The USS Helena wreck has been found lying in its Pacific Ocean grave after being missing nearly 75 years.
The St. Louis-class light cruiser was discovered almost 3,000 feet below the surface of the New Georgia Sound, off the coast of the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific Ocean. The ship was found by Microsoft co-founder and billionaire Paul Allen’s RV Petrel research vessel; the third to be discovered by the team in the past two months.
The Helena sank during the battle of Kula Gulf on July 6, 1943. She was hit by three Japanese torpedoes and went down with the loss of 168 of her roughly 900-man crew.
Under continued enemy fire, groups of survivors drifted to a number of small nearby islands, with some on lifeboats and others clinging desperately to the sides. Some sailors had to wait 10 days before they were rescued, as other U.S. warships were repeatedly told to cancel rescue operations and pursue nearby Japanese ships.
A large group of survivors ended up on the island of Vella Lavella, where locals helped care for the wounded. Many sailors fled into the thick jungle to avoid being spotted by Japanese patrols. After days in hiding, they were eventually rescued by Navy ships. After the battle, the Helena’s crewmembers were praised for their heroism and determination to survive, despite the desperate situation in which they found themselves.
“We do these missions as testament to the brave souls who served on these ships,” said Robert Kraft, Allen’s director of subsea operations. “Each ship has a story that touches families and friends of those who perished or survived. It’s gratifying to hear those stories each time we announce a new discovery.”
The Helena was a witness to the attack that brought the U.S. into World War Two. Moored at Pearl Harbor during the Japanese surprise attack, 34 of her sailors were killed as she took fire from Japanese aircraft. The ship also took part in the Guadalcanal Campaign, which was the first major operation by Allied forces against the Japanese Empire.
The ship is the third American World War Two warship to be discovered in quick succession by Allen’s team. The light cruiser USS Juneau and the aircraft carrier USS Lexington were both discovered in March.
In August 2017, the RV Petrel discovered the wreck of the USS Indianapolis, some 18,000 feet below the Philippine Sea. The warship’s sinking remains the single deadliest in U.S. naval history. Around 400 of the 1,196 sailors and Marines onboard died in the initial attack, when the Indianapolis was hit by two Japanese torpedoes. Hundreds died due to exposure, dehydration and shark attacks during their five-day wait for rescue. Only 317 survived.