History of the USS Helena FG9


First namesake of the Montana city was the light gunboat HELENA. She was built by the Newport News Shipbuilding Company, New Port News, Virginia where her keel was laid 11 October 1894. HELENA was launched 30 January 1896, with Miss Belle Steele, daughter of the mayor of Helena, acting as sponsor. She was placed in commission at the New York Navy Yard 8 July 1897, when commander W.T. Swinburne became her first commanding officer.

HELENA's first assignment was with the North Atlantic Fleet, cruising primarily in home waters. During the Spanish-American War, she stood by in Cuban waters, where she saw action several times. On 2 and 3 July 1898, she exchanged fire with the enemy batteries at Fort Tunas, and on 18 July 1898, she was one of the squadron which closed the port of Manzanillo by sinking or destroying eight small vessels there during a vigorous attack.

The great problem facing the United States at the close of the Spanish-American War was the Philippine Insurrection. It was to aid in the suppression of this rebellion that HELENA sailed from Boston, Massachusetts, 3 November 1898.

Among the actions in which HELENA participated during the Philippine Insurrection, outstanding were the following. On 21 May 1899, she was present at the evacuation of Jolo by the Spanish and the landing of American troops to replace them. During June, she stood by with other vessels in Manila Bay to support the Army during its offensive south of Manila into Cavite Province. On 13 June, one of her landing parties aided the troops ashore in an assault, which carried strong defenses along the Zapote River.

One of HELENA's actions during the Philippine Operation sounds like a World War II episode. On 7 November 1899, she bombarded San Fabian in Lingayen Gulf, and covered the landing of 2500 troops there. Just 45 years later, American troops would once more storm those beaches, while American naval guns barked overhead. Continuing her support of forces ashore in December, HELENA ascended the Cagayan River searching for the advance battalion of the 24th Infantry with which communications had been lost. The battalion was located by a boat party about eighty miles above Aparri.

HELENA remained in the Far East for the rest of her naval service, engaged in protecting American lives and interests. She served in Chinese waters from October 1900 until December 1902 and then returned to the Philippines until March 1903, when she sailed back to the China coast. In December 1904, she once more moored at Cavite in the Philippines, where she was placed out of commission 19 April 1905.

HELENA was recommissioned 16 July 1906, and cruised on the Asiatic Station until June 1907. From that time on, with intervals for overhaul, HELENA served in the Chinese rivers, both with the South China Patrol and the Yangtze Patrol. She was placed in reduced commission 29 June 1929, but continued to serve on the South China Patrol until 27 May 1932, when she was placed out of commission and stricken from the Navy list. She was sold 7 July 1934.

The first HELENA was 250'9" in length, with a beam of 40'11/16". She drew 9', and her main battery consisted of 4-inch rifles. Her secondary armament included four 6-pounders, four 1-pounders, two colts, and one 3-inch rifled field gun.