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  USS Helena CL-50
USN
St. Louis class
Light Cruiser

13,327 Tons
608'4" / 61'8" / 25'10"
5x3 6"/47
4x2 5"/38
4x4 40mm
20 x 20mm
2 floatplanes
Click For Enlargement
USN 1943

Click For Enlargement
USN July 6, 1943

Ship History
Built at the New York Navy Yard and lanuched on August 27, 1939. Comisssioned on September 18, 1939. Helena was the first ship to receive the Navy Unit Commendation. Her actions in the Battles of Cape Esperance, Guadalcanal, and Kula Gulf were named in the citation. Of the 10 American cruisers lost in World War II, Helena was the second to last lost. The last being USS Indianapolis.

Pearl Harbor
On December 7, 1941 Helena moored at Pearl Harbor in a birth normally assigned to USS Pennsylvania. During the first wave of the Japanes surprise attack, a B5N1 Kate torpedo bomber from Soryu released a torpedo that hit her on the starboard side in the engine room. Afterwards, quick damage control efforts saved the ship from further damage.

Afterwards, repaired and overhauled at Mare Island. Returning to combat, Helena escorted a detachement of US Navy SeaBees and an aircraft carrier from Espriritu Santo to Guadalcanal. On September 12, 1942 helped rescue survivors of USS Wasp CV-7 after being torpedoed.

Rennell Island
She supported movement of transports into Guadalcanal. On October 11, 1942 the Japanese attacked Henderson Field, to bring heavy troop reinforcements during the night. The Japanese fleet closed and by 1810 was less than 100 miles from Savo Island.

During the Battle of Cape Esperance (Second Battle of Savo Island) USS Helena, equipped with radar, was first to contact the enemy and first to open fire at 2346. When firing had ceased in this Battle of Cape Esperance in Iron Bottom Sound, Helena sank Furutaka and destroyer Fubuki.

Helena was next under attack on the night of 20 October 1942 while patrolling between Espriritu Santo and San Cristobal. Several torpedoes exploded near her but she was not hit.

Naval Battle of Guadalcanal
Helena saw the climatic Naval Battle of Guadalcanal from its beginning when she was assigned the job of escorting a supply echelon from Espriritu Santo to Guadalcanal. The ship made rendezvous with the convoy of transports off San Cristobal on November 11, 1942 and escorted them to Guadalcanal. During the afternoon of the 12th a coastwatcher reported: "enemy aircraft approaching." Immediately suspending unloading operations, all ships stood out to form an anti-aircraft disposition. When the attack came, superb maneuvering of the force, and anti-aircraft fire, broke up the first attack but the second damaged two ships. Helena was undamaged. The task group brought down eight planes in the 8 minute action.

As unloading resumed, an increasing stream of reports flowed in from patrolling aircraft. Helena, still steaming with Rear Admiral Daniel Callaghan's Support Group, aided in shepherding the transports away from Guadalcanal, then reversed course back to Iron Bottom Sound.

The night of the 13th Helena's radar first located the enemy. She received only minor damage to her superstructure. The weaker American fleet had achieved the goal at heavy cost. Great valor had turned back the enemy and prevented the heavy attack that would have been disastrous to the Marine troops ashore.

New Georgia Bombardment
Helena was made shore bombardments of Munda and Vila during January 1943, hitting supply concentrations and gun emplacements. Continuing on patrol and escort in support of the Guadalcanal operation through February, one of her float planes shared in the sinking of Japanese submarine RO-102 on February 11, 1943.

After overhaul in Sydney, she was back at Espriritu Santo in March to participate in bombardments of New Georgia, soon to be invaded.

Battle of Kula Gulf
Helena was part of the force escorting the troop transports that landed a force at the Rice Anchorage on New Georgia. Just before midnight on July 4, 1943 Helena moved into Kula Gulf. Shortly after midnight July 5, 1943 she began a shore bombardment to support the landing. By dawn, the force was sucessfully landed and but in the afternoon Japanese reinforcement by the "Tokyo Express" was anticipated and the escort group turned north to meet any incoming vessels.

Sinking History
On July 5, 1943 by midnight the Battle of Kula Gulf began with Helena's group was off the northwest corner of New Georgia including three cruisers and four destroyers. Racing down the slot to face them was three groups of Japanese destroyers, totaling ten destroyers in three group. Four of them peeled off to accomplish their mission of landing troops. By 1:57am Helena began blasting away with a fire so rapidly, the ship was a perfect target from her own gun flashes.

Seven minutes after she opened fire, Helena hit by three torpedoes fired by Japanese destroyers Suzukaze and Tanikaze . Hit by a torpedo within the next three minutes, she was struck by two more. Almost at once she began to jackknife. Below, she was flooding rapidly before she broke up. In the early morning hours of July 6, 1943 the crew abandoned ship. As Helena sank, her bow rose upward and was fired on with many survivors clustered around before sinking into Kula Gulf off Kolombangara Island.

Fates of the Crew
After the sinking, more than 700 crew were rescued. More than 150 were listed as Missing In Action (MIA).

About a half hour after she sank, USS Nicholas (DD-449) and USS Radford (DD-446) came to rescue the surviving crew. At daylight, the enemy was in range and again the destroyers broke off' their rescue operations in anticipation of an enemy aerial attack and withdrew southward bound for Tulagi. Resced were roughly 275 of the survivors. They left four boats manned by volunteers from the destroyers crews to rescue more survivors.

Two other groups of survivors were later rescused. The first was led by Captain C. P. Cecil, Helena's Commanding Officer (C. O.) organized a small flotilla of three motor whaleboats each towing a life raft, carrying 88 men to a small island about seven miles from Rice Anchorage after a laborious all day passage. On July 7, 1943 in the morning this group of survivors was rescued by USS Gwin (DD-433) and USS Woodworth (DD-460).

The second group of nearly 200, clung to the bow of Helena as it slowly sank. The next morning, a PB4Y Liberator dropped life jackets and four lifeboats to the survivors. The wounded were placed aboard the lifeboats, while the able-bodied surround the boats and did their best to propel themselves toward nearby Kolombangara Island. But wind and current carried them further into enemy waters. Through the torturous day that followed, many of the wounded died.

American search planes missed them and Kolombangara Island gradually faded away. Another night passed, and in the morning the island of Vella Lavella was nearby. By dawn, survivors in all three remaining boats made it ashore. Two coastwatchers and loyal natives cared for the survivors as best they could, and radioed news of them to Guadalcanal. The 166 sailors then took to the jungle to evade Japanese patrols.

Surface vessels were chosen for the final rescue including USS Nicholas (DD-449) and USS Radford (DD-446), augmented by USS Jenkins (DD-447) and USS O’Bannon (DD-450) set off: 15 July 1943 to sail further up the Slot than ever before, screening the movement of two destroyer-transports and four other destroyers. During the night of 16 July, the rescue force brought out the 165 Helena men, along with 16 Chinese who had been in hiding on Vella LaVella. Of Helena's nearly 900 men, 168 had died.

Remains Recovered
In 2006, remains were discovered at Ranonga Island with the dog tag of S1C General Preston Douglas. During the middle of September 2006, a team from Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) recovered his remains. On January 26, 2007 he was buried next to his sister.

References
NavSource - USS Helena (CL-50)
Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships - USS Helena (CL-50)

S1C General Preston Douglas
This Damn Navy - Diary of James Claire Noland - July 6, 1943 (Tuesday)
"In the surrounding area, extending in a smear of oil, life rafts, timbers, powder bags, shell cases and other debris for a distance of 10 miles to the NW were total of about 150 men, including those clinging to the Helena. Supposedly about 650 had been rescued the night before. Blown far out of reach of these pitiful oil-covered figures in the water were empty life rafts and a motor whaleboat in good condition. The worst thing was the fact that the wind of 12 kts was blowing survivors and life rafts toward the nearby shoreline of Kolombangara and 10,000 Japs. There is no doubt but that anyone reaching shore would be butchered.
I sent in a message to ComAirSol advising immediate rescue by PBYs with fighter coverage to prevent any of the survivors being blown ashore into Jap hands. (To my knowledge, no PBYs were ever sent.)"

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Last Updated
August 18, 2018

 

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