USS Helena CL-50 (1939-1943)

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The USS Helena was a 10, 000 ton light cruiser built in the New York Navy Yard and commissioned in September 1939. The ship served in the Atlantic Ocean from 1939 to 1940 and was subsequently transferred to duty in the Pacific Ocean, where it spent the rest of its short but noteworthy career.

Action in World War II

On December 7th, while docked at Pearl Harbor, the Helena was struck by a single Japanese torpedo and suffered severe damage. Thanks to the efforts of the crew and the water tight design of its hatches and seals, the Helena was kept afloat.

The cruiser was overhauled and restored before leaving Pearl Harbor. The Helena escorted a group of Sea-bees en route to Guadalcanal Island and was instrumental in the long battle to take control of the island. After completing the escort mission, the Helena joined the task force that was attached to the aircraft carrier, the Wasp. The task force provided support for transport, hauling Marines to and from Guadalcanal.

On September 15 of the year 1942, the Wasp was hit by three Japanese torpedoes. The Helena retaliated, responsible for saving over 400 crew members from the sinking Wasp. The crew was taken by the USS Helena to Espiritu Santo, where they received medical treatment, food, and shelter.

In July 1943, the Helena was part of a task force that fought Japanese destroyers in the Battle of Kula Gulf and; it was hit by three Japanese torpedoes. The USS Helena sunk that day and lost 170 of its crewman.

Asbestos in Navy Ships

Although an essential component of the naval fleet, even today, naval cruisers also pose a lasting health risk to soldiers serving on them. Unfortunately, products containing asbestos were common, especially on older ships, because of the material’s high resistance to heat and fire. Despite its value as an insulator, asbestos fiber intake can lead to several serious health consequences, including mesothelioma, a devastating cancer without cure. Current and former military personnel who came into contact with these ships should seek immediate medical attention in order to detect possible health consequences associated with asbestos exposure.

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