Saga of Cruiser Helena
A Great Fighting Ship
"Used with permission of the Times Union of Albany, NY"
Copy of clippings donated by EUGENE E. LAJEUNESSE MM1C
USS Helena CL-50 1941 to 7/43.
ALBANY TIMES-UNION, SUNDAY, OCT. 24, 1943
Navy Releases the Story of
Her Brief Hell-Roaring Life
By HAMILTON W. FARON
WASHINGTON, Oct. 23 (AP)----She was "one of the fightingest men O'war that ever scoured the seas."
With that accolade the Navy today told the story of the "brief, hell-roaring life" of the cruiser Helena, sunk in the Battle of Kula Gulf.
She proved her might in 13 fire-filled engagements in which she blasted, helped destroy or damaged 15 Japanese warships.
The Japanese had given her an accolade too. In a propaganda broadcast, the Japanese reported the U.S. Navy had “a new secret weapon---a six-inch machine gun." But it wasn't a machine gun---it was the rapid fire of the Helena's gun crews.
She was in Pearl Harbor when the Japanese struck on December 7, 1941. Her anti-aircraft batteries accounted for at least six enemy planes. The Helena was hit, but repairs were made promptly.
She escorted the aircraft carrier Hornet. She was with the Wasp when that carrier was torpedoed September 15, 1942.
The Helena's first big engagement came shortly thereafter, in the fight battle of Cape Esperance where four Japanese destroyers, four cruisers and a transport were sent down. Just 98 seconds after the battle was joined, the Helena's guns had fired and sunk a Japanese destroyer. Then her big guns swung on a cruiser. Four and a half minutes later the cruiser went down.
A Japanese cruiser and another U.S. cruiser were swapping punches. The Helena moved in, turned her batteries on the enemy and the Japanese cruiser quickly went down.
Then an enemy destroyer sneaked in to fire a torpedo, but the Helena dodged. The destroyer tried to flee----too late. It already had been fired upon by another American ship. The Helena's guns finished the job.
BIGGEST DAY TO COME
The Helena's biggest day came later.
Japanese shore batteries had opened fire on American transports unloading troops at Guadalcanal, and the Helena was ordered to silence them. She did. Then the Japanese sent in bomber and fighter planes. Nine enemy bombers were shot down by American fire, four of them officially credited to the Helena's anti-aircraft batteries.
That night came the Battle of Guadalcanal, a desperate effort by the Japanese to regain control of the Solomons. They failed, turned back crushed and beaten.
The Helena was the first to sight the enemy off Savo island. She held her fire until she had steamed into the enemy fleet. Then a Japanese searchlight found the Helena.
Her main battery, first to fire in the battle, struck with a full salvo on the enemy cruiser from which the searchlight beamed. The enemy burst into flames, lighting the battle area, while American destroyers rushed in to loose their torpedoes. Fire was maintained on the Japanese cruiser. She went down.
MAIN BATTERY SLOWED
The Helena's main battery slowed down. But the secondary hammered a destroyer into the sea.
Six enemy ships sought to flee. The Helena chased them. One was a big cruiser which, it was learned later, had hurled the shells that tore the bridge from the San Francisco, killing Rear admiral Daniel J. Callaghan, task force commander and other officers.
The enemy cruiser was sunk. The Helena's secondary battery got another destroyer. Lighter guns poured shells into the bridge of another Japanese ship.
Still another enemy ship, lined up in the fleeing force, was set afire. The secondary battery got another destroyer.
The Japanese fleet scattered in confusion.
Came the battle of Kula Gulf on July 5-6 when the Japanese lost nine to 11 cruisers and destroyers. The United States lost one - - - - - - - The Helena.
When the action began, the Helena's main battery immediately sank an enemy ship. The secondary downed two destroyers in one-two order.
Both batteries then shifted to new targets and had badly damaged two more ships when enemy destroyers closed in. Their torpedoes crashed into the Helena, and she went down 20 minutes later.
Her men swam through the oil covered water, floating on rafts. By the following morning all but 166 of her survivors had been picked up.
Those still in the water made their way to Vella Lavella. There, aided by friendly natives, they lived in a camp hidden under giant banyan trees.
Japanese troops were on the island, and once a patrol approached close to the Helena's survivors. But natives disposed of the patrol.
Finally communication was established with U. S. naval forces on Tulagi island.
Ten ships made the rescue, steaming through uncharted waters constantly menaced by Japanese shore batteries and enemy warships cruising nearby.
Now, says the Navy, “snatched from the sea and the steaming jap-infested south Pacific jungle, nearly 1,000 men of the Helena today stand fit and ready to fight again.”