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Zuni (AT-95)


The popular name given to a tribe of Pueblo Native Americans indigenous to the area of the Zuni River, in central New Mexico near the Arizona state line.

(AT-95: displacement 1,589 (trial); length 205'0"; beam 38'6"; draft 15'4" (full load); speed 16.5 knots (trial); complement 85; armament 1 3-inch, 4 20 millimeter; class Navajo)

Zuni (AT-95) was laid down on 8 March 1943 at Portland, Oregon, by the Commercial Iron Works; launched on 31 July 1943; sponsored by Mrs. J. J. O'Donnell; and commissioned on 9 October 1943, Lt. Ray E. Chance in command.

Zuni completed shakedown training late in October 1943 and on the 28th reported for duty with the Western Sea Frontier, The following day, she departed Puget Sound, bound for Kodiak, Alaska. On 10 November, she stood out of the harbor at Kodiak with two barges in tow. In extremely heavy weather during the voyage south, the towlines to both barges parted; and Zuni experienced great difficulty in keeping herself afloat. Though she managed to maintain contact with the second barge after it broke loose, she ultimately received orders to abandon it and make for Seattle, Wash.

On 1 December 1943, the tug was reassigned to Service Squadron (ServRon) 2 and departed Seattle that same day with a barge in tow, bound for Oakland, Calif. After repairs at Oakland, the tug, eight marines embarked as passengers, headed west for the New Hebrides on 27 December 1943, in company with four cargo ships and their tows, and arrived in Espiritu Santo at the end of January 1944. Early in February, the tug left Espiritu Santo, set her course for the Territory of  Hawaii, and arrived in Pearl Harbor on 17 February. She performed routine missions at Oahu for about a month, getting underway on 21 March for a round-trip voyage to Canton Island. She returned to Oahu on 9 April towing two barges from Canton Island. On 20 April, now having been nicknamed the "Mighty Z" by her crew, Zuni stood out of Pearl Harbor, pulling three barges bound for Majuro Atoll, and returned to Hawaii on 11 May. On 15 May 1944, she was redesignated ATF-95.

A week later, she began an extended tour of duty in the Central Pacific. Towing the floating dry dock ARD-16, the tug arrived in Kwajalein lagoon on 2 June. Reassigned to ServRon 12, Zuni served as a harbor tug at Kwajalein until mid-July when she again took ARD-16 in tow and got underway for the Mariana Islands. There, she participated briefly in the 24 July assault on Tinian before settling into a routine of shuttle voyages between Eni-wetok and the Marianas. Late in September, she towed ARD-17 to the Palau Islands where, during the first 18 days of October, she provided support services to the combined forces invading Peleliu. At that point, she received urgent orders to rendezvous with Houston (CL-81) after that light cruiser had been damaged by two torpedoes during a Japanese aerial blitz to answer TF 38's raids on Okinawa and Formosa. She relieved Pawnee (ATF-74) of the light cruiser and towed the battered warship into Ulithi lagoon on 27 October, Zuni's Lt. Chance receiving a commendation from Adm. William F. Halsey, Jr., Commander, Third Fleet.

After serving at the anchorage there for five days, the tug returned to sea with a group of oilers. Soon, another set of urgent orders sent her to aid another light cruiser, Reno (CL-96), which had been torpedoed in the Philippines, off the San Bernardino Strait, on 3 November by the Japanese submarine I-41 (Lt. Cmdr. Kondo Fumityake, commanding, who reported the sinking as that of an Essex-class aircraft carrier) Though the cruiser nearly capsized, Zuni's and Reno's ships' companies combined energetically and courageously to meet the threat; and the tug succeeded in towing the cruiser 1,500 miles back to Ulithi. Lt. Cmdr. Kondo received a citation from the Emperor for sinking the "carrier." 

The tug remained in Ulithi for the rest of November 1944 and throughout most of December. During the latter month, she towed the disabled Maritime Commission Liberty-type troop ship John B. Floyd  into Ulithi and conducted a solitary cruise to eastward of the Philippines. On 29 December, Zuni put to sea with TG 30.8, the replenishment group for TF 38, and cruised for almost a month off Luzon. She returned to Ulithi on 28 January for engine repairs.

She moved back out to sea in February and arrived off Iwo Jima three days after the initial assault. For 31 days, she performed yeoman service for the warships in the area. She pulled a transport off a sand bar. She deliberately ran herself aground alongside a disabled LST to help that ship land ammunition. More routine missions consisted of assisting broached landing craft and laying submerged fuel pipes.

Work in the shallows, however, proved as dangerous to her as to others. While attempting to salve the tank landing ship LST-727 on 23 March 1945, she was stranded on Yellow Beach when a broken towline fouled her anchor and propeller. She lost two crewmen in the disaster--MoMM2c James M. Byrnes (who died instantly), and S1c Frederick F. Palcovic (who died of his injuries five days later)--and suffered a broken keel and holed sides. She was pulled off the beach, temporarily repaired, and towed to Saipan. After further temporary repairs, Zuni was towed to Pearl Harbor where she arrived at the end of May. During the more than 14 weeks of repairs she underwent there, World War II ended.

Zuni resumed active duty on 15 September 1945 and served with the Pacific Fleet until early in 1946, when she was transferred to the Atlantic Fleet. She served in the Eighth Naval District until she was decommissioned on 29 June 1946 and transferred to the United States Coast Guard. Her name was stricken from the Navy List on 19 July 1946.

Renamed Tamaroa and given the designation WAT-166, the former Navy tug served in the Coast Guard, being redesignated as WATF-166 in 1956, then a medium endurance cutter, WMEC-166, in 1966. Decommissioned on 1 February 1994, the vessel was acquired by the Zuni Maritime Foundation to be restored.

Sadly, a "major engine room leak and [a] bulkead collapse" in May 2012 resulted in a termination of those efforts, leading to the Zuni Foundation turning over the title to the ship to the American Marine Group, Norfolk, Va., and to enter into negotiations into Zuni/Tamaroa being sunk intentionally to serve as an artificial reef and diving site. Five years later, in May 2017, the well-traveled tug was sunk off the New Jersey--Delaware coast.

Zuni earned four battle stars for her World War II service.

Raymond A. Mann

Updated, Robert J. Cressman

20 March 2024

Published: Thu Mar 21 13:23:51 EDT 2024