USS Zircon (PY-16)

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USS Zircon (PY-16).jpg
USS Zircon (PY-16) during World War II
United States
Name: Zircon
Namesake: Zircon
Builder: The Pusey and Jones Corporation, Wilmington, Delaware
Christened: 20 August 1929
Completed: 1929
Acquired: 9 December 1940
Commissioned: 25 March 1941
Decommissioned: 10 May 1946
Struck: 5 June 1946
Fate: Transferred to Maritime Commission for disposal 17 October 1946; sold by War Shipping Administration, 24 April 1947
Notes: Operated as private yacht Nakhoda, 1929-1940
General characteristics
Type: Armed yacht
Displacement: 1,220 (estimated)
Length: 235 ft 4 in (71.73 m)
Beam: 34 ft 0 in (10.36 m)
Draft: 13 ft 0 in (3.96 m) mean
Speed: 14 knots
Complement: 108

USS Zircon (PY-16) was an armed yacht that served in the United States Navy from 1941 to 1946.


Zircon was built by the Pusey and Jones Corporation at Wilmington, Delaware, in 1929, as the private yacht Nakhoda. The US Navy acquired Nakhoda from automobile body manufacturer Frederick J. Fisher, of Detroit, Michigan, on 9 December 1940, renamed the ship Zircon (in accordance with Navy policy of naming vessels of this class for gems or semi-precious stones), and designated the ship as a patrol yacht PY-16. Zircon was outfitted for naval service at the Brooklyn Navy Yard in Brooklyn, New York, and commissioned on 25 March 1941, with Lieutenant Commander Cornelius Martin Sullivan in command.

Service history[edit]

Though assigned to New London, Connecticut, as an antiaircraft gunnery school ship specializing in machine-gun training for officer trainees, Zircon also conducted inshore patrols and visited ports from New York City to Casco Bay, Maine. Those duties continued until the autumn of 1941, at which time it began making mail and dispatch runs between Portland, Maine, and Argentia, Newfoundland.

In mid-February 1942, Zircon was reassigned to the Eastern Sea Frontier and initially conducted patrols along the coast of New Jersey. Following extensive repairs in June 1942, the converted yacht reported for duty with the Commander, Caribbean Sea Frontier, under whose auspices it escorted convoys between Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and New York City. It steamed back and forth between Cuba and New York City — occasionally calling at some of the islands of the West Indies, notably Trinidad and San Salvador Island — until 1 March 1944. At that juncture, it received a temporary assignment to the United States Coast Guard's weather patrol.

Between March and November 1944, Zircon operated out of Boston, Massachusetts, and plied the waters of the North Atlantic with the weather patrol. However, it continued to participate to some extent in the protection of New York City-Guantanamo Bay convoys and of other mercantile traffic along the North American coast.

On 8 April 1942, Zircon, under the command of Lieutenant Commander Thomas Stephen Dunstan, USNR, picked up sixteen survivors (twelve crew members, one apprentice seaman, and three passengers) of the merchant ship, Otho, which had been torpedoed by the German U-Boat U-754 five days earlier approximately two hundred miles east of Cape Henry, Virginia (36°25′N 72°22′W / 36.417°N 72.367°W / 36.417; -72.367), and transported them to Cape May.

On 11 May 1944, Zircon, under the command of Lieutenant Douglas Cato Bird, USNR, responded to sightings of flames and explosions approximately fourteen miles outside Boston Harbor and immediately navigated toward the USS YF-415, which had been disposing of condemned ammunition from the Hingham Naval Ammunition Depot when the fire and explosions occurred. Zircon crew members John Bell Power, Paul Magera, and Henry John O'Toole, in a twenty-foot running boat, rescued fourteen of the YF-415's thirty crew members from the cold waters, as shrapnel was still flying. One of the rescued sailors died the following day from severe burns. Soundman Third Class John Bell Power received the Navy and Marine Corps Medal for skillfully maneuvering the rescue boat to rescue the surviving crew members.[1]

On 16 November 1944, Zircon reported for duty with the Commander, DD-DE (i.e., destroyer-destroyer escort) Shakedown Task Group. That duty lasted until 7 December 1944, when it was designated relief flagship for the Commander in Chief, U.S. Atlantic Fleet, based at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It served in that capacity through the end of World War II.

In September 1946, Zircon received orders to report to the Commandant, 6th Naval District at Charleston, South Carolina, to prepare for decommissioning and disposal. On 10 May 1946, Zircon was decommissioned at Charleston. Its name was struck from the Navy List on 5 June 1946, and the ship was turned over to the Maritime Commission for disposal on 17 October 1946. It was sold by the War Shipping Administration on 24 April 1947.