Tuesday, April 28, 2009

USS Helena (PG-9)

Figure 1: USS Helena (PG-9) photographed in Far Eastern waters sometime after 1899, while dressed with flags for a holiday. U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 2: USS Helena (PG-9) painted by the Chinese artist Qikit, 1905. Courtesy of the Navy Art Collection, Washington, DC. Donation of Mrs. A.W. Lott. Navy Art Accession #: 76-301-A. U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 3: USS Helena (PG-9) in a mud dock on the Liao River, China, during the winter of 1903 and 1904. U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 4: USS Helena (PG-9) in Canton, China, circa 1925. U.S. Navy photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.

Named after the capital of Montana, USS Helena (PG-9) was a 1,571-ton steel gunboat built by the Newport News Shipbuilding Company, Newport News, Virginia, and was commissioned on 8 July 1897. The ship was approximately 250 feet long and 40 feet wide, had a top speed of 13 knots, and had a crew of 175 officers and men. Helena was armed with four 4-inch guns, four 11-pounders, and one 3-inch rifle.

Helena was initially assigned to the North Atlantic Fleet and her primary function was to patrol the waters off the coast of the United States. During the Spanish-American War, Helena was sent to Cuba where she saw action on several occasions. On 2 and 3 July 1898, Helena exchanged gunfire with Spanish shore batteries at Fort Tunas. On 18 July, as part of the small US task force blockading the port of Manzanillo, she assisted in the sinking of eight enemy ships during the naval attack on that port. Helena was part of the overall naval blockade of Cuba as well.

After the Spanish-American War ended, Helena joined the US Asiatic Fleet. She steamed there via the Mediterranean and the Suez Canal and arrived in the Philippines on 10 February 1899. The gunboat played a significant role during the Philippine Insurrection and assisted US Army troops in subduing the Filipino rebellion there. On 21 May 1899, Helena assisted in the landing of American troops at Jolo and in June she supported the Army in Manila Bay as US troops went on the offensive south of Manila into Cavite Province. On 13 June, Army troops on board Helena were brought ashore using the gunboat’s launches and they assaulted the strong enemy defenses along the Zapote River. On 7 November 1899, Helena provided gunfire support for 2,500 US Army troops landing at San Fabian in Lingayen Gulf.

Helena remained in the Far East for the balance of her naval career, doing what gunboats did best, which was protecting American lives and property in foreign countries. She served in China from October 1900 to December 1902 and then returned to the Philippines and stayed there until March 1903. After that she was sent back to China, but in December 1904 Helena returned to Cavite in the Philippines. While based there, she was decommissioned on 19 April 1905.

Helena was re-commissioned on 16 July 1906 and visited various ports within the Asiatic Station until June 1907. From then on, she was an active member of both the South China Patrol and the Yangtze River Patrol until 29 June 1929, when she was placed in “reduced” commission. Helena continued to serve with the South China Patrol until 27 May 1932, when she was officially decommissioned and struck from the Navy list. USS Helena was sold for scrap on 7 July 1934, after serving in the US Navy for 35 years.