|Ship Class||Bagley-class Destroyer|
|Builder Name||Norfolk Navy Yard|
|Laid Down||25 Sep 1935|
|Launched||27 May 1937|
|Commissioned||16 Oct 1937|
|Decommissioned||26 Jun 1946|
|Displacement||1,500 tons standard; 2,325 tons full|
|Power Output||49,000 SHP|
|Range||6,500nm at 12 knots|
|Armament||4x5in/38cal guns, 4x.50cal guns, 12x21in torpedo tubes, 2 depth charge racks|
Contributor: David Stubblebine
ww2dbaseThe destroyer Helm was laid down on 25 Sep 1935 at the Norfolk Navy Yard, Portsmouth, Virginia, United States and launched on 27 May 1937. Named for the late Rear Admiral James Meredith Helm, veteran of the Spanish-American War, the ship was sponsored by his widow, Mrs. Edith Benham Helm. USS Helm was commissioned on 16 Oct 1937 with Lieutenant Commander Paul H. Talbot in command. Helmâs shakedown cruise took her to the British West Indies, after which the ship operated in the Caribbean.
ww2dbaseAfter participating in Fleet Problem XX in the Caribbean in Feb 1939, Helm transited the Panama Canal and joined the Pacific Fleet. Helm also participated in Fleet Problem XXI in Feb 1940 that, among other things, simulated a carrier-based air attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. It was at the conclusion of this exercise that the United States Fleet was permanently stationed at Pearl Harbor.
ww2dbaseOn 7 Dec 1941, Helm started her day berthed alongside sister-ship USS Blue in Pearl Harborâs East Loch anchorage. Helm cast off at 0726 hours to make her way to the deperming buoys in Pearl Harborâs West Loch. Because this was a demagnetization procedure, Helm left her compasses and chronometers aboard Blue. Both of Helmâs whaleboats, along with seven men, were following the ship to the West Loch. Helm had just rounded Waipi'o Point and was entering West Loch when Japanese aircraft appeared overhead and bombs began falling. As the only warship underway within the harbor when the attack began, Helm drew immediate machine gun fire from the attackers, with no hits but the whaleboats sustained fifteen bullet holes with no personnel casualties. Helm quickly reversed course and became the first warship to sortie the harbor during the attack. As Helm reached the entrance buoys, a submarine conning tower was seen on the reefs west of the entrance. Helm fired on the sub but caused minimal damage (this was Kazuo Sakamakiâs Ha-19 midget submarine launched from mother sub I-24 and was hopelessly lost due to a faulty gyrocompass; Ha-19 was ultimately grounded on reefs again off Waimanalo Beach 30 miles away and was captured). Later that morning as Helm patrolled the Defensive Sea Area south of Oahu, she was attacked by a lone Aichi D3A1 âValâ single engine bomber which dropped two 100-pound bombs that straddled Helmâs bow. Helm suffered mild structural damage from the concussion that worsened overnight causing the ship to return to Pearl Harbor for repairs.
ww2dbaseHelm sailed again on 16 Dec 1941 as part of the screen for the carrier USS Saratoga in the desperate but failed effort to relieve Wake Island. Helm escorted Saratoga on another sortie before Saratoga was torpedoed and then Helm sailed on an evacuation mission to Howland and Baker Islands in the Central Pacific. She then entered Mare Island Naval Shipyard in California for an overhaul.
ww2dbaseHelm then sailed for the South Pacific where she escorted convoys provisioning the forward areas. Helm rescued 13 survivors of the torpedoed freighter John Adams and then four survivors of fellow Pearl Harbor survivor oiler USS Neosho that was sunk in the Battle of the Coral Sea. Helm then sailed to Brisbane, Australia where she joined a combined United States Navy/Royal Australian Navy task force escorting convoys and conducting training exercises.
ww2dbaseHelm then sailed with the force tasked with capturing and occupying the Guadalcanal-Tulagi area in the Solomon Islands; Helm covered the Tulagi landings on 7 Aug 1942. For the next several days, Helm escorted the supply convoys by day and covered the cruisers patrolling âThe Slotâ by night. During the second night of this, Helm and the cruisers were drawn into the First Battle of Savo Island where cruisers USS Astoria, USS Quincy, USS Vincennes, and Australian heavy cruiser HMAS Canberra were lost, along with two destroyers. Helm picked up 175 Vincennes and Quincy survivors. After transferring the survivors to a transport ship, Helm sailed for NoumĂ©a, New Caledonia.
ww2dbaseHelm spent the next ten months on escort duty with convoys between Espiritu Santo and Guadalcanal and then between Australia and New Guinea, while also taking part in several exercises. Helm participated in a bombardment of New Britain on 30 Nov 1943 and spent the next month as part of the covering forces for the Army landings on New Britain, the Marine landings on Cape Gloucester, and the Army landings at Saidor, New Guinea. After more escort work around New Guinea and the Solomons, Helm returned to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii after almost two years in the South Pacific.
ww2dbaseFrom Hawaii in Feb 1944, Helm escorted battleship USS Maryland to Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Washington and Helm then entered Mare Island Naval Shipyard in California for an overhaul of her own that lasted until May 1944. The destroyer then steamed to join the Fast Carrier Task Force in June 1944 in support the amphibious operations against Saipan, Tinian, and Guam in the Mariana Islands. Helm then screened carriers Essex, Hornet, and Yorktown (all Essex-class) in one of Jocko Clarkâs famous excursions to pound the Bonin Islands with strikes against Iwo Jima, Chichi Jima, and Haha Jima. After months serving as an escort, Helm was back in the shooting-war now, as part of Marc Mitscherâs Carrier Task Force. As Helm and her Task Group returned from the Bonins and rejoined the larger Task Force, they sat poised to engage the Japanese in the significant Battle of the Philippine Sea and the Great Marianas Turkey Shoot.
ww2dbaseHelm stayed with the carrier screen throughout the Mariana Campaign, the landings on Peleliu, and several of Jockoâs side trips to the âJimas.â On one of those excursions, on 2 Sep 1944, Helm engaged a 50-ton Japanese sailing vessel off North Iwo Jima and left it in flames. That same day, Helm engaged a 100-ton Japanese cargo ship near the southern shore of Iwo Jima and left it sinking from gunfire.
ww2dbaseStarting in Oct 1944, the carrier groups expanded their coverage by striking targets from Luzon to Okinawa and Helm stayed with them as part of their screen. On 13 Oct 1944 off Formosa (Taiwan), Helmâs Task Unit was attacked by a formation of Japanese torpedo planes. Helmâs anti-aircraft fire was credited with bringing down one Mitsubishi G4M Type 1 âBettyâ bomber. In late Oct 1944, Helm covered Halseyâs carriers in the Battle of Leyte Gulf, specifically the Battle off Cape EngaĂ±o on 25 Oct 1944. It was during this period that the Japanese introduced the tactics of kamikaze-style special attacks; a tactic that would plague Allied shipping for the rest of the war.
ww2dbaseOn 28 Oct 1944 east of Leyte Gulf, Helm made sound contact with what was believed to be a Japanese submarine. With assistance from destroyer USS Gridley and aircraft from the carrier USS Belleau Wood, they conducted a well-coordinated depth charge attack. The result was the sinking of a submarine as evidenced by a large explosion deep under water followed by large amounts of oil and air bubbles coming to the surface and the recovery of deck planking and human remains from the debris field. Japanese submarines I-46 and I-54 were both lost on this date in about this same area so some uncertainty remains about which sub this was, but I-46 commanded by Lt. Comdr. Kozaburo Yamaguchi is most likely.
ww2dbaseIn late Nov 1944, Helm was detached from the Carrier Task Force and assigned to the Seventh Fleet based at Seeadler Harbor, Manus for preparations for the invasion of Luzon that would take place in Jan 1945. Once the invasion force began moving north toward Luzon, the Japanese attacked it with great ferocity, including with special attack forces. On 4 Jan 1945 while still in the Sulu Sea, the formation was attacked by a single aircraft that went undetected until it plunged into the flight deck of carrier USS Ommaney Bay. The carrier erupted into flames followed by a series of internal explosions that left the ship dead in the water. As Ommaney Bay was being abandoned, Helm picked up 93 of her sailors and delivered them to cruiser USS Minneapolis. The following day west of Subic Bay, Helmâs Task Group was attacked again, this time by five Nakajima Ki-43 âOscarâ special attack fighters and one of them dived on Helm. At almost point-blank range, one of Helmâs 40mm shells tore off the airplaneâs left wing, causing the aircraft to veer and pass over the ship. The airplane struck Helmâs searchlight structure, carrying away part of the platform and damaging the searchlight before the aircraft plunged into the sea close aboard. Six men were injured and one sailor was swept overboard, but was rescued by another destroyer without injuries.
ww2dbaseThe landings on Luzon took place on 6 Jan 1945 in Lingayen Gulf. Helmâs assignment was to lay off the coast and screen the aircraft carriers that were offering air support to the landings, which lasted until 17 Jan 1945. Helm screened the carriers for one more sortie around the Philippines before escorting them to Iwo Jima for the Marine landings on 19 Feb 1945. Helm had numerous occasions to provide anti-aircraft fire during this period and also to rescue survivors of damaged ships. Helm then shifted to the same duties around Okinawa.
ww2dbaseOn 3 Aug 1945, Helm was on radar picket duty north of the Ulithi fleet anchorage when she received orders to proceed west at her best possible speed on a report of men in the water. These men turned out to be the survivors of the sunken cruiser USS Indianapolis. By the time Helm arrived, all survivors had been picked up by other ships and all Helm could do was identify 28 bodies found floating in the area and bury them at sea.
ww2dbaseHelm made one more sortie to Okinawa as part of the carrier screen and during her withdrawal, the war ended.
ww2dbaseHelm performed air-sea rescue duties and worked as a shipping guide around Japan before departing for the United States on 29 Oct 1945. She laid over in San Diego, California before returning once more to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Helm was decommissioned at Pearl Harbor on 26 June 1946. The ship was used later that summer as a target ship during atomic bomb tests in the Pacific [the US Navyâs official history states Helm was used during Operation Crossroads at Bikini Lagoon but Helm is not listed as one of the target ships in any of those three bomb blasts; it is not known at which atomic bomb test Helm was a target ship, if any]. In May 1948, Helm was scrapped in Oakland, California.
ww2dbaseFor her World War II service, Helm received 11 battle stars:
ww2dbasePearl Harbor Attack
Guadalcanal-Tulagi Landings/First Savo
Capture and Defense of Guadalcanal
Eastern New Guinea Operations
Bismarck Archipelago Operation
Western Caroline Operation
Iwo Jima Operation
United States Navy
United States National Archives
United States Naval History and Heritage Command
NavSource Naval History
United States Defense Nuclear Agency
Last Major Revision: Sep 2020
Destroyer Helm (DD-388) Interactive Map
Helm Operational Timeline
|25 Sep 1935||The keel of destroyer Helm was laid down at the Norfolk Navy Yard, Portsmouth, Virginia, United States.|
|27 May 1937||Helm was launched at the Norfolk Navy Yard, Portsmouth, Virginia, United States.|
|16 Oct 1937||USS Helm was commissioned at Norfolk, Virginia, United States, Lt. Cmdr. Paul H. Talbot in command.|
|7 Dec 1941||Destroyer USS Helm patrolling off Honolulu harbor was straddled by two 100-pound bombs dropped from an Aichi D3A1 'Val' bomber that caused minor structural damage.|
|17 May 1943||Destroyer USS Helm arrived at Sydney, Australia for a week-long tender overhaul alongside USS Dobbin at Wooloomooloo Wharf.|
|28 Oct 1944||Destroyer USS Helm, assisted by destroyer USS Gridley and TBF Avenger aircraft from carrier USS Belleau Wood, sinks either Japanese submarine I-46 orI-54, 100 miles east of Samar, Philippines. [Both I-46 and I-54 were lost the same day in the same area so there is some uncertainty, but I-46 is more likely.]|
|5 Jan 1945||Destroyer USS Helm was struck by a Nakajima Ki-43 'Oscar' special attack fighter that damaged Helm's searchlight and injured six men.|
|26 Jun 1946||USS Helm was decommissioned at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.|
|25 Feb 1947||Helm was removed from the US Naval Vessel Register.|
|2 Oct 1947||Helm was sold for scrap.|
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Lt. Gen. Lewis B. "Chesty" Puller, at Guadalcanal