The expedition crew of Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen has discovered yet another Navy ship that was previously lost to history.

The crew of the Research Vessel (R/V) Petrel located the sunken wreckage of the St. Louis-class light cruiser USS Helena (CL-50) late last month, only weeks after discovering the USS Juneau, known for having all five Sullivan brothers on board, and less than a month after discovering the wreckage of the aircraft carrier USS Lexington.

The Helena, which was moored in Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, was sunk during the Battle of Kula Gulf by Japanese torpedoes on the morning of July 6, 1943.

Almost 75 years later, she was located, resting 860 meters below the surface on the floor of the New Georgia Sound, off the coast of the Solomon Islands.

“Each ship has a story that touches families and friends of those who perished or survived,” Robert Kraft, director of subsea operations for Allen, told the editors of Paul Allen’s website.

The story in the case of the Helena is one of heroic survival on the part of her crew.

As the ship slowly went under, sailors huddled into groups in the water while continuing to take enemy fire. Rescue operations were launched but had to be repeatedly suspended as U.S. destroyers were re-routed to pursue enemy ships instead.

Some of the wounded from one of the huddled groups were placed on lifeboats, and able-bodied sailors clung to the sides, working to push the boats toward one of the nearby islands, an effort made futile as wind and current pushed the sailors deeper into enemy territory.

The flotilla of weary sailors eventually reached the island of Vella Lavella, where local natives did what they could to care for the wounded. Many of the remaining sailors fled to the jungle to avoid being spotted by Japanese patrols.

Finally, the Navy dispatched ships to the location and rescued the Helena sailors, along with 16 Chinese who were also hiding on the island.

Through a combined effort of U.S. Navy ships, volunteer motor whaleboats and life rafts, 732 of Helena’s 900 crew were ultimately rescued over the course of 10 days.

“It’s gratifying to hear those stories each time we announce a new discovery,” Kraft said. “We do these missions as testament to the brave souls who served on these ships.”

Oil-covered survivors from the USS Helena respond to roll call aboard a Navy destroyer that rescued them. (Naval History and Heritage Command)
Oil-covered survivors from the USS Helena respond to roll call aboard a Navy destroyer that rescued them. (Naval History and Heritage Command)