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
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.
Helena was at Pearl Harbor when it was attacked December 7, 1941, in
a birth normally assigned to USS Pennsylvania. Hit by a
torpedo on starboard side, quick damaged control and return
fire saved the ship from further damage. Afterwards, it
was overhauled at Mare Island for repairs, then entred combat.
First, she escorted a detachement of US Navy SeaBees and an aircraft carrier from Espriritu
Santo to Guadalcanal, then joined task force AV-7 around the USS
Wasp, helping to rescue her survivors.
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.
exploded near her but she was not hit.
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.
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
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
In the force escorting the transports carrying
the landing parties at Rice Anchorage on New Georgia. Helena moved into Kula Gulf just before
midnight 4 July, and shortly after midnight on the 5th, her big guns
up in her last shore bombardment. The landing of troops was completed
successfully by dawn, but in the afternoon of July 5, 1943, the Tokyo Express was anticipated and the escort group turned north to meet
Participated in the Battle of Kula Gulf, by midnight on July 5, 1943, 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 enemy vessels. Four of them peeled off to accomplish
their mission of landing troops. By 0157 Helena began blasting away
a fire so rapidly, the ship was a perfect target from her own gun flashes.
Seven minutes after she opened fire, Helena was torpedoed
and sunk by IJN destroyers Suzukaze and Tanikaze off Kolombangara. Hit by a torpedo
within the next 3 minutes, she was struck by two more. Almost at once
she began to jackknife. Below, she was flooding rapidly even before
broke up, sinking in the early morning hours of July 6, 1943.
In a well drilled manner, Helena's men abandoned ship. Her
bow rose into
the air while sinking and was fired on, with many survivors clustered around.
Fates of the Crew
About a half hour after she sank, USS
Nicholas (DD 449) and USS Radford (DD 446) came to rescue the crew. At daylight, the enemy was in range
and again the destroyers
broke off' their rescue
operations in anticipation of an air attack and
withdrew for Tulagi, carrying with them all but about 275 of the survivors. They left four boats manned by volunteers from
crews to rescue more survivors.
Captain C. P. Cecil, Helena's commanding officer, 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. This group was rescued the next
morning by USS Gwin (DD-433) and USS Woodworth (DD-460).
The second group
of nearly 200, clung to the bow of Helena, but it was slowly
sinking. Luckily, a PB4Y Liberator
that 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.
But wind and current carried them further into enemy waters.
Through the torturous day that followed, many of the wounded died.
search planes missed them and Kolombaranga 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.
Rescue of Survivors
vessels were chosen for the final rescue, Nicholas and Radford, augmented
by Jenkins (DD-447) and O’Bannon (DD-460) 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.
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
nearly 900 men, 168 had died.
In 2006, remains were discovered at Ranonga Island with the dog tag of Seaman 1st Class, General Preston Douglas. In mid-September 2006, a team from JPAC recovered his remains. On January 26, 2007 he was buried next to his sister.
Are you a relative or associated with any person mentioned?
Do you have photos or additional information to add?
May 22, 2017