminster. Biesbosch escorted them to Jacksonville, Fla., before proceeding on to Key West where she moored on 22 January.


Biesbosch remained in port at Key West for the remainder of the month, undergoing upkeep. Another shipboard fire on 31 January livened the period somewhat, when sparks from an acetylene torch touched off a blaze in the oakum used in the forward hold. A bucket brigade extinguished the fire within five minutes, but not before an officer suffered burns to his hands and face.


However, the Naval Overseas Transportation Service tanker W. L. Steed (Id No. 3449) soon interrupted Biesbosch's sojourn at Key West. Bound for France with a petroleum cargo, W. L. Steed ran aground, stranding some 12 miles south of Gun Key, in the Great Bahama Banks. Shortly after midnight on 7 February, a message arrived ordering Biesbosch to the tanker's aid. After leaving the pier at 0300 on 8 February, Biesbosch reached Gun Key at 2212 the same day and dropped anchor. Fortunately, floating off the stranded tanker proved to be a comparatively easy task. W. L. Steed floated free at 1445 on 9 February. Biesbosch then returned to Key West and moored at the Naval Training Station dock at 0715 on the 10th.


On the afternoon of the 13th, Biesbosch departed Key West, bound for the mouth of the Mississippi to assist SS Novian which had run aground near Pilot Town, La. Arriving at Burrwood, La., on the 17th, Biesbosch proceeded upriver, picked up gear needed to extricate Novian from her predicament, and dropped back downstream to Pilot Town.


After assisting Novian, Biesbosch returned to Key West on the 20th, but got underway again at 2230 on the 25th and hurried to Nuevitas, Cuba, to assist the stranded steamer SS Paloma. Biesbosch employed her artificers and divers in this task on 28 February and 1 March, completed her work on the latter date, and then returned to Key West.


The first three weeks of March 1919 passed with little but routine activity on board, but this quiet spell was broken on the 22d by urgent orders to assist SS Oneida which was stranded off Government Cut, near Miami, Fla. Biesbosch got underway immediately and, while en route, received a message to go the the assistance of the steamer SS Boxley, stranded in another area, prompting Biesbosch's response to the effect of "first things first...." However, shortly after noon on 23 March, she found Oneida already afloat and proceeding to Miami under her own power. Biesbosch later received word that her assistance was no long required by Boxley either, so she returned to Key West at 0725 on the 24th and remained in port for the next week. Her next summons came on 31 March--this time to aid the stranded French merchantman SS Boieldieu which had run aground off Tennessee Reef.


Arriving at her destination at 1821 on 31 March, Biesbosch quickly transferred Boieldieu's cargo--167 drums of alcohol and 29 hogsheads of tobacco--to her own holds on 2 April while her craftsmen turned to the job confronting them. Biesbosch refloated the merchantman the next morning and returned to Key West later that same day. After returning Boieldieu's cargo, the salvage ship contributed divers to the search then underway for a man missing after an explosion on board the subchaser SC 205 on 5 April. She then returned to the scene of the salvage of Boieldieu and recovered the gear used in salving her.


Underway from Key West for New York at 0001 on 21 April, Biesbosch moored alongside the salvage tug Resolute (Id. No. 3218) at Staten Island on the 27th. Biesbosch remained at Stapleton, in an upkeep status. She was decommissioned there on 13 May 1919 and was turned over to the United States Shipping Board.


Returned to Hollandsche Algemeene Atlantic Scheepvoorts Maatschapij, Biesbosch resumed operations from her prewar hailing port, Amsterdam. Acquired by a Belgian firm, Cornellie's Shipping Co., of Antwerp, sometime in 1920 or 1921, Biesbosch worked another couple of years before her name disappeared from Lloyd's Register in the 1924 1925 edition.

Robert J. Cressman



3 February 2006