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NavSource Online: Service Ship Photo Archive

US Navy Salvage Operations in the Mediterranean

Courtesy Pete Kocourek


US Navy Salvage Divers during World War 2 were drawn from various rates and given specialized training in diving and salvage operations. There was no Diver Rate per se; it was an added specialty.

At the outbreak of war on Dec. 7, 1941, the Navy School of Diving & Salvage (NSDS) was located at the Washington Navy Yard. An incident that happened at New York City's Pier 88 in 1942 gave birth to a second Navy Diving School. The French liner Normandy burned and capsized at her berth. This afforded an opportunity for a school to be established which could provide "on the job training". The US Navy Training School (Salvage) NYC trained divers until it was moved to Bayonne, NJ in 1946.


Salvage operations were extensive throughout the entire theater. In addition to battle damage inflicted upon allied warships and merchantmen on the high seas, the USAAF and German Luftwaffe sent countless numbers of vessels to the bottom of harbors and channels. In addition, retreating German and Italian forces scuttled large numbers of vessels to deny advancing allies the use of captured ports. These events often resulted in more tonnage beneath the waves than above them. It was up to US Navy Salvage Divers to get the ball rolling again.


Navy Salvage was a decentralized command organized into small units that were assigned to tenders, salvage vessels and assorted auxiliaries. These units would then receive orders to proceed to various places where they were needed. Most units stayed together for long periods.

In the Mediterranean there were salvage hot spots on the North coast of Africa, around Anzio and Naples and on the South Coast of France. The Azores served as a base of repair for combat units receiving damage in the open Atlantic.


Navy salvors ashore lived more like Seabees than ocean-going sailors. Since they were often somewhere just after, even during, a battle it was not unusual for them to see prisoners being marched off and experience air raids.

Although casualties due to hostile action were not high, the work itself was dangerous. When not at sea, divers were often billeted ashore since salvage vessels offered little in the way of accommodations.

Salvors ashore were issued side-arms and often looked more like infantry than sailors. There was very little ceremony, even for war time. No one wanted to know if they could do a proper bag layout or drill. What the brass did want was to get sunk vessels refloated or moved out of the way as soon as possible.

Since many salvage divers were also experienced welders, salvage units were often called on to assist in making temporary repairs at sea or in port to vessels damaged in battle.


Much of the equipment associated with free diving was non-existent then. Unless it was for the purpose of a brief assessment, all diving was done with a full weighted suit and lines.

Time below was logged and except for extreme emergencies never exceeded prescribed limits. A tired diver is a dangerous diver. Working below almost always included a great deal of underwater burning and every diver needed to be proficient with a cutting torch.

Topside equipment included all the various types of air compressors and deck gear then commonly used for salvage operations. When major harbor projects were undertaken, salvors would build or commandeer structures ashore and set-up various work shops. Time was of the essence and there was always more work to be done than salvage divers to do it.

US Navy Salvage Divers in Europe during World War II.
Photos by Frank Kocourek, ME1, USN Salvage Diver, USS Weight 1943-45.
Courtesy Pete Kocourek

All photo captions are as originally penned by Mr. Kocourek

North Africa

Security North African style
OK buddy - lemme see some ID
If it floats we can use it
Don't laugh so hard pal - you're next
Not exactly the Orient Express
Another one you won't find in Jane's


USN Officers - Anzio
Important Stop (see jeep hood)
Weight Weight
Sailors Check-Out German "88" - Anzio
German POWs - Anzio
German POWs - Anzio

Southern France

Navy Salvage on the move - French Med. Coast
Behind the wheel
Unidentified Free French sub
Winning the war with a torch

Scenes of Salvage work done on USS Fogg (DE-57) by
USS Weight (ARS-35) Divers

Torpedoed USS Fogg DE-57 and Abnaki ATF-98
Salvage crew leaving to assist USS Fogg
Torpedoed USS Fogg gets a new stern. Horta, Azores '45

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