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St. Louis class
608'4" / 61'8" / 25'10"
20 x 20mm
USN July 6, 1943
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.
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.
Battle of Guadalcanal
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
Battle of Kula Gulf
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
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.
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