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Thurston County Connection
Thurston County Connection
March, 2014
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 Olympia's Mothball Fleet.

From the archives:

Once upon a time, the view of Olympia’s waterfront was dominated by The Reserve Fleet; more than 100 ships of World War Two (WWII), were stationed in Budd Inlet from 1946-1972. Some of the ships were removed and used in the Korean War, the Suez Crisis, and the Vietnam War. They were also used for a more peaceful purpose as storehouses for wheat in the fifties. The following is excerpted from the June 27, 1972 Daily Olympian, chronicling the last days of the Mothball Fleet.

That's All There Is
by Jack Laughlin


The storied ships are gone. The phase-out is final. And for 14 of the last 17 Maritime Administration employees at the Budd Inlet graveyard for the ghost ships of three wars, retirement will be their next tour of duty. Among those will be Carl H. C. Johnson, superintendent at the Reserve Fleet installation since April, 1956, and a veteran of 34 years in the Navy and Maritime Administration combined.

When he directs activities at the 2 p.m. closing out ceremonies tomorrow at the Fleet's headquarters, it will be with a mind filled with the memories of 310 ships of the fleet which have come and gone (some several times) during the Reserve Fleet's life at Gull Harbor.

Olympia's Reserve Fleet was born in March, 1946, and was designated as a storage area for ships of all sizes, ages and uses ... warships, landing craft, Victory ships, Liberty ships, carriers, tankers, and patrol boats. Many of the craft were propelled during the Fleet's early years right into the storage area under their own power. Later, it became the practice to tow the ghosts of the fleet to Gull Harbor from Seattle or Bremerton. After their hooks were dropped in the Budd Inlet storage area, Supt. Johnson's crews took over. It was their job to preserve the ships and keep them seaworthy. "We tried to maintain them in a condition equal to that which existed when they arrived," he said.

In some ships, they de-humidified the interior of the craft—sucking out all the moisture and leaving a vacuum-vessel afloat, dry and ready for immediate restoration. In other cases, they preserved the craft by spraying, painting, flooding and dipping the entire vessel with a contact coating designed to resist the onslaught of salt-water corrosion.

Johnson recalls that numbers of merchantmen of World War II vintage were pressed into service during the Vietnam conflict to serve as supply vessels hauling the necessities of life to Uncle Sam's DEW line (Distant Early Warning) defenders in the Arctic. Still other merchantmen were used as storage places for wheat during the bumper crops of the late 1950s. A shortage of shoreside elevators and storage facilities for grain had developed and the Reserve Fleet was pressed into service.

What happens after Friday's transfer to the General Services Administration? "That's all there is," said Johnson.

By Keith Eisner

LSTs were part of the mothball fleet. LSTs were part of the mothball fleet.