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The USS Helena's role in the attack on Pearl Harbor

USS Helena at Pearl Harbor
Posted at 9:26 AM, Dec 07, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-07 11:26:01-05

HELENA — This year marks the 80th commemoration of the attack on American forces at Pearl Harbor.

2,403 service members and civilians were killed during the attack, 15 were from Montana.

The VFW in East Helena is co-named for Electrician's Mate 3rd Class Jerry Dullum who was aboard the USS Arizona the morning of the attack.

The Montana Military Museum has a detailed exhibit of the attack on Pearl Harbor and more on the role of Montanans during World War II.

100 commissioned warships and service auxiliary ships were present at Pearl Harbor during the attack, including the USS Helena.

The Saint Louis class light cruiser, USS Helena (CL-50), was commissioned in September 1939 at New York Navy Yard, New York.

USS Helena

On the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, the Helena was tied off with the USS Oglala off the Pearl Harbor Navy Yard. In the morning light Japanese pilots mistook the silhouette of the two ships to be the super-dreadnought battleship the USS Pennsylvania (BB-38), a key target for Japanese forces.

Three minutes into the battle a torpedo dropped by a Japanese bomber passed underneath Oglala and exploded against Helena's hull. The explosion tore through the hulls of both ships. The crew of the Helena was able to get power restored to their guns after two minutes and began heavy barrage against Japanese forces. The Oglala was not as fortunate and capsized from the damage received from the first torpedo.

USS Helena

Of the 29 Japanese aircraft downed during the raid, the USS Helena is credited with shooting down six aircraft. 31 crewmen aboard the Helena were killed that day.

America immediately entered WWII after the attack on Pearl Harbor. 57,000 Montanans served in the war; roughly 10 percent of the state's total population at the time. 1,500 would not return home.

After the attack on Pearl Harbor, the USS Helena would be repaired and joined the Guadalcanal Campaign in the summer of 1942. The crew of the Helena rescued survivors from USS Wasp (CV-7) and took part in protecting Henderson Field during the Battle of Cape Esperance in October and the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal in November. After an overhaul, Helena returned to combat in March 1943 providing gunfire support during the landings at New Georgia and Rendova.

During the Battle of Kula Gulf on July 6, 1943, the USS Helena engaged Japanese destroyers and was hit by enemy torpedoes breaking the ship into three parts and sinking her. 168 crewmen were lost.

USS Helena at Pearl Harbor

The remains of the USS Helena were discovered in 2018 by RV Petrel during an expedition in the Solomon Islands.

The Montana Military museum is open on Thursdays from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. and features exhibits from all conflicts Montanans were present in. The museum is completely volunteer-run and anyone interested in donating their time can find more information here.

Editor's note: The information in this article is based upon exhibits and research done by the Montana Military Museum.