Cruiser Helena Sank Three Jap Destroyers,
Damaged Three Cruisers Before Going Down
Copy of clippings donated by EUGENE E. LAJEUNESSE MM1C USS Helena CL-50 1941 to 7/43.
By FRANK TREMAINE
Allied Headquarters, South Pacific, July 12----(UP)
The Skipper of the cruiser Helena, which had more fighting in the Pacific than any other American warship, said today that she sank three Japanese destroyers and damaged three cruisers before going down from a torpedo hit.
"It was just like ten pins; they set them up and we knocked 'em down," Capt. Charles P. Cecil, 49, of Louisville, Ky., said, describing the battle of Kula Gulf on the early morning of July 6.
Blinding flashes from the guns of cruisers and destroyers split the blackness, Cecil said.
His crew was keyed for its greatest effort.
"I never saw the Helena put out shells so fast," he said. "The main batteries seemed to be firing even faster than the secondaries."
"We approched the Kula Golf area from the east at high speed, hoping to meet the Japanese surface forces. Our task force commander maneuvered our forces into favorable position to attack. It all happened in the space of a few minutes.
"All of the initial salvoes from the cruisers appeared to have been fired simultaneously---as if a master switch had been pressed. I feel confident that my ship had the hitting range with the first salvo.
"We maintained continuous fire for a brief space of time on the initial target, belived to be a cruiser, until it disappeared. Then we switched to another cruiser and fired several salvoes."
The enemy's light forces closed in then, and the secondary batteries of the American war ships opened up on them.
"Our forces knocked them out one after another as they closed the range" Cecil said, "but at least one succeeded in launching the torpedoes that gave the Helena its fatal blow."
The night was too dark to see the torpedo wakes until too late to escape them.
Cecil did not see the enemy ships explode---"they just seemed to deteriorate and disappear," he said.
He was in the water five hours and on a raft 10 hours before reaching the beach. Salvoes fell among the surivors during the fighting which continued after the Helena went down. The sea was covered with bobbing lights held by survivors.
Cecil said there was no fire aboard the Helena and no confusion.
"Some of our men even went on sight-seeing trips to see what had happened," he said.
Cecil was the last to leave the ship. He wanted to make certain all life rafts had been cleared away.
The Helena's men attracted rescuing destroyers by shouting "hip, hip. hooray!"
Cecil, a veteran of 31 years in the Navy, was the master of the destroyer Porter when she was lost in the battle of Santa Cruise last Oct. 26.
"I guess they've got my number," he said smiling.