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DEPARTMENT OF THE NAVY -- NAVAL HISTORICAL CENTER
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Helm

 

James Meredith Helm, born 16 December 1855 at Grayville, III., graduated from the Naval Academy in 1875. He served in various ships and abroad until the Spanish-American War, when he commanded gunboat Hornet. In the blockade of Cuba, he captured a Spanish steamer and three contraband schooners, and was advanced five numbers in grade for outstanding performance at the Battle of Manzanillo 30 June 1898. Helm subsequently commanded Idaho and Wabash. During World War I, Rear Admiral Helm was Commandant of the 4th Naval District and received the Navy Cross for his achievements. He retired 16 December 1919 and died 28 October 1927.

 

(DD-388: displacement 1,500 tons; length 341 feet 8 inches; beam 34 feet 8 inches; draft 9 feet 10 inches; speed 36.5 knots; complement 200; armament 4 5-inch, 4 .50-cal. mg., 12 21-inch torpedo tubes; class Gridley)

 

Helm (DD-388) was launched by Norfolk Navy Yard 27 May 1937; sponsored by Mrs. J. M. Helm, widow; and commissioned 16 October 1937, Lt. Comdr. P. H. Talbot in command.

 

After shakedown Helm operated in the Caribbean until March 1938. Following summer exercises, she was attached to the newly formed Atlantic Squadron 1 October 1938. Early in 1939 she deployed with Carrier Division 2 in the Caribbean for the annual fleet problem, developing tactics and doctrine so vital in the war which was to come. Transferred to the West Coast in May 1939, Helm engaged in fleet exercises and screening maneuvers out of San Diego and the Hawaiian Islands. This duty continued through the troubled months of 1941, and on the morning of 7 December Helm was underway in West Loch Channel, Pearl Harbor when the Japanese planes struck. The destroyer manned her guns and brought down at least one of the attackers while she was strafed and slightly damaged by two bombs close aboard. After the attack, she joined the task group of carrier Saratoga, just arrived from San Diego and served as screening ship and plane guard.

 

The destroyer sailed 20 January on a special mission to rescue Department of the Interior workers from How-land and Baker Islands. Using her whaleboat Helm brought off six men from the two islands 31 January. She was attacked by a Japanese patrol bomber later that day. Her gunners drove off the attacker and the ship returned to Pearl Harbor 6 February.

 

Following a round trip voyage to San Diego, Helm departed Pearl Harbor 15 March escorting an advance base party to the New Hebrides. She arrived Efate 19 March and for the next few weeks escorted ships in that area while U.S. bases were consolidated. She rescued 13 survivors from SS John Adams on 9 May and 4 from oiler Neosho, sunk in the Battle of the Coral Sea on 17 May. These men were taken to Brisbane, Australia, where Helm joined British Rear Admiral Crutchley's Task Force 44 on 19 May.

 

For the next 2 months Helm, performed escort duty along the Australian Coast. The fleet was then assembling for the first offensive amphibious operation in the Pacific, the capture of Guadalcanal. Helm departed Auk-land, New Zealand, 22 July for the Fiji Islands. Following practice landings Adm Turner's fleet suddenly struck Guadalcanal and Tulagi, arriving off the beaches 7 August and catching the Japanese completely by surprise. The destroyer screened the transports as troops disembarked, shooting down several attacking aircraft during the first 2 days.

 

With cruisers Vincennes, Quincy, and Astoria, Helm patrolled the waters around Savo Island the night of 7 August and, as night fell 8 August, the four ships and destroyer Wilson took up patrol between Savo and Florida Islands. Another group of two cruisers and two destroyers patrolled to the south, and picket destroyers Blue and Ralph Talbot were stationed to the northwest of Savo Island. A fateful combination of circumstances had allowed Admiral Mikawa's cruisers and destroyers to approach Savo Island undetected. Failures in search and identification had prevented early analysis of the dangerous situation, and the inadequate two-ship screen off Savo Island had not warned of the Japanese ships. The alarm was sounded by destroyer Patterson art: about 0143, just seconds before two torpedoes ripped into HMAS Canberra in the southern group. Soon both formations of cruisers were battling the fierce Japanese attack. Helm, on the port bow of Vincennes, turned back to help the stricken cruisers. She stood by Astoria, brought survivors to transports off Guadalcanal, and withdrew with the remainder of the force to Noumea 13 August. The Battle of Savo Island was a disaster, but even in defeat the ships had prevented the Japanese from attacking the vulnerable transports at Guadalcanal. Much desperate fighting followed but the Americans had come to stay.

 

For the next few weeks Helm remained in the dangerous waters near Guadalcanal, escorting transports and patrolling. She sailed to Brisbane 7 September and departed next day to provide escort protection for transports between Australia and New Guinea, where another bitter struggle was in progress. The veteran destroyer remained on this duty for some months, escorting LST's to Woodlark Island for an unopposed landing in June 1943 and protecting the important base at Milne Bay. As MacArthur's army prepared to move into New Britain under naval cover, Helm bombarded Gasmata 29 November 1943 and sortied from Milne Bay again 14 December under Admiral Crutchley for the capture of Cape Gloucester. Helm helped in the pre-invasion bombardment, fired close support missions after the initial landings, and performed screening duties as transports unloaded. The operation by Admiral Barbey's VII Amphibious Corps was a smooth and successful one, and, as soon as the position was secured, Helm and the rest of Admiral Crutchley's fleet moved to Saidor, where Admiral Barbey performed one of his famous amphibious "hops." The destroyer screened the cruiser force as it prevented attack by surface and air forces from seaward.

 

Helm continued her escort duty in the Guadalcanal and Milne Bay areas until departing 19 February 1944 for Pearl Harbor. The ship proceeded thence to Mare Island Navy Yard escorting battleship Maryland, and arrived 4 March.

 

Helm departed San Francisco 5 May. After arrival Pearl Harbor 5 days later she engaged in refresher training in Hawaiian waters. She arrived Majuro 4 June and Kwajalein 7 June to join the naval force assembling for the next step in America's amphibious sweep across the Pacific, the invasion of the Marianas. She joined Vice Admiral Mitscher's famed Task Force 58 and sailed with it from Kwajalein 7 June. The fast carrier group guarded the western approaches to the islands 11 to 13 June and provided air support for the landings, which were carried out by Admiral Kelly Turner's amphibian 1,000 miles from the nearest advance base at Eniwetok. The carrier task forces returned from a strike on the Bonin Islands 18 June and deployed to repel the Japanese fleet as it closed the Marianas for a decisive naval battle. The great fleets approached each other 19 June for the biggest carrier engagement of the war. As four large air raids hit the American fleet formation, fighter cover from Helm's task group and surface fire from the ships annihilated the Japanese planes. With able assistance from American submarines, Mitscher succeeded in sinking two Japanese carriers while inflicting such staggering losses on the enemy naval air arm that the battle was dubbed the "Marianas Turkey Shoot." Admiral Spruance had succeeded in protecting the invasion force in a battle the importance of which was well understood by the Japanese. Admiral Toyoda had said 15 June: "The fate of the Empire rests on this one battle," repeating the words of Admiral Toga at Tsushima.

 

Following the decisive Battle of the Philippine Sea, Helm and the fast carriers turned their attention to neutralizing the enemy bases on the Bonin and Volcano Islands and supporting the invasion of Guam. The mobile carrier groups, screened by destroyers and cruisers, also began attacks on the Palau Islands 25 July. With occasional respite at Eniwetok or Ulithi, the carriers attacked Iwo Jima and other islands in the western Pacific until well into September. Helm sank a small Japanese freighter off Iwo Jima 2 September and later that day surprised and sank a small cargo ship.

 

Helm and her carrier group arrived Seeadler Harbor 21 September 1944. They sortied again 24 September; and, after ground support strikes in the Palaus, rendezvoused with the entire task force seventeen carriers with their supporting and screening vessels—for an important sweep to the west. Strikes were launched against Okinawa 10 October; after which the carriers turned to their real objective, the airfields and military installations on Formosa. In a devastating 3-day attack carrier planes did much to destroy that island as a supporting base for the Japanese in the battle of the Philippines and other invasions to come. Enemy planes retaliated with heavy and repeated land-based attacks. Helm brought down one bomber with her 5-inch guns 13 October and assisted in shooting down several more.

 

Following the Formosa Air Battle, a convincing demonstration of the power and mobility of sea power, Task Force 38 returned to the east coast of Luzon to strike enemy air bases in the Philippines to neutralize Japanese air power during the invasion of Leyte. By 24 October it was clear that the assault on Leyte had called forth one final effort on the part of the Japanese to destroy the American fleet. Its three major fleet units moved toward the Philippines. The Northern Group was to lure the American carriers northward away from Leyte, before the others converged on the assault area in Leyte Gulf for a two-pronged death blow. In for the historic Battle of Leyte Gulf, Helm with Rear Admiral Davison's Task Group 38.4 turned her attention toward Admiral Kurita's Center Force. Planes from the carriers struck the Japanese ships near mid-day in the Battle of the Sibuyan Sea, sinking giant battleship Musashi and damaging other heavy ships.

 

While two of the other phases of this great battle, the Battle off Samar and the Battle of Surigao Strait, were being fought, Halsey took the carrier groups north to engage the powerful fleet of Admiral Ozawa. Screened by Helm and other surface units, the carriers made air contact 25 October and, in a series of devastating strikes, sank four Japanese carriers, and a destroyer. The great sea battle was thus ended, with the invasion of Leyte secured and the Japanese fleet no longer an effective fighting unit.

 

Helm and the carriers resumed direct support of ground operations on Leyte 26 October. In addition to air attacks by land-based Japanese aircraft, the group also experienced submarine attack 28 October. Helm and companion destroyer Gridley made a contact around noon and, as the carriers cleared the area, the two ships dropped depth charges and sank 1-46. Two carriers, Franklin and Bel-leau Wood, were damaged 30 October by suicide planes. That night the group retired toward Ulithi, where it arrived 2 November after over 2 months of almost continuous service.

 

Departing Ulithi again 5 November, Helm and her carrier group returned to the Philippines for strikes against Japanese shipping and shore targets, returning the 20th. Helm was then detached from Task Group 38.4 and steamed from Ulithi for Manus the 26th. Arriving 2 days later, the ship began preparations for the next important amphibious operation in the Philippine campaign, the landings at Lingayen Gulf on Luzon. Helm departed 27 December with a large task group bound for Lingayen Gulf; and, as the ships entered the Sulu Sea, heavy air attacks began. The Japanese, hitting with their only remaining weapon, struck with suicide planes 4 January and sank escort carrier Ommaney Bay. Gunfire from Helm and the other screening ships took a heavy toll of the attackers. From 6 to 17 January the destroyer operated with carriers west of Lingayen Gulf providing air support for these important landings. The ships departed 17 January and arrived Ulithi 6 days later.

 

As the great naval task force assembled for the invasion of Iwo Jima, next stop on the island road to Japan, Helm sailed 12 February in the screen of a group of escort carriers, arriving off the volcanic island fortress 16 February. She screened the carriers during the important preliminary strikes and protected them while they lent close support to the invasion, which began on the 19th. The carrier groups were hit repeatedly by desperate air attacks, with Helm and the other destroyers accounting for many suicide and torpedo planes. When escort carrier Bismarck Sea was sunk, in a massive suicide attack 21 February, Helm, rescued survivors and brought them to the transport anchorage next day.

 

The veteran destroyer continued screening operations off Iwo Jima until 7 March when she steamed toward Leyte for repairs. She was soon underway again, however, for the last and largest of the Pacific amphibious operations, the invasion of Okinawa. Sailing 27 March, she joined escort carrier groups off the island for pre-invasion strikes; and, after the historic assault 1 April, for ground support operations. During her stay off Okinawa the destroyer shot down many suicide planes which menaced the carriers during fanatical, last-ditch efforts by the Japanese to repel the invasion. Helm steamed to Leyte 19 June with Okinawa secured.

 

Following the Okinawa operation Helm served as an escort and patrol ship out of Ulithi and Leyte, and helped to search for survivors of ill-fated Indianapolis 3 to 6 August 1945. The ship was steaming toward Ulithi from Okinawa when the war ended 15 August. She returned to Okinawa and finally to Iwo Jima to join the Bonins patrol, for air-sea rescue work until 8 September. The destroyer then sailed to Sasebo, Japan, where she served as shipping guide and patrol vessel until returning to Okinawa 26 September. After another stay in Japan, the ship departed for Pearl Harbor and San Diego 29 October. She returned to the United States 19 November, then sailed back to Pearl Harbor where she decommissioned 26 June 1946. Helm was used that summer as a target ship during the historic Operation "Crossroads" atomic tests in the Pacific, and her hulk was sold to Moore Dry Dock Co., Oakland, Calif., in October 1947 for scrapping.

 

Helm received 11 battle stars for World War II service.