(AM–45: dp. 1,009 (f.); l. 187’10”; b. 35’6”; dr. 10’4”; s. 14 k.; cpl. 72; a. 2 mg.; cl. Lapwing)
The first Ortolan (AM–45) was laid down 9 July 1918 by the Staten Island Shipbuilding Co., New York, N. Y.; launched 30 January 1919; sponsored by Miss Theresa M. Finn; and commissioned 17 September 1919, Lt. William A. James in command.
Assigned to the Pacific Fleet, Ortolan got underway for the west coast 10 November 1919. Following stops at east and Gulf coast ports, Puerto Rico, and Cuba, she arrived at San Diego 13 June 1920. Nine days later she sailed north to Bremerton where she remained, with a caretaker crew, until 23 March 1921. Then returning to Southern California, she served as a tug for a year and on 3 May 1922 decommissioned at Mare Island. Recommissioned 11 July, she assumed the duties of tender at the Submarine Base, San Pedro. From 9 June to 25 August 1923 she conducted, as flagship, Commander, Composite Submarine Squadrons Pacific, her first extended cruise, cold weather operations off Alaska. During September she assisted in the salvage of the 7 destroyers wrecked at Pt. Honda, Calif., earlier in the month, then resumed tender operations out of San Pedro. Operating from there until 1927, she ranged the west coast of the Americasfrom Panama to Oregon—and once, January–April 1924, cruised in the Caribbean on fleet maneuvers.
In July of 1927 she steamed west, accompanying Holland (AS–3) and 2 divisions of “S”-boats to Pearl Harbor. The following month she assisted in the search for competitors lost during the “Dole Race”, the first flight linking the west coast and Hawaii. In September she resumed her west coast tender activities and for another two years ranged the eastern Pacific as submarines conducted training exercises.
Redesignated a submarine rescue vessel (ASR–5), 12 September 1929, Ortolan’s mission changed, but, throughout the 1930s, her area of operations continued, with brief exceptions for fleet problems and, in 1936, a 4 month tour at Pearl Harbor, in the California area.
On 10 December 1941, Ortolan sailed west again and on the 21st arrived at Pearl Harbor to assist in the staggering salvage job which was the aftermath of the Japanese attack two weeks earlier. For the next half year she worked on, and finally floated, Oglala (CM–4). On 18 July 1942, she reported for a year’s tour with Pearl Harbor based submarines, recovering torpedoes and assisting in preparations for war patrols. She then trained Navy divers and in October prepared for combat duty with the installation of new sound gear and new armament, 2 3” and 2 20mm. guns.
Heading out across the Pacific, 1 November, she arrived at Espiritu Santo on the 20th. For the next ten days she salvaged needed war supplies from the sunken Army transport President Coolidge. Ortolan then steamed to Tulagi to make temporary repairs on cruisers damaged during the Battle of Tassafaronga. The cruisers sailed 12 days later and Ortalan commenced a busy 2 months during which she assisted vessels, PTs to destroyers and transports, surveyed sunken Japanese and recovered downed “Zeros” for intelligence evaluation.
“Intelligence gathering” extended well into 1943 as Ortolan took on the salvaging of two Japanese submarines, one a 2-man “midget”, the other a 320’ boat loaded with supplies. Both lay in the waters off Guadalcanal’s northern coast. Although frequently interrupted for other, more pressing, salvage or repair jobs, Ortolan raised the “midget” and towed her to Kukum Bay in May, and, in June delivered her to Noumea.
Overhaul at Auckland followed and in October she returned to the Solomons. There, and in the New Hebrides, she continued salvage work into 1944. On 17 January, she departed for Noumea, thence heading east. After abbreviated transport and submarine training duties enroute, she arrived at San Pedro 4 March 1944. At the end of April she reported for duty with the Western Sea Frontier and for the ensuing 18 months operated as escort and torpedo recovery vessel for submarines conducting exercises off California.
Two months after the formal Japanese surrender Ortolan again headed west. She trained Navy divers at Pearl Harbor until April 1946, then got underway for the Far East. Arriving at Tsingtao, China, 18 May, she operated with 7th Fleet submarines and conducted diving operations until November. On the 13th she sailed homeward, arriving at San Francisco, 24 December. Decommissioned 18 March 1947, Ortolan was struck from the Navy List 10 June, and was sold by the Maritime Commission 20 August 1947 to Bay Cities Transportation Co.
Ortolan (ASR–5) earned one battle star during World War II.