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USS Helena (CL-50) At Pearl Harbor

a large ship in a body of water

The USS Helena (CL-50) is best known as “the fighting ship that went in harm’s way” during the attack on Pearl Harbor.

The USS Helena was completed shortly before World War II, and was damaged in the attack on Pearl Harbor. She participated in several battles in World War II, but was sunk by a surface-fired torpedo at the battle of Kula Gulf in 1943. She was one of three U.S. light cruisers to be sunk during the war.

Learn about the Pearl Harbor history with these photos of the USS Helena (CL-50):

During the attack on Pearl Harbor, the USS Helena was in the berth normally assigned to the USS Pennsylvania battleship. Because of her location in Pearl Harbor, she became a prime target for the Japanese.

USS Helena
View from Pier 1010, looking toward the Navy Yard’s dry docks, USS Nevada burning at right. In the foreground is the capsized Oglala, with Helena further down the pier, at left.

A tremendous explosion partly lifted the ship bodily amidships just forward of gun mount number 3 some three minutes into the Japanese attack. Some 20 men were immediately killed. This attack was from one torpedo bomber which launched a torpedo and hit the Helena on the starboard side, just as the crew raced to battle stations. Several Japanese planes, still loaded with torpedoes, overflew the ship to attack the battleships at Ford Island. Reports are inconsistent that some Japanese pilots aborted their attacks on Helena after realizing she was not the USS Pennsylvania.

USS Helena Pearl Harbor damage

Helena began to flood and a slight list of no more than five degrees was maintained by counter-flooding. Only one of the two engine rooms and one boiler room were flooded. Wiring to the main and secondary gun batteries was severed, but prompt action by damage control brought the forward diesel generator up within minutes, making power available to all gun mounts, for fire fighting and counter-flooding. With attacking planes flying overhead, the crew began to break out the service ammunition, and by 0801 hours the ship began to fight back by sending up anti-aircraft fire.

USS Helena Ship
Helena in the center middle distance listing slightly from a torpedo hit. In the foreground is the capsized minelayer Oglala.

Thirty-four of Helena‍ ’​s sailors were killed and 69 were wounded during the attack at Pearl Harbor.

USS Helena casualties

Helena‍’​s history closes with the almost incredible story of what happened to her men in the hours and days that followed. After being fatally damaged in the Battle of Kula Gulf in 1943, on July 6th, Helena was sinking. Within 30 minutes two destroyers, Nicholas and Radford, were picking up survivors of Helena. While many of the cruiser’s survivors were picked up before morning, many were not saved until 11 days later.

For the 275 survivors who were left behind, all of them found refuge on nearby islands. The ship was later used as a symbol of American resilience.

USS Helena Poster