The following story was provided by Tim Dumler, son of Herman. It also appeared in the Chicago Tribune in the Fall of 1943.
Herman A. Dumler
HIGHLIGHTS OF THE U.S.S. HELENA (CL 50)
Sunk at Kula Gulf 6 July 1943
Sunk at Kula Gulf 6 July 1943
The ship was born in Brooklyn Navy Yard and commissioned on September 19, 1939 and proudly sailed out of the yard under her own power. She made several trial runs up to Rockland, Maine and also a shakedown cruise to South America where she stayed for over a month.
Then after a short cruise of patrol duty and gunnery assignment on the Atlantic Ocean, she finally received her orders to proceed to the west coast via Panama and later join the Hawaiian detachment. There she sailed proudly and was remarkably accurate with her guns. She won many honors in this period of time.
Month after month we cruised and prepared for what we thought would be war in a far distant future. But then that day came when the Japs struck at Pearl Harbor, and naturally we were unfortunate enough to be hit by a torpedo which was launched from a Japanese torpedo plane. All in all we shot down 14 enemy planes that day and lost 38 men. She made a beautiful account of herself. We were considered to have been the first heavy ship to open fire on the enemy and also first to have shot down an enemy plane.
So in the first part of January of 1942 we sailed under our own power back to the United States for repairs. This took nearly eight months all in all, and then she was back in fighting trim.
We were all anxious to get back in the fight to avenge the boys that were lost at Pearl Harbor. So on the 21st of July 1942 we sailed out of Frisco Harbor under sealed orders to an unknown destination. We later arrived at Espiritus Santos, an advance naval base for the Solomon Island campaign. We laid around there for a few days, then proceeded to escort our carriers to Guadalcanal to supply the Marines with planes to defend Henderson Air Field there.
Most of our time after that was spent patrolling the enemy waters in that area. Many a night we had no idea whether we were alive or dead, for we felt so exhausted from lack of sleep and continuous watches at the anti aircraft guns.
Then the Wasp was torpedoed one bright morning. A couple of Jap subs sneaked in and laid a few fish into her side. We picked up the survivors and transfered them to Noumea, New Caledonia. Later we returned to the fighting front once again.
We had plenty of patrol duty and covering other forces that were landing troops on Guadalcanal and Tulagi Harbor at that time. The worst was the torpedo attacks we always received from Japanese submarines, but they never seemed to hit us. I saw several of our ships get damaged that way.
Finally one night after several attempts to intercept Jap forces entering Guadalcanal, our instruments picked up a group of seven army ships proceeding toward Guadalcanal at thirty knots, and we received orders to intercept and destroy them. They were just about five miles from us and still we kept coming in closer. The range when we finally opened on them was 3000 yards, which is about a mile and a half. This is considered point blank range. The force we were with consisted of four cruisers and three destroyers. We sank every enemy ship that came in and only one of our ships was damaged by enemy shell fire (U.S.S. Boise). We left Guadalcanal at about five in the morning and proceeded back to our base. We encountered several torpedo attacks by Jap subs but were not damaged.
After this we did some more patrolling in enemy waters in the Solomon Islands and kept a sharp eye out for trouble.
On the evening of November the 12th we started out for the islands again to bombard the coast line along the shores of Guadalcanal where our troops were advancing and making a beach head. We cleared a large area with six inch fire and destroyed several fuel tanks, ammunition dumps and enemy troop concentrations. Later in the afternoon we were attacked by twenty-nine torpedo planes which were shot down by our forces.
On the morning of the 13th around one o'clock, we encountered a large enemy force consisting of three battle ships, many cruisers, and several large destroyers and vanguards who were trying to run in several transports to give support to their troops attempting to recapture Henderson Field. This group consisted of a total of twenty-six ships in all.
Our force was, of course, much smaller (approximately 12 ships). We attacked them at close range and there was plenty of firing going on all around us. Several of our ships were sunk that night, but the loss was negligible compared with theirs. The battle continued throughout the next day and night, when another force came down and tried to give support to the enemy, but they too were destroyed. The score finally counted up to twenty-six enemy ships lost, sunk or destroyed and our losses were very light (two light cruisers anti-aircraft type, four destroyers, and one heavy cruiser slightly damaged). Our ship received two hits with bombardment ammunition which caused very little damage. Only one man was killed during this action aboard our ship.
The next few months were spent on repairs, general overhaul and rest. In January we went up to Munda Airport in the New Georgia group and bombarded this area. We started several large fires and destroyed many of the enemy's aircraft. There were no losses on our part whatsoever. We made several runs up there every month and put out many tons of ammunition on enemy installations, destroying camp areas, houses and any other military objective that was in sight.
Later we bombarded Kolombangara and area, destroying anti-aircraft guns and buildings, soldiers' fuel tanks and ammunition dumps. One night we even mined the entrance to their harbor and reports said that the following day the Japs attempted to bring in several cargo ships and troop transports, but were blown up by our mine field.
After a while, bombardments were more or less of a routine matter to us. After a bombardment, we would make a speed run down to Guadalcanal and refuel, at which time we usually had an air raid from the Japs. Our last time there, they sent 98 planes to get us, and we received word that they were coming down, so we fueled and left before they ever arrived. The tanker we fueled from was hit by a bomb and set aflame while we made a dash for a rain squall so the bombers could not find us. Over fifty of their planes were shot down by the fighter planes at Guadalcanal and by anti-aircraft fire.
We underwent several air raids but to no avail, for the Japs didn't have an eye for accuracy or nerve for low level bombing which would have brought them within our anti-aircraft range. So we never suffered from their attacks.
On July the 3rd we again started out for the slot, as we called it, for it was a very narrow strait running between the islands of the New Georgia group. We were making landings on Rendova Island in the coming week so it was our job to bombard the area and clear the path for the Marines to land. We came in on the morning of July 5th and shelled the hell out of the enemy shoreline at Rendova and were followed up by the landing of the Marines.
Later we left and patrolled outside of the bay area just in case some of the Japs had any idea of stopping us from landing troops.
We patrolled all day and the following night and were told that if we didn't sight any targets by two a.m. in the morning we were to return to our base. At about one minute past two, we picked up nine enemy targets (four cruisers and five destroyers) and there were also several transports that came up later.
So we took a range on them and opened fire. The last word I heard was that our fire was very effective and several of the targets were sinking. Then came the word that several enemy destroyers came in and were firing torpedoes at us.
We made a turn to avoid them, but to no avail for there were too many to dodge. Two torpedoes hit us in the bow of the ship, blowing the bow and the number one turret off.
We were still doing ten knots after this happened when the next two hit us amidships and stopped all engines. The ship started to settle in the water and we abandoned ship.
We got several life rafts off before the ship went down and tried to keep clear of the sinking ships. Vella Lavelia Island was only about a mile from where we were floating in the water, so we tried not to land there, for we knew that it was held by the Japs. After about three hours in the water, we were picked up by destroyers and started after another Jap cruiser and destroyer that were trying to sneak out of the harbor. Both of them sank by shell and torpedo fire from two American destroyers that picked up the survivors.
We left that area about seven o'clock in the morning and hurried for Guadalcanal for we knew that the Japs would send a large force of aircraft down to try and destroy us. But the admiral asked for air coverage from Henderson Field and in the morning, we saw many flights of our bombers go over us. They later sank several Jap transports still in the harbor. We arrived at Tulagi in the afternoon and were transferred to cruisers for further passage to an advanced base. We finally got all the oil and salt water out of our system and changed into clean clothes and had a welcomed meal. We had not eaten a meal for nearly 30 hours and most of us were suffering from exhaustion for the previous days.
Took us two days to get back to Espiritus Santos during which time we buried a few of our dead at sea.
Upon arrival at Santos, we were sent to the receiving base and the Red Cross gave us enough clothes to get by on. We were housed in tents for the next two weeks and really rested up.
We received a medical inspection and were paid and on July the 22nd all the petty officers were put aboard an army transport and sent back to the good ole United States. This voyage took about 22 days. When we sighted the Golden Gate Bridge, we really let out a cheer that could be heard around the world, for it was the first time we had seen this beautiful sight for thirteen months.
They transferred us from the transport to the receiving station at Treasure Island in San Francisco and outfitted us with clothes and gave us our first liberty in thirteen months.
After 72 hours of freedom, we were given 30 days leave and assigned to new ships and stations. From here on in, I don't know what will happen.
Herman A. Dumler, Rmlc, Age 24
Herman A. Dumler Military Awards
Navy Unit Commendation