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Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships CL-50 HELENA
The second HELENA (CL-50), was launched 27 August 1939 
by the New York Navy Yard; sponsored by Miss Elinor Carlyle 
Gudger, granddaughter of Senator Thomas J. Welch of Montana; 
and commissioned 18 September 1939, Captain Max B. Demott in 

	HELENA, assigned to the Pacific Fleet, was at Pearl 
Harbor on 7 December 1941, when the Japanese attacked.  She 
was moored at 1010 Dock Navy Yard on the east side of the 
harbor, outboard was minesweeper OGLALA (CM-4).  By chance, 
HELENA was in the berth normally assigned to PENNSYLVANIA 
(BB-38) and thus became a prime target for the Japanese 

	Within 3 minutes of the time the first bomb of the 
attack fell on Ford Island, a lone torpedo plane launched a 
torpedo that passed under OGLALA and hit HELENA on the 
starboard side almost amidships, just as the crew raced to 
battle stations.  One engine room and one boiler room were 
flooded.  Wiring to the main and 5-inch batteries was 
severed, but prompt action brought the forward diesel 
generator up within 2 minutes, making power available to all 
mounts.  Immediately, they sent up a heavy fire that keep 
her free of further damage.  Outstanding damage control 
work, and the fact that watertight integrity was promptly 
insured by the closing of the doors and hatches throughout 
the ship, kept HELENA afloat.  Many times later she gave the 
Japanese occasion to regret their failure to sink her that 
first day of the war.

	After preliminary overhaul at Pearl Harbor, HELENA 
steamed to Mare Island Navy Yard for permanent repairs.  In 
1942, she sailed to enter action, escorting a detachment of 
SeaBees and an aircraft carrier rushing planes to the South 
Pacific.  She made two quick dashes from Espiritu Santo to 
Guadalcanal, where the long and bloody battle for the island 
was then beginning, and having completed these missions, 
joined the Task Force formed around WASP (CV-7).

	This Task Force steamed in distant support of six 
transports carrying Marine reinforcements to Guadalcanal.  
On 15 September 1942, in mid-afternoon, WASP was suddenly 
hit by three Japanese torpedoes.  Almost at once, she became 
an inferno.  HELENA, her guns blazing, stood by to rescue 
nearly 400 of WASP's officers and men, whom she took to 
Espiritu Santo.

	HELENA's next action was near Rennell Island, again in 
support of a movement of transports into Guadalcanal.  Air 
attacks from Henderson Field had slowed down the Tokyo 
Express for several days, so on 11 October 1942 the Japanese 
poured everything they could deliver against the airstrip, 
hoping to neutralize air operations long enough to bring 
heavy troop reinforcements during the night.  The Japanese 
fleet closed and by 1810 was less than 100 miles from Savo 

	HELENA, equipped with superior 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 had sunk cruiser FURUTAKA and destroyer 

	HELENA was next under attack on the night of 20 
October, while patrolling between Espiritu Santo and San 
Cristobal.  Several torpedoes exploded near her but she was 
not hit.

	HELENA saw the climatic Naval Battle of Guadalcanal 
from its beginning when she was assigned the job of 
escorting a supply echelon from Espiritu Santo to 
Guadalcanal.  The ship made rendezvous with the convoy of 
transports off San Cristobal 11 November and brought it 
safely into Guadalcanal.  During the afternoon of 12 
November, word came from a coast watcher "enemy aircraft 
approaching."  Immediately suspending unloading operation, 
all ships stood out to form an antiaircraft disposition.  
When the attack came, superb maneuvering of the force, and 
its own antiaircraft fire, broke up the first attack but the 
second damaged two ships.  HELENA came through without a 
scratch, and the task group brought down eight enemy planes 
in the 8-minute action.

	As unloading resumed, an increasing stream of reports 
flowed in from patrolling aircraft.  Ominously, the Japanese 
forces sighted contained no transports, and their intention 
was thus read as one of being pure offense.  HELENA, still 
steaming with Rear Admiral Daniel Callaghan's Support Group, 
aided in shepherding the transports away from Guadalcanal, 
then reversed course to fateful "Ironbottom Sound."  The 
night of Friday, 13 November, HELENA's radar first located 
the enemy.  In the action that followed, the tropical night 
was lit again and again by the flashes of her big guns.  She 
received only minor damage to her superstructure during the 
action.  Daylight found a tragic scene in the grisly slot.  
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.

	HELENA found a measure of revenge when she was assigned 
to the several bombardments of Japanese positions on New 
Georgia during January 1943.  Her guns rocked the enemy at 
Munda and Vila Stanmore, leveling vital supply 
concentrations and gun emplacements.  Continuing on patrol 
and escort in support of the bitter Guadalcanal operation 
through February, one of her float planes shared in the 
sinking of Japanese submarine RO-102, 11 February 1943.  
After overhaul in Sydney, Australia, she was back at 
Espiritu Santo in March to participate in bombardments of 
New Georgia, soon to be invaded.  The first goal on New 
Georgia proper, was Rice Anchorage.  In the force escorting 
the transports carrying the initial landing parties, HELENA 
moved into Kula Gulf just before midnight 4 July, and 
shortly after midnight on the 5th, her big guns opened up in 
her last shore bombardment.

	The landing of troops was completed successfully by 
dawn, but in the afternoon of 5 July, word came that the 
Tokyo Express was ready to roar down once more and the 
escort group turned north to meet it.  By midnight 5 July, 
HELENA's group was off the northwest corner of New Georgia, 
three cruisers and four destroyers composing the group.  
Racing down to face them were three groups of Japanese 
destroyers, a total of ten enemy ships.  Four of them peeled 
off to accomplish their mission of landing troops.  By 0157, 
HELENA began blasting away with a fire so rapid and intense 
that the Japanese later announced in all solemnity that she 
must have been armed with 6-inch machine guns.  Ironically, 
HELENA made a perfect target when lit by the flashes of her 
own guns.  Seven minutes after she opened fire, she was hit 
by a torpedo; within the next 3 minutes, she was struck by 
two more.  Almost at once, she began to jackknife.  Below, 
she was flooding rapidly even before she broke up.  In a 
well-drilled manner, HELENA's men went over the side.

	HELENA's history closes with the almost incredible 
story of what happened to her men in the hours and days that 
followed.  When her bow rose into the air after the sinking, 
many of them clustered around it, only to be fired on there.  
About a half hour after she sank, two American destroyers 
came to the rescue.

	At daylight, the enemy was in range once more, and 
again the destroyers NICHOLAS (DD-449) and RADFORD (DD-446), 
broke off their rescue operations to pursue.  Anticipating 
an air attack, the destroyers withdrew for Tulagi, carrying 
with them all but about 275 of the survivors.  To those who 
remained they left four boats, manned by volunteers from the 
destroyers' crews.  Captain C. P. Cecil, HELENA's commanding 
officer, organized a small flotilla of three motor 
whaleboats, each towing a liferaft, carrying 88 men to a 
small island about 7 miles from Rice Anchorage after a 
laborious all-day passage.  This group was rescued the next 
morning by GWIN (DD-433) and WOODWORTH (DD-460).

	For the second group of nearly 200, the bow of HELENA 
was their liferaft, but it was slowly sinking.  Disaster was 
staved off by a Navy Liberator that dropped lifejackets and 
four rubber lifeboats.  The wounded were placed aboard the 
lifeboats, while the able-bodied surround the boats and did 
their best to propel themselves toward nearby Kolombaranga.  
But wind and current carried them ever further into enemy 
waters.  Through the torturous day that followed, many of 
the wounded died.  American search planes missed the tragic 
little fleet, and Kolombaranga gradually faded away to 
leeward.  Another night passed, and in the morning the 
island of Vella Lavella loomed ahead.  It seemed the last 
chance for HELENA's men and so they headed for it.  By dawn, 
survivors in all three remaining boats observed land a mile 
distant and all who were left were safely landed.  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 

	Surface vessels were chosen for the final rescue, 
NICHOLAS and RADFORD, augmented by JENKINS  (DD-447) and 
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 
the island.  Of HELENA's nearly 900 men, 168 had perished.

	HELENA was the first ship to receive the Navy Unit 
Commendation.  Her actions in the Battles of Cape Esperance, 
Guadalcanal, and Kula Gulf were named in the citation.  
HELENA also earned the Asiatic-Pacific Area Campaign medal 
with seven stars.


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