HELENA – The world is getting a new look at a famous sunken ship from World War II that bears Helena’s name.
In late March, the R/V Petrel, a research vessel owned by Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist Paul Allen, found the wreckage of the USS Helena off the coast of the Solomon Islands. The cruiser is sitting more than a half-mile below the ocean’s surface.
This ship, commissioned in 1939, was the second of four U.S. Navy vessels to be named in honor of Helena. On Dec. 7, 1941, it was damaged by a Japanese torpedo during the attack on Pearl Harbor, but the crew managed to keep it afloat. After being repaired, the USS Helena took part in a number of battles in World War II’s Pacific Theater, including at Guadalcanal.
The ship was eventually sunk on July 6, 1943, during the Battle of Kula Gulf. Most of the crew members were rescued in the hours after, but hundreds more had to survive several days in life rafts and on nearby islands before help could reach them.
168 members of the Helena’s roughly 900-man crew were killed.
Today, the USS Helena name is carried by a U.S. Navy nuclear-powered submarine. Cmdr. Jason Pittman, that boat’s commanding officer, commented on the discovery in a statement.
“USS Helena (CL-50) was an exceptional ship whose impact on the path of the Pacific conflict in World War II cannot be overestimated,” Pittman said. “The crew of the current Helena is proud to carry on CL-50’s legacy of excellence, and we are humbled to know the final resting place of our namesake, and those who were unable to be rescued, has finally been identified. We owe many thanks to Mr. Allen and his team for bringing closure to this chapter in Helena’s storied history.”
Allen’s expedition teams have discovered a number of prominent World War II ships in recent years, such as the USS Indianapolis and the USS Lexington.