by John J. Domagalski
Hardcover, 272 pages
The early morning hours of July 6, 1943, found the U.S.S. Helena off the Solomon Islands in what would later be known as the “Battle of Kula Gulf.” Called by some the “fightingest ship in the Navy,” the ship’s participation in the battle came to a swift end when three Japanese torpedoes suddenly struck. One hundred and sixty-eight sailors went down with the ship, many never surviving the initial torpedo hits. As the last of the Helena disappeared below the ocean’s surface, the remaining crewmen’s struggle for survival had only just begun. Sunk in Kula Gulf tells the epic story of the Helena’s survivors. Two destroyers plucked more than seven hundred from the sea in a night rescue operation as the battle continued to rage. A second group of eighty-eight sailors clustered into three lifeboats; made it to a nearby island and was rescued the next day. A third group of survivors, spread over a wide area, was missed entirely. Clinging to life rafts or debris, the weary men were pushed away from the area of the sinking by a strong current. After enduring days at sea under the hot tropical sun, they finally found land. It was, however, the Japanese-held island of Vella Lavella and deep behind the enemy lines. The survivors organized and disappeared into the island’s interior jungle. Living a meager existence, the group evaded the Japanese for eight days until the Marines and U.S. Navy evacuated the shipwrecked sailors in a daring rescue operation. Using a wide variety of sources, including previously unpublished firsthand accounts, John J. Domagalski brings to life this amazing, little-known story from World War II. The story of the Helena, her crew and of the Navy that refused to let her survivors perish is a remarkable story of suspense, grit, despair and joy.
Note: The U.S.S.Helena (CL-50) was a St. Louis class U.S. Navy light cruiser. Completed shortly before World War II, she was damaged in the attack on Pearl Harbor, and participated in several battles in the Pacific War. She was sunk by a surface-fired torpedo at the battle of Kula Gulf in 1943. She was one of three U.S. light cruisers to be sunk during the war. The Helena was the first U.S. Navy ship to be awarded the Navy Unit Commendation medal in November 1942.