USS Helena (CL-50)

USS Helena (CL-50)

USS Helena (CL-50) was a Brooklyn class light cruiser that was present during the attack on Pearl Harbor and fought off Guadalcanal before being sunk at the battle of Kula Gulf in July 1943.

The Helena was launched in August 1939 and commissioned on 18 September 1939. She was assigned to the Pacific Fleet. She was at Pearl Harbor when the Japanese attacked, and was moored in the Navy Yard Dock, in the position normally taken by the battleship Pennsylvania. She was hit by a torpedo that passed under the minesweeper Oglala, moored outboard of the Helena. The torpedo hit amidships on the starboard side, flooding one engine room and one boiler room. Electrical power to the main guns and 5in guns was cut, but this was restored within 2 minutes. She was thus able to keep up an anti-aircraft barrage that probably helped avoid further damage.

Enough damage had been done to force the Helena back to Mare Island for repairs. She was ready for action in time to take part in the campaign on Guadalcanal. In September 1942 she formed part of the Task Force based around the carrier USS Wasp (CV-7), which was then providing distant escort for a convoy carrying reinforcements to Guadalcanal. On 15 September the Wasp was hit by Japanese torpedoes, and caught fire. The Helena rescued 400 of her men, but the Wasp was lost.

The Helena returned to the fighting around Guadalcanal. She took part in the battle of Cape Esperance (11-12 October 1942), triggered by a Japanese attempt to get reinforcements onto Guadalcanal. During the battle the Helena helped sink the Japanese cruiser Furataka and the destroyer Fubuki.

Between the major battles the Helena was the target of Japanese torpedoes on 20 October 1942, although was undamaged. She also took part in a shore bombardment of Koli Point on 4 November.

The Helena took part in the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal (13-15 November 1942). She was part of the escort of an American convoy that arrived on Guadalcanal on 12 November. Her force survived a Japanese air attack unscathed during the unloading period. This was the first stage in a major Japanese attack, The idea was to land reinforcements on Guadalcanal. Japanese battleships would bombard the US positions, and the army would then launch a major attack. On the night of 12-13 November the Helena thus found herself in the path of the powerful Japanese bombardment force. That night the US force of two 8in, one 6in, one 5in cruisers and eight destroyers, faced two Japanese battleships, supported by a light cruiser and fourteen destroyers. During this fighting most of the American cruisers suffered heavy damage, the Atlanta had to be scuttled and the Juneau was sunk by a Japanese submarine soon aftwards. The Japanese lost the destroyer Akatsuki and the battleship Hiei was so badly damaged that she couldn't escape from US air attack. On 14 November she was scuttled by her crew, making her the first Japanese battleship to be lost during the Second World War.

In January 1943 the Helena took part in a series of shore bombardments of New Georgia. She hit targets at Munda and Vila Stanmore.

On 11 February 1943 one of her float planes took part in operations that ended with the sinking of the Japanese submarine RO-120 (or possibly I-18). She then returned to New Georgia in March to take part in the pre-invasion bombardments.

On the afternoon of 5 July the Americans discovered the Tokyo Express was at sea, and the Helena's squadron of three cruisers and four destroyers were sent to intercept the Japanese. This triggered the battle of Kula Gulf (5-6 July 1943). The Helenaopened fire as the Japanese attempted to rush reinforcements onto New Georgia. She opened fire at 1.57am, but seven minutes later she was hit by the first of three torpedoes. She sank very quickly, but her crew's ordeal wasn't yet over. They were now in the middle of a battle. Two destroyers (USS Nicholas DD-449 and USS Radford DD-446) began to rescue the survivors but had to withdraw at dawn. Around 275 survivors were left behind, with four boats from the destroyers. 80 of the survivors, led by the Helena's captain (C. P. Cecil), led this small flotilla to safety on a nearby island.

The remaining 200 men were trapped on the Helena's bow, which had remained afloat. It soon began to sink, but just in time a Navy Liberator dropped four lifeboats and lifejackets. The worst wounded were placed in the boats, and the rest of the group attempted to push them towards Kolombaranga. Sadly the winds and local currents foiled their efforts, and the survivors were stuck at sea for a day and a night. Eventually they reached Vella Lavella. 165 sailors had survived the sea voyage, but they were now on an enemy occupied island. Coastwatchers and loyal islanders helped protect them, and a sizable naval force was sent to rescue them. the destroyers USS Nicholas, USS Radford, USS Jenkins (DD-447) and USS O'Bannon (DD-450) covered two destroyer-transports and four destroyers, and on 16 July they rescued the survivors and sixteen Chinese refugees. 168 of the Helena's 900 crew were lost in the attack.

After her loss the Helena was the first ship to receive the Navy Unit Commendation. She was also awarded the Asiatic-Pacific Area Campaign medal and seven stars.

Displacement (standard)


Displacement (loaded)


Top Speed



10,000nm at 15kts

Armour – belt

5in on 0.625in STS

- deck


- barbettes


- turrets

6.5in face
2in roof
1.25in side and rear

- conning tower

2.25in roof


608ft 4in


Fifteen 6in/47 guns (five triple turrets)
Eight 5in/25 guns (/38 on St Louis, Helena) (eight single positions)
Eight 0.5in guns
Four aircraft

Crew complement


Laid down

9 December 1936


27 August 1938


18 September 1939


6 July 1943


This section lists the names and designations that the ship had during its lifetime. The list is in chronological order.

    St. Louis Class Light Cruiser
    Keel Laid 9 December 1936 - Launched 27 August 1938

Naval Covers

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USS Helena at War

Once she was fully repaired, Helena took part in the Guadalcanal Campaign and the Battle of Cape Esperance before she was sunk at the Battle of Kula Gulf. Despite rescue attempts, 168 of her 900 men were killed. Many of those who survived the initial sinking spent upwards of 10 days waiting for rescue as several United States vessels, including the USS Gwin (DD-433), USS Nicholas (DD-449), and USS Woodworth (DD-460) moved in to provide assistance. Unfortunately, many men couldn’t hold out and were lost to the sea.

For her service, the USS Helena was the first vessel to be awarded the Navy Unit Commendation. A memorial dedicated to the sunken light cruiser was erected in Helena, MT. According to Petrel’s director of subsea operations Robert Kraft, Helena likely won’t be their final discovery. “We do these missions as testament to the brave souls who served on these ships,” Kraft explained, adding, “Each ship has a story that touches families and friends of those who perished and survived.”

Pearl Harbor Attack, USS Helena (CL-50)

From: The Commanding Officer.
To: The Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Pacific Fleet..

Subject: Brief Report of the Japanese Attack of December 7, 1941.

Reference: (a) Your restricted dispatch 102102 of December.

Enclosure: (A) Copy of C.O. announcement to officers and crew by general announcing system, dated December 11, 1941. [not included]
(B) Helena Mailgram140115 of December 1941.
(C) Medical Officer's Casualty List. [not included]

The following brief report of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, is submitted in compliance with reference (a). Considerable study has been made of this attack in an endeavor to eliminate conflicting impressions, and arrive at concrete conclusions, particularly with reference to times, numbers and types of planes, damage inflicted to the enemy, punishment received, etc. Statements have been collected from all key men and officers. Heads of Departments have surveyed these reports, and, from these and their own observations, have submitted a correlated report representing their own department conclusions to the Commanding Officer. This report is based on the Commanding Officer's own observations and conclusions after a review of the reports submitted by Department Heads. Evidently any report submitted at this time will have to be augmented as a further and more complete study is made.
Offensive Measures Taken.
Planes were observed over Ford Island at about 0757. These were recognized as Japanese planes when at an altitude of about 4000 feet. The Officer of the Deck as promptly notified by C.A. FLOOD, S.M.1c, on watch on the signal bridge. This man has had recent duty on the Asiatic Station, and identified the character of the planes immediately. Ensign W.W. Jones, U.S.N., Officer of the Deck, without delay, turned on the general alarm and passed word over the general announcing system, "Japanese planes bombing Ford Island, Man all battle stations, break out service ammunition". (This time is fairly accurately fixed by the signalman in charge of watch, C.A. Flood, who was standing by the "Prep" signal for 0800 colors. It is confirmed by the Engineering log and also by H.F. Korloch, C.T.C., U.S.N., who had just relieved as gangway Security Watch also by Ensign J.J. Armstrong, U.S.N.R., and Ensign W.W. Jones, U.S.N., who were in the process of relieving as O.O.D.). Helena guns were in action about 0801.
Ammunition was expended approximately as follows: Five inch 375 rounds 1.1"/75 3000 rounds .50 caliber 5000 rounds.
Enclosure B outlines attacks, phases, and results.
Damage inflicted on the enemy. As outlined in Enclosure B.
Own losses and damage.
Direct Hit. One torpedo observed to be fired by a torpedo plane flying low over the southern tip of Ford Island was fired at the Helena at a range of about 500 yards. This torpedo was fired about one minute after general quarters had been sounded, and about one and one-half minutes after the Japanese planes were sighted over Ford Island. Our crew were running for their general quarters stations. This accounted for a large loss of personnel by flash burns from the explosion and from concussion in passageways. No guns were yet in action and therefore no opposition to the Japanese plane. The torpedo struck with a violent explosion on the starboard side at approximately frame 75 about 18 feet below the water line.
Near Hits by bombs. About four near misses from bombs received from which there were a few fatal casualties and many minor injuries to personnel.
One strafing attack from which little damage was received. This was due to the very early period of the engagement in which the attack occurred. This attack was delivered just prior to the torpedo hit noted above, and was about the time general quarters were being sounded (0757), and for this reason the men had not reached their exposed machine gun stations on the top side.
The damage received, and measures taken to meet it is listed by departments as follows:

The major damage affecting the Gunnery installations were to fire control and power wiring to both main battery and 5" anti-aircraft battery. The major portion of wiring passing through the engineering spaces flooded as a result of torpedo hit are now unserviceable. Auxiliary power sources are available, and in general only auxiliary fire control circuits are available. Minor material damage was inflicted by bomb splinters and machine gun bullets.
The initial torpedo hit put out of commission the turbo generator then in use. Prompt action by the Engineers in starting and cutting in the forward Diesel generator made power available to all gun mounts within one or two minutes. Considerable difficulty was experienced in attempts to maintain fire control circuits during and subsequent to the action. On four occasions electrical fires resulted in the Plotting Room and on another occasion in the forward distribution room. These fires were quickly and efficiently put out. During periods of actual firing power was always available at the mounts.
Most casualties to personnel were caused by flash burns from the torpedo explosion. Other casualties inflicted during the attack included:
Two men (trainer and number one loader) on mount I of the 1.1"/75 suffered powder burns from the blasts of the 5" Mount I.

Two men (the pointer and one loader) of Mount I of the 1.1"/75 suffered injuries, the pointer from powder burns from the blast of No. II 5" Mount, the loader, a flesh wound in the arm by bomb splinter.

On Mount III of the 1.1"/75 the trainer was killed by bomb splinter. The second loader suffered wound in shoulder from machine gun bullet, the gunner's mate suffered minor wound on face under left eye from glancing machine gun bullet.

On Mount IV of the 1.1"/75, the gunner's mate received minor wounds upon arm, nose, and chest from bomb splinters.

Bomb splinters from near miss on starboard quarter inflicted casualties as follows to men in vicinity of .50 caliber machine guns aft: One gunners' mate second class killed, two seaman first class wounded, one officer (Ensign P.V. Thompson, USN) wounded.

Damage sustained:

Compartments flooded due to torpedo hit at approximately frame 75 starboard side below the armor belt.
Boiler room Boiler room B-1-1
Boiler operating space B-2
Boiler room B-3-1
Boiler room B-4
Port shaft alley

Fuel tanks flooded by torpedo hit at approximately frame 75 starboard side below armor belt.
Diesel Fuel Tank B-935-F
Reserve Feed Tanks

Fuel oil seepage and fire hazard on third deck causing securing of compartments frames 61-82

B-306-L Optical Workshop.
Ice Machine Room.
Machine Ship
Engineers' Office
Electrical Workshop.
Ship Store.
Provision Issue Room.
Barber Shop.

Paint Locker A-203-1A ? Shock ruptured many cans of paint causing fire hazard. Paint locker is secured until adequate cleaning has been completed.
Smoke Screen Generator ? frame 150 ? Shock weakened foundation and carried away air supply lines.

Sick Bay Area ? frames 39-49 third deck ? Flooded to depth of about 6 inches with water due to open drains and settling of the ship and lack of sufficient firemain pressure on eductors of forward drains. This was corrected after the action.

Distortion of midsection of the ship.
Indications show force of explosion forced third deck up in the vicinity of frame 75.
When docking, indications show keel forced down one foot in vicinity of frame 75.

Services to forward part of the ship (bow to frame 61) ruptured in forward fire room:
Fire main.
High pressure air.
Drainage main.
Ventilation power.
Frame 61 ? Plotting Room ? leakage via armored cables.

Frame 61 ? Distribution Forward ? leakage via armored cables.

Frame 82 ? Boiler room B-5-1 ? Starboard lower corner showed buckled plates but not ruptured. Only leakage through #1 shaft gland and one pipe flange.

Numerous shrapnel and missile holes throughout the structure above the water line on the starboard side.
Shock and blast carried away many fittings, light bulkheads and deck lockers.

Action taken:
Flooded compartments, boiler rooms and fire rooms
? bulkhead 61 in the Plotting Room was shored.
? bulkhead 82 in boiler room B-5-1 was shored.
All hatches and watertight doors closed to flooded areas.
Services forward:
Jumper hose connection over flooded spaces provided fire main pressure forward.
Jumper power leads over flooded spaces provided ventilation forward.
Sick Bay Area ? drains closed and plugged ? flooded area closed. Battle Dressing Station Forward moved to Wardroom.
Isolated third deck area ? frames 61 to 82 ? because of fire hazard. Oil seepage extended throughout third deck in this area to about 4 inches. This was relieved by removal from the ship of fuel oil forward and aft, and by removing ammunition, thus decreasing the draft.
Damage Control ? General Comment:
The personnel of the C&R Department report that upon hearing of the bombing of Ford Island they proceeded to their general quarters stations and set condition afirm as soon as possible. The time required for setting condition afirm was 8 minutes, approximately.
The torpedo hit placed out of commission power and fire main pressure. Also apparently started fires on the third deck. The fire was the explosion blast venting from the engine room via engine room hatch, passage B-306-L, and hatches 81 port and starboard to the second deck. The remainder of the blast was vented via the boiler rooms and stack uptakes.

Repair parties entered passage B-306-L putting out small burning particles. There was no general fire. The flooded compartments were isolated and bulkheads were shored.

Repair parties assisted the wounded and the battle dressing stations in whatever manner requested.

The men attempted to hook up the fire main to the dock but were stopped because of the second attack. Later, they were unable to locate plugs on the dock.

Gas Masks and protective clothing were issued to the crew as soon as possible.

Power and fire main jumpers were placed. Compartments were patrolled and void soundings taken continuously. The fire main was out of use about 17 minutes.

Repair I assisted in sending 1.1" and .50 caliber ammunition to forward guns from forward whip hoist.

In general the personnel of the repair parties conducted themselves in an exemplary manner, being extremely versatile in carrying out their own duties and assisting in whatever manner they could other activities. The highest praise belongs to each and every one for a duty well done.

Damage repaired during and after action.
Fire main forward of after boiler rooms. This was partially restored by Repairs III and I running jumpers between risers 3 and 6. Firemain pressure was restored to ice machines on Monday, December 8, by running a jumper direct to this machine.
Main Drain: The after section from #3 Fireroom throughout the after part of the ship was restored by closing the after out-out valve in the forward engineroom by its remote control from the 2nd deck. Unfortunately, while the forward room was flooding, and before the cutout valve was closed, the bilge suction in the port shaft alley, being either partially or fully open ? this cannot be determined ? allowed this room to flood. later, however, when the situation in #3 fireroom (flooding, through the gland of #1 shaft) was brought under control, the port shaft alley was pumped and restored. It was necessary throughout the period the Forward engineroom was flooded to keep #3 Fire and Bilge pump on the bilges of #3 Fireroom.
Electric Power and Lighting served by #2 Distribution Board: As #2 Distribution Board was blown out by the torpedo explosion all its power and lighting outlets went dead. jumpers were run by the Electrical Division to restore essential circuits.
Damage that can and must be repaired to make vessel seaworthy
Remove propellers from #1 and #4 shafts. (To enable vessel to proceed with #2 and #3 shafts without drag.) Propellers are not damaged.
Restore evaporator plant. This requires supply of auxiliary steam for air ejectors and exhaust steam for heat. The electric power has been temporarily restored by cutting in on #1 Distribution Board.
Restore main drain throughout ship. Damaged in #1 engine room.
Restore fire main. Damaged in #1 engine room and possibly in #2 boiler room.
Port auxiliary steam line. (This may not be damaged, however.)
Auxiliary exhaust line through forward engine room.
High pressure air line through forward engine room.
Leads from #2 Distribution Board and all electric leads running on starboard side of #1 engine room are destroyed. It is essential that as many as possible be restored to enable 5" and 6" battery to be fired in the designed manner.
Sound-power telephone circuits 2JZ, 2JV, 3JV. Temporary leads may be used to restore these circuits.
Damage that will require an extended period to repair.
All machinery in #1 engine room.
All machinery in #1 Boiler Operating space. (Salt water immersion damage.)
All boilers in #1 and #2 Boiler Rooms. (Salt water immersion damage). The extent of damage to #3 boiler may be larger than merely salt water immersion damage due to its position relative to the torpedo hit.
#2 Distribution Board and #2 generator, and electrical leads to and therefrom.
Main steam and other steam and fresh water drain piping.
All reserve feed bottoms and fuel-oil tanks on starboard side and bottom. Some port side tanks may be damaged, the exact status unknown at this time.
Distinguished Conduct of Personnel.
Every man and officer observed on this ship conducted himself in a meritorious and exemplary manner. All were cool, determined, resourceful, vigorous and individually and collectively conducted themselves with no hint of confusion or hysteria and with no thought of danger to themselves. To point out distinguished conduct would require naming every person I observed. The following quoted report of one Gunnery Division Officer is indicative of all:
"Subject: Distinguished action, report of.

1. Because every man of the 5th Division did his duty I feel it impossible to mention or commend any single person without a resulting injustice to the others. But in fairness it seems nothing but proper to commend GREENWALD, R.D., Sea1c, U.S. Navy who died at his station as trainer during the action. Other commendations must include the entire roll call of the crew for the 5th Division.

Respect, submitted,

The functioning of all engineering personnel in reestablishing electric and steam power, repair of damaged systems to prevent further damage, the securing of machinery to prevent fire, the rescue of injured personnel was in accordance with the high standards of the United States Navy. Not a single instance of faltering on any task as noted on the other hand, many men performed tasks other than their regular ones with skill and despatch.
Had not a single order been issued ? and very few had to be, in fact, ? it is believed that every job would have been carried out by someone who saw the need for the task. This reveals the intelligent discipline that is standard throughout the ship. The orders that were necessary to issue were those that required timing, and they were carried out fully, quickly, and well.

The Forward Boiler personnel on watch proved to be a typical example of American courage and discipline. An explosion blew out a fuel tank behind the steaming boiler the personnel knew not what it was but proceeded to put to rights a distorted situation in the dark with guns firing, water pouring through a bulkhead, and super-heater temperature alarms and horns blowing due to short circuits. With all this they continued their work of securing the fireroom with water up to their chests before abandoning. After abandoning the room they dogged down the hatches and reported to the Repair III party for further duties.

Enclosure (A) represent the opinion of the Commanding Officer at this time. it is anticipated that a supplementary letter will be forwarded giving specific instances of heroism after opportunity is offered to make a full and concise study in detail. Recommendations at this time would be premature and would result in injustice to many whose individual acts have not yet been uncovered.
Other Items of Interest.
The Commanding Officer was on board, and was on the bridge within 2-3 minutes from the arrival of Japanese planes. Most of the damage done to all ships was during the first few minutes of the attack and before any offensive action was offered. Once gun opposition was in full swing, Japanese planes were noted to turn away from gun fire, or keep at a respectable altitude. It was noted on this ship that subsequent bombs dropped at the ship were off the bow or quarter, and not throughout the midship section where the 1.1" battery and 5"/38 battery were belching forth a continuous stream of fire. It was also noted that planes headed directly toward the Helena turned from her fire and diverted the attack to the Downes, Cassin, and Shaw in drydock. On another occasion Japanese planes were noted to try and wiggle out of Helena fire and dropped their bombs wildly off the starboard bow, during the same wave that bombed the Nevada as she was rounding 1010 pier on her way out.
(1) The importance of protective clothing against flash burns was forcefully demonstrated.
(2) There is no reluctance of personnel to the use of steel helmets since they have once been under fire.
(3) The vicinity of the signal bridge and pilot house is untenable during full action of all A.A. batteries. 4. (4) The present location and arrangement of the sky control station is almost untenable during full action of all A.A. batteries.
(5) Splinter protection must be provided for exposed personnel.
(6) Present location of sky lookouts is unsuitable. They must be centrally located in immediate vicinity of sky control officer.
(7) All hands now have a high respect for the 1.1"/75 battery even though our installation as yet has no directors or power control and even the cooling water must be pumped by hand.
(8) No time was wasted in waiting or going for magazine keys.
The locks were immediately broken on all magazines, ready locker, and clipping rooms necessary for immediate ammunition supply. Service ammunition was already at every gun (including turret guns) within the few minutes required for the Gunnery Officer to slip on a few clothes and reach his control station.
(9) Ammunition was broken out and delivered to other ships and stations during and immediately after the engagement as follows: to U.S.S. California 25000 rounds of .50 cal. (about 5000 rounds already belted and belting links furnished for remainder) to U.S.S. California (later) one .50 Cal. belting machine to U.S.S. Cachalot 1000 .50 Cal. metallic belt links to U.S. Naval Air Station, 14 Naval District, 15000 rounds of .30 Cal. and 10000 rounds of .45 Cal. the guns on top of adjoining buildings in Navy Yard several thousand rounds of either .50 caliber to .30 caliber.
(10) During the early part of the action men were requested by the Oglala to assist them in servicing their forward gun. Three men went and assisted until the vessel sank at which time they jumped into the water and swam back to Helena and continued their duties on board this vessel. Likewise two men were requested and sent on board to handle their lines aft. These also later swam back to the ship.
(11) The individual initiative and adaptability of our men was truly amazing. In very numerous instances men were assigned duties and tasks for which they had no previous instruction or training and they performed them like veterans.
(12) On one occasion the Mount Captain of a 5" mount requested the officers and men of the Oglala please clear the Bridge because he desired to fire through it. This was done.

The Torpedo explosion occurred about one minute after General Quarters was sounded men were, therefore, on their way to Battle Stations. Many did not arrive some were killed, and some were injured. No. 3 boiler was auxiliary boiler, the forward engineroom being used as auxiliary engineroom, the #2 generator as auxiliary generator. When the torpedo hit the engine room all light and power went off the ship. The men continued through the darkness to their stations. They stand-by diesel watch, machinist mate and electrician's mate, started #1 diesel and had it on the line within one minute. The bus-tie from Boards 1 and 3 to Board 2 tripped automatically so power was restored to #1, 3, and 4 boards by this generator. The crew of the after diesel (#2 diesel) started their engine within another 2 minutes and the electric plant "split" so that #1 engine was serving its board, and #2 serving boards 3 and 4. This action was taken to prevent loss of power aft due to fact that bus-tie connections between the #1 and the 3 and 4 boards ran through the damaged, flooded engine room. This action on the part of the electrical and diesel personnel was in accordance with doctrine established in the past.
As steam power was entirely lost on the ship after the torpedo hit, means had to be taken to light off the after boilers and establish auxiliaries there. The most important auxiliary, of course, being the Fire and Flushing pump to restore fire main pressure. The After Boiler personnel had no lights due to a relay on a lighting panel having tripped due to the explosion. Using hand emergency lanterns they could find no sprayer plates in the boiler space. Chief watertender Westbrook waded through about two feet of oil, and through the pungent smoke of the explosion that still lingered in the sealed-up, non-ventilated spaces of the third deck to the Boiler Cleaning Station in the Ice Machine room to obtain a supply. These he delivered to the After Boiler personnel who then lighted off #6 boiler using natural ventilation. As the explosion had thrown #1 shaft out of position wrecking the shaft coupling in #3 fireroom and distorting the stuffing gland between the flooded engineroom, the firing of #6 boiler and the water level rise under the boiler resolved itself into a race against time. The M Division Officer had opened all auxiliary stops between boiler #6 and the after engineroom. When the boiler pressure reached 50 PSI he cut in the Fire and Flushing pump to supply the fire main. A short while later he started a Fire and Bilge pump on the main drain to keep #3 fireroom bilge water level below the boiler. Boilers 5, 7 and 8, were meanwhile, being drained down to steaming level, and when drained, were lighted off.

While the after boilers were being readied for steaming, the Forward Boiler Operating personnel were securing #3 boiler and the Boiler Operating Space machinery.

Ensign Westphal, the B Division Officer, and chief watertender Westbrook, were on their station in time to take charge of the securing of the room. Before the room was secured, they were up to their chests in water. Westbrook observed the time they abandoned the room as exactly 0800. Water and oil were almost to the third deck level in #2 fireroom by this time.

Forced draft blowers in the after boiler rooms were running about 0830, and as steam pressure was raised to 500 PSI steps were taken to get main machinery ready to get underway. #3 generator was warmed up and, after considerable difficulty, was put on the line. Feed water was getting low, and only bottoms B-954-W and 955-W were found to be good. As these ran dry, make-up feed water was taken from the dock.

The after engineroom machinery was tested out, engines 2 and 3 rolled 6 times in each direction, and then the Engineer Officer went to the Bridge to report condition of readiness, which was, to run at 10 knots for about 5 hours, at the end of which time feed water would have been expended. He recommended that the ship not get underway.

Most of the casualties consisted of flash burns from high explosive and occurred chiefly in the following compartments: B-305-2L, B-306L, B-203-2L and B-204-1L. Other casualties occurred in the forward boiler room operating spaces, firerooms No. 1 and No. 2 and in the forward engineroom where the torpedo struck. Six wounds were caused by splinters and machine gun strafing, two of which were fatal. Two fractured bones were treated. Of the 100 casualties received 50 injured were transferred to the Naval Hospital, 26 were killed outright and sent to the morgue, and 21 retained on board under treatment. Subsequently 5 hospital cases have died bringing the total dead to date to 31. Civilian workmen on the pier assisted in evacuating the injured.
Settling of the ship caused flooding of sick bay by water backing up through the drains of the isolation ward shower, venereal treatment room and sick bay head. These were plugged and the forward dressing station was transferred to the Wardroom.
The Helena was moored at 1010 pier, berth two, port side to dock, heading 210 true, with the Oglala secured to the starboard side. The Oglala was later shifted to a vacant berth astern of the Helena (about 0850).

[Mailgram reformatted with punctuation, lower case, etc. for readibility]

From: Commanding Officer, USS Helena Date 14 DEC 1941
To: CinCPac Plain
Mailed at Pearl Harbor, T.H.

Air attack December seven in three general phase periods. Times approximate.

First phase 0757 to 0820. Second phase 0900 to 0940. Third phase 1105 to 1115.

First phase: dive bombers about 12000 feet, diving from southerly direction toward Ford Island and battleships west side of south channel about twelve to fifteen planes. Followed almost immediately by torpedo planes in section of three attacking battleships and cruisers, and by other group of about ten dive bombers attacking Pennsylvania, dry docks, and cruisers east of south channel, from south westerly direction. Followed shortly by two groups of horizontal bombers one group about twelve planes in tight vee of vee at 15000 feet, course about 020 true formation opened out when AA burst close observed to release bombs which fell in ragged pattern in south channel and vicinity of battleships west of south channel. Other group horizontal bombers, course about 070 true, 14000 feet, passed over Helena bomb drops not observed.

Observed light bombers and at least one fighter strafing during torpedo attacks second phase consisted two general attacks by dive and glide bombers. First attack came from about 170 true from Helena at least three groups, five each, rather steep dive--about 60 degree, in single file heading directly for Helena. At about 4000 feet, leader, followed by about four, changed to his left and headed for Nevada, then near floating dry dock. Then about five continued toward Helena and four very near misses observed by Helena, one on dock abreast bridge, two close on starboard bow, and one close on starboard quarter. Remainder believed to have attacked Pennsylvania, destroyers, and Nevada. Second attack about ten glide bombing from direction about 110 degrees true, dive angle thirty to forty degrees, five in very loose vee toward Helena, of which none reached release point for Helena. Two veered to left smoking, and fell one near hospital, one beyond hospital one veered to his right and disappeared in direction about 060 degrees true two veered to left and attacked with remaining planes on Pennsylvania, destroyers, and particularly Nevada, on which at least two hits observed. During this period, one lone torpedo plane flying parallel this vessel and headed directly for dry dock caisson, under fire this vessel, exploded and disintegrated in air on starboard quarter. Also during this period, group of planes observed to bomb battleships across channel, approaching from direction mountains to north.

Third phase: one group about six or eight horizontal bombers passed over Helena, course about north 15000 feet no bomb drops observed. About same time, two or three light bombers, 1000 to 2000 feet, in direction of port quarter. One of latter fired on by after 1.1" and machine guns. Within few minutes, group of planes crossed from port quarter to starboard quarter at considerable distance fired on by our 5" for few rounds out of range identified as our Army P40 and ceased fire no apparent results.

Seven planes on which this vessel fired believed destroyed as follows:

First phase -- one torpedo plane crossing stern after crossing to west of Argonne, part fuselage blown off, caught fire and fell to north in channel before dropping torpedo. Phase two -- one torpedo plane headed toward caisson mentioned above. Two dive bombers of first attack observed on fire one fell near water tower Ford Island, other far side Ford Island or possibly channel beyond. Two glide bombers in second attack, as mentioned above, and one plane passing along starboard side heading about toward Shaw or Nevada burst in flames when abeam and fell in direction slightly to right of Pennsylvania and well beyond.


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Paul Allen’s hunt for historic shipwrecks scores another WWII find: the USS Helena

The “50” painted on the hull helped identify the shipwreck as the USS Helena, which was sunk during World War II. The inset image shows the ship’s sonar signature. (Paul G. Allen Photo)

Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s seagoing sleuths are reporting one more find in their quest to locate sunken military vessels from World War II.

This time it’s the USS Helena, a St. Louis-class light cruiser that was hit during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 but went on to meritorious service in three Pacific naval battles. Its service was so meritorious that the Helena became the first U.S. ship to receive a Navy Unit Commendation.

The cruiser’s action at Pearl Harbor was something of an anomaly, brought about because the Helena was docked in a berth that was supposed to be occupied by the battleship Pennsylvania. The USS Pennsylvania was high on the target list for Japanese pilots, but it was in dry dock instead of its usual spot.

A torpedo attack killed scores of sailors aboard the Helena, but the crew’s quick action saved the day, and the Helena was repaired to fight on.

One of the Helena’s guns juts out from a side turret. (Paul G. Allen Photo) This view shows where the Helena’s stern section ends, just forward of the 5-inch side gun turrets. (Paul G. Allen Photo) Coral covers the Helena’s aft gun director. (Paul G. Allen Photo) A plate inside the gun director is nearly completely encrusted. (Paul G. Allen Photo) Undersea life has taken over the Helena’s port side turret. (Paul G. Allen Photo) The Helena’s forward triple turret. (Paul G. Allen Photo)

The cruiser played key roles in the Battle of Guadalcanal (1942), the Battle of Cape Esperance (1942) and the Battle of Kula Gulf (1943). It was during that last battle that the ship was sunk by three Japanese torpedoes, after its blazing guns revealed its location to enemy vessels.

One of the most gripping chapters in the Helena’s saga came after its sinking.

“As various rescue efforts got under way over the course of 10 days, amazing stories of sailor toughness unfolded in which 732 of the 900 crew survived the sinking and were ultimately rescued,” Dave Werner, a spokesman for the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Fleet, said today in a news release..

With Allen’s support, the 250-foot research vessel Petrel has been making the rounds in the South Pacific in search of historic shipwrecks. Late last month, the Petrel’s crew identified the Helena resting on the floor of the New Georgia Sound off the coast of the Solomon Islands, at a depth of 2,800 feet (860 meters).

The discovery was hailed by the skipper of another vessel bearing the Helena’s name.

“USS Helena (CL-50) was an exceptional ship whose impact on the path of the Pacific conflict in WWII cannot be overestimated,” said Cmdr. Jason Pittman, commanding officer of the submarine Helena. “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-led expeditions have also resulted in the discovery of USS Juneau (March 2018), USS Lexington (March 2018), USS Indianapolis (August 2017), USS Ward (November 2017), USS Astoria (February 2015), the Japanese battleship Musashi (March 2015) and the Italian WWII destroyer Artigliere (March 2017). His team was also responsible for retrieving the ship’s bell from the HMS Hood for presentation to the British Navy.

“We do these missions as testament to the brave souls who served on these ships,” Robert Kraft, director of subsea operations for Paul Allen, said in today’s news release. “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.”

USS Helena (CL-50) - History

The Helena (SSN 725) is a 37th Los Angeles-class nuclear attack submarine and the fourth United States Ship to bear the name of the capital city of the state of Montana. Her keel was laid down on September 16, 1984, at General Dynamics Corporation, Electric Boat Division in Groton, Connecticut. She was christened and launched on June 28, 1986 and was commissioned on July 11, 1987 Cmdr. Thomas Moore is the first commanding officer.

USS Helena completed a rigorous shakedown schedule following commissioning, then returned to Electric Boat shipyard on January 5, 1988, for a seven-month Post Shakedown Availability (PSA). The sub transaited through the Panama Canal on Sept. 15 en route to its homeport of Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

September ?, 1989 The Helena departed Naval Station Pearl Harbor for its maiden six-month western Pacific deployment.

In Summer 1990, USS Helena participated in Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercise and later conducted an Operational Test Launch (OTL) of the newly developed Tomahawk Land Attack Missile (TLAM). In the first half of 1991, the ship completed two back to back northern Pacific operations and MK50 Advanced Lightweight Torpedo Testing.

February ?, 1992 USS Helena departed homeport for a scheduled western Pacific deployment.

In 1993, the Helena was the first U.S. submarine to serve in direct support of an Amphibious Readiness Group&rsquos deployment certification, as preparations for her Arabian Gulf deployment in October 1993, as part of the USS Independence (CV 62) Battle Group. Returned to Pearl Harbor in April 1994. In May she participated in RIMPAC '94 and conducted Prospective Commanding Officer (PCO) operations. Completed Selected Restricted Availability (SRA) at Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard in late 1994.

June ?, 1995 USS Helena departed Pearl Harbor for a six-month western Pacific deployment.

April ?, 1997 SSN 725 departed homeport for its fifth major deployment and an inter-fleet transfer to Kittery, Maine.

February 26, 1998 The Los Angeles-class attack submarine entered the dry-dock at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard for a 12-month Depot Modernization Period (DMP). The work included the replacement of Reactor Coolant pumps, installation of a completely new Fire Control and Sonar systems, in addition to installation of a microprocessor based reactor plant instrumentation.

April 23, 1999 USS Helena arrived in its new homeport of Naval Submarine Base Point Loma in San Diego, Calif., after a four-week transit from Kittery, Maine. Port calls to Port Canaveral, Fla., and Naval Station Roosevelt Roads, Puerto Rico.

From October through November 1999, USS Helena was underway in the northern Pacific and was awarded a citation from the Secretary of the Navy (SECNAV) for the highly successful prosecution of Russian Oscar II guided-missile submarine.

June 26, 2000 USS Helena departed San Diego for a scheduled western Pacific deployment.

In September, SSN 725 participated in a multi-national submarine rescue exercise Pacific Reach 2000, with the Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force (JMSDF), Republic of Korea Navy, and Republic of Singapore Navy. Returned home in December after a port calls to Yokosuka, Japan Chinhae, ROK Sasebo, Japan Apra Harbor, Guam and Singapore.

In the early 2001, the Helena conducted local training operations and services in the SOCAL Op. Area. In April and May, she underwent an intensive upkeep period during which the BQQ-10 ARCI Phase III Sonar System was installed.

In June, USS Helena was underway in the eastern Pacific and made a brief stop to Astoria, Oregon.

From July through October, the Los Angeles-class submarine conducted local operation and also participated in a Joint Fleet Training Exercise (JFTEX).

From March through May 2002, the Helena conducted highly successful Under-Ice exercises and assisted in the training of the USS Kitty Hawk (CV 63) Battle Group. Port calls to Guam Yokosuka, Japan and Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

From June through August, SSN 725 completed installations of a completely new Fire Control system and upgrades to communications equipment. Underway for extensive acoustic testing at the Southeast Alaska Acoustic Measurement Facility (SEAFAC) in Behm Canal off Ketchikan, Alaska, in early 2003.

December ?, USS Helena returned to San Diego after a six-month western Pacific deployment. She participated in various exercises with U.S. assets and allied countries, including a multi-national exercise with Australia. Port calls to Chinhae, ROK Yokosuka, Japan Brisbane, Australia Apra Harbor, Guam and Saipan.

In March 2004, the Helena was underway in support of Chief of Naval Operation (CNO) project in the northern Pacific and a port call to Bangor, Wash.

In 2005, the Helena participated in Tactical Readiness Support (TRS) and Tactical Weapons Proficiency (TWP) with the USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) CSG and supported the USS Abraham Lincoln CSG's Composite Training Unit Exercise (COMPTUEX).

September 18, USS Helena returned to Naval Base Point Loma after a six-month deployment in the U.S. 7th Fleet AoR. Port calls to Apra Harbor, Guam Singapore Sasebo, Japan and Yoksuka, Japan.

January 10, 2006 SSN 725 entered the Navy&rsquos only floating dry-dock, USS Arco (ARDM 5), at Naval Base Point Loma, for a Selected Restricted Availability (SRA).

May 16, 2007 Commodore of Submarine Squadron 11, Capt. Paul N. Jaenichen, relieved the CO Cmdr. William A. Schwalm, due to a "loss of confidence in his ability to command." Cmdr. Daryl L. Caudle assumed the temporary command of the Helena.

December 14, SSN 725 is currently conducting a submarine familiarization in the Pacific Ocean, as part of the USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) CSG.

January 30, 2008 USS Helena departed homeport for a western Pacific deployment.

February 24, The Los Angeles-class attack submarine recently departed Sasebo, Japan, after a four-day port call.

July 30, USS Helena, commanded by Cmdr. Daniel Brunk, returned to San Diego after a six-month underway period.

February 27, 2009 SSN 725 departed homeport to participate in Ice Exercise (ICEX) 2009 in the Arctic Ocean. USS Annapolis (SSN 760) will also be part of the exercise.

April 17, USS Helena returned to San Diego after a 50-day voyage to the Arctic Ocean. The Los Angeles-class submarine operated approximately 200 miles from the north coast of Alaska, near Prudoe Bay, to train and test weapons and different warfare tactics in the Arctic region.

September 2, The Helena arrived at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine, for an extended maintenance including several system upgrades over the next 18 months.

September 9, 2010 USS Helena made the seamless transition from the dry dock at PNSY to the waters of the Piscataqua River with the help of their shipyard project team.

May 20, 2011 The Helena departed Portsmouth Naval Shipyard en route to NSB New London in Groton, Conn., after completing the Engineered Overhaul (EOH) in less than 20 months, which is the fastest extended maintenance period in the shipyard in a decade.

June 15, USS Helena moored at Berth 1, Pier 3 at its new homeport of Naval Station Norfolk, Norfolk, Va.

April 10, 2012 USS Helena returned to Norfolk after a two-month deployment in the Southern Command AoO. The sub made a port visit to Cape Canaveral, Fla.

July 20, Cmdr. Jeffrey E. Lamphear relieved Cmdr. Paul L. Dinius as the 10th CO of the Helena during a change-of-command ceremony at Naval Station Norfolk.

April ?, 2013 USS Helena departed Naval Station Norfolk for a scheduled Middle East deployment.

April 22, A Culinary Specialist First Class Randall F. Hopson was found dead aboard the SSN 725, while the sub was transiting Mediterranean Sea.

May 27, The Helena pulled into Khalifa Bin Salman Port (KBSP) in Hidd, Bahrain, for a nine-day upkeep.

September 4, The Los Angeles-class attack submarine arrived in Diego Garcia, British Indian Ocean Teritory, for a routine port call.

September 19, USS Helena transited the Suez Canal northbound, escorted by USS Mason (DDG 87).?

September 23, SSN 725 pulled into Souda Bay, Crete, Greece, for a five-day port call.

October 15, USS Helena moored at Berth 1, Pier 3 on Naval Station Norfolk following a six-month deployment. The sub traveled more than 50,000 miles and also made port calls to Jebel Ali, U.A.E and Rota, Spain.

November 15, 2014 USS Helena departed Norfolk for a scheduled deployment.

November 28, The Helena moored at South Mole in HM Naval Base Gibraltar, British overseas teritory, for a six-day port call.

December 10, USS Helena moored at Aksaz Naval Base, Turkey, for a brief port call Transited the Suez Canal on Dec. 14.?

December 23, The Helena recently moored at Khalifa Bin Salman Port, Bahrain, for inchop brief.?

April 13, 2015 The Los Angeles-class attack submarine transited the Suez Canal northbound, escorted by USS Forrest Sherman (DDG 98) Inport Souda Bay, Crete, in mid-April.

May 15, USS Helena returned to Naval Station Norfolk after a six-month deployment in the U.S. 5th and 6th Fleet Areas of Responsibility (AoR). The sub traveled more than 38,500 nautical miles and also made port call to Jebel Ali, United Arab Emirates.

June 15, Cmdr. Jason C. Pittman relieved Cmdr. Jeffrey E. Lamphear as CO of SSN 725 during a change-of-command ceremony on board the sub.

July 2, The Helena departed homeport to conduct ammo offload at the Naval Weapons Station Yorktown Returned to Norfolk on July 10.

July 21, USS Helena entered the Dry Dock #4 at Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Portsmouth, Va., for a four-month Drydocking Continuous Maintenance Availability (D-CMAV). The availability&rsquos critical pathwork will focus on installing new electronics, inspecting the boat&rsquos oil tank, and correcting any deficiencies that arose during deployment. The technology upgrades will include the installation of a modular framework of processors and consoles, high-resolution monitors, and large-screen displays Undocked on Oct. 25.

November 24, USS Helena returned to Naval Station Norfolk after underway for sea trials Underway again from Nov. 30- Dec. ?.

February 10, 2016 The Helena moored at Berth 4, Pier 3 on Naval Station Norfolk after a 12-day underway for routine training Underway in support of the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69) CSG's COMPTUEX on March 1? Underway again on April 23.

April 25, SSN 725 moored at Berth 3, Delta Wharf on Naval Station Mayport, Fla., for a three-day port call Brief stop off Naval Station Norfolk on May 9 Returned home on May 11.?

July 22, USS Helena moored at Berth 1, Pier 3 on Naval Station Norfolk after underway for routine operations Underway again from Aug. 1?-18.

September 29, Huntington Ingalls Industries' Newport News was awarded a $17,7 million contract for the planning of USS Helena Drydocking Selected Restricted Availability (DSRA). Work is expected to be completed by October 2017.

December 21, USS Helena departed Norfolk for a scheduled North Atlantic deployment.

May 5, 2017 The Helena departed HMNB Clyde in Faslane, Scotland, after a routine port call Participated in NATO anti-submarine warfare (ASW) exercise EASTLANT 17, in the Norwegian Sea, from May 8-26.

June 4, USS Helena moored at Carrier Pier 4W in Arsenal de Brest, France, for a four-day port visit in conjunction with the 73rd anniversary of the allied landings in Normandy.

June 19, The Helena made a brief stop off Norfolk to embark Nuclear Propulsion Examination Board (NPEB) personnel for Operational Reactor Safeguards Examination (ORSE).

June 21, USS Helena moored at Berth 1, Pier 3 on Naval Station Norfolk following a six-month deployment. The sub traveled more than 35,000 nautical miles and also made port calls to Haakonsvern, Norway.

August 29, SSN 725 moored at Berth 3, Pier 3 on Naval Station Norfolk after a three-week underway for routine operations Underway again from Sept. 21- Oct. 2.

October 13, Huntington Ingalls Industries' Newport News was awarded a $65,1 million modification to previously awarded contract (N00024-16-C-4316) to accomplish the repair, maintenance, upgrades, and modernization efforts on USS Helena during Drydocking Selected Restricted Availability (DSRA). Work is expected to be completed by April 2018.

May 4, 2018 Cmdr. Andrew M. Cain relieved Cmdr. Jason C. Pittman as CO of the Helena during a change-of-command ceremony at Mariner&rsquos Museum in Newport News, Va.

August 10, Huntington Ingalls Industries (HII) was awarded a $38,9 million modification to a previously awarded contract (N00024-16-C-4316) for the USS Helena's DSRA Another $42,6 million modification was awarded on Sept. 26.

September 24, 2019 Huntington Ingalls Industries (HII) was awarded a $38 million modification to a previously awarded contract (N00024-16-C-4316) for the USS Helena's DSRA. Work is expected to be completed in January 2020.

July 13, 2020 Huntington Ingalls Industries (HII) was awarded a $35,3 million modification to a previously awarded contract (N00024-16-C-4316) for the USS Helena's DSRA. Work is expected to be completed by October.

September 28, Huntington Ingalls Industries (HII) was awarded a $13 million modification to a previously awarded contract (N00024-16-C-4316) for the USS Helena's DSRA. Work is expected to be completed by January 2021.

February 2, 2021 Huntington Ingalls Industries (HII) was awarded a $12,5 million modification to a previously awarded contract (N00024-16-C-4316) for the USS Helena's DSRA. Work is expected to be completed by April.

February 26, Cmdr. David Nichols relieved Cmdr. Andrew M. Cain as CO of the Helena during a change-of-command ceremony on Naval Station Norfolk.

April 7, Huntington Ingalls Industries (HII) was awarded an $8,8 million modification to a previously awarded contract (N00024-16-C-4316) for the USS Helena's DSRA. Work is expected to be completed by May.

May 20, Huntington Ingalls Industries (HII) was awarded an $10,7 million modification to a previously awarded contract (N00024-16-C-4316) for the USS Helena's DSRA. Work is expected to be completed by July 22.

USS Helena (CL-50) Found Nearly 75 Years After Sinking During WWII Battle

USS Helena (CL-50) already had a long and proud history during the war before her tragic end. A survivor of the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, she was the first ship to receive the Navy Unit Commendation award for her actions at Pearl, the Battle of Cape Esperance, Guadalcanal, the Solomons, and Kula Gulf.

Japanese propagandists also once complimented Helena’s gun crews. After a bombardment of Kolombangara Island in early 1943, Radio Tokyo announced that U.S. Naval Forces had employed a “new secret weapon-a 6-inch machine gun.” Although no such weapon existed, the Japanese were unwittingly heaping praise on the proficiency and speed of Helena’s gunners.

USS Helena (CL-50) off Mare Island Navy Yard, California, following battle damage repairs and overhaul on 1 July 1942. Naval History and Command Photograph. NH 95813

Helena was sunk by three torpedoes during the Battle of Kula Gulf on July 6, 1943. Of the 900 men onboard that abandoned ship, all but 275 survived. Many were rescued by the destroyers USS Nicholas (DD-449) and USS Radford (DD-446). Some were not rescued for 11 days, after making it to Vella Lavella Island, where they evaded Japanese patrols, and received help from two coast watchers and several natives before they were picked up.

Read the sad, but interesting story of S1c General P. Douglas, a survivor of the sinking of USS Helena, whose remains were found on Ranongga Island in June 2006. See the link below:

A Massive Torpedo

The single greatest surprise the U.S. Navy suffered in the Solomon Islands campaign was the Japanese Type 93 torpedo. Fired by cruisers and destroyers, it was much more massive than U.S. torpedoes—but more important was its spectacular combination of long range and high speed. U.S. Navy captains were trained to zigzag their ships when they were in what they thought to be torpedo range. The Type 93 allowed the Japanese to hit ships that did not zigzag because their commanders believed them to be safe from torpedo fire. When the light cruiser USS Helena (CL-50) was sunk on 6 July 1943, it was assumed she had been hit by a Japanese submarine because of the distance between opposing forces (see “A Promise Kept,” April 2018, pp. 34–39). In fact, she had been hit by a Type 93.

Watch the video: NavalShips: USS Long Beach CGN-9 10092018 (January 2022).